samurai duty

Read more about giri in the e-book Samurai: Ascension by A. R. Berg

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    Death is lighter than fluff…
    Giri is heavier than a mountain.
    —Bushi-Do proverb
    “Lord Naoshige once said, ‘There is nothing felt quite so deeply as giri. There are times when someone like a cousin dies and it is not a matter of shedding tears. But we may hear of someone who lived fifty or a hundred years ago, of whom we know nothing and who has no family ties with us whatsoever, and yet from a sense of giri shed tears.’”
    —Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

    The concept of giri corresponds to the European concept of duty as understood by the knights and all worthy people throughout time. Giri is central to Bushi-Do, perhaps the most important, since the word ‘samurai’ means ‘warrior in service,’ in other words, fulfilling his duty. The canons of Japanese history interpret giri as adherence to the ethical code of the samurai. It runs like a scarlet thread through all its constituent elements. Giri is essential to life and can never be neglected. If you do, the rest of your life will be deprived of meaning, for you will despise yourself. Giri may end up being a fateful amalgamation of circumstances, sometimes preposterous, which you cannot wriggle out of. Life and Duty, Honor or disgrace are thrown into the balance. To compromise giri means to save your body but perish as a human being, for you have damned yourself into your own hell.

    Plans, common sense and family duties lose their importance; nothing matters anymore! The Warrior risks his life and flirts with Death. He has already barred the way to other options with his sword in hand. And only with his Honor will he put it back in its scabbard!


    A lying subhuman has no giri for he is only motivated by personal gain and fear of death. A Warrior pursues the strenuous Way of Duty his entire life, though, the manifestation of giri might take a brief instant, the most important moment of his life. And then, soaking in blood, he crashes headfirst and dies... Giri is the finger of God which indicates the right individual whose sense of duty impels him to restrain evil and pacify the world around him. The restoration of harmony is why war is as natural as peace for a Warrior on his Way. On this path he is wise and always remembers that Giri is a feeling rather than logic or rules espoused by contemporary demagogic systems of morality. First and foremost, a Warrior is committed to his inner sense of Truth. He understands that most situations do not require his intervention because karma crushes those who violate the Supreme Laws. Individuals involved in conflict are usually matched in terms of their mental filthiness. They look in the ‘mirror’ of their thoughts and battle with their own reflections. By wringing each others necks they are doing the world a favor.

    A Warrior is mentally at a different level because he has elevated himself. He does not participate in low-level skirmishes. In fact, they stay clear of him. This is a very profound aspect of the Way which only the wise can understand. A Warrior possessed by his need to fulfill giri, like protecting an innocent unable to defend himself or herself, becomes the Sword of Karma. He would never take sides among shudra who fight over a piece of meat.

    A genuine Warrior is always ready to fulfill giri because he has been trained to be a professional warrior who can be violent at any moment if compelled. Violence shall be adequate but inexorable. The samurai maintained the special privilege of conducting a thorough investigation when a warrior did not use arms to kill an evildoer, did not stop him. What a nice epoch it was for a Warrior! (Conversely, the modern warrior is bound like Gulliver by a bureaucracy of laws and is obliged to follow absurd orders which are usually far from righteous and make him act against his honor and conscience.) In antiquity, if such mildness was unjustified, the warrior suffered the greatest humiliation of being downgraded (the most severe punishment) or was even made to commit suicide (a milder punishment).
    These two different worlds, however, had equally harsh measures for maintaining the law and as a result their crime rates were close to zero. Crime has always signified societal decay and a blatant disregard of the authorities, thus making them criminals as well for not being able to maintain order. One overlooked but interesting fact is that an officer in Tsarist Russia was always armed like a samurai. If he witnessed a crime and did not stop it he was immediately dismissed from the nobility as well as the army. This was one of the reasons why the Russian Empire enjoyed an extremely low crime rate despite the very limited number of gendarmes.

    samurai naginata art armour
    Loyalty (a samurai with a naginata) art by Tatiana Berg | Purchase print or painting
    | All Artwork

    Over the course of a Warrior’s life, giri takes on a number of different guises which comprise a single whole. One Bushi-Do allegory says that Samurai Spirit may be represented as a center of energy and force created by: Discipline (Dedication), Respect (Piety), Honor, Ritual of Conduct, Clan (inter-familial relations of Duty in a Confucian sense) and Loyalty. Each of these concepts is intrinsic to the spirit of Giri.

    A Samurai’s Duty is to comply with this Discipline in everything; in each moment and with every breath. This is why discipline and dedication are interchangeable. Respecting and being in harmony with the world is Giri. Respect is a great Force! There is no struggle with the World or the Divine for all relations are built on a foundation of tranquility and respect. The person who truly respects himself appreciates and respects the world around him. Respect is a life-giving spring with the power to change the world!

    This latent Force of feedback between a human and the World is the Supreme Law. Like the ancients used to say, the Gods, parents and teachers shall be respected, and the rest treated politely (in form) and in moderation, according to what they deserve (in essence). Duty means keeping Honor untainted. A Samurai should be prepared to lose his life before his Honor. This, too, is giri.

    But does a Man (with a capital “M”, not a tamed two-legged creature) have any point in living if he has lost his dignity? An undignified person is worse than a filthy good-for-nothing beast because he has been given the great opportunity to be a Man and did not use it. On the other hand, cultivating Honor creates a particular energy in society. Where there are sufficient numbers of individuals with the samurai spirit who are able to release the entire charge of their lives in an instant, like lightning, the society is safe from stagnation and moral decay.

    Spiritual people play the most important role in society, but they are not appreciated by most because their focus is not on the visible, material plane. Like the parable about the vine that grows and bears a rich harvest, the value of the pole it is attached to is obscure. On the surface, it is insignificant. If you take it away, however, the vine will fall and the harvest will rot. Confucian moralists compared the samurai to bees that do not make honey but guard the beehive, sting and fight to the end. In a sense, Samurai Honor is like a bee sting. Both are lost to preserve life. The willingness to give his life in order to maintain Honor is the Warrior’s duty at all times. He differs from a common man because he does not harbor any vain thoughts. In contrast, he is always in an elevated spiritual state with lofty aspirations, and this grants him tranquility and a joyful heart... read more about Giri in the book

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    This is a chapter from Samurai: Ascension by A. R. Berg
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