Samurai Culture is Congenial Toward Iranian Mysticism
Japan’s industrial advancement and economic growth is as undeniable as its affiliation with its ancient and deep-rooted customs. Until recently, it was hard if not impossible to accept the notion of loyalty to both traditional culture and advanced technology. Japan, however, invalidated the idea developed by many sociologists who contend that tradition and cultural attachments hinder a country’s progress. Japan with an independent traditional identity demonstrated that alongside technological advancement one can remain loyal to cultural traditions. A large portion of the advancements in Japan have materialized thanks to commitment to their cultural tradition. One cannot ignore the set of Japan’s traditional culture of liberality plus its unique power to coordinate with incoming cultures. Japan’s cultural possessions are not much in conflict with the modern technical and social phenomena and currents. Without remaining aloof from its ancient behavior, it can synchronize and harmonize with any novelties. This liberality in dealing with new phenomena illustrates the simplicity of Japan’s initial culture.
One of the traditional features of Japan, reminiscent of its noble ancient culture, is the samurai culture. This class has been one of the four classes in Japan, particularly in the second era of Japan’s history known as the age of religious culture that persisted up to the 17th century; the samurai have been among the most important makers of culture shoulder to shoulder with Buddhist priests.
The samurai were counted as representatives of culture and the intellectual system of Japan. Although in no historical eras were the samurai among the producers, they enjoyed spiritual and moral virtues and special associations earning them privileges, triggering other classes to maintain them as models of moral perfection. Their courage and self-sacrifice brings them close to some extent to “ayyaran” (plural of ayyar meaning hero or champion) in Iranian culture. Although at no time in Iran did the ayyaran emerge as a distinct and unique class separate from the other layers of society, their impacts on spirit of bravery, generosity, fair play and selflessness in Iranian society cannot be overlooked.
Despite an absence of sufficient sources to make an exhaustive study of the two cultures, the study of two books entitled: The Book of the Samurai (Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo) and This is Kendo: the Art of Japanese Fencing (by Junzo Sasamori) allows one to find the affinity between Japan’s samurai and Iranian ayyaran. Study of the two books revealed the harmony of samurai culture with our moral teachings. To investigate the reasons for this harmony is beyond the scope of this short paper. Nevertheless, to put it in a nutshell, I believe that the affinity of Buddhism with Iranian culture and its spread and admissibility in major cities such as Balkh and Bukhara and finally its high harmony and concord with Iranian mysticism is worth of study as one of the common points.
The Hagakure’s philosophy of life and its comparison with Iranian and Islamic mysticism represents the affinity between samurai culture and Iranian mysticism. The author of the Hagakure believed that death is the samurai way and where one is hanging between death and life, the samurai unhesitingly selects death. Profound study of the Hagakure’s philosophy of death indicates that the author meant life amid this philosophy of death, conveying the message of true, valuable and human existence and not nihilism as presumed by some people.
The idea of death in the sense of life shines out in Iranian and Islamic mysticism. In Mowlavi’s mysticism death is the same as life.
The Hagakure defines a true samurai to be one who is fearless of death and constantly prepared to die. In this light, Mowlavi has the following paraphrased verse: A trader who is timid reaps neither benefit nor harm. In fact, he brings harm. One who is blazing will attain light.
The samurai way was not derived from teachings of philosophy and religion but from the spirit of courage and the bare and cutting truth in battlefields. In the epic history of Iran, the Iranian warriors have been admired for fighting for justice. Iran’s literature is replete with heroic epic deeds and stories seeking justice and name and fame. The way of Iranian knighthood emerged from religious fervor and revolved around the duty of the strong before the weak. The samurai, however, did not join wars in the name of gods or Buddha but in his own name, bragging and reciting heroic verses and hollering.
As regards the culture of shame, the samurai considers shame as most evil of all things. If a samurai fails to revenge, he reaps nothing but shame and ill-fame. An Iranian poet has said:
"Such said the Zoroastrian priest that honorable death is better than life in shame."
Loyalty is another element underscored in the Hagakure’s philosophy. The author does not approve of the prudent logic of the theory of Confucius regarding loyalty and stresses that a true samurai loyally serves his lord irrespective of benefits or losses. This unbounded loyalty of bushido despises death. The noble and loyal Japanese samurai were never empty of a spirit of self-respect and confidence and never accepted what they considered tyranny and bullying. The way of selflessness and loyalty has a unique place in Iranian mysticism.
In the life of a samurai the virtue of selflessness associated with self-control and one’s self-denial is in fact demonstration of all these virtues. To this end, Mowlavi says:
"I set the musical instrument to melody in denial, as you die, death will reveal the secret."
Among the features of loyalty in the Hagakure is the insight and feeling of love. In ancient Japan, physical and sensual fervor existed but they did not know love. In the west from the time of the ancient Greeks, human love and heavenly love differed. Human love (eros) began with physical liking. This concept developed gradually in Plato’s philosophy. However heavenly love (agape) is a spiritual life estranged from physical liking. Therefore, in Western thought, physical love and spiritual love were regarded always as contradictory. However, in Japanese fundamental thought, physical love and heavenly love were intertwined and there is no distinction between the pure and clean love of a man for other men and his loyalty to his lord.
A more profound concept of love is found among Iranian mystics. Love is the opening chapter of mystics and travelers of the way. This lofty mystical love is developed from untold feeling and wholly forgets the beloved. He means love and his life is love and without love he is dead.
The wisdom of the Hagakure’s thought can be highlighted in the fight against the concept of wisdom and intellect. The knowledge the Hagakure considers noble for man is intuitive knowledge that is separate from rational knowledge and theoretical reason. The eye of the heart is brighter and more profound than the eye of the head and the vision of thought. This interpretation for Buddhist mysticism and Iranian and Islamic Sufism is familiar. In the mystics way, intellect is the source of separation and discord. Intellect by itself is materialist and cannot restore man’s eternal value. This value is accommodated in divine intuition and man’s eternity. Man has always been in quest of it after his expulsion from paradise.
Satan is the embodiment of realist intellect, while man’s essence is love of perfection and eternity. Theoretical intellect is unable to find a way into this simple entity. This understanding is the source of the light of knowledge which reason cannot have access to. Man should turn away from logic so as to discover this knowledge. Mowlavi says: "I tested the prudent intellect and from now onward I will go mad." Hence, the Hagakure considers resolution and effort to be superior to intellect.
In Yamamoto's moral system, he accords special significance to education and defines it an unending current that lasts for life. The first principle of education for a samurai is self-making and cultivation of the spirit of courage and self-confidence. This concept has occupied a prominent place in Iranian and Islamic mysticism called the greater jihad or the jihad against self. In this philosophy real victory is not to overcome the enemy but wining over one’s self. The first step in self-making is self-knowledge.
The importance given to self-discipline in Iranian and Islamic mysticism can be found in the following narration:
"On seeing the returning armies from the battlefront, the prophet of God said: blessed are those who have performed the minor jihad and have yet to perform the major one." When asked what the major jihad is, the prophet replied, “the jihad of the self (struggle against self)."
To be a true samurai and step on the spiritual path, we should beg God to grant us brightness of sincerity, clean the mirror of our heart from the rust of hypocrisy and enrich our heart with the profusion of His love.