Buddhism, which began in India with the Buddha incorporating the ancient precept of non-violence into his teachings, distorted as it moved into East Asia to a degree that it actually justified violence by wedding itself to the Eastern code of martial arts and the Way of the Warrior. Unethical behavior to the degree of war crimes was seen in the South Pacific during World War II as a direct result of attitudes that flavored Asia's appreciation of Indian Buddhism. Violent perversions of Buddhism are still prevalent in both East and West, and are practically glorified for the supposed freedom from the morality of the rest of the human race they bestow on adherents.
The idea that the Buddha delivered silent teachings was incorporated into Buddhism through Taoist influence; it did not exist in Buddhism before it arrived in China. However, a hagiographical account of the Buddha emerged to give it a legitimate Buddhist basis. Zen sects claimed a special silent dispensation apart from texts, thus lending superiority to itself over other schools that relied solely on texts. This superiority later served to afford followers a justification for unethical behavior. While it is true the Buddha never claimed his words alone could bestow the nonfinite knowledge of nirvana and Indian masters, the Buddha included, he spoke of the spiritual value of the silent company of sages. The Buddha and other yogis had definite views which they voiced concerning right conduct, right livelihood, and ethics in general.
The Buddha also had definite views on methods of sense-introversion, having been trained in the Samkhya School of yoga and philosophy. Many of the mystical techniques he taught were not transmitted to the public as Buddhism became a popular religion in India under Emperor Asoka. The prevalent East Asian practice of "just sitting" was not part of the Buddha's yogic path anymore than were koans, or "cases," which were later used as objects of meditation in China and Japan. The teachers who used koans had the right idea - disturb habituated pattern of thought - but the koan technique to affect such a redistribution of nervous and mental energy is negligible.
Neither were the combination of arts and Buddhism - archery, motorcycle maintenance, tea ceremonies, flower arranging - a part of the Buddha's teachings. We must recall that the Buddha was a yogi, an ascetic, a beggar, and a monk. He considered the world of the senses to be a very narrow range of existence. He advised people to earn a living only inasmuch as it did not create more binding patterns of energy and awareness, i.e. karma, and so would not make the widening of one's intuitive faculties beyond the senses difficult. Maintaining motorcycles is pretty benign, though they burn a fuel that is destructive to the environment, and archery may be necessary where there is hunger and no other food source but animals. But to the Buddha, these would be considered, at best, ways to earn a living, not meditative practices in their own right, because the maintenance of narrow sensory awareness and the mastery of any of these skills or arts are not mutually contradictory.
Doing without doing also became popular in East Asia in relation to a meditative life and one's art. Before starting the practice of pranayama, I studied the guitar in a conservatory. In the perfect form of a Zen master, I played without playing. The minute I became involved in the performance of a piece, I made mistakes and the musicianship suffered. I couldn't consciously even begin to play a piece that I could effortlessly play without thinking about it. Every accomplished musician I know "played without playing" in the effortless style of the so-called Zen master. However, while I would forget the narrow self while playing, it was always there when I stopped playing. Further, if my art was not musical but instead martial - archer, the samurai sword, or kamikaze piloting - I have no doubt that my "doing without doing" attitude toward my martial art would only help me, not hinder me, to wound others if my sense of self felt that attacking a certain group of people was a sacred duty.
The Buddha, however, could not have cared less about mastering an art as far as realizing the infinite nirvana was concerned. The Buddha emphasized the ephemeral nature of sensory input, and art requires involvement in the senses. If art was part of one's livelihood and no harm came to others through it, then fine. Otherwise, art is art and mysticism is mysticism, despite the fact that superficial parallels between the two could be made in regard to the activity of the mind during the practice of both. The desire to spiritualize one's art in the West has since gone to ridiculous proportions, even to the point that artists claim enlightenment simply based upon the mastery of their art. Meanwhile, their mastery of the mind, senses, and energies of the body, based upon the standard of yoga, is non-existent.
If there can be Zen and archery, then why not Zen and guillotines, Zen and arms manufacture, Zen and murder, Zen and wrong livelihood? Violence was to be avoided by followers of the Buddha not merely because it inflicted suffering on others, but because it would create a habit of violence, which would certainly prevent the violent person (and others) from intuitively realizing the infinite self. This ignorance of the nirvana self, in turn, would produce more and more violence until efforts were made to dislodge the patterns of violence in the mind through right affirmation, cathartic practices, and the company of the non-violent.
