Samurai Secrets for Peaceful Living

The Book of the Samurai says that all interactions should be handled humbly and as if meeting a stranger. "If one is as discreet in the beginning as in the end, there should be no discord." Words to live by, right?

Well, maybe. The Hagakure warns this is not going to be grand or glorious. "Though it is not profitable to have others lead the way or not to be quarrelsome, or to have manners, or to be humble, if one will do things for the benefit of others and meet even those he has met often before as if for the first time, one will have no bad relationships."  

So the calculation to make is whether you want to relate. Relating is very often not about being understood, meaning, words, but the feeling we have after they have been said. In other words; want more good feels? Be less of a squeaky wheel.

But what about me, you ask. What about what I want? Shouldn’t I at least quarrel on my own behalf? If not me, who?How about no one? Because there is no you, just an illusion of a self separate from all else (or so say some scientists and the Buddha). And because conflict is expensive, taking a physical and financial toll on all of our lives. 

You think you exist and that what happens to you matters so you react. This seems normal, healthy. You live in a society that tells you to speak up, express yourself, so it makes sense to voice your opinion, say what you mean. But that is a dream. Saying is always a danger and can lead to lots more saying with no communication.

True communication is almost impossible, predicated on assumptions of common understanding among people with disparate experiences. We make noises at each other across oceans of not knowing and then pretend to agree when we, in fact, have different premises.

So sometimes it's best to say nothing or just coo soothingly, as infuriating as that may be. This is counterintuitive advice and inconsistent with other passages in the samurai's ancient guidebook that show approval for slicing off the head of one who makes a joke at your expense. But it can serve as a helpful reminder when you want to scream in your defense and the wiser move is to dissolve your sense of self.