If you asked me what my greatest strengths are and how I got them, I’d tell you that they come from a sometimes overwhelming sense of gratitude. And that gratitude comes from keeping in mind that life is here today and gone tomorrow. At a young age I became familiar with death. For one example, one of the first girls I ever slept with had cancer. I was hanging out around the local coffee shop and chatted up a particularly sullen looking Asian girl in Gothic fashion. She invited me to her house quite early in the conversation, but being young and dumb I went. Right after we did it, she lit a cigarette and let out the deepest sigh I’d ever heard, and told me she was going to die soon. Pretty f**ked up, right?
By keeping in mind that your life WILL end, perhaps much sooner than you think, your quality of life actually improves. I don’t think I could explain it any clearer than Taira Shigesuke in his four hundred year old book, Bushido Shoshinsu (Warrior’s Training Manual). The Bushido Shoshinsu was an actual samurai training manual used in Japan during the 250 year long military rule of the Warrior class. This is a chapter from that book, which is just as relevant today as it was in the 1600’s:
“One who is supposed to be a warrior considers it his foremost concern to keep death in mind at all times, every day and every night, from the morning of New Year’s Day through the night of New Year’ Eve.
As long as you keep death in mind at all times, you will also fulfill the ways of loyalty and familial duty. You will also avoid myriad evils and calamities, you will be physically sound and healthy, and you will live a long life. What is more, your character will improve and your virtue will grow.
Here are the reasons for that. All human life is likened to evening dew and morning frost, considered something quite fragile and ephemeral. While this is so of all people’s lives, the life of the warrior is particularly precarious.
If people comfort their minds with the assumption that they will live a long time, something might happen, because they think they will have forever to do their work and look after their parents-they may fail to perform for their employers and also treat their parents thoughtlessly.
But if you realize that the life that is here today is not certain on the morrow, then when you take your orders from your employer, and when you look in on your parents, you will have the sense that this may be the last time-so you cannot fail to become truly attentive to your employer and your parents. This is why I say you also fulfill the paths of loyalty and familial duty when you keep death in mind.
In any case, when you forget death and become inattentive, you are not circumspect about things. You may say something offensive to someone and get into an argument. You may challenge something you might as well have ignored and get into a quarrel.
OR you may stroll about in resorts where you have no business, not avoiding the crowds, where you might bump into some oaf and get into an unexpected brawl. You could lose your own life, get your employer bad publicity, and cause your parents and siblings difficulties.
All this trouble comes from inattentiveness when you fail to keep death in mind at all times.
When you always keep death in mind, when you speak and when you reply to what others say, you understand the weight and significance of every word as a warrior by profession, so you do not engage in futile arguments. As a matter of course you do not go to dubious places even if people invite you, so there is no way for you to get into unexpected predicaments. This is why I say you will avoid myriad evils and calamities if you keep death in mind.
People of all social classes, high and low, constantly overeat, drink too much, and indulge in their desires to an unhealthy degree, all because of forgetting about death. This puts a strain on their internal organs, so they may die remarkably young, or else become sickly or invalid.
When you always keep death in mind, even if you are young and healthy, you already know how to take care of yourself. You moderate food and drink, avoid sexual addiction, and behave prudently. As a result, you are physically sound. Because you are healthy, you will live a long time.
When you assume that your stay in this world will last, various wishes occur to you, and you become very desirous. You want what others have, and cling to your own possessions, developing a mercantile mentality.
When you always keep death in mind, covetousness naturally weakens, and to that degree a grabby, greedy attitude logically does not occur. This is why I say your character improves.
Yet there is the question of how to keep death in mind. To just keep sitting there all the time waiting for death twenty-four hours a day, like the monk Shinkai of whom Yoshida no Kenko wrote in his Tsurezuregusa, might be appropriate for monk’s training, but it is not in accord with the aim of martial training. If you face death in that way, loyalty and familial duty to your employer and parents will be neglected, and your professional warriorhood will wind up defective. That will never do.
The idea is to take care of your public and private duties day an night, and then whenever you have any free time when your mind is unoccupied, you think of death, bringing it to mind attentively. It is said that in the great hero Kusunoki Masashige’s instructions to his son Masayuki, he told him “always get used to death.” This is for the understanding of neophyte knights.”
I’m telling you right now, the best thing you can possibly do right now is to stop kidding yourself, in all aspects. If you are poor, stop buying phones and clothes that are above your ability, just so you can keep up appearances. Say to yourself “I admit it. I am poor. How can I change that?”. If you aren’t as healthy as you’d like to be (AKA fat), don’t lose weight for me or anyone else, do it for yourself. Do what you have to do to lose that weight, because your lifespan is very limited, and you don’t want to be out of shape for your whole life, do you?
Our time on this earth is very, very short. A day without laughter is a day wasted. And years go by on a daily basis. Things like shopping or watching movies bring temporary joy that quickly fades. Think about what will bring you lasting happiness, and go for it. For me, true joy comes from working hard to improve myself and my quality of life, and leaving positive energy wherever I go. Your interactions with people have a ripple effect. The only way to live forever is through the effects of what you have done when you were alive. Did you leave alot of positive energy, or negative?
Tonight I want you to sit in a quiet area and think hard about what you are doing with your life, where it is headed, and what would make you truly, genuinely happy. Once you are dead you may wish that you had tried harder, but by then it will be too late.