Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Compare Samurai code of Bushido with the European Knights code of Chivalry

Topic: Compare and contrast between the Japanese samurai’s warrior code and the European knight’s warrior code.
There are many similarities between the codes of honor of the Japanese samurai and the European knight and some distinct differences.
 The Japanese samurai lived by a code of honor called bushido or the way of the warrior (Text 395). The ideals of bushido came from blending the principles of Chan Buddhism (also known as Zen Buddhism in Japan) with martial virtues. A Zen Buddhist practitioner is taught to look within themselves, through a highly disciplined from of meditation called zazen, to achieve a mental state of fearlessness and spontaneous action called no-mind (Personal experience). The result of blending Zen Buddhism with martial virtues “was the highest expression of political leadership and personal conduct during the time of the Samurai (Sources 414). There are seven principles to bushido that the Samurai would hold close to his heart: 1) Honor, 2) Courage 3) Loyalty, 4) Wisdom, 5) Benevolence, 6) Honesty and 7) Respect . These seven principles are evident in Shiba Yosimasa “Advice to a Young Samurai”. For example, in the opening lines Yosimasa gives advice on the principle of honor, “[A Samurai] should behave in a manner considerate not only of their own honor, but also the honor of their descendents” (Sources 415). The Samurai principles of loyalty and courage are clear in the teachings of Yosimasa; he suggests that a Samurai would be expected to give up his life “for the sake of a sole sovereign, or serving under military command in time of need” (Sources 415).  On the principle of wisdom, Yosimasa advises, “Warriors should never be thoughtless or absentminded but handle all things with forethought” (Sources 414).  Imagawa Ryoshun, a Buddhist military commander, in a letter that was later used for instruction for young Samurai, Ryoshun directly teaches on the Samurai principle of respect, “You ought to show the utmost respect to Buddhist monks and priests…” (Sources 416). Yosimasa also advises that a Samurai should show respect to his parents by suggesting that a Samurai, “should emulate a bad parent rather than a good stranger” (Sources 415). On the principles of honesty and benevolence Yosimasa teaches that “neither deities nor buddhas will disregard a person who’s mind is honest and compassionate” (Sources 415).    
The European knight lived by a code of honor that is called chivalry. Many knights looked at the life and death of the biblical character Jesus Christ as the highest form of honor and manly virtue (Class). For example, When Jesus was being questioned by Pontius Pilate, Jesus could have denied his faith and possibly avoided death at the hand of the Romans; however, when asked “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus boldly and defiantly replied “Yes, it is as you say” (Mark 15:2). Furthermore, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he teaches “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Sources 224). European knights also learned from Jesus’ teachings on peace and loving-kindness. Such as, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the pure of heart…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the peace keepers for they will be called sons of God” (Sources 224). Tales of honorable knights personifying the teachings of Jesus Christ is evident in the tale of King Arthur and his knights of the round table (Class). One of King Arthur’s knights, Lancelot, is known for his honor, courage, loyalty and selflessness. In the tale of King Arthur and Guinevere, Lancelot displays the highest of chivalric values by going on a quest to save Guinevere from the evil the black knight. Lancelot was extremely loyal to King Arthur and willing to risk life and limb in order to appease his king. This lesson of loyalty was not lost on the European knight, they swore allegiance and pledged military service to greater lords or kings (Text 436).  Stories of King Arthur and Lancelot were told to many young knights and became a code of conduct for the European knight (Class).
There is one key difference between the Japanese samurai and the European knight. If a samurai lost or betrayed his honor by not upholding the principles of bushido a samurai could redeem his honor by performing the act of seppuku (ritual suicide) (Sources 414). However, a European knight, coming from a Christian or Catholic background, would have found the idea of ritual suicide appalling (Ecclesiastes 7:17). To my understanding, there is no advice for the European knight if he loses his honor on how he can regain it. I would think that he simply had to live in disgrace until an opportunity presented itself to redeem his honor by a heroic or selfless act.
     Chivalry is the flower of humanity (unknown). By living by codes of honor, warriors of the past strived to be more than simply killers for hire. These principles were not only good for ancient times; but men and woman, old and young, would benefit by applying them today. 


  1. Does anyone happen to know if there is a major Bushido literary work, like the equivalent to the tale of king Arthur to western Europe? It would make for a good comparison. I asked this in my Asian Philosophy class and was ridiculed. He said something along the lines of, "No. Giving kingship to somebody pulling a sword from a stone isn't a practical way to run a kingdom." I feel like he missed my question completely and mocked me by stating obvious differences between the values knights and samurai. I figured it went without saying that if this equivalent work DOES exist, then it would naturally stress different values than the western myths. He made it seem ridiculous that I might draw comparisons between Japanese and European feudalism, and the class laughed at his treatment of my question. How absurd was it to ask this? I was made to feel like an idiot. Is this the case?