Suicide : Of Ego

Japan Adventures (11) : Killing Attachment to the Ego

General Akashi Gidayu preparing to commit Seppuku after losing a battle for his master in 1582. He had just written his death poem, which is also visible in the upper right corner.

General Akashi Gidayu preparing to commit Seppuku after losing a battle for his master in 1582. He had just written his death poem, which is also visible in the upper right corner.

We visited a temple where there was a room that once hosted the suicide of a political figure. In ancient Japan, there was the practice of committing ritual suicide (seppuku) by disembowelment.

According to Wikipedia, ‘Seppuku was originally reserved only for samurai. Part of the samurai honor code, seppuku was used voluntarily by samurai to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies, as a form of capital punishment for samurai who have committed serious offenses, and for reasons that shamed them. Seppuku is performed by plunging a sword into the abdomen and moving the sword left to right in a slicing motion. The practice of committing seppuku at the death of one’s master, known as oibara (追腹 or 追い腹, the kun’yomi or Japanese reading) or tsuifuku (追腹, the on’yomi or Chinese reading), follows a similar ritual… A specialized form of seppuku in feudal times was known as kanshi (諌死, “death of understanding”), in which a retainer would commit suicide in protest of a lord’s decision. The retainer would make one deep, horizontal cut into his stomach, then quickly bandage the wound. After this, the person would then appear before his lord, give a speech in which he announced the protest of the lord’s action, then reveal his mortal wound… Seppuku as judicial punishment was officially abolished in 1873, shortly after the Meiji Restoration, but voluntary seppuku did not completely die out.’

Struck me that I’m not impressed by the courage involved in seppuku, but disturbed by the vigour of the deathwish. Seppuka obviously values honour more than life itself. Honour here has nothing to do with ethics – in the sense that seppuku is not done because one has been inethical, but because one has been shamed or feels great indignation. However, if honour is deemed so important, the loss of life is not at all helpful in restoring it. Living on allows repentance of mistakes too; not escape from them. Is the best protest not living well, instead of dying bloodily? Seppuku seems to represent the violent attachment to ego, the fierce affirmation of pride. In Buddhism, the death of the ego (or rather, realisation of the emptiness of the ego) is infinitely more productive – as it not only urges living on for helping sentient beings, but also self-sacrifices ONLY for truly worthy (non-egoistic) altruistic causes.

Next Adventure : http://wp.me/p54LT-3vj
Previous Adventure : http://wp.me/p54LT-3uY