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Live Your Life Like You’re Already Dead (Ancient Samurai Wisdom for Emotional Wellbeing)

18 August 2011 One Comment

young asian samurai artwork

“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the way of the samurai.” ~ Yamamoto Tsunetomo

First off, a caveat: by “living like you’re already dead” I DO NOT mean “live like nothing matters anymore,” cause that’s just not cool. What I do mean is let go of your bullshit and identify with experience in the present moment.

To be clear, it’s what new-agey types refer to as “transcending the ego,” but I do my best to stay away from cliche terms, because the potency of an idea gets lost as it becomes general knowledge.

This is important to remember too: general speaking, the more commercial something is (whether that be a fad, idea or activity), the LESS significant it tends to become. Just like the depth of your own mind is found mostly in your subconscious thought, the depth, value and “truth” of a society is found mostly in its underground expression.

Some Good Examples

So yes, Echkart Tolle in The Power of Now refers to this as “present-mindedness” and you might also hear quantum physicists say things like, “the observer, the observed and the process of observation are one.”

Bro. Phil Valentine, in his video lecture The Book of the Earth calls this “Pi-Point Perception,” but I’m referring to it here as “Embracing Death” because to me, that’s exactly what’s going on.

Whenever we transcend the ego, live in the present moment or “use pi-point” a certain aspect who we are (i.e: who we’re PRETENDING to be) is dying: it’s passing away as we realize that all of our guilt, shame and limitation is part of a drama that we’re acting out VOLUNTARILY (albeit it subconsciously).

young indian woman on beach

When asked who we are, we respond with our name, followed by things like our profession, our belief system and our ethnicity or national name. However, these are really just aspects of our personality – the word personality coming from the Greek ‘persona’, meaning ‘mask’

While we all have names, talents, personal goals, positions, titles and social roles, etc., that’s not who we fundamentally are. At a deeper level, we’re really just awareness: a self-aware “observer” animating the physical form, or “The Ghost in the Shell“…

I’m not too big on mysticism or anything like that, but I’ve found that “embracing death” has two valuable, practical benefits:

1.) It develops courage, because the void you enter into can be intimidating, and

2.) It allows you to conquer yourself, because it dissolves all of the psychological complexities that are inhibiting you.

For me, I had an awkward fear of it not simply because it freed me from self-critical thoughts, but because it constantly put me in a position of power.

The more I embraced death, the more I found others subconsciously giving me status and authority in almost ALL of my interactions, even in situations where it didn’t make sense (like at my job, in school settings with teachers, etc.). It can actually be scary…

The Way of the Samurai

The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily…when one’s body and mind are at peace…one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.”

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there is nothing left to do, and nothing else to pursue.”

I first heard those quotes in the film Ghost Dog: The Way of The Samurai starring Forest Whittaker (one of the best films I’ve ever seen, by the way). Check out the trailer here:

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A friend eventually told me how the film is based on the life of Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a Japanese samurai from the early 1700′s known for the wisdom contained in Hagakure (pronounced “Ha-Ga-Koo-Ray,” which translates as “In the Shadow of Leaves).

Hagakure is also known as “The Book of the Samurai”, “The Analects of Nabeshima (Yamamoto’s Lord)” or simply “The Hagakure Analects,” and in it, Yamamoto suggests:

“(that) becoming one with death in one’s thoughts, even in life, was the highest attainment of purity and focus. He felt that a resolution to die gives rise to a higher state of life, infused with beauty and grace beyond the reach of those concerned with self-preservation.” ~ from Wikipedia

Here’s a Few “Jewels” From It:

“People think that they can clear up profound matters if they consider them deeply, but they exercise perverse thoughts and come to no good because they do their reflecting with only self-interest at the center.”

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…”

“In the words of the ancients, one should make his decision within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break through to the other side.”

“There is a way of bringing up the child of a samurai. From the time of infancy one should encourage bravery and avoid trivially frightening or teasing the child. If a person is affected by cowardice as a child, it remains a lifetime scar. It is a mistake for parents to thoughtlessly make their children dread lightning, or to have them not go into dark places, or to tell them frightening things in order to stop them from crying.”

Hope you find this as interesting as I did, and that it helps you to develop bravery and focus in your own life…


One Comment »

  • Asad said:

    Peace, I know this is an old post, but it inspired me to take a fresh look at my old copy of Hagakure. I first read it as a teenager, and some of the jewels were lost on me. Now, at the age of 30, I was able to approach it with a little more insight. Thanks for bringing some fresh perspective to the subject!


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