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> Go as Meditation

Go as Meditation

I have recently been playing through some of the games in Invincible: The Games of Shusaku. Sometimes, at a particularly good point in a game, I can sit in front of the board and almost meditate on the position, tracing out all the different variations in more and more detail. I like to imagine the game itself being played like this, as a kind of cooperative meditation on the possible futures of the game rather than as a contest between opponents.

This idea isn't all my own imagination. What set the stage for it was the first chapter, which tells some of the history of go in Japan. There were four go houses, each associated with a Buddhist sect, and every year the houses would compete in the castle games, which were played in the presence of the shogun. Here's a nice passage that gives some of the flavor of it.

In 1582 Nikkai played a famous game with his leading rival, Kashio Rigen, in the presence of Nobunaga at the Honnoji temple in Kyoto. A triple ko is said to have arisen in this game, leading to its suspension without a result. The night after the game, Nobunaga's ally Akechi Mitsuhide (1526–1582) suddenly rose in rebellion, surrounded the Honnoji temple with his troops and killed Nobunaga. Because of this, a triple ko was thereafter regarded as inauspicious.

It was traditional for the heads of the houses to be Buddhist priests, and for the players in the castle games to shave their heads and wear “priestly garb”.

Another thing that led my thoughts toward the idea of go as meditation was the essay The Clam Shells Are Heavy, from The Treasure Chest Enigma. The essay is about a tournament game played in April 1960, by Kajiwara Takeo and Hashimoto Shoji, where during the nine hours of the first day, nine moves were made. I can't do justice to Nakayama's essay in a summary; suffice it to say that it led me toward the idea of cooperative meditation. Here are a couple of passages that can serve as character notes and, as before, give some of the flavor.

It was nine o'clock, but Hashimoto Shoji, who had drawn black, showed no signs of playing a stone.

What could he be thinking about? I tried to imagine, but surely not even the genius Hashimoto Shoji had any material for analysis on the first move.


On a later occasion he was to comment that he took time on the opening because he enjoyed mapping out fuseki strategies in his head.

That ends the first passage; here's the second.

Kajiwara could be very abusive, but he was a true scholar; he was one of the Romantics of the go world.


His creed was that winning or losing was of no significance whatever in the search for truth on the go board.


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@ March (2000)