In examining codes of behavior, I am sure you are familiar with chivalry, but have you heard of Bushido? Literally meaning “the way of the warrior”, Bushido is a Japanese word for the way of the samurai life. Basically, this was a moral code that governed how samurais were to conduct themselves and was anchored in seven key virtues, which are as follows:
1. Rectitude of Justice
This is the strongest of the Bushido virtues and refers to both martial and personal rectitude (or justice). One of the samurai warriors defines it like this: ”Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.’ Another speaks of it in the following terms: ‘Rectitude is the bone that gives firmness and stature. Without bones the head cannot rest on top of the spine, nor hands move nor feet stand. So without Rectitude neither talent nor learning can make the human frame into a samurai.”
Bushido makes a distinction between courage and bravery by qualifying one as courageous only if the cause is righteous and just. Knowing what is right and not doing it shows a lack of courage.
3. Benevolence of Mercy
Men in a position of power and authority were also called to administer power of mercy and benevolence. Love, magnanimity, care for others, and sympathy were characteristics of benevolence and were believed to be the highest power of the human soul.
Politeness was the expression of consideration for the feelings of others and was considered a poor virtue if the only motivation was not offending good taste. In the highest form, politeness was to show courtesy and was to be rooted in love.
5. Honesty and Sincerity
Luxury was believed to be the greatest hindrance to manhood, so the warrior class was required to live in simplicity of the highest degree. For a true samurai, it was said that “men must grudge money, for riches hinder wisdom.” By abstaining from wealth, men were able to stay more honest and would avoid the temptation to be greedy. For this reason, children were raised with the notion that discussing money was poor taste.
Honor, a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and wealth, was emphasized in Bushido and was a mark of the samurai. Thus, men were raised to cherish their duties and positions greatly. The biggest fear was disgrace, as it would reflect on an entire family, as opposed to just an individual. Honor also meant not taking offense at the small things and showing patience in bearing the unbearable.
Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive value in the feudal era with personal loyalty also being of paramount importance. In short, men were to be loyal to those they served and to those who served them.
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