Moss-covered Monk

Moss-covered Monk


Monday, November 12, 2012

A History of Samurai and Zen (10)


Peace was at last restored by Iyeyasu, the founder of the Tokugana
Shogunate (1603-1867). During this period the Shogunate gave
countenance to Buddhism on one hand, acknowledging it as the state
religion, bestowing rich property to large monasteries, making priests take
rank over common people, ordering every householder to build a Buddhist
altar in his house; while, on the other hand, it did everything to exterminate
Christianity, introduced in the previous period (1544). All this paralyzed the
missionary spirit of the Buddhists, and put all the sects in dormant state. As
for Zen it was still favoured by feudal lords and their vassals, and almost all
provincial lords embraced the faith.

It was about the middle of this period that the forty-seven vassals of Ako
displayed the spirit of the Samurai by their perseverance, self-sacrifice, and
loyalty, taking vengeance on the enemy of their deceased lord. The leader of
these men, the tragic tales of whom can never be told or heard without
tears, was Yoshio (O-shi died 1702), a believer of Zen, and his tomb in the
cemetery of the temple of Sengakuji, Tokyo, is daily visited by hundreds of
his admirers.

Most of the professional swordsmen forming a class in these days practised
Zen. Munenori (Yagyu), for instance, established his reputation by the
combination of Zen and the fencing art. The following story about Bokuden
(Tsukahara), a great swordsman, fully illustrates this tendency:
"On a certain occasion Bokuden took a ferry to cross over the Yabase in the
province of Omi. There was among the other passengers a samurai, tall and
square shouldered, apparently an experienced fencer. He behaved rudely
toward the fellow passengers, and talked so much of his own dexterity in
the art, that Bokuden provoked by his brag, broke silence. "You seem, my
friend, to practise the art in order to conquer the enemy, but I do it in order
not to be conquered," said Bokuden. "O monk," demanded the man, as
Bokuden was clad like a Zen monk, "what school of swordsmanship do you
belong to? " " Well, mine is the conquering enemy without fighting
school." "Don't tell a fib, old monk. If you could conquer the enemy
without fighting, what then is your sword for?" "My sword is not to kill, but
to save," said Boku-den, making use of Zen phrases: "my art is transmitted
from mind to mind." "Now then, come, monk," challenged the man, "let us
see, right at this moment, who is the victor, you or I."

The gauntlet was picked up without hesitation. "But we must not fight,"
said Boku-den, "in the ferry, innocent passengers should be hurt. Yonder, a
small island you see. There we shall decide the contest." To this proposal
the man agreed, and the boat was pulled to that island.
No sooner had the boat reached the shore than the man jumped over to the
land, and cried: "Come on, monk, quick, quick!" Bokuden, however,
slowly rising, said: "Do not haste to lose your head. It is a rule of my school
to prepare slowly for fighting, keeping the soul in the abdomen." So saying
he snatched the oar from the boatman and rowed the boat back to some
distance, leaving the man alone, who stamping the ground madly, cried out:

"O, you fly, monk, you coward. Come, old monk!" "Now listen," said
Bokuden, "this is the secret art of the Conquering the enemy without fighting
school. Beware that you do not forget it, nor tell it to anybody else." Thus,
getting rid of the brawling fellow, Bokuden and his fellow passengers safely
landed on the opposite shore."

The O Baku School of Zen was introduced by Yin Yuen (Ingen) who
crossed the sea in 1654, accompanied by many able disciples. The
Shogunate gave him a tract of land at Uji, near Kyoto, and in 1659 he built
there a monastery noted for its Chinese style of architecture, now known as

The teachers of the same school came one after another from China, and
Zen peculiar to them, flourished a short. It was also in this period that Zen
gained a great influence on the popular literature characterized by the
shortest form of poetical composition. This was done through the genius of
Basho, a great literary man, recluse and traveller, who, as his writings show
us, made no small progress in the study of Zen. Again, it was made use of
by the teachers of popular ethics, who did a great deal in the education of
the lower classes. In this way Zen and its peculiar taste gradually found its
way into the arts of peace, such as literature, fine art, tea ceremony,
cookery, gardening, architecture, and at last it has permeated through every
fiber of Japanese life.

~Kaiten Nukariya