Trevor Leggett

Literature & Zen Site


Samurai Zen: The Warrior Koans

Trevor Leggett

Routledge October, 2002 Hardcover
ISBN: 0415284643

Samurai Zen: The Warrior Koans
By Trevor Leggett  ISBN: 0415284651
Routledge; Paperback
; June 2003

Samurai Zen brings together 100 of the rare riddles which represent the core spiritual discipline of Japan's ancient Samurai tradition. Dating from thirteenth-century records of Japan's Kamakura temples, and traditionally guarded with a reverent secrecy, they reflect the earliest manifestation of pure Zen in Japan. Created by Zen Masters for their warrior pupils, the Japanese Koans use incidents from everyday life - a broken tea-cup, a water-jar, a cloth - to bring the warrior pupils of the Samurai to the Zen realization. Their aim is to enable a widening of consciouness beyond the illusions of the limited self, and a joyful inspiration in life - a state that has been compared to being free under a blue sky after imprisonment.


Samurai Zen:  - previously published as - The Warrior Koans
By Trevor Leggett (Edt)  ISBN: 0415284643
Routledge; Hardcover; June 2003 








The origin of warrior Zen in Kamakura, and in the whole of the eastern part of Japan. goes back to the training of warrior pupils by Eisai (Senka Kokushi). But it was the training of warriors and priests by two great Chinese masters, Daikaku and Bukko. which became the Zen style of the Kamakura temples. There were three streams in Kamakura Zen: 

scriptural Zen;

on-the-instant (shinkin) Zen;

Zen adapted to the pupil (Id-en Zen).

Zen derives from Eisai founder of Jufukuji in Kamakura in 1215. and of Kenninji in Kyoto. But at that time it was rare to find in Kamakura any samurai who had literary attainments, so that the classical koans from Chinese records of patriarchs could hardy be given to them. The teacher therefore selected passages from various sOtras for the warriors, and for monks also. These specially devised scriptural Zen koans used by Eisai at Kamakura numbered only eighteen, and so the commentary to the Sorinzakki calls Jufukuji �temple of the eighteen diamond k6ans�. However, after Eisai, his successors in Kamakura of the Oryu line (to which he belonged �the founder died in China in 1069 and the line was dying out there when it was brought across by Eisai soon brought them up to one hundred scriptural koans to meet the various temperaments and attainments of their pupils. These successors were Gyayo, Zoso and Jakuan at Jufukuji Daiei, Koho Myoo at Zenkoji; Sozan. Galcka at Manjuji. and others.

Among these augmented scriptural koans were passages from the siltras but also from the sayings of the patriarchs, to suit the depth or shallowness of comprehension of pupils, whether monks or laymen. Thus the warriors who applied for Zen training in Kamakura in the early days studied both the Buddha Zen (nyorai Zen) and the patriarchal Zen, but it can be said that those who were given classical koans from the Hekiganshu or Mumonkan and so on would have been extremely few. From the end of the sixteenth century, however, the teachers did begin to rely mainly on stories from the records of the patriarchs, for training both monks and laymen. Kamakura Zen now gradually deteriorated, and by about 1630 no printed text of the Shonan-katto-roku existed, but only manuscript copies. Some time towards the end of the seventeenth century, a priest named Than in Izusni selected ninety-five of the (Kamakura) scriptural koans and got a friend, a priest named Soji, to have them printed as a two-volume work entitled Kyojokoanshu (anthology of scriptural koans). These ninety-five correspond to the Kamakura scriptural koans, though with five missing (two from the Diamond Sutra, one from the Kegon Sutra, one from the Lotus Sutra and one from the Heart Sutra). This book still existed in 1925.

On-the-instant Zen (shikin-Zen, sometimes read sokkon-Zen) arose from the training of warriors by Daikaku, first teacher at Kenchoji He had come to Japan in 1246, and had been briefly at Enkakuji of Hakata city in Kyushu and then at Ky6to; while his Japanese was still imperfect, and without taking time to improve it, he came to Kamakura. Thus this teacher had to be sparing of words, and in training pupils he did not present them with classical koans about Chinese patriarchs which would have required long explanations of the history and circumstances of the foreign country; instead he made koans then and there on the instant, and set them to the warriors as a means to give them the essential first glimpse. Bukko Kokushi. founder of Enkakuji, arriving in Japan on the last day of the sixth month of 1280, came to Kamakura in the autusnn of the same year, so that he too had no time to leam Japanese but began meeting people straight away. He also had to confine himself to speaking only as necessary, and in the same way made koans for his warrior pupils on the spur of the moment. Thus at both these great temples there was what was called shinkin or on-the-instant Zen. Before Daikaku came to Japan, something of the true patriarchal Zen had been introduced by such great Zen figures as Dogen and Shoichi (Bennen), but monks and laymen were mostly not equal to it and many missed the main point in a maze of words and phrases. Consequently Bukko finally gave up the use of classical koans for Zen aspirants who came to him in Kamakura, and made them absorb themselves in things directly concerning them. The Regent Tokimune himself was one of the early pupils in this on-the-instant Zen, and he was one who grasped its essence.

