Ken zen ichinyo

Ken zen ichinyo 拳禅一如 is the first characteristic of Shorinji Kempo.

One of principal characteristics of Shorinji Kempo is summed up with the slogan: “Body and mind are one entity” (ken zen ichinyo). This points out that one should emphasize neither spiritual nor physical training, but rather that one should train and nourish both the body and spirit.

When the body fares poorly, one’s spirits tend to fall, and no matter how thoroughly one may set one’s soul at peace, this will not avert the decline of the body into illness. If the body and the spirit, then, are so inseparably intertwined, the training of either must be the training of both as one entity.

Kaiso (the founder) spoke of this concept not only as a matter of body and mind, but as a concept with meaning extending even to the relations of action an thought. Kaiso: “Zen is a thing of the mind and heart*. However, the whole matter is founded upon the body’s existence.

Kaiso had an acquaintance who was the head priest of a temple, and every year, come winter, the priest led his followers up a mountain to conduct the ascetic practice of standing under a waterfall. Every year after returning from the waterfall, the priest was said to spend several days confined to his bed. One day Kaiso went and spoke to the priest who was still resting in bed. The priest answered Kaiso’s questions: “For the sake of my followers, I had no choice but to go and stand under the fall, but, after all, I’m getting old and it was more than my body could take. I came down with neuralgia and still can’t move around yet.

From his youth, Kaiso himself suffered from heart disease which particularly troubled him in his latter years, but he maintained that one cannot depend solely on spiritual strength: “You’ve heard me say that I strive to overcome my heart disease through spiritual strength. But that spiritual strength consists of the feelings and attitude I maintain in the face of an incurable illness. I do not hold the belief that spiritual discipline can accomplish anything.

Naturally, one may ask if Kaiso placed special weight on physical discipline? Kaiso: “When you only use Shorinji Kempo to show off your strength, your physical training has no value at all.” As this statement shows, he was against making victories and new records the measures of excellence, and he forthrightly opposed focusing on building specialized physiques for such goals. In sum, he strongly admonished against overly weighting training towards either the physical or the mental aspect. Moreover, Kaiso extended the teaching of “ken zen ichinyo” beyond the field of physical and spiritual relations and extended it to the relations of acting and thinking. Kaiso: “If you merely think or feel something, that’s not enough. If it doesn’t come out in your actions, it has no meaning; but when those actions live inside you, that is when a thought begins to be power.

Kaiso had as a goal, when founding Shorinji Kempo, to educate people who could make thought into action. Kaiso said: “Faith and beliefs which do not come out in actions are meaningless. If you think something is good, do it. If you think something is bad, don’t do it.” Reforming things goes the same way; you throw yourself into the fray without wasting any words or worry about whether it’s to your advantage or not. What this means is that the Shorinji Kempo way of living is to hold body and mind as one entity, and if we are to think about something we will act on it.

This is ken zen ichinyo.

* In Japan the heart is the home of will and not the feelings as in the west.