There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself. - Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings
Miyamoto Musashi was one of the greatest swordsmen the world has ever known. Not only was he undefeated in over 80 duels, many of them to the death, but he also fought in the pitched battles common in 16th century feudal Japan. What makes him truly spectacular, however, was that he was not just a master of the sword. He was the master of many crafts.
Musashi wasn’t just an accomplished samurai and sword-fencer. He also forged his own weapons, wrote treatises on strategy, and created beautiful ink paintings. His surviving works are considered national treasures in Japan.
A week before he died, Musashi wrote the Dokkōdō, or The Way of Walking Alone.
It consisted of 21 precepts and provided a guide to live life by. The principles are rigid and severe, but powerful and honorable. Nearly four centuries later, the seminal work is still read and studied by millions around the world.
The precepts represent Musashi’s philosophy of life — that of honesty and virtue, being strict with oneself, and adopting an ascetic worldview. Like Musashi’s more famous Five Rings, Dokkōdō contains elements of Zen and Shinto Buddhism, which were commonly practiced in Japan during his lifetime.
If applied, these precepts will transform ones state of mind, bringing one clarity and strength in solitude.
Accept everything just the way it is
Suffering is caused by Desire. For generations, men have been known for dominance and control. However, not everything can be controlled. Flexibility is a key component in an even-tempered man.
If one is able to accept the reality of the things, one will be able to adapt to the world, instead of vainly wishing that the world would conform to ones desires.
Do not seek pleasure for its own sake
Pleasure is a false idol. The search for pleasure is a dangerous adventure. Along the way, many men have gotten lost in pleasure. When done in excess alcohol, drugs, sex, and food all lead to long term pain.
So, if one makes the pursuit of pleasure the sole purpose of existence, one will be forever chasing an ephemeral high. This pursuit causes enormous anxiety and is amongst the root causes of suffering found in the developed world.
Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling
Go into everything whole-heartedly and non-apologetic. Mindless actions are typically foolish ones. Mindless experiences are typically forgettable ones.
Follow this feeling to find your life’s purpose.
Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world
Ego blinds and ego destroys. Enter all experiences humble and respectful of others. One does not need to diminish ones self worth, rather one needs to trust ones abilities and be open to others.
Be detached from desire your whole life long
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. - Epicurus
The two strongest fears that men typically face is fear of death and fear of missing out. Both are born from attachment. If one does not control oneself, one will be controlled. As humans, we are all built to want more, more and more.
To be a slave to desires is to be a mountaineer addicted to the high of climbing, endlessly in search of the next peak, the next best view, the next high but never finding fulfillment.
Escaping the torturous flywheel of desire is the path to true fulfillment.
Do not regret what you have done
What is done is done. Regret and guilt are both useless emotions. The past cannot be changed and the future cannot be determined. Focus on the present. One cannot move forward while looking back.
Better to learn from mistakes and move on than to be forever plagued by the self-inflicted torture of a guilty conscience.
Never be jealous
Comparison is the thief of joy. Envy is a bottomless pit of suffering. There will never be enough and one will never feel like one is enough.
Don't seek to be the best amongst the crowd. Seek to be the best version of oneself.
Never let yourself be saddened by a separation
Change is the only constant. Attachment leads to fear and fear results in pain. Live fully in the moment because one cannot control the future.
So, do not be saddened by the end of things, be they relationships, a fulfilling career, or life itself. Amor Fati.
Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself or others
Resentment is typically born from jealousy and greed. Seek to be the best version of oneself and complain about nothing.
Don't waste energy complaining, expend energy doing.
Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love
If you wish to control others you must first control yourself - Miyamoto Musashi
Lust is a dangerous emotion and many men have sacrificed everything and been ruined by it. Love is a pure emotion, but a man can be blinded by it. Maintain awareness
In all things have no preferences
Remaining open minded relates to the flexibility. Bias can blind one opportunity, health, wealth, love, and wisdom.
In having no preferences towards things that don’t matter, one frees up ones mind for the things that do.
