A Classic Zen Story on Fearlessness

Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely. ~ Buddha Click To Tweet

In the Kamakura epoch, Zen had an enormous influence on the samurai warrior caste. This was a time when Japan was torn by internal strife, and constant war was waged between the various feudal lords as they fought to gain control of the imperial power. They went to study Zen as soldiers in order to learn fearlessness — and that was where the Zen monks outfoxed the samurai. The samurai prided themselves on their manly and warrior-like qualities, but they couldn’t scare the Zen monks because the monks were just not fazed — not stopped at all — by the idea of death!

A classic Zen story about their fearlessness is the tale of a young man who applied to a fencing master to be his student. The master looked at him and said, “Who did you study with before?”

He said, “I’ve never studied fencing before.”

The master looked at him in a funny way and said, “No, surely, come now, you have studied with someone.”

He said, “No sir, I never have studied.”

“Well,” the master said, “I’m an experienced teacher, and I can tell at once by looking at a person whether he has studied fencing or not, and I know you have!”

But the young man shook his head and said, “Sir, I assure you, I’ve never studied fencing at all with anybody.”

“Well,” said the master, “there must be something peculiar about you — what do you suppose it could be?”

“Well,” the young man said, “when I was a boy, I was very worried about dying. So I thought a great deal about death. And then I came to the realization that there’s nothing in death to be afraid of.”

“Oh,” said the master, “that explains it.”

Source: “What is Zen?“, by Alan Watts