What is honour? In the West, the word may bring to mind the image of a soldier receiving a medal in front of a large audience or an extravagant ceremony on television during which a person who just received an award is about to make an acceptance speech; it may also remind us of the expression “All the honour is mine” given in answer to a thank you. But what is honour really?
What I intend to speak of here is the inner quality that is based on beliefs and noble values that lead to honourable behaviour. This inner quality is a product of the development of other qualities; it is not a virtue that we work on directly. In budo, we reflect on the life of a samurai, a servant of the daimyo. Sensei speaks to us of the qualities that are necessary if one is to take on this role: loyalty, duty, and courage. I will, therefore, speak of these qualities as I understand them today.
During the course of our lives, we meet leaders, people who are important to us, who are endowed with a wisdom, a strength of character, and a compassion that come from their life experience, and towards whom we turn for guidance: parents, teachers, advisors, spiritual leaders, and even political leaders. Based on our own life experience, we will espouse certain causes and certain teachings and we will maintain relationships with these people as well as with certain communities, and we will thereby develop some loyalty to these causes, these persons, and these associations.
Loyalty means to faithfully support something or someone that we deem important for the good of the world, even when we are confronted with difficulties.
A distinction must be made, however, between loyalty and fanaticism. Fanaticism develops when we follow certain teachings without thinking; it is an irrational belief. Without thought, we cannot understand. And what is loyalty without understanding?
Once we subscribe to a certain philosophy, we must nurture our own development through studying and through accomplishing our duty. When we understand the importance of the philosophy that interests us, we recognize the need for duty. If we wish to nurture this philosophy, advance these teachings, and improve the society concerned, there are always needs to be met. Who will meet these needs, and what will motivate them to do so?
Why is the shochugeiko (summer camp) important?
When we do something without understanding why, we are doing it out of obligation. Once again, we see here the importance of understanding as a result of reflection and concentration. When studying budo, some ask themselves: “What must I do to move up to the next level?” What if we changed that question to: “How can I work in order to do better?” Duty is a product of understanding, not of personal interest.
Duty means recognizing and doing what is needed without having an ulterior motive.
Accomplishing our duty requires courage, especially when faced with having to do something that is not popular or is difficult. We exercise this sense of duty by facing our fears or by taking up ever more difficult challenges in order to familiarize ourselves with the process.
Courage is having the strength of spirit to take the right path when we are faced with difficult choices.
What is courage without understanding? When we take on difficult challenges without thinking, preparation and experience, we risk not being able to overcome them. Is this not temerity? We must, therefore, develop our capacity for observation and analysis as well as our inner motivation in order that we may be able to see the different solutions and choose the option that appears to us to be the best, even if it is difficult. It may not lead to success, but the effort will, in the long run, add to our experience and our wisdom.
Most of us have heard the story of the soldiers from two different armies who are ordered to capture a hill. The soldiers who are fanatical and reckless and who obey blindly to orders out of obligation will climb the hill in a straight line without thinking. On the other hand, the soldiers who have developed their capacity for reflection will first draw up a plan that will allow them to succeed while minimizing losses.
“I keep my promises.” This simple vow allows us to put these three qualities in practice. When we make a promise, we are showing loyalty to the person to whom we make this promise; we give ourselves the duty to keep this promise and to have the courage to do what is necessary to succeed in doing so. However, upon reflection, we can see that the first duty we have is to ensure that it is possible for us to keep a promise before we commit ourselves to it and to have the courage to refuse if we cannot, showing thereby our loyalty to the other person.
We can see that to develop these three qualities, we must put them into practice with reflection and concentration. By demonstrating these qualities, our behaviour will become more honourable, since we will in this way develop other necessary qualities like compassion, wisdom, and strength. At the very core of honour, we therefore find the essential qualities of loyalty, duty, and courage.
These were my thoughts on this subject at the time of submitting this essay. This reflection is an ongoing pursuit.