Miyamoto Musashi was a 14th century Japanese warrior that is widely seen as the greatest swordsman who ever lived. At 16, Musashi fought on the losing side of a war. At this time in Japan, it was tradition for any survivors of a lost conflict to commit suicide to preserve their respect. Musashi rejected.
His decision ripped him from society, forcing him to wander from town to town as a disgrace.
In a new world, without anyone or anything to rely on, the young Musashi chose to rely on his skill in martial arts to survive. With the goal of perfecting his craft, he went on to participate in over 60 sword duels against the nation’s best samurai — many being to the death. He won all of them.
Musashi later retired to an abandoned cave, where he would record the lessons he learned along his journey. He died shortly after completing his work. Today, we know these cave-manuscripts as the Dōkkodo, or the way of walking alone.
What you will be reading is this exact philosophy — the path Musashi made after wandering his entire life, where his thoughts and his swords were the only things that kept him company.
1. Accept Life Just The Way It Is.
The act of pushing something as immovable as the universe is the greatest punishment one could inflict on themselves. Understand what you can change and what you cannot. It is the only way to live a life of harmony.
2. Do Not Seek Pleasure For Its Own Sake.
When you rely on temporary bouts of pleasure to give your life meaning, you will eventually become a slave to whatever provides you the highest saturation of it in the shortest amount of time. The search for more will tire you. You will find yourself rationing your pleasure to avoid depleting them:
Real happiness can be found without conscious effort — as a byproduct of every step you take, as long as you follow a path of greater purpose and look closely at things the right way.
3. Do Not Depend on Partial Feelings.
The modern human has an extremely low certainty potential. As the world becomes an environment where it is easier to survive independently, we do not need nearly as much certainty to act on opportunities as the generations that predated us. This freedom, however, comes with its own curse — we tend to throw our weight into half-certain decisions that could ruin us.
When the fog becomes too thick to see through, wait for it to clear. Only make a decision if you can digest its worst possible loss. Certainty is a rare commodity, but patience is rarer.
4. Think Lightly Of Yourself and Deeply of The World.
At one point, the same molecules that you are made of were part of a star, the soil, or the ocean millions of years ago. What separates from all those things is how you are one of the rare instances where universe can experience itself. Being alive means using this fleeting experience to the fullest.
As the universe continues to expand and we cannot help but feel smaller in comparison, it is impossible to find meaning unless we acknowledge that we are in fact small. But, realizing that you are a part of the endless universe makes all the difference.
5. Be Detached From Desire Your Whole Life Long
To Musashi, desire is what distracts us from pursuing our true goals. Consequently, every desire we have leaves a new opening — a new weakness for us to be manipulated and controlled. Additionally, the more we want everything, the less likely we are to get anything:
“The world favours those with few, specific goals rather than those who want the world itself.”
Recognize what you want in your life and walk away from what moves you further away from it.
6. Do Not Regret What You Have Done
The world is too fickle for one to base the morality of their actions on. After all, what is morality is its definition changes from country to country, and from person to person?
It is not enough to look to the outside world for what is right and wrong. This is the position in which you are most fragile. Build your own framework to the world you live in, or you will live a life that someone else wanted you to live. Once you take an action, stand by it and do not be afraid to call it your own. Your values are the only things you have. Never lose them.
7. Never Be Jealous
When someone compares themselves to another person, they do so with the fatal assumption that they are even comparable.
The antidote to envy is to understand that we do not envy others, but we envy the fact that they are envied. Just as there are plenty of people who might be born with more money or resources than you, there are plenty of people who were born with less, and there is a good chance that they envy you today.
And in addition, no one can amount to anything significant — no matter how much of anything they have — if they do not take advantage of it with their conscious actions. This is the great equalizer of the universe, and using it is something you will always have control of.
8. Never Let Yourself Be Saddened By A Separation
Virtually every source of human suffering comes from believing we can control things that we have no control over. Sometimes, however, we forget that this includes the people around us:
Just as you have the freedom to live life as you wish, others have exactly the same right. How would you feel if someone guilted you into staying with them for the rest of your life?
“The people around you were never yours to begin with.”
If anything, they were temporary visitors in a small chapter of your life. Even if they never left you, it would be a temporary stay all the same. Instead of drowning yourself in their painful memories, find peace in the fact that you got to meet them at all.
9. Never Resent or Complain
Many of those who despise the world never realize that their hatred and pain are their own choices. Fight too hard against the currents of life, and you will find yourself wasting your living years suffering for something that was never worth suffering for.
10. Do Not Let Yourself Be Guided By Love
Love is a nicer-sounding alternative to describe the state of being blinded. It can convince otherwise responsible, capable people to go to the most extreme, twisted lengths for what they want. An act done out of “love” (or any intense emotion) today could very well be your greatest regret tomorrow.
Be ruthless in your decision-making. No matter how much you love something or someone, vow to ground yourself in logic and truth before anything else.
