Education, tolerance and dialogue: Shorinji Kempo and me

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-13 at 08.57.52
David Ruah, 1st Dan, 20 years old

This essay dwells on the importance of Shorinji Kempo’s educational system for positive social change and, at the same time, for education towards human rights, citizenship and multiculturalism. It is also inquiries into the way Shorinji Kempo can – and should – prevent radicalisms and extremist violence. [1] 

Human beings are capable of great gifts. Love, surrender and sacrifice. Paradoxically, they are capable of intentionally causing pain or evil. And this happens here, in our world, where human beings hurt fellow human beings.

However, we must ask ourselves: what should be our role as kenshis? Do we have a moral duty to help those around us and not just ourselves? And how can we prevent violence through the Shorinji Kempo practice? Is it possible that a martial art teaches non-violence and develop people to be more tolerant and respectful?

On the other hand, today we watch religious and civilizational conflicts take place, where diverse types of extremists are born, often connected to radical violence. In what way, can Shorinji Kempo contain the extremist violence that haunts this beginning century? How can the contributions of Kongo Zen teachings prevent radicalisms and reach a world of well-being through an educational model?

The following essay will, in the first place, focus on what Shorinji Kempo is by explaining some of the fundamental premises of Kongo Zen, namely in what ways we can help others through positive social change. We will then inquire into true strength in relation with the need to prevent extremist violence. Finally, we will try to understand how Shorinji Kempo can prevent violence and extremism through Kongo Zen education model. Our analysis will consider my personal experience as a kenshi, citizen and human rights activist.

  1. Shorinji Kempo and positive social change

At age 14, I started the Shorinji Kempo practice. Today, at age 20, I study Philosophy and, in my spare time, I conduct projects in education for human rights and citizenship. Besides that, I also take part in projects concerned with preventing extremist violence. I work predominantly with schools to prevent risk situations involving violence with children and youth. This way, I develop concepts such as respect, tolerance, empathy and social justice in a classroom setting. In addition, I try to explain the harms that come with violence and how we can prevent it.

But why do I do it? Why do I dedicate my free time to trying to prevent injustice and violence? In what way is this moral duty to help others related with the Shorinji Kempo practice and, inclusively, with Kongo Zen?

It is first necessary to clarify that Shorinji Kempo is not just a martial art nor is it just a self-defense system.  Shorinji Kempo is a ritual of search for inner truth and a path of ethical enlightenment. In this sense, it is based on a moral philosophy of Buddhist origins (Kongo Zen) with an educational purpose, which uses an efficient self-defense system as a means towards building a better society. Self-defense is then not its main objective but the means to a greater end. That greater end is self-development and helping others to develop themselves through ethical values.

But why is transmitting ethical values important? Why is it that we need ethics in a world hastened by technology’s immediate promises? Kaiso inferred that society is not only determined by legal and political matters but, invariably, by each person’s character and moral consciousness. Even though in our everyday lives we are not faced with the importance of moral dilemmas, Kaiso concluded that in extreme situations, such as war, man’s selfish nature comes to the surface and it is because of that that everything depends on each person’s moral quality (“Hito hito hito subete wa hito no shitsu ni aru”).

Thus, Kaiso understood that he needed a moral path which made establishing strong and fair individuals who overcome their weaknesses possible (jiko kakuritsu). Kaiso understood that this path should be built through the teachings of Shakuson[2], whose philosophy makes way for a path of development of an untamable spirit. This path has the objective of achieving mutual happiness for the person walking it and those surrounding him (jita kyoraku).  The main practice towards fulfilling this path should be the martial arts (ken), namely Shorinji Kempo.

For this reason, the practice of Shorinji Kempo should include the training of the person as a whole and of their moral character through self-cultivation (shugyō). This self-cultivation is a practical method of correcting the mind by correcting the body, thus training both simultaneously (shinshin ichinyo). Shorinji Kempo is then inseparable from its philosophical foundation: Kongo Zen.

Every time I finish a practice, I feel very calm. I could describe Shorinji Kempo training as a parallel world where I forget about earthly problems. In fact, it is due to this feeling of tranquility that Shorinji should be considered a Zen practice – it is a path which calms the mind and searches for a meaning through self-contemplation. In other words, it is a way of discovering each person’s limits through peace of mind.

However, tranquility does not equate passivity. Shakuson knew that, to reach knowledge of moral truths, one needs physical experience and not mere conceptual knowledge. It is in this sense that there is a precedence of practice over theory in Kongo Zen: it is not enough to theorize; it is necessary to act and apply. That is why Shorinji Kempo’s main objective is developing people capable of acting and who, through their actions, lead to positive social change.

This is probably one of the biggest reasons for which we need Shorinji Kempo so much, and also one of its biggest challenges as a practical discipline which trains individuals: making people care and concern themselves with others, thus helping social change.

But how do we get people to act in the name of a greater good? How do we inspire them to dedicate their free time to others? How to fight the indifference some feel regarding social problems? How to teach someone that they should help others without expecting anything in return?

When I go to schools to talk about human rights with teenagers, I immediately notice this apathy. For example, the farther away from our country violent events take place, the less they capture our interest. We must combat this trivialization by unsettling them with real narratives and facts. Because the truth is that as I write this text, human rights violations are taking place in the world. Someone is being insulted or beaten for being different. Tomorrow it might be me.

Our rights cannot be taken for granted a priori, we must remind ourselves that the path towards human rights is an ongoing one. It is first necessary share with young people real narratives of people who are not living lives like ours throughout the world. For example, I give literacy classes to immigrants and, as I do, I develop a connection of empathy with them. This leads me to ask myself: what if it were me leaving my country? And what if I had never had access to basic education?

Empathy comes from real situations and, through it, it is possible to develop a principle of equality and social responsibility. An example of this principle is when Kaiso, in the post-war years, realized that people’s religion, lifestyle or nationality were indifferent to him. What mattered was the unique importance each personal has in the causal network of human action (Innen).

In order to develop empathy, we should not only share real stories, but make way for global bridges of multicultural communication that bring young people from all cultures, religions and nationalities together. Shorinji Kempo should have a fundamental role in educating towards multicultural and inter-religious dialogue through its seminaries and Taikais. In the 2015 European Taikai I felt that, despite our cultural differences, we were all together in that sports hall for a greater cause which united and narrowed our bonds: Shorinji Kempo.

Shorinji Kempo should thus develop empathy, humanity and sensibility in young people through multicultural experiences and Kongo Zen teachings. It is not enough to say: you have the duty to help. We must show them why they have that duty by sharing real experiences with them.

We must not tolerate violence and hate, and a way of doing so is through education as a form of primary prevention. Education involves in its turn a process of maturing and changing. Like the proverb “Shogyo mujo” states: all forms are impermanent, nothing is eternal, everything changes and flowers. Therefore, we should try to change society for the better even if slowly, because change is a fundamental category of man’s existence.

Of course, the way of change is not an easy one. But it is due to the difficulty of this path that we should develop true strength. Because love without strength is weak and strength without love is violence. Love and strength should exist in harmony (riki ai funi). It remains to find out: but what is true strength?


(to be continued)


[1]We based ourselves on Kongo Zen Tokuhon (English version), but also on Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry regarding japanese views on Zen Buddhism.

[2] Respectful japanese name for Buddha