In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.
~Lao Tzu, Ancient Chinese philosopher and author
During this time, board games have replaced one of the more favorite pastimes and that is, going to the movies. Families and others have gone back to playing board games. There are games for the whole family or board games for two. One of these games for two is chess. I always thought that chess was created somewhere in the European region, but to my surprise it originated in India.
The Indian game of chess is called “chatuganda” or catur for short. It can be traced back about 1,500 years ago. It is a Sanskrit word loosely translated meaning “having 4 limbs or parts”. It has 4 main characters of infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry. Later in European countries, these 4 divisions would evolve into pawn, knight, bishop and rook.
The Indian game of chess eventually spread to Persia. In Persia, it became part of the princely or courtly education of Persian nobility. When the Arab Muslims conquered Persia, the game was taken by the Muslims and spread to southern Europe. By the 10th century, it traveled from the Middle East to Russia. The Muslims also carried this game to North Africa, Sicily, and Iberia.
Because the Arab Muslims did not have certain sounds, the name was changed to fit into their language. There have been around 600 name changes. Buddhist pilgrims, Silk Road travelers and others carried this game to the Far East. This game then spread throughout the world and many variants of the game of chess had taken shape.
Buddhism spanned from about the 6th century BCE until present. With the help of India’s King Asoka, Buddhism was able to expand to other countries and eventually spanned through Central Asia, and was taken on the international route of the Silk Road, which carried many goods between China, India, Middle East and the Mediterranean world.
After King Asoka’s successful, yet bloody conquest of the kingdom of Kalinga, King Ashoko walked across the battlefield and saw death and destruction. It was at that moment, he experienced a profound change of heart. He renounced any armed conquest and adopted a policy he called “conquest by Dharma.” He saw that this battle caused suffering of the defeated nation. It moved him to such sadness and despair.
He encountered Buddhism and adopted its teachings. The influence of Buddhism and knowing his own temperament, he resolved to live accordingly to the Middle Way. He adopted for himself the rejection of all extremes of thought, emotion, action, and lifestyle. He learned to live in a moderate or balanced lifestyle. He cultivated a mental and emotional calmness of thought and morality.
King Asoka came to understand the Dharma to be a practice of socio-moral value of honesty, truthfulness, compassion, mercy, benevolence, non-violence, and consideration of behavior towards all.
His words were frank and with sincerity. He wanted to propagate the Dharma to serve his subjects and all of humanity. He adopted a policy of respect and guaranteed that people had the freedom to live their lives according to their own principles. He taught of respect, of listening to points of others and to refrain from criticism of viewpoints of others. He contributed his success by reasoning with people rather than issuing commands.
In Buddhism as well as in the game of chess or chatuganda, each move or decision we make have its consequences. Each move or realization we make in our lives or on the board can bring forward a fresh path that can guide us. It may be in future moves on the board or later in life. Buddhism and chess challenges us to think and to hear what we think.
If we take a false step and fall, we can learn from it. We practice what we learned from that false step. When we are tempted, frustrated, or have hardships, we can remember the teachings of the Buddha. We play and live life in the present, with all the ups and downs in life. However, whatever the problems is in life or in the game of chess, the solver has to be the one to find the solution.
How fortunate we are, for it is our Namu Amida Butsu that guides and directs us. It cannot solve the problems we may face, for it is the self that must evaluate the situation and find the answers. Yet our Nembutsu can help settle the mind, ease the pain and help us to think. We only have to be willing to hear, learn and think.
Like in the game of catur and in Buddhism, it takes thinking. The understanding of the working of Buddhism cannot be understood without thought, hearing or listening. It challenges us, so that we may find our path. In catur, it takes thought, strategy, and planning, so that a fresh path may be made for future moves. We can try to direct the opponent to move for our advantage, yet the opponent is also thinking ahead.
In the medieval past, everyone was born in his or her status and there was not much movement between classes. Yet the game of catur cannot be won without the cooperation of the rest of the pieces. Chess and Buddhism gives us the freedom to choose and with each choice, there are consequences. We may fall or make mistakes in our move of chess and Buddhism, yet both teaches us to learn from our errors.
We have our Namu Amida Butsu to listen to and it allows us to be who we are and just as we are. Buddhism is truth that can lead us to see that we are filled with blind passions of greed, anger, ignorance and ego, yet are we willing to search within to see the truth?
Chess is a game of strategy and winning. It is a matter of skill and out thinking the opponent and of trying to capture the lead pieces, hopefully with honesty and non-violence. Nembutsu is non-calculating. Buddhism does not judge if we play the game well; it makes us search within for our true self. Buddhism is a way of life with all the ups and downs.
We can learn from the game of chess or catur and Buddhism, yet it is our Namu Amida Butsu that has traveled down from generation to generation without change. Nembutsu and its teachings have not changed since the first Dharma message. According to the people and region, words are translated in the dialect of the people and yet the meaning remain the same.
As always stay safe, be healthy and it is always Namu Amida Butsu.
Gassho Rev. Seijo Naomi Nakano