I started reading "Hagakure," which was written by the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo from 1709 to 1716. I don't agree with everything in the book - some of the things Yamamoto-sama says sound crazy to my modern sensibilities, but there's some powerful quotes in here about bushido. Here's some I liked, with some thoughts of my own -
We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. To die without gaming one's aim is a dog's death and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one's heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he pains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.
The first book of philosophy on bushido I read was the Budoshoshinshu. It had a significant impact on my thinking. One of the largest tenets of bushido is keeping awareness of your death in mind when you live. I try to do this, because it gives you a sense of urgency and importance.
A lot of times the principle is misunderstood - the principle is actually make preparations as if you'll live forever, but live this day that you'd be proud if it was your last. Bushido is not about being reckless. It's about keeping awareness of the end with you, and in doing so, living much more.
It's almost paradoxical - the man who is aware of his death, who relinquishes his claim on life, he lives much more fully. The man who is ignorant of his death does not live as much. Death is not something to be afraid of - it's something to be aware of. Being aware of it makes you more alive, and more effective, and more purposeful.
A man is a good retainer to the extent that he earnestly places importance in his master. This is the highest sort of retainer. If one is born into a prominent family that goes back for generations, it is sufficient to deeply consider the matter of obligation to one's ancestors, to lay down one's body and mind, and to earnestly esteem one's master. It is further good fortune if, more than this, one has wisdom and talent and can use them appropriately. But even a person who is good for nothing and exceedingly clumsy will be a reliable retainer if only he has the determination to think earnestly of his master. Having only wisdom and talent is the lowest tier of usefulness.
"Having only wisdom and talent is the lowest tier of usefulness." I love that quote. Ability withouth a sense of duty, purpose, or service does very little.
To give a person one's opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service. But the way of doing this is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of a person is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is easy, too. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying the things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think that there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as brining shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one's chest.
Very practical advice. Correcting faults is good service, but must be done diplomatically, tactfully, and thoughtfully.
To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one's word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion, and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leave-taking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one's own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults.
Truly, the fundamental nature of humans doesn't change. This is still good advice today.
This is extremely difficult. If a person s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won't be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with all one's comrades, correcting each other's faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?
"By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?" An interesting point, yes. I agree that shame is usually destructive to a man, and serves no good end. Related: "NO SHAME"
For a warrior there is nothing other than thinking of his master. If one creates this resolution within himself, he will always be mindful of the master's person and will not depart from him even for a moment. Moreover, a woman should consider her husband first, just as he considers his master first.
"For a warrior there is nothing other than thinking of his master." Firm agreement. If you serve, serve with everything you have. In the Sengoku era and Tokugawa Japan afterwards, your service would usually be to your lord, but you did serve other causes too - your family, the people you have duties to, honor and ethics, perhaps your form of worship and religion. These days, many people serve nothing. And this is sad. No wonder so many people feel causeless and purposeless.
I give myself over to my ethics, I serve them, and I serve all who are strong and virtuous. It might take time to find something worthy of your service, but when you enter into service, you should serve fully. This unifies you mind and body, you feel strong and purposeful.
"Moreover, a woman should consider her husband first, just as he considers his master first." I agree with this too. I respect modern women who give themselves over to a cause. Women can and have been warriors. But if a woman is not a warrior, then she must keep her duty to her family as he keeps it to his cause. It disgusts and horrifies me that in the West women so casually give themselves over to "having a nice life" and "being fashionable" instead of to family or to a cause. If a woman chooses to give herself over to science, engineering, governance, entrepreneurship, law, art - these are all valid, and she can serve that cause. If not, she should give herself over to family. To something, at least. Living to "have a nice life" feels good for a while, but leaves people with a feeling of despair and uselessness later.
According to a certain person, a number of years ago Matsuguma Kyoan told this story:
In the practice of medicine there is a differentiation of treatment according to the Yin and Yang of men and women. There is also a difference in pulse. In the last fifty years, however, men's pulse has become the same as women's. Noticing this, in the treatment of eye disease I applied women's treatment to men and found it suitable. When I observed the application of men's treatment to men, there was no result. Thus I knew that men's spirit had weakened and that they had become the same as women, and the end of the world had come. Since I witnessed this with certainty, I kept it a secret.
When looking at the men of today with this in mind, those who could be thought to have a woman's pulse are many indeed, and those who seem like real men few. Because of this, if one were to make a little effort, he would be able to take the upper hand quite easily.
You know how every generation thinks the next generation is falling apart? For a long time, I thought this was just people being sentimental. Now, I'm changing my mind. The more I study history, the more I realize that progress comes from great pushes forwards by a generation where everything comes together, followed by slow decline... it's quite possible that, yes, 9 out of 10 generations is worse than the one before it, and then one generation comes up strong, purposeful, mighty, and sets a new standard.
