This morning I started reading from Nitobe Inazō‘s classic 1899 text Code of the Samurai – Bushido: The Soul of Japan. As with other classic texts, especially those dealing with chivalry and honor, I can already tell that simplicity belies complexity. Like dynamite, true wisdom comes in small packages. I’m going to have to take this one slow.
I’ve only gone through the first chapter so far, which is a comparison of sorts of Bushido to the Western ideas of Chivalry. What stopped me cold and forced me to blog was a footnote at the end of the chapter. Context and culture is important, but the idea of it resonates beyond those limitations. I’m just going to post it here without further comment because it is worthy of meditation on a number of levels: historical, philosophical, political, spiritual, artistic… If anyone else would care to comment upon it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The footnote deals with John Ruskin, Victorian era art critic and philosopher.
Ruskin was one of the most gentle-hearted and peace-loving men that ever lived. Yet he believed in war with all the fervor of a worshiper of the strenuous life. “When I tell you,” he says in the Crown of Wild OIive, “that war is the foundation of all the arts, I mean also that it is the foundation of all the high virtues and faculties of men. It is very strange to me to discover this, and very dreadful, but I saw it to be quite an undeniable fact. … I found in brief, that all great nations learned their truth of word and strength of thought in war; that they were nourished in war and wasted by peace, taught by war and deceived by peace; trained by war and betrayed by peace; in a word, that they were born in war and expired in peace.”