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The Way of the Warrior and the Way of Awakening: Eastern Existential Philosophy in Zen Buddhism and Samurai Culture


Living in the Light of Death: Existential Philosophy in the Eastern Tradition, Zen, Samurai




Introduction




Existential philosophy is a branch of philosophy that focuses on the meaning and purpose of human existence. It explores questions such as: Who am I? Why am I here? What should I do? How should I live? What happens when I die? These questions arise from the recognition that human beings are finite, free, and responsible for their own choices and actions in a world that is often ambiguous, absurd, and indifferent.




Living in the Light of Death: Existential Philosophy in the Eastern Tradition, Zen, Samurai



Existential philosophy is not a unified system or doctrine, but rather a diverse and creative movement that emerged in different cultural and spiritual traditions throughout history. Some of the most influential existential philosophers include Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Gabriel Marcel in the Western tradition, and Laozi, Confucius, Zhuangzi, Buddha, Mahavira, Nagarjuna, Dogen, Hakuin, Miyamoto Musashi, and Yamamoto Tsunetomo in the Eastern tradition.


In this article, we will focus on the main themes and questions of existential philosophy in the Eastern tradition, especially in Zen Buddhism and Samurai culture. We will explore how these traditions developed their own unique ways of living in the light of death, and how they can inspire us to face our own existential challenges with wisdom and courage.


Existential Philosophy in the Eastern Tradition




The Origins and Influences of Eastern Existentialism




The Eastern tradition of existential philosophy has its roots in the ancient philosophies of India, China, and Japan. These philosophies reflect the diverse and rich cultures and histories of these regions, and their interactions and influences on each other.


Indian philosophy refers to the various philosophical schools and teachings that originated in the Indian subcontinent. Some of the earliest and most influential ones are Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. These traditions developed various concepts and practices related to existential issues such as dharma (the cosmic order or law), karma (the law of cause and effect), samsara (the cycle of birth and death), moksha (the liberation from samsara), and ahimsa (the principle of non-violence). These concepts and practices aim to help human beings understand their true nature and purpose, and to achieve harmony and peace with themselves and the world.


Chinese philosophy refers to the various philosophical schools and teachings that originated in China. Some of the most influential ones are Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism. These traditions contributed to the formation of Eastern existentialism with ideas such as ren (humaneness or benevolence), li (ritual or propriety), dao (the way or principle of nature), wu-wei (non-action or effortless action), yin-yang (the complementary forces of nature), and qi (the vital energy or life force). These ideas and practices aim to help human beings cultivate their moral and spiritual qualities, and to achieve harmony and balance with themselves and the world.


Japanese philosophy refers to the various philosophical schools and teachings that originated in Japan. Some of the most influential ones are Shintoism, Zen Buddhism, and Bushido. These traditions synthesized and adapted Eastern existentialism to their own historical and cultural context. Shintoism is the indigenous religion of Japan that worships the kami (spirits or deities) of nature and ancestors. Zen Buddhism is a branch of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation and direct experience of enlightenment. Bushido is the code of conduct of the Samurai warriors that values loyalty, honor, duty, and self-discipline. These traditions express their existential philosophy through various forms of art, poetry, martial arts, etc. They aim to help human beings connect with their inner spirit and intuition, and to achieve harmony and beauty with themselves and the world.


The Characteristics and Contributions of Eastern Existentialism




Eastern existentialism differs from Western existentialism in several ways. First, Eastern existentialism tends to have a more metaphysical or spiritual orientation than Western existentialism, which tends to have a more atheistic or humanistic orientation. Eastern existentialism often assumes the existence of a transcendent reality or principle that underlies or pervades the phenomenal world, such as Brahman, Atman, Sunyata, Anatta, Dao, etc. Western existentialism often rejects or ignores such metaphysical assumptions, and focuses on the human condition as it is experienced in this world, without reference to any otherworldly authority or source.


