The Bridge Period of the Three Strongmen
(called the Momoyama Period -- 1573-1615)



Three Zen Masters
of the Tokugawa Period (1615-1868)




    A Key Symbol: Great Castles of Stones overshadow Monasteries made of Wood

The First of the Three Strongmen:

ODA NOBUNAGA ( 1534-1582 )
(Motto: Rule the Empire with Force)

            He was born in the province of Owari -- east of Kyoto. By age 25, he had gained control of the province and made alliances with the Hojo (in the Kamakura region -- south of present day Tokyo) plus another family who held a province neighboring Owari to the east. This family -- the Tokugawa -- will become famous a bit later. Having defeated neighboring rivals and secured the eastern flank of the province, he turned to enter Kyoto to the west in 1568 (I gave you 15-6-7 as an easy to remember date). He entered with one of the Ashikaga. Recall how weakened Kyoto had become after the Onin War (1467-1477) and how war throughout Japan dominated the next hundred years. (1467 -- 1567) Oda Nobunaga was the man of the 1570’s.

            Remember "In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." The early 1500’s were the time of the great seafaring expeditions of the Portuguese and the Spanish. Firearms had entered Japan with the arrival of the Portuguese in the early 1540’s. Christianity and the Spanish Jesuit priests arrived a decade later (c.1550). Nobunaga used firearms in a new and deadly fashion.

            Nobunaga saw the power of the Buddhist establishment as an obstacle to unification of Japan. So, in 1571, he surrounded Mount Hiei and burned down the some 3000 monasteries and temples on its slopes. Two years later, he chased the Ashikaga shogun out of Kyoto. His successes were achieved largely through brute force yet he realized that to consolidate the gains required solid civil administration. He built castles at strategic places through his subdued territories -- castles that served as administrative centers as well as security.

            To subdue the western portion from Kyoto west, Nobunaga unleashed two of his best generals: Akechi Mitsuhide and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The campaign was inconclusive. In the summer of 1582, Akechi returned with troops to Kyoto, surrounded the monastery where the unsuspecting Nobunaga was staying and killed him. (Nobunaga was 48 years old at his death.)

            Hearing the news, Hideyoshi quickly concluded a favorable peace, marched his soldiers to Kyoto, and destroyed Aikechi with his army.


The Second of the Three Strongmen:

the peasant’s son who becomes de facto ruler of all Japan (see plate 59 D.T.S.)

(He preferred to conquer not by using force but by making a convincing show of it.)

            The rise of this man -- later to be known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi -- is unparalleled in Japan. He changes names as he rises to power, constantly inventing and reinventing himself. He is, for this period, the exemplar of the "self-made man" who, like a newly rich robber baron in 19th century America, wants everything bigger and more showy. Display -- display -- display. Here is a bit of his story.

            Hideyoshi, born of peasant parents, is highly intelligent and clever. In his teens, he offers himself to be in service to a local daimyo (feudal lord). At one point the lord entrusts him with money to go to his home province and buy armor. Hideyoshi makes off with the money and outfits himself and goes in search of a more powerful daimyo. He finds one in Oda Nobunaga who in fact is only two years older than Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi, despite his peasant birth, rises rapidly to become one of Nobunaga’s key generals. This is where we first met in the fateful summer of 1582.

[For comparison, 1588 is the year of the Spanish Armada’s attack of England. This is the time in England of Queen Elizabeth the First. And, of course, Shakespeare.]

            After Nobunaga’s death and the defeat of his murderer in 1582, Hideyoshi was on top. There were only two positions which his birth prevented him from holding: those of emperor and shogun. Hideyoshi had himself appointed "kampaku, " the highest position outside those two and saw to it that there was no shogun. Hideyoshi was small and ugly and was called Saru-san (Mr. Monkey) behind his back. Yet he effectively subjugated any unruly daimyo and by the end of the 1580’s fought no more wars on Japanese soil. However, Hideyoshi was tempted to further glory by invading Korea -- an expedition that failed.

            He was also a builder -- rebuilding Kyoto and adding walls round it; building a great (seven-storied) castle at Osaka; building a lavish home in Kyoto where he received emperors and held parties for giving away mountains of gold coins; then after 8 years of use, disassembling it and building another grand palace outside the city at Fushimi. (Some of its individual gates and buildings were later given to monasteries.) In paintings, Hideyoshi favored wall murals of beasts, birds and giant trees -- all against a gold background. Ornamental carving gained acceptance. Bold display was the thing. The stone garden at Ryoan-ji has 15 stones; Hideyoshi’s garden at Sambo-in has 800. The tea ceremony was held in a 4 1/2 mat room (less than 10 square feet); Hideyoshi held an outside tea party and invited the entire population of Kyoto! He had a huge Daibutsu cast to rival the one in Nara. That had taken 20 years to build; Hideyoshi had his built in 3! (The Daibutsu was destroyed in an earthquake 7 years later. Only Hideyoshi’s death in 1598 prevented him from rebuilding it.)

            Hideyoshi had a son who was 5 years old the year he was dying. Hideyoshi assembled 5 of the great families to swear to protect the young boy and his place as de facto ruler. However, only two years after Hideyoshi’s death, -- in the year 1600 -- one of the five principal guardians successfully usurped the position of his fellows; after a short war emerged as sole power in the country; and took the title of Shogun. This brings us to the third of these three strongmen.


