Bushido (literally “The Way of the Warrior”) is the name modern scholars have given to the unwritten code of ethical conduct practiced by Samurai warriors in feudal Japan. It is a code of chivalry, essentially a socially agreed type of behaviour which was not legal in basis, but more about honour and virtue. The key values of Bushido were first codified by Nitobe Inazō, in 1899. The Samurai class was equivalent to the Knight class in Europe, and the word “Samurai” shares a root with “saburau”, meaning “servant, retainer”.

The seven core virtues of Bushido provide a type of moral code comparable to both the Jedi code as they prioritise one style of conduct over its opposite, and also to the Knight’s code in that they are concerned with virtuous actions within the conduct of the Warrior class. What follows is a breakdown of these virtues, their relation to the Jedi path, and my experience of them.

Rectitude – “To die when it is right to die, to strike when it is right to strike.”

Also translated as “Justice”, Rectitude is said to form the skeleton or core of the Samurai. It is only through proper judgement that all aspects of Bushido are possible. Rectitude is the unwavering dedication to a code or ideal the Samurai embodies. It is the underlying unwillingness to engage in crooked or underhand dealings.

Jedi also have a central core from which they work: faith in the Force, and the structures of the Code, Creed and Teachings. We believe that things should be done in accordance with wu wei, hence at the proper moment and with the proper effort. Whilst “judgement” as a concept implies splitting good from evil, right from wrong Jedi work to understand both sides of the story, the light and the dark. We prioritise the values of peace, knowledge, serenity, and harmony, but work to understand even the elements we don’t wish to embody. Our code (and the Knight’s code) are the stable centre of the Jedi Knight. I relate the virtue of rectitude to the maxims of justice and integrity.

I believe I act from a core set of values and make my judgements in accordance with them. I think it’s important to have a moral core, and certain well-defined values, to live a meaningful and purposeful life. I believe in the Jedi code, I actually take a lot from the Knight’s code, I have certain beliefs about life which, for example, lead me to be vegetarian. Whilst I think flexibility is important, we must find causes to stick to – the cause of honesty, for example, or kindness, compassion etc. It’s rare now that I don’t act in accordance with my beliefs, but of course emotions and passions still rise to the surface and lead me to act poorly. This is natural and hopefully something that will become less common with time and practice.

Courage – “It is true courage to live when it is right to live, and die only when it is right to die.”

Death for (only) a worthy cause was considered courageous amongst Samurai. They cultivated endurance and denied suffering. Even as children they were trained and toughened to the potential brutality of life, so as not to fear it, and to become daring in themselves.

Jedi believe in doing the right thing at the right time, and often this requires courage or bravery. Jedi do not fear death, instead understanding the ongoing flow of the force; our maxims speak directly of courage, but also of conflict and pure motive which I believe are related values. To do what must be done can be uncomfortable and even put us in danger; however we choose to act along a path of virtue, defence, and even conflict when necessary – because we recognise that sometimes these are the right actions to take.

I believe Courage is essential to succeed in life. We can’t plan for every eventuality and we can never understand every variable. Sometimes we must act whilst perceiving great danger or personal loss; we take a calculated risk to achieve our goals. This boldness is one aspect of courage. Thinking about my life, a recent example of courage was resigning from my current job without another job to go to. The risk was that I would be out of work and unable to support my family, but I knew I couldn’t carry on with things the way they were. I had to act, so I acted. As it turns out, this boldness was a great move and I now have an exciting new opportunity. A similar example was the start of my relationship with my wife. Whilst the honour of kissing the girlfriend of one of your mates is questionable, I acted with courage and the outcome has been twelve happy years.

I must admit though, courage is an area I want to develop. My tendency to fixate on perceived outcomes can stop me from acting and sometimes this indecision allows the opportune moment to pass me by. Whilst I already have the courage to act in my own life in accordance with my core values, I do find it harder to live up to these values with others. It takes courage to “get involved”, and this is not something which comes naturally to me; I am proud of the times I’ve helped strangers and since joining the Jedi path have been on the lookout for more ways to do so, but there is more I could do to benefit others and I must cultivate the courage to do so.

 

Benevolence – “A feeling of distress is the root of benevolence.”

