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Yamamoto Tsunetomo on The Way of the Samurai

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Written by   1
8 months ago

Yamamoto Tsunetomo said:



“A person with a bit of wisdom is one who will criticize the times. This is the basis of disaster. A person who is discreet in speaking will be useful during the good times and will avoid punishment during the bad.


A person who is said to be proficient at the arts is like a fool. Because of his foolishness in concerning himself with just one thing, he thinks of nothing else and thus becomes proficient. He is a worthless person.


When on the battlefield, if you try not to let others take the lead and have the sole intention of breaking into the enemy lines, then you will not fall behind others, your mind will become fierce, and you will manifest martial valor. This fact has been passed down by the elders. Furthermore, if you are slain in battle, you should be resolved to have your corpse facing the enemy.


If one were to say what it is to do good, in a single word it would be to endure suffering. Not enduring is bad without exception.


At a glance, every individual’s own measure of dignity is manifested just as it is. There is dignity in personal appearance. There is dignity in a clam aspect. There is dignity in a paucity of words. There is dignity in flawlessness of manners. There is dignity in solemn behavior. And there is dignity in deep insight and a clear perspective. These are all reflected on the surface. But in the end, their foundation is implicity of thought and tautness of spirit.


To talk about other people’s affairs is a great mistake. To praise them, too, is unfitting. In any event, it is best to know your own ability well, to put forth effort in your endeavors, and to be discreet in speech.


If a retainer will just think about what he is to do for the day at hand, he will be able to do anything. If it is a single day’s work, one should be able to put up with it. Tomorrow, too, is but a single day.


The essentials of speaking are in not speaking at all. If you think that you can finish something without speaking, finish it without saying a single word. If there is something that cannot be accomplished without speaking, one should speak with few words, in a way that will accord well with reason. To open one’s mouth indiscriminately brings shame, and there are many times when people will turn their backs on such a person.


How can one human being be inferior to another? In all matters of discipline, one will be useless unless he has great pride. Unless one is determined to move the clan by himself, all his discipline will come to naught. Although, like a tea kettle, it is easy for one’s enthusiasm to cool, there is a way to keep this from happening. My own vows are the following:

Never to be outdone in the Way of the Samurai.

To be of good use to the master.

To be filial to my parents.

To manifest great compassion, and to act for the sake of Man.

If one dedicates these four vows to the gods and Buddhas every morning, he will have the strength of two men and will never slip backward. One must edge forward like the inch-worm, bit by bit. The gods and Buddhas, too, first started with a vow.”

Latent Thoughts #20







Painting: Saint Michael and the Devil by Raphael

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