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Bushido: The Warrior Code of the Samurai

By Sir Caz
Knightly Order of Blutwasser
Essay Requirement for Knighthood

            This is a strange time for me. An ordeal of my own design must be faced and endured successfully, and I must write this paper concerning a warrior code as it relates to my life, all in order to earn the right to swear the oath of fealty to Raven and the Kingdom of Asphodel. It is my hope that I will soon be knighted.
            I chose to research Bushido, the way of the Samurai, for this requirement. I was told that I should not pick this subject because everyone who had chosen it had not seen their squireship through to knighthood. Almost like a curse, I suppose, which made me nervous. But it has made this task more meaningful in that regard.
            A warrior code, as I understand it, is a system of ethical principles or beliefs used as a framework to govern ones' actions as a means to achieve honor. This framework requires a higher standard of behavior than that of a common person. It requires a greater level of mental and physical discipline than that of a someone without a code concerned for the greater good. The "greater good" is defined here as the protection and preservation of a person or group of people. The next logical question seems to be: what is honor?
            According to the Samurai, honor is one of the seven principals of Bushido, which are seven pillars or values which make up the system by which a Japanese warrior should conduct himself. I shall offer my own personal interpretations of these principals in the following pages.

            Honor. This concerns a basic sense of right and wrong. If one makes a conscious effort to make right decisions, then one will have right actions and will in turn build strength of character. To say that one has honor is almost synonymous to saying that one is of strong character; or, simply put, honor is dedication to right action.

            Justice. Be honest with yourself as much as possible. If you can accomplish this, it becomes easier to recognize the truth of an external situation. If the truth of a matter is unknown, justice will not be served at its conclusion. Truth and justice are closely related. You cannot have one without the other.

            Politeness. This relates to clarity and inner confidence. When one has a sense of these, there is no reason for rudeness or disrespect. A Samurai respects his enemies. If this is the case, then it follows that everyone should be shown polite courtesy and respect; maybe even more so towards someone who is being disrespectful and offensive.

            Benevolence. If one is in a position to help, then it should be done. Love and caring should be the force which propels this helping attitude. There are many forms of love. Pick one that feels appropriate and help. This is not always easy.

            Sincerity. The statement that one makes about what he will do and what is done should be the same. You say what you do; you do what you say. If the act could not be accomplished one should tell of the account with absolute truthfulness. Lying is cowardice.

            Loyalty. A Samurai must be selfless. This is not to say that he does not care for himself, but if one is in the service of another or a group of people, they must be the first consideration before any action. One must guard against the self-interest of outside parties and remain faithful to those he serves.

            Courage. To willingly sacrifice a feeling of safety. To willingly face fear when you have the option to run away. To confront a dangerous situation. To risk whatever you must in the name of a cause.

            I find these principles beautiful in their simplicity and in the harmony with which they overlap and complement each other. However, in my research of Bushido and Japanese culture in general, there is one glaring characteristic that I find repulsive; that characteristic being the use of shame and guilt to control people. It appears to me to have been used as an extreme method of assuring that only the purest of Samurai survived, for failure equals shame, which equals death.
            In this instance, death is defined as Seppuku, the ritual disembowelment of a Samurai. It a Samurai had committed a grievous act or suffered the shame of defeat in battle, then he was permitted and expected to cut himself open and remove his bowels, all the while not uttering a single sound or making the slightest facial grimace. If he was of high enough rank or had commanded a great deal of respect throughout his life, then another person (the Kaishaku) would cut off his head with great skill and precision to end suffering quickly.
            Albeit an honorable death within this code, but I fail to see how this aspect of Samurai culture could not have been abused in the hands of corrupt retainers. In my studies it also seems that there were a number of young Samurai all too eager to assure their own honor who would rush off to commit Seppuku for minor trespasses. After much thought and deliberation I have come to the conclusion that I do not believe that Seppuku has a place with respect to the time and culture that I live in.
            I believe that it is more honorable to fight until your dying breath. I believe it is more honorable to escape a lost battle and fight again when strength is regained and a lesson learned. I believe that it is more honorable to face your own shame and guilt through living than to escape it in death.
            On an equally important and personal note, I detest the use of shame and guilt to control people, especially how it is used to control followers of the Judeo-Christian religions. I won't embrace a system of control that exists in one culture while I despise it in another. I will not. I cannot.

            At this point, I have written about my definition of a warrior code, the seven principles of Bushido as I have understood them, Seppuku, and the use of shame in Samurai culture. There is another aspect of the Samurai way which has great appeal to me, and it is regarding money. To a Samurai it was an insult to his manhood to become overly concerned with luxury. A Spartan existence was required of the warrior class, and the merchant class was looked down upon at one point in Japanese history. It was well known by any practitioner of Bushido with reasonable intelligence that money and greed were the basis of many wars and conflicts. This was used in an attempt to separate wealth and power. I only wish that this attitude was more of an institution in these times, in this country.
            On a different subject, I hold a feminist viewpoint. My research has shown that among the Samurai, women were taught some sword techniques and how to effectively cut their own throats to prevent themselves from being taken prisoner and/or raped, thus keeping the family honor (family honor being the primary concern). It was said that a woman's domestic duties were respected in the same way that a Samurai's service to his lord was, but there seemed to be an overall attitude contending that women were considered relatively unimportant subordinates to men.
            However, there seems to be a ray of light in all this! In the Higgins Armory there was once a photograph of a female Samurai. The picture is not there at the moment, but its description card is still on the wall, which reads in part: "Historical justification exists for female Samurai: The wives of some medieval warlords were said to accompany their husbands into battle." Apparently things were not quite so rigged even in Japan.
            Often people who read will come across a book, chapter, or phrase which speaks to them, almost as if there was something about it which was already part of them before they read the passage. This happened to me while I was reading "Hagakure: The Book Of The Samurai". It is a book of quotes and accounts on many different subjects by many different Samurai and their retainers. I narrowed it down to eleven quotes that stood out to me, but I decided to pick only one to include in this paper for its deep personal meaning in my life. Incidentally, this quote can, in part, be found in the film "Ghost Dog: The Way Of the Samurai".

            "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. There is a saying of the elders that goes: 'Step from under the eaves and you are a dead man. Leave the gate and the enemy is waiting.' This is not a matter of being careful. It is to consider oneself as dead beforehand."

            This meditation is something that I have done since early adolescence - not to the degree that is quoted, or with the varieties of ways to die, but I have thought on it with regularity. To put that into a positive context instead of being thought of as suicidal is a great relief to me. To say that I can embrace life by constantly reminding myself of the bigger picture and of my own mortality is a tremendous gift.
            In conclusion, I would say that I learned a fair amount about Samurai culture. Some things appealed to me; some did not. What did I learn form this experience? I would say that it helped me to analyze my own values, especially those of Honor, Justice, and Benevolence, and what part they play in my life, as well as what good use they may be put to in Asphodel. This paper has allowed me to look at my actions of the past, where I am now, and where I might go if I choose to be conscious of myself and the values which I now hold sacred.

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