I'd like to introduce you to my all-time favorite comic series, Lone Wolf and Cub. It's incredibly deep philosophically.
Ogami Itto, "Lone Wolf," is on a quest for revenge after something terrible happened to him. With him is his little son Daigoro. Itto is doing assassinations to raise money for his quest.
In book 3, "Flute of the Fallen Tiger," Itto comes across a fallen samurai named "Sakon." Sakon left being a samurai and now makes money begging and playing carnival games. With his money, he eats nice food and drinks, and he cares very much about people. He buys little Daigoro a toy.
Daigoro is in training by his father for the quest they're on. Itto cuts the toy in half with his sword:
Itto says, "The top spins and stops. You make it spin again. But Daigoro, our road never stops. The day we stop is the day we are split asunder - like this top." Itto goes to leave with his son.
Sakon says, "Wait! Have you no pity for your son? Don't you want him to be a strong, gentle, upright man, with compassion for the sorrows of the world?"
Itto replies, "I understand. I know why you bought him the top. But the path we walk is as I just said-" -- Sakon interrupts Itto and speaks:
"Walking a a half mat. Sleeping, one mat. Rule the nation, a fistful of rice.
No matter how many people you kill, countries you steal, fortunes you plunder, or titles you earn... you only cover half a straw mat when you sit, one when you sleep, and your stomach only holds a fistful of rice!"
Sakon pours himself a big drink of highly potent alcohol sake and drinks it in one gulp. Itto already refused alcohol from Sakon earlier - Itto doesn't drink.
Sakon continues: "Why not see this world through human eyes? Why not live a human life for your son?"
Itto doesn't reply.
Sakon continues, telling Itto we only get a limited time on Earth before dying - why kill for money? Why not live a normal life? Sakon says, "Abandon the assassin's way!"
Itto replies now: "It is the path we have sought and chosen, father in and son together! There is no going back, no going astray!" Itto explains that they're on a quest, and says, no more questions!
Sakon grows stronger. "Killing for money is evil in the eyes of the world! ... I cannot permit your assassin's road!"
This leads a long, well-drawn duel between Sakon and Itto, both fallen samurai. It's both exciting and beautiful, but many pages long. We'll skip past it - Itto wins by throwing his katana at Sakon, catching him off-guard.
Sakon falls with a crash. Itto says, you had me beat. Why didn't you strike? Sakon says, "I thought it was a draw with your style of swordsmanship..."
Itto says, no, you would have won! Sakon says, still confused, "I lunged forward, sure I would win. But for a samurai to throw to throw away his sword at the first stroke..."
Itto: "If the sword is the samurai's soul, yes. But to me, a sword is just a tool for killing, no more sacred than a club or a shard of rock."
Sakon understands. "Heh heh heh... and I thought I'd given up being a samurai. I guess I kept the soul... heh... too funny. You're a holy terror, Ogami Itto! The perfect assassin, abandoning body and soul... seeking life in the moment of death!"
Sakon reminds Itto, "Walking a half mat, sleeping, one mat. Rule the nation, a fistful of rice. But... but... when we die, a fistful of ash. That's all we are, Ogami Itto! Abandon the assassin's road! Think of your child's future... return to the world of the living... head my dying wish."
Sakon dies, Itto retrieves his sword and walks on with Daigoro. He thinks to himself, "It is said a path cannot be taught, only lived. But there are some lessons that sear the heart.... I'll never forget your words..."
Sakon doesn't understand, can't understand Itto. He thinks Itto is motivated by money - but he's not. The money is a tool for Itto to complete his quest. The same as his sword, or a club, or a shard of rock.
Sakon thinks he stands for something - poverty and love of humanity - but he's unable to devote himself fully to it. He fills his belly with food and drinks alcohol. Because Sakon isn't devoted to a quest, he can't win in the fight - Itto throws his katana, something unheard-of for a samurai. The katana was regarded as the soul of a samurai, for Itto - it's nothing. Just another tool.
Sakon has not devoted himself entirely to one goal, not given himself over to one purpose, so he can't understand Itto. He says, "No matter how much money, your belly only holds one fistful of rice." It's true, but Itto doesn't eat food for enjoyment, he eats for nutrition. He doesn't cloud his mind for drink. He is unified, mind, body, and spirit, for the road that he walks with his son.
Sakon has a mix of principles including having a nice life, compassion for others, treating people well, and samurai ethics. Because he stands for not one thing, his goals are conflicted. He misunderstands Itto, who stands for just one thing, the quest he lives. All else is secondary to Itto. Itto has many principles, but he never loses sight of his quest.
