I was just introduced to an extraordinary piece of literature entitled The Book of Five Rings by Musashi Miyamoto–a 16th century samurai warrior. In the book, Miyamoto discusses the way of the warrior and how to live one’s life as a samurai would–with distinction, control, and thirst for knowledge in all things. Despite the fact that many of Miyamoto’s teachings are intended to prepare one to become a fierce samurai warrior, many of his principles can be applied to our own lives.
He emphasizes the concept of trying to become knowledgeable in all things, not just “the way of the sword”, for we can apply all things to that which we strive most towards. Miyamoto says that if a person wants to become proficient swordsman, he must not only practice swordsmanship, but also guitar and commerce. Why? Because playing the guitar teaches rhythm, and commerce teaches aggression and tactics–traits which are necessary tools for a samurai. This is also why a scientist should study art, and an artist should study science. The scientist will learn how to see the beauty in life and its processes, and an artist will learn to appreciate the order and logic of science. Although Miyamoto says that attaining all knowledge is impossible–and I’m sure we all know this as well–we should never stop striving for that perfection. We should never stop our search for knowledge.
A quote that really stood out to me in the first part of The Book of Five Rings, The Book of Earth, was the following: “By keeping at a particular form of study a man can attain perfection either in this life or the next (if a next life is believed in). The warrior, however, understands that the end result of any study is a kind of death (sublime, not necessarily physical) before the attainment of perfection.” What does this mean? It can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, but to me this means that true perfection is unattainable because it is, in itself, a sort of death. You can never know every little detail of that which you seek to gain knowledge of. Strive for it, yes, but don’t expect to ever get it–that’s not cynicism, that’s truth. Be content that the world is too big for you to ever know in its entirety and hope that the next generation will discover the secrets you couldn’t. Although we’d like to, we can’t be all-knowing, and with this acceptance comes a sort of serenity. There’s no more rush to know everything and beat everyone. You’re out of the rat race watching everyone else scuttle about for what you now know to be an impossibility.
We are not higher or lower than anyone else, we just are. Knowing this, we should make the best of our lives and learn as much as we can–not being boastful or condescending due to our acquired knowledge. Miyamoto’s writings teach us to be both a participant and observer of life–the latter of which I think some of us, myself included, forget to do sometimes.
Below is Musashi Miyamoto’s The Way of Walking Alone–a piece written one week prior to Musashi’s death.
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 honor.
21. Never stray from the Way.
Although I did not initially agree with each and every tenet listed above, I can now say I understand why one should follow these “rules” in their own lives. These are very much Buddhist notions and it all boils down to this simple concept: desire is the source of all pain. Want for nothing and “accept everything just the way it is” and you will never be disappointed–that’s the idea at least. That’s easier said than done, but it’s this concept that’s important for us to take away from Musashi’s Way. I don’t think I can follow the Way as it was intended to be followed, because my desires are too strong to be stopped at this point. Pain is inevitable for me, as it is for many others, but I will not regret the things I’ve done and I won’t say I’m sorry for the past. The past is gone, now all I can do is live in the present and look to the future. That, in its simplest form, is the way of the warrior.