Guided History of the SamuraiSo much has been said about the nobility and purity of the life of Samurai. The life is the Samurai is guided by the Bushido or Way of the Warrior. It was originally written to guide the Samurais. It was focus on how they should carry out their jobs and what they should always do in order to protect their decent life.

However, when Zen Buddhism entered the country, it allowed the Samurai to re-examine their values. They realized that importance of living an honourable life as a whole. Below is a simple explanation on what Zen Buddhism is and how it influenced Bushido.  

Zen Buddhism believes in the 4 Noble Truths

  1. Life is suffering because people always desire pleasure and is never satisfied. For example, you like eating good food, buying nice clothes, and going to beautiful places. However, once you finally go on a vacation, you would want to go see other places. Once you eat really good food, you would want to try it again.

This desire is also the root of other negative emotions. Anger or disdain for other people surfaces when someone gets in the way of what you want and you.

  1. Greed and Ignorance are the sources of many evil. There are many “truths” that people don’t see. When we don’t see these things, we tend to not make the right decisions. We can base it on science. We don’t see things like radio waves but everyone knows it’s real and it exists. It is this ignorance that becomes the source greed, misunderstanding and illusions.
  2. The only way to end suffering is by removing desire, ill will and ignorance. If you become satisfied with what you have you will not desire for anything else and you will be happy. If you have full understanding of things, you will always make the right decision. If you have both these things, you will not harbour ill will against other people.
  3. The path to end all the difficulties is by living the middle path, this means you avoid all the extremes. Avoid living too much poverty and too much wealth, avoid too much pleasure and too much pain, and so on. When you are in between, you will just have enough… enough to live comfortably without working too much. Thus, it gives you time for yourself, your family, and other important things.
  4. An open mind to understand the world
  5. Thinking only about kindness, simplicity, and gentleness towards other people and the world
  6. Saying the truth all the time
  7. Respecting the right of other people, the right to life, the right to be happy, the right to privacy, the right to be heard, and others
  8. Avoiding making a living through things that could harm people like drugs, guns, or anything illegal that gives you unfair advantage
  9. Preventing evil by not doing anything to stop it from continuing or starting
  10. Being aware of your mind and body needs to be properly nurtured including rest, exercise, and others
  11. The regular need for meditation

Zen Buddhism also fosters 8 Paths

Connection to Zen Buddhism and Bushido

These philosophies became attractive to the Samurai because of its emphasis on the power of the mind, the submission to honor, and commitment to a simple life. It is unclear how much of Zen Buddhism influenced the Bushido code. There are those who say that the Bushido Code evolved through time. When it was first written down, it main revolved around loyalty to one’s duty and work ethics.

When Zen reaches Japan, it influenced the way of life of the samurai. Whether by chance or intentional, there are similarities. Listed below are four major points and their similarities to the 8 Paths of Zen.

  1. Commitment to Rectitude (an open mind to understand the world in Zen) – it is the commitment to understand the world and other people in order to make make a decision according to what you think is right for the situation and what is right for the people involved. Life is lived by making decisions. You need as strong moral integrity for you to be firm in your commitments and decisions. Without this, you will not be able to do anything right and well.
  2. Courage (Preventing evil by not doing anything to stop it from continuing or starting in Zen)– it is said that when all other values fail, you are left with courage to carry you through. You need courage to do what you think is right even if the whole world disagrees. You need courage to honor your word even if it brings you pain and misery. You need courage to forgive someone even if that someone brought you so much sorrow. Courage is what will allow you to live a life of honor and righteousness.
  3. Benevolence or Empathy (respecting other people’s right to life in Zen) - it is said to be the most pure of all virtues. It allows one to be compassionate towards other people. You will learn how to understand people which virtually makes doing wrong against other people impossible.
  4. Politeness – this is something that transcends traditional expression of respect but the ability to respect other people’s thoughts and rights
  5. Honesty (saying the truth all the time in Zen) – a true Samurai will never lie even when the truth could cause them their life
  6. Honor (Avoiding making a living through things that could harm people in Zen)– live a life without harming other people, decent, and dignified. A Samurai should never lose their temper. They should always think before they act. This will allow them to make decisions with the right reasoning
  7. Fidelity to Cause and Master – one’s loyalty should never be bought and it should never be compromised to death. When you make a commitment to do your duty and serve someone or something, you should stand to it to death
  8. Firmness – the way of the warrior is firm and can never be compromised, right will forever be right, and wrong will forever be wrong. There is no middle ground and no gray area.

All of these values are very inward. It always starts with understanding how you should live and what are really important – truth, word and life of honor and empathy.

Both also emphasize the importance of living life to the fullest now. Neither concern themselves on the afterlife. They believe that what you have now is what all you will have. That’s why it is important to live life right.


Related Contents:

1. Martial Arts of the Samurai
2. Authentic Samurai Katana Techniques
3. Guided History of the Samurai