I was a 16 years old high school student, busy in warm hearted camaraderie and doing much photography, inevitably responding to challenges for street fist fighting, obtaining good grades just for the self-pride of it and scheming how to get the girl I deeply, madly, irretrievably loved, to kiss me.
The monumental pink stone building of my local university was a Jesuit monks monastery and cloister of the St. Ignatius School in colonial times (1625). It preserved many of their original books in its dark library, miraculously surviving the expelling of the Jesuits in 1767, the Mexican War of Independence from Spain (1810-1821), the War of the Reform (1857-1861), the French Intervention Wars (1838 and 1862-1867), the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921), other armed conflicts in between and the later religious war (1926-1929) when convents and churches were the subject of savage pillage.
It was there, at the university library, where I stumbled upon a book with much of Japanese culture, written in old Portuguese. I was so intrigued by it that I bought a dictionary and was set to translate it.
I cannot say that I learned Portuguese in those 2 to 3 hours a day for at least a full school year, but understood enough to figure out it was the incredible account of the travels of a Portuguese explorer (maybe pirate), soldier, slave, merchant, trader, St. Francis brother, farmer and writer. Prominently four times to Japan, in the opening of a new silk trade route for the Jesuits. The date of the precious and yet humble edition was 1674, a re-edition of the first published original sixty years before, in 1614. Fascinating to say the least.
When done, I made the mistake of enthusiastically commenting it with the sinister looking chief librarian and never saw it again, or any of the many other very old leather bound books inside that tall back room, with very small windows at the very top and a tiny door, behind the last shelves row in that inmense library. That room was from then on locked and years later found completely empty.
However, that book captivated and lead me to read many others on Japanese culture, history and Bu-Shi-Do, pronounced Boo-shee-doh in English, that literally means Military-Knights-Ways; the code of moral principles which the Japanese samurai were required to observe, later translated as "The Way of the Warrior."
That is how I learned respect for the Japanese culture and my passion for The Code came to be. The way to be better everyday, as a duty to oneself and all others, without the incentive of the promise of a haven and/or the threat of a hell, learning to live a well lived life, with death by our side and honor worthy, intact to the end. My mother -an avid reader herself- found it a remarkably efficient way to reinforce our own family traditions and teachings.
Little I knew that the familiarity with Japanese culture would enable me to initiate and conclude three joint ventures with giant corporations in record time, 25 years later.
Bushido was passed on generation after generation as an oral tradition of the military classes for centuries. The Code eventually found its way into the written form -as shown in an early history of Japan written in the year 797- and further developed from the 12th century and on.
At the core of the oral tradition of at least ten centuries, seven virtues emerged as the indispensable to practice to become a true samurai.
1. Rectitude - Justice. A power of resolve to decide on the correct path of conduct. Doing the right thing or making the right decision, not because it's easy, but because it's ethically and morally correct.
2. Courage - Bravery. The Spirit of Daring and Bearing. Doing what is right, without hesitation.
Basic virtue to pursue Mastery of Martial Arts.
3. Benevolence - The Feeling of Distress as its root, to have the disposition to do good and be kind, for the sake of it. Selflessness, love for humanity, humaneness, goodness, good will.
4. Respect - For others' feelings. Courtesy, Politness and Compassion, Mercy
5. Honesty - Veracity - Truthfulness - Faithfullness, Sincerity
6. Honor - Honor worthy, unto dead
7. Loyalty - Faithful - Devoted
Wisdom - Includes resourcefulness and wit
Care for the elderly
Frugality - The self-restrained avoidance of waste, lavishness or extravagance, was stressed throughout the Code
A practical way to teach The Code was through Kendo (the way of the sword) at times made compulsory in schools throughout the land.
The Code became deeply ingrained into the culture and surely explains the fortitude of the Japanese people and the display of the seven virtues, even today, especially in the face of adversity and terrible catastrophes.
And what all of this has to do with photography? You may ask. Well, think of it and you'll see it has more to do than it first meets the eye. After all, "chivalry is itself the poetry of life" * and photography is nothing but our attempts to capture the poetry of life.
Have a great time!
* Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829), The Philosophy of History, as quoted by General Inazo Nitobe, A.M., Ph.D. in the preface of Bushido - The Soul of Japan, 13th Edition.
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