Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Hagakure

The Hagakure is a martial arts text. I just started reading this classic, in edited form. The name means "In the shadows of leaves."

Those of you that stop by regularly know I am not a martial artist, but rather more in line with the Way of the Scholar. (Or at least I try.) However, in this day of exploded media, one must pick and choose. Studying Confucianism as the Way of ancient Scholarship is not as interesting as studying the habits of mind necessary for a samurai warrior. This book contains numerous clues--and not just for warriors.

The translator took about 300 of its pieces of knowledge out of about 1300, so that we can have what he thought was the essence of the text plus some further excerpts he thought interesting. The book is not a philosophy, he explains, but rather meditations on how to live a warrior code.

The Hagakure was written after the most warlike period, at a time when administration was beginning to be prized in daily life and war was a little less important. Therefore, its pages have some nostalgia in them, reflections on how warriorship and service apply in a more secure society. The application of discipline and manners. The willingness to die for one's leader or one's cause, to sacrifice everything.  What I have read so far concentrates on the refinement of the person, to make him fit for duty in its strongest sense. But it is not a lecture--far from it. It's elusive, living in the shadows of leaves. Here is one quote:
When I was young, I kept a "Diary of Regret" and tried to record my mistakes day by day, but there was never a day I did not have twenty or thirty entries. As there was no end to it, I gave up. Even today, when I think about the day's affairs after going to bed, there is never a day when I do not make some blunder in speaking or some activity. living without mistakes is truly impossible. But this is something that people who live by cleverness have no inclination to think about. (p. 61)
Here is a little humor (the ardent youth and the self-castigating insomniac), and that brings perspective on performance. The main point I see is that he reviews his day and his behavior. Every morning he rises up to begin another day, with the perspective that he will try again for a human perfection--flawed, but as correct as possible. That speaks to me.

Here is another great quote, about giri*. Everyone coming out of a reflective Memorial Day will get this one.
Lord Naoshige once said, "There is nothing felt quite so deeply as giri. There are times when someone like a cousin dies and it is not a matter of shedding tears. But we may hear of someone who lived fifty or a hundred years ago, of whom we know nothing and who has no family ties with us whatsoever, and yet from a sense of giri shed tears."

This answers a question of mine, for sure. Anyway, I am enjoying the book very much. It is also a book where "taking a dip" can be as interesting as reading it from front to back. Of course as a scholar I am reading it front to back.

I recommend this text to anyone.

Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Translated by William Scott Wilson. Kodansha Press.
*Giri: a debt of gratitude, duty, justice, obligation, a sense of honor.

For those of you who wonder about absent giri today--the May muster will be tomorrow. This was a tough weekend for law enforcement so I need an extra day to be sure my muster is correct.

For the rest of the day, I am sure I will make mistakes--but instead of writing them down I think I will do my best to behave correctly in each minute, not letting past mistakes interfere with present correctness.

Have a great day, everyone! Here is a print by Hiroshige from his Views of Kyoto series. Farmers, not warriors.


Momma Fargo said...

Awesome post and very interesting. Learn something new every time I read your wonderful writings.

Bob G. said...

A very intrguing philosophy.
Having studied Chinese martial arts, I never really got in Japanese disciplines...but this book looks like a "gottaget".

Love the painting.
(that would look great over our sofa)

I've shed tears for total strangers.
Years ago, right before Christmas, there was a planeload of troops coming back from overseas that crashed not far from it's final destination here in the states.
All those families around the holidays with THAT to deal with...it tore me up.
And I didn't know a blessed soul onboard.
I had to share it in church that Sunday.
That honestly helped.

I still get a lump in my throat around Christmas because that event comes to mind.

I wonder how the families made out...?
My own sense of "giri", as it was.

Very good post.
(off to look for the book)

Edith Bunker said...

So maybe you could just continue to distill & explain it to us?
Thank you for sharing the fruits of your labor.

Ann T. said...

Dear Momma Fargo,
I am so glad the book report is good for you! Maybe someday you will have free time from the war of good against evil to read it. I will wish for it for you--especially the down time.

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
Wow! I am glad the quotes speak to you. I am enjoying the book very much.

As to the giri, I am at one with you--it comes up and saddens us, wisens us, and strengthens us.

I think it is a part of universal humanitarian and responsible behavior that the Japanese have a word for--and we do not. Of course in translation we lose part of the sense of it.

Anyway, I'm glad this looks like a find! Enjoy!

Thanks for stopping in.

Ann T. said...

Dear Mrs. Bunker,
You know, I think your suggestion is kind of nice for me too. I will post quotes from it, maybe once a week.

It's possible we could get some real discussion going--probably a lot of the readers here have already gone through it multiple times.

Anyway, what a great idea! Thanks for advancing it. Will do.

And thanks for stopping by in your busy day,
Ann T.

Capt. Schmoe said...

It seems to me that many Japanese philosophers embraced the entirety of ones being, not just a single focus point.

As an example, military leaders understood the need to study all aspects of life, not just the art of warfare and strive for perfection in all areas.

Not like our culture it seems.

Ann T. said...

Dear Captain Schmoe,
I notice this also!! The only ones that seem to get this are in a monastery somewhere--

all in one place where we can keep an eye on them--

LOL. Thanks for writing in!
Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
That's really neat stuff!

On the meditation on mistakes--note the end phrase--the one about people who live "by cleverness". The irony of the phrase is that it's the introspective types, that aren't just out chasing pleasure or success that think on these things. From another tradition, the Apostle Paul comes to mind.

I love the concept of giri. I've often tried to explain to others why I have felt deeply the deaths of people I don't know, and I think this gives a few handles on this.

Thanks again for more thought provoking and horizon broadening stuff!

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
I have all the signs of the extrovert--and yet introspection matters to me a great deal. I wrestled with the classification and finally had to give up. Me, extrovert.

As to cleverness--I love that you mentioned this. I think

maybe what's meant is

a clever man figures out how to shift the blame, or make the fault work for him personally. An honorable person would take his own blame and be averse to the fault giving him some tawdry advantage. To him, honor counts more than gold or 'winning'.

Then of course, there's the over-blame, where it's all our fault, but does this give us more honor? I don't think so. It's the perspective thing.

At least that's where I am today with thinking it through.

Thanks for commenting--thoughtful as always. And Wow! I had no idea the wonderful variety in comments I was going to get on this one!

Ann T.