The History of Samurai in Japan - ThoughtCo

4. The Social State of Japan when Zen was established by Ei-sai and Do-gen.--Now we have to observe the condition of the country when Zen was introduced into Japan by Ei-sai and Do-gen. Nobilities that had so long governed the island were nobilities no more. Enervated by their luxuries, effeminated by their ease, made insipient by their debauchery, they were entirely powerless. All that they possessed in reality was the nominal rank and hereditary birth. On the contrary, despised as the ignorant, sneered at as the upstart, put in contempt as the vulgar, the Samurai or military class had everything in their hands. It was the time when Yori-tomo[1] (1148-1199) conquered all over the empire, and established the Samurai Government at Kama-kura. It was the time when even the emperors were dethroned or exiled at will by the Samurai. It was the time when even the Buddhist monks[2] frequently took up arms to force their will. It was the time when Japan's independence was endangered by Kublai, the terror of the world. It was the time when the whole nation was full of martial spirit. It is beyond doubt that to these rising Samurais, rude and simple, the philosophical doctrines of Buddhism, represented by Ten Dai and Shin Gon, were too complicated and too alien to their nature. But in Zen they could find something congenial to their nature, something that touched their chord of sympathy, because Zen was the doctrine of chivalry in a certain sense.

and the word was closely associated with the middle and upper echelons of the warrior class

eventful life ended in anxiety and despair. It was at this time that Japan gave birth to Masa-shige (Kusu-noki), an able general and tactician of the Imperialists, who for the sake of the Emperor not only sacrificed himself and his brother, but by his will his son and his son's successor died for the same cause, boldly attacking the enemy whose number was overwhelmingly great. Masa-shige's loyalty, wisdom, bravery, and prudence are not merely unique in the history of Japan, but perhaps in the history of man. The tragic tale about his parting with his beloved son, and his bravery shown at his last battle, never fail to inspire the Japanese with heroism. He is the best specimen of the Samurai class. According to an old document,[1] this Masa-shige was the practiser of Zen, and just before his last battle he called on Chu Tsun (So-shun) to receive the final instruction. "What have I to do when death takes the place of life?" asked Masa-shige. The teacher replied:


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A collection of fascinating portraits of real samurai warriors taken in the decades before reforms saw the warrior class ..