Bushido For Everyone (Part 1)
Using the Bushido Shoshinshu to Live a Righteous Life
The Way Of The Warrior: An Introduction
Bushido is roughly translated as "the way of the warrior". To many Westerners, this concept seems ethereal, mystical, and spiritual. In reality it is none of these. In the historical context in which it was written, it was as straightforward a concept as you could get. The Bushido Shoshinshu, meaning Bushido for Beginners, is just a basic guidebook telling the samurai class how to be good samurai. Bushido is similar to Confucianism in that it deals with important, practical matters instead of pondering about the big mysteries. It is also similar to Confucianism in that it instructs people in duties and obligations based on their station in life. This book specifically focuses on men born into the warrior caste. (However, as I shall explain later, I believe that the moral lessons taught in this book can extend to everyone, or be applicable to the lives of everyone, with just a little creative interpretation.)
In feudal Japan, they had four classes; artisans, peasants, merchants, and warriors. They also had Buddhist clergy and non-warrior nobility. Originally, the noble families were polygamous and had many children. Because of the fact that only one son could inherit the full privileges which came from inheritance of the father's titles and estates, this caused the many sons of noble families to choose other career paths, often becoming either warriors or monks.
Ancient warriors were first called samurai or "attendants" because they were the armed guards of the aristocracy. Gradually, as the samurai took control of the government of the states of Japan away from the aristocracy, they wanted to drop their "attendant" status, instead adopting the term bushi, which means knight or warrior. Thus, bushido means a way that the warrior clans should govern the state. It also has rules for guarding and escorting, but its rules are designed to be the moral laws by which the ruling class should keep itself in check and run society smoothly, preventing crime, fighting wars well so that the protection of the other three classes is ensured, and policing itself so that the bushi did not become a bunch of strong-arm brigands.
Okay. So what does all this have to do with me?
Like any philosophy, Bushido is best understood in it's historical context. However, I feel that, while within that context, it had a narrow, basic meaning, there are important lessons anyone can pick up here and apply to their daily lives. As a martial arts and horseback riding enthusiast, I found this book the Bushido Shoshinshu exciting and inspiring. As someone searching for the right way to be a good person, without having to submit to traditional Christian teachings, some of which I find morally objectionable, not to mention that I feel that God as described in the Bible does not exist, I found it inspiring. I found that Bushido has the ultimate answer to the question: why be good without God? Also, how do we know the difference between right and wrong without theism of some kind? I know that, for every atheist out there, the answer to the question of how to find a godless morality will be different. Some people rely on intuition and heart, trusting that they know instinctively what's right and what's wrong. They might think it's dumb to go from following the teachings of one book, the Bible, to following another. However, I want to say that I am in no way dogmatic about my following of Bushido. I borrow beliefs from many philosophies, and have crafted my own gradually over several years of independent study.
At the same time, I believe in deeds, not creeds. Always have, always will. That is, I could sit here and fill this page with I believe this, I think that. But, I think what you do is more important than your words. Obviously, people reading my hub pages have no idea if I practice what I preach. This is a place for words. Therefore, this is a post about how I believe people, including myself should act. I'd like to think I live the honor code I believe in, but I know that many things in this honor code seem to contradict human nature, and no one is perfect. Once you identify good moral principles, just try to practice them the best you can, but realize that you will probably fail to be the heroic person you'd like to be. What is the saying? Shoot for the stars, you may not make it, but you will land somewhere in the clouds?
Anyway, I think that, given the problems that U.S. society faces, maybe we should be open to the idea of learning about what other cultures have to offer. The reason Japan makes sense to me is that, they don't seem to have many of the faults American society has. Obesity is almost unheard of, and so is crime. Incarceration is low and human rights abuses are as well. They eat a healthy diet, live a healthy lifestyle, and seem to have a lot of compassion for their fellow human beings. They show this by showing everyone courtesy. They are less selfish than Americans. They work harder. They take care of their families (which is an ideal that comes directly from bushido, by the way). They lead the world in artistry and technology. Of course, no country is perfect; without it's social evils and grim history. Certainly Japan isn't either. However, I think there are a lot of important lessons Westerners can glean from Bushido, which has been their guide to correct behavior for centuries.
