「世々の道をそむく事なし」But ehh... What is it that we are not supposed to go against??
January 27, 2018
The famous Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵) wrote the Dokkodo (独行道) and passed it on to his students shortly before his death in 1645 at the age of 61.
In this last scripture, there were only 21 lines.
The first one was 『世々の道をそむく事なし』. Being the first of the 21 "commandments" and last words of the best known Japanese swordsman in history, it must be the most important message he wanted to pass on to future generations!
I tried to find out what it really was saying. By simple translation, it might translate to "not going against the ways of the world". In fact, many western translations used this as the meaning, "accepting everything the ways they are." While I dare not challenge this translation, which may be done by renowned scholars of Japanese literature, this translation just doesn't sit well with my understanding of the legendary swordsman in Japan. I searched as much as I could, and finally came across a short essay by Kikuo Inaba written in 2004, he finally offered a much more insightful explanation on this line. Many of us may already know Musashi was more than a swordsman, at the later part of his life, he was a philosopher also. His perception of the world was beyond the physical one. The "way" may have implied the connection of time, from past to present and to the future; it may also have implied the order in which the universe operates. By "not going against (そむく)" the ways he may have meant for us to obey the natural order of the universe, to see beyond what we believe to be common consensus, but really examine the true nature (本性) of everything. By being able to see things in their true nature, we may better understand what we are ourselves. In the end, we should be able to come to the conclusion as outlined in the subsequent 20 "commandments" of the entire Dokkodo scripture - relinquish all worldly possessions, seek no wealth or fortune, not be attached, etc. Adapt and prepare yourself, understand how things are, be ready for it, so that there is no longer a need to fight against anything when it happens. This was his way of training himself, not just as a swordsman, but as a writer, painter, teacher, and more importantly, a person. This has helped me understand another one of his teachings, 『構えありて構えなし』which I hope to talk about another time.
(ps. you will be able to find English version of the same online, so I won't put it in here.)