Book Excerpt – Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

Hagakure - The Book of the Samurai“One should be careful and not say things that are likely to cause trouble at the time. When some difficulty arises in this world, people get excited, and before one knows it the matter is on everyone’s lips. This is useless. If worse comes to worst, you may become the subject of gossip, or at least you will have made enemies by saying something unnecessary and will have created ill will. It is said that at such a time it is better to stay at home and think of poetry”Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai.

I was re-reading Hagakure last night, and this passage struck me as being especially relevant for the times that we live in. I was thinking that with the internet being such an integrated part of our lives, and with social media consuming most of the attention on the internet, it is easy to become lost in the  negativity that is so prevalent online.

Of course this applies to “real life” as well. Gossip around work, family disagreements, neighborly conflict, all these scenarios can easily consume one’s thoughts and dictate one’s mood.

It is interesting to me that many older texts written by philosophers in regard to how to live as a martial artist tend to put a premium on distancing yourself from conflict. It might be that training in violence removes the veneer of glamour that most of us associate with fighting. With this enlightenment comes an understanding that the best way to win a conflict is to avoid it all together.

In the passage above Yamamoto Tsunetomo advises against engaging in any speech that causes trouble with others. Easier said than done, right? How often do we find ourselves in situations where it would feel great to give someone “a piece of our mind”? A better question would be, how many times have we given someone a piece of our mind, and regretted it later?

I can say from personal experience that I’ve never regretted holding my tongue when I had the patience to do so. More often than not it’s me who’s wrong anyways, and clarity of hindsight makes that obvious. When those revelations occur I’m happier that I chose to keep my ignorance to myself. Reminds of the (paraphrased) saying: “Better to remain silent and let people think you’re a fool, then to open your mouth and prove it”.

If you haven’t read Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, you might want to pick it up. It’s written in short, mostly one or two paragraph observations about living “the way” of the Samurai. Because it’s broken up in this manner it makes it easy to pick up the book, read a quick paragraph or two, and have those ideas in mind in an easily digestible way. A lot of these old collections of writings by martial artists are written in this style, and that makes them convenient for getting a quick dose of philosophy to carry with you as you go about your day.

My full review of Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai can be found here.