Okay, the words "correct behavior" might sound uninteresting. Where's the pizazz, what's in it for me? You can tell me to sit up straight and eat my veggies, but what reason do I have to listen?
The truth is, you can also see this work as a collection of tried-and-true tools for success. Absolutely anyone, in any job or school situation, can achieve a lot by being attentive to discipline and cultivating a reputation for loyalty and honor. It's not out-dated or anything, it's simply that you want to achieve the highest esteem possible, to shine in the eyes of others. Anyone can shine if they put these words into practice in their own lives.
Here then, is a summary and explanation of each section, including what I think a modern-day American or other Westerner, or anyone really in modern day society, could learn from the passage.
The book starts out, " One who is supposed to be a warrior considers it his foremost concern to keep death in mind at all times, every day and every night, from the morning of New Year's Day through the night of New Year's Eve." Ok, think about death? At all times? What?
However, there are many reasons for this, and they all make good sense, especially when viewing the world from a secular perspective. Our days on this planet are numbered. We don't know at all how much time we may have left. I could be killed right now by the building I'm writing this in collapsing. You never know.
However, many people's actions reflect a mentality that they have all the time in the world. The book says, " When you assume that your stay in this world will last, various wishes occur to you, and you become very desirous. You want what others have, and cling to your own possessions, and develop a mercantile mentality." (Gee, what society does THAT sound like, hmm?)
The book also outlines the various moral benefits that come from keeping death in mind at all times, not in a macabre sense, but in the sense that you are realizing that you could die at any time anywhere, and are thus choosing the best actions possible and tending to your duties in the best possible way, so that if you were to die right then and there, you would be remembered as an honorable and good person. That principle is the guiding foundation of bushido. And it's true, no one knows how long they have. The best way to live is to make the most honorable choices and show a sense of obligation toward your family, teachers, employers, everyone in your life who matters. This way, if/when you die, as well as in life, you will be praised as a good person. You will have an honorable reputation. Your word will be trusted. People will rely on and trust you. If you act like you don't want this, you are lying to yourself. Just think of this always and you'll remember to treat everyone nicely: I want them to say good things about me at my funeral. I would like to be remembered as a good person.
Also, like the book says, when you realize that this conversation or that interaction you have with someone may be the last time you talk to them, ever, you will cherish the presence of other human beings, listen to what they have to say, and treat them courteously. You might think these ideals are obsolete in a digital age. However, I believe personally that treating others with kindness and decency will always be the most important virtue anyone could ever have.
"The idea is to take care of your private duties day and night, and then whenever you have any free time when your mind is unoccupied, you think of death, bringing it to mind attentively. "
This brief passage in the book talks about the education of warrior children. It says that, in times of civil wars, warrior children did not learn how to read or write, naturally, because their first obligation was to train for battle. However, in the era in which this book was written, it was a time of peace, and so the author believed that there was no excuse for a warrior child not being illiterate.
"Children are not to blame for this; it is only due to the negligence and irresponsibility of the parents. Ultimately, it is because they do not know the way to love their children."
Books are valuable. Teaching children to read is the best thing you can ever do for them. I say that because I am both a great lover of reading and a writer. So don't trust my words, my opinion is far too biased on this matter. :)
"For warriors, taking good care of parents is fundamental. If people do not take care their parents, they are not good, even if they are exceptionally smart, well-spoken, and handsome."
Well, if everyone practiced this virtue, the old person's homes would go out of business, but really, this is a serious problem in our society, with our youth-obsessed, age-rejecting, impatient, selfish culture. Of course, taking care of Mama-san was probably a heck of a lot easier when famine, typhoons, internal conflict, bad hygiene/medicine, and good old fashioned Mongol invasions were constantly doing their part to lower life expectancies.
However, the Bushido Shoshinshu has a very good explanation for why this is absolutely necessary: "In the way of the warrior, it is essential to do things right from root to branch. If you do not understand the root and branch, there is no way for you to know your duty. One who does not know his duty can hardly be called a warrior. Knowing the root and branch means understanding that our parents are the root of our bodies, and our bodies are branches of the flesh and bones of our parents. It is because we desire to establish ourselves, who are the branches, that circumstances arise whereby we neglect our parents, who are the roots. This is because of failure to understand root and branch."
