This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The samurai and the Way beyond righteousness

Now that we have entered a discussion of the traditional teachings on the warrior, how does this align with what we’ve said about the distinction between what is just and what is good—and on the complex nature of righteousness?

Here we will cite an enlightening passage from a famous manual for samurai, the Hagakure:

“To think that being righteous is the best one can do and to value righteousness exclusively will bring many mistakes. There is a Way beyond righteousness. This is very difficult to discover, but it is the highest wisdom. When things are seen from this standpoint, things like righteousness are rather shallow. If one does not understand this on his own, it cannot be known.”[1]

“…there is one transcending level, and this is the most excellent of all. This person is aware of the endlessness of entering deploy into a certain way and 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.’ “[2]

This is similar to the Taoist saying: “When the Tao is forgotten, there is righteousness. When righteousness is forgotten, there is morality. When morality is forgotten, there is the law.”[3]

This also allows us to understand the way that traditional writings on war seem to make light of death or even present it as if it were to be sought. We can see that there is a victory that is more important than death, since it is at any rate inevitable. Another passage from the Hagakure runs as follows:

“A certain person was brought to shame because he did not take revenge. The way of revenge lies in simply forcing one’s way into a place and being cut down. There is no shame in this. By thinking that you must complete the job you will run out of time. By considering things like how many men the enemy has, time piles up; in the end you will give up. No matter if the enemy has thousands of men, there is fulfillment in simply standing them off and being determined to cut them all down, starting from one end. You will finish the greater part of it.

“Concerning the night assault of Lord Asano’s ronin, the fact that they did not commit seppuku at the Sengakuji was an error, for there was a long delay between the time their lord was struck down and the time when they struck down the enemy. If Lord Kira had died of illness within that period, it would have been extremely regrettable. Because the men of the Kamigata area have a very clever sort of wisdom, they do well at praiseworthy acts but cannot do things indiscriminately, as was done in the Nagasaki fight.

“Although all things are not to be judged in this manner, I mention it in the investigation of the Way of the Samurai. When the time comes, there is no moment for reasoning. And if you have not done your inquiring beforehand, there is most often shame. Reading books and listening to people’s talk are for the purpose of prior resolution.

“Above all, the Way of the Samurai should be in being aware that you do not know what is going to happen next, and in querying every item day and night. Victory and defeat are matters of the temporary force of circumstances. The way of avoiding shame is different. It is simply in death.

“Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.”[4]

[1] Hagakure, 19.

[2] Hagakure, 20.

[3] Tao Te Ching, Ch. 38, trans. By J.H. McDonald.

[4] Hagakure, 25.

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