Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Luke » Mon Aug 19, 2013 10:29 pm

Whether the samurai actually practiced Zen or not, I have noticed that quite a few Japanese Zen teachers talk about the samurai and Japanese sword fighting in their talks and articles.

But do you feel that the samurai are positive symbols of Zen Buddhist qualities?

If so, are other warriors, such as modern special forces soldiers, equally good symbols of Zen? Why or why not?
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Aug 19, 2013 10:35 pm

They definitely practiced Zen, there is no question.

How many of them were actual battlefield Samurai, and how many were aristocrats in terms of Zen practice I gather might be a murkier question.

Personally, I feel the perceived "amorality" of Zen does come in part from it being the choice Buddhism for the warrior class. Of course none of that invalidates Zen in the least, but it provides context somewhat.

There is a great book called "When Buddhists Attack" that covers this stuff in some detail.

You can read The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, and The Life Giving Sword by Yagyu Muenori if you want to read something historical to see just how deeply Zen philosophy was integrated into their mindsets..minus the morality lol..although, in The Life Giving Sword there is some talk of that if I recall though, as you can sort of tell by the name.

I do not feel they are positive in particular, except to show the effect of training one's mind on any endeavor, including stuff that's not so savory.

Book Of Five Rings is one of my favorite books, in terms of martial arts reading, but the philosophical bit is like reading Dharma or mind training of some kind entirely removed from Buddhist ethics. I find it kind of cheezy, and not very well thought out when modern Zen teachers, or martial artists for that matter cheapen Zen historically by failing to address real questions with this stuff. The books can be appreciated for what they are..but especially The Book of Five Rings is pretty much solely about mind training as applied to combat, there is no ethics or similar there at all.

It's funny because in his (Musashi's) sort of foreward to the book, he even makes a kind of homage to Kannon (i.e. Avalokiteshvara)..I don't remember how exactly the Samurai justified their killing, but IIRC there were a number of convenient ideas about how the First Precept didn't really apply to them. This reminds me to re read The LIfe Giving Sword.
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby LastLegend » Mon Aug 19, 2013 10:47 pm

An enlightened Zen can be a butcher or a samurai. But a butcher or samurai does not mean enlightened Zen. Samurai, I heard, borrowed Zen thought-one thought, one mind.
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Luke » Mon Aug 19, 2013 11:02 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:You can read The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, and The Life Giving Sword by Yagyu Muenori if you want to read something historical to see just how deeply Zen philosophy was integrated into their mindsets..minus the morality lol..although, in The Life Giving Sword there is some talk of that if I recall though, as you can sort of tell by the name.

I read both of those when I was a boy, but I don't remember them clearly.

But if Munenori could write "The Life-Giving Sword," perhaps a Navy SEAL could write "The Life-Giving HK MP5 Assault Rifle." lol

Sometimes I feel that the samurai are given sort of a "free pass" because their weapons and equipment were just so beautiful and because they wrote texts which could at least sound spiritual. The katana sword wins in a beauty contest against any gun, and most people give special treatment to beautiful things.
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Aug 19, 2013 11:26 pm

Luke wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:You can read The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, and The Life Giving Sword by Yagyu Muenori if you want to read something historical to see just how deeply Zen philosophy was integrated into their mindsets..minus the morality lol..although, in The Life Giving Sword there is some talk of that if I recall though, as you can sort of tell by the name.

I read both of those when I was a boy, but I don't remember them clearly.

But if Munenori could write "The Life-Giving Sword," perhaps a Navy SEAL could write "The Life-Giving HK MP5 Assault Rifle." lol

Sometimes I feel that the samurai are given sort of a "free pass" because their weapons and equipment were just so beautiful and because they wrote texts which could at least sound spiritual. The katana sword wins in a beauty contest against any gun, and most people give special treatment to beautiful things.



The way I feel about it is that it is great wisdom without compassion..there is great wisdom in a book like The Book of Five Rings, but the compassion is distinctly missing. I have gotten alot of writings like these, but how much it really relates to Dharma I don't know..I'd guess the answer is only an individual thing.