Be indifferent to where you live
Ones giant follows them wherever they go. A particular environment is irrelevant, people have succeeded in deserts and tundras. Rather than focusing on ones surroundings one should focus inward on cultivating strength and resilience.
It doesn’t matter what environment one finds oneself in if one is not comfortable within the confines of ones own skin.
Do not pursue the taste of good food
Food should be consumed for its sustenance. Taste is secondary. Man cannot live on cake alone.
Food is a necessity. Food is not something that needs to be the main focus of ones life. Eat to live do not live to eat.
Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need
One will never realize how much useless stuff one owns and never use until one pack to move. One should actively declutter.
Epicurus said, “To make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires. He who is not satisfied with a little is satisfied with nothing.”
We are born with empty hands, and we will depart this world the same way. This is true for the wealthy and the poor.
Do not act following customary beliefs
Learn to think for oneself. Discover and implement traditions and rituals.
Just because something is practiced and preached by many doesn’t make it a fact. Develop critical thinking and challenge age-old beliefs with respect.
Revolutionaries elevate themselves, and ultimately the world.
Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful
Every man should learn to fight and defend himself and those around him. However, do not be consumed by violence.
Musashi wrote in the Book of Five Rings to “Do nothing that is of no use.”
A sword’s primary purpose is to cut. In the same vein, a pen’s purpose is to write and a cup’s purpose is to drink from. All else is ornamental.
Don’t assign arbitrary meaning or rituals to everyday items. Tools are meant to be used, and people are meant to be loved. Not the other way round.
Do not fear death
The greatest irony is that those most afraid of death are also most afraid to live.
Death is the only constant in life. Thus, to fear death is to fear to live.
Once one overcomes the irrational fear of death, ones life can truly begin.
Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age
This is the one that may be more contextual for the time and Musashi's occupation as a wandering samurai. However, it is still a good point to mention the danger of greed. There is such thing as too much.
Many work hard in a capitalistic society so that one might retire and have something to show for it. A Rolex, a Villa, grandchildren running around on a manicured green lawn.
Musashi argues vehemently against this logic.
For him, the process is the journey, and the journey is the reward in itself. All external rewards are wind.
Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help
Regardless of ones faith, respect fellow men and depend on nothing but oneself. Men lie and gods don't answer every prayer.
Hopes and wishes are well and good, but at the end of the day, the only thing one can count on is oneself.
Offer up daily prayers, but don’t count on divine intervention. Intervene on ones own behalf. Develop skill and the wisdom in which to extricate oneself from ill situations.
Using ones God-given talent is the best way to honor ones creator.
You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honor
While it is important to never be apologetic, a man must follow his own ethics and values. To betray one's own ethics is to compromise one's soul.
In the first chapter of The Book of Five Rings, Musashi muses that “generally speaking, The Way of the warrior means resolute acceptance of death.”
To fight, and shall things go badly, to give up your life for a higher purpose — be it for family, a belief, a clan, or a nation. That is the true purpose of a warrior’s life.
Harsh? Certainly. But no one ever said that attaining greatness and becoming the best version of oneself was going to be easy.
Never stray from the Way
Enter everything whole-heartedly and do not stray from the way. A man who lies to himself loses the ability to understand the truth.
Lastly, Musashi reminds us of the importance of sticking assiduously to the Way.
These precepts are meant to be practiced. They are meant to be put in action, to be lived. Go forth and put these precepts into practice.
Remember, one is what what one repeatedly does. It is only through constant action and repeated practices that one rises above and forges a better version of oneself.
Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men. — Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings
The Dokkōdō, is the last known work of Miyamoto Musashi. An unparalleled swordsman, philosopher, and ascetic, Musashi lived his life according to these precepts. He considered them so important he wrote them down moments before death.
These 21 precepts prove it is possible to find meaning, contentment, and greatness in a life lived alone and with little in the way of materialism. These precepts have helped countless others find strength and purpose. Musashi's 21 precepts are strict and ascetic. However, through these precepts one can attain mastery of oneself.