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Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo.

Hagakure

Title: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai.
Author: Yamamoto Tsunetomo.
Genre: Non-fiction, philosophy, how to, martial arts.
Country: Japan.
Language: Japanese.
Publication Date: Commentaries from his with Tsunetomo from 1709 to 1716. Published in 1906.
Summary: Living and dying with bravery and honor is at the heart of Hagakure, a series of texts written by an 18th samurai. It is a window into the samurai mind, illuminating the concept of bushido (the Way of the Warrior), which dictated how samurai were expected to behave, conduct themselves, live, and die. For many years a secret text known only to the warrior vassals of the Nabeshima clan to which the author belonged, it later came to be recognized as a classic exposition of samurai thought. The original had over 1,300 short texts. William Scott Wilson has selected and translated here three hundred of the most representative of those texts.

My rating: 9/10.


♥ To give a person one’s opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service. But the way of doing this is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of a person is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is easy, too. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying the things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think that there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as bringing shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one’s chest.

To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion, and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leave-taking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one’s own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults.

This is extremely difficult. If a person’s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won’t be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with all one’s comrades, correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?

♥ To hate injustice and stand on righteousness is a difficult thing. Furthermore, to think that being righteous is the best one can do and to do one’s utmost to be righteous will, on the contrary, brings many mistakes. The Way is in a higher place than righteousness. This is very difficult to discover, but it is the highest wisdom. When seen from this stand-point, things like righteousness are rather shallow. If one does not understand this on his own, it cannot be known. There is a method of getting to this Way, however, even if one cannot discover it by himself. This is found in consultation with others. Even a person who has not attained this Way sees others from the side. It is like the saying from the game of go: “He who sees from the side has eight eyes.” The saying, “Thought by thought we see our own mistakes,” also means that the highest Way is in discussion with others. Listening to the old stories and reading books are for the purpose of sloughing off one’s own discrimination and attaching oneself to that of the ancients.

♥ It is said that one should not hesitate to correct himself when he has made a mistake. If he corrects himself without the least bit of delay, his mistakes will quickly disappear. But when he tries to cover up a mistake, it will become all the more unbecoming and painful. When words that one should not use slip out, if one will speak his mind quickly and clearly, those words will have no effect and he will not be obstructed to worry. If there is, however, someone who blames a person for such a thing, one should be prepared to say something like, “I have explained the reason for my careless speech. There is nothing else to be done if you will not listen to reason. Since I said it unwittingly, it should be the same as id you didn’t hear it. No one can evade blame.” And one should never talk about people or secret matters. Furthermore, one should only speak according to how he judges his listener’s feelings.

♥ If one were to say in a word what the condition of being a samurai is, its basis lies first in seriously devoting one’s body and soul to his master. And if one is asked what to do beyond this, it would be to fit oneself inwardly with intelligence, humanity and courage. The combining of these three virtues may seem unobtainable to the ordinary person, but it is easy. Intelligence is nothing more than discussing things with others. Limitless wisdom comes from this. Humanity is something done for the sake of others, simply comparing oneself with them and putting them in the fore. Courage is gritting one’s teeth; it is simply doing that and pushing ahead, paying no attention to the circumstances. Anything that seems above these three is not necessary to be known.

♥ “Young men should discipline themselves rigorously in intention and courage. This will be accomplished if one courage is fixed in one’s heart. If one’s sword is broken, he will strike with his hands. If his hands are cut off, he will press the enemy down with his shoulders. If his shoulders are cut away, he will bite through ten or fifteen enemy necks with his teeth. Courage is such a thing.”

♥ Everyone says that no masters of the arts will appear as the world comes to an end. This is something that I cannot claim to understand. Plants such as peonies, azaleas and camellias will be able to produce beautiful flowers, end of the world or not. If men would give some thought to this fact, they would understand. And if people took notice of the masters of even these times, they would be able to say that there are masters in the various arts. But people become imbued with the idea that the world has come to an end and no longer put forth any effort. This is a shame. There is no fault in the times.

♥ In Yui Shōsetsu’s military instructions, “The Way of the Three Ultimates,” there is a passage on the character of karma. He received an oral teaching of about eighteen chapters concerning the Greater Bravery and the Lesser Bravery. He neither wrote them down nor committed them to memory but rather forgot them completely. Then, in facing real situations, he acted on impulse and the things that he had learned became wisdom of his own. This is the character of karma.

♥ These are the teachings of Yamamoto Jin’emon:

Singlemindedness is all-powerful.

Tether even a roasted chicken.

Continue to spur a running horse.

A man who will criticize you openly carries no connivance.

A man exists for a generation, but his name lasts to the end of time.

Money is a thing that will be there when asked for. A good man is not so easily found.

Walk with a real man one hundred yards and he’ll tell you at least seven lies.

To ask when you already know is politeness. To ask when you don’t know is the rule.

Wrap your intentions in needles of pine.

One should not open his mouth wide or yawn in front of another. Do this behind your fan or sleeve.

A straw hat or helmet should be worn tilted toward the front.

♥ In China there was once a man who liked pictures of dragons, and his clothing and furnishings were all designed accordingly. His deep affection for dragons was brought to the attention of the dragon god, and one day a real dragon appeared before his window. It is said that he died of fright. He was probably a man who always spoke big words but acted differently when facing the real thing.

♥ You cannot tell whether a person is good or bad by his vicissitudes in life. Good and bad fortune are matters of fate. Good and bad actions are Man’s Way. Retribution of good and evil is taught simply as a moral lesson.

♥ If one makes a distinction between public places and one’s sleeping quarters, or between being on the battlefield and on the tatami, when the moment comes there will not be time for making amends. There is only the matter of constant awareness. If it were not for men who demonstrate valor on the tatami, one could not find them on the battlefield either.

♥ Feeling deeply the difference between oneself and others, bearing ill will and falling out with people - these things come from a heart that lacks compassion. If one wraps up everything with a heart of compassion, there will be no coming into conflict with people.

♥ A person who knows but a little will put an an air of knowledge. This is a matter of inexperience. When someone knows something well, it will not be seen in his manner. This person is genteel.”

♥ The essentials of speaking are in not speaking at all. If you think that you can finish something without speaking, finish it would saying a single word. if there is something that cannot be accomplished without speaking, one should speak with few words, in a way that will accord well with reason.

To open one’s mouth indiscriminately brings shame, and there are many times when people will turn their backs on such a person.
Tags: 1700s, 1710s, 18th century - non-fiction, 3rd-person narrative non-fiction, how to guides, japanese - non-fiction, martial arts, my favourite books, non-fiction, philosophy, samurai, translated
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