In martial arts and Zen, some people have a really cheesy (IMO) fixation with warfare stuff...I think it's even easier today because the vast majority of people so fixated have never been around violence, so it's easier to fetishize in some ways. I definitely think it's worth keeping what samurai did in perspective if they are going to be used as great examples of Mushin or something..you don't have to have a reactive mindset about it, or take some militant position.. but to me at least it's important to acknowledge the contradiction that exists there. This is one aspect of Zen (at least the Zen i've been exposed to) that has always bugged me a little.
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Tue Aug 20, 2013 12:08 am

I was always confused about why the samurai were held up by some as examples of Zen. They practiced Zen, yes, but their practice lacked compassion, and the Buddha's teachings on loving-kindness. Warriors, even if Buddhists, are not good examples of Buddhism.
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Tue Aug 20, 2013 9:49 am

It is interesting that while the Crusades are cited to show how the Christian(s / Church) can be vicious and bloodthirsty, Eastern warriors are acceptable. Although perhaps the whole romance surrounding chivalric virtues and stories is a more appropriate parallel to the idea of the samurai. Indeed, the acceptance of Buddhism in the West is part of the Romantic movement.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
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"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby seeker242 » Tue Aug 20, 2013 11:43 am

dyanaprajna2011 wrote:I was always confused about why the samurai were held up by some as examples of Zen. They practiced Zen, yes, but their practice lacked compassion, and the Buddha's teachings on loving-kindness. Warriors, even if Buddhists, are not good examples of Buddhism.


Interesting article here. THE FIVE VARIETIES OF ZEN http://www.angelfire.com/electronic/awa ... types.html

"The second of the five kinds of Zen is called gedo. Gedo means literally "an outside way" and so implies, from the Buddhist point of view, teachings other than Buddhist."

According to this, they did practice "zen" but they did not practice "Buddhist zen". :)

However, if you read Bodhidharma, you could say no, they did not practice any zen at all.

"Buddha is Sanskrit for what you call aware, miraculously aware. Responding, arching your brows blinking your eyes, moving your hands and feet, its all your miraculously aware nature. And this nature is the mind. And the mind is the Buddha. And the Buddha is the path. And the path is Zen. But the word Zen is one that remains a puzzle to both mortals and sages. Seeing your nature is Zen. Unless you see your nature, it’s not Zen."

Training your mind to be focused just so you can be a better warrior has nothing to do with "seeing your true nature" thus it has nothing to do with zen. According to Bodhidharma. :smile:
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Luke » Tue Aug 20, 2013 4:02 pm

Astus wrote:It is interesting that while the Crusades are cited to show how the Christian(s / Church) can be vicious and bloodthirsty, Eastern warriors are acceptable. Although perhaps the whole romance surrounding chivalric virtues and stories is a more appropriate parallel to the idea of the samurai. Indeed, the acceptance of Buddhism in the West is part of the Romantic movement.

Yes, and the image of a "holy warrior" is a powerful one for people. Westerners who have given up on Christianity might feel disgusted when they think of Christian knights, such as the Knights Templar, but they might find that their romantic dream of a "holy warrior" can live on in their fantasies about ancient samurai.

However, Buddhism is very quick to point out that war is not holy!
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Luke » Tue Aug 20, 2013 4:12 pm

seeker242 wrote:Interesting article here. THE FIVE VARIETIES OF ZEN http://www.angelfire.com/electronic/awa ... types.html

"The second of the five kinds of Zen is called gedo. Gedo means literally "an outside way" and so implies, from the Buddhist point of view, teachings other than Buddhist."

According to this, they did practice "zen" but they did not practice "Buddhist zen". :)

That's a good point, Seeker. I guess Mahayana Zen Buddhism would correspond to Daijo and Saijojo Zen in that classification.

