In a Nutshell – Hagakure
Hagakure – The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
An inspiring book, here are my favourite excerpts from the 2nd Chapter of William Scott Wilson’s translation.
If one were to say in a word what the condition of being a
samurai is, its basis lies first in seriously devoting one’s body
and soul to his master. And if one is asked what to do beyond
this, it would be to fit oneself inwardly with intelligence,
humanity and courage. The combining of these three virtues
may seem unobtainable to the ordinary person, but it is easy.
Intelligence is nothing more than discussing things with others.
Limitless wisdom comes from this. Humanity is something done
for the sake of others, simply comparing oneself with them and
putting them in the fore. Courage is gritting one’s teeth; it
is simply doing that and pushing ahead, paying no attention to
the circumstances. Anything that seems above these three is
not necessary to be known.
As for outward aspects, there are personal appearance, one’s
way of speaking and calligraphy. And as all of these are daily
matters, they improve by constant practice. Basically, one should
perceive their nature to be one of quiet strength. If one has accomplished
all these things, then he should have a knowledge
of our area’s history and customs. After that he may study the
various arts as recreation. If you think it over, being a retainer
is simple. And these days, if you observe people who are even a
bit useful, you will see that they have accomplished these three
A faultless person is one who withdraws from affairs. This
must be done with strength.
There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the
present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment
after moment. If one fully understands the present moment,
there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue.
Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.
Everyone lets the present moment slip by, then looks for it
as though he thought it were somewhere else. No one seems
to have noticed this fact. But grasping this firmly, one must
pile experience upon experience. And once one has come to this
understanding he will be a different person from that point on,
though he may not always bear it in mind.
When one understands this settling into single-mindedness
well, his affairs will thin out. Loyalty is also contained within
Be true to the thought of the moment and avoid distraction.
Other than continuing to exert yourself, enter into nothing else,
but go to the extent of living single thought by single thought.
Our bodies are given life from the midst of nothingness. Existing
where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase, “Form
is emptiness.” That all things are provided for by nothingness
is the meaning of the phrase, “Emptiness is form.” One should
not think that these are two separate things.
One should every day think over and make an effort to implant
in his mind the saying, “At that time is right now.” It is
said that it is strange indeed that anyone is able to pass through
life by one means or another in negligence.
Whether people be of high or low birth, rich or poor, old or
young, enlightened or confused, they are all alike in that they
will one day die. It is not that we don’t know that we are going
to die, but we grasp at straws. While knowing that we will die
someday, we think that all the others will die before us and that
we will be the last to go. Death seems a long way off.
Is this not shallow thinking? It is worthless and is only a joke
within a dream. It will not do to think in such a way and be
negligent. Insofar as death is always at one’s door, one should
make sufficient effort and act quickly.
There are times when a person gets carried away and talks on
without thinking much. But this can be seen by observers when
one’s mind is flippant and lacking truth. After such an occasion
it is best to come face to face with the truth and express it. The
truth will then be arrived at in one’s own heart too. Even when
greeting someone lightly, one should consider the circumstances
and after deliberation speak in a way that will not injure the
At times of great trouble or disaster, one word will suffice.
At times of happiness, too, one word will be enough. And when
meeting or talking with others, one word will do. One should
think well and then speak. This is clear and firm, and one
should learn it with no doubts. It is a matter of putting forth
one’s whole effort and having the correct attitude previously.
This is very difficult to explain but is something that everyone
should work on in his heart. If a person has not learned this in
his heart, it is not likely that he will understand it.
Human life is truly a short affair. It is better to live doing
the things that you like. It is foolish to live within this dream of
a world seeing unpleasantness and doing only things that you do
not like. But it is important never to tell this to young people as
it is something that would be harmful if incorrectly understood.
Personally, I like to sleep. And I intend to appropriately
confine myself more and more to my living quarters and pass
my life away sleeping.
Covetousness, anger and foolishness are things to sort out
well. When bad things happen in the world, if you look at them
comparatively, they are not unrelated to these three things.
Looking comparatively at the good things, you will see that
they are not excluded from wisdom, humanity and bravery.
People who talk on and on about matters of little importance
probably have some complaint in the back of their mind. But in
order to be ambiguous and to hide this they repeat what they
are saying over and over. To hear something like this causes
doubt to arise in one’s breast.
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 worse,
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.
To talk about other people’s affairs is a great mistake. To
praise them, too, is unfitting. In any event, it is best to know
your own ability well, to put forth effort in your endeavors, and
to be discreet in speech.
The heart of a virtuous person has settled down and he does
not rush about at things. A person of little merit is not at peace
but walks about making trouble and is in conflict with all.
It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream. When
you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell
yourself that it was only a dream. It is said that the world we
live in is not a bit different from this.
People with intelligence will use it to fashion things both
true and false and will try to push through whatever they want
with their clever reasoning. This is injury from intelligence.
Nothing you do will have effect if you do not use truth.
In affairs like law suits or even in arguments, by losing quickly
one will lose in fine fashion. It is like sumo [wrestling]. If one
thinks only of winning, a sordid victory will be worse than a
defeat. For the most part, it becomes a squalid defeat.
Feeling deeply the difference between oneself and others,
bearing ill will and falling out with people – these things come
from a heart that lacks compassion. If one wraps up everything
with a heart of compassion, there will be no coming into conflict
A person who knows but a little will put on an air of knowledge.
This is a matter of inexperience. When someone knows
something well, it will not be seen in his manner. This person
One cannot accomplish things simply with cleverness. One
must take a broad view. It will not do to make rash judgments
concerning good and evil. However, one should not be sluggish.
It is said that one is not truly a samurai if he does not make his
decisions quickly and break right through to completion.