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Sword of Zen

Master Takuan and His Writings on Immovable Wisdom and the Sword Tale

Peter Haskel

Publication Year: 2012

Takuan Sōho’s (1573–1645) two works on Zen and swordsmanship are among the most straightforward and lively presentations of Zen ever written and have enjoyed great popularity in both premodern and modern Japan. Although dealing ostensibly with the art of the sword, Record of Immovable Wisdom and On the Sword Taie are basic guides to Zen—“user’s manuals” for Zen mind that show one how to manifest it not only in sword play but from moment to moment in everyday life.

Along with translations of Record of Immovable Wisdom and On the Sword Taie (the former, composed in all likelihood for the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu and his fencing master, Yagyū Munenori), this book includes an introduction to Takuan’s distinctive approach to Zen, drawing on excerpts from the master’s other writings. It also offers an accessible overview of the actual role of the sword in Takuan’s day, a period that witnessed both a bloody age of civil warfare and Japan’s final unification under the Tokugawa shoguns. Takuan was arguably the most famous Zen priest of his time, and as a pivotal figure, bridging the Zen of the late medieval and early modern periods, his story (presented in the book’s biographical section) offers a rare picture of Japanese Zen in transition.

For modern readers, whether practitioners of Zen or the martial arts, Takuan’s emphasis on freedom of mind as the crux of his teaching resonates as powerfully as it did with the samurai and swordsmen of Tokugawa Japan. Scholars will welcome this new, annotated translation of Takuan’s sword-related works as well as the host of detail it provides, illuminating an obscure period in Zen’s history in Japan.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-xii

I was introduced to Takuan Sōhō’s writings on Zen and swordsmanship not long after enrolling as a graduate student in the East Asian Languages and Cultures department of Columbia University. My advisor, Yoshito Hakeda, had translated excerpts from...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Many people have contributed to the preparation of this book. Along with Professor Hakeda, who first inspired me to take up Takuan and taught me the theory of “no fixed mind,” and Charlie...

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Chapter 1. An Introduction to Takuan’s Writings on Zen and Swordsmanship

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pp. 1-32

Like many Zen priests of his day, Takuan was a literary as well as a religious figure. Besides extensive correspondence and quantities of poems in both Chinese and Japanese, the master produced a number of independent prose works...

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Chapter 2. Translations

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pp. 33-57

The ignorance of attachment as the ground of delusion (mumyō jūji bonnō) . The term “ignorance” is made up of the characters for “no light”—that is to say, delusion. The term “attachment” is made up of characters meaning “to stop” and “stage.”...

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Chapter 3. Happenings in a Dream

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pp. 58-124

Takuan’s life, like the difficult times in which he came of age, was marked by periods of considerable turbulence and uncertainty, and, though a dedicated Zen monk with a penchant for seclusion and rural retreat, the master encountered the sorts of extreme...


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pp. 125-170


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pp. 171-176


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pp. 177-182

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837235
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835439

Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 830023087
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sword of Zen

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Subject Headings

  • Takuan Sōhō, 1573-1645.
  • Takuan Sōhō, 1573-1645. Fudōchi shinmyōroku.
  • Takuan Sōhō, 1573-1645. Taiaki.
  • Zen Buddhism -- Doctrines.
  • Swordplay -- Japan -- Philosophy.
  • Yagyū, Munenori, 1571-1646. Hyōhō kadensho.
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