Zen In The Dark Age

The latter half of the Ashikaga period was the age of arms and

bloodshed. Every day the sun shone on the glittering armour of

marching soldiers. Every wind sighed over the lifeless remains of

the brave. Everywhere the din of battle resounded. Out of these

fighting feudal lords stood two champions. Each of them

distinguished himself as a veteran soldier and tactician. Each of

them was known as an experienced pract
ser of Zen. One was

Haru-nobu (Take-da, died in 1573), better known by his

Buddhist name, Shin-gen. The other was Teru-tora (Uye-sugi,

died in 1578), better known by his Buddhist name, Ken-shin. The

character of Shin-gen can be imagined from the fact that he never

built any castle or citadel or fortress to guard himself against his

enemy, but relied on his faithful vassals and people; while that of

Ken-shin, from the fact that he provided his enemy, Shin-gen, with

salt when the latter suffered from want of it, owing to the cowardly

stratagem of a rival lord. The heroic battles waged by these two

great generals against each other are the flowers of the Japanese

war-history. Tradition has it that when Shin-gen's army was put to

rout by the furious attacks of Ken-shin's troops, and a single

warrior mounted on a huge charger rode swiftly as a sweeping wind

into Shin-gen's head-quarters, down came a blow of the heavy sword

aimed at Shin-gen's forehead, with a question expressed in the

technical terms of Zen: "What shalt thou do in such a state at such a

moment?" Having no time to draw his sword, Shin-gen parried it with

his war-fan, answering simultaneously in Zen words: "A flake of snow

on the red-hot furnace!" Had not his attendants come to the rescue

Shin-gen's life might have gone as 'a flake of snow on the red-hot

furnace.' Afterwards the horseman was known to have been Ken-shin

himself. This tradition shows us how Zen was practically lived by

the Samurais of the Dark Age.

Shin-gen practised Zen under the instruction of Kwai-sen,

who was burned to death by Nobu-naga (O-da) in 1582. See


Ken-shin learned Zen under Shu-ken, a So Ta master. See


Although the priests of other Buddhist sects had their share in these

bloody affairs, as was natural at such a time, yet Zen monks stood

aloof and simply cultivated their literature. Consequently, when all

the people grew entirely ignorant at the end of the Dark Age, the Zen

monks were the only men of letters. None can deny this merit of

their having preserved learning and prepared for its revival in the

following period.

After the introduction of Zen into Japan many important

books were written, and the following are chief doctrinal works:

Ko-zen-go-koku-ron, by Ei-sai; Sho bo-gen-zo; Gaku-do-yo-zin-shu;

Fu-kwan-za-zen-gi; Ei-hei-ko-roku, by Do-gen; Za-zen-yo-zin-ki; and

Den-ko-roku, by Kei-zan.