A number of traditional practices in Japan have been used as aids in the search for enlightenment, such as the arts of flower arranging, archery, sword fighting, the tea ceremony, and karate. In addition to serving as paths to enlightenment, they can illuminate the Buddhist perspective. However, one major traditional practice in Japan associated with Buddhism for centuries and traditionally referred to as a "way" or do, (pronounced dao in Chinese), has been neglected by those seeking to explicate Buddhism. This is the game Westerners call "Go," known in Japan as igo or kido, "the way of Go." It provides a useful way of depicting and experiencing the fundamental aspects of life as Buddhists understand it.
The game of Go originated over 4,000 years ago in ancient China where it was considered one of the four activities a person had to master in order to be truly civilized, the other three being poetry, music, and painting. It was brought to Japan around the seventh century C.E., probably by Buddhist monks returning from training in monasteries in China. Although the game is much older than Buddhism, it was quickly recognized by Buddhists as a useful tool for Buddhist practice. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the strongest players in Japan were generally Buddhist monks. (The oldest extant record of a game in Japan is traditionally ascribed to Nichiren, the thirteenth-century founder of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism.) The game was popular as a means of instilling the virtues of overcoming fear, greed, and anger among the samurai whose instructors in Go were Buddhist monks. Its capacity for making its players better people is part of the reason Go is still widely popular in Japan, Korea, and China, where millions of people play regularly. The increasing popularity of Go in Europe and America also reflects its tendency to foster humane attitudes.
Go is a strategy board game, as is chess, though the two games differ profoundly. It is played with circular black and white pieces called "stones" on a square grid that is usually 19 by 19 lines. The stones are placed on the intersections of the lines, rather than in the squares, and are not moved during play, although they can be captured and removed from the board. Play begins with an empty board, and the players alternate placing stones on the board, with the player who has the black stones going first. As play proceeds, patterns of black and white stones evolve on the grid. ...[Continue reading on Tricycle]