I think we can all agree that sometimes it’s difficult to live a life of virtue. We know that holding ourselves to high moral standards will be beneficial to our lives, but it’s difficult in the face of an increasing workload, or many of the other stresses we face in our daily lives.
What if I told you that the samurai way of life held the principles for living a life of virtue and getting through challenging times? These medieval Japanese warriors had an unwritten code of behavior known today as Bushido, and the principles are strikingly relevant to us today.
It gets better:
By the end of this article you’ll have a basic overview of the samurai way of life and be ready to integrate this into your own life.
Who hasn’t dreamed of being a samurai?
Here are the 8 principles of Bushido, as influenced by Zen thinking, which is the foundation you need to live a life of virtue.
1. Rectitude or Justice
Bushido refers to personal rectitude, which is concerned with ensuring that conducts actions that are aligned with a life of justice.
One samurai defines it this way:
“Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.”
Another samurai says this:
“Rectitude is the bone that gives firmness and stature. Without bones the head cannot rest on top of the spine, nor hands move nor feet stand. So without Rectitude neither talent nor learning can make the human frame into a samurai.”
Courage happens when one’s actions are brave and exercised in the cause of righteousness and rectitude.
As Confucius says:
“Perceiving what is right and doing it not reveals a lack of Courage.’ In short, ‘Courage is doing what is right.”
3. Benevolence or Compassion
Both Confucius and Mencius said the highest requirement of a ruler is benevolence, which is concerned with showing love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity.
Having the power to command and the power to kill just makes it all the more important to to show qualities of compassion.
4. Politeness or Respect
Courtesy and good manners have been noticed by every foreign tourist to Japan. But it’s a quality that is important for anyone wanting to live a life of virtue.
In its highest form, politeness approaches love.
5. Honesty and Sincerity
When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop them from completing what they say they will do. They do not have to ‘give their word’. They do not have to ‘promise’. Speaking and doing are the same action.
There is only one judge of the samurai’s character: oneself. Decisions they make and the actions they carry out are a reflection of who they really are.
You cannot hide from yourself.
Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said, and all of the consequences that follow. They are immensely loyal to all of those in their care. To everyone that they are responsible for, they remain fiercely true.
8. Character and Self-Control
Bushido teaches that the samurai should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one which transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification.
The most important quality of the samurai is character, rather than other qualities such as intelligence. Intellectual superiority was admired, but essentially a samurai was someone of action.
The samurais of today
In today’s chaotic world, who wouldn’t argue that the principles of the samurai are more relevant than ever. Who do you know that lives up to the moral standards of the samurai? What do you need to do to ensure you’re living a life of virtue?