The Religion of the Samurai Informative Summary


Kaiten Nukariya’s “The Religion of the Samurai” delves into the history, philosophy, and practice of Zen Buddhism, focusing on its transmission from India to China and Japan. Nukariya highlights the iconoclastic nature of Zen, its emphasis on direct experience over scripture, and its conception of Buddha as the Universal Spirit residing within all beings.

The text explores the development of Zen in China through the lineage of patriarchs, emphasizing the importance of the Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng, who championed direct experience and the potential for all beings to achieve enlightenment. Nukariya further illuminates the spread of Zen to Japan, focusing on the roles of Eisai and Dogen, founders of the Rinzai and Soto schools, respectively. He draws parallels between Zen and Bushido, highlighting the shared values of discipline, honest poverty, and courage. The text emphasizes the significance of Zen in shaping Japanese culture, from the warrior class to everyday life.

Key Findings:

  • Zen rejects reliance on scripture, claiming true enlightenment arises from direct experience.
  • Buddha is not an external deity but the Universal Spirit or Life Force that permeates all beings.
  • Zen emphasizes the concept of Buddha-nature, a latent potential for enlightenment inherent in everyone.
  • The practice of Zazen (meditation) is crucial for achieving enlightenment and realizing Buddha-nature.
  • Zen was instrumental in shaping the character of the Samurai and has deeply influenced Japanese culture.


  • Zen Buddhism: Readers will gain a comprehensive understanding of Zen Buddhism, its history, philosophy, and practices, distinguishing it from other Buddhist schools.
  • Concept of Buddha: The text challenges traditional views of Buddha, presenting him not as a singular deity but as a Universal Life Force that resides within all beings and permeates the entire universe.
  • Buddha-nature: The concept of Buddha-nature, a potential for enlightenment present in everyone, is explained in detail, offering a unique perspective on human nature and the potential for spiritual growth.
  • Zazen Meditation: The importance and practice of Zazen meditation are explored, highlighting its role in calming the mind, breaking down egoism, and realizing Buddha-nature.
  • Zen and Bushido: The text draws parallels between Zen and the Samurai code of Bushido, illustrating how Zen shaped the character of the warrior class and contributed to Japanese culture.

Historical Context: The text was written in 1913, a period of significant change in Japan. The Meiji Restoration (1868) had ushered in a new era, leading to rapid modernization and westernization. Nukariya’s exploration of Zen Buddhism serves as a reminder of Japan’s rich spiritual heritage, offering a path for navigating the challenges of a rapidly changing world.


  1. Zen originated from the Enlightenment of the Buddha. It is said to be the direct transmission of the Buddha’s spiritual realization.
  2. Bodhidharma brought Zen to China. Around 520 AD, he introduced a living faith based on experience, not scripture.
  3. Zen rejects scriptural authority. Words and characters are considered inadequate to express true religious experience.
  4. The Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng, emphasized direct experience. He believed enlightenment could be attained suddenly through insight.
  5. Zen developed into five schools in China. The Linji (Rinzai) and Caodong (Soto) schools were transmitted to Japan.
  6. Eisai brought the Rinzai school to Japan in 1191. This school emphasized abrupt methods and koans to induce enlightenment.
  7. Dogen brought the Soto school to Japan in 1227. This school focuses on quiet sitting meditation (Zazen) for gradual awakening.
  8. Zen resonated with the Samurai class. Shared values include discipline, self-sacrifice, and facing death with courage.
  9. The Hojo Regency favoured Zen. Regent Generals built temples, invited Chinese Zen teachers, and practiced Zen themselves.
  10. Zen influenced Japanese culture beyond the warrior class. Its philosophy permeated literature, art, tea ceremony, and daily life.
  11. Zen views the universe as its scripture. Nature, everyday life, and direct experience are seen as sources of wisdom.
  12. Buddha is the Universal Spirit, not an external deity. This Life Force animates and vitalizes everything in the universe.
  13. All beings are endowed with Buddha-nature. This latent potential for enlightenment exists within everyone.
  14. Enlightened Consciousness connects us to Buddha. It allows us to realize our unity with the Universal Spirit.
  15. Enlightenment is beyond description and analysis. It can only be directly experienced through practice.
  16. Zen views life as a dynamic process of change and conflict. Change is seen as a manifestation of the Life Force.
  17. Nature operates according to the law of balance. Positives and negatives are interconnected and interdependent.
  18. Good and evil are relative expressions of Buddha-nature. Both contribute to the unfolding of life and character.
  19. Zazen is the central practice for realizing Buddha-nature. It involves sitting meditation and mindful awareness in daily activities.
  20. Nirvana is not annihilation but the extinction of suffering. It is experienced as peace, joy, and union with the Universal Spirit.


