One of the principles of education of warriors was a specific philosophy of the samurai called Bushido. Bushido was initially interpreted as “the way of horse and bow”; later, it changed its meaning to “the way of the warrior”: “bushi” is a warrior or samurai, while “dō” translates as the way, teaching, method in Middle Chinese. In addition, the word “dō” can be also translated as “duty” or “morality”, which is in line with the classical philosophical tradition of China where the concept of “way” is a kind of ethical norm. Thus, Bushido is the samurai moral and ethical code. Including the dogma of Buddhism and Confucianism along with the new norms of behavior that were gradually developing, Bushido became the moral code of soldiers, at the same time being a principal part of various religious doctrines such as Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintoism, which is the national religion of the Japanese. Having merged with Eastern philosophy, Bushido adopted the character of practical morals. Bushido conceptualized the philosophical worldview in general and it was intended to teach samurai a proper life in the feudal Japanese society.
A Brief History of Bushido
At the beginning, Bushido, as a way to control behavior of a warrior, was not based directly on any special institutions, enforcing observance of moral standards. It was based on the power of belief, opinion, example, education, tradition, and moral authority of individuals, as mentioned in the medieval history of Japan. The principles of Bushido were not united in a special set of rules; they were not described in any literary work of feudal times. However, they were reflected in legends and tales of the past, telling about the vassal’s sworn loyalty to a lord, as well as courage and tenacity of a samurai. Bushido combined a theory of existence and study of human psyche; it dealt with the questions of the essence of an individual, human role in the world, the meaning of life, good and evil, as well as moral values. A warrior brought up in the spirit of Bushido was clearly aware of his moral obligations, in particular his personal responsibilities to his suzerain. He was taught to assess his actions and behavior and morally judge himself in case of incorrect actions. This moral self-condemnation sometimes led to a ritual suicide called hara-kiri, which occurred as belly-cutting with a small samurai sword. Thus, samurai’s blood was meant to cleanse him from dishonor.
By order of Tokugawa Ieyasu, in the early years after he came to power The Laws for the Military Houses or Buke Shohatto was written to define behavior of the samurai in the service and in private life. The second essay devoted to the tenets of Bushido was a biography and description of heroic exploits of prince Takeda Shingen in twenty volumes. Later, Budoshoshinshu: The Warrior’s Primer of Daidoji Yuzan appeared. Finally, in 1716 there were published eleven volumes of the book Hagakure translated as In the Shade of the Leaves, which became the “Scripture” for the bushi. This work was authored by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a monk and in the past a samurai of Saga domain on the southern island of Kyushu. After the death of his master, daimyo Nabeshima Naoshige, Yamamoto took vows and devoted the rest of his life to the generalization of the tenets of the samurai honor.
Daidoji Yuzan and Yamamoto Tsunetomo were two different samurai who offered their own recipes and parting words to young samurai. Readers of their works can feel the difference and dissimilarity of these two contemporaries, these two samurai. Daidoji Yuzan arrived in Edo as a young man; he studied military science in school of Obata Kagenori and Hodze Udzinaga who were two great generals of that era and from whom he adopted love for Confucianism. Yamamoto Tsunetomo studied from scientist Kuranaga Rihei. He was also influenced by Confucian and Zen priest Tannen. Daidoji served Asano and Matsudaira clans. He traveled a lot around the country while changing masters. Yamamoto served Nabeshima clan his whole life and only an official ban of shogun prevented him from committing ritual suicide after the death of his master. The author of Hagakure became a Zen monk-hermit and lived in an almost complete seclusion for nearly twenty years.
The Influence of Religions on the Philosophy of Bushido
Samurai morality was formed in general at the same time as the shogunate system, but its foundations had existed long before that time. In his book Bushido: The Soul of Japan, Inazo Nitobe pointed out that the main sources of Bushido were Buddhism and Shinto religion, as well as teachings of Confucius and Mencius. Indeed, Buddhism and Confucianism, which came to Japan from China along with its culture, had a great success with the aristocracy and quickly spread among the samurai. Shinto religion gave soldiers what they lacked in the canons of Buddhism and Confucianism. The most important doctrines that Bushido learned from Shinto, ancient Japanese religion, were combination of the cult of nature and ancestors, belief in magic, and existence of spirits with the love of nature and country. Borrowings from Shinto were merged into two notions: patriotism and allegiance.
Many of the philosophical truths of Buddhism almost fully met needs and interests of the samurai. Mahayana Buddhism, which came to Japan in 522, had a particularly strong influence on Bushido. At the same time, the most popular school of Mahayana Buddhism was Zen; its monks made a significant contribution to the development of Bushido. The concord of the warriors’ worldview with the regulations of this school allowed to use Zen as religious and philosophical foundations of ethical precepts of samurai. For example, Bushido adopted a Zen idea of strict self-control, which was considered to be the most valuable quality of the samurai’s character. Zen meditations were also closely connected with Bushido as they developed confidence and composure in the face of death, which was seen as something positive and great. From Confucianism, the samurai ideology primarily adopted the Confucian requirement of the “duty of loyalty”, obedience to the master, as well as moral improvement of an individual. Confucianism contributed to the emergence of the contempt for productive work, in particular to the work of peasants, in the samurai ideology.
