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Musings for the Modern Mystic

Musings for the Modern Mystic

21 Precepts on Life From a 17th Century Master Swordsman

21 Precepts on Life From a 17th Century Master Swordsman


Last Updated on April 9, 2024

Miyamoto Musashi, otherwise known by his Buddhist name, Niten Dōraku, was a 17th century ronin (a samurai with no master) who displayed an otherworldly skill with the sword from an early age, coming to be renowned over the course of his life due to his level of mastery in the field.

The author of 17 books, he traveled widely, trained, and had many famous duels. In later life he became an artist and a recluse, mastering the ‘broken ink’ landscape technique and penning his greatest work, The Book of Five Rings, a text that is still widely read today.

The “Dokkōdō” (“The Way to Go Forth Alone”) is a list of 21 precepts he penned in the final week before his death. As one would expect, they are quite cutting — short, concise and bereft of any extraneous expression.

If you’re intent on really sitting with these for a while (as one should be with any deeply philosophical notions), some of them may indeed leave you scratching your head. While this is of course a good thing, it’s important to remember the context in which they were written — the time period and geography, and the prevailing notions therein, as well as the extraordinarily exotic life of the author by any contemporary standards.

1) Accept everything just the way it is.

2) Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.

3) Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.

4) Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.

5) Be detached from desire your whole life.

6) Do not regret what you have done.

7) Never be jealous.

8) Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.

9) Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.

10) Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.

11) In all things, have no preferences.

12) Be indifferent to where you live.

13) Do not pursue the taste of good food.

14) Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.

15) Do not act following customary beliefs.

16) Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.

17) Do not fear death.

18) Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.

19) Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.

20) You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honor.

21) Never stray from the way.

Source Notes / Commentary

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