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Zen and the Way of the Sword: Arming the Samurai Psyche / Edition 1

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Overview

In Zen and the Way of the Sword, King offers a fascinating look into the mind of the samurai swordsman in a far-reaching account of the role of Zen in the thought, culture, and the martial arts of Japan's soldier elite.

Zen--serene, contemplative, a discipline of meditation associated with painting, rock gardens, and flower arranging--seems an odd ingredient in the martial psyche of the Japanese samurai. But the author reveals the role of Zen in the thought, culture, and the martial arts of Japan's soldier elite. King shows how the samurai cultivated Zen and found strength in it as they prepared themselves for combat and possible death. 16 line drawings.

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Editorial Reviews

Charles B. Jones
It must be said at the outset that this is not strictly an academic book....[I]t is apparently [intended] as a popular introduction to the place of Zen in samurai life and culture. It is written in highly accessible language, with copious illustrations of swordmaking techniques, fighting styles, and core values....It is a good survey of the state of the field in western scholarship, and a good book for those teaching undergraduates who may have an interest in Zen and the martial arts.
Journal of Buddhist Ethics \
Charles B. Jones
It must be said at the outset that this is not strictly an academic book....[I]t is apparently [intended] as a popular introduction to the place of Zen in samurai life and culture. It is written in highly accessible language, with copious illustrations of swordmaking techniques, fighting styles, and core values....It is a good survey of the state of the field in western scholarship, and a good book for those teaching undergraduates who may have an interest in Zen and the martial arts.
Journal of Buddhist Ethics
Kirkus Reviews
A superb analysis by King (Religion/Vanderbilt University), a renowned scholar of Far Eastern religions, of the curious marriage between Zen Buddhism and samurai fighting. The contradiction is glaring: Zen emphasizes tranquility 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 emphasized 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, sanitized 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 anyorientation—whether for peace or war. Daring and stylish—a true Zen/samurai stroke of religious scholarship. (Illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195068108
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/28/1993
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Winston L. King is Professor Emeritus of Vanderbilt University. He has had extended firsthand contact with Buddhism in Burma and Japan and is the author of a number of books on religion as a cultural phenomenon and Buddhism in particular.

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Table of Contents

A Note on the Text
Introduction 3
Pt. I Zen and Japan
1 The Zen Discipline and Experience 9
2 The Japanese Warrior Adopts Zen 27
Pt. II The Japanese Samurai
3 The Warrior in Japanese History 37
4 The Samurai Sword 61
5 Samurai Swordsmanship 95
6 Bushido: The Samurai Ethos 123
Pt. III Samurai Zen
7 A Stable Inner Platform of Mental Control 159
8 The Zen Sword: A Modern Interpretation 179
Pt. IV The Samurai Heritage
9 The Samurai of the Twentieth Century 195
10 The Life-giving "Sword" of the Martial Arts 231
Postscript 253
Bibliography 255
Index 259
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