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The Tale of the Samurai & the Thief
emotions will not serve you
How often have you done or said something during a crucial conversation and then wished you hadn’t?
Can you recall the damage done by those actions or words?
High-Level Overview of Today’s Letter
Quote: Miyamoto Musashi
Old ZEN Story: The Tale of the Samurai & the Thief
The Way of the Warrior: 8 Virtues
"There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself."
Today’s letter is about an old ZEN tale that underscores the value of temperance and respect, despite the circumstances.
It goes like this:
Once upon a time, in Japan, there lived a Samurai warrior.
He was well-respected for his skills and unwavering dedication to the code of the Samurai, known as Bushido.
This code emphasized virtues such as honor, courage, and self-control.
One day, a local farmer came to the Samurai's lord, claiming that a man had stolen a radish from his land.
Theft was considered a grave offense, and the Samurai was sent by his lord to punish the thief as per the laws of the land, which meant the thief would be sentenced to death.
Upon reaching the thief's house, the Samurai came across the man who had stolen the radish.
The man admitted to stealing the radish and knew why the Samurai had come.
The Samurai draws his blade, and the man spits in the Samurai’s face.
The Samurai felt a sudden rush of anger.
Although furious, he remembered the Bushido code principle of self-control, and the Samurai decided to sheath his sword as he was too angry to carry out his duty.
He believed that personal emotions should not affect one's duty.
As the Samurai turned around and left, the man mocked him shouting, “That’s right, you better walk away," further taunting the Samurai.
The next day, the Samurai returned to the thief's house, this time with a clear mind.
The man came to the Samurai and once again spit in his face.
The Samurai drew his blade, took position to strike, and the man threw up his arms in fear of being cut down and said, “Why today do you not turn around and leave like before?”
The Samurai replied, “Yesterday I was angry,” and cut the thief’s head off.
The Way of the Warrior: Samurai
The culture of the Samurai was influenced by the spiritual philosophies of Buddhism, Zen, and Confucianism, whilst also, to a lesser extent, ideologies from the native Japanese religion of Shintoism.
Zen meditation and the Buddhist concept of reincarnation led the Samurai to overcome the fear of death and abandon futile violence.
At the same time, Confucianism emphasized the importance of loyalty and honor.
The fierce loyalty demonstrated by the finest Samurai warriors led to the unwritten code of chivalrous conduct, outlook, and customs known today as Bushido or ‘the precepts of knighthood.’ Nitobe Inazo, the author of Bushido, the Soul of Japan, explains these eight virtues:
1. Justice (義 Gi)
‘Justice is the bone that gives firmness and stature. Without bones, the head cannot rest on top of the spine, hands move, or feet stand.’
2. Courage (勇 Yū)
Confucius explains: ‘Perceiving what is right and not doing it reveals a lack of courage.’
3. Benevolence (仁 Jin)
‘Love, magnanimity, sympathy, and pity are traits of benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul. Confucius often said that benevolence is the highest requirement of a ruler of men.
4. Respect and Politeness (礼 Rei)
‘Respect should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others; in its highest form, respect and politeness approach love.’
5. Honesty and Integrity (誠 Makoto)
Living modestly was encouraged ‘for the exercise of abstinence. Luxury was considered the greatest menace to manhood, and the warrior class required severe simplicity.’
6. Honour (名誉 Meiyo)
‘A vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth characterized the Samurai, who were raised to value the duties and privileges of their profession. Fear of disgrace hung like a sword over the head of every Samurai.’
7. Loyalty (忠義 Chūgi)
‘Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era’; paramount importance was placed on loyalty to one’s nation.
8. Character and Self-Control (自制 Jisei)
The Samurai were taught that ‘Men should behave according to an absolute moral standard that transcends logic. It was a man’s obligation to teach his children moral standards through the model of his own behavior.’
The tale of the Samurai and the Thief emphasizes the importance of self-control and conducting duties without being driven by personal emotions.
The Samurai chooses not to act out of anger on the first day, demonstrating exceptional restraint and adherence to the Bushido code.
On the second day, however, when he returns composed and still faces disrespect from the thief, he does his duty not out of anger but because it’s his responsibility to uphold the law.
The story highlights that justice should be objective, and actions, particularly severe ones, should not be taken in a state of heightened emotion.
In the heart of Japan, the Samurai's tale echoes as a powerful testament to the unwavering spirit of the Bushido code.
He didn't allow the thief's scornful taunts and disrespectful actions to cloud his judgment or taint his duty with personal feelings.
When he returned on the second day, his mind was calm, his resolve firm.
The thief, again disrespecting the Samurai, was met with the consequences of his actions.
The Samurai enforced the law not acting out of rage but out of duty, underscoring that true honor lies in restraint and fulfilling one's responsibilities without letting personal emotions take the reins.
The Samurai’s actions remind us that while emotions are inherent to human nature, they should not dictate our actions, especially when they bear severe consequences.
Emotions will cloud our judgment.
Rarely is it a good idea to decide in the moment.
The exception is if you are in danger.
Time and space will almost always clear the haze.
Big Love, Nadeem
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