Death Was His Kōan

The Samurai Zen of Suzuki Shōsan

Winston L. King

Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1986.

An early Tokugawa samurai turned maverick Zen monk, Suzuki Shōsan (1579–1655) is one of Japanese Buddhism’s most neglected yet most colorful figures. Though this fascinating man—part fanatic, part saint—founded no sect and only left a small group of disciples behind him when he died, he has been called “the reviver of Buddhism in modern times.” The bluntness of his words is accompanied by a sincerity in his desire to see people move toward a state of enlightenment. He was first and foremost a religious leader, and his writings have a freshness of approach that gives them power even for twentieth-century readers.

This is a rich and comprehensive examination of Shõsan’s life and the author’s broad knowledge of the Buddhist tradition is evident throughout…. The book stands as a challenging interpretation of a controversial figure and should be required reading for students of Japanese religion in the early modern period.

Paul B. Watt

Though I regretted that I could not stay in the mountains I now consider it to be fortunate…. If I had remained there…I would have become a “Good Man of the Way” and could not have become aware of my faults. But being always in the world, I am an ordinary man who is quite aware of his own faults.

Suzuki Shōsan