THE WAY OF THE SAMUARI
The development of the samurai in ninth-century Japan occurred when the centralized aristocratic government lost power to the local landowners who employed their own armed forces. The heads of these armed forces were known as the "bushi" or "samurai", and were for the most part descended from the old clans (ujis). The samurai gave their society moral values and acted as sentinels of peace. The warriors followed their own code of ethical behavior known as bushido, which remained orally transmitted for generations. The following text was written in the seventeenth century by a samurai who had become a Zen Buddhist monk.
Points to Ponder:
-- As you read the following what aspects of Chinese philosophy and Buddhism can you find?
-- Why might this a warrior's code?
-- Note the sense of fatalism. What might this feeling lead a samurai to do?
"The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it
comes to either /or, there is only the quick choice of death. When pressed
with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one's aim.
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 dangerous thin line. To die without gaining 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
gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will
succeed in his calling.... Being a retainer is nothing other than being
a supporter of one's lord, entrusting matters of good and evil to him, and
renouncing self-interest. If there are but two or three men of this type,
the fief will be secure. Loyalty is said to be important in the pledge between
lord and retainer. Though it may seem unobtainable, it is right before your
eyes. If you once set yourself to it, you will become a superb retainer
at that very moment.... The person without previous resolution to the 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. If one were to say a word what the condition of
being a samurai is, its basis lies first in seriously devoting one's body
and soul to his master. And if one is asked what to do beyond this, it would
be to fit oneself inwardly with intelligence, humanity, and courage. The
combining of these three virtues may seem unobtainable to the ordinary person,
but it is easy. Intelligence is nothing more than discussing things with
others. Limitless wisdom comes from this. Humanity is something done for
the sake of others, simply comparing oneself with them and putting them
in the fore. Courage is gritting one's teeth; it is simply doing that and
pushing ahead, paying no attention to the circumstances. Anything that seems
above these three is not necessary to be known. As for outward aspects,
there are personal appearance, one's way of speaking and calligraphy. And
as all of these are daily matters, they improve by constant practice. Basically,
one should perceive their nature to be one of quite strength. If one has
accomplished all these things, then he should have a knowledge of our area's
history and customs. After that he may study the various arts as recreation.
If you think t over, being a retainer is simple. And these days, if you
observe people who are even a bit useful, you will see that they have accomplished
these three outward aspects.