BTW, I think I remember seeing that talk about the five types of Zen in The Three Pillars of Zen by Phillip Kapleau. I think it's from a lecture by Yasutani-roshi. If so, I don't know whether Yasutani-roshi invented this five-fold classification or if somebody before him had come up with the idea.

seeker242 wrote:Training your mind to be focused just so you can be a better warrior has nothing to do with "seeing your true nature" thus it has nothing to do with zen. According to Bodhidharma. :smile:

I agree!
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:08 pm

The "five types of Zen" was created by Guifeng Zongmi. "Samurai Zen" doesn't fit in it anywhere, the so called outsider Zen is for non-Buddhist religious practitioners, particularly Taoists and Confucianists, as Zongmi explains in his "Origin of Humanity". He writes in Chan Prolegomenon (J. L. Broughton: Zongmi on Chan, p 103):

"The true nature is neither stained nor pure, neither common nor noble. Within dhyana, however, there are different grades, ranging from the shallow to the deep. To hold deviant views and practice because one joyfully anticipates rebirth in a heaven and is weary of the present world is outsider dhyana. Correctly to have confidence in karmic cause and effect and likewise practice because one joyfully anticipates rebirth into a heaven and is weary of the present world is common-person dhyana. To awaken to the incomplete truth of voidness of self and then practice is inferior-vehicle dhyana. To awaken to the true principle of the dual voidness of selfand dharmas and then to practice is greatvehicle dhyana. (All four of the above types show such distinctions as the four [dhyanas of the realm of] form and the four [concentrations of the] formless [realm].) If one's practice is based on having all-at-once awakened to the realization that one's own mind is from the outset pure, that the depravities have never existed, that the nature of the wisdom without outflows is from the outset complete, that this mind is buddha, that they are ultimately without difference, then it is dhyana of the highest vehicle. This type is also known by such names as tathagata-purity dhyana, the one-practice concentration, and the thusness concentration. It is the basis of all concentrations. If one can practice it from moment to moment, one will naturally and gradually attain the myriad concentrations. This is precisely the dhyana that has been transmitted down from Bodhidharma."
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Luke » Tue Aug 20, 2013 6:19 pm

Astus wrote:The "five types of Zen" was created by Guifeng Zongmi. "Samurai Zen" doesn't fit in it anywhere, the so called outsider Zen is for non-Buddhist religious practitioners, particularly Taoists and Confucianists, as Zongmi explains in his "Origin of Humanity".

So this "Bompu Zen" idea was made up by Yasutani-roshi or by some other Japanese Zen teacher?

The first of these types is called bompu, or "ordinary," Zen as opposed to the other four, each of which can be thought of as a special kind of Zen suitable for the particular aims of different individuals. Bompu Zen, being free from any philosophic or religious content, is for anybody and everybody. It is a Zen practiced purely in the belief that it can improve both physical and mental health. Since it can almost certainly have no ill effects, anyone can undertake it, whatever religious beliefs he happens to hold or if he holds none at all. Bompu Zen is bound to eliminate sickness of a psychosomatic nature and to improve the health generally.

Through the practice of bompu Zen you learn to concentrate and control your mind. It never occurs to most people to try to control their minds, and unfortunately this basic training is left out of contemporary education, not being part of what is called the acquisition of knowledge. Yet without it what we learn is difficult to retain because we learn it improperly, wasting much energy in the process. Indeed, we are virtually crippled unless we know how to restrain our thoughts and concentrate our minds. Furthermore, by practicing this very excellent mode of mind training you will find yourself increasingly able to resist temptations to which you had previously succumbed, and to sever attachments which had long held you in bondage. An enrichment in personality and a strengthening of character inevitably follow since the three basic elements of mind - that is, intellect, feeling, and will - develop harmoniously. The quietist sitting practiced in Confucianism seems to have stressed mainly these effects of mind concentration. However, the fact remains that bompu Zen, although far more beneficial for the cultivation of the mind than the reading of countless books on ethics and philosophy, is unable to resolve the fundamental problem of man and his relation to the universe. Why? Because it cannot pierce the ordinary man's basic delusion of himself as distinctly other than the universe.

