The Pocket Samurai by William Scott Wilson

The Pocket Samurai by William Scott Wilson

Author:William Scott Wilson
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Shambhala


Kaibara Ekiken


KAIBARA EKIKEN was one of the preeminent intellectuals of his time. A samurai who trained in the martial arts of the sword, bow, spear, and horsemanship, he was also a practicing physician and a lecturer on the philosophy of Confucianism. Ekiken was born in Fukuoka Castle on the southern island of Kyushu in 1630, thirty years after the history-altering battle at Sekigahara and eight years before the Shimabara Rebellion, the last significant conflict of the samurai era. Thus, although his paternal grandfather had performed meritorious deeds in battle while serving under Takeda Shingen and later as a samurai of the Kuroda clan, and his father and elder brother participated in the action at Shimabara, Ekiken himself would become a samurai of the new world of the Tokugawa shogunate—an era of peace in which the warrior had to adjust to a world without war. Ekiken would fare far better than others in this adjustment and become an ideal samurai of the new age.

Ekiken was a somewhat delicate child and was encouraged by his father, a physician, to study medicine and nutrition from the age of thirteen. From that time, he was taught both medicine and Confucian philosophy under the tutelage of his older brother Sonzai, for whom he had the greatest respect. Thus, from the very beginning, Ekiken studied medicine—caring for and curing the sick and ailing—and Confucianism, which places its highest value on human-heartedness, a principle that in great part means helping others. These associated values would guide Ekiken throughout his life, along with his great love and respect for nature, a legacy, perhaps, of his Shinto priest ancestors.

Ekiken’s curiosity about the world was insatiable, and along with his interest in Confucianism, he studied subjects as varied as botany, agriculture, topography, astronomy, the I Ching, zoology, linguistics, mathematics, and military science. He was also a prolific writer, somehow finding the time between his medical practice, lecturing, study, and travel to write over two hundred volumes.

To gain such extensive knowledge, Ekiken met, befriended, and engaged in friendly debate the greatest scholars of the day on a wide variety of subjects. He also took the time and had the interest to talk with the lower-class samurai, farmers, artisans, and people of the common classes in general, listening to their “most insane utterances” but never dismissing anything out of hand.

Ekiken was motivated by an altruistic love for all creatures and things and a desire to help them in a practical way. His wide range of studies focused more on jitsugaku, or “practical learning,” than simply on study for its own sake. In this way, a large number of his works were kun—“precepts” or “lessons”—on subjects as diverse as the proper understanding of what it means to be a warrior and how truly to be content and enjoy life. The work quoted here—the Yojokun (published in English as Cultivating Ch’i)—was compiled from a lifetime of observations of the deteriorating health of members of the samurai class and intended as practical advice on how they might live robust, long, and healthy lives.


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