Okay, well, everyone comes from a broken family these days, so how is "taking care of the root" desirable? What your "root" is crazy, constantly bickers, complains a lot, or just plain hates you? The book explains that parents also have certain dutiful obligations to the younger generation, especially when they get older. Even still:
"Now, suppose there are parents who are obstreperous, cranky, and argumentative, who insist on running the household and refuse to hand over anything, who are importunate, inconsiderate, and demanding, and on top of that complain to others how vexed and troubled they are by the poor treatment they get from their sons, thus damaging their children's reputations. To honor even such unreasonable parents as parents, to humor them, to lament their aging and decline, and take care of them sincerely, without a bit of negligence - is the aim of dutiful children."
Families in this country are broken because of pride. They are broken because two people get in a fight and neither wants to back down and suffer a blow to their ego. No one wants to admit they were wrong. No one is willing to swallow their pride and pretend they were wrong when they weren't, even when it means hurting the feelings of someone they care about. If we believed in familial duty the way they do in places like Japan and some similar Eastern countries, I believe that our crime rate would go down.
I consider myself a "family values" person, yes. What I do not see is how that means I have to be intolerant towards alternative types of families. But, what I do believe it that, our rejection of family is tearing our society apart. Healing it means bringing families back together again. That means someone, somewhere is going to have to take themselves down a peg. Take the time to try to understand where the other person is coming from. Apologize, realizing that you care more about having a good relationship with your spouse or parent then about being right. And, if you do not, you don't deserve to have a good relationship with anyone. Love means sacrifice. The problem is that few people are willing to sacrifice or compromise anything these days. That is why our marriages end, our homes are often torn up by fighting, and our social institutions are driven only by profit incentives. But to continue this topic of familial duty...
The book's author also recognizes that dutiful sons and daughters are more likely to become good employees, saying, " Parents and employers, familial duty and loyalty - these differ only in name, for there is no difference in the sincerity of the heart. So it is that an ancient is reported to have said, 'Look for loyal ministers in homes with filial sons'. There is no such thing as someone who is disrespectful to his parents yet faithful to his employer. If someone is so immature as to be remiss in familial care for his parents, who are the origin of his own body, there is no way he can be moved by the kindness of an employer, who is not his flesh and blood, to be completely loyal."
Loyalty of a samurai in service was important in these days, as it kept greed and selfishness in check.
" If a man who is not caring towards his parents at home does go into the service of a lord, he keeps his eyes on his employer's balance sheet, and as soon as he sees any little slip his attitude changes; in an emergency he will flee or turn traitor. There are cases like this past and present; this is something to be ashamed of, something to be weary of."
Meaning, in these times, disloyalty often had life or death consequences. It still can today. Being respectful to your parents fosters the kind of loyalty that is the glue that holds society together.
Principles of Warriors
This part outlines 4 types of principles a warrior should learn in order to be successful. There are ordinary and emergency principles of knighthood.
There are things you have to do in everyday life, such as bathing and dressing and practicing courtesy and propriety in daily life. These are the ordinary principles. The principles of knighthood are, in the order the book has them in:
* wash your hands and feet and bathe morning and night
* keep your body clean
*shave and dress your hair every morning
* dress formally according to the season and circumstances
* carry the proper equipment (a fan and a long and short sword, in this case, but in general, you can use it to mean, be prepared with whatever you need to do your job)
* when dealing with guests, act courteously and avoid useless talk.
* when eating or drinking, be careful not to be slovenly
* use your spare time for learning and studying important arts
*always carry yourself in a way that exemplifies a genuine warrior, no matter what you're doing or whether you're on or off duty. (In Bushido, there is no "off-duty", even when not working you are still paying attention to what is required for loyalty, to both your family and your employer.)
Then, there are the principles of weaponry, which include swordsmanship, lancing, riding, archery, shooting,and other martial arts. It was important in these days that warriors fully mastered all of these important skills.
Then, if a warrior has cultivated the principles of knighthood and the principles of weaponry, they can be said to lack nothing in the way of ordinary principles. This is what it takes to be seen as a good warrior, worthy of employment. However, the author notes that warriors are "fundamentally emergency men". Thus, the emergency principles. A warrior had to know about what to do in combat in order to carry out their job, obviously. They had to be ready at any moment to abandon usual formalities, don armor and weapons, and fight at the slightest notice. They were like a policeman or firefighter who has to be ready to handle an emergency at any moment.
