Zen Story: Fear Of Death

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Takagi Toranosuke capturing a Kappa underwater in the Tamura River in the Province of Sagami, N.d.

Tajima no Kami was fencing master to the Shogun. One of the Shogun’s bodyguards came to him one day asking to be trained in swordsmanship. “I have watched you carefully,” said Tajima no Kami, “and you seem to be a master in the art yourself.

Before taking you on as a pupil, I request you to tell me what master you studied under.” The bodyguard replied, “I have never studied the art under anyone.” “You cannot fool me,” said the teacher. “I have a discerning eye and it never fails.” “I do not mean to contradict your excellency,” said the guard, “but I really do not know a thing about fencing.”

The teacher engaged the man in swordplay for a few minutes then stopped and said, “Since you say you have never learned the art, I take your word for it. But you are some kind of master. Tell me about yourself.” “There is one thing,” said the guard. “When I was a child I was told by a samurai that a man should never fear death. I therefore faced the question of death till it ceased to cause me the slightest anxiety.” “So that’s what it is,” said Tajima no Kami. “The ultimate secret of swordsmanship lies in being free from the fear of death. You need no training. You are a master in your own right.”

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