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"The Way to Be Followed Alone"

Here I reveal another wonderful piece of writing by Musashi that is not included in “the Book of Five Rings” which I have found in “Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings” by Kenji Tokitsu: Dokkodo, “The Way to Be Followed Alone.” It includes 21 dense articles, and was supposedly writing only days before his death. This writing was handed down to his disciple, Terao Magonojo. Aside from the whole of “the Book of Five Rings”, this is some of the most provocative work I’ve read from Musashi, if not from all martial arts material.

The Way to Be Followed Alone:

“1.) Do not go against the way of the human world that is perpetuated from generation to generation.

2.) Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.

3.) Do not in any circumstance, depend on a partial feeling.

4.) Think lightly of yourself and think deeply of the world.

5.) Be detached from desire your whole life long.

6.) Do not regret what you have done.

7.) Never be jealous of others, either in good or evil.

8.) Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.

9.) Resentment and complaint are appropriate niether for yourself or for others.

10.) Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of love.

11.) In all things, do not have any preferences.

12.) Do not have any particular desire regarding your private domicile.

13.) Do not pursue the taste of good food.

14.) Do not possess ancient objects intended to be preserved for the future.

15.) Do not act following customary beliefs.

16.) Do not seek especially either to collect or to practice arms beyond what is useful.

17.) Do not shun death in the way.

18.) Do not seek to posses either goods or fiefs for your old age.

19.) Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.

20.) You can abandon your own body, but you must hold on to your honor.

21.) Never stray from the way of strategy.”

The author, Kenji Tokitsu, gives lengthy notes for each of these articles, analyzing the Japanese translation, as well as personal thoughts on the meaning of each of them. Though the English is as compact as possible, when looking at the Japanese I was amazed at the even more dense nature of them. I think to read these in their original form would give an extra feeling to them, or rather experience, which is what these words intend to convey rather than dry analysis.

But anyway, I feel there’s a lot going on in this terse list of articles. Certainly it is not something to be skimmed over and hastily departed from. Personally, when I ran over this list of articles, I found myself unconditionally agreeing with some, squinting my nose at others, and challenging a few. I’m not so sure they all necessarily follow one particular philosophy such as Buddhism or Bushido, though the existence of their philosophies are blatantly obvious, but they seem to be very specifically, “the Way of Musashi”. What we have is a list of principles that was written by a man just before his death in his early sixties in the 1600’s in Japan.

Musashi was born during the Sengoku (Warring States) Period when powerful warlords vied violently for control of Japan. During this period, he fought in 5 different battles leading up to the climactic battle of Sekigahara (which he participated in) which united Japan under the rule of the Tokugawa family. He is also famed for participating in over 50 duels starting at the age of 12 when he killed his first adversary. Musashi saw Japan transition from a period of chaotic shifts of power, to the “peaceful” time of the early Tokugawa Period. At the end of his life when he wrote “the Book of Five Rings” and “The Way to Be Followed Alone”, the majority of warriors in Japan had never seen battle, and knew only of the privelages and formalities of the warrior class due to the newfound peace in the Tokugawa Period. Perhaps his seemingly harsh attitude is in reaction to what may be a “softening” of the warrior class in Japan.

Musashi also never formally served a lord in his whole life. He fought in battles for armies, and stayed with various lords as a guest, but he never formally served anyone. He spent most of his life wandering across Japan, honing his way of strategy by way of duels and survival. This could affect his “Way of Strategy” in two very influential ways.

First, socially. It is said that he spent much of his time searching for a lord worthy enough to serve, one he could employ his wisdom of strategy to, but he never found one. Instead, Musashi felt he was in a world with foolish leaders, the the most powerful and wise leaders who have already employed foolish advisors. Perhaps one could say that Musashi’s rival was Yagyu Munenori, who was the head swordsman and teacher of the Tokugawa family. In his biography, the author points out several examples of duels between Musashi and the students of Yagyu in which he of course won. One of the only recipients of the transmission of Musashi’s sword style was a skilled swordsman taught by the Yagyu family, but after he met with Musashi in a duel, he confessed that what he learned from the Yagyu was nothing compared to Musashi’s skill. Perhaps Musashi’s commentary is also a reaction against the limitations of lesser servants as well as lords he encountered in his life. If frustration was felt towards the world concerning these matters, surely we would find Musashi’s answers in some of the articles in his “The Way to Be Followed Alone”:

7.) Never be jealous of others, either in good or evil.”