Second, Eastern existentialism tends to have a more ethical or aesthetic value system than Western existentialism, which tends to have a more nihilistic or relativistic value system. Eastern existentialism often affirms the existence of a universal or natural law or order that guides human action and behavior, such as dharma, karma, li, wu-wei, yin-yang, etc. Western existentialism often denies or challenges such universal or natural values, and emphasizes human freedom and responsibility to create their own values and meanings.


Third, Eastern existentialism tends to have a more holistic or dynamic view of reality than Western existentialism, which tends to have a more dualistic or static view of reality. Eastern existentialism often views reality as a complex and interdependent web of relations that is constantly changing and evolving, such as pratityasamutpada (dependent origination), p , reason, and analysis as the main tools to understand and communicate reality as it is defined by concepts and words.


Despite these differences, Eastern existentialism also shares some common ground with Western existentialism. Both traditions acknowledge the reality and significance of human suffering, anxiety, alienation, and death. Both traditions affirm the value and dignity of human freedom, responsibility, and authenticity. Both traditions challenge the conventional and dogmatic views of reality and morality that often oppress and deceive human beings. Both traditions inspire human beings to seek a deeper and more meaningful way of living that transcends the ordinary and mundane aspects of existence.


Eastern existentialism offers a valuable perspective and contribution to the global dialogue and inquiry on existential philosophy. It invites us to broaden our horizons and deepen our insights into the nature of reality and ourselves. It encourages us to cultivate a holistic and dynamic view of reality that emphasizes interdependence, impermanence, emptiness, and creativity. It provides us with a practical and experiential approach to philosophy that involves meditation, mindfulness, art, poetry, martial arts, and other forms of practice that cultivate direct and intuitive awareness of reality as it is, beyond concepts and words. It addresses the problem of suffering and death with compassion, wisdom, courage, and detachment.


Zen Buddhism and Samurai Culture as Examples of Eastern Existentialism




Zen Buddhism: The Way of Awakening




Zen Buddhism is a branch of Buddhism that originated from the fusion of Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Chinese Chan Buddhism. The word Zen is derived from the Chinese word Chan, which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word Dhyana, meaning meditation. Zen Buddhism emphasizes meditation as the main practice for attaining awakening or enlightenment.


Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 12th century by two Japanese monks who studied in China: Eisai (1141-1215) who founded the Rinzai school of Zen; and Dogen (1200-1253) who founded the Soto school of Zen. These two schools are still the main branches of Zen in Japan today. The Rinzai school is known for its use of koans (paradoxical riddles or questions) as a means to trigger a sudden breakthrough or insight into one's true nature. The Soto school is known for its practice of shikantaza (just sitting) as a means to cultivate a calm and clear state of mind that reflects one's true nature.


Zen Buddhism expresses its existential philosophy through various forms of art such as calligraphy, painting, poetry, tea ceremony, gardening, etc. These forms of art are not merely aesthetic or decorative activities, but rather expressions of one's inner state of mind and spirit. They are also ways of practicing mindfulness and awareness in everyday life. Zen art often conveys a sense of simplicity, spontaneity, naturalness, and harmony with nature.


Zen Buddhism deals with the issues of life and death with a non-dualistic and non-attachment perspective that transcends rationality and language. Zen teaches that life and death are not two separate realities, but rather two aspects of one reality that is beyond birth and death. Zen also teaches that attachment to one's ego or self is the root cause of suffering and ignorance. By letting go of one's ego or self through meditation and insight, one can realize one's true nature that is empty of any inherent existence or identity. This realization liberates one from fear and suffering, and enables one to live in the present moment with joy and compassion.


Samurai Culture: The Way of Honor




Samurai culture is the culture of the samurai, the warrior class of feudal Japan. The word samurai means "one who serves" and refers to the loyalty and duty that the samurai owed to their lords (daimyo) and the shogun (the supreme military leader). Samurai culture emerged from the feudal system of Japan during the medieval period (1185-1603) and continued until the Meiji Restoration (1868) that abolished the feudal system and the samurai class.


