Samurai Zen

Samurai Zen

by Scott Shaw
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Samurai Zen by Scott Shaw

In this book, Shaw draws upon his knowledge of Asian culture and years of study in the martial arts to show us how we, too, can achieve higher understanding through the tenets of Zen Buddhism. Iado - the meditative way of the sword becomes a path to enlightenment. The first step is to learn to control the physical body; once physical senses are honed, the thinking mind can be silenced and can join with the body to become a unified force. Illustrated. Index.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609254407
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 01/15/1999
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 6 MB

Read an Excerpt

Samurai ZEN

By Scott Shaw

Samuel Weiser, Inc.

Copyright © 1999 Scott Shaw
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-440-7



Butsz is the Japanese word for the Buddha. The Sanskrit word, Buddha, means, "One who has awakened."

Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born in 560 B.C. in Lumbini, Northern India, near present-day Nepal. His father was head of the Sakya Clan, thus, Siddhartha lived the sheltered life of royalty. When he was 29 years old, just before the birth of his son, he witnessed death, poverty, and sorrow for the first time. This drove Prince Siddhartha on a quest to find the answer to human existence. He left his home and lived the life of a Sadhu, a wandering holy man, in hopes of finding the reasons why human life was bound by suffering. Finding no answers as a Sadhu, he sat down in meditation under a bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India, near Varanasi, and refused to get up until he had reached enlightenment. At the end of thirty days he rose, an enlightened being. After his enlightenment,

Siddhartha Gautama roamed India as a lecturing holy man, developing many disciples until his death in 480 B.C. at age 80 from food poisoning. Siddhartha Gautama is known as Sakyamuni Buddha, which means he is the silent Buddha from the clan of Sakya. Siddhartha Gautama is commonly referred to as "The Buddha." He was, however, by no means the only Buddha. The Pali text, The Mahavadana Sutra, counts twenty-four Buddhas who existed before Siddhartha Gautama. Since it is understood that Buddhahood is obtainable by those who experience Nirvana, there are other Buddhas who have existed after Siddhartha Gautama as well.

Sakyamuni Buddha based his enlightened understanding on the premise of The Four Noble Truths:

1. All beings, human or celestial, are bound by Karma (the law of cause and effect).

2. The cause of suffering is desire.

3. The chain of suffering can be broken by obtaining Nirvana (enlightenment).

4. Nirvana is obtained by practicing the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path is made of eight precepts designed to lead an individual on to Nirvana:

1. Right Views

2. Right Intentions

3. Right Speech

4. Right Conduct

5. Right Livelihood

6. Right Effort

7. Right Mindfulness

8. Right Concentration

Buddhism spread from India to Nepal onto the Tibetan Plateau. From Tibet, it traveled into China in the 1st century A.D. Buddhism then moved onto the Korean Peninsula in A.D. 372 at the hands of the Chinese monk, Sun-do, who was sent from the Chinese state of Ch'in by King Fu Chein as an official emissary of Buddhism. In A.D. 552 the Korean Buddhist monk Kwall-uk (Kanroku in Japanese) crossed the Sea of Japan and brought Buddhism to the island nation of Japan.



The legendary Buddhist monk Bodhidharma (Ta Mu in Chinese, Daruma in Japanese) is the individual who laid the mystical foundations for Ch'an Buddhism, or Zen as it is known in Japanese. The enlightened legacy of Bodhidharma can be traced directly to Siddhartha Gautama, Sakyamuni Buddha. The path of enlightenment hailed by the Buddha was directly transmitted in an uninterrupted lineage through twenty-eight enlightened masters, until it was handed on to Bodhidharma in the 4th century A.D.

The lineage of enlightenment flowing from Siddhartha Gautama is as follows:

1. Mahakasyapa

2. Ananda

3. Sanavasa

4. Upagupta

5. Dhritaka

6. Micchaka

7. Vasumitra

8. Buddhanandi

9. Buddhamitra

10. Bhikshu Parsva

11. Punyayasas

12. Asvaghosha

13. Bhikshu Kapimala

14. Nagarjuna

15. Kanadeva

16. Arya Rahulata

17. Samghanandi

18. Samghayasa

19. Kumarata

20. Jayata

21. Vasubandhu

22. Manura

23. Haklenayasas

24. Bhikshu Simba

25. Vasasita

26. Punyamitra

27. Prajnatara

28. Bodhidharma

Bodhidharma was born in Kanchipuram, India, near Madras, at the beginning of the 6th century to a Brahmin family of royal heritage. As a young boy, Bodhidharma became a student of the Buddhist monk Prajnatara, with whom he studied until he was 38 years of age. Prajnatara was the headmaster of the Sarvastivada sect of Buddhism. The Sarvastivada sect was a school of Buddhist thought which practiced a more expansive approach to Buddhism than did the other traditional Indian Buddhist schools of the time.

