47 Ronin - Chushingura

47 Ronin - Chushingura

Spirit of the Samurai

Zen Buddhism Musashi Miyamoto
Understanding Bushido
HomeUnderstanding Bushido
Understanding Bushido

One of the most important thing for westerners to fully appreciate the story of the 47 Ronin, is to understand the psychological, philosophical and spiritual foundations of the warrior class in ancient Japan: Bushido.

In Feudal Japan, Samurai devoted their lives to Bushido, a strict, unwritten code of living, teaching moral principles and values like loyalty, courage, honor and self-discipline.

Bushido found its origins into Zen Buddhism and Shinto, and became the heart and soul of the Samurai in old Japan.

Bushido asked the Samurai to be honest, reliable and to live a frugal life with no interest in material possessions and money, but rather in valor such as duty, pride, honor and compassion, putting the needs of others in front of their own.

Samurai had a very intimate relation with death and were taught to constantly think about it. This stoic, yet fully realistic mental attitude added a new dimension to the Samurai's life, by allowing them to fully appreciate life and the things they enjoy and love the most.

According to the Bushido Shoshinshu written in the 17th century by Taira Shigesuke, a Samurai and military strategist of Edo period: "As long as you keep death in mind at all times, you will fulfill the ways of loyalty and familial duty. You will also avoid myriad evils and calamities, you will be physically sound and healthy, and you will live a long life. What is more, your character will improve and your virtue will grow.

If people comfort their minds with the assumption that they will live a long time, something might happen, because they think they will have forever to do their work and look after their parents-they may fail to perform for their employers and also treat their parents thoughtlessly.

But if you realize that the life that is here today is not certain on the morrow, then when you take your orders from your employer, and when you look in on your parents, you will have the sense that this may be the last time-so you cannot fail to become truly attentive to your employer and your parents. This is why I say you also fulfill the paths of loyalty and familial duty when you keep death in mind."

According to Bushido, if a Samurai lose his honor or was about to lose it, he could regain it by performing seppuku (often called 'hara-kiri' in the Western world) a form of ritual suicide. Whether chosen by the Samurai itself or ordered as an honorable form of capital punishment, seppuku was preferred to a dishonorable death at the hands of an enemy. It was also a demonstration of the Samurai loyalty,  courage and honor. After the death of a Lord, loyal Samurai might show their affection and grief for their master by performing seppuku.

Throughout history, Samurai committed seppuku as a radical act of protestation against injustice or to get their lord to reconsider an unwise or unworthy action.

Today in Japan, the most technologically advanced society in the world, Bushido no longer represents a military power, but a state of mind, and its foundations still play a major part of Japanese culture and society. It can easily be observe when you see the strong sense of loyalty workers have to their employers, students to their teachers, apprentices to their masters and to their country.

Hundreds of years after its appearance, Bushido is still the core of Japanese social, political and corporate structure.