Samurai believed that depth of feeling for others was amongst the most noble of all traits; to love one’s fellow man, and administer just mercy, was a respected act. To strengthen this connection to others, Samurai warriors learned music and poetry. So long as the Samurai worked from a position of justice and rectitude, they were encouraged to develop deep feeling for those around them, and to feel the sorrows and concerns of those less able to help themselves.

Compassion is one of the central values of the Jedi mindset and our entire creed speaks of it, calling us either to increase harmony in the world or further develop our capacity to prioritise others in our personal dealings. We study the Force and cultivate our understanding of its nature, learning about all people, all life, all reality. We hold everything as sacred and valuable, and act in accordance with this belief; we move in defence of others, thus we are benevolent.

I believe I embody this value in a number of ways; I spend much of my time supporting those around me who need help, and live most of my life in the service of my family. I work a job primarily to support them, and whilst I could quite comfortably live on less money were I to live a solitary life, I don’t begrudge devoting my life to the wellbeing of those close to me. As a Jedi I am learning to give more of myself even to those who aren’t close to me; I’m learning to bring others closer. In honesty, Compassion comes so easily to me I sometimes think I feel it too much. However in this regard, I find benevolence an easy virtue to live by.

Respect – “The outward manifestation of a sympathetic regard for the feelings of others.”

Courtesy and politeness were deeply held values amongst Samurai. They believed behaving in a respectful manner was not simply a way of avoiding offence, but a path of actively honouring those around them; acknowledging and valuing the opinions and feelings of others. Additionally, Samurai believed that etiquette not only saved time and energy, but allowed them to cultivate effortless serenity and stoicism in their conduct.

The Jedi teachings on respect follows the former points on compassion. By acting with compassion we value the feelings and lives of others. We treat people as we would wish to be treated, and we study etiquette in order to value and honour those around us. We act with an understanding of the consequences of our actions, but fundamentally value all people – as such and similarly to Bushido, we are not acting with respect primarily out of fear of offence.

I also believe respect flows from the same place as compassion, but in a more general form; whilst compassionate benevolence to those close to me has always come easily to me, as I became an adult I became a little cynical and closed-off to those I didn’t know. I would find myself swearing at the car which cut me up at the lights, or generally being impatient to strangers. Since coming to the Jedi path and learning to cultivate proper compassion towards all people, I’ve challenged this habitual response in myself. I find myself acting in more respectful ways so as to avoid the situations in which disrespect arises; I allow more space for the car in front, and I consider the reasons others in the street don’t walk as fast as me. Whilst I’ve always been polite (drilled into me by my Gran at a young age!) and courteous in conversation, I am learning to be more respectful in every interaction.

Veracity – “Propriety carried beyond right bounds becomes a lie.”

Truthfulness was an integral part of the Samurai way of life. They viewed lying as cowardly, and whilst they were allowed some leeway in matters where absolute truth was not apparent, their core drive was towards the truth and honesty. Linked to the virtues of Courage and Honour, truth rather than shrewdness was prized in the expression of Bushido.

Being honest is part of the Jedi teaching of integrity. We act with sincerity in our dealings with others, and have the courage to avoid the “easy lie”. We act with pure motive so should not hide the truth, nor should we exaggerate. We look for the truth both in the world as we find it, and within our selves and our own lives. By learning the truth of things, we begin to understand them. By holding these fundamental truths in mind, we improve our outlook on the world; by extension, by presenting the truth externally, we help others to improve their outlooks as well.

Truthfulness is something I find easier now I’m a little older, and a little more comfortable in my own skin. I think I have a tendency to “people-please”, meaning I can say things without sincerity because I want to make another person happy: this is a lack of veracity. As I say, I’ve become better at delivering answers people don’t want to hear and standing my ground, where I know the cause is right. There is always a transaction between trying to understand the other person, and trying to be sincere and truthful. I tried to think of a specific example of veracity, either good or bad, but honestly I’m not big on lies, and always strive to tell the truth; I could just stand to be a little more confident in doing so. But how can we ever be sure of the truth? So again, I think courage is at work here.

Honour – “To bear what you think you cannot bear is really to bear.”

Samurai are legendary for their sense of honour, expressive of the deep self-worth and dignity they believed were provided by the other virtues. It is a common perception that the smallest slight on the individual Samurai would lead to swift and bloody retribution, but it is truer to say that Samurai had a deep sense of shame. They felt perceived slights deeply yet were encouraged to bear them with stoicism. Honour feeds into all of the other virtues; honour of the self, and of others.

