I read this book by Yukio Mishima a bit back, it's an analysis of the main themes of "Hagakure," a 1700's book of samurai philosophy.
Lots of thought provoking stuff in there. Not everything I agree with, but here's a few that I found interesting -
Page 22, Love is higher when undeclared:
The art romantic love as practiced in America involves declaring oneself, pressing one's suit, and making the catch. The energy genereated by love is never allowed to build up within but is constantly radiated outward. But paradoxically, the voltage of love is dissipated the instant it is transmitted. Contemporary youth are richly blessed with opportunities for romantic and sexual adventure that former generations never would have dreamed of. But at the same time, what lurks in the hearts of modern youth is the demise of what we know as romantic love.
Page 23, I don't agree this at all but it's a fascinating insight into prewar Japan:
Until the war, youth were able to distinguish neatly between romantic love and sexual desire, and they lived quite reasonably with both. When they entered the university, their upperclassmen took them to the brothels and taught them how to satisfy their desire, but they dared not lay a hand on the women they truly loved.
Thus love in prewar Japan, while it was based on a sacrifice in the form of prostitution, on the other hand preserved the old "puritanical" tradition. Once we accept the existence of romantic love, we must also accept the fact that men must have in a separate place the sacrificial object with which to satisfy their carnal desires. Without such an outlet, true love cannot exist. Such is the tragic psychology of the human male.
Actually, I disagree with him here, but it's fascinating to look at different morality. Can you imagine someone trying to write something like that today in a Western country? It... couldn't happen. Yet that was a part of Japanese morality for 300 years from 1600 to 1900.
Page 28, on how people live weaker lives by refusing to avoiding to consider that they'll die someday:
Here we transcend occupation, class discrimination, and the conditions ascribed to any individual era in a specific era, and we are brought back to the basic problem of life and death, a problem we too must face in this day and age. In modern society the meaning of death is constantly being forgotten. No, it is not forgotten; rather, the subject is being avoided. Rainer Maria Rilke (poet, born in Prague, 1875-1926) has said that the death of man has become smaller. The death of a man is now nothing more than an individual dying grandly in a hard hospital bed, an item to be disposed of as quickly as possible. And all around us is the ceaseless "traffic war," which is reputed to have claimed more victims than the Sino-Japanese War, and the fragility of human life is now as it has ever been. We simply do not like to speak about death. We do not like to extract from death its beneficial elements and try to put them to work for us. We always try to direct our gaze toward the bright landmark, the forward-facing landmark, the landmark of life. And we try our best not to refer to the power by which death gradually eats away our lives. ... We are ignoring the fact that bringing death to the level of consciousness is an important element of mental health.
Page 60, Externally-oriented morality. This was the biggest takeaway from Samurai Ethic for me, I've started to adopt external morality and seen significant boosts from it:
In Hagakure it says, “A samurai must never seem to flag or lose heart.”
This remark suggests that it is a defect to seem to flag, to seem disheartened. The most important thing is that a samurai not manifest externally his disappointment or fatigue.
It is natural for any human being to become dispirited and worn out, and samurai are no exception. However, morality asks one to do the impossible. And the samurai ethic is a political science of the heart, designed to control such discouragement and fatigue in order to avoid showing them to others. It was thought more important to look healthy than to be healthy, and more important to seem bold and daring than to be so.
Page 70, Words and deed altar the heart:
It is a common mistake these days to believe that words and deeds are the manifestations of conscience and philosophy, which in turn are the product of mind or heart. It is our common error to believe in the existence of heart or mind, conscience, thought, and abstract ideas, even when they are not directly revealed in conduct. However, for a people like the Greeks who trusted only what they could see with their own eyes, this invisible heart or mind does not exist at all. And in order to manipulate the vague entity which is the mind or the heart, if one wants to know what has nurtured it and changed it, one has no choice but to speculate on the basis of eternal evidence, from a person's words and actions. This is Jocho's message. And he is warning us never to utter a cowardly remark even in casual conversation. Cowardly words make the heart itself cowardly, and being regarded by others as a coward is the same as being a coward. The slightest flaw in word or deed causes the collapse of one's philosophy of life. This can be a hard truth to bear. If we believe in the existence of the heart or mind, in order to protect it, we must watch we say or do. By taking meticulous care over the slightest word or deed, one will become unimaginably rich in new-found inner passion, and the heart will bear undreamed-of fruit.
Interestingly, that jives with the James-Lange Theory of Emotion, which I happen to think is true. You might want to check that link out to Wikipedia, it's fascinating stuff... basically, James-Lange Theory says that action precedes emotion, not the other way around. I'm not sure it's always true, but I think controlling your reactions to events using thinking actually controls your emotions. I'll probably write another post on this sometime.
Page 91, Effeminacy:
This is the age of "pleasant men and plucky women." Anywhere we look, there is certainly no lack of charming men. We are surrounded by the stereotype of the man who is gentle, loved by all, never abrasive. He brims with a compromising, harmonizing spirit, and at heart is a cool opportunist. This is what Hagakure calls effeminacy. Beauty is not beauty for the sake of being loved. It is a beauty of strength, for the sake of appearances and to avoid losing face. When one tries to be beautiful in order to be loved, effminacy begins. That is spiritual cosmetics. And in this day and age, when even bitter medicine is encased in a sugar coating, people will accept only what is palatable and easy to chew. The need for resistance to the currents of the age is the same now as then.
I thought this was a particularly powerful quote:
"Beauty is not beauty for the sake of being loved. It is a beauty of strength, for the sake of appearances and to avoid losing face."
Again, "avoid losing face" is the externally-oriented morality mentioned earlier. Previously, I thought face-saving culture was kind of petty and prideful... I didn't understand it. It's actually about manifesting your morality externally. Anyways, I like that quote - there's beauty in strength, purpose, and morality. But there's no beauty in trying to be beautiful in order to have people like/love/respect you. I really like that bolded quote (though again, you've got to understand the underlying meaning of "avoid losing face" - it refers more to morality than social status).
P100, Japanese depiction of death:
The Japanese have always been a people grimly conscious of death beneath the surface of their daily lives. But the Japanese concept of death is straight and clear, and in that sense it is different from the loathsome, fearful death as seen by Westerners. The medieval European god of death (Father Time) holding a large scythe has never existed in the Japanese imagination. The Japanese image of death is different, too, from the image of death in a country like Mexico, in the obscure corners of whose modern cities still tower the Aztec and Toltec ruins, completely overtaken by death, overgrown with luxuriant summer growth. Not that kind of rough, wild death, but an image of death beyond which there exists a spring of pure water, from which tiny streams continuously pouring their pure waters into this world, has long enriched Japanese art.
That last one was also a powerful insight for me - it explains why samurai were able to cultivate a spirit of being willing and even eager to die in battle. Likewise, devout Christians and Muslims had that the same spirit at various times, as did Spartan culture. When you see death as a beautiful thing to be embraced, you lose fear of it, which enables a soldier to fight with purposeful reckless abandon. Historically, soldiers eager to die gloriously in battle tend to be very difficult to fight against.
The whole book is interesting. Mishima translates, quotes, and analyzes Hagakure.
My previous looks at Hagakure:
More on External Focused Morality.
I'd be curious to hear your comments and reactions to Mishima. It's so different from anything I've read or heard before... what do you think?