Everyone needs a code to live by. I believe we all have a basic understanding of right and wrong, good and evil. But few of us today have a well-defined and fully integrated system of ethics and morals as our ancestors did. We have lost connection with the past as we move forward at hyper speed into the future. It is my opinion that If we are not careful, we may lose ourselves in the process. We may become more robotic than human if what makes us uniquely human, our capacity for reason, is traded away for mere pennies on the black market of ideas.
So I hope in writing this, that I can take you on a brief but empowering journey into the minds and hearts of those few thinkers from various warrior traditions of the past who sought to take a stand for virtue in their time. You will not only learn about the history and universality of the warrior ethos, but will also see the relevance and importance of living by a code of honor in your own life; even though you may find yourself in a modern world where concepts such as ethics, honor, and philosophical thinking are deemed irrelevant, outdated, and long-lost romantic ideas.
I beg to differ.
When it comes to philosophy; “Love of Wisdom” and ethics; “moral principles that govern a persons behavior” I would suggest that there are many reasons for this loss of interest among’st the general public today…
Here are a few that come to mind:
1. It’s not “cool” to be honorable.
“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”
– Noël Coward
Here in western society there has been a slow but steady cultural shift away from the values that many of our predecessors and ancestors held so dear, and originally built civilization upon. This current cultural shift may have both pros and cons in certain respects, but one of the major cons is the absence of a fundamental understanding regarding morality and virtue. The right and the good are not the “cool” and “trendy” kids in town. Instead, it is the opposite of virtue that gains you street cred these days in both the professional sphere, and the social sphere. It is clear to see that many (of course not all) of the most influential and powerful in western society today are not shining examples of virtue and honor.
2. We are not ourselves.
“Most people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”
– Mark Twain
The majority of our opinions, our behavior and our attitudes are highly influenced by the news/entertainment media. I mean common…the major media is mostly dishonest and loaded with political bias, and Hollywood, along with the music and fashion industries have all largely become virtue-less, lewd, sexual perversions of violence and hedonism like previous generations could have never even imagined. All of us including our kids are being raised with fewer and fewer positive examples to follow.
3. Out with the old, in with the new.
“If you don’t control your mind, someone else will.”
– John Allston
There has been a major falling out with many of the rather archaic religious institutions and systems (for completely understandable reasons) in exchange for a faith in science, materialism, and technology. With this transition, all the good elements of the various western religions such as the strong emphasis on free will and ethics have been thrown out along with the dogma that justifiably turned many away from pursuing a spiritual path altogether. This has left us in a desperate search for meaning, and it is no wonder that many of us are having trouble finding it again. We have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and replaced virtue and self-esteem with hedonism and consumerism to desperately try to fill this void. On top of that, we are slowly becoming the technology we have built to try to free us, leaving us more android than human, and more connected to virtual reality than real reality itself. I often wonder if this is contributing to why we are seeing an epidemic rise in depression and suicide.
4. iRobot Apocalypse.
“The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots.”
– Erich Fromm
In case you haven’t noticed, we are currently going through a process of exchange. The current trend of technological obsession is in many ways leading us away from our best qualities. We are exchanging a deep and authentic connection to nature, and our own organic human intelligence for an artificially intelligent world, genuine and passion filled relationships with inauthentic and impersonal online relationships, and close-knit community with disconnected community. With all of this and more we have lost our connection to our own inherent value, and the value of others.
5. Empty philosophy for sale.
“The very concept of logic is only possible to a volitional consciousness. An automatic consciousness would have no need of it, and could not even conceive of it.”
– Nathaniel Branden
If all the above were not enough to derail our better selves, there has been a re-emergence of a rather nihilistic strain of atheism that is permeating academia and the media which does not encourage the view that humans have volitional (free will) control of their consciousness. The idea of fatalism/determinism that has gained great influence, carries with it the idea that philosophy is a thing of the past as is the notion of free will. If there is no free will, there is no need to focus attention on subjects like morality, as your life, and all the actions you take are all predetermined anyways, and every desire and thought are beyond your control. (I will save the full determinism vs free argument for another article)
These are just a few reasons that I feel are linked to the moral decline in our current society, I invite you to contribute your own points in the comments below.
Let’s now take a brief look at the view on ethics that universally graced the warrior traditions of the ancient past. See my podcast (ep. 09) on this very subject:
Below are just a few examples of various codes of morality taken from warrior traditions that existed in different periods in our history. What I personally find interesting is that though they differ in their respective cultural and religious backgrounds, and did not all exist in the same time period, you will be able to spot the many universal similarities. I believe this is a testament to the fact that these ethical principles are innately human and natural to us which is why we see the same principles expressed in slightly different ways across culture and time itself. As you read them, pay close attention to your internal reaction. See if anything resonates with you, or if it really is all just a waste of your time.
Bushido and Budo are the two main terms for the code of honor practiced by the Samurai of ancient Japan. This code of honor is considered a way of life both on and off the battlefield. In 1899 Nitobe Inazo, a Japanese author, educator and diplomat wrote the book: Bushido The Soul Of Japan which was an inquiry into the ethos of the Samurai. Along with the classic work: Hakakuri by Tsunetomo Yamamoto and many of the writings of the great Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, these combined works formulated a modern understanding of Bushido, and have been adapted by various martial art schools for the purpose of giving students a practical code of ethics. There is much discussion among st scholars on the differences between Budo and Bushido and which is the preferred term, and also on the fact that historically the meaning and import of this code may have varied from clan to clan. Much has been added and subtracted over time, and there is also much debate on the finer details that made up the Samurai way, but here are the main tenants of the code that you will find in most modern Dojo’s today:
Gi – Integrity/Rightousness
Rei – Respect
Yu – Heroic Courage
Meiyo – Honor
Jin – Compassion/Empathy
Makoto – Honesty/Sincerity
Chu – Duty/Loyalty
Jisei – Self Control
Wu De is a code of martial virtues rooted in the ancient traditional Chinese martial arts, and is seen today as a way of training not only in the development of combat skills, but stresses the mental and moral aspects of warriorship.
