Translated by Takeharu Teramoto and Fumio Hashimoto
Takeharu Teramoto was an Admiral and Professor at the Naval Academy in Tokyo. His form of practice was sword fighting (Gyo). His own Master had been the last Master of a school of combat in which the story of five cats had been handed down from Master to Master since the beginning of the seventeenth century as a form of instruction, and had finally reached Teramoto through his own Master.
ONCE UPON A TIME there was a Master of combat called Shoken. His house was plagued by a big rat. It ran about even in broad daylight. One day Shoken shut the room door and gave the household cat an opportunity to catch the rat. But the rat flew at the cat's face and gave it such a sharp bite that it ran off screeching. Evidently the creature couldn't be got rid of so easily. So the master of the house collected together a number of cats that had won a fair reputation in the neighborhood and let them into the room. The rat hunched itself up in a corner. As soon as a cat approached it, it bit the cat and scared it off.
The rat looked so nasty that none of the cats dared to take it on a second time. That put Shoken into a perfect rage. He went after the rat himself, determined to kill it. But the wily beast escaped every blow and feint from the experienced Master; he just couldn't wear it down. In his attempts to do so, he split doors, shojis, karakamis, and so forth. But the rat flashed through the air like lightning, jumped up at his face, and bit the Master. At last, running with sweat, he called out to his servants: "They say that six to seven cho from here there is the toughest and cleverest cat in the world. Bring it here!
The servant brought the cat. It didn't look so very different from the other cats. It didn't look particularly sharp or bright. So Shoken didn't expect anything special from it. But he thought he would try it all the same, so he opened the door and let it into the room. The cat entered very softly and slowly as if it was expecting nothing out of the ordinary. But the rat recoiled and stayed motionless. So the cat approached it slowly and deliberately and carried it out in its mouth.
That evening the defeated cats met in Shoken's house, respectfully accorded the old cat the place of honor, paid it homage and said humbly: "We are all supposed to be highly efficient. We have all practiced and sharpened our claws in order to defeat all kinds of rats, and even weasels and otters. We had never suspected that there could be a rat as strong as that one. But tell us, what art did you use to vanquish it so easily? Do not keep your art a secret. Let us into the mystery." The old cat laughed and said: "You young cats are indeed efficient. But you don't know the right way to go about things. And so when something unexpected happens, you're unsuccessful. But first tell me how you have practiced."
A black cat came out to the front and said: "I come from a line of celebrated rat catchers. I too decided to become one. I can jump over screens two meters high; I can force myself through a tiny hole that only rats can negotiate. From the time I was a kitten I have practiced all the acrobatic arts. Even when I wake up and I still haven't quite come to, and I see a rat scampering across the balcony, I get it straightway. But that rat today was stronger and I suffered the most frightful defeat that I have ever experienced in my whole life. I have been put to shame."
Then the old cat said: "What you have practiced is only technique (shosa), sheer physical skill. But your spirit is preoccupied with the question: 'How am I going to win?' And that problem is still consuming you when you reach the target. When the ancient Masters taught 'technique', they did so in order to show their pupils a 'means of the way' (michisuyi). Their technique was simple yet contained the highest truth. But posterity has been preoccupied with technique and technique alone. In that way much has been discovered according to the rule: if you do this or that, then this will happen. But what does happen? No more than dexterity-skill pure and simple. The traditional way has been abandoned; much ingenuity has been applied to an exhaustive pitting of technique against technique, until we have indeed reached the point of exhaustion. We can go no further. That always happens when people think of technique and success and put no more than ingenuity into play. Ingenuity-cleverness is however a function of the spirit, if it is not based on the Way and aims at perfect skill, then it falls victim to error and what has been achieved is lost. Think about this and practice from now on in the right spirit."
