The true mission of the samurai is to say “Ittekimas” (I am leaving now) when leaving home to do battle, and to say “Tadaima” (I am home) after he returns. This sounds so simple, but there is deep meaning in this phrase. A student once commented after pondering this statement, “If the samurai were to lose in battle, then he won’t be coming home”. I replied “For the samurai, it is not only the winner of a battle that returns home. Both the winner and the loser must return home. This is the true mission of the samurai and a basis of true samurai philosophy.
In movies about the Japanese samurai, there is always some kind of climactic fighting scene with lot of swords being brandished about. These exciting scenes liberally embellish the actual history being portrayed, but the exaggerations make the story more eligible to become a box office hit.
I know that there have been battles fought with swords by the samurai, but it is also important to look at all of the events that led up to these scenes of battle in our history. Even news media reports and documentaries in our world today do not tend to focus on the whole picture. They focus on sensationalism to sell their own particular position. The new media does not cover many of the more positive developments or other advancements being made in our world because they are less exciting and “news worthy”. Instead media outlets favor the telling of the more sensational and usually more gruesome stories and developments that boost ratings or distribution.
Historically in Japan, the peak of the samurai’s struggle for ultimate dominance in Japanese rule was from the end of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) through the end of the Edo period (1603-1867). During this roughly six hundred year period, the philosophy of the samurai and concept of samurai spirit changed with the continual developments in Japan’s political, social, economical and religious organization. Especially the introduction of Zen Buddhism to Japan had a great influence on the psychological and spiritual development of samurai philosophy.
There was one particular teaching in Zen Buddhism that caused a tremendous internal conflict for the samurai; that being the sanctity of all life. In Zen Buddhism, an important covenant mandates that no life is to be taken; a concept for the samurai that clashed directly with his primary job description-to kill.
Abiding by this covenant put the samurai who believed in the teaching of Zen Buddhism in a quandary. In a battle, if a samurai were not to kill, he may well forfeit his own life. This concept was a great contradiction in the way of life for the samurai which ultimately stimulated the highest level of development of the samurai spirit.
In general, all warriors from all times in history have had great allegiance to their own countries and a great sense loyalty to their families and to their God. It is the duty of a warrior to sacrifice their own life for their country so in this sense warriors with honor everywhere have much in common. Most warriors are good people who simply rise to the call to defend their families and their homes if threatened by aggression towards them. Honest, innocent men and women will draw a sword with a tear in their eye to protect those they love. This has been part of the human story since the beginning of history, but in the depths of this determination of the good hearted, is the conflict of knowing of the sanctity of life. This underlying contradiction is where bushido or samurai spirit was born.
In many parts of our world today there is conflict. Today’s warriors or soldiers deal with the same philosophical conflict and contradictions as the samurai of the days of old; both have a duty and a mission to fulfill and a regret to do harm to others.
Many young soldiers today return from the front lines of any war with deep physical or psychological scars. Some are emotionally damaged and confused by the inner conflicts over their experiences. Considering the horrors of any war, this is an understandable consequence. Today’s soldiers may have doubts and conflicts to deal with, but still must carry on with their missions just as the samurai did. What held as truth for the samurai still holds true for the warriors of today. The seeds of samurai spirit were to be found in inner conflict, and that inner conflict is the first beginnings of inner peace. Without this inner conflict there can be no growth towards inner peace.
Having this kind of inner conflict while engaged in war can be exasperating for those living through it. There are those however who are building peace out of this conflict. My opinion of their operation is from a martial artist’s point of view. It may be a different perspective, so I ask for your patience. The purpose of this article has never been to offend any one by talking about sensitive issues. If my limited abilities at writing or editing have offended anyone, please forgive me for it was never my intention.
My hope is that as soon as possible, peace will come to all people and all places, all over the world.