Sunday, June 15, 2014

Spirit of the Samurai

From feudal Japan there comes a story of a young woman who, when the castle in which she had sought refuge had been overrun by the opposing clan, and knowing that her fate would be to be ravished by the victors, threw herself down the castle well. On reaching the well’s mouth, the clan leader discovered this poem fluttering weighted beneath a stone: 

"For fear lest clouds may dim her light,
Should she but graze this nether sphere, 
The young moon poised above the height 
Doth hastily betake to flight."

Using the moon as a metaphor for herself, the young woman had chosen for her own light not to be dimmed, to be sullied, by rough desires. Her action embodied the true samurai spirit more surely than the band of armoured samurai who had overrun the castle. For quite some time now, coping with the challenges in my personal life seem sometimes to be beyond my strength. When I feel that way, I usually go hunting for my power. Today is such a day, and I am finding my power among the examples of women who fought as samurai.

But as the story shows, being true to the samurai spirit does not necessarily mean to fight. The spirit shows that it is how we acquit ourselves, how we cope in a situation, that counts. When we find ourselves in a difficult situation to cope with emotionally, it is so easy to allow ourselves to fall victim to thoughts of desperation, of helplessness. We allow our inner castle to be overrun, and rather than standing firm, we succumb to feelings of powerlessness. The young woman showed that there is always a choice – although our own choice need not be as extreme as hers. But we can still choose. We can choose not to give way to despair. We can choose to go on trusting that time will change a situation, as, sooner or later, it always does. We can choose to keep our power for ourselves, for no one can take our power from us – although we can choose to give it away.

And neither do we need always to think of ‘winning’ in a situation. Perhaps the most famous work to be written, both in this period and from this place, is ‘Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai’, by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. The book contains the wise comment that if we think only of winning, then our victory will be more wretched than a defeat. Neither defeat nor victory, but a simple acceptance, can bring change, can offer a measure of solace. ‘Hagakure’ can be translated as ‘hidden among leaves’. The typically poetic title contains its own wisdom: that it is in what is hidden, rather than what we can obviously see, where we can find the essence of the true samurai spirit. And this hidden essence cannot be taken from us, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.


  1. I guess being true to the samurai spirit means to never-ever give up. Never-giving-up in different situations vary a lot. It may be fighting, or keeping a peaceful conversation, or forgiving, or continuing to love and care despite the circumstances, or even starting own business can be a deed of true samurai. .

  2. Precisely, Tania! Thank you for your perceptive comment on how much the Samurai spirit is a way of handling every day life, and understanding that all which we find on our path need not be seen as either good or bad but can be treated with a simple spirit of acceptence.

  3. This is a marvelous story and such an gem of wisdom extracted from it! I like your final statement "...this hidden essence cannot be taken from us, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves." It is our learning to accept both victory and defeat with equanimity. Victory does not make the hidden essence greater in us, and defeat does not diminish it. In the end, both victory and defeat fade into history, but what remains is our true spirit.

  4. Yes, Joseph, it is this equanimity of spirit which, as you always say, embodies the essence of our true Selves, beyond any turbulent emotions. It is a simple truth, whether one is considering the Samurai, or the Tao, or some other lifeway.