"When looking at the men of today with this in mind, those who could be thought to have a woman's pulse are many indeed, and those who seem like real men few. Because of this, if one were to make a little effort, he would be able to take the upper hand quite easily." I feel like this is the case today. Men in the West are emasculated. If you take just a bit of effort, you will wind up incredibly excellent.
Lord Sanenori said, "In the midst of a single breath, where perversity cannot be held , is the Way.'' If so, then the Way is one. But there is no one who can understand this clarity at first. Purity is something that cannot be attained except by piling effort upon effort.
"Purity is something that cannot be attained except by piling effort upon effort." What a beautiful quote.
To hate injustice and stand on righteousness is a difficult thing. Furthermore, to think that being righteous is the best one can do and to do one's utmost to be righteous will, on the contrary, bring many mistakes. The Way is in a higher place then righteousness. This is very difficult to discover, but it is the highest wisdom. When seen from this standpoint, things like righteousness are rather shallow. If one does not understand this on his own, it cannot be known. There is a method of getting to this Way, however, even if one cannot discover it by himself. This is found in consultation with others. Even a person who has not attained this Way can see others from the side.
"The Way is in a higher place then righteousness. This is very difficult to discover, but it is the highest wisdom. When seen from this standpoint, things like righteousness are rather shallow." Righteousness - saying and believing the right things - are lower than the Way, the path. Fascinating insight.
"There is a method of getting to this Way, however, even if one cannot discover it by himself. This is found in consultation with others." Practical and thoughtful at the same time. I really enjoy Hagakure.
A certain swordsman in his declining years said the following: In one's life. there are levels in the pursuit of study. In the lowest level, a person studies but nothing comes of it, and he feels that both he and others are unskillful. At this point he is worthless. In the middle level he is still useless but is aware of his own insufficiencies and can also see the insufficiencies of others. In a higher level he has pride concerning his own ability, rejoices in praise from others, and laments the lack of ability in his fellows. This man has worth. In the highest level a man has the look of knowing nothing.
These are the levels in general; But there is one transcending level, and this is the most excellent of all. This person is aware of the endlessness of entering deeply into a certain Way arid never thinks of himself as having finished. He truly knows his own insufficiencies and never in his whole life thinks that he has succeeded. He has no thoughts of pride but with self-abasement knows the Way to the end. It is said that Master Yagyu once remarked, "I do not know the way to defeat others, but the way to defeat myself. ''
"These are the levels in general; But there is one transcending level, and this is the most excellent of all. This person is aware of the endlessness of entering deeply into a certain Way arid never thinks of himself as having finished. He truly knows his own insufficiencies and never in his whole life thinks that he has succeeded."
Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never-ending.
When in a more sophisticated area it is natural that one s disposition be affected by different styles. But it is vulgar and foolish to look down upon the ways of one's own district as being boorish, or to be even a bit open to the persuasion of the other place's ways and to think about giving up one's own. That one's own district is unsophisticated and unpolished is a great treasure. Imitating another style is simply a sham.
"That one's own district is unsophisticated and unpolished is a great treasure." I think this requires some discretion, as to when it applies and when it does not. But it's a fascinating insight and way of looking at things.
At the time when there was a council concerning the promotion of a certain man, the council members were at the point of deciding that promotion was useless because of the fact that the man had previously been involved in a drunken brawl. But someone said, "If we were to cast aside every man who had made a mistake once, useful men could probably not be come by. A man who makes a mistake once will be considerably more prudent and useful because of his repentance. I feet that he should be promoted.''
Someone else then asked, "Will you guarantee him?" The man replied, "Of course I will." The others asked, "By what will you guarantee him?" And he replied, "I can guarentee him by the fact that he is a man who has erred once. A man who bas never once erred is dangerous." This said, the man was promoted.
For all the quotes and reputation of the samurai culture, one thing people often miss is that it's a surprisingly failure-tolerant culture. Neglecting your duty, doing dishonorable things, or being defeated in battle might be cause to commit seppuku, but beyond that, the samurai of the era were surprisingly tolerant of failing and failing forwards. This isn't usually discussed or noted in the West, but seems to be true.
A certain person was brought to shame because he did not take revenge. The way of revenge lies in simply forcing one's way into a place and being cut down. There is no shame in this. By thinking that you must complete the job you will run out of time. By considering things like how many men the enemy has, time piles up; in the end you will give up. No matter if the enemy has thousands of men, there is fulfillment in simply standing them off and being determined to cut them all down, starting from one end. You will finish the greater part of it.
"By thinking that you must complete the job you will run out of time. By considering things like how many men the enemy has, time piles up; in the end you will give up." Just get started. Excessive planning and re-planning and thinking means you won't get started, and won't accomplish anything. Start, and you will finish the greater part of it.
