Japanese Samurai Teachings

PRELUDE

The following quotations are selections from a book given me by a friend who is a student of the martial arts. Written by a master swordsman who lived in the late 1600s/early 1700s AD and ended his warrior life by becoming a Buddhist monk, the book is interesting. Not everything in it is immediately accessible, or even congenial, but some of the thoughts that are parallel with other ancient warrior roads are helpful.

‘The way of the Samurai is the way of dying.’

From ‘The Book of the Samurai, Hagakure’, by Yamamoto Tsunetomo=

It is natural that one cannot understand deep and hidden things. Those things that are easily understood are rather shallow.

In the judgement of the elders, a samurai’s obstinacy should be excessive. A thing done with moderation may later be judged to be insufficient. ..When one thinks he has gone too far, he will not have erred. This.. should not be forgotten.

Master Ittei said, ‘if one were to say what it is to do good, in a single word it would be to endure suffering. Not enduring is bad without exception.’

What is called generosity is really compassion. In the Shin’ei it is written, ‘Seen from the eye of compassion, there is no one to be disliked. One who has sinned is to be pitied all the more.’ There is no limit to the breadth and depth of one’s heart. There is room enough for all. Whatever you do should be done for the sake of.. the people.. This is great compassion. The wisdom and courage that come from compassion are real wisdom and courage.. Doing something for one’s own sake is shallow and mean and turns into evil.

When reading something aloud, it is best to read from the belly.
Reading from one’s mouth, one’s voice will not endure.

Living without mistakes is truly impossible. But this is something that people who live by cleverness have no inclination to think about.

In martial valour, merit lies more in dying for.. [those one protects] than in striking down the enemy.

The Way of the Samurai is one of immediacy, and it is best to dash in headlong.

A warrior should not say something faint hearted, even casually. He should set his mind to this.. Even in trifling matters the depth of one’s heart can be seen.

..In peaceful times words show one’s bravery. In troubled times, too, one knows that by a single word his strength or cowardice can be seen. This single word is the flower of one’s heart. It is not something said simply with one’s mouth.

..Lord N. said, ‘When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.’ ..With an intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgements within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.

When one’s attitude on courage is fixed in his heart, and when his resolution is devoid of doubt, then when the time comes he will of necessity be able to choose the right move. This will be manifested by one’s.. [action] and speech according to the occasion. One’s word is especially important. It is not for exposing the depths of one’s heart. This is something people will know by one’s everyday affairs.

It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think that you will be inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon. Master Ittei said, ‘Confucius was a sage because he had the will to become a scholar when he was fifteen years old. He was not a sage because he studied later on.’ This is the same as the Buddhist maxim, ‘first intention, then enlightenment.’

Lord N. said, ‘The Way of the Samurai is in desperateness. Ten or more cannot kill such a man. Common sense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate. In the Way of the Samurai, if one uses discrimination, he will fall behind. One needs.. simply to become desperate in the Way. Loyalty and devotion are of themselves within desperation.

Calculating people are contemptible. The reason for this is that calculation deals with loss and gain, and the loss and gain mind never stops. Death is considered loss, and life is considered gain. Thus, death is something that such a person does not care for, and he is contemptible. Furthermore, scholars and their like are men who with wit and speech hide their own true cowardice and greed. People often misjudge this.

The proper manner of calligraphy is nothing other than not being careless, but in this way one’s writing will simply be sluggish and stiff. One should go beyond this and depart from the norm. This principle applies to all things.

When you would see into a person’s heart, become ill. When you are sick or in difficulties, many of those who were friendly or close to you in daily life will become cowards. By such things the consideration of others can be seen. In this world the people who rely on others when they are in difficulties and afterwards not give them a thought are many.

In China there was once a man who liked pictures of dragons, and his clothing and furnishings were all designed accordingly. His profound affection for dragons was brought to the attention of the dragon spirit, and one day a real dragon appeared before his window. It is said he died of fright. He was probably a man who always spoke big words but acted differently when facing the real thing.

If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.

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.. 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.. [respect] for his own ability, rejoices in praise from others, and laments the lack of ability in his fellows. This man has worth. In this highest level a man has the look of knowing nothing. ..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.. Way and 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.’ Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never ending.

Be true to the thought of the moment and avoid distraction. Other than continuing to exert yourself, enter into nothing else, but go to the extent of living single thought by single thought.

People with intelligence will use it to fashion things both true and false and will try to push through whatever they want with their clever reasoning. This is injury from intelligence. Nothing you do will have effect unless you use truth.

Feeling deeply the difference between oneself and others, bearing ill will and falling out with people– these things come from a heart that lacks compassion.

To tell others will not do. When your own heart asks, how will you respond?

There is nothing felt so deeply as ‘giri.’ [Giri= literally obligation= duty= vow.]

A warrior has courage on the outside and within enough compassion to burst his chest.. The holy man learns courage from the warrior, even as the warrior learns compassion from the holy man. Courage without compassion is merciless, but compassion without courage is weak and cowardly= the holy man, not taught courage by the warrior, desires to be ‘laudably gentle’, but this is evasion.

This is among the sayings of the priest Bankei= ‘Not to borrow the strength of another, nor to rely on one’s own strength; to cut off past and future thoughts, and not to live within the everyday mind. Then the Great Way is right before one’s eyes.’

[Yamamoto Tsunetomo says his life of warriorship is founded on 4 vows. The first 3 are very Japanese, but the last is universal.]

To manifest great compassion, and to act for the sake of mankind. If one dedicates these four vows to the gods and Buddhas every morning, he will have the strength of two men and will never slip backward. One must edge forward like the inchworm, bit by bit. The gods and Buddhas, too, first started with a vow.

[Four ultimate vows= to God, to spouse, to the earth, to the brothers and sisters.]

A warrior is a man who does not hold his life in regret. This enables him not to be reduced to trembling by doubt.

Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. There is a saying of the elders that goes, ‘Step from under the eaves and you’re a dead man. Leave the gate and the enemy is waiting.’ This is not a matter of being careful. It is, consider oneself as dead beforehand.’

“In the midst of life we are in death.”