Miyamoto Musashi's Dokkodo: 21 Stoic Rules of Life (2023)

The Dokkodo ("The Path of Aloneness", "The Way to Go Forth Alone" or "The Way of Walking Alone") is a short work written by Miyamoto Musashi shortly before his death.

Having won over 60 duels, Musashi was considered the greatest swordsman of his time. He is known not only for his superior swordsmanship, but also for his more popular work, The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho).

Read my summary of the Book of Five Rings

Although both wisdom books grew out of his experiences, they cover different aspects of his life. The Book of Five Rings focuses on the applications of the martial arts lessons learned as Bushido in practicing "ronin" (wandering samurai). The Dokkodo encapsulates the main ideas that Musashi believed not only made him successful but also contributed to a meaningful life.

Musashi's dokkodo has a stoic overtone. Like many stoic life advices, The Dokkodo will give you a new perspective on old problems that modern wisdom often struggles to solve.

In this post I will find the moderating meaning and interpretation of The Dokkodo. Not all ideas require a modern twist, while some require an updated review. Overall, following these principles would still lead you to a stable, content, and prosperous life.

Miyamoto Musashis 21 Dokkodo-Prinzipien

1. Accept everything as it is

People resist this principle because a reasonable interpretation is that you shouldn't bother changing things. While reasonable, this is simplistic to the point of inaccuracy and grossly inaccurate.

Accepting things as they are means you don't wish them to be anything other than what they are. If you refuse to accept the world as you see it, you will not take the actions necessary to prepare for the truth of what lies ahead.

2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake

Good feelings should come as a side effect of meaningful action. When you make pleasure your central pursuit, you're trading your time and energy for a feeling that's meant to be just a fleeting reward for overcoming challenges.

Pleasure for its own sake is one of the ways people fall into addiction. If you take the easy route to dopamine release instead of putting in the hard work to earn it, the easy route to dopamine through drugs, alcohol, or meaningless sex will do nothing to help you evolve.

Taking the hard road to happiness by doing something meaningful makes you better at it. If you take the easy road to happiness for the sake of happiness, you demean your character and exaggerate your weaknesses.

3. Under no circumstances should you rely on a partial feeling

When using your feelings as a basis for decisions, you need to be absolutely certain. A half-hearted commitment is worse than no commitment at all.

Emotions are fickle. Ideally, you are objective. When you make decisions based on feelings, you need to be more confident because your decisions are supported by less objective information. You must also be prepared for the possibility of error and the consequences of that outcome.

For this reason, acting on partial feelings is worse than not acting at all. A partial feeling lacks total commitment and absolute conviction; the things you need to face any challenge in your life.

4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world

If you take yourself too seriously, you'll miss the greatest joke of all: you will die, and in less than 150 years there will be no one who ever remembers interacting with you.

If you are particularly notable, there may be early accounts of your life. But for the most part, your life is a time warp.

But if that's true, then why think deeply about the world? Your actions (or lack thereof) will transcend you. Although your life is a localized point in the flow of time, your actions will reverberate downstream, affecting events and thoughts you will never interact with.

5. Be detached from desire all your life

Desire is a funny thing. Without it, the actions in your life would be reduced to things you need to survive or are forced to do by others. However, when you let desire rule your life, the opposite problem occurs.

You avoid doing the necessary things and only do what you want. The ideal position is to be detached from desire.

Detachment doesn't mean you don't feel or even enjoy it. It means that your feelings towards something don't stop you from pursuing or withdrawing from it. You do nothing to prolong the experience, nor do you try to shorten it.

6. Don't regret what you did

It's natural to have regrets, but that doesn't mean you should live in a state of regret.

A lot of people say that you shouldn't have any regrets, but I think what they mean is that they don't regret the way things turned out, even if they had to go through some hardships and difficulties to get there. So we don't regret the results.

We don't regret what we've done. This is only possible if you live consciously and accept that mistakes happen. Learning happens through these mistakes. Learning is how improvement happens. And how could we ever regret improving our lives.

7. Never be jealous

Jealousy is a natural emotion. You can't control if you get jealous, but you can control how you see the world and what you do when jealousy takes hold. How you see the world determines whether you see another person's success or achievements through the eyes of envy or motivation.

