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
12. When listening to a story or being spoken to you should be mindful not to be tripped up and pay attention to what is being said…Even in unimportant affairs, mistakes come from little things. One should be mindful of this. P. 7-8
13. 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 if he tries to cover up a mistake, it will become all the more unbecoming and painful. P. 8
14. It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain that which you have seen and heard the masters obtain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think you are inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon. P. 10
15. It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything else that is called a Way. Therefore, it is inconsistent to hear something of the Way of Confucius or the Way of the Buddha and say that this is the Way of the Samurai. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear all Ways and be more in accord with his own. P. 11
*What I believe Yamamoto is saying is that to differentiate Ways as completely separate from your own is not good. Instead, the more you learn of different Ways the more you can see how they may align with your own and that ultimately you may see that everything is in itself only one Way.
1. It is said that sake, self-pride and luxury should be avoided by a samurai. P. 16
2. Meeting with people should be a matter of quickly grasping their temperament and reacting appropriately to this person or that. Especially with an extremely argumentative person, after yielding considerably one should argue them down with superior logic, but without sounding harsh and in a fashion that will allow no resentment to be left afterwards. This is a function of both the heart and words. This was an opinion given by a priest concerning personal encounters. P. 16
3. There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there is nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment. Everyone lets the present moment slip by, then looks for it as though it were somewhere else. No one seems to have noticed this fact. But grasping it firmly, one must pile experience upon experience. And once one has come to this understanding he will be a different person from that point on, though he may not always bear it in mind. P. 17
4. Although one would like to change today’s world back to the spirit of a hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best of every generation…On the other hand, people who only know the disposition of the present day and dislike the ways of the past are too lax. P. 17
5. As Yasuda Ukyo said about offering up the last wine cup, only the end of things is important. One’s whole life should be like this. P. 18
*Don’t misconstrue this as meaning “the ends justify the means” to justify atrocious acts for a final purpose. What it seems more over that everything should be done with grace to the end and not besmirch a legacy or deeds you have done with an unbecoming exit. Uesugi
6. Kenshin once said, “I never knew about winning from beginning to end, but only about not being behind in a situation.” P. 18
*Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578) was the rival of Takeda Shingen and later on Oda Nobunaga. He was the Daimyo of Echigo Province during the Sengoku Period. Also was quoted to have said ‘Wars are fought with swords and spears, not salt and rice’
7. “Right now” is “at that time” and “that time” is “right now”…If one were called before the master to explain something right away, he would most likely be perplexed; however if a person were to make “right now” and “at that time” one, we will be able to say things clearly and with a clear mind without anxiety. Through this mentality daily negligence with be resolved and one’s own resolve will be strengthened. P. 18
*Don’t differentiate between now and later, if something needs to get done do not procrastinate nor be anxious or stressed if something unexpectedly comes up that needs to be taken care of immediately, whether you had time to prepare or not the situation would have to be addressed at some point anyway.
8. Whether people are of high or low birth, rich or poor, young or old, enlightened or confused, they are all alike in that one day they will all die. It is not that we don’t know that we are ultimately going to die, but we grasp at straws. While knowing that we will die someday, we think that everyone else will die before us and that we will be the last to go. Death seems a long way off. Is this not shallow thinking? It is worthless and only a joke within a dream. It will not do to think in such a way and be negligent insofar as death is always at one’s door, one should make sufficient effort to act quickly. P. 19
*Death is inevitable and you never know when it is going to come. As so, make the most every day and live it to the fullest always excelling in everything you do and working towards your goals.
9. Human life is truly a short affair. It is better to live doing the things that you like. It is foolish to live within this dream of a world seeing unpleasantness and doing only things you dislike. But it is important never to tell this to young people as it is something that would be harmful if misunderstood. Personally I like to sleep and I intend to appropriately confine myself more and more to my living quarters and pass life away sleeping. P. 20
*Don’t misconstrue this as shaking off responsibility and doing whatever you want whenever you want. Rather, one must still have discipline however to waste your life away in misery and working a job you hate simply for a lot of money is not a way one should live. Moreover, ask yourself what is valuable in your life and what will make it more fulfilling and pursue that.
10. Shame and repentance are like upsetting a pot of water. When a certain friend of mine listened to the way that a man had stolen his sword ornament confessed, he felt compassion. If one will rectify his mistakes, his traces will soon disappear. P. 20
11. Covetousness, anger and foolishness are things to sort out well. When bad things happen in the world, if you look at them comparatively, they are not unrelated to these three things. Looking comparatively at the good things, you will see that they are not excluded from wisdom, humanity and bravery. P. 20
12. It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream. When you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell yourself that it was only a dream. It is said the world we live in is not a bit different from this. P. 21
13. The late Nakano Kazuma said that the original purpose of the Tea Ceremony is to cleanse the five senses. For the eyes there are the hanging scroll and flower arrangement. For the nose there is the incense. For the ear there is the sound of the hot water. For the mouth there is the taste of the tea. And for the hands and feet there is the correctness of term and posture. When the five senses have thus been cleansed, the mind itself will be purified. The Tea Ceremony will cleanse the mind when the mind is clogged up. P. 22
*Take care and appreciate all aspects of life. Don’t simply rush through every day, rush each meal and rush to get places. Instead, take a step back and appreciate the beauty and small things in everything you do from eating, to driving, to walking.
