Bushido and Hagakure

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The fundamental philosophy of the samurai is that of detachment from the self. In the opening of Hagakure, Tsunetomo states that “the Way of the Samurai is found in death”. Death is not to be feared by the Samurai, it is to be embraced. The relationship between the samurai and his master is of the utmost importance, and only through detachment can the samurai fully and properly serve his master. These are two core, fundamental philosophies of bushido, and are influenced heavily by two other prominent schools of thought of the time, Zen Buddhism and Confucianism.

In Hagakure, a great emphasis is placed on the samurai ideology surrounding death. The samurai should live his life as though his body has already passed, and through this “he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling”. This detachment is of fundamental importance to the samurai, and this relationship with death is influenced heavily by Buddhism. Zen Buddhism influenced the samurai by lending him his unique respect for life and death. A samurai knows that dying is just another part of life, and worrying about it is pointless. This lack of fear is bred into the samurai from birth, and stays with them for their entire lives. Whatever the daimyo tells a samurai to do, he will do regardless of personal risk. By detaching himself from the thought of risk or of danger or death, and of the worry of morality, the samurai is able to remain more loyal to the daimyo. Complete loyalty is only possible through detachment from personal risk, morality, and thought.

Zen Buddhism teaches of a concept called wu-nien, or “no-thought”. This of course is not a literal absence of thought, but it is rather a detachment from the thou...

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...tomo promotes throughout Hagakure are moral in nature, such as being courageous, loyal and honorable.

During the relatively peaceful Tokugawa period, the samurai were not as occupied with waging war as they had been in the past, and as such they had begun devoting their time to other things. The samurai spent more time in intellectual and artistic pursuits, and thanks in part to Tsunetomo himself, the culture of Bushido flourished. Bushido became a formal ideology and was pieced together by the samurai at the time (including Tsunetomo) similar to how Chivalry had been formalized in Europe. Ironically, Tsunetomo had done exactly what he had admonished. While he despaired at the fate of the samurai, becoming more involved in scholarly and artistic activities, he himself was spending time philosophizing on the Way of the Samurai.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure,1906
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