Hagakure- Yamamoto Tsunetomo (Commentary by Justin Hagen, M.Ed)
1. To say that dying without reaching one’s goals is to die a dog’s death is not necessarily true. When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain’s one aim. P. 1
*The samurai believed that the death of one’s master must be avenged. Yamamoto believed that if you are faced with the choice of living and not avenging the death of a master or to die in the process of avenging your master, it is better to die and not obtain your goal than to continue living in shame. DO NOT misconstrue this as meaning one should be quick to throw away your life in general, as with petty disputes and arguments. As Confucius made it very clear, such irrational quick temperedness brings shame to oneself and is dishonorable. What Yamamoto was saying was that it was disgraceful to not pursue the course of justice when an extreme wrong was committed (ie. Murder) against a samurai or their master out of fear for one’s own life or fear for not obtaining their goal. Yamamoto therefore believed simply seeking to obtain justice and failing was more honorable then never trying at all. In more modern times, this can be looked at in it is better to pursue your goals in life and fail than to never pursue them at all. Sometimes obtaining your goal is not what matters; instead, what you learn on your journey while pursuing your goal is what matters.
2. To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether the person is of the disposition to receive it or not….If a person’s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won’t be remedied. P. 2
*This carries over to arguing with someone who is either condescending or enraptured by ignorance. Are such people worth getting into an argument with? Are people of such a lowly nature as to pick a fight and insult you for no reason worth fighting with? Will any of these people learn from engaging into either a verbal or physical confrontation and cease their arrogant or violent behavior?
3. To hate injustice and stand on righteousness is a difficult thing. Furthermore, to think that being righteous is the best that one can do and to do one’s utmost to be righteous will, on the contrary bring many mistakes. The Way is a higher place than righteousness. P. 4
*The reason being righteous is so difficult is because doing “what is right” is relative and there is no absolute generalizing rule for what is just. By imposing your will and forcibly instilling what you believe is right can in itself lead to injustice. Be mindful of everything you do and only when you can see the balances and imbalances of all actions can you seek to pursue justice. Everything is not black and white and so justice cannot be generalized. Only the pursuit of the Way as discussed in the Tao Te Ching can better reveal the true nature of the pursuit of justice, better defining it as merely the seeking of balance.
4. At the highest level of learning a person is aware of the endlessness of entering deeply into a way and never thinks of himself as having finished in their learning. He truly knows his insufficiencies and never thinks he has succeeded because life is an endless pursuit. He has no thoughts of pride and is instead humble. It is said that Master Yagyu once said, “I do not know the way to defeat others, but the way to defeat myself.” Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never ending. P. 4
*Master Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi was the Master swordsman of the Tokugawa Shoguns serving under the first 3 (Ieyasu, Hidetada & Iemitsu).
5. A certain man said to the priest Shungaku, “The Lotus Sutra Sect’s character is not good because it is so fearsome.” Shungaku replied, “It is by reason of its fearsome character that it is the Lotus Sutra Sect. If it’s character were not so, it would be a different sect altogether.” P. 4
6. If we were to cast aside every man who had made a mistake once, useful men could probably not be come by…A man who has never erred is dangerous. P. 5
*It is ok to make mistakes and to learn from them. What Yamamoto seems to be saying is that a person who has never erred can often develop a haughty sense of uprightness to the point of arrogance and belittlement of others. Simply because you have never erred does not mean one should hold in contempt and disdain one who has. It can be so far as to say that one who has made a mistake and learned from it is more well rounded and knows first hand more aspects of life than one who has never experienced what it is like to make a mistake.
7. There was a man who said, “Such and such a person has a violent disposition, but this is what I said right to his face…” This was an unbecoming thing to say and it was simply said because he wanted to be known as a rough fellow. This was rather low and it can be seen that he was still rather immature. It is because a samurai has correct manners that he is admired. P. 5-6
8. Every morning the samurai of 50 or 60 years ago would bathe, shave their foreheads, put lotion in their hair, cut their fingernails and toe nails rubbing them with pumice and then with wood sorrel and without fail pay attention to their personal appearance. It goes without saying their armor in general was kept free from rust, that it was dusted, shined and arranged. Although it seems that taking care of one’s appearance is similar to showiness, it is nothing akin to elegance. P. 6
*Taking care of one’s appearance according to Yamamoto was a matter of simply having self respect. The purpose of keeping up with your appearance and staying clean cut is not to impress others, show off or keep up with what is considered stylish. The true purpose is to demonstrate discipline in every aspect of one’s life.
9. If no one person can act as a role model, it is best to look at many people and choose from each person only their best points. For example, one’s bravery, one for politeness, one for proper way of speaking, one for proper conduct and one for steadiness of mind. Thus will a model be made. P. 7
*This is very Confucian in that as Confucius had stated, when interacting with others, when you see negative aspects, look at yourself and see if you are similar and if so, make a change for the better. When interacting with others and you see their positive aspects, look at yourself and if you are lacking, strive to adopt the positive.
10. When a place is extremely busy and someone comes in thoughtlessly with some business or other, often there are people who will treat them coldly and become angry. This is not good at all. At such times the etiquette of a samurai is to calm himself and deal with the person in a good manner. P. 7
11. There is something to learn from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved at the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything. P. 7