Late last night I hunkered down in bed & watched Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic classic, Seven Samurai. I’ve seen this great film a couple times before, but this time around, as the story progressed & the different warrior characters were introduced & developed, I found myself reflecting back on some of the chapters of a book my mother gave me awhile back: YOJOKUN: Life Lessons from a Samurai by 17th century samurai physician, neo-Confucian scholar (& one-time ronin), Kaibara Ekiken.
The book’s premise is simple: By design, the human body is meant to effectively last 100 years, & if lived properly, one can happily live out those 100 hundred years with great physical, mental, & spiritual health. The author gives a sort of daily lesson-type approach on how to successfully reach this century mark with our given, mortal bodies. Through carefully guided mental, spiritual, & physical discipline, as well as controlling one’s personal desires through healthy moderation & thoughtful appreciation, the life force within (or ch’i) can be properly cultivated, thus allowing the practitioner to live an actively long & fulfilled existence.
While Ekiken’s guidebook is loaded with over 400 amazing & practical lessons ranging from treatment for various illnesses to proper bathing techniques, I, as a nod the Kurosawa’s film which inspired this particular Wanderer post to mind, will only list 7… These are direct citations from Yojokun:
On Post-Consumption: After eating, you should rub your abdomen in a downward motion a number of times to stimulate your breathing. It is also good to rub the area on the left side of your belly in a diagonal motion with the inside of your index finger a number of times. In addition, you should rub your hips in a downward motion and gently strike the lower parts. You should not strike them forcefully. If your breathing is obstructed, look up and breathe out any noxious air three or four times.
On Exercise: If you are at home, it is good to do some light exercise from time to time. Activity such as standing up and sitting down should be considered beneficial, not troublesome. Servants should not do so much that you become inactive. You should handle some of the chores in your room; things get done more quickly and better when you do them yourself, so don’t bother with servants. When you are constantly moving your body in this way, your ch’i and blood will circulate well and your breathing will not be sluggish.
On Sexual Intercourse: You should not have sexual intercourse while holding back a full bladder. You should not engage in sex after having taken refined Sumatran camphor or musk.
On Sleeping: When you lie down to sleep at night, you simply must lie on your side. You should not lie on your back. Doing so will block your ch’i and bring on nightmares. You should not place your hands over your chest after you go to sleep. This will block your ch’i and will easily bring on troubled dreams. You should be cautious about these two things.
On Evening Activities: Reading books and having conversations with others at night should not go beyond the beginning of the third watch. The night is divided into five watches, so the third watch is halfway between the fourth and the ninth temple bells that notify the public of the time. If you do not go to sleep by midnight, your spirit will not become calm.
On Breathing: Breath should always be slow and drawn deeply into the tan t’ien. This should not be done quickly.
On Attaining Longevity: The technique for attaining longevity lies in decreasing your desires for food and sex, pacifying your mind and ch’i, and looking at things carefully and always deporting yourself with respect and circumspection. If you do this, you will not be frustrated by the things you encounter, your blood and ch’i will become regulated by themselves, and you will naturally have no illnesses.