At age 38, Bodhidharma was dispatched to China to relieve the missionary Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhiruci, who was in charge of the Shongshan Buddhist Monastery—commonly referred to in the modern era as the Shaolin Temple, Shorin-ji in Japanese.

Located in the foothills of the Shongshan Mountains, the Shongshan Monastery was where Indian monks trained Chinese monks in the teachings of the Buddha and translated Sanskrit and Pali Buddhist texts into Chinese. Thus, this monastery was central to the disbursement of Buddhist knowledge throughout China and later throughout all of Asia.

As abbot of the monastery, Bodhidharma taught a simple and straightforward doctrine:

Keep yourself away from relationships, as relationships bind one to the body and the mind.

Have no desires in your heart and you can merge with the Buddha.


Though the philosophic understanding which came to be known as Ch'an Buddhism (Zen, in Japan) was not yet formalized, its inception is attributed to Bodhidharma. To this end, Bodhidharma is recognized as the First Chinese Patriarch of Ch'an.

Near the end of Bodhidharma's life, he passed his mantle of enlightenment onto Hui-ko (484-590), known as Eka in Japanese. Hui-ko became the Second Chinese Patriarch of Ch'an.

Hui-ko was a zealous student of Bodhidharma who continually asked his guru for guidance. For years, Bodhidharma ignored all of Hui-ko's questions, teaching that enlightenment was not something that could be given. The individual, he claimed, must come to embrace enlightenment through his own intensive meditative understanding.

It is recorded that, on a stormy night, Hui-ko again came to Bodhidharma for guidance, asking, "I have tried for years to quiet my mind Master, but my mind cannot find peace. I beg of you, can you please pacify it for me." Bodhidharma answered, "If you bring your mind to me, I will silence it for you." After pondering Bodhidharma's statement for a long period of time, Hui-ko said, "I cannot find my mind Master." With this realization, Hui-ko became enlightened.


Seng-ts'an (d. 606) came to Hui-ko when he was over 40 years of age. He said, "I have lived a long life full of sin, Master. As I am now old, I cannot hope to reach enlightenment in this lifetime without your help. Please purify my sins." Hui-ko answered, "Bring your sins before me and they will be removed." Sengts'an said, "But Master I cannot find them." "Then you are free, my son." Sengts'an experienced instant enlightenment and became the Third Chinese Patriarch of Ch'an.

As Ch'an ideology developed in China, its teachings were presented in a more metaphysical manner than those of previous Buddhist writings. Seng-ts'an wrote a small book of his enlightened knowledge shortly before his death titled, Hsin Hsin Ming (Verses on the Faith Mind). It opens with the passage:

The path of enlightenment is easy for those who have no desire. When one does not love nor hate, then the truth instantly becomes clear and unclouded.


Tao-hsui (580-651) was a young Buddhist monk when he came to pay homage to Sengts'an. When he received his audience with the Patriarch, he commented, "Please show me your compassion Master and guide me to the gate of divine liberation." "Who has bound you, my son," asked Seng Ts'an. "No one has bound me." "Then you are already liberated," exclaimed Seng-ts'an. Enlightened, Tao-hsui became the Fourth Chinese Patriarch of Ch'an.

After Tao-hsui's enlightenment, he lived for ten years in the Tai Lin Su Monastery. He then left the temple and settled on Mount Shuan Feng, where he spent the next thirty years meditating and teaching his disciples the path to Buddhist enlightenment. Tao-hsui's meditative method was based on that of the Prajnaparamita Sutra.

The Prajnaparamita Sutra is an essential Mahayana (Large Boat School) Buddhist text, teaching that enlightenment comes through the complete emptying of the mind. It was created in India and was translated into Chinese by the Indian Buddhist monk Lokaraksa in A.D. 179. Though this sutra had been translated for centuries, it was not widely accepted into Chinese Buddhist methodology. The methods presented in its text were practiced only by a limited number of reclusive Chinese Buddhist monks. This is primarly due to the fact that the Buddhist monks of this time believed that enlightenment was a goal achieved through proper actions and proper meditation. As such, the concept of mental emptiness presented in the sutra was not easy to embrace.

The concept of emptiness detailed in the Prajnaparamita Sutra is similar to the Taoist mystical understanding of Wu (nothingness). When Tao-hsui began to teach the interrelationship between these two understandings, the foundation for formalized Ch'an Buddhism was firmly set into place.

