Sunday Sermon: Making Mistakes


At the time when there was a council concerning the promotion of a certain man, the council members were at the point of deciding that promotion was useless because of the fact that the man had previously been involved in a drunken brawl.

But someone said,”If we were to cast aside every man who had made a mistake once, useful men could probably not be come by. A man who makes a mistake once will be considerably more prudent and useful because of his repentance. I feel that he should be promoted.”
Someone else then asked, “Will you guarantee him?” The man replied, “Of course I will.”
The others asked, “By what will you guarantee him?”
And he replied, “I can guarantee him by the fact that he is a man who has erred once. A man who has never once erred is dangerous.” This said, the man was promoted.


The Hagakure is a bit hit/miss but it’s fun to read, anyway, and since it’s been out of copyright since 1770 or so it’s easy to find on the internet if you want to read it. Occasionally you can find lovely editions of it in the antiquarian bookstores.

It’s a collection of stories and suggestions by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, an old samurai who had basically “retired” – it’s the primary source of the oft-quoted: “The way of the samurai is death.” Nowadays perhaps we would say “The way of the samurai is toxic masculinity.”

Jim Jarmusch’s film “Ghost Dog” starring Forrest Whittaker features Hagakure as a framing element for the entire plot. It’s one of the better shoot’em-ups I’ve seen.

The comment “A man who has never once erred is dangerous” makes me think of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. “Yon Cassius”  – you can almost hear it: “Let me have men about me who are fuckups. Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He has never once erred. Such men are dangerous.”

Japan and its aristocracy went through many transitions, and the Hagakure emanates from one of the periods where the samurai were turning into something other than just warriors; Yamamoto’s advice should maybe be read in the tone of “you kids get offa my lawn!” But some of it is still charming.  If you’re interested in the transitions of the samurai (and why I said “the way of the samurai is toxic masculinity”) I recommend a movie called “When the Last Sword Is Drawn” – it’s hard to describe because it goes into so many things. I guess the best short description for the movie is it’s kind of like a samurai cultural version of “Barry Lyndon” If you’re going to watch it, you should read a bit about the Shinsengumi first.

Here is another from Hagakure:
Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige’s wall there was this one: “Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.” Master Ittei commented, “Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.” Among one’s affairs there should not be more than two or three matters of what one could 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 an 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.

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Among one’s affairs there should not be more than two or three matters of what one could call great concern.

    Master Ittei would have had lots of problems in the 21st century.

  2. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#1:
    Master Ittei would have had lots of problems in the 21st century.

    Perhaps he’d be what we now call a “slacker”

    Most of the Japanese feudal aristocracy were born into power, they weren’t necessarily there because of drive or talent. It’s always good to remind ourselves of these things.

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