The Samurai Sword and Spirit
My 100 year-old father-in-law (his name is Ko and he was born in Japan) told me a fascinating story about his mother and an event that happened about a century ago. Ko wrote a very detailed and interesting family history that goes back about 600 years! In this family history, he told the following story which I would like to share with you because it has inspired me so much since I heard it.
Ko’s mother (her name was Suga) was getting married, which in this case meant that she would be leaving her family and moving some distance away to the northern island of Hokkaido to join her new husband’s family and household. Traveling long distances for women 100 years ago in Japan was not an easy thing to do – especially for families living in the country-side, and so there was a real possibility that she may not see her siblings and parents again for a long time or perhaps never again. How hard that must have been! In our modern world of instant communications and air-travel, it can be hard for us to fully comprehend the import of such a move.
As Suga was packing and preparing to leave her family home, her oldest brother gave her two gifts – a Japanese short sword crafted in the fine Japanese art of sword-making and a calligraphed scroll. Suga’s brother gave her the sword as a symbol of his wish for her protection from all external threats no matter where she goes. The scroll that he gave her had a beautiful calligraphy that said “Be pure in mind, body, and courage”. This was his second wish for his sister – that she also be kept safe from internal threats. What are internal threats? They represent those forces that can corrupt us from inside our hearts – like envy, anger, indulgence, and fears.
What beautiful parting gifts to give – with the hope that our loved one be kept safe both externally and internally. I think most of us can easily grasp the external threats we may face – trying to protect ourselves against crime and theft, or disasters or economic impacts. But I think many of us, myself included, often overlook protecting ourselves from the internal things that could contribute to our ruin – and so oftentimes we let these things fester and grow inside us until they become major problems.
Every time I look at the sword my father-in-law passed on to me and my wife, I think about the dual-threats that we need to face – both external and internal and to try to be vigilant on both fronts. We may not all receive a sword as a gift, but may we all strive to “Be pure in mind, body, and courage”.