During the civil wars in feudal Japan, the ferocity of the invading armies was a thing of legend. Calculated and ruthless, they would sweep through entire towns and take control in a matter of hours, systematically handicapping the village’s defences, plundering their valuables, and killing any and all dissidents without question.
As a point of political power, the troops were especially harsh with the monks, knowing of their influence over the minds of the people. They were under strict instruction to humiliate and torture the men of cloth before publicly executing them in the center of town. Thus, during the initial stages of a raid, special factions of samurai were dispatched to gather the highest ranking members of the clergy and bring them before the town officials, in order that the spectacle be carried out for all to see. The townsfolk were to know, quite clearly, who the new powers were.
It was during one of these invasions, as the samurai returned with the captured holy men, that the army’s General was informed of a monk, one of the highest ranking, who refused capture.
“He would not come? Even under threat to his brethren?” the General asked.
The lead samurai shook his head. “We murdered numerous lower ranks in front of him, from the Samanera to the Majjhima. All his contemporaries surrendered, yet he remains. We did not harm him, however, as we knew you would want such a dissident fully intact.”
The General thought on this for a while. In all his years as an enforcer he had never encountered such a situation. The audacity! He decided to meet this monk face to face. Rounding up a select group of samurai, they rode off to the monastery.
Passing through the gates, he saw him there, a man of no special stature, standing stalwart in front of his holy house, face to the sun, arms clasped behind his back. The General dismounted and started towards him, the samurai remaining behind on horseback.
As he drew closer, the military man unsheathed his sword, walking directly into the monk’s midst and pushing the tip into his navel. For the first time, the monk made eye contact, looking down from the sky and into the face of his attacker.
“Don’t you know who I am, monk?” the General hissed. “I could take this sword and run it through your belly without blinking an eye.”
The monk remained stolid, his expression unchanged. “And don’t you know who I am?” he replied. “I could have your sword run through my belly without blinking an eye.”