The Kodenkan Judo of Master Okazaki

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Even Hell under the Upraised Sword

The idea for this story is based on a Koan presented in Zen Comics, p.20-21, by Ioanna Salajan, Charles E. Tuttle & Co., 1974.


There is an expression in the Esoteric Principles which reads, “Even Hell under the upraised sword.” This is followed by a sentence which has been translated to mean, “there are rapids where by disregarding oneself one will float by safely”. The first translators took the first and second expression, and combining them, translated them thusly, “There are rapids where if one is too cautious one will land in Hell, but by disregarding oneself one will float by safely.” While this is an adequate translation of the expressions, it is unbalanced. A better translation would be, “There are rapids where if one thinks only of oneself one will perish, but by disregarding one’s self one floats by safely.” Now there is balance and both meanings have been adequately translated.

There are those who do not understand how “Even Hell…” can be translated as indicated. This is because “Even Hell…” is a Zen aphorism and must be understood in its Zen context.

This is best described by presenting a short story (see reference above):

A man came upon a priest sitting in meditation and asked, “Is there a Heaven and a Hell?” The priest paused for a moment and then looked up and said, “Who is asking?” The man declared with great pride and haughtiness of voice, “I, a Samurai, am asking!”

The priest looked upon the man and began deriding him saying, “A Samurai! You, a Samurai! Why look at you! Your clothes are tatters, your hair is a mess and you stink! Why you are no Samurai, you are a beggar. Look at yourself! You are nothing but skin and bones. Not only are you not a Samurai but you are not even a very good beggar! I doubt if you have eaten in days. Why I bet you re so weak that you cannot even raise your sword.”

At this torrent of abuse, the Samurai became completely enraged. He drew his sword high over his head, preparing to kill the priest, when suddenly the priest cried, “Behold, the Gates of Hell!”. Whereupon the Samurai, recognizing the meaning of the priest words, lowered his head and his sword in shame and humility. The priest then declared, “Behold, the Gates of Heaven!”

We can see from this story that “Even Hell…” actually refers to being self-centered and emotion driven. So, the first translators of the Esoteric Principles did well in presenting the meaning of the Zen idea. To translate the words “Even Hell…” and leave them at that is really no translation at all. For translation means to convey the meaning of one language into the meaning of another. The literal provides no meaning whatsoever and does not qualify as being translated. But perhaps the best of all translations lies in the telling of a story, the meanings of which can be more fully discerned.


1991, 2002, David A. Scheid, All Rights Reserved

Prepared by: David A. Scheid