Hence Buddhism, which was originally supposed to dislodge violence, was actually perverted to afford East Asian Buddhists an out so they could continue to practice their arts of war - whether they be archery, swordsmanship, or later, kamikaze piloting. Doing without doing became doing without mental involvement, which while necessary for any art, would not remind one not to commit violent deeds. The Indian teachings of doing without narrow selfish motives, and hence without attachment to the fruits of one's labor, became in East Asia doing without adherence to any limiting ethical system that required the kind of thinking that might get in the way of the performance of one's art. Hence, the cardinal injunction of non-violence could practically be ignored. Perhaps the Buddha, with his infinite knowledge and expansive sense of self, could get away with not thinking about his behavior, but again we see the would-be Buddhists in Asia adopting the form of the Buddha's teachings - not thinking - without the spirit - non-violence born from actually identifying with all beings through intuitive realization.
In yoga parlance, yogis may dispense with finite codes of ethics when they have united with the very foundation of virtue in infinite substance. Such a yogi, like the Buddha, will then be an effortless paragon of virtue. But Zen Buddhists of Dark Age Asia dispensed with morality a bit too quickly when it was not in keeping with their livelihood of war. Since one will dispense with it eventually, they reasoned that they could dispense with it immediately.
The wishful belief that a little meditation and the peace of mind it produces, or the mastery of an art and freedom from thought it temporarily bestows, will naturally result in an expansive identity, and hence ethical conduct, is simply unfounded. Maintain a thousand motorcycles without thinking about it and you may still have a narrow sense of self that can yet be the springboard for horrible deeds. When Suzuki said in the 1930's that Zen may be found wedded to fascism, his freedom from conscience, not from finite conditioning, was apparent. Instead of exemplifying and fostering the centralization of power in the individual through sense-introversion, he promoted the centralization of power in the elite few, much like a pope would, epitomizing a classic contraindication of Dark Age Buddhist methods of mind-numbing meditation: delusions of grandeur.
The samurai attitude of Japanese culture toward Buddhism was the same age-old attitude toward the art of war at work in the South Pacific War. The art of killing and torture was valued with a degree of religious purity in Japan. Self-sacrifice was valued as well, but it was still a narrow self identification with an aggressive imperial authority whose violent orders it was not willing to question.
For modern Buddhism, emerging largely from East Asia, this fate is tragic. Stories of Zen masters applying violent "expedient means" are a horrible distortion of the Buddha's teachings. These accounts glorify torture and mutilation and claim the end, infinite enlightenment, justifies the finite violent means without considering the obvious truth that the means always color the ends, no matter how infinite they are suppose to be. Since violence is exalted to such a spiritual station by these so-called masters, we can surmise that their notion of enlightenment is utterly perverted.
What was the point of enlightenment to the Buddha in the first place? To the Buddha, human existence limited to only sensory impressions was a life of suffering and death. He knew full well of the joys of life, but when compared to the self-knowledge of a wider range of intuition, the fleeting joys of life afforded to human beings via the narrow slits of the senses were called suffering because they are always accompanied by some sorrow, while the bliss of nirvana was an infinite joy that knew no opposite. Because of this, the Buddha's teachings have been called world-denying. In fact, they affirm sensory data within a larger context. To the sense-bound individual, the world of the mind and senses is everything. To the yogi, the world of the mind and senses, or samsara, is but a narrow slice of the infinite nirvana. So, the Buddha was not denying samsara, but merely affirming the wider range of perception of nirvana.
As Buddhism developed in China and Japan, however, it became fully world-affirming. This is no surprise, since these Asian cultures were never mystically inclined. They simply incorporated Buddhism into what they already valued. The arts became mystical to them. They continued to strive for success in the world, not for a disinterest in worldly successes. Mysticism implies knowledge gleaned from sources outside the senses, but switching off the senses and expanding the range of intuitive perception was not of interest to the East Asian mind. Asian culture was far too worldly and superstitious to ever foster such a thing. As a result, East Asian Buddhism did not produce even one yoga master, aside from perhaps the mythic Milarepa and other pranayama practicing yogis of the Himalayas, despite the mention of hundreds of so-called Zen/meditation masters.
The byproduct of Indian enlightenment was not to see that the world is just fine the way it is, but rather to see the sensory world as but a small speck of an eternal existence. If it is just fine to the Indian yogi, it is only so because it is seen within the colossal context of infinite nirvana perception. East Asian Buddhism, however, embraced the form without the spirit. It embraced sensory samsara as a part of nirvana, but rejected the realization of nirvana because it required the difficult mastery of the mind and senses. In the end, the worldly and materially ambitious Asian culture so twisted Buddhism in the Dark Ages to actually move the mind in the opposite direction than the one the Buddha had intended. Since our culture is equally mundane, it is no surprise that it is largely this Buddhism that the West has embraced.
In this time of conflict justified by God and religion, is it not appropriate to scan Eastern traditions for their spoken or unspoken justification of violence and moral irresponsibility?