At that a big tabby-cat came forward and said: "In the art of fighting it is a matter of the spirit, and it must always be so. Therefore I have always practiced strength of spirit (ki wo neru). As far as I am concerned, my spirit always seems as hard as steel and free and charged with the presence of the Spirit that fills heaven and earth (Mencius). As soon as I can see an enemy, he is already vanquished; no sooner do I see him than he is thrall to that mighty Spirit and I have already won the battle in advance! I do so quite instinctively, as the situation demands. I move according the feel of my opponent; I take the rat from the right or the left as I wish and I anticipate my adversary's every move. I never worry about technique as such. It happens of its own accord. If a rat runs across the balcony, I have only to stare at it for it to fall into my clutches. But the rat of which we are speaking comes without shape or form and goes without leaving any trace. What does that mean? I cannot say."
Then the old cat remarked: "What you have been concerned with is, of course, the effect of that great Power that fills heaven and earth. But what you have actually achieved is only a mental power and not that good power which serves the name of Good. The very fact that you are conscious of the power with which you intend to conquer prevents your victory. Your ego is in question. But what if your adversary's ego is stronger than your own? When you try to overcome the enemy with the superior force of your own power, he pits his own power against yours. Do you imagine that you alone can be as strong and that all others must be weak? The real question is how to behave when there is something that in spite of all one's willing one cannot defeat with the superior weight of one's own power. What you experience as 'free and tempered' and 'filling heaven and earth' within you is not the great Power itself (ki no sho) but only its reflection in you. It is your own spirit, and therefore but a shadow of the great Spirit. It appears to be the great power, but in reality it something quite different. The spirit of which Mencius speaks is strong because it is permanently illumined by great understanding. But your spirit obtains its power only under certain conditions. Your power and that of which Mencius speaks have different origins. They are as different from one another as the eternal flow of a river, for instance the Yangtse Kiang is from a sudden downpour one night. But what is the spirit that one should rely on when face with an enemy who cannot be conquered with any mere restricted mental power (kisei)? That is the real question! There is a proverb that says: 'A rat in the trap will even bite the cat.' The enemy is in the jaws of death he has no resources to depend on. He forgets his life: he forgets all need; he forgets himself; he is beyond victory and defeat. And thus his will tempered like steel. How could one conquer him with a spiritual power which one scribes to oneself alone?"
Then an aging gray cat came slowly forward and said: "Yes, it is indeed as you say. Mental power whatever its strength has a form (katachi) in itself. But whatever has form, however small it may be, can be grasped. Therefore I have for a long time trained my soul (kokoro, the power of the heart). I do not practice the power which overcomes others spiritually (sei), like the second cat. And I do not hit out around me (like the first cat). I reconcile myself with my opponent, get on to equal terms with him, and do not oppose him in any way. If the other is stronger than I am, then I will simply acknowledge that, and so to speak give into his will. My art is rather to gather the flying pebbles in a loose cloth. A rat tries to attack me may be as strong as you like, but it will find nothing to fly against, nothing to get to grips with. But today's rat simply didn't respond to my trick. It came and went as mysteriously as God Himself. I have never encountered one like it".
Then the old cat said: "What you call propitiation does not arise from being, from the Greatness of Nature. It is an artificial, botched-up reconciliation - a mere artifice. Your conscious intention is to elude the adversary's spirit of attack. But because you are thinking about it, however fleetingly, he realizes what your plan is. If you try to conciliate him, with a spirit thus composed, then your spirit (in so far as it concentrates on the attack) will be confused, mixed up, and your sharpness of perception and action will be considerably reduced. Whatever you do with fully conscious intent restricts the original pulsation of the Greatness of Nature as it takes effect from the depths of Mystery: it upsets the flow of your spontaneous movement. How then are you to put a miraculous power into practice? Only when you think of nothing, and do nothing, and in your movement surrender yourself to the pulsation of Being (shizen no ka), will you have lost all tangible form, and be so that nothing on earth can act as a counter-form; then there is no enemy left to resist you."
