Filed in Zen (Chan), Koans, History

Yasutani Roshi: The Hardest Koan

Brian Victoria uncovers the wartime anti-Semitism of one of America’s most seminal Zen masters. Responses to this material from: Robert Aitken, Bernie Glassman, Bodhin Kjolhede, and Lawrence Shainberg

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A look at the nationalism, militarism, and anti-Semitism of the Zen master whose teachings (through The Three Pillars of Zen and numerous disciples) place him among the most influential voices in the transmission of Japanese Zen to the West.


The Questions

Courtesy David G. GoodmanThree Pillars of Zen was published just as the United States military was building its forces in Vietnam, and just as the counter-culture was building its forces against the government. Into this climate came a small wave of Zen masters, including Yasutani. It is not so difficult to see why young Americans wanted—even needed—to keep their Zen masters on pedestals, and keep under cover any information that related to Zen and the military. This said, it should be noted that the close relationship between Zen and the martial arts has seldom been questioned or regarded as problematic.

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