11. In All Things Have No Preferences
As a young samurai who often found himself faced against unbelievably dangerous opponents, Musashi quickly realized that duels had no room for biases. No room to handle his preferred weapon or a use his favourite strategy. There was only room to choose the best option— the option that would let him win:
Every battle comes with its own challenges. Never enter today’s battle with the same mindset as yesterday’s one. By detaching your emotions from your actions, you will find yourself making the right decisions rather than the ones that seem so in the moment.
12. Be Indifferent To Where You Live
“No amount of square footage or scenic views can compensate for a permanently unsatisfied mind.”
Changing your surroundings will not change your mind, but changing your mind will keep you content regardless of your surroundings.
13. Do Not Pursue The Taste Of Good Food
In Musashi’s time, many people starved to death. Today, in an age of abundance, Musashi would be surprised to know that many die from the opposite. Still, this does not make the situation any more desirable.
This point, along with the two the come before it, are carefully worded repetitions of the same message: “If you base your happiness on factors outside of your control — factors that could change at the turn of a day — you are preparing to disappoint yourself.” There is nothing in this universe, outside of yourself, that deserves the opportunity of being tied to your worth.
14. Do Not Hold On To Possessions You No Longer Need
While historians believe it was more out of compulsion than choice, Musashi was a minimalist long before it was fashionable. With no family to belong to and no stable location he could call home, it was also the most logical option.
If an object no longer had any practical use to him, then it was only extra weight he would have to carry for thousands of miles. No amount of sentimental value would make the load any lighter:
Musashi’s level of anti-materialism might not be possible for most, but it is possible to extrapolate a more diluted version of this lesson. Own what is absolutely necessary to live the life you want to live. When the time comes, let go and never look back.
15. Do Not Act Following Customary Beliefs
Is it the colour of a baseball player’s lucky socks that let him hit his home-runs, or is it simply his skill?
Facing many life-or-death scenarios, Musashi did not have the luxury of making deals with luck to survive. He had the unwavering belief that his ability was the only thing that would control his outcomes. Nothing more. Superstition is a warrior’s greatest enemy. Face this internal fight before moving on to external ones.
16. Do Not Collect Weapons Beyond What Is Useful
In his quest to become a better fighter, Musashi developed an unconventional style where he carried a long-sword in one hand and a dagger in another. On many occassions, he was mocked for this by his opponents — his blades were neither flashy nor attractive, and his movements were direct instead of graceful.
What these people noticed too late was that Musashi was not aiming to be a fashionable warrior. He was aiming to be an effective warrior. The swords he used mattered much less than how experienced he was with them, and how well they served him in combat. As we know today, Musashi always had the last laugh. Do not mistake your vehicles for success as success itself.
17. Do Not Fear Death
The fear of death comes from loving life in excess. However, life alone is not worth living for. Given infinite amounts of life, we would be too paralyzed to value anything. Death forces us to define the little time we have and give it meaning:
“Once again, you are a part of this universe with the special ability to experience the universe. You have been dead for roughly 14 billion years.”
Life cannot exist without death, and thus should not be feared. Just as ignoring life is not the solution, ignoring death is never the solution either.
18. Do Not Seek Goods For Your Old Age
We largely aim to purchase things not for ourselves, but for the eyes and ears of others — for the vision of how we will be viewed. But remember this:
Nothing and no one enters your grave but you. Death is an individual endeavour.
Carefully consider how much you value flourishing your possessions to others. Consider if it is valuable enough to risk not discovering yourself and fulfilling your purpose before you die.
** Do not take these words completely at face value. Having a retirement fund usually tends to be a smart decision for most people.**
19. Respect The Gods Without Expecting Their Help
It is almost impossible to have a relationship with God without it eventually becoming transactional. If a higher power did exist, would it not be able to see who was praying for what, and why? What incentive would it have to help those that turned to it for every need?
The only person Musashi ever trusted was himself because he knew his actions were his own. He never relied on God to win him a fight. He never held God liable when he lost.
“Musashi won his battles because he never asked for an easier fight. He would not have it any other way”
Take more responsibility for your actions than those around you, and perhaps God will take notice.
20. You May Abandon Your Body, But You Must Preserve Your Honour
Nothing we have is eternal. Even the brightest legacies will fade long before the stars do. There is no use in trying to maximize the lifespan of anything to outlive your physical one. Rather, what matters is the way you live the life you are given.
Build your own path and find the the courage in yourself to follow it, because the only person your life should have to satisfy is you.
21. Never Stray From The Way
Musashi lived his philosophy till his final breath, and he faced death with none of the fear that comes from living an incomplete life. Did he follow the Way in its entirety, in perfect form — always with all the right intentions? Even for someone of the likes of him, it would be hard to believe.
Nevertheless, Musashi very well might have been the closest that any human got to that vision. And so, he rightfully lives on, as an example for the ones who walk the path less followed — dedicating themselves to a better future.
**If you are still interested in Musashi’s story, you can read a preview of his next most popular book on life-strategy called “The Book of Five Rings”, with the link provided. Additionally, read the biography “Musashi” to gain a deeper understanding for the life he lived. The ending is worth every page.**