Essays From The Master

Archive for May, 2006

Nin Do versus Bushido

It has often been said that the Ninja are the shadow or dark side of the Samurai but as simple as that metaphor is it is deceptive because of its very simplicity. The Samurai are a class of warrior with arts and a code all their own, built upon the concepts of service and personal honor or “face.” (Note Bushido here is defined as written in Haga Kauri or book of hidden leaves) The Ninja to, are warriors with codes of their own every bit as binding as those of the Samurai. The aim of the Ninja is to get the job done while if possible promoting the concept of peace through empowerment of the individual. This is one cause for the Ninja having formerly been available for hire because as an “agent” of the parties in war one is able to some degree control the outcome of said war. Bushido promotes warfare in a highly ritualized context and while ritual has its place among the ninja to the ninja getting the job done is more important. Loyalty to the ninja takes the form of being true to one’s self and enduring the circumstances that arise as a result.

Face or personal honor in terms of public credit has no place in Nin Do as it does in Bushido. To be a Ninja is to be a shadow, an echo of what has been done. His reward is the achievement of his objectives; it is results not accolades the ninja seeks. To be a samurai is to be as the term implies one who serves, the samurai is bound to his liege lord. The ninja is bound only to himself and those whom the ninja has invested in and has likewise invested in said ninja. In olden times Ninjitsu was passed down within families, the Koga Clan was originally composed of 53 families. Family bonds as apposed to oaths of fealty bound the ninja to their clans. In addition to this fact was another fact that often times simply to be a ninja was to be an outlaw under sentence of death. Familial bonds and the ever present threat of death forged loyalty far beyond that relied on by the Shogun and the samurai. The spiritual roots of the Ninja among the Yamabushi as well set the ninja against the mainstream of feudal Japanese society and finally the ninja’s acceptance of non-Japanese into their ranks.

These factors make the ninja a counter culture to that of the samurai. This fact and the unorthodox manner of ninja combat, given the ninja’s disregard of “honor” as the samurai understand it, caused the samurai to view the ninja as inhuman. The main point of diversion between Bushido and Nin Do is the view of self by either adherent. The samurai view self as something to be negated or transcended, the ninja view sense of self as a thing to be cultivated. Where the samurai prize honor the ninja value freedom, the freedom to live and be as they will. To maintain their inner freedom the ninja have played many roles throughout history but freedom is always the ninja’s ultimate goal. Freedom here is the ability to express truth as one has found through one’s training as one passes through the abyss of knowledge and power to find the truth within one’s self.

The choice is simple on the path toward truth, service as per the samurai or freedom through self exploration and empowerment as per the ninja. Each path is valid, neither path is for all. Each path must be evaluated in light its applicability to one’s circumstances and its practicality in the attaining one’s goals. Senses of self or its negation are both methods for dealing with the ego. The suppression of the ego is based on fear of it in the individual or rather those whom the samurai serves as is his duty. Empowerment removes excuse and makes one responsible for all that is in one’s existence, this is the path of the ninja, which we term Nin Do. One concept that is found in both Bushido and Nin Do is giri or obligation which is a way of saying that one has the debts one feels are binding. In dealing with giri the ninja finds his honor, known only to himself and to those to whom the ninja is joined through giri. Honor like guilt is relative and while loyalty counts as a means to see that others honor what one honors its definition like honor or giri is subjective. Therefore whether one walks the path of Bushido or Nin Do one can not afford to rely on subjective concepts rather absolutes must be sought by the individual being true to him and in that way know what is true. The Samurai embody service to authority and the Ninja represent a check on such selfless action.

The spiritual roots of the ninja being the Yamabushi encourage the development of personal power and their fighting skills being in many ways more fluid than those of the Samurai evoked great fear in the samurai as the ninja “are not bound by the Way” as one writer wrote when speaking of the Ninja. Indeed the Ninja are not bound by any “way” other than there own. Both the “way of the Warrior” and the “Silent Way” are codes that are ideal for those that adhere to them. Neither path is any less valid, in fact much of the Ninja vs. Samurai debate is merely a matter of schools of thought trying to prove that theirs is the best when it really boils down to the adherents who embody said paths. It is also true that those in power, the “princes”, played on the conflict between Nin Do and Bushido as a means to maintain their own power. Much is noble in Bushido but it as anything can be taken to extremes and become a monomania in which one is unable to see the truth because one must be a “hero”. Nin Do can become another sort of trap in which life looses all value and all becomes a game. Each path has its pitfalls and rewards.

We have need to be true to ourselves along which ever path we walk because ultimately the path we end up with is not some abstract code but a code of conduct that has come through the fire of having to be applied in the real world. This tested and sure path is the only real “Way” whether one reaches it via Bushido or Nin Do and each forges it for them selves. In this way the warrior learns to move between absolutes and circumstance having come to terms with the realities of life. The ideals that make it through such trials are the true ones and are usually a far cry from the abstractions one is taught in any training. If one adheres to one’s chosen path in time that path will fall away and all that remains is one’s self.