The Third of the Three Strongmen

TOKUGAWA IEYASU ( 1542-1616)
died same year Shakespeare died

Founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that held power for two and a half centuries.

            This family was a branch of the prolific Minamoto clan which had settled in the mountainous terrain of central Japan in a town called Tokugawa. From that town they took their name.

            Shortly after becoming shogun, Ieyasu began building Nijo Castle on a broad site near the middle of Kyoto -- building it grander in scale than the Imperial Palace,
a symbol of the new center of power. The building and fortification went on under different shoguns. This is how Ieyasu described its function: "The protection of the Castle of Nijo shall be entrusted to some reliable and trustworthy allied lord of good lineage, instead of to that of the Commander -in-Chief; he shall be called "The Kyoto Representative," and on all occasions of disturbance the Thirty Western States shall take their orders from him." The Tokugawa shoguns moved the capital of Japan to a new location -- in the east, north of Kamakura, on the Kanto plains. The city was EDO -- later called TOKYO -- or Eastern Capital.

            The Tokugawa Shogunate lasted more than two hundred and fifty years -- from 1600 until 1868. This period spans the time from the landing of the pilgrims on Plymouth Rock (in the year of Bankei’s birth -- 1622) through our Declaration of Independence (1776) to the years just after our Civil War (c. 1865 -- year of Lincoln’s assassination). The Zen Masters Bankei, Hakuin and Ryokan all lived and died during this shogunate.

            Ieyasu began a regime that established effective central control, regulating the temples, the court at Kyoto, and especially the military houses. The military lords were forbidden to: move troops outside their own frontiers, form political alliances among themselves, maintain more than one castle in their domain, marry without shogunal approval. Later, they were required to spend a certain period each year in Edo and when they left for their lands to leave their families in Edo. The country was ordered along rigid class lines within and virtually shut off from interaction with the outside world for 250 years.

II. Three Important Zen Masters of the Tokugawa Period (1615 - 1868):
                                                                                        Bankei, Hakuin and Ryokan

Zen Master BANKEI (1622 -1693)
(born in the year that the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth rock --1622)
contemporary of the Haiku Master Basho

            Bankei was wild and unruly as a youth. While studying Confucian classics, he puzzled over the nature of "Bright Virtue" -- what is the true nature of who we are? At age 16, he turned to Zen. Practicing and testing his practice for some 10 years, Bankei finally found himself laying in his hut, ill and apparently dying -- unable to swallow food. One day, he managed to spit up a dark ball of phlegm, spitting it against the wall. He then realized that the innate or Unborn Mind manages everything, naturally. About 1680, when he was nearly 60, Bankei began to give public sermons urging one thing: Let go of ego; abide in the Unborn Buddha Mind -- marvelously illuminating. He wrote the "Song of Original Mind." Teaching story of "come up and sit by me." Died near end of 1600’s.

Zen Master HAKUIN (1686 -1768)

            Hakuin was a child protégé with almost perfect memory and great imagination, he developed, at age 10, an overwhelming fear of hell -- as he heard it preached by Pure Land Buddhists. Soon after, he became a monk. Shortly after witnessing the eruption of Mt. Fuji, around age 22, he had his first enlightenment. He recorded that he felt frozen solid in an infinite block of ice. At midnight a bell sounded. He felt his "body and mind drop away." For nearly a decade he worked on koans and deepened his enlightenment. At this time, he received the monastic name "Hakuin" (= "concealed in white" - like being hidden in the clouds and snow of Mt. Fuji.) Two teaching stories: "Is that so?" and "Teach me about Heaven and Hell." Reinstated koan practice and set the modern sequence of koans. Invented the "Sound of one hand clapping" koan. Wrote Song of Meditation. Great painter (often in caricature style), calligrapher and poet. Died in the years before our American Revolution. His final piece of calligraphy before his death was the character for MIDST -- with the inscription: "Meditation in the midst of action is a billion times better than meditation in stillness."

Zen Master RYOKAN (1758 - 1831)
[pronounced something like LEO-Kan]
the Japanese St. Francis

(He does not live until the close of the Tokugawa period but does live into the 1800’s.)

            This best loved of Zen Masters was a Zen monk in the Soto school of gradual ripening Zen, the Soto tradition introduced by Dogen (some 500 years earlier) and carried forward by Shunryu Suzuki in our own century.

            Ryokan loved Dogen’s Four Great Virtues: Charity, Kind Words, Good Works and Empathy.

                He lived a "one bowl, one robe" life of a hermit who welcomed visitors, played with the children and wrote:

                            "Oh, that my monk’s robe was wide enough
                                to gather up all the suffering people in this floating world."

            Story of the delinquent boy and one tear. Story of the robber who came to rob him. Ryokan gave him what he had and wished he could give him the beauty of the moon shining through the window. "The thief left it behind, " he wrote, "the moon at the window." A wonderful calligrapher / poet, all prized a gift of his writing. Like Ikkyu who, late in life, found the much younger, blind singer Lady Mori, so the 70 year old Ryokan met and fell in love with the beautiful young nun Teishin -- 40 years younger than he. For the rest of Ryokan’s life, they were together often, composing poems, discussing literature and religion, and walking through the neighborhood villages and fields. "Chanting old poems, making our own verses, playing temari [rhythmic catch with a cloth ball] together in the fields -- two people, one heart."


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