20 Rules for a Knight and comparative notes from Bushido (Part 1/2)

Recently, Shane posted a recovered letter by Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawkes of Cornwall (c.a. late 15th century) regarding 20 rules for a knight, which was written to his children.  I found that in essence the virtues outlined here coincide with classical virtues of Confucianism, which the Japanese bushido (code of warriors) had adopted.  Here’s a quick association and notes on each of the rules from Shane’s original post.  This is part 1 of 2.

  1. Solitude
    • “Create time alone with yourself. When seeking the wisdom and clarity of your own mind, silence is a helpful tool. The voice of our spirit is gentle and cannot be heard when it has to compete with others. Just as it is impossible to see your reflection in troubled water, so too is it with the soul. In silence, we can sense eternity sleeping inside us.”
    • 男兒一言 重千金 = the word of a man should be as heavy as a ton of metal
      This is the complement of the old proverb that says a mistake in inevitable with many words.  Hawkes’ purpose of solitude is as a meditative means to grasp a better reality of things through introspection, whereas the context for the promotion of solitude is in the context of relationship with others, reinforcing the wholistic notion of relational universe in Confucianism. The value of solitude is as an instrument of integrity (信 trustworthiness).
  2. Humility
    • “Never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one. You are better than no one, and no one is better than you.”
    • 禮/礼 (rei) or 礼儀 (reigi in Japanese) = politeness or manners
      In Bushido, the essence of politeness is that of humility. This is often considered to be the external manifestation of 義 (righteousness), which could be expressed as a moral expression of one’s responsibility to others as a member of a society.
  3. Gratitude
    • “The only intelligent response to the ongoing gift of life is gratitude. For all that has been, a knight says, “Thank you.” For all that is to come, a knight says, “Yes!”
    • Hawkes’ religious context as a Christian is a type of all-encompassing gratitude towards the Almighty for all things, past, present, and future. Where as in Bushido, again, this is an aspect of 礼儀 (reigi) where the gratitude for the other person is the other side of humility. Even in today’s kendo keiko (古 practice/training), for example, you are required to say “[respectfully] thank you very much” (どうもありがとうございます) at every practice session with your practice partner.  Gratitude for the opportunity to train in a lifetime cultivation as a shugyosha (originally a Buddhist term as a “seeker of enlightenment,” or more commonly, someone whose life is dedicated towards the perfection of virtues and skills), and gratitude for helping to realize one’s weaknesses.
  4. Pride
    • “Never pretend you are not a knight or attempt to diminish yourself because you deem it will make others more comfortable. We show others the most respect by offering the best of ourselves.”
    • The idea very much overlaps one found in Bushido.  気位 (kigurai = pride or self-respect) is to be expressed through proper posture, etiquette (礼), and most importantly through the spirit (気 ki). In regular practice sessions, one is to give one’s utmost (physically, mentally, and spiritually) as a sign of respect for others’ time.
  5. Cooperation
    • “Each one of us is walking our own road. We are born at specific times, in specific places, and our challenges are unique. As knights, understanding and respecting our distinctiveness is vital to our ability to harness our collective strength. The use of force may be necessary to protect in an emergency, but only justice, fairness, and cooperation can truly succeed in leading men. We must live and work together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
    • 和 (wa, harmony) is one of the virtues not only in Bushido, but in its greater Japanese cultural context. Japanese had even labelled themselves as a people of 和, as one of the most highly prized virtues. This can also be considered as a outward manifestation of 仁 (jin, benevolence of mercy), which is one of the four major virtues of Confucianism, and considered to be the very essence of all other virtues. Hawkes is not so far from putting this as the most important concept like in Bushido when he equates the absence of this virtue as a sure destruction.
  6. Friendship
    • “The quality of your life will, to a large extent, be decided by with whom you elect to spend your time.”
    • Hawkes’ understanding of friendship is one that we, as Westerners, can easily identify with. The Bushido’s idea of friendship is one that is characterized by a deep, relational commitment that can seem to override even the absolutes of moral codes at times. 忠義 (chugi, loyalty) is tightly bound with the idea of 名誉 (meiyo, honor), and more often than not, the traditional version of this idea represents a deep sense of loyalty.
  7. Forgiveness
    • “Those who cannot easily forgive will not collect many friends. Look for the best in others.”
    • In Bushido, a similar virtue is also encouraged, more often expressed as overlooking the offense of others. The central tenet of 仁 (jin) expresses this idea implicitly, although when it comes to the actual practice it is often limited to one’s close circle of relationships.
  8. Honesty
    • A dishonest tongue and a dishonest mind waste time, and therefore waste our lives. We are here to grow and the truth is the water, the light, and the soil from which we rise. The armor of falsehood is subtly wrought out of the darkness and hides us not only from others but from our own soul.
    • 真実 (shinjitsu) truth, along with 誠実 (seijitsu) sincerity are considered as one of the eight virtues as outlined by Nitobe Inazō in his well-known book on Bushido. The spirit and the attitude around honesty happens to coincide very closely with Spartan stoicism, with its strong emphasis on frugal living and abstinence from any form of greed, which usually acts as the originating force towards dishonesty and pretentiousness.
  9. Courage
    • Anything that gives light must endure burning.
    • 勇気 ( yuu-ki) courage is the modus operandi of 義 (gi) righteousness or rectitude, and it is always in service of 義 and outside of that it would not be called courage. This is also one of the four important elements of kendo.