“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”
- Miyamoto Musashi
Born into a samurai family in approximately 1584, Miyamoto Musashi made his entrance during a time of great trial in the country of Japan. Growing up, his father, a samurai named Shinmen Minisai, taught his son both kenjutsu (swordsmanship) and juttejutsu as was considered to be a tradition in samurai families at the time.
At the age of 7, he moved in with his uncle, Dorinbo, a monk from the Shereian temple. It was his uncle that imparted great knowledge on Musashi in the topic of Zen Buddhism, as well as some far more basic skills such as the art of reading and writing. Growing to be an accomplished calligrapher, artist, and sculptor, Musashi was a man of many talents.
In his writings, including his book ‘The Book of Five Rings,’ Musashi discussed the idea that men could make their way through life in five different ways: as gentlemen, warriors, farmers, artisans, and merchants. Known as the greatest ever swordsman to come from Japan, he wrote a number of works focused not only on the techniques and strategies of swordsmanship but also on his views of life as a whole.
Just 2 weeks before his death, Musashi wrote a series of 21 rules, each designed to assist others in creating a culture of acceptance and self-assurance. These rules create a foundation upon which one could build a fulfilling and purposeful life. Opening your mind to these rules will allow others to view life from a different perspective, re-evaluating our self-imposed rules and regulations in exchange for happiness and self-acceptance.
Here are Miyamoto Musashi’s 21 Rules of Life:
1. Be indifferent to where you live.
If you allow yourself to become highly invested in the two you currently rely on, you may be closing the door to amazing opportunities simply out of fear of relocating. When presented with the opportunity to pursue a happy, fulfilled life we must be open to the possibility that our journey will take us elsewhere.
2. Do not regret what you have done.
When something has occurred that we are not entirely happy with we can either choose to live in a world of regret, dwelling on a past that we cannot change, or looking forward to the life before us and all that is available in this exact moment in life.
3. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
Food is the fuel that keeps the engine of our bodies moving at all times. Rather than focusing solely on the taste of good food, we need to keep in mind the importance of the vitamins, minerals and overall nourishment that good food presents.
4. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
Feelings and emotions are constantly changing in life, triggered by any one of a list of different factors. For some, in an effort to control our feelings and emotions, the chosen approach in life is to seek out happiness and joy, discarding the possibility of negative emotions. Unfortunately, this approach will not serve us throughout our lives, often leaving us unhappy and longing.
5. Do not hold onto possessions you no longer need.
Today’s society is highly materialistic. We purchase item after item, buying into the faulty illusion that when we finally buy the ‘right thing’ it will bring with us true happiness. Remove the clutter from your life to make room for bigger and better things.
6. Never be jealous.
When you allow yourself to entertain feelings of jealousy, it can wreak havoc on your life. Jealousy is nothing more than the envy of others due to your own personal insecurity. Rather than welcoming this toxin into your life, focus on working through the insecurity that is causing it.
7. Do not act following customary beliefs.
There are many examples of concepts, ideas and actions of the past, the way in which our ancestors chose to live their lives. While these ideas may have worked well for them, the only way to succeed in today’s society is to ensure that you are always thinking for yourself.
8. Accept everything just the way it is.
While many of us attempt to control every aspect of our lives, Musashi suggests that we loosen our attempts at control in favor of accepting the reality before us. Doing so will allow us to work through negative emotions, prepare for the future, maintain a relationship with my family and identify positive coping techniques to employ when faced with life’s challenges.
9. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
This concept, while stated specifically for life as a swordsman, can be applied in the same way to our own lives. Rather than stretching ourselves thing trying to accel at everything available we need to allow ourselves to focus on one or two things that we are truly passionate about.
10. Never let yourself be saddened by separation.
There are going to come times in your life that you are forced to separate from those that you hold dear. This includes family, friends or even your partner. Dwelling on the pain and sadness of the experience will only work to trap you in a cycle of negative emotions. Instead, learn to appreciate what you do have in your life.
11. Do not fear death.
Death is inevitable. There is no way to avoid the fact that our time will come, and we have little to no control over when it will happen. We can choose one of two things – either to live our lives in fear of death, holding back and ‘playing it safe,’ missing out on much of the adventure, or accepting that we do not have control, putting it out of our minds and truly living life.
12. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
There are two different key focuses that one can choose in life – focusing on one’s self and our own desires, or focusing on the happiness and well-being of others. One of these decisions will provide us with an inflated ego while the other will bring true happiness. As described in this ancient Chinese Proverb: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
13. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
When we die we are unable to take any of our material belongings with us to the afterlife. They are merely left behind, forgotten. Rather than spending our lives focused on collecting material items that will serve as no help at all when we are taking our last breaths, we need to avoid wasting time, refocusing instead on our own spiritual journey.
14. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.
When we allow ourselves to dwell on negative thoughts or emotions, we doom ourselves to their toxic hold on our lives. Rather than complaining without action, take the time to focus on the things in your life that you do have the ability to improve and change.
15. Respect Buddha and the Gods without counting on their help.
You, and only you are responsible for the decisions that you make in life. Should these decisions have a negative consequence, these consequences are your responsibility not that of Buddha and the Gods. They aren’t servants, here to provide us with our ‘perfect’ life on a silver platter. Instead, they are looking to guide us in our lives, allowing us to make our own decisions and work towards our own goals and dreams.
16. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
The sensation of pleasure is short-lived and fleeting, staying with us for only a brief moment before fading off into the recesses of our memory. If we are moving through life in an attempt to find pleasure for its own sake, we are setting ourselves up for failure, spending much of our lives experiencing nothing more than temporary satisfaction while longing for more in our lives.
17. You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honor.
Your physical body is merely a vessel for this current moment here on Earth. Focus instead on your soul and how to protect the values that you hold dear. Demonstrate truth, honor, respect, and honesty in every interaction throughout your life, living a life of true happiness.
18. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
The most controversial of Musashi’s rules, it is important to take the time to understand the purpose behind this statement. Allowing ourselves to fixate on lust is to fixate on a fleeting emotion, like others previously mentioned, providing only a temporary feeling of happiness. The opposite end of the spectrum, true love, is a concept that we can turn to for help in determining our direction in life.
19. Never stray from the way.
The way of the Buddhist is one focused on the spiritual journey and the search to understand our higher self. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by the high-pace, high-stress and materialistic society that exists around us. Focus instead on improving ourselves, learning and growing as we go.
20. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
Ancient Buddhist teachings state that desiring leads to suffering. This is due to the fact that it focuses on the future and our efforts to have something we don’t currently have, rather than taking the time to appreciate the here and now, practicing mindfulness in our current lives.
21. In all things- have no preferences.
When we all ourselves to prefer something then we are creating a world in which we are always looking forward to the future, working towards trying to reach our preferred life choice. Instead, we need to learn to find happiness in the moment, the true happiness that surrounds us.