The word chivalry appears to have escaped the average person’s vocabulary. Yet where does your mind take you when you hear this word? Most of us imagine a regal knight seated upon a fine mount rushing off to rescue fair damsels in distress. The ideal knight should be brave, gallant, and magnanimous. This suggests a lofty, noble, and courageous spirit. It also suggests an honorable person.
Having been involved in martial arts for over sixty years, I have never forgotten the premise of training which embodies the code of bushido. This code was well understood by the samurai. It involved seven precepts: benevolence, courage, honor, justice, loyalty, politeness, and sincerity. These were personal values that both the feudal knight and the samurai vowed to never violate as a code of conduct. As long as one’s honor was intact, happiness resulted.
Being a good person encompassed acting benevolent and, most importantly, displaying personal excellence.
For most, it appears that happiness is the result of possessions and personal attention. However, the pursuit of possessions beyond a certain point becomes greatly detrimental and an obstacle to happiness, while chivalrous behavior, personal honor, and virtue produce that warm afterglow of happiness. You are happy because of who you are, not what others think or say about you.
In feudal times, sadly, not all knights were noble, much like the ronin or masterless samurai. According to Wikipedia and the Code of the Samurai, “a samurai was supposed to commit seppuku (also ‘hara kiri’—ritual suicide) upon the loss of his master. One who chose not to honor the code was ‘on his own’ and was meant to suffer great shame. The undesirability of ronin status was mainly a discrimination imposed by other samurai and by daimyo, the feudal lords.” While this was a harsh code, it was taken seriously by most samurai. Many of those who became ronin often became haughty, as did certain feudal knights, and abused others with their power.
The word chivalrous comes from the French word cheval, meaning horse. Hence, we find the expression “get off your high horse” to mean “get back to the noble precepts.” How often we notice this haughty attitude among those who place more value on their possessions than on their personal character! This attitude can be conveyed by mode of transportation or residence, especially if people use it as their source of identity and not what they are inside. I have personally found more satisfaction in hard-won personal qualities than anything that can be added externally. If we depend upon externals for our self-worth, we will always be at the whim of others for their approval. Winning your own approval by being the type of person who engages in chivalry and honor will naturally release a deep-seated satisfaction that no amount of external praise or material blessing can match. No one can define you but yourself.
Chivalry, honor, and happiness are states of being that can be attained by anyone who embraces and adheres to a personal code of conduct. Those who refuse to speak ill of others, know how to maintain silence, endure insult and hardship without complaint, and return blessings for insults and kindness in the face of malice are forging the metal of their being. They are willing to go through the refiner’s fire as many times as needed until all the dross is burned away and only the pure gold remains. Why not let these seven precepts—benevolence, courage, honor, justice, loyalty, politeness, and sincerity— form the code of your life?
This much is promised: living with chivalry and honor, you will certainly win happiness! So, sharpen the sword of your spirit and go forth with courage, for you are more powerful than you’ve ever imagined.
Reflections from Turtle Lake,