Moss-covered Monk

Moss-covered Monk


Monday, November 5, 2012

A History of Samurai and Zen (3)


Now we have to observe the condition of the country when Zen was
introduced into Japan by Eisai and Dogen. Nobilities that had so long
governed the island were nobilities no more. Enervated by their luxuries,
effeminated by their ease, made insipient by their debauchery, they were
entirely powerless. All that they possessed in reality was the nominal rank
and hereditary birth. On the contrary, the Samurai or military class had
everything in their hands.

It was the time when even the emperors were dethroned or exiled at will by
the samurai, even the Buddhist monks frequently took up arms to force their
will. And it was the time when Japan's independence was endangered by
Kublai, the terror of the world. It was the time when the whole nation was
full of martial spirit. That time Yori-tomo (1148-1199) conquered all over
the empire, and established the Samurai Government at Kamakura.

It is beyond doubt that to these rising Samurais, rude and simple, the
philosophical doctrines of Buddhism, represented by Ten Dai and Shin
Gon, were too complicated and too alien to their nature. But in Zen they
could find something congenial to their nature, something that touched their
chord of sympathy, because Zen was the doctrine of chivalry in a certain

Let us point out in brief the similarities between Zen and Japanese chivalry.
First, both the Samurai and the Zen monk have to undergo a strict discipline
and endure privation without complaint. Even such a prominent teacher as
Eisai, for example, lived contentedly in such needy circumstances that on
one occasion he and his disciples had nothing to eat for several days.

Fortunately, they were requested by a believer to recite the Scriptures, and
presented with two rolls of silk.

The hungry young monks, whose mouths watered already at the expectation
of a long looked dinner, were disappointed when that silk was given to a
poor man, who called on Eisai to obtain some help. Fast continued for a
whole week, when another poor follow came in and asked Eisai to give
something. At this time, having nothing to show his substantial mark of
sympathy towards the poor, Eisai tore off the gilt glory of the image of
Buddha Bheçajya and gave it. The young monks, bitten both by hunger and
by anger at this outrageous act to the object of worship, questioned Eisai by
way of reproach: "Is it, sir, right for us Buddhists to demolish the image of a
Buddha?" "Well," replied Eisai promptly, "Buddha would give even his
own life for the sake of suffering people. How could he be reluctant to give
his halo ?" This anecdote clearly shows us self-sacrifice is of first
importance in the Zen discipline.

~Kaiten Nukariya