There are two things that will blemish a retainer, and these are riches and honor. If one but remains in strained circumstances, he will not be marred.
Keep bathing in strife and suffering, and come to enjoy it. I haven't written any thoughts about staying grounded after success - I will later. It's an important topic that I think of and study a lot.
How should a person respond when he is asked, "As a human being, what is essential in terms of purpose and discipline?" First, let us say, "It is to become of the mind that is right now pure and lacking complications." People in general all seem to be dejected. When one has a pure and uncomplicated mind, his expression will be lively. When one is attending to matters, there is one thing that comes forth from his heart. That is, in terms of one's lord, loyalty; in terms of one's parents, filial piety; in martial affairs, bravery; and apart from that, something that can be used by all the world.
This is very difficult to discover. Once discovered, it is again difficult to keep in constant effect. There is nothing outside the thought of the immediate moment.
His way of purpose and discipline is to give yourself first to your cause, second to your family, and when you have free time, build something that can used by all the world. This way you won't be dejected, your mind will feel pure and uncomplicated, and your expression will be lively. This makes sense. Yet... "This is very difficult to discover. Once discovered, it is again difficult to keep in constant effect." Yes, it is simple and straightforward, but we get lost so often. You have to keep re-focusing on this simple path. This is valuable for me to think about.
Every morning, the samurai of fifty or sixty years ago would bathe, shave their foreheads, put lotion in their hair, cut their fingernails and toenails rubbing them with pumice and then with wood sorrel, and without fail pay attention to their personal appearance. It goes without saying that their armor in general was kept free from rust, that it was dusted, shined, and arranged.
Although it seems that taking special care of one's appearance is similar to showiness, it is nothing akin to elegance. Even if you are aware that you may be struck down today and are firmly resolved to an inevitable death, if you are slain with an unseemly appearance, you will show your lack of previous resolve, will be despised by your enemy, and will appear unclean. For this reason it is said that both old and young should take care of their appearance.
Although you say that this is troublesome and time-consuming, a samurai's work is in such things. It is neither busy- work nor time-consuming. In constantly hardening one's resolution to die in battle, deliberately becoming as one already dead, and working at one's job and dealing with military affairs, there should be no shame. But when the time comes, a person will be shamed if he is not conscious of these things even in his dreams, and rather passes his days in self- interest and self-indulgence. And if he thinks that this is not shameful, and feels that nothing else matters as long as he is comfortable, then his dissipate and discourteous actions will be repeatedly regrettable.
First, this was fascinating to read for me. Yamamoto-sama disagrees here with Miyamoto Musashi, who didn't care for appearance very much at all. Perhaps this is because Yamamoto lived 100 years after Sengoku, in an era of peace, whereas Musashi was wandering and dueling during the large, multi-way civil war. It is interesting to think about.
The person without previous resolution to inevitable death makes certain that his death will be in bad form. But if one is resolved to death beforehand, in what way can he be despicable? One should be especially diligent in this concern.
This could easily be misunderstood. The bushido philosophy is not to want to die, it is to accept that death is inevitable, to serve to the best of your abilities. If dying is the best way to serve, then it is a good death. However, you shouldn't seek death itself, you should serve. By accepting that you might die in service, you become prepared for it, and grow stronger, and are more aware, and live better. Ironically, it is this full acceptance of death that lets you make dangerous maneuvers to the height of your ability, advance while cutting, and slay your enemy who retreats or only half-attacks out of fear. Acceptance of death brings life.
Customs are going to pieces. One can say that formerly when a man reached the age of twenty or thirty, he did not carry despicable things in his heart, and thus neither did such words appear. If an elder unwittingly said something of that sort, he thought of it as a sort of injury. This new custom probably appears because people attach importance to being beautiful before society and to household finances. What things a person should be able to accomplish if he had no haughtiness concerning his place in society!
I worked with a young guy from Austrlia once, he was only 30 years but he was a multi-millionaire. He studied hard in university, graduated, and got a high paying job in finance. While he was being great money, he still lived at home with his parents, drove an old car, and didn't eat out very much. He invested all the money he made into property, buying his first property eight months into his job, then his second, until he got to the point where he was buying 4 to 5 properties per year.
Very few people are this disciplined. As soon as they rise a little bit, they spend their money on being beautiful before society. But if you were able to step back from that, how much higher could you rise? With the resources you built and accumulated, how much more mobility and impact could you have?
It is a wretched thing that the young men of today are so contriving and so proud of their material possessions. Men with contriving hearts are lacking in duty. Lacking in duty, they will have no self-respect.
This seems true to me. You can buy a lot of things, but not self-respect. Doing something meaningful brings self respect.
According to Master lttei, even a poor penman will become substantial in the art of calligraphy if he studies by imitating a good model and puts forth effort. A retainer should be able to become substantial too, if he takes a good retainer as his model.
