Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Samurai song

Zen Master HAKUIN (1686 - 1769) one day brushed the Chinese Character "DEATH" on a scroll, and under it wrote a poem :

O young people, if death is hateful, die now !
Dying this once, you will never die again.


The sorrow and bitterness of this world will become happiness.


You are called samurai.
Should you not be ready to die ?


Despite brave words the samurai who has not died this once,

When the crisis come will flee away or hide.

The feudal lord gives you silk clothes and white rice
So that he can rely on you in that hour.


Even a blade by a master swordsmith, if the samurai does not realize he has it,
Is of as little use as if girded on a midwife.

He who has once died in the depth of the navel -
The spear of the master spearman cannot touch him.
He who dying while yet alive carries out his duties -
The arrow of the master archer is nothing to him.

The samurai who has passed away deep in the navel circle
Finds no enemy in all the world.

Throw away all, die and see -
The god of death and his demons stand bewildered.
In the field of the elixir at the navel, meditate on the Lord of the mind and see -
At once all is perfection, living paradise.

Though one know how to rest firm in virtue,

If he cannot meditate, he has not yet attained.
Meditation is the inmost secret of the knightly way;

While yet you live, practice meditation.


Do not meditate only hidden in a dark corner,
But meditate always, standing, sitting, moving and resting.

When your meditation continues throughout waking and sleeping,

Wherever you are is heaven itself.

After practicing thirty or forty years

We can know that we have meditated a little.

Though one boast : "I have died," if he shows selfishness he is yet unenlightened;
Loyalty to superiors, love and reverence to parents.


Though one boast : "I am enlightened," if he is heartless to living beings,
He falls to the demon world - so says the holly word of Kasuga.




HAGAKURE is a practical and spiritual guide for the Samurai warrior, compiled from 1709 to 1716 from a collection of commentaries by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, former retainer to Nabeshima Mitsushige.


The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult.



Both texts date from the beginning of the 18th century. In 1600, Ieyasu Tokugawa had ended at the battle of Sekigahara the terrible civil wars which had plagued Japan during the 16th century. the 17th century had been a period peace of great prosperity for the Japanese civil society, Samurais did not have much opportunity to die in combat anymore and Tsunetomo's longing for actual death had become somewhat anachronistic, while Hakuin calls for a death - deep in the navel circle (the Tanden) - to the worries and fears of this world of dust.

Both texts have been used in a morbid interpretation of the Bushido Code, specially during World War II, to justify, among other terrible things, the "sacrifice" of young soldiers we would today label as terrorists (What is a Kamikaze pilot if not a suicide bomber ?)

In all religions or philosophies, sad and bad things happen when people take literally the teachings of the founders. Zen and Bushido surely are no ways of death. The death we should aim at is not our biological death - this one will come on its time, no need to rush it - but a death to the worries attached to our rooting in this world of dust.

Budo (Martial ways) are not about becoming a better fighter but a better human being. They are about dying to ourselves. I know, this has been written, said and heard times and times. Nothing original here. But the main point is for each one of us to actually realize it.

There is only one way... TRAIN.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

I think the Samurai is referring to the death of our idea of a self which leads to moving beyond aggression. One of my teachers, Pema Chodron, talks about it here:

Pema Chodron on the problems in life, aggression and the idea of a self.