What is Kongo-Zen, Part III

What is Kongo-Zen, Part III

This is the last section of this series on Kongo-Zen. Doshin So continues…

The Answer Lies in Man

There are three known variables, the individual, nature, and society, that determine the conditions of mans survival as well as his fulfillment and happiness. But because it takes individuals to exploit nature and individuals to make societies, Shorinji Kempo asserts that the individual is both directly and indirectly responsible for his own welfare and happiness. The age old maxims: “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again”, or “heaven helps those who help themselves” are all expressive of Shorinji Kempo’s outlook on individual effort as a catalyst in transforming the world.

Shorinji Kempo teaches that man is a product of a long evolutionary process and his unique body and mind interact to endow him with vast potentiality, to which every individual must turn and cultivate for the answers of life. Man must bear the burden of his individuality. In times of difficulty, when trouble sets in and situations turn for the worse at home or school or with ones work, how easy is it to transfer this blame to others,  parents, teachers, society, or God, instead of facing the problem as one’s very own and overcoming it. On the other hand, when things are going well, or when one has accomplished something praiseworthy, it is instinctive to want recognition and praise. Shorinji Kempo, however, asserts that each individual is his own witness, his own responsibility in both good times and bad. The individual must first answer to himself. Then and only then will the problems facing him be solved and the conditions necessary for a heaven on earth be established. It is by developing one’s individuality first that group activity can be meaningful and fruitful.

The Unity of Ken And Zen

Based on the unity of matter and spirit, Shorinji Kempo teaches the unity of Ken and Zen. Ken signifies the body or action, and Zen is the mind or composure. These two are inseparably in man and enter into sequences in which each can affect the other. Unaware of this true nature, some people punish their bodies in various ways: enduring long Zazen sessions until their legs are numb, fasting until their body is weak in order to obtain some form of enlightenment. There are also various schools of martial arts which claim a spiritual objective and yet only emphasize winning through the mastery of techniques and cultivation of strength. Shorinji Kempo, however, asserts that the training of the spirit disregarding the body or training of only the body cannot lead to the formation of a complete man. The realization of human potentialities and the only way leading to fulfillment and happiness necessarily involve the cultivation of both the mind and the body, of action and thought. Neither can be treated as a separate entity but the repercussions of one on the other must be carefully considered and incorporated into the methodology of creating a harmonious and well balance man.

The Unity of Strength and Love

The law of nature–survival of the fittest– is applicable to all living creatures. Although strength is the decisive factor in the animal world, among men the fittest are those who excel both physically and mentally. The mental capacity in man accounts for the fact that he is on the top of the evolutionary pyramid. It would be ideal indeed if men did not resort to strength to settle conflicts among themselves as other creatures do, but history clearly reveals mans proclivity to physical violence as opposed to the contest of reason as a final means of settling disputes. The obvious cause of this is simple: the person who depends on force is actually stronger than the one relying on theory for the former can totally destroy the latter, whereas the latter is physically helpless unless he to resorts to force. Merely being right is not enough. Justice, unfortunately , must be enforced with strength. The laws and social codes of any society are significant only to the degree to which they are physically enforced. Shorinji Kempo thus emphasizes the importance of strength, not for killing and destruction, but for preservation of life. Strength is to be used only as a final measure and only for preserving and defending oneself when one is threatened. It is to be used to prevent violent attack. With righteousness, enforced by strength, and forgiveness backed up by the power to punish, one can stop an aggressor while protecting ones own life. This is love in action as opposed to passive submission, which benefits neither party.

Living Half for Onesself and Half for Others

As interdependence is both necessary and beneficial, its operation must be ensured first by internally curbing desires of the ego while cultivating empathy, which is an extension of ones identity to embrace others. If the individual were to give unrestricted expression to all his desires and if his potentialities were improperly channeled, life would be intolerable for all, and mankind would retrogress into chaos and destruction. True freedom does not mean gratifying every desire of the ego, it must be accompanied by discipline and moral responsibility.

Another essential factor upon which meaningful and harmonious relationships among individuals rest is relaxation of the law of survival of the fittest. Competition over limited resources naturally tends to make individuals more and more atomized., self centered, and selfish; every association is weighed on a cost benefit scale. What appears to be cooperation, help, and understanding is personal gain disguised. It is imperative for man to direct his ingenuity toward securing basic external needs for people everywhere. Science and technology must work toward the realization of mans true needs. And assurances of the basic material needs in life is a prerequisite for harmonious relationships among individuals.

Shorinji Kempo teaches that man must learn to think of the other persons welfare while promoting his own interests. In asserting his individuality, he must not deprive others of freedom and happiness; on the contrary in directing his knowledge and capacities, he must pursue ends that not only benefit himself, but also elevate the lives of others. Each individual must curb excessive greed and indulgence of the ego and direct his efforts to the general benefit and to secure, enriching life for all.

Doshin So, 1972


I wanted to share this because I know that the words of Doshin So are unheard of in the west even in Martial arts circles.  Although it is also almost unknown in the west Shorinji Kempo is one of the most practiced Martial Arts in Japan.  Although Japan has had a very aggressive past a visitor today would (without a knowledge of history) never know that. If you watched the news coverage of the aftermath of the Sunami in Northern Japan you saw countless selfless acts.  People were finding others personal items and even safes loaded with valuables and instead of stealing them (which would happen in most of the rest of the world) they brought them to a central place where they could be collected by the rightful owner.  There was no looting or price gouging that you find happening during disasters else where. I have to wonder how much Doshin So’s teachings had to do with this change from a waring country to one of compassion and selflessness.


What struck me about Doshin So’s words was the practical application of things that we learn in our religious pursuits.  After reading a post by the amazing Desertcurmudgeon I wrote the post “Don’t hide behind your Karma”.  The gist of this was that when practicing any religion people often recede into their places of worship or seek solitude in their home while all kinds of terrible things can be happening right outside their door step. We in the west generally think of Karma in one direction, what is happening to US!  I believe that that is a very self-centered view of Karma and indicates we need more work understanding our true “Self”.  What we are missing with this one way version of Karma is our ability to act and therefore cause positive change in the world.  Instead of trying to change the hearts and minds of a large group of people we can all start the process by changing our own hearts and minds.

Doshin So’s idea was to both empower the individual by making them both physically and mentally strong while at the same time making them understand their connection and responsibility to others.  Even though Shorinji Kempo is a Martial Art Doshin So only taught techniques that would subdue or incapacitate an attacker without any permanent physical damage to them.  This was an expression of Riki Ai Funi (Strength and Love Together).  No matter how peaceful you want to be it is naive to not acknowledge that there are people out there who will harm or kill you to gain something they want.  So by being physically and mentally  fit and understanding martial techniques and philosophy you are enabled to not only protect yourself from these people but to also protect others.

So instead of a purely self driven version of a religious life Doshin So made people understand a sense of individual responsibility, Compassion for others, and that their positive action could make a difference in the world.  For some reason the idea of living half for yourself and half for other struck me as a very practicle way to both take care of yourself but also to take care of others.





4 thoughts on “What is Kongo-Zen, Part III

    1. I glad you liked it. I have to wonder how much impact Doshin So had on the Japanese after the war. I think the idea of people starting to change the country or the world by starting by working on themslves is a very powerful message. Even more so realizing that hiding away in a safe place will have no effect on the world.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment! Yes I think that the religious values that you practice have to have a practicle expression in your life. The whole point of changing what is inside is to let it radiate outward after the changes have been made. What is the point of understanding the true nature of the self if it does not have an outward expression?

      Liked by 1 person

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