Samādhi Power in Imperial Japan

Brian Victoria



Samādhi and the mental power associated with it form the foundation upon which the Zen school is built. Without samādhi, “Zen”, i.e. “meditation”, would become just another “mental health” practice rather than the basis for a profound realization of the true nature of the self. Yet, inasmuch as this long-acknowledged mental power constitutes an indivisible and integral part of samādhi, there is the ever-present danger that it can be misused or abused by oneself and/or others. The abuse described in this article, while rooted in premodern Japan, was most clearly visible during the period of Japan’s modern military aggression, beginning with the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and extending through Japan’s ultimate defeat in the Asia-Pacific War on August 15, 1945. During this period, samādhi power was, among other uses, employed to enhance the meditator’s ability to kill others. This article focuses on the abuse of samādhi power within Imperial Japan (1868-1945) with the express hope that once exposed and understood, its abuse will never be repeated. 

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