The Samurai Ideal and the New Samurai
From the forthcoming book Hanshi Damashi, by Stephen F Kaufman
What does it actually mean to be a samurai and to maintain the attendant bushido,“way of the warrior” mentality? It is certainly not an easy discipline. If it were simple, then it would have no value and could easily be obtained with a Ph.D. But to be a samurai is not an intellectual pursuit. It is to live a certain life of morality, courage, and integrity that offers great rewards that are generally unlooked for. Along with it comes incredible frustration and humility, among other things, before one can truly understand the self in relation to the ideal unless born into it.
The samurai ideal is contemplative towards the finality of an situation or a physical death. Most people confuse the attitude of death with the extinction of life, and in this they are confused. Bushido did not come about by accident. Bushido is not a quaint notion about being a warrior and doing warrior things. It is the most intense personal discipline one can imagine. Why? Because the idea of life and death as equal has to overcome the limitations of the intellect through practice of an ideal. The idea is not to die in vain. Dying in vain is considered a waste by astute and enlightened people, samurai or not. Without the formality of physical death, many other forms of "death" ensue in a person's life. The death of an old way of thinking is a more rational approach to the samurai ideal.
Bushido is usually associated with martial practice, and rightly so. The bushido aspect is relevant only because it denotes physical confrontation and mortal combat. That's all it is. It is in the application of military tactics and martial "arts" that the practitioner comes to understand the meaning of life through death, and the meaning of death through life. This highly philosophical connection should not be confused with the intellectual pursuit of spiritual understanding. Spirit has nothing to do with it in the ordinary sense of the word. The ideal is mostly relegated to the application of one's personal endeavor and intention to be clear in mind and soul while at harmony with the entire universe. When one is clear in mind and soul, it is unnecessary to dwell on the spiritual aspect of being, because once understood, the practitioner is the spirit of the thing itself. One does not practice an "art" to attain spirituality. One becomes spiritual when the realization of the active pursuit of perfection is understood as foolish and meaningless. More of this will be explained as you venture deeper into this book.
Samurai means "to serve." Ah, but to serve what? We begin to move into the depths of understanding by asking the correct question, and when you do, the answer will always be found to be lying within the question itself. To serve what? The answer is always personal and usually meaningless to anyone else. I may think that the understanding of mashed potatoes and the variations of perfection I can derive from that discipline will free me to be spiritually harmonious with the rest of the universe. And that is exactly right. It may not be what you may have thought valid as a reason for existence, but whose existence are we talking about? A Potato Master's existence, not yours. The concept can, and does, include service to one's benefactor, or one's Lord, if you will. The reason being is to maintain one's sustenance by providing what the lord requires. In return, I am fed, clothed, and housed. Do we detect some sort of trade off here? Absolutely! Service to a lord can include devotional practice to an ideal. The reality of bushido is such.
Unless one is willing to live an abstruse life (and, yes, I do like to use words that make people think. [If you can't understand what a particular word means, then use a dictionary. That too is samurai.]) and is willing to suffer the humiliation of starvation and living in a refrigerator carton due to a lack of understanding one's relationship to the universe, then go ahead and do that. I prefer the elegance of personal experience. In reality, not every samurai was a sword-wielding soldier. Not every soldier was a samurai. It was a class of people who attained that particular rank due to the evolution of the society as a whole. As a result, it became elitist. Some samurai were administrators, some poets, artisans, priests, et al, with the exception of merchants. Merchants were considered parasites and unable to create or produce anything of meritorious value. Never mind that they controlled the country and would have been unable to do so without the assistance of the samurai class to protect their assets. Without soldiers to defend the realm, nothing else could exist, except in a state of perpetual bliss which simply cannot exist in and of itself.
