In the second season of True Detective, I spotted a copy of the Hagakure in one of the detective's homes. This book belongs to the family of texts that include The Book of Five Rings and the Art of War. They are Eastern classics that provide sage doses of wisdom in relation to martial arts and warfare. As a typical Westerner, I'll readily admit that my understanding of practices from the ancient East is entertainingly informed but seriously distorted by Western cultural products including computer games such as Double Dragon and Shinobi, the allure of throwing stars and ninja turtles, The Karate Kid, and more recently films along the likes of The Last Samurai and 47 Ronin. Simply put, ninjas and samurai's are cool, they have a cool mythical allure and practice seriously cool levels of self-discipline and mastery.
Viewing such things from this romanticised lens, I was quite jarred when I started reading a version of the Hagakure. In the context of the modern day, there is much to disprove of: the individual is a slave to custom, personal freedom is limited and is not even sought after, and the value of life is very low. Indeed, the glory of life is in the death. Some paragraphs of the Hagakure are very harsh and strict, sometimes ambiguous and often contradictory. And there's also the seriously ghastly e.g. 'If you cut a face lengthwise, urinate on it, and trample on it with straw sandals, it is said that the skin will come off. This was heard by the priest Gyojaku when he was in Kyoto. It is information to be treasured.' Quite.
After all that, there is a lot of good stuff as well, some of which is collected further down in the post.
Various notes and quotes from the book and from around it.
Alexander Bennet introduction : Attachment to life hindered a warrior during a catastrophe, and so it was deemed virtuous to train one's mind and spirit to choose death with firm resolve if the situation called for 'decisive action.'
Me: Death about death of the self. Can we turn this into death of the non-useful? ie apply it to living up to our own ideals, but first we must have the ideals.
Shakespeare: '“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”
The book records Tsunetomo's views on bushido, the warrior code of the samurai. Hagakure is sometimes said to assert that bushido is really the "Way of Dying" or living as though one was already dead, and that a samurai must be willing to die at any moment in order to be true to his lord. His saying "the way of the warrior is death" was a summation of the willingness to sacrifice that bushido codified.
After his master died, Tsunetomo himself was forbidden to perform junshi, a retainer's ritual suicide, by an edict of the Tokugawa Shogunate combined with his master's disapproval of the tradition. Hagakure may have been written partially in an effort to outline the role of the samurai in a more peaceful society. Several sections refer to the "old days", and imply a dangerous weakening of the samurai class since that time.
The Hagakure was written approximately one hundred years after the start of the Tokugawa era, a time of relative peace. With no major campaigns to fight, the samurai were transforming from a warrior to an administrative class. His work represents one approach to the problem of maintaining military preparedness and a proper military mindset in a time when neither has much practical application.
Does Hagakure represent a 'mystical beauty intrinsic to the Japanese aesthetic experience', or is it a 'text that epitomizes all that is abhorrent in terms of mindless sacrifice, as well as a loathsome depreciation of the value of life and blind obedience to authority'? Invented tradition? A window into the complex ethics of the Tokugawa world? Or simply the 'seditious ramblings of a disgruntled curmudgeon'?
A careful reading of Hagakure will reveal elements of all of these.
Bennett states that the book is vastly misunderstood both inside and outside Japan, and perhaps that is why Jocho encouraged Tsuramoto to burn it upon completion (to prevent it from being read by those who could never understand the spirit in which it was written).
Bennett shows how Jocho was bitter at the "disintegration of warrior norms over previous decades", "anti-Shogunate sentiment", had a nostalgic longing for the previous regimes and decried how young samurai "talk of money, about profit and loss, their household financial problems, taste in fashion, and idle chatter of sex". At one point in the book, Jocho flatly states that there are "no good men"
...apparent contradictions within the book, including some of its most famous passages. Should a vassal rush headlong into danger, or should he seek a more peaceful alternative? Does one persistently correct the Lord and let him know when he is wrong, or does one carry out the letter of his commands unquestioningly? You should always follow out the Lord's commands, except when you don't. While mastering an art is detrimental to the way of the samurai, when can its study actually be beneficial? There are passages that seem to exhort the virtues of each.
Even the oft-quoted 'The Way of the Samurai is found in death' takes on a new meaning when read in its proper context. Boiled down to its core, it says to simply do your best in everything and approach every situation fearlessly as if it is your last day on earth-to not hold back out of a fear of dying or failing. It's not necessarily about rushing head-on alone into a nest
Although the Hagakure was written centuries ago for a breed of warriors that no longer exist, the philosophies and wisdom within are still practical, even in our modern times.
Although it stands to reason that a samurai should be mindful of the Way of the Samurai, it would seem that we are all negligent. Consequently, if someone were to ask, "What is the true meaning of the Way of the Samurai?" the person who would be able to answer promptly is rare. This is because it has not been established in one's mind beforehand. From this, one's unmindfulness of the Way can be known.
in large part we make our logic according to what we like.
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 bringing shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one's chest.
To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not.
Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never-ending.
A man who bas never once erred is dangerous."...a character is quoted as saying of a candidate being considered for promotion.
A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.
It is not good to settle into a set of opinions. It is a mistake to put forth effort and obtain some understanding and then stop at that.
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."
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.
If one perceives a person's good points, he will have a model teacher for anything.
In general, a person who is versatile in many things is considered to be vulgar and to have only a broad knowledge of matters of importance.
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.
the fact that something bad always happens in the world when strange phenomena occur is due to people seeing something like fluttering clouds and thinking that something is going to happen. The mystery is created in their minds,
When meeting calamities or difficult situations, it is not enough to simply say that one is not at all flustered. When meeting difficult situations, one should dash forward bravely and with joy. It is the crossing of a single barrier and is like the saying, "The more the water, the higher the boat."
Upon reaching the age of forty, both wise and foolish have gone through an appropriate amount of experience and will no longer be perplexed .
Whatever you do should be done for the sake of your master and parents, the people in general, and for posterity. This is great compassion. The wisdom and courage that come from compassion are real wisdom and courage. When one punishes or strives with the heart of compassion, what he does will be limitless in strength and correctness. Doing something for one's own sake is shallow and mean and turns into evil. I understood the matters of wisdom and courage some time ago. I am just now beginning to understand the matter of compassion.
It is said that Tokunaga Kichizaemon repeatedly complained, "I've grown so old that now, even if there were to be a battle, I wouldn't be able to do anything. Still, I would like to die by galloping into the midst of the enemy and being struck down and killed. It would be a shame to do nothing more than to die in one's bed."
In approaching for the attack he does not forget to wait for the right moment. In waiting for the right moment he never forgets the attack.
The saying that "All abilities come from one mind" ...is in fact a matter of being unattached to life and death. With such non-attachment one can accomplish any feat.
These are teachings of Yamamoto Jin'emon:
· Single mindedness is all-powerful.
· Tether even a roasted chicken.
· A man exists for a generation, but his name lasts to the end of time.
There is weakness in perfect clarity.
Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.
When one departs for the front, he should carry rice in a bag. His underwear should be made from the skin of a badger. This way he will not have lice. In a long campaign, lice are troublesome.
In all matters of discipline, one will be useless unless he has great pride. Unless one is determined to move the clan by himself, all his discipline will come to naught. Although, like a tea kettle, it is easy for one's enthusiasm to cool, there is a way to keep this from happening. My own vows are the following:
· Never to be outdone in the Way of the Samurai.
· To be of good use to the master.
· To be filial to my parents.
· To manifest great compassion, and to act for the sake of Man.