John M. Soderberg's bronze, Sermon, is not meant to represent one man, but rather what a number of men themselves represented.
Kashyapa was disciple to the Buddha, as well as being his successor--chosen as such because only he, Kashyapa, understood the master's most famous and profound sermon, in which, atop Mount Gridharkuta, the Buddha uttered not a word, but merely held a yellow lotus toward his disciples--an awesomely simple message which has been called, for some two thousand years, simply the Sermon of the Lotus. Kashyapa was the first Great Patriarch; the 27th after him took both Buddhism and the meaning of that Sermon to Japan. And Nichiren, the son of a fisherman who grew to be the warrior monk, foretold that Kublai Khan's impending invasion of Japan would succeed--unless Japan took up the Way of the Lotus, the "Lotus Sutra," the teachings that had grown from that wordless sermon. Japan listened. And it came true: the mighty fleet of the grandson of Genghis Khan was struck by the kamikaze, the "divine wind," and sunk in the Genkai Straits.
In a battle in 1582, Lord Akechi Mitsuhide, a follower of Nichiren, found himself besieged, hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered--doomed. He sent to the opposing general this note: "My castle is burning, and soon I shall die. I have many excellent swords which I have treasured all my life, and am loath to have destroyed with me. I will die happy if you will stop your attack for a short while, so that I can have the swords sent out and presented to you." The fighting ceased. The swords were wrapped in a thin mattress and lowered with reverence from the smoldering castle. Then the fighting resumed. Lord Akechi died.
Soderberg was also deeply inspired by the life of Miyamoto Musashi possibly the greatest swordsman in history who died in 1645 after surviving an incredible 60 combats. He was a simple man whose entire life was an art form. Instead of simply attempting to master the sword, he strove to learn from it, so that he might master himself. He is also known as "Nitan" his artist name. Even in his own life, he was renowned for his "Sumi-e," or ink paintings, which were executed with grace and an economy of strokes. The same sword hand that could split an armored opponent vertically in half was capable of tremendous delicacy and elegance. He was also a sculptor in wood and a respected author whose thoughts and writings are studied and used today.
To quote Eiji Yoshikawa in his book Musashi, "his ordinariness is what's extraordinary about him. He's not content with relying on whatever natural gifts he may have. Knowing he's ordinary, he's always trying to improve himself. No one appreciates the agonizing effort he's had to make. Now that his years of training have yielded such spectacular results, everyone's talking about his 'God-given talent.' That's how men who don't try very hard console themselves".