THE BOOK OF EARTH
Before going into the true essence of the Book of Five Rings, Gorin no Sho, I will preface this paper with the following statement that I have personally come to understand after many years of devotion to my particular martialist form, Hebi-ryu budo, The School of the Serpent. The more you study something without knowingness and acceptance of being its master, the more its essence will elude you. Intellect is an abysmal pitfall.
Musashi knew the value of certain actions. Whether intuitively, instinctively, or by sheer luck. He even alludes to it in the Book of Earth. He also advised that it was not necessary to have a teacher, but that was not a good path for everyone, and, to tread it alone, one had to be very secure in self-esteem and disciplined enough to maintain the constant hammering in one’s head to overcome the incessant trials and tribulations of self-doubt. He also understood something that most of his interpreters did not—that the void was not ‘nothing,’ something that could be identified but, having no identity: no-thing.’ The ultimate release of ego, arrogance and false pride is essential to enable ascension for understanding the essence of any desired discipline. It is this very ‘no-thing’ that is the ultimate essence of his Gorin no Sho, Book of Five Rings.
It is essential to understand and to acknowledge that to enter into a relationship with a higher ideal, a practitioner must give oneself over to the Spirit of the Thing Itself without any form of personal definition, but only a desire to become the very thing itself. As an example, rather than throwing a punch, being the punch, with no thought as to how it is executed by the Spirit of the Thing Itself in you, as you, and through you. Have no doubts…to do this requires a stern resolve and an ardent desire to overcome the limits that one has from either accident, birth, or just plain misfortune. Nonetheless, with true devotion, any matter can easily—yes, easily be overcome.
In the first ‘book’ of the Book of Five Rings, Musashi relates matters of earth as the true foundation of every ascent to mastery. The primary message is for a person to think of the highest form of accomplishment, or else remain a drone worker and never ascend to personal greatness, regardless of self-imposed definitions. Keep in mind there is a vast difference between mastering an art or simply entertaining oneself or performing for the crowd. To further illuminate, the discipline of detachment is a fallacy and fools the psyche with a false sense of security. Without succumbing to audacious arrogance, the master is always aware of controlling an accepted destiny and further guides the Spirit of the Thing Itself to deliver the results based on their own devotion to it—the essence, and not the thing—the sword.
It is called knowingness, and it is the result of long, tireless practice and awareness of the self as an instrument of the thing itself, without being vain to think of being apart from the thing itself. Avoidance of that reality comes when total connection to the ideal is attained. The warrior attitude is based on the belief that constant practice will eventually enable you to overcome your own personal limitations with everything. The essence of the ideal must be first nature and NOT what is referred to as second nature. You either are the thing, or you are not. It is not a matter of getting into the ‘zone,’ when necessary, but being in the ‘zone’ as a complete matter of fact.
The ancient adage of the ‘sword being the soul of the samurai’ Is only half correct. The complete adage must be: ‘the sword is the soul of the samurai, only when the samurai is the soul of the sword.’ Again, you either are the ‘thing’ or you are not. This is not a clever play on words. From the highest level of knowingness, the craftsman or artisan knows very well the positive and negative aspects of any particular tool being used, assuming, of course, there is the attendant mastery beforehand.
Musashi lays out fundamental attitudes that reinforce his thinking and teaching. The postulation of the nine principles, all obvious truths, maintain a necessity to meditate on them until they become an aspect of your being.
Lastly, the Book of Earth teaches the importance of your individual need and responsibility to function in society and to maintain your dignity with correct action and behavior that befits any appropriate situation in all things.
As we enter into the Book of Water, keep in mind the importance of being grounded in earthly values in order to maintain stability in the flowing of water.
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