Annals of Ethics
Online ISSN : 2434-4699
On Jōchō’s suffering through survival
“I have found the way of the warrior in death”
Taisuke UENO
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2020 Volume 69 Pages 249-262


 This paper explains how Yamamoto Jōchō interpreted the teaching “I have found the way of the warrior in death” for himself. This teaching is generally interpreted as helping warriors find the determination to die. However, it entailed for Jōchō a self-contradictory situation. Despite his insistence that warriors had to die, Jōchō was, of course, still alive when he pronounced the teaching. In such a situation─espousing a teaching on death yet surviving his master─he arrived at a profound insight into life’s meaning after deep contemplation. Approaching this teaching from this perspective allows for a meaningful reinterpretation of this purportedly “radical”, and “dangerous” teaching.  Jōchō could not commit suicide upon his master’s death because his master had forbidden it. He therefore decided upon world-renunciation instead. After his symbolic death through world-renunciation, he anguished over having to continue living without his master. His teaching must therefore be interpreted in this light: Jōchō was suffering through survival.  In retrospect, there were two remarkable events in his life. One was the experience of acquiring meaning for his life through a command: his master requested that Jōchō served at his side. Jōchō looked upon himself as a “worthless” retainer but decided to devote his life to his master. The other event was a miracle. Jōchō had a sudden premonition and reached his master to be with him at his death. This demonstrated for Jōchō, his unity, body and soul, with his master. Jōchō realized that he had already become an authentic “Nabeshima retainer” by becoming an authentic retainer to his master. These moments generated an existential conflict between committing suicide and surviving because of his master’s prohibition. Seen from the perspective of this existential problem, Jōchō’s teaching should be understood as a confession of his anguished self-suffering based on this ambivalence rather than a radical enjoinment of the warrior to embrace death.

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© 2020 The Japanese Society for Ethics
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