Hence, the disrespect between the merchant and warrior classes, farmers and artisans, artisans and merchants, and so forth. This class distinction had to be overcome by the High Regency in order for the country to become of value in the world community. So in 1875, the wearing of swords was banned, but not the samurai mentality covertly adhered to by those who attempted to maintain the glorious history of a profound culture. Of course, many other samurai and the samurai wannabees who never made it, immediately succumbed to the new rules of order throwing the classes into chaos and anarchy.
One does not have to be a genius to realize what a civil war will do to a society. Any form of civil war is devastating to a culture. The results are obvious, and it takes a long time for the culture to reorganize itself as a functioning unit. Curiously, the samurai ideal was relegated to the toilet by the merchant classes and by those wanting extreme wealth and power. Nonetheless, the samurai principle and the attendant bushido mentality is what enabled the restructuring of the society as a whole, especially so after World War II.
Be careful when you try to determine what samurai actually means. Your service to your self is samurai. Your service to your sword is samurai. Your service to your family is samurai. Your service to your country is samurai. Your service to your individual discipline is samurai. Samurai is a universal concept. It can no longer be regarded as a simplistic Japanese cultural "thing."
Anyone who creates and maintains any higher ideal in and of their own self may be considered a samurai. A samurai, male or female, devotes their life to a perfection of their own higher self and does so for the benefit of all concerned with themselves as the progenitor of the ideal, whether they are conscious of it or not. In order to attain higher levels of personal perfection, it is essential that the ideal incorporates the needs of humanity, but only if their personal view does not cloud their vision. Therefore, Mahatma Ghandi was samurai, Alexander the Great was samurai, Miles Davis was samurai, Betty Frieden is samurai, and Steven Spielberg is samurai. General George Patton was samurai. Getting the picture? It is all based on a specific discipline that overrides any cultural imitations that can readily be expressed in any venue of accomplishment. I focus my life towards a higher understanding and to my arts while constantly maintaining the integrity of my work. Therefore, I am samurai.
This book is an exposition to expound the philosophy that maintained the structure of Japanese society for nearly one thousand years. Irrespective of the fact that in the late eighteen hundreds the leadership of Japan sought to quell the ideal of "service" in an attempt to modernize itself with regards to the rest of the world, especially the Western mentality, there has never been a time when the ideas of "real" bushido, has been so desperately needed.
With true understanding and a not so humble approach, I present these ideas to all men. These teachings, so vital to the existence of one culture's very life, can be and must be presented in an easily understood format that reflects on the current state of personal conduct and world affairs. It is not limited by geographic, religious, or political thought and policy, or gender identification. As well, this book is free from the allegory that usually accompanies works of the genre. Allegory, unfortunately, does nothing more than present ideas that are generally not extrapolated upon, thereby leaving the reader to wonder about the alleged profound implications of what has been transmitted. By the nature of their being unable to be clearly explained, the meanings become meaningless.
In this book, I present realistic viewpoints of what is actually meant by other works that presents "hidden" wisdom generally available only to the so-called initiated few. This Hanshi Damashi, or "Hanshi's Soul" is based on applications to life overall that transcend specific cultural implications relevant to only a small segment of the global community. It fits everyone, everywhere, and is applicable to every ideal. I use idealistic samurai principles and illustrate them with appropriate ideas that can be used to raise an individual's consciousness. For ease of reference and discussion by readers, they are presented numerically.
This book is not written as simple entertainment, nor is it an attempt to present heretofore known tidbits of wisdom. It is a contemporary account of the manner in which people must conduct themselves if they wish to be at peace with the world and at harmony with the universe. Nor is it a religious book with rules and instructions for the carrying out of life's challenges. Fundamentally, it is a book of wisdom that everyone everywhere has at one time or another contemplated. From my own perspective, it is a serious endeavor to impart wisdom that is required for sane and practical living in today's societies. The examples I use do not run on and on with literary grace. They are to the point and are not to be read through as one would a novel. Consider the implications of all examples. Accept those you feel are appropriate to your life style, and disregard the rest — until you are ready for further personal illumination.
(c) SFKaufman 2009