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Dokkodo (The Way to be Followed Alone) by Miyamoto Musashi

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I recently came across the works of Miyamoto Musashi.

Miyamoto Musashi was a Japanese swordsman, strategist, philosopher, ronin, and a writer.

He wrote Dokkōdō or “21 Precepts on Self-Discipline to Guide Future Generations (also known as “The Path of Aloneness”. “The Way to Go Forth Alone”, or “The Way of Self-Reliance“) a week before his death in 1645.

It’s a short work containing general rules and guidelines for life. Musashi wrote it in preparation of his death and dedicated it to his favorite disciple. It’s 21 lines long, and each line addresses a different aspect of life.

The Dokkodo

The 21 Precepts of Dokkodo:

1. Accept everything just the way it is.

  • Some things just cannot be changed and must be accepted just as they are.
  • There’s no point living in denial about your current circumstances or your past.
  • Don’t have a very rigid worldview. You need to be flexible in your understanding – don’t try to change the interpretation of something to fit a pre-existing structure.
  • Beware cognitive dissonance.

2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.

  • Do not get emotionally attached to pleasure.
  • Pleasure for the sake of pleasure lowers your ‘level’ as a human being. It makes you less human and more animalistic.
  • If you did not understand the previous point, think of people who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or whatever. They have only one god – their fix.
  • Pleasure in itself will not fulfill you. Satisfaction is secondary to purpose. Happiness is a by-product of achievement, self-understanding, and calmness.
  • Pleasure has to be earnt. When you chase pleasure for the sake of pleasure, you feel good without earning the rights the dopamine – it only fulfills the body, not the spirit.
  • Just take a look at the story of the Buddha. The man had everything. He was a prince. And yet he still wasn’t satisfied. Something was lacking.

3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.

  • When you’re not sure of something or someone, you need to be very cautious with how you move forward.
  • “kind of” believing in something is not the same as actually believing in something – this includes self-belief.
  • Some things require 100% conviction – and if you feel unsure, you need to take a step back to refine and rethink your plan.
  • A thoughtless attack leaves you open for a counterattack.

4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.

  • Do not become a self-absorbed person. It only blinds your judgment.
  • Create a working mental model of the world and constantly improve it as you gain more knowledge and experience.
  • If you maintain a light sense of self, you’ll find it easier to move on and move beyond. You’re more adaptable to change – and in everything, your ability to change and thrive sets you apart from the rest.

5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.

  • Everyone has desires, don’t get so attached to them that you lose perspective, like a drug addict craving his fix who is blind to the consequences of his actions.
  • An attachment to desire leaves you open to manipulation and mistake.

6. Do not regret what you have done.

  • Regret is a wasted emotion — a sunk cost.
  • If you feel guilty over something, make a note of it and learn from that mistake. But never hold deep regrets over it. It’ll only slow you down without helping the situation. You cannot change the past.

7. Never be jealous.

  • Get inspired, not jealous.
  • Jealousy is a waste of time.
  • Jealousy only hurts you. It robs you the happiness of what you have and only brings you dissatisfaction for what you don’t.
  • Jealousy is a trap because wants are infinite.

8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.

  • Attachment is different from love.
  • Separation is inevitable.
  • People come and go. Men and women live and die. The only constant is God.

9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself or others.

  • Once again, resentment and the problem mindset only slows you down and decreases happiness and calmness – not good.

10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.

  • Both love and lust affect your judgment adversely.
  • People have sacrificed everything: money, reputation, and freedom in a moment of desire and lust. It was never worth it.

11. In all things have no preferences.

  • An open mind will enable you to have broad and varied experiences.
  • Sticking only to what you know makes you a fish in a small pond.

12. Be indifferent to where you live.

  • If you are happy, it does not matter whether you’re living in a palace or a jungle. If you are frustrated and sad, it does not matter whether you’re a pauper or a prince. Refer once again to the life story of Siddhartha (Gautama Buddha).
  • In the age of the internet, you don’t need to be at a particular place at a particular time. You can run your business from anywhere that has an internet connection.

13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.

  • Musashi was a warrior. Food is just a way to get nutrition and energy. The taste is secondary.

14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.

  • Musashi was a wanderer. The more you carry, the harder (and riskier) your way becomes – both physically and metaphorically.