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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Nosta » Tue Aug 20, 2013 8:24 pm

Samurais can be good at one single minded tought, but they do not represent buddhism. Violence, swords and fighting are not what Buddha tought. Despiste what we see on movies, samurais do not truly follow the way of Buddha (at least, they are not better than me, an ordinary guy).
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Tue Aug 20, 2013 8:46 pm

Luke wrote:So this "Bompu Zen" idea was made up by Yasutani-roshi or by some other Japanese Zen teacher?


The order presented on the Wanderling's site is different from the original as it first puts ordinary Zen followed by outsider Zen. Originally the Zen of ordinary people means those Buddhist practitioners who don't aim for any liberation but rather to accumulating merit and gaining pleasurable birth as humans and gods. The difference in Zongmi's system between outsiders' and ordinary people's Zen lies in accepting the teaching of karma and rebirth or not, that is, Buddhist or non-Buddhist. Both follow basic precepts against the worst misdeeds and cultivate some sort of spiritual practice, that can be conveniently called the eight absorptions as they are the requirements for birth in the form and formless heavens. The Wanderling's site's description of Bompu and Gedo Zen focus more on pursuing worldly goals in defining them, however, those following a materialist philosophy don't qualify for any level of Zen in Zongmi's system. It is another thing that the other three levels are also understood differently by the Wanderling and Zongmi.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Luke » Tue Aug 20, 2013 9:09 pm

Astus wrote:The order presented on the Wanderling's site is different from the original as it first puts ordinary Zen followed by outsider Zen. Originally the Zen of ordinary people means those Buddhist practitioners who don't aim for any liberation but rather to accumulating merit and gaining pleasurable birth as humans and gods. The difference in Zongmi's system between outsiders' and ordinary people's Zen lies in accepting the teaching of karma and rebirth or not, that is, Buddhist or non-Buddhist. Both follow basic precepts against the worst misdeeds and cultivate some sort of spiritual practice, that can be conveniently called the eight absorptions as they are the requirements for birth in the form and formless heavens. The Wanderling's site's description of Bompu and Gedo Zen focus more on pursuing worldly goals in defining them, however, those following a materialist philosophy don't qualify for any level of Zen in Zongmi's system. It is another thing that the other three levels are also understood differently by the Wanderling and Zongmi.

Okay, I understand you.

But I also want to point out that the five types of Zen on that website come from Yasutani-roshi's lectures.

Go to page 63 of this pdf file to the talk titled "The Five Varieties of Zen" by Yasutani-roshi:
http://selfdefinition.org/zen/Philip-Ka ... of-Zen.pdf

So did Yasutani-roshi invent this particular classification which starts with "bompu" and "gedo"?
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Qing Tian » Tue Aug 20, 2013 10:13 pm

"I will release you quickly and mercifully from this cycle of suffering. As a warrior this is the gift I have to give".

Compassion? Depends on how one interprets it I guess.

Or, perhaps the samurai are merely agents of karma. In which case no judgement can be made.


*please note: the above both spring from the Devil's Advocate and do not represent my own thoughts in the subject.
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Meido » Tue Aug 20, 2013 10:40 pm

A few points to add to the discussion:

First, I wonder if folks realize that "samurai" had an evolving meaning over the centuries of Japanese history. It is more accurate overall to think of them as the governing class, rather than primarily persons engaged in the profession of arms. Early on, most samurai were simply farmers with feudal commitments to local landholders. Later in the Edo period we find them as bureaucrats, officials, accountants. In other words: they were people who, at various times, were more or less at the top of a feudal society. They weren't standing professional armies, warrior monks, templars or crusaders.

Second, it's important to remember that Ch'an and Zen did not exist on opposite sides of some strict historic divide. Aside from Japanese monks who traveled to China, we have many Chinese Ch'an masters and monks who came to Japan. Pivotal figures of so-called "warrior Zen" - people like Hojo Tokimune, who defended Japan against invasion by the Mongols - studied under Chinese masters in Japan, like Bukko and Daikaku. Records of these trainees' encounters with their teachers are available in translation and are quite interesting. They do not include anecdotes in which teacher tells student to lay down his arms in the name of right livelihood. They do include anecdotes in which these Chinese masters creatively find ways to benefit their intensely energetic and, at times, uneducated (from a Chinese perspective) students using methods that are occasionally hair-raising.