If Sakon devoted his life exclusively to having a nice life, he could have had an amazing life. If he devoted his life only to serving people, he could have been an amazing servant. If he devoted his life only to protecting people, he could have been an amazing guardian. If he devoted his life only to being a samurai, he could have been the best samurai he could have been.
But he didn't. Thus, he had a slightly nice life, some food and alcohol, had some fun with people, tried to help some people, but in the end - was ineffective and died without accomplishing much.
Still, Itto respects people who have principles and are willing to die for them, and looks to remember Sakon's lessons. Itto is a good man. Sakon, too. But Sakon is conflicted, serving many masters. His belly and drink, protecting people, treating people nicely, operating a carnival game, being a samurai - these can't and don't work together. He doesn't walk one road like Itto. A man like Itto walks one road, and gives up much of his humanity to do so. He does not have "a nice life" - he eats for nutrition, sleeps for rest, but does not eat delicacies, stay in nice places, or drink alcohol nor smoke tobacco. Itto protects the innocent when it doesn't interfere with his quest because he is basically a good person, but he does not let this role interfere with his quest. He lives samurai ethics - but abandons them when necessary for his quest, occasionally starting a brushfire, avalanche, or ambushing an unarmed man.
This is similar to real life. People who look for a "nice life" and don't stand for anything in particular often don't understand the single-minded obsession of people on a quest. You hear normal people sometimes say, "He's got 10 billion dollars? Why does he need so much? You can't buy anything with that you couldn't for a small fraction of it." But a billionaire becomes a billionaire almost never for love of nice food and alcohol. The normal person is correct - you can only spend so many millions on a nice life, and in then end our belly only holds one fistful of rice.
No, most people who accomplish amazing things do it because it's the road they walk. Yes, if you rule the nation, your belly still only holds a fistful of rice. But rarely do people who found nations care about what's in their belly. They wouldn't reach the height of greatness if they did.
Normal people can't understand this. People with mixed and conflicted goals can't understand this. And occasionally they try to position themselves between the single-minded person and his goal - this usually ends in tragedy for the normal person. When someone eats, sleeps, breathes, walks, works, lives with one purpose, he will usually achieve that purpose. Barriers erected are climbed, gone around, evaded, or - if necessary - destroyed. Rule an empire, a fistful of rice? Indeed. But people who build empires know that best of all.
Highly recommended, book 2 and book 3 are my favorites:
I finished the Lone Wolf and Cub series, which was excellent. It's 28 books, a tale of a fallen samurai out on a quest for vengeance. Very philosophically deep and powerful. The whole series is very, very good, though I feel it dragged on a little bit at the end. There's an amazing duel between a great marksman and Itto, and then then Itto hijacks a ship to Edo (modern day Tokyo). After that, the series kind of meanders around - it could've ended in 2-3 books after that, but instead it went much longer, introducing a new antagonist and plotlines, fleshing out the backstory of the primary antagonist... it seemed just unnecessary, which is why I had a hard time getting through the last five books after enjoying the first 20 so much.
With that said, it's one of my favorite stories and my favorite comic of all time now. Well, calling it a "comic" doesn't do it justice - it's beautifully drawn, with lots of great philosophy and deep points. You definitely want to read at least the first three books. I wrote about this in Rule an Empire, a Fistful of Rice, with excerpts from the comic and discussion on the philosophy. If you're curious about the series, go read that post right now - I think you'll enjoy it, it's been a favorite around here.
I finished "The Ultimate Sales Machine" by Chet Holmes. Wow, that was a great read. Brilliant. Highly recommended, probably the best business book I've read since The E-Myth by Michael Gerber.
I listened to "The Greatest Salesman in the World" on audio - a very nice book, quite moving. It has some basic lessons for sales and life in the form of a narrative back in Biblical times. The audio was recorded by its author, Og Mandino, some 20 years after the book came out, so he's in his 50's or so. Really lovely, thoughtful piece, with good lessons. I really enjoyed it. His voice is nice to listen to too - it's very different from professional vocalists who are more steadfast, this one feels more like your grandfather is telling you a story.
Happy new year!
I am hoping you would share your resources for your reading on Japanese history. Book titles and/or urls would be very helpful.
I got that a week ago, and I kind of sat there staring at the email. Japanese history is some of the most confusing to start to learn, because different elements of Japanese history and culture all play on and influence each other. I could run you through the military history of Japan from The Battle of Okehazama to Sekigahara to the Boshin War, from there into Dai Nippon Tekoku Era, from there into defeat and the Occupation under McArthur, and then we could do a little post-war history.