Bushidō — The Seven Virtues of The Samurai

The Eastern Way of the Warrior

Abel Chan
Abel Chan
Feb 10, 2020 · 5 min read
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Yatesh Gowda, Samurai Silhouette Art, 2019. Image Courtesy of Pixabay.

Every morning, the samurai recommits to death. In his morning meditation, he envisions being killed, over and over — shredded by arrows, bullets, swords, and spears; being swept away by a tidal wave; burned by fire; struck by lightening; dying in a earthquake; falling from a great height; succumbing to overwhelming sickness. He lives and relives this in his mind until it bothers him no more.

He has no choice but to do this. Every single day. For once he goes out the front door, he is surrounded by enemies. He is surrounded by death. This is the life of a samurai.

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Lee Croix, Samurai, 2019. Image Courtesy of Pixabay.

The rigorous training of a samurai warrior begins in childhood. Physical training, literature studies, mathematics, poetry, and spiritual discipline are the areas that the child is first acquainted with. When old enough, the child then starts to study Kendo — the way of the sword.

To make sure his development is holistic, his training in the martial arts is complemented by the study of Zen Buddhism and the moral code of the samurai. The young warriors were expected to cultivate themselves in Bushidō — the way of the warrior, of which seven virtues were held above all else.

Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right. It is the bone that gives firmness and stature. Without bones the head cannot rest on top of the spine, nor hands move, nor feet stand. Such that without rectitude, neither talent nor learning can make the human frame into a samurai.

Incorporating the Bushidō principle of Gi into your life is not as easy as obeying the law in modern times. It requires reflecting on what is fair and upholding the value of upstanding moral character in times of great corruption and violence. A samurai who lives by this definition would be granted the esteemed title of Gishi — a man of rectitude, and be awarded a position of high stature.

To show courage every moment of living, in danger or not. Bushidō distinguishes between bravery and courage: courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it’s exercised in the cause of righteousness and justice. Courage is doing what is right. To know what is right and do nothing is cowardice.

Simple bravery is something that appeals most easily to juvenile minds, and is hence not qualified to be considered a virtue, but rather a mere manifestation of ego and emotion. Only when bravery is fueled by righteousness and justice can it qualify as Yūuki.

Invested with the power to command and the power to kill, the samurai is expected to demonstrate equally extraordinary powers of benevolence and mercy: love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity — these are traits of Benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul.

The samurai were the living embodiment of their lord’s laws, but they must also abide to their own knowledge of what was benevolent. The samurai called this Bushi no nasaké — the tenderness of a warrior — implying mercy where mercy is not a blind impulse, but a recognition of due regard to justice; where mercy did not remain as a mere state of mind, but where it was backed with power to save or kill.

True warriors have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. Warriors are not only respected for their strength in battle, but also by their dealings with others. The true strength of a warrior becomes apparent during difficult times.

The samurai believes that respect should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others; it is a poor virtue if it is motivated only by a fear of offending good taste.

When the samurai say that he will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing shall stop him from completing what he say he will do. He does not have to give his word, and he does not have to promise, for speaking and doing to the samurai are the same action.

Sincerity must be exercised in everything a samurai does, for without which the virtue is Kyorei — an empty form.

The sense of Honor; a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterizes the samurai. He was born and bred to value the duties and privileges of his profession. Fear of disgrace hangs like a sword over the head of every samurai.

The honor of the samurai can clearly be seen in their ritual suicide. For the samurai, there is no surrendering in battle. If the samurai was captured, he performs seppuku, choosing to slice his stomach open and disembowel himself rather than fall into the hands of the enemy. To the samurai, honor is indisputably more valuable than life itself.

One is responsible for everything one has done, and everything one has said, and all of the consequences that follow. A samurai is to be immensely loyal to all of those in his care. To everyone he is responsible for, he must remain fiercely true.

The loyalty of a samurai is the same as the instinctive loyalty of an animal — even in the face of extreme hardship and danger, it is never abandoned.

The Way of the Samurai & the Art of Now

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Simone Lugli, Time Hourglass, 2019. Image Courtesy of Pixabay.

Emulating the virtues of a samurai would be no menial task, simply for the fact that each virtue is taken to a nuanced extreme that is not without its ambiguity. However, the way of the samurai can not only teach us how to live in extremities, but to extremely live.

“There is certainly nothing more important in life than what we do at the present moment. A person’s entire life consists of nothing more than one moment piled on top of another, over and over again. Once enlightened to this, the warrior has nothing else to worry about, because he realizes that he has only to live in the present moment with the utmost intensity.” — Yamamoto Tsunetomo in The Hagakure

This is aligned with the ontological doctrine of presentism, where both the past and the future are mere compilations of the present. After all, life is now. There has never been a time when your life wasn’t now, and there never will be. Now is all there is, and the future is just another present moment to live when it arrives. So live like now is everything you have, for it truly is.

A place for a discussion of the ideas all around us in…

Abel Chan

Written by

“Lost are we, and only so far punished, that without hope we live on in desire” — Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia

A Philosopher’s Stone

A place for a discussion of the ideas all around us in society, culture, philosophy, and more.

Abel Chan

Written by

“Lost are we, and only so far punished, that without hope we live on in desire” — Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia

A Philosopher’s Stone

A place for a discussion of the ideas all around us in society, culture, philosophy, and more.

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