"I do not believe that everything that you have practiced is pointless. Everything can be a means of the Way. Technique and Tao can be one and the same, and then the great Spirit, the "governing Spirit", is already incorporated in you and is revealed in the action of your body. The power of the great Spirit (ki) serves the human person (ishi). He who has free access to (ki) can encounter everything within infinite freedom and in the right way. If his spirit is reconciled, it will not shatter ever on gold or rock, and need exert no special power in battle. Only one thing is necessary: that no trace of egotism of I-consciousness comes into play, lest everything should be lost. If you think about all that, however fleetingly, then all will be artificial. It will not arise from Being, from the original pulsation the body of the Way (do-tai). Then the adversary will not submit to you but resist in his own behalf. What sort of a way or art is to be used? Only when you are in that disposition which is free of all conscious of self, when you act without acting, without intention and stratagem, in unison with the Greatness of Nature, are you on the right Way. Abandon all intent, practice purposelessness and let it happen simply out of Being. This way is unending, inexhaustible." And the old cat added something astounding: "You must not believe that what I have told you today is the highest of things. Not long ago a certain tom-cat was living in the next village to me. He slept the whole day long. No trace of anything resembling spiritual power was to be observed in him. He just lay there like a lump of wood. No one had ever seen him catch a rat . But wherever he was, there wasn't a rat to be seen! And wherever he popped up or laid himself down, no rat ever appeared. One day I looked up and asked what that meant. He did not answer me. I asked him another three times. He was silent. But that doesn't mean that he didn't want to reply. Instead he clearly didn't know what he should say. But that is how it is: "He who knows says nothing, and he who says it knows it not". The cat had forgotten about himself and everything roundabout him. He had become "nothing". He had reached the highest level of purposelessness. We can say that he had found the way of divine knighthood, which is to vanquish without killing. I am still a long way behind him".
Shoken heard all this as if in a dream, came by, greeted the old cat and said: "For a long time now I have been practicing the art of fighting, but I have not yet reached the end. I have absorbed your insights and I think that I have understood the true meaning of my way, but I ask you earnestly to tell me something more about your craft".
The old cat replied; "How is that possible? I am only an animal and the rat is my food. How should I know about human affairs. All I know is this: the meaning of the art of combat is not merely a matter of vanquishing one's opponent. It is rather an art by which at a given time one enters into the great clarity of the primal light of death and life (seishi wo akiraki ni suru). In the midst of all his technical practice a true Samurai should always practice the spiritual acquisition of that clarity of mind. For that purpose however he must plumb before all else the teaching of the ground of being of life and death (shi no ri). But only he acquires great clarity of mind who is free from everything which could lead him off that way (hen kyoku). When Being and encounter with Being (shin ki) are left undisturbed, to themselves, free from the ego and from all things, then whenever it is appropriate it can declare it's presence complete freedom. But if your heart even fleetingly attaches itself to something, then Being itself is attached and is turned into something arrested in itself . But if it becomes something arrested in itself, then there is something there that resists the I that is in itself . Then two entities face one another and fight one another for dominance."
"If that happens then the miraculous functions of being, even though used to all change, are restricted, the jaws of death gape close, and that clarity of perception proper to Being is lost. How then is it possible to meet the adversary in the right frame and peacefully contemplate "victory and defeat"? Even if you win, you win no more than blind victory that has nothing to do with the spirit of the true art of combat."
"Being free from all things does not of course mean an empty void. Being as such has no nature in itself. In and for myself it is beyond all form. It stores up nothing in itself. But if one grasps and remembers even fleetingly what it is and how fragile it is, the great Power will cling to it and it will contain the equilibrium of forces that flows from the Source. But if Being is even slightly subject to or imprisoned by something, it is no longer able to move freely and cannot pour forth in all its fullness. If the equilibrium that emanates from Being is disturbed, if its power is at all apparent it quickly overflows; but without power its balance is inadequate. Where it overflows, too much power breaks out and there is no holding it back. Where it is inadequate, the active spirit is weakened and wanting is never sufficient for the situation it is called on .
