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An Analysis of Zen Buddhism in Kokoro, a Novel by Natsume Soseki

In the book Kokoro, Zen Buddhism helped me understand the character K in a variety of ways. K’s background is influenced by the practice because his dad is a Buddhist priest. When he gets adopted by a family of doctors he doesn’t want to study medicine, instead he wants to continue practicing Zen Buddhism to find his way to enlightenment. When he moves in with Sensei complications start to arise when he starts developing feelings for Ojosan.

K coming from a Buddhist family was a significant detail to me due to the fact that he has feelings for Ojosan. When he confessed his love for her to Sensei I realized that Buddhists couldn’t have a significant other so he couldn’t tell Ojosan how he felt. Unlike Sensei, K was a strong and bold boy since Sensei had feelings for Ojosan for a long time and never told anybody even before K moved in with them. This might be due to Sensei’s distrust in humanity that he never spoke of his feelings. When Okusan informed K that Sensei and Ojosan were going to get married I didn’t think that K would commit suicide because in the Buddhist practice suicide is looked down upon. His suicide is very similar to Sensei’s because they both wanted to escape loneliness. Unlike K’s however, Sensei’s wasn’t bloody for the sake of Shizu.

Having applied Zen Buddhism while reading Kokoro I now better understand K and his actions dealing with Ojosan. Additionally, I have learned that in Japan, at least during the time period of the book, suicide was not rare and not necessarily an act of cowardice. K went against his practice to commit suicide, but he might have been planning to abandon his way to enlightenment anyway until Sensei acted first and asked Okusan for her daughter’s hand in marriage. Using what I learned about Buddhism makes me question K’s intention before he committed suicide. I want to go back and read part three over to see if I notice hints indicating that maybe K was ready to give up his practice for his feelings or if the author wanted us to come up with our own conclusion.

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