Dwelling on… how the Way of the Samurai can be used to improve one’s pursuit of happiness through work, trade, or profession.

 

The following is a compilation of every post in the Way of the Samurai Architect series, assembled for your convenience and reading pleasure in following my thoughts on how an ancient Japanese Text, the Hagakure aka The Book of the Samurai, can lend itself to every day battles in modern life, and becoming better day in and day out, or Bushido. If you have already been following this series, skip to the bottom for an exclusive writing about Bushido.

 

Here, I elaborate on terms heard in architects’ and interns’ circles like BIMJA, CAD-JITSU, WARRIOR INTERN and other notions that metaphorically equate up-and-coming architects to lethal martial artists. I haven’t had any formal martial arts training. However, the discipline, practice, and pursuit of personal perfection inherent to the martial arts all raise my interest. This interest came to a peak when I was introduced to Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. I offer this description from iheartintelligence.com.

Over 300 years ago, Yamamoto Tsunetomo dictated the quotes and wisdom that would become the book Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. The book is described as “a window into the samurai mind, illuminating the concept of bushido (the Way of the Warrior), which dictated how samurai were expected to behave, conduct themselves, live, and die. While Hagakure was for many years a secret text known only to the warrior vassals of the Nabeshima clan to which the author belonged, it later came to be recognized as a classic exposition of samurai thought.” One amazing aspect of this book is the time in which it was written: long before Western influence on Japan. In Tsunetomo’s time, bushido was a code that related heavily to the Zen concept of “muga”, or the “death of the ego”. As time went on, the Samurai way of life became less of a mystery and different interpretations of bushido were made by many people. As old as the knowledge may be, the concept of Bushido is truly timeless.

Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

The drive to study bushido, or the Way of the Warrior, and seek muga, or the death of the ego, plays integral parts in my personal practice and pursuits.  If you are familiar with the relationship between ego and architects, this may come as a surprise.

Ghostdog image from Odd Fellows Rest

To learn more, please read Hagakure, order it here. Or you can get and check out Ghostdog here, a Jim Jarmusch movie that Odd Fellows Rest called “…a gangster-samurai Indie film with a delightful sense of irony and an imaginative soundtrack.” in the post Movie Review: Sadness, Surreal Picnics and Funny Games.

 

With that intro, I will move on to the following quotes from Hagakure that are featured in that movie. After each quote are a few words on how I find parallels in my own life, since, you know, I don’t actually roam from village to village  wielding a katana in life and death battels and Klan drama to serve my master. Although, the sense of urgency feels like that sometimes and there are similarities. There are lesser battles day in and day out. There is a master, or client to serve. There is livelihood if I succeed and the lack thereof if I fail.

 

from Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

CENTERED

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment.  A man’s life is a succession of moment after moment.  If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue.”

 

We work with ever increasing distractions all chipping away at our time, productivity and focus IF we let it. I know for some it is more difficult than for others to maintain consistent and steady productivity. This is why it is important to recognize a reactive response to one of these distractions or “attention grabbers”. I scheme at always maintaining a proactive practice. One way I can achieve a perpetually proactive practice is to make time during each day to stop, quiet the mind and ask myself, “What is the most important thing you should do RIGHT NOW?” When I first read this passage from Hagakure, it resonated deeply with that habit and made it that much more important to my days.

 

from Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

RESOLVE

“There is something to learn from a rainstorm.  When meeting a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road.  By doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet.  When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking.  This understanding extends to all things.”

 

Being resolved from the beginning is crucial in many situations, whether challenging, tedious, or otherwise perplexing. Learning new skills, accomplishing life goals, achieving key milestones, and facing impossible odds are all personal life experiences that will benefit from a strong resolve and solid strategy at the onset. In the example above, the resolve counteracts getting the “same soaking”. How does being prepared and resolved to get that soaking become “understanding [that] extends to all things”?

 

from Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

FOCUS

“According to what one of the elders said, taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird.  Even though it enters into the midst of a thousand of them, it gives no attention to any bird other than the one it has first marked.”

 

If the field of battle is a desk full of tasks or a sheet full of redlines, imagine the proficiency gained by adopting a hawk like focus on the first one I see on top of the pile, or on the sheet. Do you know what I mean? How many times have you caught yourself shuffling business cards, mulling over the next call, or reminiscing about a good conversation with one of those contacts? I read the quote above and think about the minutes added to a day by eliminating the shuffle, mulling, reminiscing and replacing these time wasters with ACTION.  Those minutes add up quick and I promise the actions make more positive difference to my effectiveness, and hopefully bottom line; more than the missed opportunities.  Like a hawk taking a bird.

 

From Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

DETERMINATION

“In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. It is the matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.”

