Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Emptiness, Variety and Power

TLS October 1 2010

from Katherine Wharton's review of Buddhist Warfare, edited by Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer:

Violent purges and insurgencies have occurred in all eras, with or without religious incitement. Yet there is something uniquely chilling about religious texts that justify or even aim to cultivate murder. For instance, the seventeenth-century Zen Master Takuan writes as follows:

The uplifted sword has no will of its own, it is all of emptiness. It is like a flash of lightning. The man who is about to be struck down is also of emptiness, and so is the one who wields the sword. None of them are possessed of a mind that has any substantiality. As each of them is of emptiness and has no "mind", the striking man is not a man, the sword in his hands is not a sword and the "I" who is about to be struck down is like the splitting of the spring breeze in a flash of lightning.

This is an application of the central Buddhist teaching of no-self that sees no evil in killing. Brian Daizen Victoria's excellent essay outlines the direct connection between Takuan's writings and the philosophy of Soldier-Zen promoted as part of military training during the Asia-Pacific War. Should Zen itself be held responsible for the genocide of 20 million Chinese during this campaign? Brian Victoria does not just blame Takuan: he also directly implicates D. T. Suzuki (1870-1966), the most influential proponent of Zen to the West in the twentieth century. Brian Victoria asserts that Suzuki gave his unqualified support to the "unity of Zen and the sword".

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TLS October 8 2010

from Peter Thonemann's review of three books on Cleopatra:

So long as Cleopatra remains a means of thinking about race, gender and power, new Cleopatras, black or white, powerful or impotent, cynical or besotted, will continue to emerge. This should be no cause for distress. . . . Indeed, few figures from the ancient world better illustrate what Walter Benjamin beautifully described as the "secret heliotropism" by which "the past strives to turn towards that sun which is rising in the sky of history".

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from Jennie Erin Smith's review of the show "Fern Hunting Among These Picturesque Mountains" at Olana:

[Frederic Edwin] Church was thirty-nine when his party departed for Jamaica, at the peak of his celebrity. A decade earlier, he had ventured to what is now Colombia and Ecuador, trading the lingering influence of Thomas Cole, his Hudson River School mentor, for Alexander von Humboldt's entreaty, in Kosmos, that landscape painters "shall be enabled far in the interior of continents, in the humid mountain valleys of the tropical world, to seize, with the genuine freshness of a pure and youthful spirit, on the true image of the varied forms of nature". The massive size and rich detail of the canvas that resulted, "The Heart of the Andes", caused a sensation at its unveiling in 1859.

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