Zen and the Way of the Sword
Arming the Samurai Psyche
Winston L. King
Zen--serene, contemplative, a discipline of meditation associated with painting, rock gardens, and flower arranging--seems an odd ingredient in the martial psyche of the Japanese samurai. "One who is a samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind...the fact that he has to die," wrote a seventeenth-century warrior. "That is his chief business." But the demands of that "business," writes Winston King, found the perfect philosophical match in the teachings of Zen Buddhism.
In Zen and the Way of the Sword, King offers a fascinating look into the mind of the samurai swordsman in a far-reaching account of the role of Zen in the thought, culture, and the martial arts of Japan's soldier elite. King shows how the samurai cultivated Zen, relating its teaching of a free and spontaneous mind to the experience of a warrior in individual combat, and finding the philosophical strength in Zen as they prepared themselves for death. He focuses on the sword--the soul of the samurai, as it was called--describing how it was forged, the honor given famous swordsmiths, and the rise of schools of swordsmanship. And he goes on to trace the role of Zen in samurai life through the peaceful eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, examining the absorption of Zen into World War II psychology and broader Japanese culture.
An intriguing account, Zen and the War of the Sword provides fascinating insight into the samurai ethos, and the culture of Japan today.