Jedi also believe in honour, and have similarly high expectations of themselves. Nobility is one of our core maxims, and the Knight embodies this value – so rather than engaging in petty or underhand dealings or behaving in similarly ignoble ways, the Jedi sticks to the path of honour. I suggest that honour is less important to Jedi than it was to Samurai; we are willing to take an act which may appear dishonourable if it is the right thing to do, and honour has a tendency to make us prioritise ourselves over the needs of others. We can value our self-worth without making the worth of others secondary, and perhaps too strong a sense of honour makes us less humble, and less willing to help even those we see as “dishonourable”.

Honour is in part veracity, in another part respect, but in a third way I find it most like stoicism. I think it is easy for us to “lose ourselves” and act in base or dishonourable ways; it is in our nature. Honour can give root to pride, and that’s something which is both positive and negative; pride in our actions is a good motivator to act well, but pride in ourselves can lead us to become arrogant or otherwise unpleasant. Honour must be rooted in compassion to avoid this, and as such honour is really an internal system rather than a way of living in the world. Whilst our actions might inspire others, and make us act as role models, we must never “lose ourselves” inside this definition.

Thinking about my life I have spent more time trying to act as a role model since joining the Jedi path. I believe it is honourable to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, and the key to this is being able to look at oneself in the mirror at the end of the day without regret or shame. I have done many dishonourable things in the past; things which led me to betray the trust of others, to be dishonest and to forsake loyalty. However living as a more conscious and mindful person, I now behave in a more honourable way. When temptation presents itself, I realise what I have to lose; how I would no longer embody the Jedi code. I would be ashamed. This means even in times of weakness, I act in an honourable way.

Loyalty – “Loyalty as we conceive it may find few admirers elsewhere, not because our conception is wrong, but because it is, I am afraid, forgotten.”

Loyalty is the final and perhaps most powerfully-felt of the seven virtues of Bushido. Samurai were expected to be loyal first to the state, and secondly to their lord or master. They also owed loyalty to the Emperor. To owe loyalty was, for the Samurai, accepting that they would give their lives in service of the just aims of their state, lord or emperor. Whilst acting or dying for unworthy aims was discouraged, Samurai were not the sole masters of their fate.
Jedi believe loyalty is also essential to their path. Jedi owe loyalty to one another, and also to the Temple, Council, and their Master. We put our trust into these institutions, our faith in their guidance and teachings, and our defence to their causes. As with the Samurai, this is not blind obedience without judgement; Jedi must be prepared to challenge something they do not believe. But this too is born in respect and a desire to “do the best” by the Temple, by the Council, and by their Master.

I believe I am an inherently loyal person. My attitude is and has always been to have faith in certain people, and place my trust in those I see are trustworthy. I’ve never been an especially “loyal” employee, as I view the jobs I’ve had as means to an end; however I am a loyal friend, a loyal husband, and a loyal student to the institutions which support my learning. The one danger here is that if something or someone crosses the thing to which I am loyal, I can lose myself in this, and bear grudges, get angry/aggressive or otherwise act unhelpfully.

One of the skills I’m trying to cultivate is to have more veracity in this situation; to simply state the truth of the matter. “You’ve hurt my friend” rather than “you’re a piece of crap” etc. I believe I am loyal to the Temple and the Council, and I view the couple of wobbles I’ve had about the Temple more as reactions to my growing understanding of my dog-like loyalty – I second-guess myself and question whether something is worthy of my loyalty, even when in my heart I know it is.

I enjoyed studying Bushido, and I can see why it forms part of my training. The Samurai were warrior knights, just as I hope to become a Knight; they acted with deep integrity, as a Jedi Knight must. They embody values of compassion, justice and courage. These are all things a Knight is sworn to. As Jedi Knights, we must strive to embody the code of Bushido, because our own code is a further reflection of the same core values. The Samurai were engaged, “in the world” as Jedi aim to be. They lived with their values and not just in a conceptual, philosophical sense. The code of Bushido emerged from real life, and so has much to teach us in applying the philosophical values of our study to the real world.

The Samurai trained for war; we train for peace. Our teachings show us to understand one thing we must understand its opposite. Our sword is our focus, our armour is our knowledge, but at the core of both paths lies the central wisdom from which to act – the core attributes which enable us to be virtuous.

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