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Japanese Samurai

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Zen and the Way of the Sword zen and the way of the sword Zen and the Way of the Sword

A superb analysis by King, a renowned scholar of Far Eastern religions, of the curious marriage between Zen Buddhism and samurai fighting.   The contradiction is glaring: Zen emphasises tranquillity and meditation, whereas the samurai code deals with bloodshed.   How then did Zen become the religion of the Japanese warrior?   King locates the roots of Zen in Taoism, whose influence led to a form of Buddhism that emphasised practicality, surprise, and irreverence.    By the 13th century, Zen had been adopted by the Japanese ruling elite, and most Zen monasteries boasted their own large standing armies (this despite the Buddha's injunction against killing).   Meanwhile, the samurai class rose to power under the aegis of the shogun, valuing absolute obedience, Spartan self-control, and precision in killing -- a perfect match for Zen's own emphasis on exactness and ``visceral awareness.''   King expands at fascinating length on Zen/samurai swordsmanship, including the startling variety of sword strokes; details of how Japanese blacksmiths produce the incomparable samurai sword (the best in the world); and a cut-by-cut account of sepukku, or ritual suicide.    As he points out, the Zen/samurai spirit still flourishes in Japan, finding recent manifestation both in the kamikaze attacks of WW II and in the authoritarianism of large corporations.   In a controversial but persuasive argument, King suggests that D.T. Suzuki, the most famous interpreter of Zen to the West, sanitised the Zen/samurai connection and that Zen, because it rejects the scriptural and literary traditions of more mainstream Buddhism, lacks ``intrinsic ethical quality'' and thus can be adapted to fit any orientation- -whether for peace or war.    Daring and stylish -- a true Zen/samurai stroke of religious scholarship.

An uncomplicated work of profound simplicity.    Takuan's voice in this work provides resonance for scholars and martial artists alike.   For avid readers of the Zen tradition, this book offers both contrast and compliment to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.   Most interesting I thought was his distinction between the "mind of principle" and the "mind of technique".   It stimulates meditation on our own day-to-day quality of thought and action.
Essential Insights into the Employer/Employee contract.    While this is a book of sayings by Takuan Soho, it illuminates the unspoken lifetime contract between employer (master) and employee (student).   Volumes have been written about lifetime employment in Japan, but I find this small book captures the spirit of that contract which goes well beyond what I know of in the U.S.   Unfortunately, this contract has slowly been perverted to gradually eliminate the obligations of the employer and today we see the virtual abandonment of this idea as Japanese companies eliminate their obligations and join the West in its brand of capitalism.   Reading this book will give great insights into the modern ideas of "growing a business" and "sustainability".

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