Moss-covered Monk

Moss-covered Monk


Saturday, November 10, 2012

A History of Samurai and Zen (8)


Towards the end of the Hojo period, and after the downfall of the Regency
in 1333, sanguinary battles were fought between the Imperialists and the
rebels. The former, brave and faithful as they were, being outnumbered by
the latter, perished in the field one after another for the sake of the illstarred
Emperor Godaigo (1319-1338), whose eventful life ended in anxiety and
despair. It was at this time that Japan gave birth to Masashige (Kusunoki),
an able general and tactician of the Imperialists, who for the sake of the
Emperor not only sacrificed himself and his brother, but by his will his son
and his son's successor died for the same cause, boldly attacking the enemy
whose number was overwhelmingly great.

Masashige's loyalty, wisdom, bravery, and prudence are not merely unique
in the history of Japan, but perhaps in the history of man. The tragic tale
about his parting with his beloved son, and his bravery shown at his last
battle, never fail to inspire the Japanese with heroism. He is the best
specimen of the Samurai class. According to an old document, this
Masashige was the practiser of Zen, and just before his last battle he called
on Chu Tsun (Soshun) to receive the final instruction. "What have I to do
when death takes the place of life?" asked Masashige. The teacher replied:
"Be bold, at once cut off both ties, The drawn sword gleams against the

Thus becoming, as it were, an indispensable discipline for the Samurai, Zen
never came to an end with the Hojo period, but grew more prosperous than
before during the reign of the Emperor Godaigo, one of the most
enthusiastic patrons of the the Shoguns of the Ashikaga period (1338-1573)
and were not less devoted to the faith than the Emperors who succeeded the
Emperor Godaigo. And even Takauji (1338-1357), the notorious founder of
the Shogunate, built a monastery and invited Soseki, better known as
MuSoKokuShi, who was respected as the tutor by the three successive
Emperors after Godaigo. Takauji's example was followed by all succeeding
Shoguns, and Shogun's example was followed by the feudal lords and their
vassals. This resulted in the propagation of Zen throughout the country. We
can easily imagine how Zen was prosperous in these days from the splendid
monasteries built at this period, such as the Golden Hall Temple and the
Silver Hall Temple that still adorn the fair city of Kyoto.

~Kaiten Nukariya