A lot of people on sites like this one are promoting books that they like to help guys in their lives. I myself have a couple books that I recommend in my resources section. To be honest, a lot of the books I recommend are some of the usual suspects. The reason I believe you should read these books is because they gave me a specific thing to think about.
For instance, I’m not exactly sure how much value is in the 4 hour work week, but the first chapter of the book is worth reading over and over again in order to get an idea of what is possible. In fact, that’s exactly what I did. One of the only things keeping me sane in my old job was that I had the first chapter of the audiobook on my ipod.
Another book on my list is Think and Grow Rich. The book has a lot of good stuff in it but most of it’s a lot of the same stuff you hear everywhere. The chapter on sexual transmutation on the other hand is really unique and I have never heard that anywhere before.
Anyway, you get the point. Most of my recommendations are of books that I gleaned at least one interesting thing from the entirety of the book. That still makes it worth it, so I recommend it.
Hagakure on the other hand is completely different.
My background with Hagakure
Back in my teens I was pretty obsessed with martial arts and all things Asian. It was around this time that the internet was really coming together with high speed internet. If you weren’t around back then, let me paint a picture for you. Imagine one day going on your computer and having limitless information at your fingertips.
Once I had this resource at my disposal I started looking at the most random stuff. I’m talking philosophy, weird gun arguments, conspiracies, and religion. Somewhere in there, I stumbled upon this strange book called Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo.
The Hagakure is a weird book. It’s a mix of recollections, stories, and philosophy seen through the lens of the author’s experience in Zen Buddhism, Bushido, and Confucianism. Back when I first read the book, I wasn’t fully prepared to understand the deep meaning of it. All I knew was that this was some samurai stuff and it sounded pretty cool.
As time went on I got interested in other stuff and forgot about Hagakure.
A Productivity Masterpiece
I’m not sure exactly why I thought about Hagakure recently, but I decided to pick up a physical copy in December. It was about 15 years since the last time that I read the book, and since that time I’ve had a considerable amount of life experience.
After reading the book again, I realized that this book is a really great resource for anyone struggling with productivity.
There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.
A lot of what is discussed in this book has to do with acting, not thinking. This turns a lot of people off because what most people do is sit and dwell on a subject. People will rationalize this inaction by saying that they need to plan everything out in order to not make mistakes. The problem of course is that the task never gets done at all. I think that a lot of people would get more done if they just acted without thinking, and readjusting from there.
You have to read between the lines a little because the context with which Tsunetomo is talking about these topics is centered around killing a guy for mundane reasons by today’s standards.
Get past the time period
When I first read this book, there were a lot of things that I didn’t understand because I couldn’t get past the time period. Hagakure has a lot of important lessons on taking action, but they are mixed in with a lot of stuff that would seem extreme by today’s standards. In order to really get the most from this book, you have to understand that back then, extreme activities were a way of life.
There’s a lot of talk about seppuku here. This is ritual suicide where you take a knife and cut across your stomach. Then someone else cuts off your head. People were doing this for the simplest of reasons. Your master dies? Seppuku. You fucked up the accounting for the clan? Seppuku. Dishonor your family? Seppuku.
Japan was a very interesting place in the 16th and 17th centuries. A lot of the stuff that was common place would be considered insane these days. It is what it is though. Don’t discount this book just because you don’t agree with some of the actions of the people in the book. Try to look through and see the deeper meaning of what is being talked about. Try to apply the underlying meaning to today.
Obviously you can’t go “cutting people down” at the drop of a hat these days or you’ll end up in prison pretty fast. I think there is something to be said about acting on emotion right away instead of trying to forget about it and repressing it.
Red Pill existed in feudal Japan
If this book came out today, it would be labelled mysoginistic. Again, that’s just a product of the climate this book was created in. Right now on the internet there’s a bit of a cultural backlash against the current climate of left leaning social issues getting pushed.
It seems as though there’s this struggle going on and the battleground is the internet. The struggle is a “culture war”. The thing about this culture war is that it’s been going on for a long time.
Hagakure makes a lot of mentions about the “old days” when men were men.