  1. 28 Patriarchs of Zen: Zen tradition traces its lineage through 28 patriarchs, starting from the Buddha’s disciple, Mahakasyapa.
  2. 9 Years: Bodhidharma spent nine years in meditation at the Shaolin Temple, earning the title “Wall-gazing Brahmin.”
  3. 700 Disciples: The Fifth Patriarch, Hongren, had 700 disciples, highlighting the growing popularity of Zen in China.
  4. 3,000 Buddhas: Ancient Buddhist cosmology includes 3,000 Buddhas, though Zen emphasizes the Universal Spirit.
  5. 16 Assemblies: The Buddha is said to have preached the Prajnaparamita Sutras in 16 assemblies, emphasizing the concept of emptiness.
  6. 5 Periods: The Tiantai school categorizes the Buddha’s teachings into 5 periods of doctrinal development.
  7. 8 Vijnyanas: The Dharmalaksana school describes 8 types of consciousness, culminating in the Alaya-vijnyana (storehouse consciousness).
  8. 6 Supernatural Powers: Zen reframes the concept of supernatural powers as overcoming attachment to sense objects and realizing freedom.
  9. 1,300 Million Idle Thoughts: An Indian text claims 1,300 million idle thoughts arise in the mind every 24 hours, highlighting the need for meditation.
  10. 5,670,000,000 Years: The coming of the Buddha Maitreya is prophesied to occur 5,670,000,000 years after the Buddha’s death, representing the ultimate realization of peace and enlightenment.
  11. 1191: The year Eisai established the Rinzai school of Zen in Japan.
  12. 1227: The year Dogen established the Soto school of Zen in Japan.
  13. 1205-1332: The Hojo Period, a time when Zen flourished under the patronage of the ruling Samurai class.
  14. 1603-1867: The Tokugawa Shogunate, during which Zen continued to be practiced and influenced Japanese culture.
  15. 14,255 Soto Temples (1911): Demonstrates the widespread popularity of the Soto school in Japan.
  16. 6,128 Rinzai Temples (1911): Shows the significant presence of the Rinzai school in Japan.
  17. 546 Obaku Temples (1911): Reflects the smaller but still significant number of Obaku temples in Japan.
  18. 9,576 Soto Teachers (1911): Indicates the substantial number of individuals practicing and teaching the Soto school.
  19. 4,523 Rinzai Teachers (1911): Highlights the considerable number of Rinzai teachers in Japan.
  20. 349 Obaku Teachers (1911): Demonstrates the dedicated community of Obaku teachers in Japan.


  1. Zen: A school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing direct experience and insight through meditation.
  2. Dhyana: Sanskrit for meditation, from which “Zen” is derived.
  3. Zazen: Sitting meditation, a central practice in Zen.
  4. Buddha-nature: The inherent potential for enlightenment present in all beings.
  5. Enlightenment: A state of awakening to the true nature of reality and achieving liberation from suffering.
  6. Nirvana: The extinction of suffering and delusion, experienced as peace, joy, and unity with the Universal Spirit.
  7. Koan: A paradoxical riddle or statement used in Zen practice to provoke doubt and induce insight.
  8. Rinzai: A school of Zen emphasizing sudden enlightenment through koans and direct pointing by the master.
  9. Soto: A school of Zen emphasizing gradual enlightenment through quiet sitting meditation (Zazen).
  10. Karma: The law of cause and effect, where actions create consequences that shape future experiences.


  1. Bodhidharma and the Emperor Wu: Bodhidharma’s blunt response to the Emperor’s question about merit illustrates Zen’s rejection of external religious practices.
  2. Hui Neng’s Verses: The Sixth Patriarch’s verses about the non-existence of the Bodhi tree exemplify the focus on direct experience over reliance on symbols.
  3. Tan Hia warming himself with a Buddha statue: Demonstrates Zen’s iconoclastic attitude towards religious images.
  4. The Parable of the Robber Kih: Chwang Tzu’s parable highlights the inherent Buddha-nature even in seemingly “bad” individuals.
  5. Wang Yang Ming and the Thief: Illustrates the belief in innate Conscience (akin to Buddha-nature) even in a thief.
  6. The Swallow’s Sermon: Huen Sha’s recognition of the swallow’s song as a Dharma teaching exemplifies Zen’s appreciation of the universe as its scripture.
  7. The Parable of the Drunkard: The parable of the drunkard forgetting his precious gems represents the human condition of forgetting one’s innate Buddha-nature.
  8. E Kwai and the Headless Monster: The monk’s response to the frightening apparition showcases Zen’s ability to maintain equanimity in the face of challenges.
  9. Haku-in sleeping during a storm: Demonstrates the mental calmness achieved through Zen practice.
  10. The Parable of the Old Burglar: Illustrates Zen’s method of teaching through direct experience and self-discovery.

Conclusion: “The Religion of the Samurai” provides a profound exploration of Zen Buddhism, emphasizing its unique philosophical perspective, practical approach to spiritual development, and significant impact on Japanese culture. Zen’s rejection of dogma and emphasis on direct experience challenge conventional religious views. By cultivating Buddha-nature through practices like Zazen meditation, individuals can achieve enlightenment and experience the profound joy and peace of Nirvana, realizing their inherent connection to the Universal Spirit that permeates all things. The text encourages readers to embrace life’s challenges, see the world as their scripture, and find Buddha within themselves and in every aspect of existence.

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