Bushido the Nature of Character Formation

Bushido the Nature of Character Formation

According to Risuke Otake sensei: “Moral character is an essential quality, defining us as human, but there are countless paths to instil this virtue, such as Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism, calligraphy, flower arranging and so on.” Any of these approaches will return one to purer state of being, as exemplified in the ancient verse:

“There may be many paths at the foot of the mountain, but all lead to the same view of the moon at its distant summit”

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Among the different paths involving disciplined training, the particularly dangerous nature of bushido requires unwavering vigilance in the course of training.

Those who choose the path of bushido must remain mindful that to approach training with a malevolent heart is destructive, a mindset known in kenjutsu as satsujinken (the murderous sword). Examples of swordsmen of old whose paths led to misfortune merely because they lacked upright characters are not as rare as one might think. But if we always approach training with a pure heart, conflicts can be faced with the confidence needed to quell hostilities and find peaceful solutions, an attitude known as katsujinken (the life-giving-sword).

Bushido, the way of the warrior, is a life lived to the very end without swerving from the sacred path of integrity and sincerity. In other words, bushido imbues one with a spirit of self-sacrifice. This spirit enables us to give our lives without regret for the sake of those who appreciate our worth as human beings. The beautiful phrase, “A samurai will gladly lay down his life for those who truly understand him,” exemplifies this moving sentiment.

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Thus, bushido inspires people to act with sincerity and approach those of higher standing with respect and those below with love. Regardless of how low a person’s standing may be, the same affection and sensitivity that is shown to superiors should also be shown to those who recognize one’s true worth. It is within this relationship that fresh life is given to out innate human capacity for a loving-kindness that transcends the bounds of class differences.

When I use words such as “The spirit of self-sacrifice,” some may immediately think back to a time in Japan’s past when militarism was at its zenith. However, this is not what I mean. The true spirit of self-sacrifice is very much alive within our peaceful everyday lives, and is, in fact, quite crucial to it. In community life, for example, taking it upon one self in the spirit of service to perform foul of back-breaking labor that others despite, treating everyone gently and helping those in need with loving-kindness, or working for the common good even at a cost to one’s own fortunes, exemplifies the true spirit of self-sacrifice and the purest replies on other people to act, can never produce a society worth living it”.

There are many examples of self-absorbed, greedy people who have amassed great fortunes without regard to the compromises to their character they have had to make or to the people whose lives they have ruined. Moreover, there is no guarantee that their offspring will use that fortune charitably. If anything, most of them will stray from a life of virtue by being swindled by others or used as pawns in wrongful acts, only to leave behind a disgraced name.

Each person’s requirements for a contented life are different, as are the degrees to which they succeed in the world. There are many examples of successful individuals who lose sight of their original level of contentment and can no longer suppress their greed, at which point they soon end up just as penniless and empty as they started. One thus has to be especially vigilant against the temptations of material greed and personal fame.

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The Meiji-era hero Saigo Takamori is credited with saying, “Leave no bountiful lands to your offspring,” and I could not agree more. No one can gain a true sense of humanity without some difficulties in life. Only through hardships and trials does one begin to acquire a deep affection for the world. Even in the plant world, it is well known that flowers grown in plastic greenhouses are quite frail when transferred outside, while flowers that grown in the wild can stoutly weather even strong winds and rain.

For hundreds of thousands of years, all life forms have undergone the cycles of birth, reproduction, and death, with all their successive descendants meeting the same fate. In Buddhism this cycle of birth and death is called samsara, or rinne in Japanese. We are blessed with just this one short live, perhaps one hundred years at best to live in such a vast universe, and that life will be over in a flash.

Now, suppose I were to light a match. That match will eventually burn out and the flame will die in five once burned can never be erased from the world.

Objects, powers, and good deeds are not bound by time or space,

Though they may seem to have disappeared, they have not,

But merely pass between consciousness and unconsciousness,

In accordance with the law of cause and effect.

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This passage from the Buddhist book, Mujo Dozen no Michi, underscores the fact that the repercussions of our actions do not quickly vanish upon their completion, but have far-reaching effects. History is nothing more than the ongoing accretion of the traces of human endeavor recorded over a vast period of time.

Returning to the topic of lifespan, there is an old poem that beautifully captures the shortness of life:

“How poignant is human life,

Like dew on a morning glory.”

The morning glory blossoms in the morning, only to wilt in the evening. But how much shorter are our own lives, likened to the dew atop the flowers of the morning glory, which will soon vanish under the rays of the morning sun?

Within the span of our allotted days, we must cherish every fleeting moment, live a meaningful life each and every day endeavor to live to the fullest so as to leave neither wasted energy not regret when our end is near”.

For text this we follow Risuke Otake`s book – Katori Shinto-ryu – Warrior Tradition