Today, however, there are no models of good retainers. In light of this, it would be good to make a model and to learn from that. To do this, one should look at many people and choose from each person his best point only. For example, one person for politeness, one for bravery, one for the proper way of speaking, one for correct conduct and one for steadiness of mind. Thus will the model be made.
I thought that point was fascinating - if you can't find a great role model, construct one in your mind from the best points of everyone you know.
A retainer is a man who remains consistently undistracted twenty-four hours a day, whether he is in the presence of his master or in public. If one is careless during his rest period, the public will see him as being only careless.
This is something I need to work on. Never be careless, not even for a moment. Always vigilant.
Last year at a great conference there was a certain man who explained his dissenting opinion and said that he was resolved to kill the conference leader if it was not accepted. His motion was passed. After the procedures were over the man said, "Their assent came quickly. I think that they are too weak and unreliable to be counselors to the master."
What a great final quote to wrap up this post - lots can be taken from that one.
You can read all of Hagakure here - the formatting is hard to read on that page, so you might consider using the Readability plugin from Arc labs - it reformats any page in your browser to make it easier to read.
I took more quotes and excerpts from Hagakure. I'll post them some other time - it's a very different piece of writing than you could read these days.
One quote from the Hagakure that I very much treasure is that "Matters of great concern should be treated lightly. Matters of small concern should be taken seriously."
I've explained this behavior to others that wonder why I bring up topics for discussion of things that are not likely to occur until months or years from now, if ever. They ask me why I "sweat the small stuff." My answer is because it is only small stuff right now. When/if it does become big stuff you are prepared. You understand the situation and can be resolved to a decision made long ago with discussion and thought.
Have you found that being 5 minutes early to a group gathering gives you some comfort and peace of mind?
I very much appreciate you thoughtful comments on these selected quotes.
"by thinking that you must complete the job you will run out of time" and wasting time on planning/re-planning don't seem equivalent.
what was quoted was the thinking of a job to complete while planning is more to do with the execution of the job. einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. this quote does illustrate an important point: before jumping right into solving a problem, we should step back and invest time and effort to improve our understanding of it. although I wouldn't go that far with time management, planning and re-planning is key to successfully accomplishing the job.
Unrelated to the quote, your comments that followed I very much concur with ("Just get started. .... Start, and you will finish the greater part of it.").
> For all the quotes and reputation of the samurai culture, one thing people often miss is that it’s a surprisingly failure-tolerant culture. Neglecting your duty, doing dishonorable things, or being defeated in battle might be cause to commit seppuku, but beyond that, the samurai of the era were surprisingly tolerant of failing and failing forwards. This isn’t usually discussed or noted in the West, but seems to be true.
The story in question was about a samurai who apparently had no other issues other than involvement in a brawl once; to overcome this flaw, someone at the highest levels had to speak up for him, express a novel & fairly convoluted defense, and personally guarantee his future performance.
This is not a story illustrating tolerance.
Greetings from Florida! I'm bored at work so I decided to check out your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I really like the knowledge you provide here and can't wait to take a look when I get home.
I posted "Excerpts From Hagakure, Chapter 1" a while back. The book is dense with interesting ideas. Here's some more excerpts -
When an official place is extremely busy and someone comes in thoughtlessly with some business or other, often there are people who will treat him coldly and become angry. This is not good at all. At such times, the etiquette of a samurai is to calm himself and deal with the person in a good manner. To treat a person harshly is the way of middle class lackeys.
Treat people calmly and with good manners, even when they're a little careless. "To treat a person harshly is the way of middle class lackeys" - that made me laugh.
There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to pet wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.
You get wet either way in a rainstorm, but by accepting it you stay of clear mind. What a great metaphor. Accept that you'll get wet in a rainstorm - because you will either way - and go purposefully instead of rushing.
This week for poem club we have one of the last few poems written by Buson.
winter warbler; long ago in Wang Wei’s hedge also
Before running through my usual poem club questions (Do I like it? Why? Does it remind me of other stuff I like? Do I like the poet's other work?), I want to point out one thing. This is the first of a set of three poems that Buson, it is recorded, wrote on his death bed. There is a tradition in Japan of writing a death poem or jisei, to capture the moment as life passes. It is such a beautiful idea, really, such a different way of approaching death than I usually think of: waiting on it, calmly, observing, accepting:
In the death poem or jisei, the essential idea was that at one's final moment of life, one's reflection on death (one's own usually but also death in general) could be especially lucid and meaningful and therefore also constituted an important observation about life. The poem was considered a gift to one's loved ones, students, and friends. The tradition began with zen monks, but was also popular with poets, whose poems were often just as solemn as those of monks, or entirely flippant and humorous. The poems are often full of symbols of death, such as the full moon, the western sky, the song of the cuckoo, and images of the season in which the writer died
On to the questions.