In the first article in this series, I began with the observation that one of the fundamental sources of Bushido is Buddhism, and in particular Zen Buddhism.
Buddhism, of course, originated in India. The origin of Buddhism points to one man, Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, who was born in Lumbini (in present-day Nepal) during the 5th century BCE. Rather than the founder of a new religion, Siddhartha Gautama was the founder and leader of a sect of wanderer ascetics (Sramanas), one of many sects that existed at that time all over India. This sect came to be known as Sangha to distinguish it from other similar communities.1
Under Ashoka the Great, who ruled India from 268 to 232 BCE, Buddhism became the state religion of India, and gradually migrated eastward to Tibet, China, Korea and Japan. Along the way, many different sects of Buddhism arose. Zen is a school of Mayahana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty as Chan Buddhism. It was strongly influenced by Taoism, and developed as a distinct school of Chinese Buddhism. From China, Chan Buddhism spread south to Vietnam, northeast to Korea and east to Japan, where it became known as Seon Buddhism and Japanese Zen, respectively.2
In Zen Buddhism in particular, during sitting meditation, practitioners usually assume a position such as the lotus position, half-lotus, various yoga postures or, as we practice in Aikido, seiza. To regulate the mind, awareness is directed towards counting or watching the breath or by bringing that awareness to the energy center below the navel.
The native Japanese religion of Shintoism forms the other main source for the ethical foundation of Bushido. Its core tenets included loyalty to the sovereign, reverence for ancestral memory, and filial piety. Shinto theology believes in the innate goodness and Godlike purity of the human soul, “adoring it as the adytum from which divine oracles are proclaimed.”3 Because of this fundamental belief, Shinto shrines are conspicuously devoid of objects and instruments of worship, and a plain mirror hung in the sanctuary forms the essential part of its furnishings. The mirror typifies the human heart, which, “when perfectly placid and clear, reflects the very image of the Deity.”4
This belief is not unique to Shintoism and Japan but was instrumental in the early period of Greek philosophy. The Delphic maxim “Know Thyself” was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.5 The Greek philosopher Plato expanded these two simple words into the oft-uttered adjuration “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Shintoism evolved to cover the two predominant features of life in feudal Japan as revered by the samurai class: patriotism and loyalty. And these were substantially derived from the teachings of Confucius, who enunciated the five moral relations between:
- Master & servant (the governing and the governed)
- Father & son
- Husband & wife
- Older brother & younger brother
- Friend & friend6
In the next part of this series, I will begin with exploring perhaps the most important precept in the code of the samurai: rectitude or justice.
3. Nitobe, supra, p. 12.
4. Id., p. 13.
6. Inobe, supra, p. 16.