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Zen & martial arts | Zen Buddhism

In all of these pursuits, the Zen practice of a clear, focused mind helped the samurai achieve high levels of mastery. Stephen Turnbull, in his book "The Samurai and the Sacred" argues that Samurai did not exclusively use Zen Buddhism to form their moral code, and that it, instead, provided a method of intellectualizing several preexisting samurai beliefs. Buddhism as a whole played a large part in shaping samurai morality, but no single sect like Zen, was pervasive enough to dictate customs and practices. Some non-Buddhist belief systems, like Confucianism, even played an important part in ascribing virtues like self-discipline to the samurai mind.

James Stuart began his professional writing career in He traveled through Asia, Europe, and North America, and has recently returned from Japan, where he worked as a freelance editor for several English language publications. He looks forward to using his travel experience in his writing.

College Life

College Life. College Admissions. Leading lives of great fragility, never knowing when death might strike, perhaps the warriors needed faith in Buddha Amitabha more than most. According to some accounts, Pure Land monks accompanied samurai into battle in order to guide them in recitation of the name of the Buddha Amitabha a prayer known as the nembutsu should they succumb to wounds, and to pray for their successful salvation in the event of death.

It appears that his fears are greatly eased by even this brief devotional act. Zen Buddhism Another, quite different sect with many samurai adherents was Zen Buddhism. Introduced to Japan from China in the twelfth century, Zen is a form of Buddhism that stresses seated meditation and pondering of koan —paradoxical statements or questions—as practices leading to enlightenment.

The military leadership, based in Kamakura, was particularly welcoming to Zen, supporting the activities of Chinese and Japanese monks and sponsoring the establishment of several major temples in the east during the thirteenth century.

Samurai Zen

This patronage continued throughout the period of rule by the Ashikaga shoguns, accounting for the great concentration of Zen temples in Kyoto, where their capital was located. Describing the connection between Zen principles and samurai values, the historian Martin Collcutt writes:.


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With its emphasis on discipline and self-reliant effort, Zen was temperamentally suited to warriors, who on the battlefield required skill and courage. The ultimate goal of Zen is, of course, spiritual awakening and the attainment of Buddhahood, but the concentration and equanimity fostered by the practice of meditation and the directness of mind and expression called for in koan encounters were of great practical use to even the most unenlightened samurai.

Many samurai practiced meditation, alone and under the tutelage of Zen monks, and the concentration required by this practice became a guiding principle for martial arts and military discipline.


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  • For example, the fourth Ashikaga shogun commissioned one of the most famous Zen paintings of his age, Catching a Catfish with a Gourd, to illustrate a famous koan. Other leading warriors collected Chinese ceramics and ink paintings, introduced to Japan through the Zen monasteries. Zen Figure Painting in Medieval Japan, ed. Skip to main content. Log in or sign up to save resources Print page Email link to page. Religious Practices of the Samurai. Resource Type:.

    Zen & martial arts

    Having the power to command and the power to kill just makes it all the more important to to show qualities of compassion. Courtesy and good manners have been noticed by every foreign tourist to Japan.

    THE WAY OF SAMURAI - Epic Music Mix

    When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop them from completing what they say they will do. Speaking and doing are the same action. Decisions they make and the actions they carry out are a reflection of who they really are. Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said, and all of the consequences that follow. They are immensely loyal to all of those in their care. To everyone that they are responsible for, they remain fiercely true. Bushido teaches that the samurai should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one which transcends logic.

    The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification. The most important quality of the samurai is character, rather than other qualities such as intelligence.

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    Intellectual superiority was admired, but essentially a samurai was someone of action.