The Samurai and the Way

The way of the samurai

by A. R. Basov

  • samurai buddhism art

    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.
    Yamamoto Tsunetomo

    The spirit of following the Way was paramount in samurai life. While death was considered the most effective tool for spirit creation, the samurai did not drop out of the real world. On the contrary, they aspired to become the strongest, most spiritually invincible beings on earth and were ready to pay any price for the opportunity to improve themselves.

    Having accepted the idea of death, a samurai acquired supernatural strength and looked at the world with the clarity of a wise man: “Every evening freshen thy mind in the thought of death.

    Death was the samurai’s mystical lover and life companion; it was the measure for the validity of all things and an impartial judge of all thoughts and actions – his guide.

    harakiri screencap screenshotScreenshot from Harakiri (1962)

    Indeed, the samurai were part of a death cult. A samurai held death in his heart and on the tip of his sword. Death was considered the standard of truth. And since the samurai searched for truth, they had to look at death too.

    “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.”

    Likewise, in Precepts, Kato Kyomasa maintains: “Having been born into the house of a warrior, one’s intention should be to grasp the long and short swords and to die.”

    The samurai were committed to dying at any moment, if necessary. None of them gave it a second thought. There was no wavering; everything had already been decided in their hearts.

    Samurai history reveals an interesting issue. Great warriors had survived many battles they had lost. Samurai knew precisely when they were supposed to live and die. They had a subtle feeling of the proper time to leave this life and chose the most heroic moment to do so. Because the samurai respected the right to die with dignity, they usually allowed their opponents to part from life with grace. Fighting in single combat was considered an honor, and the injured warriors were permitted to commit seppuku while their rivals stood aside respectfully. Death was treated with love.

    When speaking of Bushido, the three qualities considered essential are Loyalty, Integrity, and Courage. When these three virtues are perfectly combined in one man, he is called a samurai of the highest quality.
    – Daidōji Yūzan

    bushido kanji

    The samurai controlled everything in this world, including death, because they were genuine men and free people who believed that fearlessness is a method of comprehending reality for the Warrior. It is existence of his soul.

    Fearlessness grants spiritual freedom.
    Fearlessness is the only guarantor of sovereignty of personality.
    Sovereign means free. Free means Sovereign.
    Only a fearless person is free. Readiness to die builds up the life of a free person.

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    This article contains quotes from Samurai: Ascension by A. R. Basov

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