Tao-hsui taught that enlightenment was already present in the individual; one simply had to realize it. In Japanese, this understanding is known as Sokushin Sokubutsu. He taught that enlightenment was not something which could be gained from studying the sutras or transmitted by a Buddhist master. Instead, enlightenment could only be attained by practicing severe austerities: by not speaking, reading, discussing the sutras or the Buddha, eating only the bare necessities, and meditating alone for at least thirty-five years with the mind focused on divine emptiness.


Huang-jen (601-674) was the Fifth Chinese Patriarch of Ch'an. His pathway to enlightenment began when he was 6 years old and became a Buddhist monk in the monastery of Tao-hsui. Even as a child, Huang-jen was naturally inclined to spend his days in tireless meditation. As he matured, he was asked several times to travel to the Imperial Court to become the counsel of royalty. In each case, he turned down the invitation. He eventually located himself on the Ping-jung Mountain, where he spent his days meditating and instructing his disciples.

Huang-jen composed the manuscript entitled Tsui-shang-ch'un lun. In it, he details that he does not believe in the sudden path to enlightenment known as Satori. Instead, he taught that one should experience a gradual concentration of the mind through seated meditation. His text detailed that the zealot should meditate upon the image of where the horizon meets the sky, because in Chinese the number one is illustrated with a single horizontal line. This oneness of man, nature, and the Buddha is what is sought by the zealot. As the horizon merges with the sky, it symbolizes this number one. Thus, the meditator is given a reminder to his purpose of meditation.


Hui-neng lived from A.D. 637 to A.D. 713. His father died when he was a young boy and he supported his mother by cutting wood from a nearby forest and selling it in his town of Kuang-chou, modern day Guong-zhou (Canton). One day, the young Hui-neng heard a man reciting a Buddhist doctrine. It was from the Vajrachchedika or Diamond Sutra. The monk sang, "Let your mind go free, do not bind it to anyone or anything." Hui-neng states that, upon hearing these words, he was instantly enlightened. With further inquiry as to the source of the sutra, the young Hui-neng was told that it was recited by over one thousand disciples of Huang-jen. With this, Hui-neng found a man to lend him some money for the support of his mother and he traveled to the Tung-shun Monastery of Huang-jen to seek deeper enlightenment.

Hui-neng eventually became sixth in the direct line of transmission of enlightenment from Bodhidharma. He is considered the actual founder of Ch'an Buddhism.

The transmission of enlightenment continued to be handed down through the centuries, from one Chinese patriarch of Ch'an to the next. The line of succession is as follows:

34. Hsing-ssu

35. Hsi-ci'ien

36. Wei-yen

37. T'an-sheng

38. Liang-chieh

39. Tao-ying

40. Tao-pi

41. Kuan-chih

42. Yuan-kuan

43. Ching-hsuan

44. I-ch'ing

45. Tao-kai

46. Tzu-chun

47. Chiang-liao

48. Tsueng-chueh

49. Chih-chien

50. Ju-ching


Buddhism traveled from China to Korea in the 3rd century A.D. During this period, the Korean Peninsula was divided into three warring kingdoms, Silla, Paekche, and Korgyo. According to the Japanese historical text, Nihonshoki, composed in A.D. 720, Buddhist monks were sent from the Korean state of Paekche to Japan in A.D. 552, thereby introducing Buddhism to that nation.

After Buddhism was introduced into Japan from Korea, from the 6th century onward, the transmission of Buddhist knowledge came predominately from China. The first Chinese monk to introduce Ch'an to Japan was Tao-hsuan (702-760). Though Tao-hsuan had no direct transmissional linkage to Bodhidharma, he was a student of P'u-chi (651-739), who was of the Northern Vinaya School of Buddhism which had experienced a marginal influence and contact with those of the Ch'an lineage and taught a form of Ch'an meditation. Tao-hsuan arrived in Japan at the age of 35 and became the teacher of Gyohyo (722-797). Gyohyo, in turn, taught the concepts of Ch'an to Dengyo Daishi (767-822). Dengyo Daishi, who is also known as Saicho, traveled to China and became more impressed with the esoteric rituals known as Mikkyo that were propagated by the Tendai School of Buddhism. This marginal interest in what later became known as Zen was prominent throughout the early stages of the introduction of Ch'an Buddhism into Japan. The promise of metaphysical rituals was more alluring to the Japanese of this period than the pursuit of mental emptiness.

The first ambassador of Ch'an, I-kung (Giku, in Japanese), who possessed direct lineage to Bodhidharma, arrived in Japan in the 8th century. He came at the request of Empress Tachibana Kachiko. I-kung arrived and the Empress built him the Danrin Temple in Kyoto. For two decades he attempted to gain the acceptance of Ch'an understanding into Japanese Buddhist thought. He eventually returned to China disheartened.