Similarly, while becoming successful at any profession requires many of these same things, such as carrying yourself in a dignified manner, courtesy, and cultivating a thorough understanding of all the aspects of your job, to be truly a leader, you have to be able to handle the worst case scenario, and be able to keep your cool should unexpected problems arise.
Not Forgetting Combat
This is a brief warning to warriors to never forget the spirit of combat, and to wear a sword at all times, and be mentally attentive and ready for battle all day, every day. This is in line with the earlier idea of keeping death in mind.
"A warrior who wears two swords at his side but does not put the spirit of combat into his heart is nothing but a peasant or merchant wearing the skin of a warrior."
Really, Bushido is about living what you do. Integrity means that your actions reflect your values, and vice versa, so that nothing about you can every be criticized by others as hypocritical, inconsistent, or a half-assed effort at living out what you believe in. In this, simply wearing the outer accouterments of warrior-hood does not make you a warrior. Having the spirit of combat engraved on your very soul is what it takes. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be like that in what we do? Not pretending to be things, but actually being them. Not focused so much on the outside, knowing the inside is what is important?
This passage notes the similarities between the education of a monk and the education of a warrior. For example, in the Zen schools, there were hierarchies and organized leadership similar to that of the military. However, the author notes that in the pursuit of learning, the way of a Buddhist monk is far superior to the way warrior bands do things.
"The Buddhist way is that while one is a common monk one leaves one's teacher's side to visit many monasteries and mountains and meet numerous learned masters and enlightened guides, and accumulate achievements in Zen study and attainment; even if one rises through the ranks of officers and assistant teacher, or becomes an Elder or Master, even if one assumes the abbacy of a main temple or monastery, one still pursues learning to its ultimate end..."
To this high-level dedication and discipline, the author contrasts the relative laziness of warriors.
"They make it their business to nap morning and afternoon, and do not study or work on the military arts that are norms for warriors, much less concentrate on the more remote matters of army principles and combat principles.
Frittering away each day, as they pass the months and years, their hair goes grey and they start balding. Since they seem to be of appropriate age, they are given emeritus status.
If, for example, they become emissaries, they set right out immediately and somehow get the job done, with the help of colleagues, but when there is an unusual mission to a distant province they are taken aback and filled with anxiety. Even as they are preparing for the journey they get professional advice from predecessors and borrow traditional manuals of protocol; if they eventually get the job done, that is called getting off lucky. We cannot say that this is the way things should be in this profession."
The author says that, if a Buddhist monk is given a title like Elder or Master simply because he is getting old, there is embarrassment to that monk, but not as much danger to others as if a warrior was given a higher rank just because of age. "When a warrior in a commanding role makes a blunder in leadership, that endangers the lives of his troops, causing great harm."
The idea here is that you direct your own education, using your spare time to cultivate all the arts of your trade, to where, while you are young and without a high rank, you learn as much as you can about how to perform well at any job, even the highest position of command possible. This makes sense when you think about climbing the corporate ladder, the more you learn about how to perform the top-level management positions in your company, the more likely you will be noticed as a candidate for promotion, and more likely that, if you do, in fact, get promoted just because you've been with your company a certain number of years, you will be able to perform the job well. Having managers and other leaders who understand well what their doing is essential to the success of a company. Also, from the Zen monks comes the lesson that 'the truly educated never graduate', that is, there is never a point where you should relax and stop growing, stop learning, stop evolving, stop trying to reach new heights in understanding.
Right and Wrong
" As long as it is realized and accepted that warriors must comprehend right and wrong, and strive to do right and avoid wrong, then the way of the warriors is alive. Right and wrong mean good and evil. Right is good, wrong is evil. Ordinary people are not totally devoid of understanding of good and evil, right and wrong, but they find it boring and tiresome to act rightly and strive for goodness. Acting wrongly and behaving badly is fun and familiar, so they drift toward things that are wrong and bad, and it becomes tiresome for them to do right and foster good.
