The culture of Japan has always mesmerized me and has taught me a lot of things; from the idea of 金継ぎ (Kintsugi) to 間 (Ma) to 侘寂 (Wabi-sabi) and a lot of other philosophies that are imbued in the culture of Japan. ‘Living as one already dead’ is a philosophy taught to Samurais and it holds a lot of meaning besides what it shows on the surface.
“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live properly.” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)
We all are stuck in this endless race of climbing the ladder of success and being the odd one out who is looked up to by everyone as a way of inspiration or awe. This perennial chase is how most of us spend our lives and then perish when old age comes knocking at our doors. We all are like rats that have been placed at the beginning of a maze and are asked to find our way to the finishing line in the quickest and efficient way possible, otherwise we’d not be rewarded and we are so lost in this maze that we do not realize how our whole life comes to its own finishing line before we are even able to live it properly. In the essay, On the Shortness of Life, Seneca clearly talks about the aforementioned and has described it in the best way possible:
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, in his book Hagakure (Hidden Leaves, a Samurai Guide to Living) describes how a Samurai is asked to form his way of life in order to live by the bushido code and to succeed in his calling. A Samurai is asked to live his life as if he is already dead which in turn gives him freedom for the path which he is to follow.
“We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice… If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.”
This idea of living as one already dead is further explained in a book called Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. The author has explained that when Japanese adopt this philosophy, they adopt it in a positive manner where a Japanese soldier following this ideology would be fearless and would have no hindrance in doing even the toughest of tasks assigned to him. This philosophy means that a man eliminates all fear from his mind and further stops the voice in his head which tells him what is wrong and right. In layman’s terms we could call such a man a ‘living corpse’. However, a Japanese soldier would claim himself anything but a living corpse. They mean to say that they release all thoughts of internal conflicts and doubt from their heart and mind. And that they give full attention towards their purpose with utmost energy and dedication.
For the Japanese this idea of ‘living as one already dead’ means that their conscience has removed all burdens of fear from their mind and hence their sense of tension and anxiety goes away as well because they are left nothing to fear of, which in turn makes them do every possible thing which they asked of.
We all have a nagging voice in our head which often shouts at us when we are doing something new or risky and puts us between a rock and a hard place. This voice, our conscience, prevents us from doing things which might be wrong for some, no matter how much we want to do it. We all are our own judges and our conscience judges us after every act we do, every thought we have, every word we speak, everything we see, or even everything we hear. This constant battle with our own conscience which sits at its high horse and judges us is removed when we adopt the idea of ‘living as one already dead’.
The Japanese use this ideology to tell themselves that one who lives by it lives in the plane of ‘expertness’, i.e., one is already expert in everything and has to have no fear when doing an action. A school-going child might be afraid before his examinations and can be told to go and give his best and to pretend that he is already dead. A man having to change cities might be afraid of being in a different place and around different people and can adopt this ideology and feel fearless and brave and can take one day at a time. This ideology is very similar to the idea of Carpe Diem but is still very different from it.
Everyone should try to live by this ideology as it can be really life changing and can help you open up doors which you felt were impossible before. Follow the path of fearless Samurais and live one day at a time without caring about the next or where the path itself leads you to. Tell yourself that you are already dead and you have nothing to fear for. Do everything you have wanted to do and say everything you have wanted to say because remember, omae wa mou shindeiru (you are already dead).
Yusuf Aziz is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited By: Maryam Ahmed
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.