Zen and the Way of the Swordsman

Suzuki writes in Zen and Japanese culture that the wielding of the sword does not mean just striking down the opponent, but it is concerned with the working of the Tao and the harmonious cooperation of yin and yang in cosmological movements. (p 150)


Tao is reached when one's mind is entirely emptied of delusive thoughts and intriguing feelings. (p 151)


The delusive mind is an intellectually bifurcated state of consciousness. The original mind is a mind unconscious of itself, whereas the delusive mind is divided against itself, interfering with the free working of the original mind. (p 110)


Both Zen and the Sword’s Way are one in that both aim at transcending the duality of life and death. (p 126)

These are all helpful when considering the question asked in the notes for Lesson 6, "Buddhism is a religion of compassion, so how does Zen activate the fighting spirit of the warrior?"

There seems to be some foundation for the explanation of the seemingly contradictory relationship between Zen and the Way of the Swordsman the experience of satori and the manifestation of the original mind in the following lines from the Sutta Nipata:

When embraced,
the rod of violence
breeds danger and fear
[reaching the Tao, the samurai no longer embraces the "rod of violence"; the sword is both sword and no-sword.]

And then I saw
an arrow here,
so very hard to see,
embedded in the heart.
Overcome by this arrow
you run in all directions.
But simply on pulling it out
you don't run,
you don't sink...
[mushin implies not stopping the mind, always flowing, free from attachments, there is nothing embedded in the heart, there is no heart, no arrow even.]

Whatever things are tied down in the world,
you shouldn't be set on them.
Having totally penetrated
sensual pleasures,
sensual passions,
you should train for your own
[this is unbinding is the realization of Takuan's Prajna Immovable.]

While it is doubtful that Sakyamuni would've accepted, advocated or even justified the Way of the Swordsman, we can see a connection here between the application of Zen to the Way of the Swordsman and the original stratum of the Dharma represented in the discourses of the Pali canon.

Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture


From Yahyū's triple treatise on the sword: "Turn yourself into a doll made of wood: it has no ego, it thinks nothing; and let the body and limbs work themselves out in accordance with the discipline they have undergone. This is the way to win."
Suzuki draws a connection here to the uncarved block of Zhuangzi, which we may understand as original purity - the perfect man in Zen, the sage for Zhuangzi.