I previously posted an article about an art exhibition entitled The Lords of the Samurai. Heres another article, but from a different perspective. The writer who authored the introduction to the exhibition's catalog is none other than the famous translator, Thomas Clearly. Below I have an excerpt, the full article may be found here. The painting is from the article, and is a folding screen painted by the famous swordsman Musashi.
Samurai hold lessons for modern warfare
At first glance, Thomas Cleary is an unlikely expert on war, weaponry and man's ability to destroy.
The Oakland author and translator of some 80 spiritual texts is gentle and soft-spoken, perfectly suited for poring over ancient works in hushed libraries. Cleary reads in nine languages, and his career has focused on Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim and Confucian classics. Through his studies, though, Cleary's understanding of war spans the ages, from Japan's warrior class to the world wars and the military assaults of today.
"All campaigns for war focus on creating fear," said Cleary, known by many for his translation of Sun Tzu's Chinese classic "The Art of War." When Cleary watched the buildup to the Bush administration's invasion in Iraq and its assertion of imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction, Cleary thought "it was all too predictable."
In his writings and translations, Cleary hopes to increase "intelligence and thoughtfulness," and bring added awareness to the human condition. Much is to be learned, Cleary says, from studying the warriors of Japan - the samurai, who strove to balance truculence with culture.
"When your mind is full of death all the time, beauty is like an intense experience of life," said Cleary, sitting on a sofa in an apartment in Oakland where he sometimes goes to work. "The samurai tried to find balance."
That fragile, meticulously constructed pursuit of balance is on display at the "Lords of the Samurai" exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Cleary, who has written six books on the samurai, wrote the introduction in the show's catalog. The warriors' suits of armor in the show are made like haute couture, with colorful silk lacing and exquisite detail and ornamentation. Lethal swords of forged steel are displayed near beautiful scrolls and screens with pale pink tree peonies.
"All of this is a reminder of the idea that when you bear a deadly weapon, you ought to be careful about using it," said Cleary, speaking to the juxtaposition of beauty and lethality in the museum show. "Beauty is a reminder of the preciousness of life."