Nikole writes:The Samurai, Japanese high military caste with roots in Buddhism and strict codes of conduct on morality, discipline, loyalty, duty were powerful for centuries even up to the early 19th century. Kurosawa's film, "Seven Samurai", presented a glimpse of their lost world. Popular American movies placed the theme in modern settings. The movie “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” was one of those films and William’s essay compares it to other religious practices. “Ghost Dog”, lives in a run down American city and adopts the ancient Samurai code in service of a Crime boss master who once saved his life. This devotion to duty is his equivalent of a religious calling.
Some of William’s aphorisms in “Extracts of Existence” refer to “The Way of the Samurai.” However, for this issue I chose two short pieces about ‘duty.’
'Spiritual' is born of igniting circumstances which reflect themselves in mirror -- me. The fire on sinking boats = us. How to find the sense in all of this? You can if you want, but you don't have to. Your life can make its program for you through your obligations while freedom from duty can make you a lost soul. Life in itself has no substance; it's a mold to be shaped either by you or your circumstances.
In one of Goethe's stories, an old man is absorbed in his writing when somebody comes to tell him that his son has died. The old man freezes for a moment, then, with the words "work above death", returns to his writing. The old man in Goethe's tale knew that when you look back you perceive not what you thought or felt but what you have done. For youth life is adventure. What comes later? Is there life between adventure and Alzheimer's? According to Goethe there is, in fulfilling your duty. The notion of happiness-unhappiness becomes irrelevant. What you can do is what counts.
By William Markiewicz
'Ghost Dog' is a film about the poetry of the samurai's way, set in the gangster world. The film doesn't really offer a clue to the strange paradox in the story: how to be a perfect samurai within the world of crime. Perhaps a code of honour has always been the focus point for those who are in the business of playing a life and death game, whether they belong to the upper classes or to the underworld. So it's possible that a boy growing up in an American ghetto might fall in love with the way of the samurai yet live a life of crime, carrying out hits for his master. The film has a tone of solemn gravity, though adorned with satiric details. For instance almost all the mafiosi killers are overweight senior citizens, chronically short of cash. The self-appointed samurai has chosen his master (very much to his master's surprise) and given him exaggerated devotion for which he pays with his life, adding to the mystical mood of the story. I chose this subject to write about because what I learned about the samurai's way in this film impressed me. The film is divided into sequences, each starting with written rules by which a samurai should act in a particular situation. Those texts come from the samurai's "poetry of war", one of those monumental 'holy books' which, when put together, form one universal book of life. Baudelaire wrote: "I know only three crafts made for a real man: poet, priest, and soldier." All the holy books indeed illustrate those qualities, with belief at the core. Still the rituals they prescribe are in general amazingly concrete, beneficial to the devoted. All practicing believers -- yogis, hassidic Jews, monks, sufis, soldier-priests, like samurais and knights in general, are fit, healthier, and live longer than ordinary folks.
The samurai, in my view, really stands apart in the spiritual flock. While others focus mostly on themselves and their enlightenment, the samurai has two spiritual duties: his master and the martial arts. The samurai's martial training is equivalent to prayer for the monk. Beyond those duties "the samurai is dead." Still, paradoxically, the samurai is not a servant. For him the duty itself is more important than the beneficiary of this duty. He is a living contradiction, "saved" from servitude by remaining proud and solitary while his own courage is his faith.Back to the index of the Vagabond