Today we talk about the samurai code, the Bushidō. The term means “the path of the warrior”, and it represents the ethical code of conduct that samurai subscribed to.
Just as it happened in other ancient cultures, the notion on which the code is based is the idea of honor. Today it might look like a faraway concept, and it is certainly not strange to hear someone negatively talk about the samurai code by mentioning the seppuku, the suicide ritual by which a samurai restored his honor. Yet few ever mention that the ritual was not only performed for moral reasons, but also for some more practical reasons: not doing so would have stained the honor of his entire family, which would have resulted in the entire family effectively becoming “pariahs”. Nevertheless, it is a strange critique if we take into account the fact that duels took place in both Europe and America until the 1800s for much the same reason -honor-, and that both practices were to decay almost simultaneously. Yet it does uniquely portray one of the darkest aspects of adhering to a code that considers moral virtue above one’s life.
Bushidō‘s relationship with death is, however, much more complicated than it might first appear. Seppuku is barely a “natural” consequence of the underlying philosophy: “the path of the samurai is in death”; “once the warrior is ready to die, he is capable of living without worrying [about death]”. Perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of the code is precisely the fact that we should choose following our own principles and values instead of out of fear (be it to death or to any other thing we might fear losing – and that, perhaps, if we looked into their eyes, would not be so terrible to lose).
There is undoubtedly much to learn from this ethical code of conduct, ever farther from our modern culture. These are its main principles:
GI (Integrity) – Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with people. Believe in justice: not from other people, but from yourself. To the true warrior, all points of view are deeply considered regarding honesty, justice, and integrity. Warriors make a full commitment to their decisions. There is only right and wrong.
REI (Respect) – True warriors have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. Warriors are courteous even to their enemies. They are not only respected for their strength in battle, but also for their dealings with other people. The true strength of a warrior becomes apparent during difficult times. A soul without respect is like a home in ruins.
YUU (Courage) – Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. A true warrior must have courage. It is absolutely risky. It is living life completely, fully and wonderfully. Courage is not blind; the brave warrior does not follow the steps of stupidity.
MEIYO (Honor) – Warriors have one only judge of honor and character, and this is themselves. Decisions they make and how these decisions are carried out is a reflection of who they truly are. You cannot hide from yourself.
JIN (Compassion) – Through intense training and hard work the true warrior becomes quick and strong. They are not as most people. They develop a power that must be used for good. They have compassion. They help their fellow man at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, they go out of their way to find one.
MAKOTO (Honesty and Sincerity) – When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop them from completing what they say they will do. They do not have to “give their word”. They do not have to “promise”. The words of a man are like his footprints; you can follow them wherever he goes.
CHUUGI (Duty and Loyalty) – Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done, everything they have said, and all of the consequences that follow. They are immensely loyal to all of those in their care. To everyone that they are responsible for, they remain fiercely true.