Category Archives: Christian Samurai

Deciding in Seven Breaths

 

One of the first sayings of the samurai that caught my attention was this one:

“In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. Lord Takandobu said, “If discrimination is long, it will spoil.” Lord Naoshige said, “When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.

When your mind is going hither and thither, discrimination will never be brought to a conclusion. With an intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.” From the Hagakure

Decision making is not my strong suit. If you’ve been following my work for the past few years, you’ve probably seen me go back and forth on site designs a few times. Perhaps that is why a quote about making decisions in just seven breaths was appealing.

One of the burdens of free will is the ability to make choices. As humanity has developed more involved processes, more entertainment choices, and more opportunities the number of choices we make on a daily basis can be overwhelming.

Lingering too long on a decision leads to a state called “analysis paralysis” – the inability to act due to an inability to make a decision. Such as state can complicate a small issue, and turn it into a big issue; if you are afraid of making a mistake, often not acting is an even bigger mistake.

Naoshige’s counsel on decision making was explained a bit further elsewhere in the Hagakure, the book of the samurai:

Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige’s wall there was this one: ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.’ …Among one’s affairs there should not be more than two or three matters of what one would call great concern. If these are deliberated upon during ordinary times, they can be understood.
Thinking about things previously and then handling them lightly when the time comes is what this is all about. To face and event and solve it lightly is difficult if you are not resolved beforehand, and there will always be uncertainty in hitting your mark. However, if the foundation is laid previously, you can think of the saying, ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly,’ as your own basis for action.”

Many of our little decisions – what movie to see, what to eat for breakfast, are pretty insignificant. The big questions of our lives – what job to take, should I move or stay put, who to marry – these should be based first and foremost on principles we ponder every day.

As Christians, that means putting God and His will first. Considering what kind of company we keep, what kind of life He wants us to live, and what things are contrary to living our life to best serve God and our neighbor should make big decisions easier. When we forget those principles, when we doubt His plan for our lives, we get mired in indecision for those big things.

We too should be able to make decisions within the space of seven breaths. However, that requires being resolved ahead of time to follow a certain path.

Unfortunately, following God’s will has little to do with the singular choice of what to eat for a particular meal. For decisions so small, it is best not to waste time, and to remind yourself that the impact of such a choice is minimal.

Reflect every day, and pray for knowledge of God’s will for you. On that foundation of faith, you can make your decisions as quickly as a samurai.

Photo courtesy Anne-Lise Heinrichs on Flickr.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Seven Times Down, Eight Times Up

 

There is a Japanese proverb that simply states “Seven times down, eight times up.” The source, as far as I can tell, is in the ancient book of samurai wisdom, the Hagakure:

If one has not been a ronin at least seven times, he will not be a true retainer. Seven times down, eight times up.’ Men like Narutomi Hyogo have been ronin seven times. One should understand that it is something like being a self- righting doll. The master is also apt to give such orders as a test.

Samurai were servant-mercenaries. Their entire livelihood depended on a master to provide food, housing, and their wages. Totally dependent upon a lord, as we Christians ought to be upon our Lord.

At times, the samurai were ordered to be ronin, or masterless. Or their master would die, or they would be dishonorably discharged. The name ronin meant “wave man,” and in such a state a samurai – no longer “one who serves” would drift about as a wave in the ocean.

We all have times like this, when we feel like we are drifting helplessly in life. Unemployment, a spiritual dry spell, a stubborn temptation, or a personal tragedy are all ways we can feel like we are cast down by God.

In these times, the advice for us is just as it was for the samurai – get back up. Be like a self-righting doll. Cast down seven times, raised up eight times.

There are other interpretations of the phrase. There is even a Christian band called 7th Time Down that cites II Kings 5:14 as the source of their name – the 7 times that Naaman went down into the Jordan to be healed. Other people cite it as being knocked down seven times, and getting back up.

So whether you feel that God has somehow withheld sustenance from you, or you get knocked down by sin, the devil or a practice sword, get back on your feet – seven times down, eight times up.

