How Zen Made the Samurai Fearless
Zen meditation gave the Samurai warrior the freedom to live, fight and die fearlessly without hesitation or regret. He focused totally on the present moment.
The Japanese samurai was an awesome swordsman; however, his mind was his greatest weapon. During the 12th Century, the samurai embraced Zen Buddhism and subsequently discovered the magnificent benefits of zen meditation, zazen. Zen gave the samurai warrior the mental edge that his enemies found extremely challenging.
Zen Meditation Gave Freedom and Spontaneity of Mind
Winston L. King, in his book, Zen and the Way of the Sword, Arming the Samurai Psyche, points out that the Zen teaching of a free and spontaneous mind was very helpful to warriors in combat, finding philosophical strength in Zen as they prepared themselves for death.
"What kind of a mind can penetrate an opponent's mind? It is a mind that has been trained and cultivated to the point of detachment with perfect freedom...His mind should reflect his opponent's mind like water reflecting the moon."
"Zen training conditioned the Samurai's mind to move in perfect freedom, to be one with the sword, the opponent, and the movements of combat."
Zen Training Gave the Samurai "Mind of No Mind"
- King further specified, "The samurai could eliminate all thoughts of life, death, victory and defeat."
- Focus completely on the present
- Give full attention to the changing tide of combat
This ability to eliminate distractions is significant, as pointed out by the Rev. Zenku Smyers, Dec. 8, 1999 in his article, "With Deepest Gratitude" in The Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago, "A single doubt or fear could cause a lack of concentration that could prove fatal."
It enabled him to kill and be killed without complaint and fear. The Samurai could strike with out regret and die with out fear.
Zen Buddhism Presented a Paradox to the Samurai
Charles B. Jones reflected in his Review of Zen and the Way of the Sword: Arming the Samurai Psyche, "The final question is how did the samurai square their killing with the Buddhist principle of non-violence?"
As Jones reflects, "The Way of the Sword explores how Buddhism which espouses a basic attitude of non violence, and the samurai class of Japanese warriors trained themselves to inflict death with out forethought or hesitation, whose goal was summed up by Miyamoto Musashi, one of Japans greatest samurai, 'Whenever you cross swords with an enemy you must not think of cutting and killing him. Be intent soley upon killing the enemy.
Jones states, "King tells us that this was based on rebirth and Karma. If one found himself born into a samurai family then that was a manifestation of his Karma and must be accepted with out rancor".
The samurai sought to fulfill their duties within their present reality. Apparently some samurai hoped to get rebirth with out the necessity of fighting and killing. Some had hopes for rebirth in the same samurai family so they could continue serving their lord and his descendants.
The Samurai Embraced Zen Buddhism to Manifest His Destiny
He gained freedom and spontaneity of the mind with the study of Zen. This freedom of the mind gave him his expertise with the sword. He fought his enemies without fear and regret and he lived and died for his Lord and family. Most importantly, the Samurai justified the paradox of Zen Buddhism and his violent lifestyle with the doctrines of Karma and Rebirth.
Zen and the Way of the Sword, by Winston L. King
A Review of Zen and the Way of the Sword, by Charles B. Jones
"With Deepest Gratitude", Dec. 8, 1999, by the Rev. Zenku Smyers, The Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago
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