Zun Jing – Respect
Qian Xu – Humility
Xin Yong – Trust
Rong Yu – Honor
Dao De – Virtue
Tenants Of Taekwondo
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art system that was developed in the 1940s by various martial artists that combined elements of Karate and Chinese martial arts with traditional Korean martial arts: Taekkeyon, Subak, and Gwonbeop
These 5 principles are the basis of the art:
Ye Ui – Courtesy
Yom Chi – Integrity
In Nae – Perseverance
Guk Ki – Self Control
The 9 Noble Virtues Of Asatru
The 9 virtues of Asatru are from the western tradition and were central to the ancient Germanic moral code that were adopted by the Viking and Nordic warriors, and which were originally gleaned from the Poetic Edda mainly the Havamal, the Icelandic sagas, and Germanic folklore. They are a unique moral code that also emphasize the individual and the concept of self-reliance and responsibility. These 9 virtues were held sacred and served the purpose of enhancing the 3 aspects of being:
Orlog – Primal Layer/ The cosmic web of cause and effect that influences, and that is influenced by all human beings.
Wyrd – Old English which means destiny, to turn, or to become. This is very similar to the Christian concept of the Logos that is also an integral part of western philosophy and is seen as “a principle of order and knowledge” and corresponds with one’s logic and reason.
Hamingja – This is seen in the Germanic spiritual tradition as the force that runs through the family from the ancestors. On a practical level it is the bond in the family line, and the family reputation. On an esoteric level, it was seen as the many faceted soul, each faucet of which is the separate soul of an individual, but linked to the larger soul of the whole family.
The 9 virtues then are:
The Fenian Code (As dictated by Fionn – Irish/Celtic Tradition)
“If you have a mind to be a good champion, be quiet in a great man’s house; be surly in the narrow pass.“
Do not beat your hound without a cause; do not bring a charge against your wife without having knowledge of her guilt; do not hurt a fool in fighting, for he is without his wits.
Do not find fault with high-up persons; do not stand up to take part in a quarrel; have no dealings with a bad man or a foolish man. Let two-thirds of your gentleness be showed to women and to little children that are creeping on the floor, and to men of learning that make the poems, and do not be rough with the common people.
Do not give your reverence to all; do not be ready to have one bed with your companions.
Do not threaten or speak big words, for it is a shameful thing to speak stiffly unless you can carry it out afterwards. Do not forsake your lord so long as you live; do not give up any man that puts himself under your protection for all the treasures of the world.
Do not speak against others to their lord, that is not work for a good man.
Do not be a bearer of lying stories, or a tale-bearer that is always chattering.
Do not be talking too much; do not find fault hastily; however brave you may be, do not raise factions against you.
Do not be going to drinking-houses, or finding fault with old men; do not meddle with low people; this is right conduct I am telling you.
Do not refuse to share your meat; do not have a lazy man for your friend; do not force yourself on a great man or give him occasion to speak against you. Hold fast to your arms till the hard fight is well ended.
Do not give up your opportunity, but with that follow after gentleness.”
There is a Gaelic proverb which says:
Am fear a thug buaidh air fhein, thug e buaidh air namhaid.
“He who conquers himself, conquers an enemy.”
For more on Irish tradition, see this reference on Brehon Law. The ancient laws of Celtic Ireland were used from the time before Patrick until the 17th century when they were outlawed and disappeared. Crafted by judges, known as Brehons, the laws were surprisingly modern in their approach to timeless issues and reflect a complex and sophisticated society.
Gatka Code of a Sikh Warrior
Gatka is an ancient martial art which has been thoroughly battle tested and has existed in India for thousands of years. It is considered to be a spiritual and physical way of life. Both aspects are developed in the training of this ancient art-form.
There are 9 principles of warriorship in Gatka:
A true warrior is humble and gentle.
A true warrior has no arrogance and bears no malice, even to his enemies.
A true warrior recognizes himself as an instrument of the greater spirit. The warrior will follow and serve the Hukam (the natural order of the universal spirit.
A true warrior seeks justice, freedom and protection of all beings, recognizing the importance of all beings in nature.
A true warrior is ready and willing to stand for justice, combating injustice in word and in deed.
A true warrior is a weapon of the universal spirit. The one who recognizes himself as such, realizes all inner self identity, merging with the flow of Spirit’s law attaining the mental and physical powers of a warrior.
A true warrior fights with his mind before he fights with his sword.
A true warrior is a saint and a soldier integrated into one.
These warrior codes listed are a few of many that I could show you. They all echo the same basic principles that lead to peace, strength, empathy, and freedom. The warrior ethos of ancient times stands today as it ever did, and I feel it desperately needs to make a comeback. It takes true inner strength to be moral and virtuous in a society that is trying to turn you into anything but your true self, and anything but a virtuous empowered individual.
I encourage you to take up arms against your own personal demons, limiting belief systems, fears, anxieties, and challenges in life. I also hope I have encouraged you to look into the way of the warrior deeper on your own, and to see your own innate value and the value of all life.
Where there is life, there is potential. If you are reading this, you are alive. Go from there.
– David Whitehead