Going Alone

Going Alone

Budo: Learning for Life

In a small book of introduction to Budo entitled Budo shoshin-shu, there is a section called ‘Shukke-shi,’ in which Daidoji Yuzan12, the author, says that samurai should travel round and learn while they are young, as do the Zen monks. This book points out that Buddhist monks are in general far more educated than most samurai. It is because the monks ‘leave their homes: they leave their monasteries and make tours to visit other monasteries, where they study various other doctrines and also get to know other regions’.

The author also says that many samurai just stay at home and draw their salary, without learning anything new except the place where they live. He recommends that samurai, like monks, should travel in order to learn and travel alone as the monks do. Really he is recommending something like a musha-shugyo errantry, not to study swordsmanship but to see new things and people with his own eyes. In this way he will get, not more book knowledge, but judgement and will be able to judge what he reads.

The same idea would be good today. In Daidoji Yuzan’s time, Japanese people could not travel abroad. Today they are wonderfully well informed through books. Even when they travel abroad, they go in groups, so that they are still at home in ‘a little traveling Japan’. They look at the foreign country as if through a pane of glass.  They see us, turn to their friends on their side of the glass and talk about us. They do not talk to us face to face: they are always in a group with a glass plate round them. If they talk, they talk through the glass. They know so much, yet they act as if they knew very little.

In fact, the Japanese have so much theoretical knowledge that sometimes they cannot easily make a decision. Of course, if a road branches into two, it is easy to make a decision: you go either right or left. But if it branches into five roads, it is far more difficult to choose. If it branches into 17, it may take a very long time to decide. Some Japanese feel that the safest thing to do is to choose a road which already has several people on it.  But that is not really a decision: it is a sort of panic. How can the Budo spirit help to make us decisive? Let us first look at the causes of the indecisiveness. I believe that the main causes of the difficulty are lack of judgement, lack of confidence and lack of faith.

Judgement cannot be developed by reading. Reading gives us only certain facts and opinions, but it does not tell us how to judge them. For instance, books and TV may tell us many conflicting things about human mental potentialities. Some say genetic factors set absolute limits. However, look at children in India doing mental arithmetic. The teacher has a calculator, calling out some long numbers to be added, while the children are supposed to write them down.  At the end he says: ‘That’s all. Now add them’. But before he can press his ‘Add’ button, several of the children have shouted the answer. They had kept a running total in their heads. (Their technique of adding is to begin with the millions.) All the children can do this, though some are slower. To see this once makes one realize that no-one can set limits to mental possibilities. One can now judge, because one has a living personal experience. 

Someone may say, ‘Oh, we could see that on TV’. Not so. An individual, sitting quietly in a corner, can see it happen. But a group or a TV camera would disturb the class. The children would be shy and not shout out the answer. So the group would see nothing. True, it might be rehearsed for TV, but then it would be no evidence at all: it is not a real happening but a stage show.

A traveller can get real experience when he is alone. Even just two foreigners together, talking their own language quietly, are still noticeable. The local people may adapt their behaviour, more or less. But a single person, not talking, is just a member of the public. He has read about French courtesy and he can look at the wonders of Paris. But now he can also see two Frenchmen quarrelling. As one Frenchman remarked, ‘We French civilized Europe, but perhaps we did not quite finish the job on ourselves’.

To see these things, we must practise going alone. The Budo text says, ‘Do not forget the spirit of contest’. Many other texts say the same thing: ‘Be prepared at all times to fight. In the street, at a meal, even in the bath, be ready’. At these times, the bujin would often be alone. Today we do not normally have to be ready to fight, but we should be ready to be alone. It takes courage, and the old Budo texts can help to give that courage.

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