If you're willing to put in the work to get what another person has, there's no reason to be jealous. The best way to see jealousy is as a reminder that it is time to get to work on becoming more capable of achieving and acquiring.

Your longing for what others have can either ward off jealousy or fuel motivation. One pushes you to be great while the other incites hatred.

8. Never let a breakup upset you

All things must end. At some point you too will be separated from your life. Nothing is forever. This includes all the relationships you have in your life.

Following Musashi's commandment to never have a bond would automatically prevent you from feeling sadness about the breakup, but I'd like to change some of the more stoic points. The notion that you can be aware of emotions but never want to be ruled by them.

Keeping this in mind will make you sad when you lose something you are inevitably attached to. This isn't a negative, as I truly believe that attachment gives life meaning, but if you're a ronin like Musashi, then attachment could cost you your life.

9. Resentment and complaints are not appropriate for oneself or for others

Complaints and resentments are like jealousy.

They are negative emotions that should be used as a signal to make yourself better. Resentment signals that you believe a person or situation owes you something. Once you realize that nobody owes you anything, that is the beginning and end of your grudges.

Complaints are also worthless, but for a different reason. Complaints do not solve the problem. It highlights and draws attention to it, but doesn't make any progress towards a solution or offer any ideas to fix the situation.

In many ways, complaining is the most wasteful action you can take in the face of a challenge.

10. Don't let feelings of lust or love guide you

Musashi again reminds us of the danger of attachment. We must remember that Musashi's advice is based on the time he lived in and the danger he faced. Considered in the modern context, some of this advice is still useful and true.

The problem with leading by lust is that the payoff is tiny.

It's a feeling that's relieved in a release. If you're guided by something that can be erased in just a second, and will do almost anything to fulfill it, you're likely to take unnecessary risks that pay off only briefly if you succeed, and can ruin you if it doesn't . In fact, even if you are successful, it still has the potential to ruin you.

Where I almost completely disagree with Musashi is the idea of ​​not being guided by love. While I don't think love should be followed blindly, I do think there is tremendous value in the power of love and the courage of the protective instinct in nurturing.

Now, I'm not fighting for my life in a hostile country either, so I can afford the luxury of bonds and the duty to protect them, but I can understand why Musashi would come to that conclusion.

Check out my synopsis of Sun Tzu's The Art of War

11. Having no preferences in all things

I don't think Musashi is telling us in this commandment not to care how the wind blows our lives. I've often voiced a similar idea, but it's based on a clear set of goals and values.

If you live true to yourself and what you want out of life, you will lack the energy or time to prioritize most things. In fact, developing certain preferences outside of what you consider most important will set you back and distract you.

I may be wrong or selfish in my interpretation of this principle, but to make this useful for modern life I believe this is the most workable interpretation that still preserves the spirit of a stoic approach to life.

After you have determined what is most important in your life, have no preferences.

12. Don't care where you live

Many of the stoic themes in Musashi's Dokkodo are difficult to imagine in our modern world. I suspect this is one of them. In fact, I'm certainly not indifferent to where I live, but we have to take Musashi's world into account.

He wanders 16th- and 17th-century Japan without many of the modern luxuries available to us today. Those who were able to create a higher standard of comfort probably had to spend a lot of time and energy on it. For Musashi, this not only represented a distraction from the work at hand, but also did not mean a significant change in the quality of life.

Today, in most English-speaking countries (and beyond), the poorest live better off than the rich did in Musashi's day. However, you must continue with themes of crime and violence that often accompany certain locations.

While I think the advice is spot on for your life once you reach a certain base level of security, our modern world harbors too many new dangerscompleteno matter where you live and what influences you allow in your family.

13. Don't pursue the taste of good food

Everyone loves good food, so this one is likely to get a lot of resistance, but we need to consider who this advice is for and where it's coming from. This reminds me of my time in the military and my time when I was poor.

When you experience luxury, you will strive for luxury. This isn't a bad thing as it makes you ambitious and motivated to achieve more, but if you can't escape your rigor or your mind isn't tough enough then you run the risk of becoming a distracted whiner.

This also has an interesting nutritional component.

The main focus of your diet should be to gain and maintain health. While most healthy foods are delicious (especially if you stop eating a lot of processed poison passed off as food), there's a good chance you'll end up eating more things that are bad for and if you just eat to taste in larger quantities.

