February 2012

Shim Gum Do

Sword And Zen

The city of Boston is home to an unusual Zen temple/school of swordsmanship known as Shim Gum Do, headed up by a Korean Zen master. If you've always been fascinated by the traditional connections (however tenuous) between Zen and swordsmanship, you might be interested in studying this art or even participating in their residential program, which is probably the closest you can get to being a “warrior monk” in the United States.

"Taoism Isn't Really A Religion"

Sorry, This One Is Wrong Too

If you know anything about Taoism, you've probably heard that it's a “philosophy” or a “way of life” rather than a religion. Of course, people say the same thing about Zen Buddhism, and with just as little validity. With Taoism, there's the extra twist that some people will admit there's a “Taoist religion,” but they'll describe it as a corrupted version of the original pure philosophy of Taoism.


"Farmer's Zen"

Japanese Zen, historically, was divided into two main sects- Soto Zen and Rinzai Zen. Some people referred to Soto as “farmer Zen” and Rinzai as “samurai Zen,” which tells you something about the two sects. The main difference between them is one of practice.


When Americans think of Zen, they think of koans- those riddle-like questions that are supposed to lead you to enlightenment. Rinzai Zen has a structured curriculum of koan practice, so you work through the koans in a fixed sequence and get a “Zen diploma” when you finish them all. Soto Zen did make use of koans at an earlier stage in its history, but it no longer does. So what does Soto Zen practice involve, if not koan study?