Samurai culture is characterized by its values and principles such as bushido (the way of the warrior), seppuku (ritual suicide), loyalty, honor, duty, courage, discipline, and self-sacrifice. Bushido is the unwritten and unspoken code of conduct that guided the samurai's behavior and ethics. It was influenced by Confucianism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Zen Buddhism. Seppuku is the act of cutting one's own belly with a short sword as a way of accepting responsibility for one's actions or failures, or as a way of avoiding dishonor or capture by the enemy. It was considered a noble and honorable death that demonstrated one's courage and loyalty.


Samurai culture expresses its existential philosophy through various forms of martial arts such as kendo (swordsmanship), kyudo (archery), judo (grappling), iaido (sword drawing), etc. These forms of martial arts are not merely physical or combative activities, but rather ways of cultivating one's mind and spirit. They are also ways of practicing mindfulness and awareness in everyday life. Samurai martial arts often convey a sense of simplicity, elegance, efficiency, and harmony with nature.


Samurai culture deals with the issues of life and death with a stoic and heroic attitude that embraces mortality and sacrifice. Samurai believe that life is short and uncertain, and that death is inevitable and honorable. Samurai do not fear death, but rather face it with dignity and courage. Samurai also believe that their spirit lives on after death, either in a pure land or in their descendants. Samurai honor their ancestors and their fallen comrades by performing rituals and ceremonies such as offering prayers, incense, food, drinks, etc.


Conclusion




In conclusion, existential philosophy in the Eastern tradition, especially in Zen Buddhism and Samurai culture, is a fascinating and inspiring topic that can enrich our understanding of ourselves and our world. It can also help us cope with our own existential challenges such as suffering, anxiety, alienation, and death. By learning from these traditions, we can develop a more holistic and dynamic view of reality that emphasizes interdependence, impermanence, emptiness, and creativity. We can also cultivate a more practical and experiential approach to philosophy that involves meditation , mindfulness, art, poetry, martial arts, and other forms of practice that cultivate direct and intuitive awareness of reality as it is, beyond concepts and words. We can also address the problem of suffering and death with compassion, wisdom, courage, and detachment.


FAQs




Here are some frequently asked questions about existential philosophy in the Eastern tradition:


Q: What is existential philosophy?A: Existential philosophy is a branch of philosophy that focuses on the meaning and purpose of human existence. It explores questions such as: Who am I? Why am I here? What should I do? How should I live? What happens when I die?


Q: What is Eastern existentialism?A: Eastern existentialism is a term used to describe the existential philosophy that emerged in different cultural and spiritual traditions in India, China, and Japan. It is characterized by its metaphysical or spiritual orientation, its ethical or aesthetic value system, its holistic or dynamic view of reality, and its practical or experiential approach to philosophy.


Q: What are some examples of Eastern existentialism?A: Some examples of Eastern existentialism are Zen Buddhism and Samurai culture. Zen Buddhism is a branch of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation as the main practice for attaining awakening or enlightenment. Samurai culture is the culture of the warrior class of feudal Japan that values loyalty, honor, duty, courage, discipline, and self-sacrifice.


Q: How does Eastern existentialism differ from Western existentialism?A: Eastern existentialism differs from Western existentialism in several ways. First, Eastern existentialism tends to have a more metaphysical or spiritual orientation than Western existentialism, which tends to have a more atheistic or humanistic orientation. Second, Eastern existentialism tends to have a more ethical or aesthetic value system than Western existentialism, which tends to have a more nihilistic or relativistic value system. Third, Eastern existentialism tends to have a more holistic or dynamic view of reality than Western existentialism, which tends to have a more dualistic or static view of reality. Fourth, Eastern existentialism tends to have a more practical or experiential approach to philosophy than Western existentialism, which tends to have a more theoretical or rational approach to philosophy.


Q: How can Eastern existentialism help us cope with our own existential challenges?A: Eastern existentialism can help us cope with our own existential challenges such as suffering, anxiety, alienation, and death by offering us a broader and deeper perspective on reality and ourselves. It can also help us cultivate a more compassionate, wise, courageous, and detached attitude toward life and death by providing us with various forms of practice that enhance our direct and intuitive awareness of reality as it is.


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