What I call freedom of things means only that if one does not lay up stores, one has nothing to rely on. Without secure provision there is no position to take up and nothing objective to have recourse to. There is neither an I nor an anti-I. When something comes along, one meets it as it were unawares, without any impact. In the I-Ching (the Book of Changes), it is written "Without thinking, without action, without movement; quite still. Only thus can one proclaim the nature and law of things from within, quite unconsciously, and at last become one with heaven and earth. Whoever practices and understands the art of combat in that sense is close to the truth of the Way".
When Shoken heard this, he asked: "What does that mean, that neither a subject nor an object, neither an nor an anti-I is there"?
The cat answered: "If and because an I is there, there is an enemy there. If we do not present ourselves as an I, then there is no opponent there. What we call opponent, adversary, enemy, is merely another name for what means opposition or counterpart. In so far as things maintain a form, they also presuppose a counter-form. But wherever something is present as a something, it has a specific form. If my being is not constituted as a specific form, then there is no counter-form there."
"When there is no counterpart, no opposition, there is nothing which can come forth to oppose me. But that means that neither an I nor an anti-I is there. If one wholly abandons self and thus becomes free, from the foundations upwards and from everything, then one will be in harmony with the world and one with all things in the great universal oneness. Even when the enemy's form is extinguished one remains unconscious of it . That does not mean that one is wholly oblivious of it, but that one does not dwell on it, and the spirit continues free from all attachment and even in its actions responds simply and freely from the center of being. If the spirit is no longer by possessed by anything and is free from all obsession, then the world, just as it is wholly our world and one with us. That means that henceforth one apprehends it beyond good and evil, beyond sympathy or antipathy. One is no longer caught up in anything in the world. All oppositions which present themselves to us, profit and loss, good and evil, joy and suffering, have their origin us. Therefore in the whole spread of heaven and earth nothing is so worthy of discernment as our own being. "
"An ancient poet said: "A speck dust in one's eye and even the three worlds are still too narrow". If nothing matters to us any longer and is no longer of consequence to us, then the smallest bed is too wide for us. " In other words, if a speck of dust enters our eye, the eye will not open; for we can see clearly only if there is nothing within, but now the dust has penetrated to obstruct the vision within. Similarly with being that shines forth as light and illumination, and is essentially free of everything that is "something". When however something does present itself, the very presentation destroys its essence. Another writer put it this way: "If one is surrounded by foes, by a hundred thousand enemies, one's form is so to speak pulverized. But my being, my nature, is mine and remains my own, however strong my enemy may be . No adversary can penetrate my being my self". Confucius said: "You cannot steal the being of even a simple man". But if the spirit is confused, then being will turn against us."
"That is all that I can tell. Now return to yourselves and know yourselves. A master can only teach his pupil the lesson and try to justify it. But "I myself" have to realize the truth and take it as my own. That is called self-appropriation (jitoku). It is transferred from heart to heart (ishin denshin). It is a bestowal by extraordinary means, beyond instruction and erudition (kyogai betsuden) that does not mean that the Master's teaching is to be contradicted. All it means is that even a Master cannot pass on the truth itself. That is not only true of Zen."
"From the spiritual exercises of the ancients on the art of forming the soul right up to the arts proper, self appropriation is always the essence of the matter, and it is always transmitted from heart to heart, apart from tradition, from all teachings which are handed down. The meaning of all "teaching" is only to show what everyone possesses in himself without already knowing it, and then to make him aware of it. There is no secret that the master can "hand over" to the pupil. Teaching is easy. Listening is easy. But it is difficult to become aware of what one has in one's self, to mark it out and really to take possession of it. That is known as looking into one's own being. It is self perception, the self perception of being (ken-sei, kensho). If that happens to us then we have Satori. It is the great awakening out of the dream of errors. Awakening, looking into one's own being, perception of the self one really is - they are all one and the same thing".
Zen-Master Ito Tenzaa Chuya