reflections on Rashamon

I would like to pick up a theme I started working through some time ago, namely the Rashamon phenomenon.   As I go on in my career, I find myself pondering this phenomenon more and more, because I encounter aspects of it more and more.  And I’m curious as to why.

Perhaps it’s just something fundamental to the nature of being human.  We each come to each experience with the baggage and influence of the lives we’ve led up to the moment of the experience.  And even though we are tied together by our common language, we each experience each moment from our own particular viewpoint.

But it isn’t just the baggage and influence of our past experience.  We each also approach each moment with some amount and some direction of expectation and assumption.  Perhaps we will assume that a conversation will be on one topic, and it isn’t until we’re some minutes into it that we realize the other person is talking about something completely unrelated.

These are tied together in something that martial artists, and Zen practitioners more generally, refer to as the Beginner’s Mind.  How can we approach each moment on its own merits, rather than being bound by the expectations and assumptions we bring along with us.

This is clearly something important to a martial artist, as should we find ourselves in the situation of needing to do something in the face of an attack, even in the relatively confined circumstance of a grading or demonstration, for instance, we can find ourselves in real trouble, on both sides, if we make an assumption that turns out to be unfounded.

It’s interesting to speculation on the extent to which the Rashamon phenomenon is tied up in these difficulties of being human, and to what extent it is the result of deliberate misunderstanding or at least the deliberate act of assuming that it must be the other person that misunderstood.

On a slightly different tack, we can go back to a basic part of the Rashamon phenomenon, viewing the different perspectives on an event as shadows projected in different directions by that event.  And this leads to something equally interesting.

If I take a shape of shadow, I can always find an object that has that shape of shadow.  If I take 2 shapes of shadow, I can always find a single object that has one of those shapes of shadow in one direction and the other in a different direction.

If I take though 3 shapes of shadows, does there always exist a single object which has shadows in each of those 3 shapes in 3 different directions?  And how might we build that object?  Sometimes the answer is yes, as there is a single (rather simple) shape that casts a circular shadow in one direction, a triangular shadow in a second direction and a square shadow in a third direction.




~ by Jim Anderson on 3 June 2018.

2 Responses to “reflections on Rashamon”

  1. Ooo! Show triangular square circular object, please! (And do I not have a faint memory of the cover of GODEL ESCHER BACH (paperback) that had some carved wooden blocks that showed different letters when beams of light were shone on them from different directions? Which leads to a possible koan: what shape is the Uncut Block? (er… story alert? Incoming… worp… worp… worp…)

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