Welcome to Mokurai's Temple!

Japanese Gardens and Aesthetics

Portraying a Japanese Buddhist Monk in the SCA

Monastic Life
Persona Play
Some Writings
Suggested Reading

Japanese Films

Essential Dharma


The Clan of Matsuyama

SCA Resources
(The Chatelaine's Box)



Portraying a Japanese Buddhist Monk in the SCA

Some Writings and Traditions

A soldier named Nobushige came to the Zen master Hakuin, and asked: "Is there really a paradise and a hell?"
"Who are you?" inquired Hakuin.
"I am a samurai," the warrior replied.
"You, a soldier!" exclaimed Hakuin. What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar."
Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: "So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head."
As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: "Here open the gates of hell!"
At these words the samurai, perceiving the master's discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.
"Here open the gates of paradise," said Hakuin.
- from Zen flesh, Zen bones, Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, compiled by Paul Reps

To study the way is to study the self
To study the self is to forget the self
To forget the self is to be enlightened
by all things of the universe.
To be enlightened by all things is to
transcend the distinction of self and other
and to go on in ceaseless enlightenment forever.
- Dogen Kigen Zenji

Ummon asked: "The world is such a wide world, why do you answer a bell and don ceremonial robes?"
Mumon's Comment: When one studies Zen one need not follow sound or colour or form. Even though some have attained insight when hearing a voice or seeing a colour or a form, this is a very common way. It is not true Zen. The real Zen student controls sound, colour, form, and actualizes the truth in his everyday life. Sound comes to the ear, the ear goes to the sound. When you blot out sound and sense, what do you understand? While listening with ears one never can understand. To understand intimately one should see sound.

When you understand, you belong to the family;
When you do not understand, you are a stranger.
Those who do not understand belong to the family,
And when they understand they are strangers.
- a koan from The Gateless Gate by Ekai, called Mumon

Be one with the Buddha
Be one with the Dharma
Be one with the Sangha

Do not kill
Do not steal
Do not be greedy
Do not tell a lie
Do not be ignorant
Do not talk about others faults
Do not elevate yourself by criticizing others
Do not be stingy
Do not get angry
Do not speak ill of the Three Treasures

Do not commit evil
Do good
Do good for others
(Shi gu sei gan)
Shu jo muhen sei gan do
Bo no mujin sei gan dan
Ho mon muryo sei gan gaku
Butsu do mujo sei gan jo
However innumerable all beings are
I vow to save them all
However inexhaustible my delusions are
I vow to extinguish them all
However immeasurable the Dharma Teachings are
I vow to master them all
However endless the Buddha's Way is
I vow to follow it completely
Shu jo muhen sei gan do
Bo no mujin sei gan dan
Ho mon muryo sei gan gaku
Butsu do mujo sei gan jo

The Soto monk and garden designer, Muso Soseki, who designed the garden at Tenryuji in the mid-1300's composed this poem:
The sounds of the streams splash out the Buddhas sermon,
Dont say that the deepest meaning comes only from ones mouth,
Day and night, 80,000 poems arise one after the other,
And in fact, not a single word has ever been spoken.

The gassho is the traditional monkly greeting used to show respect for, well, just about anyone, really. To do it, place the palms of your hands together in the position of prayer, and bow your head or whole torso in a respectful manner. You have probably seen the Dalai Lama do this - or even Mahatma Ghandi. The practice was inherited from ancient Indian culture.


A History of Japan to 1334, George Sansom, Stanford University Press, 1961 - THE source. Highly recommended.

A History of Japan 1334-1615, George Sansom, Stanford University Press, 1961 - Again, THE source. Highly recommended.

Cha-No-Yu The Japanese Tea Ceremony, A. L. Sadler, Charles E. Tuttle Co., Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan, 1962 - good overview of the basic facts of Tea, detailed descriptions, large collection of tea-related stories and historic facts.

Japanese Tales, edited and translated by Royall Tyler, Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library, 1987 - concise and easy to read collection of folklore including lots of monk stories!

The Sayings of Confucius, translated by James R. Ware, Penguin Books, 1955 - one of the three great teachers well-rounded scholars and educated monks would know.

Japan: The Shaping of Daimyo Culture 1185-1868, edited by Yoskiaki Shimizu, George Braziller, Inc., New York and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1988 - big expensive coffee table book with detailed coverage of this art exhibition. Excellent facts and photos. Highly recommended.

The Tale of Genji, Lady Murasaki, translated by Arthur Waley, Random House, Inc., 1960 - one of the three great classics.

Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu, a new translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English, Vintage Books, 1972 - Besides the Buddha, the other of the three great teachers.

The World of the Shining Prince, Ivan Morris, Kodansha, 1964 - a companion book written to assist understanding of the world of The Tale of Genji and other mid-Heian texts. Considered a masterpiece.

The Training of the Zen Buddhist Monk, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1994. - Although it discusses experiences in a contemporary monastery, this book is a very good guide to daily life for a monk.


Zen Flesh, Zen Bones ñ a collection of Zen and pre-Zen writings, compiled by Paul Reps. Doubleday, 1989 ñ not necessarily the best introduction to Zen, but very good material and stories. As you learn about zen, more and more of this book resonates.

Entering the Stream, Compiled and edited by Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Chodzin Kohn. Shambhala Publications, 1993.

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, Shunryu Suzuki. Weatherhill,1970.

The Lotus Sutra, Translated by Burton Watson. Columbia University Press, 1993.

A Concise History of Buddhism, Andrew Skilton. Barnes and Noble Books, 2000.

A History of Zen Buddhism: A History, Vol. II: Japan, Heinrich Dumoulin. Macmillan Publishing Co., 1990


Name Construction in Medieval Japan, Barbara Nostrand Ph. D. (ska: Solveig Throndardottir), Potboiler Press, 1994. - a good tool for choosing a Japanese SCA name. See if you can borrow it from a herald.

Jeffrey"s E-J Dictionary: http://enterprise.dsi.crc.ca/cgi-bin/j-e/dict - my favorite on-line Japanese-English-Japanese dictionary.

Lady Fujiwara's site: www.reconstructinghistory.com - excellent garb construction information.
Master Effingham's site (An Online Japanese Miscellany): http://www.geocities.com/sengokudaimyo/Miscellany/Misc_home.html - Effingham is the SCAs most accomplished scholar on Japanese culture. Attend his Pennsic classes. Read his site. Do what he says!

Kyoto Costume Museum: http://www.iz2.or.jp/fukusyoku/busou/index.htm - this site is in Japanese only. It is an excellent reference for garb.

Disclaimer: "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the Wise. Seek instead what they sought." - Lao Tzu
I am not a great scholar or historian. The information I present here is very basic and may contain some generalities or errors. My experience is mostly with 16th century Japan and Zen, so please forgive me if you feel other periods or cultures are under-represented. The bibliography is far from complete. Comments and suggestions are warmly appreciated. Thank you.
© Eric Munson, 2001. (SCA: Matsuyama Mokurai , OSC), eric.munson@rodale.com This paper is copyrighted. Please do not reproduce whole or in part without the permission of the author except for educational purposes.