Following the Way of the Warrior means nothing else than bringing your inner self in accord with the Way and abiding by the Law in the daily life. To bring your mind in accord with the Way means to understand the righteousness and consistency of Bushido and never yield to injustice and evil.
― Daidōji Yūzan
Daidōji Yūzan (大道寺 友山, 1639–1730) was a samurai, military strategist, and writer, flourished during the Edo period. He was born to a distinguished Japanese samurai family, said to be descended from the powerful 12th-century Taira clan, though the family name –Daidoji – had been taken several centuries later. Daidoji arrived in Edo (now Tokyo) as a young man and studied military science with two of the mid-17th century’s greatest tacticians; he was also an orthodox Confucian scholar. He later traveled around the country, teaching and testing himself; he became a prominent writer and an expert in the military arts. Daidoji lived under the rule of six different Shoguns, from Iyemitsu to Yoshimuné, and died at the age of 92.
The man who would be a warrior considers it his most basic intention to keep death always in mind, day and night, from the time he first picks up his chopsticks in celebrating his morning meal on New Year’s Day to the evening of the last day of the year. When one constantly keeps death in mind, both loyalty and filial piety are realized, myriad evils and disasters are avoided, one is without illness and mishap, and lives out a long life. In addition, even his character is improved. Such are the many benifits of this act.
― Daidōji Yūzan
The 17th century saw the decline of Japan’s long history of internal warfare during the Warring States period, warfare that was fought among a warrior class, the samurai or bushi, who were educated in both the martial arts and literature. The country had been unified around 1600 under the Tokugawa Shogunate, which would rule until 1868. The new peace made prosperity possible and encouraged the rise of a merchant class, but this threatened the significance and existence of the warrior class, and large numbers of samurai who had been attached to feudal lords became ronin, or masterless and unemployed. Bushido, “the Way of the Warrior,” Japan’s traditional code of military culture and chivalry, was thus under threat. It is in this climate that Daidoji’s Budoshoshinshu, or Beginner’s Book of Bushido, was written. The Beginner’s Book, a textbook for young samurai, takes the point of view of the retainer, rather than the lord; in this, it is unlike many other accounts of late 16th- and early 17th-century military culture (e.g., that of Sorai), but it does have much in common with the somewhat later, better-known Hagakure, a collection of 1,300 anecdotes and reflections dictated by a samurai who, restrained by the prohibition of junshi, had become a hermit priest after the death of his lord. Daidoji’s treatment of samurai culture is particularly concerned with the philosophical dilemma of how the warrior is to live in a time of peace.
Bushi-Do is often called the Teaching of Loyalty: loyalty to Bushi-Do ideals and your behavior. Loyalty to the Way is also giri. The greatest giri. The concept of a Warrior’s ‘purity’ most closely corresponds to the Teaching of Loyalty. A Warrior does not only maintain the highest standards of physical hygiene and avoids leaving litter, he primarily abstains from polluting the spiritual constituent of the World. This means that he refrains from acting immorally and battles those who pollute the World with wickedness and anything ‘filthy.’ “To remove filth” is a special category in Bushi-Do which has gradually become the Japanese aesthetic and moral principle. A genuine samurai always stays spiritually pure, thus demonstrating his great loyalty to the Way, and this is his giri. All these concepts are closely related in Bushi-Do and consolidate to forge the shining blade of Samurai Spirit.― A. R. Berg, Ascension
Traditionally, Bushido had set the standard for the behavior, character, and duties of the warrior class, and included expectations concerning politeness, sincerity, self-control, honor, dignity, and absolute loyalty to one’s lord. Its roots were to be found in Confucian concepts of loyalty, as well as Buddhist ideas of the nonexistence of the self, the impermanence of life, and the importance of equanimity or preparedness of mind. From the time of the early Heian period (8th–12th centuries), the code of Bushido had taken honor as central and had held that to protect it, the samurai warrior was, among other things, to be prepared to commit suicide. Wounded or defeated warriors were expected to kill themselves; to be taken alive as a prisoner was a great dishonor.
For the man who would be a warrior, regardless of high or low rank, his very first consideration should be the quality of the moment of his physical end, when his fate runs out. No matter how clever or good at talking a man seems to be, if in his final moments he is so panicky that he loses onsciousness or otherwise faces his end poorly, all his former good behavior well become as water. Such a man will be scorned by people of understanding, and this will be a great shame.
― Daidōji Yūzan
By Daidoji’s time, however, the practice of ritual disembowelment was increasingly seen as a relic of times past. In 1663, when Daidoji was in his mid-20s, the Japanese government, the Tokugawa Bakufu, had prohibited the practice of junshi, committing seppuku at the death of one’s lord. In the Beginner’s Book, Daidoji struggled to show young samurai what would be required of them in this new era, committed as he was to the traditional code of Bushido, a struggle particularly evident at the end of the selection in his effort to characterize “great loyalty that surpasses junshi.”
Daidoji Yuzan is the ‘official’ voice on the Way of the Samurai. He discusses Bushi-Do as a cultural phenomenon; its outer layers.
The Bushi-Do Teaching has numerous aspects, all of which were shaped by the thinkers who wrote about it. The doctrines can only give us an idea of the cultural environment the Way evolved in. It was not static and developed over the centuries. The Way of the Samurai continually acquired new facets while maintaining its essential teaching. Study the samurai legacy and much will be revealed!
The sophistication of Bushi-Do is that many complicated, secret features are omitted for the student to discover on his own. This is the only way for a man to grasp their mystery and preserve their meaning at the same time. Learning is a lifelong process. From a young age, the samurai observed how their courageous fathers lived and died. Every moment of their unspoiled and outstanding childhood schooled them in Bushi-Do better than a thousand books.
The Way – one small word, a breath of air – cannot be fully comprehended by only learning the concepts of Loyalty and Faith, for The Way encompasses them as well as many others.
Every detail of Warrior’s life and behavior should comply with the spirit of Bushi-Do. There are no minor items. The whole consists of details. In every moment of life it is essential that Bushi-Do is followed. This is the idea of the Way. There are noble habits and wonderful customs, and they should be followed.
― A. R. Berg, Spirit of the Warrior
There are three ways to pure a warrior’s heart, and they are loyalty, integrity and courage. If your heart is full of vicious intentions, loyalty will pure it. Integrity may also pure your thoughts.
There is one more secret: if vice is so engrained in your mind that neither loyalty, nor integrity are capable of coping with it, recourse to courage and strain every nerve.
Then you will see that you became perfect.
This method of warrior’s heart purification is kept back from general knowledge and is passed by word of mouth from generation to generation.
― Daidōji Yūzan
1. A. L. Sadler, tr., The Beginner’s Book of Bushido. Tokyo: Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, the Society for International Cultural Relations, 1941.
This article contains quotes from the Samurai Series.
Read more about Daidoji Yuzan in the Samurai Book Series