14. Don't hold on to possessions you no longer need

This is a simple idea that doesn't need much elaboration. When something has served its purpose, throw it away.

Anything you keep that doesn't serve a purpose has a cost. These costs may not be obvious, but they are there and you pay them. Everything has its price, be it in less time, fewer opportunities or reduced mobility.

If something is no longer useful to you, then you owe it to the finitude of your life to throw it away. This idea can be applied to your relationships as well, although I wouldn't use the verb "need." Your relationships aren't just useful. There are many people you don't need but should keep close by.

The problem arises when you stay in relationships that not only no longer serve you, but prevent you from making progress. Think of how many people you know who have only maintained relationships because they put so much time into or out of convenience.

Don't hold on to things or people that no longer serve you.

15. Do not act on conventional beliefs

Musashi warns you against following the thinking and behavior of the masses.

I see that as a reminder to think for yourself and not just be a sheep. Well, I don't want people to think that just because that's what everyone else is doing means that they're acting contrary to something. This means you do nothingOnlybecause everyone else is doing it.

If you think deeply about something and come to your own conclusions that happen to agree with what's popular, then that's fine. It happens. After all, society has achieved this order by doing a lot of things right.

But society has also done a lot wrong. It's up to you to use your skills and determine the best course of action. Just don't let public opinion dictate you.

Check out my synopsis of The Hagakure

16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful

This is advice on efficiency and careful practice, all rolled into one.

Musashi tells you that carrying more than you need is an unnecessary obligation. Everything you bring has a price. The benefits you derive from it should outweigh the costs involved. This is true as long as you can use what you have.

So if you carry an excess, you will still incur costs. But now you can't use what you have and suffer from it.

Granted, the application of this idea dates back to a time before motorized vehicles or methods of storing communications existed, but the idea remains: if you carry more than you can use, you will be set back.

He also talks about how there is a limit to how much you should practice.

There is no hard time limit, it simply warns you not to practice beyond what is useful. This seems to be another optimization issue.

Once you've gotten everything you can out of a given exercise session, it's wise to move on. There is a point of diminishing returns where the time you make less to less improvement or worse can cause you to slip back in your development.

17. Do not fear death

Everything will die. You will die. There's no point in fearing the inevitable.

I'm not saying that the thought of dying isn't scary. However, I combat this fear by thinking about it often and imagining what the day will be like as I approach the end. I find meditation on death calming and puts many things into perspective.

One day this will all end. Make sure you spend the remaining time in such a way that you can leave this planet with no regrets. Because no matter what you do, you will leave it.

18. Don't seek to have goods or fiefdoms for your old age

This is a great position for this prescription that follows the prescription of death.

Possessions in old age not only cannot be enjoyed, but also cannot be taken with you. Of course, there are arguments for passing on the wealth, but that may have escaped Musashi's notice as he had no biological children and didn't have much to pass on.

19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help

One of my favorite sayings is, "God helps those who help themselves."

I like this saying because it sums up my basic feeling towards God and all higher powers: They created this world, but it is up to us to make it livable. God has nothing to do with our daily habits of life.

You cannot curse God when you get nothing, nor give Him credit when you do, for God is impersonal in His approach to the world. This is why bad things can happen to good people and vice versa.

Respect him as your creator, but don't see him as your savior.

The world is fair because it is unfair to everyone.

– Ed Latimore (@EdLatimore)July 16, 2020

20. You are allowed to leave your own body, but you must preserve your honor

Never do anything that would embarrass your family and stain your legacy when it comes out after your death. Your actions are beyond you.

There's a saying, “The future is secure when people plant trees whose shade they will never sit in.” Ideally, spend your life building a better world for those who come after you. But if you can't, at least don't screw things up.

When you live a life that meets the conditions of the commandment—one that preserves your honor—you never have to worry about the world getting worse or the darkness you caused during your life coming to light afterward you died

21. Never lose your way

Musashi often speaks of "the way" in the Book of Five Rings. While he was specifically referring to the way he lived and the ideals he followed, it's easy to adapt this to modern society.

Whichever path you choose, you must remain true to it. There must be a set of values ​​and ideals that you must vow to live your life by. There are certain boundaries that should never be crossed, or things that you will not do or else you may give in to temptation and indulge in a character-breaking weakness.

As the old saying goes, "If you don't stand for something, you will stand for everything."

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