 

There is nothing like making a decision and moving forward on that premise. I remember the first few years of architecture school, having conversations with fellow students that were not sure they wanted to follow through with that major. No doubt, architecture is not for everyone, but when I was talking with someone with promising talent, and had demonstrated exceptional creativity, I had to ask, ‘why second guess what path you have chosen.’ For me, anyway, it made it a bit easier to get through the stressful times on the long road to a degree in architecture, when I remembered the reasons I had originally decided to be an architect. It makes it easier when you just decide that you are where you are supposed to be, and concentrate on being the best you can right there.

 

From Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

IMMEDIACY

“When one has made a decision to kill a person even if it will be very difficult to succeed by advancing straight ahead, it will not do to think about going at it in a round about way. The Way of the Samurai is one of immediacy, and it is best to dash in headlong.”

 

Clearly, nobody is dying here… no one gets killed. Metaphorically though, if we go back to the battlefield of a desk full of tasks or a sheet full of red lines that is mentioned in the paragraph on FOCUS in the introductory post, think of “dashing in headlong” to begin knocking out those tasks and completing the changes redlined in the drawings. Ask yourself, when you sit down to begin a productive day, do you “go at it in a round about way”? Or are you more like a hawk taking a bird, and dashing in headlong.

 

From Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

PERSPECTIVE

“Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige’s wall there was this one, ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.’ ”

“Master Ittei commented, ‘Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.’ ”

 

You have heard the quote “God is in the details”. That is why details get so much serious attention in building design.  The details are where a building keeps from leaking, where a design lasts for ages, and where thoughtful material transition can enrich the experience of the space. You may also have heard “The Devil is in the details” when there is a leak or a connection breaks, or a material transition is clunky, clumsy, or just doesn’t work.  As for matters of great concern, think of the lightly sketched gestures that become expressed in the form of famous architecture. When looking at iconic building through the history of modern architecture many of them can be boiled back down to an initial concept sketch by the architect.  That sketch is usually treated lightly, an expressive gesture of the pen or pencil over the paper that leads to the great concern of an iconic piece of architecture.

 

samurai-03-retainer

From Ghostdog

DEVOTION

“If one were to say in a word what the condition of being a Samurai is, its basis lies first in seriously devoting one’s body and soul to his master. Not to forget one’s master is the most fundamental thing for a retainer.”
Not to forget one’s boss or one’s client is the most fundamental thing for a professional. To be successful, one must seriously devote ones body and soul to a boss or a client’s project. I see ego come out a lot in architecture and enjoy recognizing when an architect puts the ego away and lets the client’s project come first. I suspect this happens in most design professionals as well. Devoting the body and soul to one’s master is to truly let that master drive every move, decision, and stroke in the work. I believe this level of true devotion leads to exceptional project outcomes.

 

From Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

ONE THING

“It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same with anything else that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own.”
As my own way is The Way of the Architect, then hearing about The Way of the Samurai helps me be more in accord with The Way of the Architect. What is your own way? Does it not inspire you to hear or read about The Way of the Samurai?

 

From Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

DREAM

“It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream. When you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell your self it is only a dream. It is said that the world we live in is not a bit different than this.”
It really is all in your head, isn’t it? What you see goes into your head, or brain to be processed and turned into vision. What you hear goes into your brain and turned into sound. What you feel is sent to your brain by your nervous system and turned into those sensations. I think this quote from the Hagakure is not a stretch. While “something like a nightmare” may come and go, and you could call it only a dream, I think it is important, though, to learn what you may from it. Maybe you can keep that bad dream from happening again. Also, once you see the world like this, doesn’t it become easier to achieve your dreams, and live your dreams, if you see the world as a dream?

 

From Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

FORM IS EMPTINESS, EMPTINESS IS FORM

“Our bodies are given life in the midst of nothingness. Existing where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase “form is emptiness”. That all things are provided for by nothingness is the meaning of the phrase “emptiness is form”. One should not think that these are two separate things.”

 

This Hagakure passage reminds me of the “form follows function” or “function follows form” discussion in architecture.  If “form is emptiness” vs. “emptiness is form” are not two separate things, it stands to reason that “form follows function” vs. “function follows form” are not two separate things either.  When a new building site is chosen, there is nothing there. The building design gives life to that site from the nothingness. The building design is form that captures space for inhabitation. It is truly a gift to be part of that process.

 

From Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

DETERMINATION

“Even if a samurai’s head were to be suddenly cut off, he should still be able to perform one more action with certainty. If one becomes like a revenging ghost and shows great determination, though his head is cut off, he should not die.”

 

This is a remarkable statement and testament to the samurai’s ability to fight while being many steps ahead of his next move. While the quote attributes this to determination, I think the samurai’s presence in the fight, with an inherent choreography to carry out, shows that he has anticipation of an opponent’s intentions.

When I am in a business negotiation, I strive to by many steps ahead of the conversation. I’m sure most people do the same. While I should never have my head cut off in business dealings, there are surprises that come up that could be compared to that moment in a battle.  If I had this samurai determination, I should still be able to take that surprise in stride of the talk, and come right back to the aim of my own goals in the negotiation.