“9.) Resentment and complaint are appropriate niether for yourself or for others.”

Second, as Musashi wandered around Japan throughout his life, starting from an age as early as 12, he had to learn how to survive on his own by way of resourcefulness. This means that in the harsh terrain and seasons of Japan, Musashi had to find food and water and build shelter for himself alone in the wild. Undoubtedly, Musashi had to become quite the oppurtunist, utilizing all that was around him, not only what nature would provide, but what human civilization would provide as well. Also, Musashi had to be clever enough to return to civilization and earn money when he had to, which he did, often staying in several spots for a few years at a time until moving again. So what we have here is a man who was forced to provide for himself, within as well as outside of society, which he did successfully and with great acclaim. Perhaps we find traces of Musashi’s commentary on how to avoid the limitations of society in his 21 articles:

12.) Do not have any particular desire regarding your private domicile.”

“14.) Do not possess ancient objects intended to be preserved for the future.”

“15.) Do not act following customary beliefs.”

“18.) Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.”

Perhaps the common theme of this all is essentially survivalism. How to survive alone, in the wild, in duels, in society, and against our own personal demons.

2.) Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.”

“3.) Do not in any circumstance, depend on a partial feeling.”

“5.) Be detached from desire your whole life long.”

“11.) In all things, do not have any preferences.”

“19.) Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.”

So far I have analyzed Musashi by investigating the specifics of his life and the time he lived, but beyond his subjective experiences, is he trying to communicate something more objective, eternal, and ubiquitous? There is a reason Musashi does not describe his teaching as “the Way of the Sword.” His philosophies certainly have been largely based on handling a sword, but we can easily see that Musashi is not just trying to communicate techniques. Musashi relates his teachings to other skills such as carpentry, business, and artistry, but none of them are individually superior to any other worldly activity. Musashi calls his Way, “The Way of Strategy.” Surely he relates his teachings of individual sword techniques to the macrocosm of the battlefield, and his “strategy” is often related to guiding large armies as such, but to think this is the roof of his philosophy is still infinitely inferior to what I think Musashi was thinking. If we are stuck with clear images and scenes of specific human activity while reading Musashi’s articles, I think we are limiting their potential. What we have in Musashi’s “Way of Strategy”, is not limited to the sword, a war, or a job, but rather a description of the flow of life. Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings” is as relevant to a modern-day human, as it is to someone in feudal Japan, as it is to a deer in the forest, as it is to a piece of algae, as it is to the movements of the planets in the solar system. Musashi uses as dense of language as possible to avoid the trappings of specific examples, but even he must have been conscious of the limitations of his own words.

All reasons and principles come from emptiness. The meaning of this sentence is impossible to explain – be so good as to reflect on it yourself.”

I think there are a few particular articles in “The Way to Be Followed Alone” which exhibit the depth of his “Way of Strategy”:

1.) Do not go against the way of the human world that is perpetuated from generation to generation.”

“4.) Think lightly of yourself and think deeply of the world.”

“17.) Do not shun death in the way.”

“20.) You can abandon your own body, but you must hold on to your honor.”

And of course,

21.) Never stray from the way of strategy.”

I mentioned after my first reading of these articles, I was a bit off-put, especially concerning the articles about denying pleasure. In our modern world, where there is such a surplus around us in countries like the U.S., Japan, and Western Europe, is it important for me to avoid those foods and things that give me pleasure? And what about love? I am not Musashi, and I wouldn’t flat-out agree or disagree with anything he says, but perhaps that’s the point. What we have is a number of articles written by a man about his perception of the world. I am my own man, and perhaps should write my own. Would either be right or wrong? Of course not. But they sure are interesting.

The difference between this “interesting” writing and others though, is that I feel it gives me a direction; a puzzle of sorts. And so I will continue to follow this rabbit, and chase this dragon. I’m almost finished with “Musashi Miyamoto: His Life and Writings”, but will soon begin rereading “The Life-Giving Sword” by Yagyu Munenori, Musashi’s contemporary and rival. As you can imagine, posts will follow continuing discussions of prominent samurai from the early Tokugawa period on strategy and the sword.

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