The ancient and traditional Japanese class of warriors, known as the Samurai, have been widely immortalized in popular culture as the ultimate icon of military prowess, stealth, swordsmanship, loyalty, and honor. Known to be an elite group of military nobility, the Japanese Samurai were perhaps most revered for their codes of honor and principles, known as Bushido; which governed the Samurai’s way of life and might also be loosely related to the European concept of chivalry.
The era of the noble Samurai came and went but the principles they lived by are universal and timeless. In a world where the romantic idea of chivalry or abiding by codes of ethics has eroded to make way for inauthentic lifestyles driven by self-gratification and a faulty moral compass, the Bushido way of life can offer more than a simple insight and serve as a reminder of how we can direct our lives for the better.
I am listing the principles of Bushido and some ideas on how it can be picked up by the modern ‘spiritual warrior’ to build a robust inner life, while creating more meaningful and authentic relationships with others around us.
Living life with integrity is a good starter for the warrior’s code of ethics, before applying or adopting any other moral virtue or practice. Everything starts with your integrity. It is the moral fiber that holds all the other pieces together. Without integrity, there is quite the opposite–disintegration. Integrity is synonymous with rectitude, upstanding, righteousness and decency. The degree to which we live with integrity is reflected in anything we say and do. People around us can sense our integrity, even though it is an inner trait. Our trustworthiness pretty much hinges on how people sense our integrity or otherwise.
Yes, integrity is something you do solely for your own sake, firstly and mostly. It is for your own growth as a spiritual being. You can’t fake integrity. Yet at the same time, we need integrity in society because of how it is reflected clearly in the interactions and transactions we have with others. We are social creatures after all, and something like integrity is the glue that holds bonds of sane relationships together. This was–and still is–something so important in elite groups such as the Samurai or tribal communities. On the other hand, this is why we can observe so much insanity and distrust in today’s society. Integrity can be a scarce human resource to find nowadays.
For the noble Samurai, integrity or rectitude was principally the ability to make a wise discernment or judgment: “To die when it is right to die, to strike when it is right to strike.” Now, this might sound a bit extreme and bloody but the idea is that discernment can be applied to any circumstance and not necessarily life-threatening ones. Integrity gives us the discernment in thought, speech, and action. For example, it enables us to refrain from talking or acting in a nonsensical, hurtful or egocentric way. This generates peace both internally and between people.
Courage is obviously one of the first associations we make with warriors–both those on the battlefield and those in spirit. Many people overlook the difference between fearlessness and courage and there is a very important point to take home from this difference in our everyday life. Living without fear is most certainly an illusion. If you are completely fearless you are not alive or have a very short lifespan. Fearlessness can be equated with foolhardiness or ego-based illusions. Nobody can be completely without fear because, in its pure form, fear is an evolutionary survival tool.
Yet, we can recognize our fears and learn to put them in their own place without letting them run our lives. This takes courage. It is the courage that we summon in our hearts when we step out into the world and make that important move, even though we still have some fears and uncertainty about it. Courage is a beautiful energy that initiates a lot of changes and decisive movement that takes us far and forward in our life.
Now, this is something that is not a stereotypical association with anything warrior-like but together with courage, it is one of the most important virtues of the 21st-century spiritual warrior. It centers us in the power of the heart space, which is the source of so many other beautiful qualities and feelings such as love, benevolence, sympathy, and empathy. Compassion is a very noble virtue and one that Bushido, or the way of the warrior, holds up high in importance and value.
Without nurturing compassion, you can’t sail very far in the ocean of life, for you are surrounded by so many sentient beings that are both a reflection of you and coming out from the same source as yourself. Compassion is in fact nurtured through a very simple first step–loving-kindness towards oneself. Without giving love to yourself and allowing yourself to be loved, it is very difficult to be compassionate towards others. In turn, lacking compassion is like living in a dried up river bed–disconnected from both the source and flow of life. The warrior understands the power of being connected with life and other sentient beings, and so, he understands the importance of compassion.
Respect and/or politeness in the world of Bushido can be seen as a little bit parallel to compassion, in the sense that it stems from a sympathetic regard for the feelings of others. “In its highest form politeness approaches love”. Like compassion, to respect others you need to first respect and value yourself. Respect for others without respecting yourself is only a faint shadow of the virtue. We live in a world where politeness is often born out of conditioned responses or fear of being disapproved or disrespected in return, rather than true sentiments.
Real politeness and respect are authentic and very often do not require words–although a timely compliment or kind words and gestures do no harm. To be able to respect the feelings and opinions of others and use politeness to harmoniously keep social connections meaningful is both a beautiful virtue and skill to have. The real warrior is both respected and knows how to show respect. It is such a valuable implicit agreement between gentle souls.
Truthfulness is also closely akin to the virtue of integrity. To have integrity also means, among other things, to be truthful in your words and actions. Slander, for instance, is such a self-weakening strategy and will eventually come back to bite you in the behind. Yet once again, and you will obviously start noticing the pattern here, truthfulness starts from being truthful to oneself. And here is the heart of the matter. We are so often untruthful to ourselves with all the stories and crap we invent–all the excuses and the banal rationalizations of irrational fears that we do not have the courage to face or embrace. I believe that most of the time people are less truthful to themselves than to others.
Standing in your own truth and guarding your authenticity, your sovereignty and that of others is tantamount to living the warrior way of life. Stay firm in your truth and speak and express it with courage. Nothing can ever harm you if you do those two things. Truthfulness is the heart of the warrior. It is both the spear, the shield and the armor.
Honor / Sovereignty
There is almost a romantic idea behind honor and the noble warrior, most accentuated in the Japanese Samurai culture. Honor is one of the highest virtues because it captivates and motivates the soul of the warrior to fight with valor and to summon up the courage from the heart. Honor is a goal as much as it is a way of being.
Although they do not directly translate into each other, I hold honor to be in resonance with sovereignty and this is another key idea for the spirit warrior’s way of life. Sovereignty has a bad historical connotation with ruthless powers and authoritarian forces. But it’s actually quite the opposite–what sovereignty really means, in the context of spiritual growth, is to cut loose of any shackles or dependencies that are stealing away your power; your birthright to be free and to be who you authentically are. This is pretty much the battle cry of the spiritual warrior. To regain sovereignty and break free from the chains that keep us limited, powerless, in suffering, and worst of all, in the illusion of something we truly are not.
Loyalty can also be pretty misunderstood and might appear to be in stark contrast with honor and sovereignty. In actual fact, it is quite complementary. Loyalty does not necessarily mean placing obedience or complacency on a higher power (or one perceived as such). Loyalty is placing ties, your efforts, commitments and resolutions where it matters most for your own freedom and spiritual development, and those of others. Once again, it is rooted in the practice of being loyal to one’s own feelings and intuitions first and then placing your loyalty and trust where it ought to belong.
For the Samurai culture of Bushido, both honor and loyalty were highly regarded and to break one or the other was a disgraceful act, often punishable (or self-punishable) by death. For the spirit warrior of the twenty-first century, loyalty means above anything else, alignment and building strength in bonds of trust. It means to cooperate and co-create in loyalty to a cause or a shared vision. Even in practical day-to-day life, it is essential to know clearly other’s loyalty, and where your own loyalty stands. When you start living from your own truth with honor and integrity, you become loyal to your own purpose and sovereignty. Loyalty will then also build amongst those who share the same principles and way of life.