Yet leaving that aside, it seems there is an idea here that the encounter between Buddhist teachers and students whose duties included the use of force - warriors, generals, government officials and the like - was something that happened only in Japan, and then only within Japanese Zen. Is that the case?

The popular but inaccurate books about "samurai Zen" are of course misleading: mikkyo and Pure Land practices were much more popular during the samurai era, and the philosophical underpinnings of the samurai worldview for much of that era was neo-Confucian more than anything. To consider works like the Book of Five Rings or Yagyu's writings to be Zen texts is perhaps a forgivable error, given the way they've been presented in the West (and if one is unfamiliar with the genre of work which these writings actually are).

So to address the original question: of course the samurai are not good symbols of Zen. They are good symbols of, well, a period of Japanese history...the nature of which was quite different from romanticized - or movie and manga derived - ideas of what "samurai" means.

But I wonder how we could look back at the samurai, from a non-feudal time and perhaps with modern pacifistic sensibilities, and cast aspersion on the practice of those who did indeed have an interest in Zen. Is it the case that the practice of these laypersons was illegitimate? If we say so, does that mean that Tokimune was wrong to gallop off to fight the Mongols after meeting with Bukko, and that Bukko was wrong for not persuading him to stay...or for later saying that Tokimune had been someone who attained realization? What degree of right livelihood passes the "legitimate practice" test today? Does Buddhist practice have anything to offer someone - like a police officer, a soldier, a government official - whose work involves the use of force or its authorization?

Interesting questions, and the more relevant ones to me.

~ Meido
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Tue Aug 20, 2013 10:50 pm

Luke wrote:So did Yasutani-roshi invent this particular classification which starts with "bompu" and "gedo"?


Can't say whether it was his interpretation, he heard it from someone else, or some other way it got presented like that in the Three Pillars of Zen. Someone should have to do a research on the development of the theory of five types of Zen. All I can say is that Zongmi had a different idea.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Tue Aug 20, 2013 11:12 pm

To add some more to what Meido said, as a consequence of established monasteries, Buddhism relied on the support of the ruling - i.e. warrior/aristocratic - class in every country. Chan spread and survived because of its close connection to Chinese regional landlords (it is a myth that Chan monasteries were self-reliant).

I think when we are talking about the connection between samurai and Zen it is primarily a modern image, a myth, that is connected to the Western fascination with Asian martial arts and all things oriental. It is not a historical question, as history is a lot more complicated thing. For instance, in Song China the Zen teachings were for educated lay people, for literati and aristocrats, and not the common people. And that's true for most of the well known Zen teachers themselves who came from upper class families. And so it is with Zen in Japan.

"Does Buddhist practice have anything to offer someone - like a police officer, a soldier, a government official - whose work involves the use of force or its authorization?"

Of course, and that depends on the individual's level of interest. I don't think that Buddhism should appear as some sort of judgement of character. It is an open market. People take and use whatever they want. One can be a soldier, a banker, an office clerk or even a criminal, and at the same time Buddhist. There is no such thing as excommunication from the religion. Only monastics can lose their robes, but not the refuge they take.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Are samurai good symbols of Zen Buddhism?

Postby Luke » Tue Aug 20, 2013 11:25 pm

Meido wrote:So to address the original question: of course the samurai are not good symbols of Zen. They are good symbols of, well, a period of Japanese history...the nature of which was quite different from romanticized - or movie and manga derived - ideas of what "samurai" means.

Ah, Meido-roshi, your thoughtful and ethical replies always show that you are a real practitioner of buddhadharma! :namaste:
If other modern Zen teachers think like you, then things are okay...

I guess I just had the lingering fear that a lot of pro-war ideas had seeped into Japanese Zen over the centuries, but you show that intelligent Zen teachers can filter out incorrect and negative ideas to keep the dharma they teach pure.

Anyway, now I can go and meet some real Zen teachers without being so paranoid, so your answers have given me some mental peace. Thank you. :namaste:
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