Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Analysis of the Hagakure

I find no greater meditation on what kills a man than in the Hagakure, an Asian instruction manual to the samurai. It is for the disciplined and the sociopathic alone, yet provides insight into everyone’s mortality in our social world. Consider:

“Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords,”

While medicine has improved since the Hagakure was first written, it is important to note that none of these are certain killers. People survive getting pegged in archery range accidents every day. E.R.’s routinely save gunshot victims. And if a gun isn’t a certain killer, then neither is the sword it rendered obsolete.

The Hagakure continues:

“being carried away by surging waves,”

Undertoes are more dangerous than swords, but people still survive being dragged out to sea.

“being thrown into the midst of a great fire,”

In 2000, a man in Pennsylvania charged into a burning house after hearing the cries of children. He rescued them from the second floor, but half his body was covered in second degrees burns from sheltering them from the flames. He died in 2007 of drug overdose. Fire, even a great one, is not a certain killer.

“being struck by lightning,”

The heavenly killer, yet there are people who survive lightning strikes. The main danger is the current travelling left and reaching your heart. In 2009 a young British couple were struck by lightning while holding hands. Both survived.

“being shaken to death by a great earthquake,”

San Francisco alone has shown us earthquakes are not necessarily fatal.

“falling from thousand-foot cliffs,”

In fact, people have survived falling out of airplanes. Any height is dangerous, but not necessarily lethal. Like lightning, it has to do with how the impact travels through the body.

“dying of disease”

At one time the flu or a fever seemed certain death. Today we are fighting back HIV and cancer.

“or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master.”

Which brings us to that last. Suicide means to kill oneself. To do anything other than kill yourself is not suicide; just a suicide attempt. So seppuku is the only thing on this list that will certainly kill a man. He may survive bullets, flashfoods and lightning, but he cannot survive himself.


  1. I think of my own "inevitable death" every day. I seldom, however, contemplate the possible causes of my eventual death, other than illness or suicide. This post gives me many more vivid possibilities than I would have conjured on my own. Now my death meditations will be more lively!

  2. A fantastic rebuttal. I love the final line. This is wonderful work.


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