Eight Virtues of Bushido
Clearly and intelligibly, Bushido requirements are set in the forth volume of Budoshoshinshu: The Warrior’s Primer of Daidoji Yuzan. The main eight virtues of the samurai moral code were loyalty, respect or politeness, courage, rectitude or justice, benevolence or mercy, sincerity, honor, and self-control or contempt for personal gain and money. Thus, the main rules of Bushido were loyalty to the suzerain, with whom warriors had the relationship based on patronage and service, and the honor of arms, which was the privilege of a professional soldier. The thirst for heroism and glory should not be an end in itself. A higher goal was the idea of loyalty, which covered the whole content of public and private morality of a warrior. This idea was expressed in selfless serving and relied on the principles of loyalty adopted in Shinto religion. Buddhist belief in the transience of all earthly things increased the samurai spirit of sacrifice. The philosophy of Confucianism made loyalty or fealty the first virtue. Loyalty to the suzerain demanded complete detachment from personal interests; however, it did not mean sacrificing the warrior’s conscience. Bushido did not teach people to give up their beliefs even for the suzerain so that when a feudal lord demanded actions from a vassal that were contrary to his beliefs, he had to try to convince the overlord not to commit an act, discrediting the name of a noble man. If he failed, the samurai had to prove sincerity of his words by hara-kiri. In all other circumstances, Bushido called on to sacrifice everything for the sake of loyalty.
Every samurai must respect the rule of “the trunk and branches.” To forget it means to never comprehend the virtues; a man who neglects the virtue of filial piety is not the samurai. Parents are a tree trunk, while children are its branches. The samurai must not only be a perfect son, but also a loyal one; he must not leave his master even if the number of his vassals is reduced from one hundred to ten and from ten to one. During sleep, the samurai should not place their feet in the direction of the residence of the suzerain. If the samurai lying in a bed hears a conversation of his master or is going to say anything himself, he has to get up and get dressed. These regulations tell about the respect for the suzerain.
Besides loyalty and respect, the principle of duty takes a significant place in the samurai moral code. In a war, loyalty of the samurai is manifested in sacrificing their lives without any fear if the duty requires it. According to the samurai code, true courage is to live when it is rightly to live and to die when it is rightly to die. If in a war the samurai happens to lose the fight and he has to lay down his head, he should be proud to call his name and die with a smile. Even being mortally wounded, the samurai must respectfully address his words of farewell to the most senior and quietly die, submitting to the inevitable. The samurai code teaches the importance of dignity, courage, and no fear of death as it is unavoidable.
From the concept of justice, the concept of honor was derived, which was considered as the highest manifestation of justice. Honor was understood as the ability of the soul to take a proper decision in accordance with conscience without any hesitation, i.e. to die if it is necessary and to kill when it is needed. Without honor, no other talent can develop the character of the samurai.
Bushido is the way of the warrior, which means death. If there is a choice, a warrior must choose the way that leads to death. Every morning, the samurai should think about the way how to die; every evening, he should refresh his mind with the thoughts of death. Warriors always have to educate their mind as, according to the samurai code, thoughts about death will help their life path to be straight and simple. In everyday affairs, it is important to remember about death; it should come with a clear awareness of what is to be done by the samurai and what offends their dignity. Paradoxically, but the death was seen as an additional source of power, an almost supernatural power, and even mercy. Those who offended it had to die. Hence, bloody vendetta and mass beatings of enemy soldiers were as natural as mass suicide due to a personal injury or hara-kiri.
Speaking about self-control, every word of the warrior must be thoroughly weighed. The samurai should also be moderate in eating and avoid promiscuity. The same as a falcon does not pick up thrown grain though it may be even starving, the samurai should show that he is full even if he did not eat anything. In addition to the need to study sciences, a warrior has to use his leisure time to exercise in poetry and comprehension of the tea ceremony. The samurai should be reasonable, educated, and aware of the moral code of honor and tenets of Bushido. They should have the understanding of themselves and the philosophy of life and death. Those who have only brute force are not worthy to be samurai.
Bushido is not a teaching in its literal sense; it is rather a form of expression of the feudal ideology and its main provisions and principles that were developing from generation to generation. Bushido is a special morality elaborated by soldiers who belonged to the ruling class of Japan, which represented a system of views, standards, and assessments relating to the samurai way of behavior and education of young people, as well as creation and strengthening of certain moral qualities. With all this, Bushido became social morality and ethics; it served the samurai, justifying their actions and defending their interests. Under the influence of Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism, the basic principles of samurai ethics were formed. They were included in a part of ethics of the entire feudal society.