ZEN AND THE WAY OF THE SWORD

ARMING THE SAMURAI PSYCHE

A superb analysis by King (Religion/Vanderbilt University), a renowned scholar of Far Eastern religions, of the curious marriage between Zen Buddhism and samurai fighting. The contradiction is glaring: Zen emphasizes tranquility and meditation, whereas the samurai code deals with bloodshed. How then did Zen become the religion of the Japanese warrior? King locates the roots of Zen in Taoism, whose influence led to a form of Buddhism that emphasized practicality, surprise, and irreverence. By the 13th century, Zen had been adopted by the Japanese ruling elite, and most Zen monasteries boasted their own large standing armies (this despite the Buddha's injunction against killing). Meanwhile, the samurai class rose to power under the aegis of the shogun, valuing absolute obedience, spartan self-control, and precision in killing—a perfect match for Zen's own emphasis on exactness and ``visceral awareness.'' King expands at fascinating length on Zen/samurai swordsmanship, including the startling variety of sword strokes; details of how Japanese blacksmiths produce the incomparable samurai sword (the best in the world); and a cut-by-cut account of sepukku, or ritual suicide. As he points out, the Zen/samurai spirit still flourishes in Japan, finding recent manifestation both in the kamikaze attacks of WW II and in the authoritarianism of large corporations. In a controversial but persuasive argument, King suggests that D.T. Suzuki, the most famous interpreter of Zen to the West, sanitized the Zen/samurai connection and that Zen, because it rejects the scriptural and literary traditions of more mainstream Buddhism, lacks ``intrinsic ethical quality'' and thus can be adapted to fit any orientation- -whether for peace or war. Daring and stylish—a true Zen/samurai stroke of religious scholarship. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: June 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-19-506810-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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