It was not until the 12th century, after the Gempei War, when the royal families were displaced and Samurai rule was established over Japan, that Ch'an Buddhism was truly embraced. The seeds of Ch'an were planted by the Japanese Buddhist monk Kakua (b. 1142), who traveled to China and studied Ch'an under Hui-yuan (1103-1176). After many years of practice, he was given the Seal of Enlightenment and returned to Japan to expound his knowledge.


In 1192, Myoan Eisai (1141-1215) who was a student of Huang-long, formally reintroduced Ch'an to Japan. It is Eisai who is historically given credit for bringing Ch'an to Japan.

Eisai formed the Rinzai-shu (Rinzai sect) of Buddhism and Ch'an became known as Zen. Zen Buddhism emphasized the need for meditation, claiming that enlightenment came from within, as opposed to being the result of prayer, esoteric ritual, or divine grace. Not only were the upper levels of Japanese royalty and Buddhist society now ready to embrace this philosophic understanding, the Samurai readily embraced this system of thought as well. This was in no small part due to the fact that it allowed them to remain in control of their own spiritual destiny.


Dogen (1200-1253) was born in a mountain village near Kyoto, Japan. His father, Koga Michichika, was a Minister to Minamoto no Yoritomo, the man who brought about the first military rule, Samurai Shogunate, over Japan. His mother was the daughter of a Regent from the Fujiwara royal family. Thus, Dogen was born into a family of very high standing.

Dogen's father died when he was 2 and his mother when he was 7. Dogen had been drawn to spiritual writings all of his life and, at the age of 12, he secretly left the home of his paternal uncle with whom he was living and traveled to Mount Hiei, where his maternal uncle, Ryoken, was a monk at the Shuryogon-in Temple. After a year of apprenticeship, Dogen took his formal vows of renunciation at the Enryaku-ji Temple and was given the name Buppobo Dogen, a name which he later changed to Kigen Dogen.

Dogen initially absorbed himself in the study of the Tendai school of Buddhism. Due to the excessively expansionistic and militaristic mentality and corruption of his temple, however, Dogen was unfulfilled. The teacher Koin suggested he go to China and study Ch'an. In 1217, Dogen traveled to southern China to study Ch'an under Eisai's successor, Myozen (1184-1225).

In addition to Myozen, Dogen studied Ch'an with two very prominent Ch'an masters of the Ta-hui sect, Wu-chi Liao-pai and Chi-weng. During his period of apprenticeship, however, he came to realize that the Ta-hui school was too closely linked to the governing hierarchy of China and that this was affecting its practitioners. Thus he became disillusioned and left their temples. Finally, Dogen met Ch'an patriarch Ju-ching of the Tsao-tung (Soto, in Japanese) sect, who provided him with a true pathway to enlightenment. After five years, Dogen returned to Japan with Ju-ching's Seal of Enlightenment. As he was a prolific writer, his message spread throughout Japan and Zen came to be embraced by the masses.

Dogen taught a method of Zen which encouraged a return to the old method of Zen community expounded in the Tenets of Paichung, which was the oldest Chinese text written on the fundamentals of Ch'an practice. In addition, he taught that one should "just sit" in meditation, contemplating the emptiness.

Excerpted from Samurai ZEN by Scott Shaw. Copyright © 1999 Scott Shaw. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents




1. Butsz          

2. The Transmission of Enlightenment          

3. Bushi          

4. Bushido          


5. Zanshin          

6. Muga          

7. Ima          


8. Dojo          

9. Hara          

10. Kokyu          

11. Zazen          

12. The Sword          


13. Ki          

14. Kuji No Ho          


15. Ku          

16. Sesshin          

17. Mushin          

18. Mayoi          

19. Prajna          



About the Author          

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Samurai Zen 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are books that are more informative than this. I found a lot of Korean stuff in this book, not japanese. Plus the gentleman i quesion has very limited Iaido knowlegde. It is not worth purchasing
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very good book. I think what Scott Shaw does a great job integrating the spirituality inherent in Bushido into the modern practice of swordsmanship. This is inspiring and proivdes an element to the martial arts which few people in the west are exposed to. I try to do this at my own Dojo. Westerners have a hard time understanding.I think Samurai Zen really conveys Zen Buddhism in a exceptional manner. Though the shaw focuses on Japan and Iaido. This book would benefit all practioners who wish to know more about Zen Buddhism. This book should be in everyone's library who wants to understand the foundations of the Japanese Samurai and who wish to bring Zen into their everyday life.