 

From Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

SPIRIT OF AN AGE

“It is said that what is called “The Spirit of an Age” is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world’s coming to an end. For this reason, although one would like to change today’s world back to the spirit of a hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation.”

 

Zeitgeist is literally translates to the “time ghost” and has loosely been called “The Spirit of an Age”.  I think this quote is talking about ghosts and spirits because once a time has passed, it, with its spirit, has died. This is why you cannot have it back any more than you can bring back a beloved relative that has passed, although you have fond memories of time spent with that relative. These memories have come from making the most and best of those moments, and will be all you have moving beyond those times together. You can see how this and the zeitgeist are the same and how we must make the best of out time together, as much as our generation because once they both are gone, we may not have them back, but we will have our memories.

 

From Ghostdog

From Ghostdog

PRESENTATION (COMPLEXION) IS EVERYTHING

“It is good to carry some powdered rouge in one’s sleeve. It may happen that when one is sobering up or waking from a sleep, a samurai’s complexion may be poor. At such a time, it is good to take out and apply some powdered rouge.”
It may happen, when one is sobering up of working after an all-nighter, an architect’s complexion may be poor. At such a time, it is good to… NO. Architects do not apply some powdered rouge after having all-nighters. Maybe it is something they should try, though. I can remember walking around looking like the dead, after slaving over a studio project all night long in school. A poor complexion makes a bad impression. The stakes are higher if you are out in the professional world. I find it funny that in the Hagakure, there would be this passage about this simple remedy for a poor complexion. Although is shows that presentation is everything, down to the personal details of complexion hygiene.

 

via www.azquotes.com

via www.azquotes.com

IN DEATH

“The way of the samurai is found in death. Mediation 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 in to the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand foot cliffs, dying from a 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.”
I am including this quote to show the elemental dedication to the Way of the Samurai. Parallels to practicing architecture, though… I am not sure there are any, other than that level of dedication to The Way that perfect daily practice brings. Think of how deep your dedication to the substance of your way runs. Is there anything this intense that you meditate upon on a daily basis? What could that be in The Way of the Architect? Maybe it is daily meditation of heated debate of building code interpretation with building officials. Maybe it is daily mediation of defending your design intent against value engineering proposals. Maybe it is daily meditations of enforcing construction details with a contractor that is cutting corners on craftsmanship and sound building practices. Please comment on this post and let me know what you meditate, or could meditate on day in and day out.

 

From Ghostdog - The Hagakure being read by Ghostdog's protege.

From Ghostdog – The Hagakure being read by Ghostdog’s protege.

THE END IS IMPORTANT

“In the Kamigate area, they have a sort of tiered lunch box they use for a single day when flower viewing. Upon returning, they throw them away, trampling them underfoot. The end is important in all things.”
Indeed it is. In the movie, Ghostdog takes a young girl as a protege, more for genteel living of a thoughtful life, not in his role as an assassin.  As a matter of fact, he took great care to shelter her from that part of his being. He saved a briefcase fill of $100 bills from his work, and made arrangements for her and her caretaker to have some of it after his death, at the end of the movie. The Hagakure was part of that gift.  The preparation and planning the gift shows Ghostdog’s forethought and awareness of how he would meet his end, and the last determined action he would take after he was killed.

 

In architecture, the end of a project can be marked by both substantial completion and final completion, as this post describes. Topping off ceremonies are also a sort of end, as the building has reached its highest point, but much work usually remains after topping off. Any one of these milestones in a project are great opportunities for celebration. I attended a seminar on construction administration (CA) where the instructor was adamant that the architect build money into the CA budget for project morale events, including a party, cookout, ceremony, or celebration at topping off and substantial completion. You can imagine what a positive effect these get togethers can have on a job site, after months of the grind on a project – schedule crunches, lead time glitches, equipment issues, change order arguments, and (God forbid) removal of and corrections in the work.

 

BUSHIDO,THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR

The drive to study bushido, or the Way of the Warrior, and seek muga, or the death of the ego, plays integral parts in my personal practice and pursuits.  If you are familiar with the relationship between ego and architects, this may come as a surprise.

Briefly, bushido is historically and religiously tied to Shintoism.  The practice follows Zen Buddhist style of teachings.  Bushido values for a warrior to ingrain are Martial arts mastery (primarily the sword), Zen-enlightenment through training, no fear of death, and the seven virtues for character.

The seven virtues for character in Bushido.

The seven virtues for character in Bushido. Slide and introductory writing via http://slides.com/jackdvs/japanese-bushido/

 

For more details check out the Wikipedia entry for bushido. The seven virtues for character form a foundation that a person can build a long an happy life upon. I believe that improving one’s self from day to day lies at the root of Bushido. Taking the seven virtues for character and building one’s own way is, to me, bushido for modern times.

 

Thank you for exploring the Hagakure and Bushido with me. I hope you have found some nuggets here that will play a lasting role in your life and pursuit of happiness. Until next time, live nicely.