Hagakure: Hidden among the shadows of leaves
The Hagakure is a samurai doctrine written by Tsunetomo Yamamoto near the end of his life. The text originally was kept alive within small samurai clans and later became the defacto warrior philosophy text of Japan. The kamikaze pilots of Pearl Harbor were gifted a handwritten version of the text during the ceremonies of their death mission.
Here are some excerpts:
A certain swordsman in his declining years said the following:
In one’s life. there are levels in the pursuit of study. In the lowest level, a person studies but nothing comes of it, and
he feels that both he and others are unskillful. At this point he is worthless. In the middle level he is still useless but is
aware of his own insufficiencies and can also see the insufficiencies of others. In a higher level he has pride
concerning his own ability, rejoices in praise from others, and laments the lack of ability in his fellows. This man has
worth. In the highest level a man has the look of knowing nothing .
These are the levels in general;. But there is one transcending level, and this is the most excellent of all. This person is
aware of the endlessness of entering deeply into a certain Way arid never thinks of himself as having finished. He
truly knows his own insufficiencies and never in his whole life thinks that he has succeeded. He has no thoughts of
pride but with self-abasement knows the Way to the end. It is said that Master Yagyu once remarked, “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 neverending.
It is not good to settle into a set of opinions. It is a mistake to put forth effort and obtain some understanding and then
stop at that. At first putting forth great effort to be sure that you have grasped the bastes, then practicing so that they
may come to fruition is something that will never stop for your whole lifetime. Do not rely on following the degree of
understanding that you have discovered, but simply think, “This is not enough.”
One should search throughout his whole life how best to follow the Way. And he should study, setting his mind to
work without putting things off. Within this is the Way.
There is something to be learned 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 from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding
extends to everything.
According to a certain person, a number of years ago Matsuguma Kyoan told this story :
In the practice of medicine there is a differentiation of treatment according to the Yin and Yang of men and women.
There is also a difference in pulse. In the last fifty years, however, men’s pulse has become the same as women’s.
Noticing this, in the treatment of eye disease I applied women’s treatment to men and found it suitable. When I
observed the application of men’s treatment to men, there was no result. Thus I knew that men’s spirit had weakened
and that they had become the same as women, and the end of the world had come. Since I witnessed this with
certainty, I kept it a secret.
When looking at the men of today with this in mind, those who could be thought to have a woman’s pulse are many
indeed, and those who seem like real men few. Because of this, if one were to make a little effort, he would be able to
take the upper hand quite easily. That there are few men who arc able to cut well in beheadings is further proof that
men’s courage has waned. And when one comes to speak of kaishaku, it has become an age of men who are prudent
and clever at making excuses. Forty or fifty years ago, when such things as matanuki were considered manly, a man
wouldn’t show an unscarred thigh to his fellows, so he would pierce it himself.
All of man’s work is a bloody business. That fact, today, is considered foolish, affairs are finished cleverly with words
alone, and jobs that require effort are avoided. I would like young men to have some understanding of this.
People will become your enemies if you become eminent too quickly in life, and you will be ineffectual. Rising
slowly in the world, people will be your allies and your happiness will he assured.
In the long run, whether you are fast or slow, as long as you have people’s understanding there will be no danger. It is
said that fortune that is urged upon you from others is the most effective.
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’re 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.
The book can be purchased or downloaded for free here: