Legend of Five Rings: Honor Divided
The Tenets of Bushido
“This is the path of the warrior. All men who call themselves samurai are measured by it. Those who stray from this path will perish. Those who adhere to its teachings will prosper.”
All samurai are supposed to live according to a strict and demanding set of ethical principles known as Bushido (literally, the “way of the warrior”). The principles of Bushido were first established by the Kami Akodo, founder of the Lion Clan, in his earliest writings, including his seminal book Leadership. They quickly came to be accepted by all the clans in Rokugan, and as the roles of samurai evolved to include courtiers and artisans, the Code of Bushido evolved into a complete philosophical view of the role and duty of the samurai. In modern Rokugan, Bushido is integral to almost every aspect of a samurai’s life, and the proper way to uphold the Code is subject of continual discussion and debate among all samurai.
Bushido is comprised of seven Virtues: Courage, Compassion, Courtesy, Duty, Honesty, Honor, and Sincerity. These virtues are held to represent the proper way in which samurai should live and serve their lords. In its ideal form, Bushido values each of these virtues equally, and a samurai is expected to adhere to all of them with equal vehemence. In practice, however, few samurai can live such spotless lives. Moreover, every clan in Rokugan views Bushido in a slightly different way, according to their respective views of duty, honor, and life. The true nature of Bushido is constantly debated within the courts of Rokugan, and the true way to uphold its Virtues is seldom fully agreed upon even within the same clan. Every clan, even the Scorpion, has its idealists who try to uphold ever Virtue no matter the cost, just as every clan, even the Lion, contains a few dark souls who laugh at Bushido and flout its principles.
“Through intense training the samurai becomes quick and strong. He is not as other men. He develops a power that must be used for the good of all. He has compassion. He helps his fellow men at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, he goes out of his way to find one.”
Compassion teaches samurai that, as the warrior elite of society, it is their duty to protect and guide the lesser folk of Rokugan. In its most obvious form, this means offering military protection, guarding the commoners against bandits, criminals, foreigners, and monsters of the Shadowlands. It is this form of Compassion which is most widely respected and revered in Rokugan, for even clans like the Lion and Scorpion recognize the importance of keeping their peasants alive and productive. Bullying or abusing those of lower station is an act unworthy of a samurai, even if the social order allows it.
Some clans take Compassion more fully to heart, however, and seek to offer guidance and help to the lower castes. The Phoenix, for example, are known for educating their peasants in the ways of the Tao, seeing this spiritual support as being just as important as physical protection.
“Rise up above the masses of people who are afraid to act. Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. A samurai must have heroic courage. It is absolutely risky. It is dangerous. It is living life completely, fully, wonderfully. Heroic courage is not blind. It is intelligent and strong. Replace fear with respect and caution.”
Courage is in many ways the most basic and universal of all the Bushido virtues, since every samurai is expected to be ready and able to die at a moment’s notice. The central importance of courage to a samurai’s life cannot be understated. A samurai must be prepared to fight and die without hesitation, whether at his lord’s command or simply due to unavoidable circumstances. Indeed, it is popular to say that a samurai lives at all times three feet from death, since that is the reach of a katana. Naturally, the warlike clans such as the Lion, Crab, and Unicorn tend to speak most often of courage – especially the Crab, who must face the unimaginable terrors of the Shadowlands on a daily basis. But in truth there is no clan which ignores courage. Even the Scorpion, notorious for their contempt for Bushido, recognize that courage is important if their samurai are to fulfill their duties properly (though to be sure, the Scorpion are far more willing to retreat from a hopeless battle than most other samurai would be.)
It should be noted that, just as Akodo pointed out in his final line, courage does not mean foolhardiness. After all, a samurai’s life belongs to his lord, not to him. A samurai who throws his life away in a useless and selfish gesture is not behaving honorably, but rather is failing in his duty to lord and clan. Indeed, the Crab would be the first to point out that there are many times when retreating from a fight requires more courage than merely staying and dying.
“Samurai have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. A samurai is courteous even to his enemies. Without this outward show of respect, we are nothing more than animals. A samurai is not only respected for his strength in battle, but also by his dealings with other men. The true inner strength of a samurai becomes apparent during difficult times.”
Samurai are civilized men and women, not barbarians, and are expected to behave with courtesy and proper manners at all times. A samurai who shows undue emotion or rudeness is not only violating Courtesy but is also losing his face (on), disrespecting those around him and shaming himself. A true samurai remains courteous and well-mannered at all times, even when facing his bitterest sworn enemy, or provoked with vile insults and malignant behavior. A samurai who openly insults others is showing his own weakness, which is why Rokugani courtiers endlessly practice the art of the subtle and indirect insult. Conversely, when a samurai is confronted with failures of Courtesy by those of higher station, his own honor is demonstrated by his ability to endure such provocations and avoid drawing attention to others’ failures. Rokugani as a whole make a point of ignoring those who engage in uncouth and improper spectacles, since to draw attention to such discourteous behavior is to make matters even worse.
As one might expect, those who serve their clans in politics and the courts tend to place a very strong emphasis on Courtesy, since it is a vital element of social and political negotiation. The most heavily political clans, such as the Crane and the Scorpion, place a special value on Courtesy, although in the case of the Scorpion this is more for the Virtue’s tactical value in court than due to any moral commitment to it. Conversely, the notoriously crude and pragmatic warriors of the Crab Clan tend to discount or ignore Courtesy, although the courtiers of their clan practice it as avidly as any.
“For the samurai, having done some ‘thing’ or said some ‘thing,’ he knows he owns that ‘thin.’ He is responsible for it and all the consequences that follow. A samurai is intensely loyal to those in his care. To those he is responsible for, he remains fiercely true.”
If there is a Virtue which competes with Courage for universal acceptance, it is Duty. A samurai must always be ready to serve his lord in whatever way is required, no matter what the cost. Death is the least that a samurai may face – he must be prepared to endure humiliation, dishonor, shame, and failure for the sake of Duty. He must remain faithful to lord, family, clan, and comrades no matter what temptations may fall in his path. A samurai who violates loyalty to his lord or clan is violating Duty, and such untrustworthy individuals are hardly worthy of the title “samurai.” Duty is the reason why love is so problematic for samurai, since a samurai in love will feel a conflicting loyalty to his (or her) beloved which may disrupt or diminish the fulfillment of Duty.
The Scorpion Clan refers to Chugo as “Loyalty” and practically makes a fetish of it. In a clan where treachery and lying are a way of life, there has to be one thing that can be counted on, and for the Scorpion, that is Loyalty. Violations of Loyalty are punished in the most horrific way the Scorpion can manage – the terror of Traitor’s Grove, where the souls of those who betray the Scorpion Clan are imprisoned for eternity.
“Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. Believe in justice, not from other people, but from yourself. To a true samurai, there are no shades of gray in the question of honesty and justice. There is only right and wrong.”
Honesty is in principle the simplest of the virtues of Bushido, but also perhaps the most troublesome. Ideally, it would seem obvious that an honorable warrior should always tell the truth, and indeed, there are some families and clans which embrace Honesty with the same fervor as the rest of the virtues. The Unicorn Clan is famous for its straightforward and direct ways, even in the subtle world of politics, and the Kitsuki family of the Dragon Clan was founded on the search for truth above all else. Honesty is also strongly associated with justice, and thus tends to be a virtue admired by magistrates (or at least by those magistrates who take their duties to heart).
However, many other samurai, especially those who serve their clans in court, find that Honesty is often a virtue which must be danced around, or perhaps even violated, in order to fulfill their duties. Almost all samurai who serve in the arena of court and politics practice the art of deceiving or manipulating their opponents while still remaining technically truthful, and some families make almost an art form of employing such tactics while still satisfying themselves that they are behaving honorably. Most highly political schools and families, such as the Doji or the Yasuki, quietly accept that sometimes they will simply have to lie for their clan, and therefor tend to emphasize Sincerity far more than Honesty in their approach to Bushido, counting on their adherence to the other virtues to make up for their sometimes erratic observance of this one. The Scorpion, naturally, ignore Honesty altogether, and exhibit almost open contempt for samurai who strive to tell the truth or who follow the path of justice.
“A true samurai has only one judge of his honor, and that is himself. Decisions you make and how those decisions are carried out are a reflection of who you truly are. You cannot hide from yourself.”
Both the subtlest and the most basic of the virtues, Honor teaches that every samurai stands in judgement over himself, at all times. Bushido is not merely enforced by social convention or superior authority, but by each samurai’s own heart and soul. A samurai without Honor cannot truly follow the other virtues of Bushido, for he is merely acting as others expect, not as his own sense of honor demands. Conversely, a samurai with true Honor will follow the ways of Bushido even when the society around him becomes corrupt and his superiors expect him to behave dishonorably solely because they command it.
Almost all samurai in Rokugan respect Honor, for it lies at the very heart of Bushido. Only the Scorpion reject it, as they reject most aspects of Bushido – indeed, from the Scorpion perspective Honor is the most troubling virtue of all, because it can justify disloyalty. Those few Scorpion who actually believe in Bushido and try to embrace Honor within their hearts are regarded with deep suspicion and contempt by the rest of their clan, and are derisively labeled as junshin, “not of the blood.”
“When a samurai has said he will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop him from completing what he has said he will do. He does not have to ‘give his word.’ He does not have to ‘promise.’ The action of speaking alone has set the act of doing in motion. Speaking and doing are the same thing.”
Samurai are taught from childhood that they must express absolute sincerity in both word and deed. A samurai who speaks on behalf of his lord in court, but does so in a lackadaisical or unconvincing manner, is serving his lord as badly as if he refused to speak at all. A samurai who shows a lack of dedication in his actions, who acts and behaves without absolute commitment, is a samurai who fails his lord and his clan.
Sincerity is regarded with particular admiration by political clans and families, such as the Crane and the Otomo, but most samurai respect it. The Dragon respect Sincerity’s principle of unifying word and action. Even the Scorpion recognize that Sincerity is very tactically valuable, since if they say and do everything with complete conviction, their enemies will never know when they are lying or telling the truth. However, some of the more pragmatic warrior families, such as the Hida and Moto, regard overt displays of Sincerity with suspicion, seeing them as little more than deception dressed up as honorable behavior. The Crab in particular are known for delivering the sneering insult, “Oh, how sincere,” whenever they feel someone is trying to manipulate them.