What is Kongo-Zen?

What is Kongo-Zen?

While I was living in Japan one of the Martial Arts I studied was Shorin-ji Kempo.  Shorin is the Japanese pronunciation for Shaolin and Ji is temple.  Kem (Ken) means fist and po (do) means way.  So altogether it means “Way of the Shaolin Fist”.  Shorin-ji was founded by a man named Michiomi Nakano also known as Doshin So.  Doshin So’s grandfather lived in China and as a child Doshin So spent a lot of time there and became familiar with Chinese culture and became fluent in Chinese.  During the time he spent growing up in Japan he became a student of Sokaku Takeda the founder of Daito-ryu Aiki-jujitsu.  Takada also had two other very famous students that would go on to found their own Martial arts schools.  Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido and the Korean Choi Young-Sool the founder of Hapkido.  This is living proof of what an incredible Martial artist Takeda was.



Sokaku Takeda


When WWII started and Japan invaded China Doshin So went to work as a spy for the Japanese because of his knowledge of Chinese language and culture.  While there he trained in several forms of Kung-fu.  His cover while in China was that of a Taoist priest and then later as a Zen monk.  So he was influenced heavily by the teachings of these two systems. There is some contention over Doshin So’s Martial Arts linage while in China but I don’t want to get into that here. This post is more about the philosophy on life that he developed.  Needless to say Doshin So escaped China with the help of some Chinese secret societies and after the Japanese surrender he returned to Japan.  He was dismayed to find the state that Japan was in on his return.  It was being occupied by the U.S. military and the a criminal element that later became the Yakuza had gained power and it seemed that the Japanese had lost much of the morality that was such a part of Japanese life before the war.  Doshin So sought to change this state and these were the conditions that Shorinji Kempo was created under.




Doshin So


This is the part that I want to share in this post.  No one knows exactly what Doshin So was involved in during the war.  I am not here to defend anything that the Japanese took part in.  My own father fought in the Pacific during WWII in a Gruman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber.  But what I can state is that Doshin So was responsible for starting something good after the war, something very positive.


Most of my posts have elements of my own personal experience intermixed within them.  What I am sharing is my life experience and the people and things that have influenced me. Shorinji Kempo had a big influence on me in many ways.  Shorinji Kempo is more than a Martial art.  Like the teachings of the temple where it takes its name (Shaolin Temple) Shorinji is both a very effective Martial Art and a Buddhist philosophy.  When you take your tests for your next level you have to both perform the Martial techniques that make up the Art and a written exam on Martial and Buddhist Philosophy.  This is very different than most other Martial Arts where only the physical side is taught neglecting the mental aspect.  Due to this fact Shoriji Kempo is registered as a religion by the government of Japan.  The philosophical side is something Doshin So called Kongo Zen.  Kongo means Diamond in Japanese and Zen of course is a particular sect of Buddhism.  I want to communicate some of Doshin So’s thoughts to you. Since this had an impact on my Buddhist and Martial thought.  This comes from a very hard to find English book called “What is Shorinji Kempo” that was written by Doshin So.  Not all of this philosophy is in line with standard Buddhist thought but it certainly has merit as a philosophy to live one’s life by. Doshin So felt that if you could change what is in a man’s heart in a positive way that this change would have an impact on him, the family, community, country, and ultimatly all of humanity.  I should give a word of warning that this piece does not give a positive image of western religion.   In today’s world I still find a lot of truth in what Doshin So had to say.





The Philosophy of Kongo Zen


Kongo-Zen is derived from the words: Kongo, meaning diamond and Zen – the school of Bodhidharma, whose teaching are essentially based on the belief that the kingdom of heaven lies in the heart of man. As these two root words indicate, Kongo-Zen is a new philosophy that turns inward as well as radiates outward, that combines gentleness with strength.

The symbol of a circle encompassing two flowing lines (an early form of the Manji or swastika) is the visual representation of the philosophy of Kongo-Zen. 




It appears on the wall of every Shorinji Kempo training hall and on the white uniforms worn during practice as a reminder that the teachings and practice of Shorinji Kempo are founded on this philosophy. Let us therefore at the outset of this section examine some of its essential precepts as represented by this symbol for they are inseparably linked with the real meaning of Shorinji Kempo.

First of all Kongo-Zen propounds that the ultimate reality, as symbolized by the eternally continuous circle which Man and all other creatures and systems belong, is beyond mans knowledge and, therefore, incapable of being reduced to human categories of thought or of being contained in any kind of image. Although it is in mans tradition to impute human purposes and wishes to reality, one must remember that ultimate truth is not what we make it but remains in the realm of that which is. Although increasing knowledge has enabled man to decipher some of the secrets of the universe, just as the pattern of a rug cannot be distinguished from a handful of threads, so to, the ultimate reality of all existence is outside the realm of mans knowledge. Perhaps it is the life-force, the pervading spirit, the unity of the universe, but it still remains beyond human comprehension and expression, unable to be described or conditioned in any way.  

The implications that may be derived from such a concept of reality are especially significant to human life. As Kongo-Zen does not recognize a reality which is an invention of man’s imagination or a projection of his needs and fears, there is no supreme power which exacts obedience, promises salvation and a heaven after death, or threatens with the punishment of hell.  There is no god who talks to man through rules created by men in his name or by way of messages conveyed to a chosen few or by tablets of law invested with supernatural authority. Neither is there anyone to dictate what is right or wrong or provide the answers to life’s meaning and purpose. The only power man can turn to for guidance in life is knowledge, knowledge of the world and mankind as they really are. Thus learning to respect the reality of the real, which is distinct from any individual or group, is essential; and by doubting, questioning, and humbly striving for unbiased knowledge man will come closer to the truth from which he can derive new moral criteria. Belief in an absolute, such as god, relives man of bearing the anxiety of a continuing moral self-responsibility, since It provides the solutions to life’s problems and sufferings as well as the answers to the wither from and wither to of life and the values with which to steer life’s course. It is however, far from the real answer to man’s security, fulfillment, and happiness on earth. Man has to long naively trusted providence to sort out his problems, passively accepting sufferings in life as the will of god. Instead of taking the initiative of alleviating his situation, he accepts afflictions and bears them in the belief that they will be compensated for and justified in an afterlife.  God has also been used as a scapegoat with which man has evaded the responsibility of his individuality and allowed injustices and inhuman conditions to prevail unremedied.


To be continued…….

3 thoughts on “What is Kongo-Zen?

      1. Rather more realistic approach with possible practical value due to exponential possibilities of people passing the message rather than attempts at persuading and changing Society at large per se. Be like tilting at Wind-mills. Why bother.?. His Idea has much more merit. Agree.


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