The complete moron who cannot distinguish between good and bad or right and wrong is not even worth talking about. Once you have determined something to be wrong and bad, to avoid demands justice and to do what is wrong is not the attitude of the knight. This is the epitome of the immaturity of modern times. Its origin might be attributed to lack of endurance in people. Lack of endurance sounds all right, but you will find it comes from cowardice. Therefore warriors consider it essential to always beware wrong and pursue right.
Now then, there are three ways of doing right. Suppose you are going somewhere with an acquaintance who has a hundred ounces of gold and wants to leave it at your house until returning, instead of taking the trouble to carry it with him. Suppose you take the gold and put it away where no one can find it. Now suppose your companion dies during the trip, perhaps from poisoning or a stroke. No one else knows he left the gold at your house, and no one else knows you have it.
Under these circumstances, if you have no thought but sorrow for the tragedy, and you report the gold to the relatives of the deceased, sending it to them as soon as possible, then you can truly be said to have done right.
Now suppose the man with the gold was just an acquaintance, not such a close friend. No one knows about the gold he left with you, so there will be no inquiries. You happen to be in tight circumstances at the moment, so this is a bit of luck; why not just keep quiet about it?
If you are ashamed to find such thoughts occurring to you, and so you change your mind and return the gold to the rightful heirs, you could be said to have done right out of a sense of shame.
Now suppose someone in your household - maybe your wife, your children, or your servants - knows about the gold. Suppose you return the gold to the legitimate heirs out of shame for any designs anyone in your household might conceive, and out of fear for the legal consequences. Then you should be said to do right out of shame in relation to others.
But what would you do if no one knew about it at all?
Even in such a case, it could still hardly be said that you were not a man who knows what is right and does it.
The process of cultivating the practice of doing right begins with fear of being disrespected by those close to you, starting with your family and servants, then advances to refraining from doing wrong and deliberately doing right for fear of incurring the shame of being censured and ridiculed by society at large.
If you do this, it will naturally become habitual, so eventually you develop a mentality that prefers to follow what is right and disdains to do wrong.
In the context of martial valor, furthermore, those who are born brave are not fazed by arrow and gunfire on the battlefield, however intense it may be; they make targets out of their bodies , pinned between loyalty and duty. The courage of their forward-marching spirit also shows physically, so it goes without saying that they are splendid in action.
There are also those who are hesitant in danger, their hearts pounding and their knees trembling, yet they go ahead, along with the brave ones, realizing that their comrades will see if they alone do not go, determined not to expose themselves to ridicule later on. Although they are far inferior to the naturally brave ones, when they have gone through this time and time again, fighting in battle after battle until they get used to it, eventually their minds settle and they become praiseworthy knights, strong and firm, not so different from those who are naturally brave.
So when it comes to doing right, and being courageous, there is nothing to go on but a sense of shame. If you do wrong, unconcerned that people will say it is wrong, or if you are cowardly without caring that people will laugh at you for spinelessness, there is nothing anyone can teach you."
That's the section on Right and Wrong, which I chose to give to you in its entirety, because I think it's such an important lesson. In our Western culture, a lot of our problems, I think, are caused by people's pride and egos being so high that we often think we are living for ourselves and conditioned to not care at all about the feelings of others, which is exactly what is currently tearing our society apart.
This passage is about how to be a "knight of the highest order", by cultivating the virtues of loyalty, duty, and valor.
"It may be wondered whether the duty of a valorous man might be impossible to know in an era of peace like the present, when there is no war going on. That is not so, as I will explain."
He says that, far from "courage" being only something that can be seen when someone is fighting in combat, he contests that it can be shown in the way people act in everyday life.
"One who is naturally valorous exercises loyalty and devotion to his follower and his parents, and if he has any free time he studies literature and keeps up the practice of martial arts. He avoids personal luxury, and disdains to waist even a penny. He is not stingy, however, and spends his money freely when necessary.
Anywhere forbidden by the regulations of his employment, or disliked by his parents, he will avoid going even if he wants to. He will give up even those things that are hard to give up, just to avoid displeasing his employer and parents.
He keeps fit, and because he wants to accomplish something significant in life he always takes care of his health, moderating his diet and avoiding drink. He also keeps warily aloof from sexual feelings, the foremost confusion of humankind, and he has a patient, tolerant attitude in respect to everything else.
All of these reflect the mentality of courageousness."