Zen adapted to the pupil meant, at Kamakura, making a koan out of some incident or circumstance with which a monk or layman was familiar, and putting test questions (satsumon) to wrestle with. It would have been very difficult for the Kamakura warriors, with their little learning, to throw themselves at the outset right into the old koan incidents in the records of the patriarchs. So in the Zen temples of Kamakura and of eastern Japan generally, the style was that only when their Zen had progressed somewhat did they come under the hammer of one of the classical koans

Among the old manuscript books in Kanazawa and Nirayama libraries there are many concerning Kamakura Zen, for instance Nyudosanzenki Gosannyudoshu and so on. But it is only the Shonan-katto-roku which has a commentary with details of when each koan began to be used as such, and in which temple, and also discourses and sermons on them. In the tenth month of 1543, a great Zen convention was held at Meigetsuin as part of the memorial service, on the 150th anniversary of the death of Lord Uesugi Norikata, its founder. Five hundred printed copies of the Shonan-katto-roku were distributed to those attending. The book included sermons on the koans by Muin, the roshi of Zenkoji The work consisted of a hundred koan stories selected from Gosannyudoshu and other texts, by Muin Roshi, as particularly suited to the warriors whom he was training at the time. With the decline of Kamakura Zen at the end of the sixteenth century, the copies of this book disappeared and it became extremely difficult to find one. What remained in the temples were almost entirely manuscript copies.

In 1918 I examined the old records at Kenchoji in the four repositories of the sub-temples of Tengen, Ryuho, Hoju and Sairai, and among the stacks of old books there were some seventeenth-century manuscript copies of the Shonan-katto-roku  but all had pages missing from the ravages of worms, and it was barely possible to confirm from part of the contents that they had all been copies of one and the same book. In the first years of Meiji, Yamaoka Tesshu was given a copy by the Zen priest Shojo of Ryutaku temple in Izu, and he allowed Imai Kido to make a further copy of it.

In this way I came into touch with a copy, but this was lent and re-lent, and finally became impossible to trace. There are some collections of notes of� laymen who were set some of these koans at Kamakura temples, but the teachers when they gave one did not say what number it was, and so in these notes the koans are not tabulated. It was only after finding a list of contents in one of the Kenchoji manuscripts that I was able to determine the order of the full hundred koans as recorded in the present work. In Kamakura Zen there were thirty other koans used mainly by teachers of the Oryu line (mostly at Jufukuji Zenkoji. and Manjuji �temples traditionally connected with Eisai), which are from Bukedoshinshu (thirteenth volume at Zenkoji), Bushasadan (eleventh volume at Jufukuji), and Sorinzakki (fifteenth volume at Kenchoji), but I have omitted these and present here only the hundred koans of Shanan-katta-roku.

Zen tests (sassho) differ with the teacher. Those given to those trained at Enkakuji in the Soryukutsu (blue dragon cave) interview room of Master Kosen (one of� the greatest Meiji roshis) were exceptional tests, and again the tests set by Shunno of Nanzenji, and the formidable Sekisoken tests were not the same. The teachers Keichu and Shinjo had tests of their own. The sassho included here have been talcen from a collection of 460 Kamakura sassho recorded in the Tesshiroku (fourth volume in the manuscript copy). These of course have themselves been picked out from many different interviews with different pupils, but I believe they would have been tests devised by teachers when each koan was first being set as such; so the collection will have come from something over a hundred different teachers. Of course sometimes a single teacher devised more than one koan but if we reckon that Kamakura teachers made 130 koans we can take it that the sassho tests devised at the initiation of the separate koans would have come from over 100 teachers.

The Shonan-katto-roku koans had sermons and discourses with them as well as a note as to the origination of each one, but here only this last is included. The discourses and sermons are so full of old Kamakura words and expressions that annotations would come to be as long as the original text. Some tests required a �comment� (chakugo or jakugo). In general these are kept secret and not to be disclosed, but as an example I have included some of the comments on the Mirror Zen poems used at Tokeiji.