Samurai Views on Life and Death

Samurai I: Ascension

by A. R. Basov

  • When I look at the tragedy of withering flowers,
    I think I finally understand the meaning of life.
    —A. B.

    Life is but a thin
    And when a man clearly feels it,
    his life becomes pure.
    —A. B.

    Die while you are alive
    And be absolutely dead.
    Then flow with whatever happens:
    It’s all Source.
    —Shido Bunan

    Samurai follows the road of life,
    Holding a sutra in one hand and a sword in the other.
    —A. B.

    The mentality of a predator, a Man of War, combined complicated, sometimes seemingly incompatible elements which helped the samurai understand their place in life, its meaning and objective. The elaborate doctrine of death and its cult in Bushi-Do stem from this mentality as well.
    As famous warrior Takeda Nobushige said, “There is no particular secret to Zen. It is simply making a settlement of the matter of life and death.”
    Few people possess the courage and spiritual power to follow this way of death acceptance. Like the samurai said, knowledge of the Way is insufficient; one must also have the fortitude to follow it. The way of the samurai is valor, and the first prerequisite of courage is not being afraid to die. According to Zen, people come into this world from nothing and return to nothing. After all, they are made up of nothing.
    Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.
    Death is not an absolute end, but an illusory transition of states. Life is eternal. A classic question in Zen is, “Where and what were you before birth and where will you be after death?” Zen teaches that you have been in other worlds forever. Once you quit this world and move on to them, why should it grieve you? What makes you think death is evil? Do not cling to life. It is merely one short, ephemeral instant in eternity.

    young samurai art
    Think Of Death Samurai art by Tatiana Basova | Purchase print or painting
    | All Artwork

    Reflecting on death makes you free. There is no ‘death’ in Buddhism the way it is understood in Europe. Rather, the world is a multifaceted, diverse, infinite chain of rebirths and changes. Death is as inevitable as rebirth, and the conditions of your next life depend upon how you live this one. Therefore, a better, stronger body is granted to a high spirit, whereas a low spirit gets the vessel it deserves. The only thing that could break this cycle is a sincere desire to become a perfect being. Then, the karmic chain of rebirths will end and you will attain the divine state of Buddha.
    The samurai believed that the way one dies as well as their thoughts in their last moments have the largest impact on their rebirth. One’s behavior at the time of death is the moment of truth and will, and death is no more than a page in the endless book of life. The samurai prided themselves for their willpower to turn this page whenever they chose. In addition, this moment was believed to be predestined but with a certain amount of free will since will governs karma. Like Immanuel Kant said, “There is free will and there is no free will.” The samurai believed it was foolish to fear death, and that one must be fearless to study the art of death. Like Mito Mitsukuni has written, the only correct way for a samurai to die was calmly: “There is no difference between the samurai. Only their social status could differ. A samurai must not lie, neither in his deeds, nor in his heart; a true samurai must meet death when it is necessary, being even more tranquil than usual. This is the difference between the samurai and common people.”
    Imagine you are in a train running the closed circle line with people coming on and off continuously. After a while, none of the people who started the trip with you are still on the train. They have all been replaced by others, but they will leave soon too. Do you start feeling lonely? More and more you feel the moment when you too will get off this train of life once and for all.
    BUT TO WHERE?..... Read further in Samurai: Ascension

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    This is an abstract from the chapter "Samurai Views on Life and Death" from Samurai I: Ascension

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