In a life-and-death situation of being sword-tip to sword-tip with the enemy, where should the swordsman put his mind?
This is the first question posed in the first of three essays written by a Zen master for the guidance of samurai swordsmen. Among the other questions that arise are the difference between the right mind and the confused mind, what makes life precious, the nature of right-mindedness, the Buddhist paradigm of form and consciousness, and what distinguishes the True Mind. So succinct are the author's insights that these writings have outlasted the dissolution of the samurai class to come down to the present as sources of guidance and inspiration for captains of business and industry, as well as those devoted to the practice of the martial arts in their modern forms.
The history of the sword in Japan goes back to antiquity. Zen and its meditative practices also have a long history, but it was not until the rule of the Tokugawa shoguns, beginning in the early 1600s, that the techniques of swordsmanship fused with the spirit of Zen. And if one man can be said to have been the prime mover in this phenomenon, it was none other than Takuan Soho, confidant and religious instructor to an emperor, to a great sword master, and to the heads of the most important sword schools of the time.
Takuan's meditations on the sword in the essays presented here are classics of Zen thinking.
About the author
TAKUAN SOHO (1573-1645) was a prelate of the Rinzai Sect of Zen, well remembered for his strength of character and acerbic wit; and he was also gardener, poet, tea master, prolific author and a pivotal figure in Zen painting and calligraphy. His religious training began at the age of ten. He entered the Rinzai sect at the age of fourteen and was appointed abbot of the Daitokuji, a major Zen temple in Kyoto, at the age of thirty-five. After a disagreement on ecclesiastical appointments with the second Tokugawa shogun, he was banished in 1629 to a far northern province. Coming under a general amnesty on the death of the shogun, he returned to society three years later to be, among other things, a confidant of the third Tokugawa shogun.
WILLIAM SCOTT WILSON, the translator, was born in 1944 and grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College in 1966, he was invited by a friend to join a three-month kayak trip up the coast of Japan from Shimonoseki to Tokyo. This eye-opening journey, beautifully documented in National Geographic, spurred Wilson's fascination with the culture and history of Japan.
After receiving a B.A. degree in political science from Dartmouth, Wilson earned a second B.A. in Japanese language and literature from the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies in Monterey, California, then undertook extensive research on Edo-period (1603-1868) philosophy at the Aichi Prefectural University, in Nagoya, Japan.
Wilson completed his first translation, Hagakure, while living in an old farmhouse deep in the Japanese countryside. Hagakure saw publication in 1979, the same year Wilson completed an M.A. in Japanese language and literature at the University of Washington. Wilson's other translations include The Book of Five Rings, The Life-Giving Sword, The Unfettered Mind, the Eiji Yoshikawa novel Taiko, and Ideals of the Samurai, which has been used as a college textbook on Japanese history and thought. Two decades after its initial publication, Hagakure was prominently featured in the Jim Jarmusch film Ghost Dog.