"Get beyond love and grief: exist for the good of Man."
- Miyamoto Musashi
Bushido, literally translated, means "the way of the warrior" (1). Historically, Bushido was a one-word, comprehensive term encapsulating the philosophies, codes, and practices of the samurai, a military and officer caste that existed in Japan for centuries.
Bushido is sometimes referred to as the Japanese version of chivalry, a European code of conduct followed by knights (chivalry translates to "horse soldiery" but later became used to refer to knightly ideals) (2). Chivalry arose out of Christianity, with the church believing it had a duty to guide knights into a more orderly (that is, less unruly) code of social conduct. Bushido, on the other hand, was shaped by melding the traditional practices of Zen Buddhism with Japan's indigenous, nature-based religion of Shinto, along with an appreciable dosage of the philosophy and ethics of Confucianism.
Chivalry was a European code of conduct pertaining to knights.
Both chivalry and Bushido emphasized physical prowess, loyalty, courage, justice for the wronged, and mercy for the defenceless, amongst other values (3). However, the concept of chivalry is now virtually non-existent, whereas Bushido remains alive and well both in and outside of modern-day Japan. Although the reasons for this are likely many and varied, the essential difference probably lies in the fact that Bushido has expanded well beyond its original meaning.
To understand this transition, a brief history of Bushido is necessary.
A (Very) Brief History Of Bushido
Although the term "Bushido" did not actually appear until 1616, the values of Bushido had been evolving for at least 500 years prior to this date, and probably even longer.
The ancient roots of Bushido started growing in the 700s and initally focused on martial abilities, including the use of overwhelming force to protect and govern regions of Japan. Thus, the origins of Bushido initially revolved, almost purely, around physical combat and the various different styles of fighting. It was not until the 1300s that the concept of the comprehensive warrior expanded to include moral principles as well as a wider array of practices such as Zen meditation, painting, flower arrnagement, the tea ceremony, and poetry, which included an emphasis on the death poem in which a warrior reflected on his imminent death, such as this one:
Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going -
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.
- Kozan Ichikyo
Bushido was formally born during the relatively peaceful Edo period, which lasted from the 1600s to the late 1800s. During this time, the significance of the samurai above and beyond battle grew even further to encapsulate a more general concept pertaining to personal growth and development, with the main goal and interest lying in creating value for others, as opposed to just following Bushido for personal reasons. This form of Bushido included methods on how to cultivate one's personality, raise children, care for finances, and treat family and other people, many of which are examplified in the quote below from this period:
Bushido originally provided a "way of the warrior" for samurai.