According to a certain person, a number of years ago, the late Matsuguma Kyoan told this story:
In the practice of medicine there is a differentiation of treatment according to the Yin and Yang of men and women. There is also a difference in pulse. In the last fifty years, however, men’s pulse has become the same as women’s. Noticing this, in the treatment of eye disease I applied women’s treatment to men and found it suitable. When I observed the application of men’s treatment to men, there was no result. Thus I knew men’s spirit had weakened and that they had become the same as women, and the end of the world had come. Since I witnessed this with certainty, I kept it a secret.
When looking at the men of today with this in mind, those who could be thought to have a woman’s pulse are many indeed, and those who seem like men are few. Because of this, if one were to make a little effort, he would be able to take the upper hand quite easily. That there are few men who are able to cut well in beheadings is further proof that men’s courage has waned. And when one comes to speak of kaishaku, it has become an age of men who are prudent and clever at making excuses. Forty or fifty years ago, when such things as matanuki were considered manly, a man wouldn’t show an unscarred thigh to his fellows, so he would pierce to himself.
All of mans work is a bloody business. That fact, today, is considered foolish, affairs are finished cleverly with words alone, and jobs that require effort are avoided. I would like young men to have some understanding of this.
Holy shit that is intense. Think about the fact that back then, you weren’t a man if you weren’t good enough at cutting criminals heads off. This book is full of red pill stuff like this, and at the same time is focused around serving a master. How can this be? Easy, back then there weren’t a lot of ways to gain upward mobility besides being a samurai. It’s not like people could just go and start an ecommerce store in their spare time. Serving your lord was your job, and it paid to do it well.
Yamamoto Kichizaemon was ordred by his father Jin’emon to cut down a dog at the age of five, and at the age of fifteen he was made to execute a criminal. Everyone, by the time they were fourteen or fifteen, was ordered to do a beheading without fail. When Lord Katsushige was young, he was ordered by Lord Naoshige to practice killing with a sword. It is said that at that time he was made to cut down more than ten men successively.
A long time ago this practice was followed, especially in the upper classes, but today even the children of the lower classes perform no executions, and this is extreme negligence. To say that one can do without this sort of thing, or that there is no merit in killing a condemned man, or that it is a crime, or that it is defiling, is to make excuses. In short, can it not be thought that because a person’s martial valor is weak, his attitude is only that of trimming his nails and being attractive?
If one investigates into the spirit of a man who finds these things disagreeable, one sees that this person gives himself over to cleverness and excuse making not to kill because he feels unnerved. But Naoshige made it his orders exactly because this is something that must be done.
Last year I went to the Kase Execution Grounds to try my hand at beheading, and I found it to be an extremely good feeling. To think that it is unnerving is a symptom of cowardice.
Back when I first read this book, I didn’t quite understand all the talk about death. There’s a famous passage from this book that reads:
The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the way of the samurai.
The meditation on death here has two purposes for the samurai. One, it helps you deal with the fact that you could die a horrible death any day at any moment. This exposure to the worst outcome makes you less terrified of it actually happening. The more you think about your own death, the more comfortable you are with the fact that you will die some day. This helps you live in the moment and be more appreciative of your life.
Another purpose of death for the samurai was the death of their ego. With all the service you had to do under the care of your lord, letting your ego get in the way was a sure fire way to be a shitty samurai. Thus, the way of the samurai was in the death of their ego. This allowed you to be more productive as you weren’t questioning every little thing you had to do.
I don’t think a total ego death would be beneficial for the average guy reading this as the ego is needed to keep you alive at a certain level. However, I think a lot of us can work on an ego reduction to the point that it doesn’t get in the way of stuff we are trying to do.
If you’re someone like me and enjoy being productive and taking action, I think you’ll really enjoy Hagakure. I included only a small sample of passages from this book. In reality, I could have flipped through the book and pulled out a passage at random and it would have been beneficial.
The samurai weren’t perfect, they were a bit intense and acted irrationally sometimes, but their interesting mix of philosophy and honor system is something that we could use a little more of in our modern world.
Pick up a copy of Hagakure here.
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