Special thanks for Craig Shimahara, currently working on the Christian samurai film Masterless, for inspiring this post today by a post on his Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of David Howard via Flickr.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Life is an Enjoyable Fight, or a Miserable Truce

There are some men who are dreary because they do not believe in God; but there are many others who are dreary because they do not believe in the devil… The full value of this life can only be got by fighting; the violent take it by storm. And if we have accepted everything we have missed something — war. This life of ours is a very enjoyable fight, but a very miserable truce.
-G.K. Chesterton, in Charles Dickens
I stumbled, or re-stumbled upon this quote just after a conversation with someone about fear and the Christian life. While there are a number of things we should not fear as Christians, we should be terrified of something that will lead us away from living fully in Christ. Complacency should be one of those things.
Of all the vices, the early Christian fathers most warned about acedia, better today known as sloth. It is not just laziness, but a “a state of restlessness and inability either to work or to pray” according to Aquinas. As I write this, spell check does not even recognize the word. 
I once worked in an office environment where there was an acknowledgement of the afternoon slowdown, referred to as a being “food stupid.” Full bellies, a lull in the day, and the highly contagious attitude of acedia made the hours after lunch seem to drag out.
The desert fathers, however, had a  more solemn name for this apathetic nature: the noonday demon. Yes, a demon. Acedia was considered a very dangerous mindset not only of laziness or sadness, but of apathy.
The monk John Cassian wrote of Acedia:
“It also makes the man lazy and sluggish about all manner of work which has to be done within the enclosure of his dormitory…. Then the fifth or sixth hour brings him such bodily weariness and longing for food that he seems to himself worn out and wearied as if with a long journey, or some very heavy work, or as if he had put off taking food during a fast of two or three days. Then besides this he looks about anxiously this way and that, and sighs that none of the brethren come to see him, and often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun, as if it was too slow in setting, and so a kind of unreasonable confusion of mind takes possession of him like some foul darkness, and makes him idle and useless for every spiritual work, so that he imagines that no cure for so terrible an attack can be found in anything except visiting some one of the brethren, or in the solace of sleep alone. “
Sluggishness, watching the clock (in its most ancient form, the sun), anxious fretting, idle conversation, procrastination, and a desire to nap. Sounds like a typical office afternoon, though Cassian’s account lists serious signs of a demonic influenced disease. His description goes on to describe the afflicted monk being affable and hospitable, making visits to this person or that, while neglecting his calling.
This is, I can speak from experience, a miserable state to find yourself. While generally agreeable, somewhat peaceful, it is an anxious restlessness, and sometimes a feeling of uselessness – or that nothing can really be accomplished right now anyway. To put it otherwise, the “miserable truce” to which Chesterton refers in the opening paragraph.
Suddenly, this seems like a rampant problem among Christians today. A passive contentment that seems to grip us. We are not idle, but we shirk some more serious work to busy ourselves with being pleasant or killing time.
Killing time – as if we had any to spare! We are called, as Christians, to be soldiers, to be servants, and to go forth and proclaim the Gospel. If we idle away the hours waiting for the end of the workday, the day, the week, the month, we are eventually losing that precious and too short life on this earth. How will we give an account for those hours spent in an acedic state?
Peacetime is a scourge to soldiers and armies. Those highly reputed masters of the sword, the samurai, recognized this and thus maintained regular practice and a desire to perfect their martial craft. The Art of Manliness cited the activities of a sword master who would practice slicing raindrops as a way of practicing zanshin, or an ever-readiness for battle. This even extended, as the article discusses, how the samurai would use the toilet.
To a samurai, life was all about being ready for battle. Life was a fight. Acedia or sluggishness got you killed, or cut off from your employer. As Christians, we should fear what the demon of acedia can do to our soul if we do not vigilantly watch for it and occupy ourselves with the work we are given.
If you find yourself experiencing life as a “miserable truce,” remind yourself that we are engaged in an ongoing spiritual battle  “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Train yourself daily – not necessarily by slicing raindrops with your sword, but by constant and regular prayer, charitable acts, and doing your duty in each and every moment to your Lord, your family, and your employer.
That is why we have been warned not to conform to the world as it is, or to put it in military terms, to declare a truce with the world. Life gets a lot more enjoyable when you realize it is a battle.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Way of the Christian Samurai on Kindle Lending Library

If you have a Kindle device and an Amazon Prime membership, you can now borrow The Way of the Christian Samurai for free for a month!

Check it out here on Amazon.

You can also get I Hate Christmas! and the Microcapitalist Manifesto from the lending library as well.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.