So, courage, in this sense, can be seen both in battle and by valiant actions in everyday life.
As for the cowardly, their everyday actions can also be recognized in a mundane context.
"...they merely feign respect for their employers and parents superficially, without really caring for them. They do not avoid things forbidden by employers or disliked by parents; they even frequent places they should not go and do things they should not do. Acting as they please, they habitually nap mornings and afternoons. They hate literary studies, and even if they practice martial arts they do not pursue any of them seriously. They just talk boastfully about skills they cannot perform.
They are spendthrifts when it comes to useless crazes and fancy dining, but extremely stingy when it comes to necessities. They give no thought to the maintenance of the heirlooms they have inherited from their parents... mindless of the worry they cause their parents, they overeat, drink too much, and become addicted to sex. Wearing away your life like this is something that comes from a weak and immature mind unable to endure and tolerate things. This generally reflect the mentality of a cowardly knight.
Therefore, I say that the courageous and the cowardly can certainly be distinguished in everyday life."
Wow, it would sure be nice if we had a lot more 'courageous' people, in this respect, huh?
Courtesy and Respect
To illustrate the point that samurai should sit up straight whenever they hear or say something relevant to their lords, and clearly avoid gossip and sloppiness, the author uses the following story (it's one of my favorite parts of the book):
During the Keicho era (1596-1615) there was a courageous knight named Kani Saizo, who was the commander of the infantry under Fukushima Masanori, Grandee of the Imperial Guard of the Left. He was keeper of the Iron Gate the Castle of Hiroshima in Aki. As he kept watch day and night, because he was very old he used to take naps to rest.
Once and acolyte in Masanori's personal service came to Saizo while he was napping, bringing a quail caught by a falcon. The acolyte reported that the quail had been sent to Saizo by Lord Masanori, whose falcon had caught it.
Hearing this, Saizo got right up, put back on formal outer wear he had doffed for his nap, and faced the direction of headquarters to receive the gift, saying he would immediately go there to express his thanks. Then he scolded the acolyte, "Even though you're just a boy, you're a real moron! If it's a message from the lord, first you should announce that fact, wait for me to get ready, and then deliver the message. Instead you had the nerve to give me a message from the lord while I was lying down! If you were not a mere boy you would be punished for this, but seeing as how you're only a child I'll let you go."
Shaken up, the acolyte hurried back and told the page boys what had happened. Masanori heard, and called that acolyte to him and asked him about it. The acolyte told the whole story. It was reported that Masanori said, "It was reasonable for Saizo to get angry at your impoliteness. I wish all the warriors of the provinces of Aki and Bizen had Saizo's heart. Then anything could be possible."
Just think of that. What if everyone had such concern for things and such dedication to the service of others? Then, anything definitely would be possible.
In this passage, the author illustrates a concept I think is important to this day: the importance of seeing things for their genuine, or practical value, not from a buy-sell-trade mentality, which really gets us nowhere. It is also important to take good care of our most important possessions.
"There are two kinds of interest in horses, good and bad. Ancient warriors' interest in horses was in their necessity for maneuvering while heavily armed. For them, horses were substitutes for their own two feet. What is more, depending on circumstances, their horses could also be wounded or killed. Even though horses are animals, they pitied them and always care to feed and curry them attentively.
As for interest in horses these days, people think the idea is to buy intractable horses at bargain prices and retrain them, or pick out country-bred colts and train them, then wait for bidders, to sell them for high prices. This is the mentality of traders; it is worse than having no interest in horses at all."
Army Principles and Combat Principles
This passage talks about the proper manner in which a knight is to educate himself. He says that the pursuit of military science is crucial. That comes back to the idea of living and breathing what you do.
He says that a mastery of army principles can help even someone born into a lower class become a great leader in combat, and rise above their circumstances. Also, he claims that the serious study of military science improves character, saying that it makes intelligent people smarter, and makes dumb people say things that are less stupid. All around improvement, in other words.
I think this goes back to the importance stressed earlier of keeping death in mind at all times, and of remembering combat readiness at all times. This is the way to improve someone's character and intelligence.
Anyway, this writer has a headache coming on, so, stick around for more Bushido, um, fun in parts 2 and 3 (The book is divided into 3 sections, this concludes Part 1.)!!!!!!!!!! :D