Zen Buddhism In Samurai Culture Essay

1557 words - 7 pages

As modern people who don’t know too deeply about the culture of Samurais, we tend to look at them in a superficial way. We look at them as just a person who carries a sword and knows martial arts. They are usually depicted as Japanese warriors who are either heroes or perhaps a ruthless villain. Some of these assumptions are in fact partly true, however it does not entirely define a samurai. There is a lot more to a samurai than just combat. These swordsmen had a culture, principles, beliefs, philosophies and religion. One philosophical religion in particular that heavily influenced Samurai culture was Zen Buddhism. It played a major role in their lives. It shaped the samurai’s way of life, ...view middle of the document...

So where did Zen Buddhism come from? It was actually originated from India. A Buddha while practicing his yoga and meditation discovered it, in hopes to find solution to human suffering. He wanted to understand what is man and why we do exist, which is the main suffering to one of the hardest questions in life. An Indian Monk by the name of Bodhidharma introduced Zen Buddhism to China around 6th century. It began growing rapidly in China as Chan, which means Chinese Zen. Later on, during China’s Golden Age, Zen Buddhism made its way to Japan. Zen Buddhism did not grow as well as it did in China, however, it was modified fit the lifestyles of the Japanese. Dogen Kigen, one of the greatest Zen Masters in Japan, perfected it. He wanted to understand the truth and concept on “original enlightenment.” After his great journey to China, he searched every temple he came across. From there, he met with Master Rujing. “Master Rujing was the 13th patriarch of the Caodong lineage of Chan Buddhism” (2). Dogen finally understood that original enlightenment didn’t really mean that monks where innately enlightened, but it was simply about sitting in silence and meditating in the present moment. They would let go of there past and future moments by just living in the here and now. Dogen spent a couple of years in China training before returning to Japan where he introduced and taught Soto Zen Buddhism.

As Zen Buddhism spread through Japan, Samurai warriors adopted it into their culture. “Samurai were one of the early adopters of this religious and philosophical tradition and used its guiding principles of finding inner peace and enlightenment to strengthen themselves both on and off the battlefield” (3). As a samurai warrior, they were exposed to a very dangerous life of killing and assassinations. Their purpose was to serve their lords or leaders as their soldiers for combat against other opposing enemies. With that being said, their minds and psyche was under a lot of pressure from the gruesome and challengingly violent lifestyle. A teaching in Zen Buddhism was necessary to make the samurai worry detached from such things, to be able to perform objectively.

The followers of Buddhism all had struggles known as Samsara and Nirvana. “Samsara is the idea that life is a cycle of suffering” (1). Everything we do or experience in life causes us to suffer. For example, if a person is feeling some type of emotions such as joy, excitement, sadness, or anger, the person is suffering. When a person is aging through the years, he or she is suffering. If a person is sleepy or thirsty, he is suffering. The philosophy of Buddhism is to end all those types of suffering on one’s self, to others as well. “Nirvana is the final destination of a Buddhist follower” (1). It is basically another level or platform that a Buddhist would reach when they’ve achieved enlightenment. They would have an insight the life style that would be ideal to them. Although Nirvana...

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