The following verses were obtained from Hagakure, which some might know as Hagakure Kikigaki and others as “The book of the Samurai: Analects of Nabeshima”. Today I chose to write about it as tribute to my father. My “padre” (father) was devoted to its code and taught me as much as he could, his admiration for the code of the Samurai was the pilot for how he navigated life and the force behind every one of his achievements.
Hagakure is a practical and spiritual guide for a warrior, drawn from a collection of commentaries by the clerk Yamamoto Tsunetomo, former retainer to Nabeshima Mitsushige, the third ruler of what is now Saga Prefecture in Japan. Hagakure was largely forgotten for two centuries after its composition, but it came to be viewed as the definitive guide of the samurai during the Pacific War. As one reads the book, it is apparent the sadness expressed by the author, a nostalgia for a world where the developing of character and integrity mattered; not in a superficial way but through actual self actualizing.
Hagakure means “Hidden by the leaves” a great analogy for the process of rediscovery; for just because something is hidden, it does not mean it does not exist. As such Hagakure, shows us “The Way” to the rediscovery of our own potential. Hagakure focuses on advice to develop that potential; for potential alone is of no use, if one isn’t willing to invest in self. Potential is the seed, practice and implementation of the lessons at a cognitive and spiritual level, are the water the seed needs to grow.
Although some may find some of the verses within the book contradictory, it is imperative to read them in the context in which they were given; some verses apply to everyday life while others were meant for war, as such there is no contradiction…once again, it is about balance. The samurai understood there are things which are black or white; those are few. Most things require proper balance, as no extreme is ever a good thing, for one will fall pray to same malady of false ego either way; balance however, requires the use of discipline (not rigidness), reason and common sense to discern when to be peaceful and when to take action. I hope as you read the verses, you take time to reflect on them, and maybe start to implement them within your life if you so wish.
1) “Always retain vigilance, even after a victory. A foe can easily strike you down while your arm is raised in triumph”.
2) “Do not ignore the ever creeping presence of death. Embrace the notion, become familiar with it, you cannot assume the end is somewhere far down the road. Use this harsh reminder to live intensely in the present moment. Ensure every second permeates with meaning and purpose”.
3) “Make decisions within seven breaths. Over deliberating weakens judgement”.
4) “A Samurai lives with a single minded purpose. Each day must be focused towards a life long task. Concentrate your entire being on a worthy cause”.
5) “Work to surpass others. Do not settle to be amongst great warriors, seek to be the best”.–If read alone, this verse could easily be misinterpreted; however those familiar with the Samurai Code, understand they lived to help, protect and serve humanity. As such this was not a verse to encourage false ego or competitiveness with others, for the only competitor a Samurai recognized was his own self. “Work to surpass others…” simply meant be aware there are others out there working to become their best and so should you.
6) “To follow “The Way” is to recognize your own imperfections and to go about fixing them until you are dead”–Life is the lesson, to assume we have “arrived” often leads to stagnant thinking and being.
7) “Feel you are putting forth more effort than it is needed, then you will be doing just the right amount”.
8) “Preparation is vital for your efficacy in battle. It enables you to make good decisions with rapidness, a truly deadly trait”–always be prepared.
9) “Wisdom comes from conversing with others. Do not be afraid to receive tough criticism. A good teacher reveals the faults you are unable to see”. –Opening ourselves to different points of view contributes to our own expansion.
10) “Cultivate a burning, unrelenting desire to realize “The Way”. Samurai have been known to pray with tears of blood wishing for their actualization”–The path to self actualization is not an easy one nor a short one. Unlike dogma, self actualization is truly the path less travelled.
11) “Repeatedly enquire, “how can I develop myself?”
12) “Foster a calm inner strength”
13) “In times of hardship, be the person people can turn to. Reliability is the mark of a legendary Samurai”.
14) “A Samurai cannot reach the heights of greatness unless they have had seven major failures”. –Mistakes are part of life and great lessons, for true wisdom is seldom attained from meditation alone. There is a big difference between theoretical wisdom, which often does not survive action and wisdom which has been integrated in mind and spirt; one which has been tested and can be relied on.
15) “Once the task has been set, surrender yourself wholeheartedly to its completion. Act without hesitation or fear of consequences”.
16) “Taking the action necessary to become a sage means already behaving like a sage. A sage imparts knowledge he has lived”.
17) “Don’t try to teach that which you only know within your mind. You cannot lead if you lack experience”.
18) “A Samurai is not discouraged by unfavorable odds”.
19) “Your word is more valuable than gold. Do all you can to uphold it”
20) “The three virtues of a good Samurai are Wisdom, Courage and Compassion”.
21) “If you believe your valor is beyond compare and your skill cannot be matched, then this will give you the confidence needed to be the best”.
I now leave you with this quote which so beautifully embodies everything “The Way” meant to a Samurai…
A student said to his master: “You teach me fighting, but you talk about peace. How do you reconcile the two?”
The master replied: “It is better to be a warrior in a garden, than to be a gardener in a war”