Good morning, friends and neighbors.
Not long ago, I decided I was going to go on a bit of an Eastern Philosophy bender and read all the texts I could get my hands on.
It may have been my state of mind at the time, or just a desire to spend more time reading interesting stuff and less time trawling social media.
In the past, I’d read and re-read several Buddhist texts- a couple sutras, the Dhammapada, and the Buddhacarita. I’ve also previously read (and love referring back to) the Tao Te Ching and Dogen’s “Tenzo Kyokun.”
In this latest push, however, I decided I was going to tackle some of the more well-known works: Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, and Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure.”
It was… a lot, and it got me thinking-
“Why do we look to books on war for lessons on life?”
The Art of War
It’s really not surprising. In the last post, I wrote about how passion is infectious- how seeing people devote and give themselves utterly to a pursuit or love can be awe-inspiring.
It’s something to envy, when so many of us are taught from the start to quash or restrain ourselves. We love seeing people come alive, because we spend so much of our time and energy imitating the dead.
“If only I had that much passion, what could I accomplish?”
Following that… what could be more passionate than being willing to literally die for something, or to spend your life training to kill for it?
When we are trained from birth to fear death, fear pain, fear others, and even fear ourselves and our potential…
What’s not to be admired in lessons in how to fear nothing?
None of this is to say that these texts don’t have anything else to offer, of course. “The Art of War” is required reading for many business schools and management programs because of its insights on strategy, leadership, and motivating others.
The Hagakure and the Book of Five Rings, concerning the life and philosophy of the Japanese samurai, is deeply rooted into Buddhist philosophy. It has as much to say about living life with intention and authenticity as it does about dying with honor.
All the same, consider the martial language we use every day:
“Everyone is fighting a battle you don’t know about.”
“…Battling a disease.”
“___ lost their fight with cancer.”
“___ is beating depression.”
Without a doubt, any of these things are struggles. The problem with this language- ignoring other, more blatantly-hyperbolic examples- is that it creates the idea that there is a winner… and therefore a loser.
The Art of Life
I hardly think that everyone who flips through the Hagakure is preparing themselves to die at any moment- just as not everyone who reads the Tao Te Ching is going to wander off and live a hermetic life up a mountain (as appealing as that can absolutely be sometimes.)
As I read them- and I urge you to do so as well- I try to re-parse the acceptance of death instead as a resolution of life.
As it was pointed out to me recently, Musashi’s quote seems like a death wish on the surface.
“The resolute acceptance of death.”
It can also be a simple acceptance of the possibility of failure. When you start anything, and you accept that it’s possible you may fail… the fear of failure ceases to be a problem for you.
1. Accept everything just the way it is.
2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Never be jealous.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself or others.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
11. In all things have no preferences.
12. Be indifferent to where you live.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
17. Do not fear death.
18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
20. You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honour.
21. Never stray from the Way.
It’s only twenty one lines, but… it’s a lot.
As I write this blog, I’m moving on the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. That is DEFINITELY a lot.
But hey… so is life, right?