Hagakure is a Japanese work written from 1709 to 1716 by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. The book details the samurai and martial tradition of the era, and has lots of recommendations ranging from military training to dinner etiquette to thinking, sleeping, eating, and grooming. It's a fascinating portrait of a long past era, and there's some points that shine through as still very practical today.
Previously I covered -
The book is good to read in small doses, it's meant to be read a little and pondered. Let's get to some excerpts from Chapter 2.
There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man's whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.
See, this isn't the kind of thing you read and say, "Oh, that's nice." You ideally stop and think about it for a moment. "A man's whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue."
One should be wary of talking on end about such subjects as learning, morality, or folklore in front of elders or people of rank. It is disagreeable to listen to.
Upon reflection, I firmly agree with this. Hearing a person younger or more junior lecture on and on and on about morality tends to be offputting to people. It's pragmatic in this sense.
It was once said to one of the young lords that "right now" is "at that time," and "at that time" is "right now." One will miss the occasion if he thinks that these two are different. For example, if one were called before the master to explain something right away, he would most likely be perplexed. This is proof that he understands the two to be different. ... [duties] should be practiced beforehand in the corner of one's bedroom.
All things are like this. Inquire into all things carefully. It is the same for martial training as for official business. When one attempts to concentrate things in this manner, won't daily negligence and today's lack of resolve be understood?
There is no later. Practice and be as ready as possible at all times. Then, when the time comes, you'll be ready. People who thought "I'll get to it later" never will.
If one makes a distinction between public places and one's sleeping quarters, or between being on the battlefield and on the tatami, when the moment comes there will not be time for making amends. There is only the matter of constant awareness. If it were not for men who demonstrate valor on the tatami, one could not find them on the battlefield either.
I love that one. There'd be no men on the battlefield if it wasn't for valor in the bedroom.
Human life is truly a short affair. It is better to live doing the things that you like. It is foolish to live within this dream of a world seeing unpleasantness and doing only things that you do not like. But it is important never to tell this to young people as it is something that would be harmful if incorrectly misunderstood.
"It is better to live doing the things that you like [in life] ... But it is important never to tell this to young people as it is something that would be harmful if incorrectly misunderstood."
Philosophical yet pragmatic. Hagakure has some excellent insights.
It is unfitting that one be ignorant of the history and origins of his clan and its retainers. But there are times when extensive knowledge becomes a hinderance. One should use discretion. Knowing the circumstances can be an obstruction in everyday affairs, too. One should use discretion.
I don't know if I agree with that one, but it's interesting to think about.
It is written that the priest Shungaku said, "In just refusing to retreat from something, one gains the strength of two men." This is interesting. Something that is not done at that time at that place will remain unfinished for a lifetime. At a time when it is difficult to complete matters with the strength of a single man, one will bring it to a conclusion with the strength of two. If one thinks to do it later, he will be negligent all his life.
"At a time when it is difficult to complete matters with the strength of a single man, one will bring it to a conclusion with the strength of two. If one thinks to do it later, he will be negligent all his life."
This is a recurring theme of Chapter 2. Act now. When things get harder, press on. Do not abandon your duties, do not wait for later, do not put things off, or life will never happen. Act now. I really like this aspect of Chapter 2.
It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream. When you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell yourself that it was only a dream. It is said that the world we live in is not a bit different from this.
Not sure I agree. But again, interesting to think about.
People with intelligence will use it to fashion things both true and false, and will try to push through whatever they want with clever reasoning. This is injury from intelligence. Nothing you do will have effect if you do not use truth.
Remarkable how similar this is to the anti-sophistry arguments made by the Ancient Greeks and the Stoics. Do not try to convince using clever words and reasoning - instead, get to truth.
It is bad to carry even a good thing too far. Even concerning things such as Buddhism, Buddhist sermons, and moral lessons, talking too much will bring harm.
Another theme of Chapter 2 is not talking too much about things. Action rather than words.
The priest Keiho related that Lord Aki once said that martial valor is a matter of becoming a fantatic. I thought that this was surprisingly in accord with my own resolve, and thereafter became more and more extreme in my fanaticism.
I agree with this, if taken the right way. I believe you shouldn't fanatically pledge to causes until you have investigated all reasoning and found one course to be fully the best. Even then, you must keep your mind open to being wrong. Fanatics of bad causes are insufferable - though, indeed, fanaticism does increase martial valor. Still, what good is it to be a ferocious warrior for a morally bankrupt cause? I agree with this one, but think it also calls for some reserve.
In the poem, "Under the deep snows in the last village / Last night numerous branches of plum blossomed," the opulence of the phrase "numerous branches" was changed to "a single branch." It is said that this "single branch" contains true tranquility.
Keep re-reading this passage until you get it. It's incredibly beautiful and worth the work:
"In the poem, "Under the deep snows in the last village / Last night numerous branches of plum blossomed," the opulence of the phrase "numerous branches" was changed to "a single branch." It is said that this "single branch" contains true tranquility."
When intimate friends, allies, or people who are indebted to you have done some wrong, you should secretly reprimand them and intervene between them and society in a good manner. You should erase a person's bad reputation and praise him as a matchless ally and one man in a thousand. If you will thus reprimand a person in private and with good understanding, his blemish will heal and he will become good. If you praise a person, people's hearts will change and an ill reputation will go away of itself. It is important to have the single purpose of handling all things with compassion and doing things well.
An interesting and sensible-seeming way of dealing with conflict.
There are two kinds of disposition, inward and outward, and a person who is lacking in one or the other is worthless. [...] If a person has his sword out all the time, he is habitually swinging a naked blade; people will not approach him and he will have no allies. If a sword is always sheatyed, it will become rusty, the blade will dull, and people will think as much of its owner.
I quite like this quote.
By being impatient, matters are damaged and great works cannot be done. If one considers something not to be a matter of time, it will be done surprisingly quickly. Times change. [...] In the passing of fifteen years, not one of the useful men of today will be left. And even if men who are young now come forth, probably less than half will make it. Worth gradually wanes. For example, if there were a shortage of gold, silver would become treasure, and if there were a shortage of silver, copper would be valued. With changing times and the waning of men's capacities, one would be of suitable worth even if he put forth only slight effort. Something like fifteen years is the space of a dream. If a man but takes care of his health, in the end he will have accomplished his purpose and will be a valuable person. Certainly in a period when masters are many, one must put forth considerable effort. But at the time when the world is sliding into a decline, to excel is easy.
Perseverance, training, and taking care of your health gives you a very good shot at excellence, especially in an era of decline. This makes sense.
When you are listening to the stories of accomplished men and the like, you should listen with deep sincerity, even if it's something about which you already know. If in listening to the same thing ten or twenty times it happens that you come to an unexpected understanding, that moment will be very special. Within the tedious talk of old folks are their meritorious deeds.
The final point I excerpted was a great realization for me. In the past, when someone asked me, "Did you read such-and-such book?" or "Have you read this story?", I would say yes if I'd already heard it. Now, instead, I'm going to say, "Maybe, a long time ago. What did you find valuable from me?"
I'll listen again and again to the stories, in order to pick out new details.
I quite like Hagakure. A quick Google search will find many copies available online.
Here's my first two sets of excerpts on the book, if you'd like to read more:
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