15. Do not act following customary beliefs.

  • Think for yourself.
  • Don’t become a blind NPC.
  • Just because everyone else is doing something, doesn’t make doing it a good idea.
  • Just because no one does it, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.

I don’t understand this one. Unless he meant it literally, the first part appears to be saying that you’re better off being masterful at one thing than being good at many things.

Mind you that a warrior in 1645 wrote this.

In the modern-day, code and machines can do highly specialized tasks for you. Being a polymath / multi-disciplinary seems to be a better approach.

17. Do not fear death.

  • Fear of death makes warriors weak.
  • Treat life like you would treat a sparring match – be unafraid, calm, and focused – this will maximize your chances of victory.
  • We’re all dead in the long run.

18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.

Musashi was a Ronin, i.e., a samurai with no master – a wanderer. Having no resources does not appear to be good advice for the modern day.

Definitely save money for your old age. You’re not an ascetic and probably can’t hunt for food nor rely upon other people for your well being.

19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.

  • God helps those who can help themselves.
  • Always strive to do the best you can.
  • Never depend on luck. People who rely on luck fail because they have no plan.

20. You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honour.

  • While you should not regret anything you’ve done, this does not mean you do dishonorable things.
  • Never do something that isn’t compatible with your internal code of ethics.
  • The Japanese value honor over life.

I’d rather lose honor than life – but only in life and death situations. (Honor can be regained, but if you lose your dice you can never play again.)

21. Never stray from the Way.

  • When you genuinely believe in something, go all in.
  • You have less time than you think. You will grow older and weaker, and your energy levels will go down – you don’t have a second to waste.

I found it to be an interesting and honest view of life – hope you found it useful too.

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– Harsh Strongman

21 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Harsh. For #16 on this list, I feel I can provide some helpful context I learned from my martial arts instructors. I’ll share using Okinawa as an example: the farmers learned how to use tonfas, nun-chucks and sais to defend their land; tools that were used for farming. So in other words, they didn’t collect extra weapons, but rather used what was available to them in their surroundings. Resourcefulness. Thank you for this post Harsh!

  2. No. 16: To me it seems to follow the recurring theme of detachment. We have a tendency to be enamoured with the tools that make us successful. Another way to look at it is, as the Golden Hammer: we tend to use an expensive/valuable tool everywhere.

    It is better to use the best weapon for a given fight. Takes a lot to develop that mind set.

  3. Alternate take for 16 from someone else.

    “keep what is only useful and relevant. Do not collect weapons for pleasure. We fight to live, weapons give us the ability to protect ourself and others from danger and enjoy life. “

  4. Re: Dokkodo 16.

    My take on this is that he is stating you should only hone the skills that will be useful to you on your journey. Not necessarily to master only one thing, but to not waste time on disciplines that serve little purpose (underwater basket weaving) because that time could be better spent improving your existing skillset rather than tacking on an extra party trick. Create your specific toolbelt (multi-disciplinary) but forgo any fluff.

    Warriors example: don’t practice fighting with X because the opposition only uses Y which heavily counters X. Instead, sharpen your skills with Y and Z because that’s what the battle calls for.

  5. #16

    can’t tell you how many colleagues that I have that collect stupid amounts of weapons. and these are persons who chose the profession at arms for a living. so, while it may seem to make sense for them to maintain entire armouries in their own homes, I reflect on the indication of numbers of how many others may maintain such stupid amounts of firearms.

    with that said, I still acknowledge as the man North Carolina said, “you may not need it today. you may not need it tomorrow, two weeks from now or even two years from now. but when you need it, you’re gonna want it, mighty bad.”

    I have little doubt the same principles applied, in feudal Japan.

  6. Good stuff, but I think you could boil it down into about 6 rules:

    A: Accept everything just the way it is (rules 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18).

    B: Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.

    C. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.

    If you can do this one, most of the rest are easy.

    D. Do not regret what you have done.

    E. Do not act following customary beliefs

    F. Never stray from the way (rules 19, 20, 21… i.e., have a code and live by it).

  7. In your article ‘Dokkodo (The Way to be Followed Alone) by Miyamoto Musashi’ on point 16, where you mentioned your are not sure what he exactly means. I have a thought I wanted to run by you.

    “Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful”

    He properly means don’t acquire stuff you don’t need, and the stuff you have, should only be used when necessary.

    That’s how I would interpret it. His philosophy is vary similar to the Greek philosophy ‘Stoicism’

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