In a life-and-death situation of being sword-tip to sword-tip with the enemy, where should the swordsman put his mind?
This is the first question posed in the first of three essays written by a Zen master for the guidance of samurai swordsmen. Among the other questions that arise are the difference between the right mind and the confused mind, what makes life precious, the nature of right-mindedness, the Buddhist paradigm of form and consciousness, and what distinguishes the True Mind. So succinct are the author's insights that these writings have outlasted the dissolution of the samurai class to come down to the present as sources of guidance and inspiration for captains of business and industry, as well as those devoted to the practice of the martial arts in their modern forms.
The history of the sword in Japan goes back to antiquity. Zen and its meditative practices also have a long history, but it was not until the rule of the Tokugawa shoguns, beginning in the early 1600s, that the techniques of swordsmanship fused with the spirit of Zen. And if one man can be said to have been the prime mover in this phenomenon, it was none other than Takuan Soho, confidant and religious instructor to an emperor, to a great sword master, and to the heads of the most important sword schools of the time.
Takuan's meditations on the sword in the essays presented here are classics of Zen thinking.