Something to Think About

Lately, I’ve been studying some Eastern philosophy; specifically the codes of honor from Japan. Here is something that everyone, regardless of creed, should probably read and take to heart.

From Code of the Samurai by Thomas Cleary

One who is supposed to be a warrior considers it his foremost concern to keep death in mind at all times, every day and every night, from the morning of New Year’s Day through the night of New Year’s Eve.

As long as you keep death in mind at all times, you will also fulfill the ways of loyalty and familial duty. You will also avoid myriad evils and calamities, you will be physically sound and healthy, and you will live a long life. What is more, your character will improve and your virtue will grow.

Here are the reasons for that. All human life is likened to evening dew and morning frost, considered something quire fragile and ephemeral. While this is so of all people’s lives, the life of the warrior is particularly precarious.

If people comfort their minds with the assumption that they will live a long time, something might happen, because they will think they will have forever to do their work and look after their parents—they may fail to perform for their employers and also treat their parents thoughtlessly.

But if you realize that the life that is here today is not certain on the morrow, then when you take your orders from your employer, and when you look in on your parents, you will have the sense that this may be the last time—so you cannot fail to become truly attentive to your employer and your parents. This is why I say you also fulfill the paths of loyalty and familial duty when you keep death in mind.

In any case, when you forget death and become inattentive, you are not circumspect about things. You may say something offensive to someone and get into an argument. You may challenge something you might as well have ignored, and get into a quarrel.

Or you may stroll about in resorts where you have no business, not avoiding the crowds, where you might bump into some oaf and get into an unexpected brawl. You could lose your own life, get your employer bad publicity, and cause your parents and siblings difficulties.

All this trouble comes from inattentiveness when you fail to keep death in mind at all times.

When you always keep death in mind, when you speak and when you reply to what others say, you understand the weight and significance of every word as a warrior by profession, so you do not engage in futile arguments. As a matter of course you do not go to dubious places even if people invite you, so there is no way for you to get into unexpected predicaments. This is why I say you will avoid myriad evils and calamities if you keep death in mind.

People of all social classes, high and low, constantly overeat, drink too much, and indulge in their desires to an unhealthy degree, all because of forgetting about death. This puts a strain on their internal organs, so they may die remarkably young, or else become sickly or invalid.

When you always keep death in mind, even if you are young and healthy, you already know how to take care of yourself. You moderate food and drink, avoid sexual addiction, and behave prudently. As a result, you are physically sound. because you are healthy, you will live a long time.

When you assume that your stay in this world will last, various wishes occur to you, and you become desirous. You want what others have, and cling to your own possessions, developing a mercantile mentality.

When you always keep death in mind, covetousness naturally weakens, and to that degree a grabby, greedy attitude logically does not occur. That is why I say your character improves.

Yet there is the question of how to keep death in mind.

To just keep sitting there all the time waiting for death twenty-four hours a day, like the monk Shinkai of whom Yoshida no Kenkou wrote in his Tsurezuregusa, might be appropriate for monk’s training, but it is not in accord with the aim of martial training. If you face death in that way, loyality and familial duty to your employer and parents will be neglected, and your professional warriorhood will wind up defective. That will never do.

The idea is to take care of your public and private duties day and night, and then whenever you have any free time when your mind is unoccupied, you think of death, bringing it to mind attentively. It is said that the great hero Kusunoki Masahige’s instructions to his son Msasyuki, he told him to “always get used to death.”

This is for the understanding of the neophyte knights.

From Code of the Samurai by Thomas Cleary (reproduced section is from the freely available chapter viewable on Copyrights and so on belong to the Mr. Cleary)

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