Browse Categories

Japanese Swords

Shop By Forge

Samurai Philosophy: The Influence of Zen Buddhism

Warriors, swordsmen, and militants are some of the most common words used to describe the samurai. In actuality, samurais were noblemen, highly educated and dedicated to certain philosophies and belief codes. While most people have heard the term bushido, not many realize what a huge influence Zen Buddhism was to the samurai way of life.



The samurai class existed until the mid-1800s, with militaristic roots all the way back to the late 700s. These clan warriors originally served to protect the emperor as well as the lands of the nobility, but they eventually began warring amongst themselves and took control of the government. To learn more about their weaponry, explore Swords of The East.


The samurai were upper class nobility members, well educated and literate at a time when very few Europeans knew how to read. In an effort to be well-rounded, the Samurai also participated in artistic and cultural activities. These endeavors included ink painting, calligraphy, and poetry.


The Samurai Code: Bushido

Zen Buddhism also influenced the idea of bushido, but a refresher of this moral code might help set the stage for understanding the art of Zen. Bushido refers to the set of beliefs samurai followed, which include honor, loyalty, courage, and self-sacrifice. The samurai could strike down anyone who offended their honor, and shamed warriors would embrace the ceremonial suicide practice known as seppuku. The samurai had high ethical standards and met all expectations of becoming highly trained in martial arts and tactical skills.


Defining Zen, Which Has No Meaning

The art of Zen is taught by observing and learning from a master, who may confuse you by saying that Zen is both everything and nothing. Zen is a personal journey and discovery of one’s self, perhaps meant to culminate in a lifestyle of discipline and self-enlightenment. To be more specific, this may include mediation and mental focus. Although Zen Buddhism is a non-violent practice, many aspects influenced the lives of samurai warriors.


Like the Bushido code, Zen teaches self-reliance, courage, and loyalty. It also develops flexibility, oneness with all tools, and strength of both mind and body. A motivating tool, the art of Zen pushes its students toward progress, while discouraging a student from focusing and fixating on his or her own strengths and weakness.


One of the most valuable of a samurai’s Zen tools was the ability to de-clutter his mind. Thoughts such as fear of death served only to distract, while focusing on strategy and changes in an opponent’s behavior could mean victory. All physical combat includes mental combat, and so warriors worked to develop powerful concentration in any circumstance. Although martial arts and swords training means years of learning specific movements and motions, samurai warriors knew not to rely on these in the battlefield. Anticipating an enemy’s moves was just as dangerous as utilizing a specific attack plan that could easily be thwarted or exploited by the enemy. By being in the moment, an important Zen practice, warriors could focus on the battle at hand.