Master of Death

by Dan Walsh

Samurai Statue, Imperial Palace by Diana Schnuth

Excerpted from Hagakure:

Yagyu Tajima-no-kami was a great swodsman and teacher in the art to the Shogun of the time, Tokugawa Iyemitsu. One of the personal guards of the Shogun one day came to Tajima-no-kami wishing to be trained in fencing. The master said, “As I observe, you seem to be a master of fencing yourself; pray tell me to what school you belong, before we enter into the relationship of teacher and pupil.”

The guardsman said, “I am ashamed to confess that I have never learned the art.”

“Are you going to fool me? I am teacher to the honorable Shogun himself, and I know my judging eye never fails.”

“I am sorry to defy your honor, but I really know nothing.”

This resolute denial on the part of the visitor made the swordmaster think for a while, and he finally said, “If you say so, it must be so; but still I am sure you are a master of something, though I do not know of what.”

“If you insist, I will tell you. There is one thing of which I can say I am complete master. When I was still a boy, the thought came upon me that as a Samurai I ought in no cicumstances to be afraid of death, and I have grappled with the problem of death now for some years, and finally the problem of death ceased to worry me. May this be at what you hint?”

“Exactly!” exclaimed Tajima-no-kami. “That is what I mean. I am glad that I made no mistake in my judgment. For the ultimate secrets of swordsmanship also lie in being released from the thought of death. I have trained ever so many pupils along this line, but so far none of them really deserve the final certificate for swordsmanship. You need no technical training, you are already a master.”

I have meditated on and off since around the 3rd grade. Maybe earlier. I attribute my infrequent practice to lack of direction. This story has given me direction. I have begun to meditate on death and will continue to do so until I have become master. It is ironically uplifting.