I suppose I became a modern Samurai through the experience of my father's death. My father belonged to the old school of Samurai philosophy -- a way of life that I despised for one reason - he committed ritual suicide known to the Samurai as Seppuku, or Hara-kiri. I remember the day that he died. It was cold and very early in the morning when he came to me and told me about the ways of the Samurai. He told me about honor and a life dedicated towards a morality of perfection; a way of life that had the highest moral goals in attempting to achieve a perfect state of being and living. He also told me at length about the ancient Samurai who valued the warrior's aggression as much as kindness and compassion. I was a bit confused by his lecture. After all, I had heard these words and ideas all my life. But for me, then, they were ideals and words without real substance.
My father was a man who lived strictly according to the principles of the Samurai, even though it was a tradition that had died out many centuries ago and was only practiced by a few -- yet in him the sprit of the Samurai survived. I thought I knew all about the ideas and theories that had been a central part of his life. Until that morning I had nothing but respect for the Samurai way as my father was one of the kindest and most compassionate men I have ever known. But that day was to prove to be one of the darkest and decisive days in my life. That night he committed Hara-kiri. I heard my mother's screams when she found him. I cannot remember many details, except that my father lay dead by his own hand in a pool of his seeping blood. Why had he done this? This was the resounding question that went through my mind and, more importantly, why had he done this to me? To his family!
I learnt much later that there were reasons for his terrible action that I was unaware of. He had been forced and tricked into a scurrilous business deal with his working partner. A deal that had, unbeknown to my father, been based on the corrupt payments and underhand bribery. When he found out about this he was already embroiled in the scandal and his upstanding life, values and ideals as well as his sense of honor, literally fell to pieces. Another man in the same situation may have weathered the storm -- after all, he was technically innocent as he had no foreknowledge of the crime. But his personal code of righteousness and Samurai view of life prevented him from eluding his responsibility. As I was later to understand he believed that he had not been vigilant enough and had allowed monetary concerns to intervene in his moral judgment. He had broken a code which did not accept failure lightly. At the time I was more than shocked at his death. I felt betrayed. It was as if a black cloud had absorbed my thoughts and perceptions of life. I was angry and mostly I was angry at the Samurai code that had robbed me of my father.
The next few years of my life passed as if in a blur. My anger evolved from hate into a dull unfeeling emptiness within. My life was suddenly void of all meaning. I turned to any form of entertainment and release to fill this void. In fact, I now realize that I was trying to do everything that went against the Samurai code. The code was a set of principles there were directed at responsibility, service to others and a selfless way of life. It was about doing the ethical and moral "right thing' and not being concerned about the consequences to oneself. This was an aspect of the code that I would only begin to understand later in my life when I too would follow the Samurai way. But this is too far ahead of my story is not yet done. Events that followed inflicted a gradual and inevitable decline in my life as I lost all sense of principle and order. What happed was that I fell lower and further then I could have imagined. My whole being was focused on escape. An escape from the very principles and way of life that my father had followed and which -- I thought -- had been the cause of his death. I drank, took drugs, and became friends, as much as one could, with the dregs of society, the dealers, petty criminals and pimps. For years my life was a misty haze of inebriated disillusionment.
One afternoon, tired of the endless cycle of alcohol and empty conversations I slunk into a tattered and rundown movie house. Some "B-rate" film was showing; dubbed from the Japanese. The central and poorly acted hero was supposed to be a Samurai warrior. In the film he falls on his sword following some vague family dishonor. Something snapped in my mind. I don't know if it was the act of hara-kiri or just the ridiculous comparison with the actual ritualistic death of my father that I had experienced so many years ago. But my whole being was in turmoil. I walked out of the theatre and into the streets as if in a stupor, bumping into strangers in my haste to get away from the images I had just viewed on the screen.
I walked aimlessly throughout the night wrestling with a multitude of questions that began to loom like monsters in my thoughts. Why had my father committed ritual suicide? He was an intelligent and level headed man. How could he be compared to that caricature on the screen? What is the meaning of existence and what is the meaning of my own life? I felt that my life was as unreal as that ridiculous film. I was both confused and ashamed at myself. I realized that the only way toward any normality was to examine my father as an individual being -- his way of life and the reason behind his untimely death. I had to understand my father's ethics if my own life was to have any meaning.
I began to read about and research the Samurai and their warrior code. Everything I read corresponded to what I knew about my father. I read how the Samurai had developed in ancient Japan and about their rules of ethics, compassion, intelligence and honor. I began to understand something about their attitude towards life and gained insight into the reason for my father's actions. I also saw through some of my childish impressions of the Samurai in studying the code of Bushido that grew from the Samurai warrior class. But most of all I was concerned with the rationale behind the act of ritual suicide -- Hara-kiri.
To the samurai, seppuku -- whether ordered as punishment or chosen in preference to a dishonorable death at the hands of an enemy -- was unquestionable demonstration of their honor, courage, loyalty, and moral character. (Seppuku - Ritual Suicide)
My research also led me to understand the basics of the Samurai code. One of things that surprised me, but that fitted in well with the picture I had of my father, was the combination of stern and even aggressive behavior when required, with a love of art and intellectual refinement. I began to realize that the image and best qualities of the warrior, the artists and the philosopher were all combined in the overall image of the Samurai.
It's unsurprising that many modern martial arts are a legacy of the Samurai, but so are more gentle Japanese customs, like flower arrangement and the tea ceremony.
What I discovered was that there is within the Samurai code a deep and serious respect for life which is manifested in the system of honor that runs throughout the Bushido code. The meaning of this code is something that permeates life -- I realized too that the basis of the Samurai code was that life is important and that the actions that one takes in one's life are not to be treated lightly or frivolously. Life is extremely valuable and there is no reason or excuse to waste it. This is, I began to realize paradoxically, why father had killed himself. Because he could not bear a life that was not lived with the greatest respect to self and others; a life that was not lived correctly and seriously was a shameful thing to the Samurai.
I also began to understand that the act of Hara-kiri is borne out of a deep respect for life itself. The entire Samurai way of life led me to understand their integrated and holistic view of what human existence should be. The ancient Samurai's were warriors, artists as…