Samurai. They are considered among the most feared warriors of all time. Their reputation in war and swordsmanship have been the subject of numerous discussions in history. What made the samurai different from other medieval swordsmen wasn’t solely their prowess in fighting, but also their strict code of honor. That code among the samurai is known as Bushido. Bushido was the code that separated samurai from the common man in feudal Japan. Without adherence to this code, no man had the right to even call himself a samurai. If one were to observe the modern social climate, is there any possibility that the ancient code of Bushido can be applied to normal life today? Can we as modern men perhaps learn something in the vitrues of Bushido that can be applied in the present? This will be the focus of the current discussion.
Before one can begin to contemplate utilization of Bushido code in their personal lives, one must know what exactly the philosophy behind Bushido is. To begin, the Eight Virtues of Bushido will be outlined and explained briefly to demonstrate the usefulness of utilizing the samurai code in modern society and one’s life.The Eight Virtues of Bushido are:
- I. Rectitude or Justice
- II. Courage
- III. Benevolence or Mercy
- IV. Politeness
- V. Honesty and Sincerity
- VI. Honor
- VII. Loyalty
- VIII. Character and Self-Control
Rectitude or justice is considered the strongest virtue of the Bushido code. It is determined that without a sense of rectitude, one cannot be allowed to be called a samurai. Rectitude is the samurai’s ability to make decisions with unwavering reason and willingness to the completion of their task whether it be to fight or even die. Rectitude is the structure upon which the Bushido code rests.
Rectitude or Justice Utilized Today: While the will to fight or even die for one’s cause may not sound like an appealing argument, an unwavering ability to do what is right no matter what is something we can all strive to learn from. Being able to stand firm on one’s sense of moral right and wrong is very useful considering how people in one’s life may change their minds due to popular opinion. A person who will act on their beliefs and stand firm in the face of opposition is the type of person that is lacking today. We live in a world where everyone tells you to “trust the experts” regardless of whether the facts contradict their claims or not. Too many people are so willing to not rock the boat depsite the decay rampant in society that no one is willing to stand firm against injustice where it is present. You can be the change you wish to see in the world and stand up for what is right. That is true rectitude.
Courage is the second of the Eight virtues and is defined as different from bravery in the sense that Courage is bravery in the service of genuine rectitude. Bravery alone is not enough in and of itself. Courage requires more from the samurai than simply being brave.
Courage utilized today: Standing up to injustice wherever one sees it is the true meaning of courage in the Bushido code. Whether you’re standing up for a friend, human rights, or simply standing up for yourself against an injustice separates courage from bravery. Anyone can be brave, but courage requires a valid reason to display acts of bravery. Foolish bravery has harmed many, but courage with a purpose can take one far in life because one knows what’s at stake despite the great harm that can come upon them.
Benevolence or Mercy was expected of every samurai. These warriors were expected to be among the fiercest of killers in the known world, so in order to be good citizens, they were also required to acknowledge mercy for the protection of the people they fight for. One could not be a samurai if they were simply a cold-blooded killer.
Benevolence or Mercy Utilized Today: When one is placed in a position of authority, it is good to remember the responsibility that comes with that title. Whether someone is a seasoned martial artist, cop, or even a manager in a retail store, benevolence or mercy towards others is necessary or enemies will be made fast. Doing what is in the best interests of others is in one’s own best interest.
Politeness was and is currently a hallmark in Japanese culture. They did not simply believe in just being nice to people to not offend. The samurai used politeness as a way to better themselves. Good manners and courtesy were a part of their discipline in order to be better people for the society they fought for. The benevolence of other people was a primary motivator for this virtue.
Politeness Used Today: This is a bit self explanatory. One doesn’t need to be good with the sword or follow samurai tradition to be polite towards others. Thinking about the feelings of others in regards to how one conducts themselves is how people generally stay out of trouble in most areas of life. Putting yourself in the shoes of others and displaying good manners generally doesn’t get one into too many fights in real life regardless of where you’re from.
Honesty and Sincerity was a virtue the samurai was required to take seriously. In battle, the trust of one’s comrades was a neccesary virtue to keep one another alive. Samurai service to lord and country required someone who was honest and sincere. The children of samurai were often raised to understand that money wasn’t as important as sincerity, so they were trained to live as simply as possible.
Honesty and Sincerity Today: To be honest and sincere in one’s actions requires a personality that resonates good character. Lying and dishonest behavior are frowned upon in every society. The worst thing a person can do is lie to themselves about their character. One is better off living an honest and sincere existence both in society and for oneself.
Honor: Though Bushido deals with the profession of soldiering, it is equally concerned with non-martial behavior: The sense of Honor, a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterized the samurai. He was born and bred to value the duties and privileges of his profession. Fear of disgrace hung like a sword over the head of every samurai … To take offense at slight provocation was ridiculed as ‘short-tempered.’ As the popular adage put it: ‘True patience means bearing the unbearable.’
Honor Used Today: In the real world, it is not what you think that matters, but what you do. Honor, in its most basic form, is the ability to live and act in a manner where there is respect for self and others. Actions such as keeping one’s word, doing the things one promises to do, and living in a respectable, dignified manner are all tenets of honor. Life is a privilege most take for granted. Live it with the dignity and honor. A man or woman of honor has character that no one can take away.
Loyalty in the Bushido code meant that one served their lords and country without question. The samurai were willing to die to protect their nation. They were willing to kill for their comrades. Loyalty had to surpass personal benefit for one to truly be recognized as a samurai. Without loyalty, one simply wasn’t a samurai.
Loyalty Used Today: There are many areas in life where one’s loyalty is the difference between a solid foundation and a fleeting, worthless existence. How can one build a family or form a healthy relationship with a cheating spouse? How can a company trust someone who doesn’t do their job? In any business, a disloyal client will not be worth doing business with. Loyalty to one’s relationships in any context must be established, for without it, no relationship can last, business or personal.
Character and Self Control: “Bushido teaches that men should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one that transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification, and a man should know the difference. Finally, it is a man’s obligation to teach his children moral standards through the model of his own behavior: The first objective of samurai education was to build up Character. The subtler faculties of prudence, intelligence, and dialectics were less important. Intellectual superiority was esteemed, but a samurai was essentially a man of action. No historian would argue that Hideyoshi personified the Eight Virtues of Bushido throughout his life. Like many great men, deep faults paralleled his towering gifts. Yet by choosing compassion over confrontation, and benevolence over belligerence, he demonstrated ageless qualities of manliness. Today his lessons could not be more timely.”
Character and Self Control Used Today: Character and Self Control are as relelvant and important today as they were during the Samurai period. If one doesn’t possess good qualities, how can one raise children or teach anyone anything of value? How can a person of poor character expect to be trusted with intimate secrets? Self control is a topic that has been discussed frequently on this website. It is something we all struggle with as human beings, but without any self control, nothing of value can hope to be accomplished. A human being who cannot say no to others or themselves every time they feel a certain way could have never been a good samurai. A lack of character and self control has put more people in the grave than being able to correct onself ever will. Establishing good character and self control is a necessity as we see the world spiraling out of control in 2021. Just because the rest of the world has gone crazy doesn’t mean you have to.
Until the Next Daydream…
Links and References used: The Bushido Code: The Eight Virtues of the Samurai (The Art of Manliness Website)