Kyudo Notebook: Ri

This morning I came across another description of ri (理), this time in a Japanese context. This is from an essay contained in the Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa (the man whose face appears on the 10,000 yen note):

    The most fundamental assumption in his early writing was that there is an order in the universe, that all things function according to natural laws, and that these apply both to the natural world and to human society. [pg. 381]
    In its Tokugawa conceptual setting Dutch learning was more than just a means. The ideas of Western science were taken in, put in a neo-Confucian setting, and viewed as a portion of universal truth. The neo-Confucian principle of ultimate being was ri: This was intuitable as the ground of moral being and present in all things as the ordering principle for their particular existences. In the late eighteenth century Confucian Dutch-learning tradition, the laws of nature discovered by European science were recognized as having uncovered a hitherto neglected portion of the ri. [pp. 389-390]

Zen pointed out that the meaning of 理 is logic, but I think there is a translation issue here. The Western view of logic, or at least the Anglo-American variety, is that of formal logic, syllogisms, conceptual thought. But as passages like these show, that rather limited connotation wasn’t present in the way ri was understood in Asia. Rather, ri consisted of the underlying principles of “the way things work,” or “the way things are” in both the moral and physical dimensions. So it’s much larger than what is often understood in English as “logic.” It’s more like “the logic of the universe.”

So bringing it back to taihai, you can indeed evaluate two different ways of walking, say, to see which is most economical in time and energy, which is most efficient, or even which is most beautiful. But you shouldn’t let the supposedly objective aspect of that trick you into thinking that that’s all that’s going on. There is a reason why a particular way of walking has those qualities, a reason why one way is better than another, and it is that reason (or reasons) that is captured by the term ri: the underlying principles of the universe, or in this case the underlying principles of walking. That which is in accord with ri will be the most efficient, most beautiful, most “natural,” and by intuiting those principles you can perhaps see more deeply.

I don’t want to mystify Kyudo. It’s mysterious enough as it is. What do Hanshi mean when they say they can see everything about a person in the way they shoot? And the Kyohon is itself full of profound and (to a modern reader) rather opaque philosophical assertions about, among other things, truth, goodness, and beauty, spirit, right belief, right intention, shin, gyou, sou, etc. Although practice is clearly the way to develop these I’m not sure that they can be ignored on an intellectual level. There’s Tibetan saying that (paraphrasing) practice without study is like trying to climb a mountain with no hands. And if nothing else, delving into these conceptual mysteries may help provide context to help understand what the old masters were talking about.

But the proof is indeed in the shooting, not the talk. As Satake Mariko-sensei says, we have to train in order to understand these things.

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