14. When intimate friends, allies or people who are indebted to you have done some wrong, you should secretly reprimand them and intervene between them and society in a good manner. You should erase a person’s bad reputation and praise him as a matchless ally and one man in a thousand. If you wilt thus reprimand a person in private and with good understanding, his blemish will heal and he will become good. If you praise a person, people’s hearts will change and an ill reputation will go away of itself. It is important to have the single purpose of handling all things with compassion and doing things well. P. 22
*Don’t embarrass a friend publicly but if you have a point of concern bringing it up in private is the best course of action. Always support your friends and if they truly have made a mistake that they regret you should have their backs. If the person continues to act in a bad way however and it is evident they do not regret their behavior nor intend to change, then perhaps you should reevaluate your friendship and it will not be worth your time to support such a person. You can only help those willing to help themselves.
15. There are two kinds of dispositions, inward and outward, and a person who is lacking in one or the other is worthless. It is, for example, like the blade of a sword, which one should sharpen well and then put in its scabbard, periodically taking it out and knitting one’s eyebrows as in an attack, wiping off the blade, and then placing it in its scabbard once again. If a person has his sword out all the time, he is habitually swinging a naked blade; people will not approach him and he will have no allies. If a sword is always sheathed, it will become rusty, the blade will dull, and people will think as much of its owner. P. 22
16. Certainly in a period when masters are many, one must put forth considerable effort. But at a time when the world is sliding into a decline, to excel is easy. P. 23
17. When you are listening to the stories of accomplished men and the like, you should listen with deep sincerity, even if its something about which you already know. If in listening to the same thing ten or even 20 times it happens that you come to an unexpected understanding, that moment will be very special. Within the tedious talk of old folks are their meritorious deeds. P. 23
1. The monk pursues courage with the warrior as his model and the warrior pursues the compassion of a monk. P. 25
1. Shida Kichinosuke said, “At first it is an oppressive thing to run until one is breathless. But it is an extraordinary feeling when one is standing after running. More than that, it is even better to sit down. More than that, it is even better to lay down. And more than that, to put down a pillow and sleep soundly is even better. A man’s whole life should be like this. To exert oneself greatly when one is young and then to sleep when he is old or at the point of death is the way it should be. But to first sleep then exert oneself or to exert oneself to the end or to the end toil one’s life away is regrettable. P. 29
1. When Shimomura Shoun was on service at the castle, Lord Naoshige said, “How wonderful it is that Katsushige is so vigorous and powerful for his age. In with wrestling with his peers he even beat those who are older than he is.” Shoun replied, “Even though I am an old man, I’ll bet I’m best at seated wrestling.” So saying he jerked up Katsushige and threw him so forcefully that it hurt. He then said, “To be prideful about your strength while your merit is not yet established is likely to bring shame in the mindset of people. You are weaker than you look.” Then he withdrew. P. 36
2. Okubo Doko was said to have remarked, “Everyone says 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 people would take notice of the masters of even these times, they would be able to say there are masters in the various arts. But people become imbued with the idea that the world has to come to an end and no longer put forth any effort. This is a shame. There is no fault in the times. P. 38
1. In Yui Shosetsu’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 on their own. This is the character of karma. P. 39
*Wisdom is not necessarily knowledge. Knowing facts and memorizing word for word information is useless if there is no practical application. While you may not be conscious of what you learn and commit them readily to memory, when the core of the teachings ingrain themselves into the subconscious so that one can react to real situations accordingly, perhaps that can be considered the root of wisdom. As seen with Daoism, be like water and adapt accordingly per situation.
2. Fukae Angen accompanied an acquaintance of his to the priest Tesshu of Osaka, and at first said privately to the priest, “This man aspires to study Buddhism and hopes to receive your teaching. He is a man of rather high determination.” Soon after the interview the priest said, “Angen is a man who does harm to others. He said that this man is a good man, but wherein is his goodness? There is no goodness visible to Tesshu’s eyes” P. 39-40
*If you are going to vouch for someone, make sure that your own character is in order or else you yourself cannot be a good judge of character and your word and vouching means nothing.
3. This is among the sayings of the priest Banker, "Not to borrow the strength of another, nor to rely on one's own strength; to cut off past and future thoughts, and not to live within the everyday mind then the Great Way is right before one's eyes." P. 41
4. According to a certain person's story, "In the tradition of the I Ching, it is a mistake to think that it is something for divination. Its essence is non-divination. This can be seen by the tact that the Chinese character 'I' is read as 'change.' Although one divines good fortune, if he does evil it will become bad fortune. And although he divines bad fortune, if he does good it will become good fortune." Confucius' saying, 'By setting myself to the task for many years and in the end learning change, I should make no big mistakes,' is not a matter of learning the I Ching. It means by studying the essence of change and conducting oneself for many years in the Way of Good, one should make no mistakes." P.41
5. Once when the priest Ungo of Matsushima was passing through the mountains at night, he was set upon by mountain bandits. Ungo said, "I am a man of this area, not a pilgrim. I have no money at all, but you can have these clothes if you like. Please spare my life." The bandits said, "Well, our efforts have been in vain. We don't need anything like clothes," and passed on. They had gone about two hundred yards when Ungo turned back and called to them, "I have broken the commandment against lying. In my confusion I forgot that I had one piece of silver in my moneybag. I am truly regretful I said that I had nothing at all. I have it here now, so please take it." The mountain bandits were deeply impressed, cut off their hair right there, and became his disciples. P. 43
6. When there is something to be said, it is better if it is said right away. If it is said later, it will sound like an excuse. Moreover, it is occasionally good to really overwhelm your opponent. Also, in addition to having spoken sufficiently it is the highest sort of victory to teach your opponent some- thing that will be to his benefit. This is in accordance with the Way. P. 43
7. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.