Wisdom from Early Japan on Learning / Join me as we explore the Japanese Culture of the Samurai!


We learn about the sayings and deeds of the men of old in order to entrust ourselves to entrust ourselves to their wisdom and prevent selfishness. When we throw off our own bias, follow the sayings of the ancients, and confer with other people, matters should go well and without mishap. Lord [Nabeshima] Katsushige borrowed from the wisdom of Lord Naoshige. This is mentioned in the Ohanashikikigaki. We should be grateful for his concern.
Moreover, there was a certain man who engaged a number of his younger brothers as retainers, and whenever he visited Edo or the Kamigata area, he would have them accompany him. As he consulted with them everyday on both private and public matters, it is said that he was without mishap.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo7

…all samurai ought certainly apply themselves to [the study of military science]. But a bad use can be made of this study to puff oneself up and disparage one’s colleagues by a lot of high-flown but incorrect arguments that only mislead the young and spoil their spirit. For this kind gives forth a wordy discourse that may appear to be correct and proper enough, but actually he is striving for effect and thinking only of his own advantage, so the result is the deterioration of his character and the loss of the real samurai spirit. This is a fault arising from a superficial study of the subject, so those who begin it should never be satisfied to go only halfway but persevere until they understand all the secrets and only then return to their former simplicity and live a quiet life.
There is an old saying that bean sauce that smells of bean sauce is no good and so it is with the military pedants.

Daidoji Yuzan8

Learning is to a man as the leaves and branches are to a tree, and it can be said that he should not be without it. Learning is not only reading books, however, but is rather something that we study to integrate with our own way of life.
One who is born into the house of a warrior, regardless of his rank or class, first aquaints himself with a man of military feats and achievements in loyalty, and, in listening to just one of his dictums each day, will in a month know 30 precepts. Needless to say, if in a year he learns 300 precepts, at the end of that time he will be much the better.
Thus, a man can divide his mind into three parts: he should throw out those thoughts that are evil, take up those ideas that are good, and become intimate with his own wisdom… I would honor and call wise the man who penetrates this principle, though he lacks the knowledge of a single Chinese character. As for those who are learned in other matters, I would avoid them regardless of how deep their knowledge might be. That is how shallow and untalented this monk is.

Takeda Shingen (1521-1573)9

When a man in the beginning of his life is ignorant of everything, he has no scruples, finds no obstacles, no inhibitions. But after a while he starts to learn, and becomes timid, cautious, and begins to feel something choking in his mind, which prevents him from going ahead as he used to before he had any learning. Learning is needed, but the point is not to become its slave. You must be its master, so that you can use it when you want it.

Yagyu Munemori (1571-1646) (as interpreted by D. T. Suzuki)10excerpt Learning taken from: http://www.samurai-archives.com/cultcat.htmlImagepicture by Tung Luong