Book Review - Training the Samurai Mind: A Bushido Sourcebook by Thomas Cleary
I saw Training the Samurai Mind: A Bushido Sourcebook by Thomas Cleary at the library awhile back, and picked it up. Japanese bushido thinking is something I normally find interesting, and I've gravitated to books like The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings in the past. In this case, I had a far more difficult time staying engaged with the material. Perhaps it was the "anthology" nature of the material, meaning that there wasn't necessarily a lot of continuity from chapter to chapter. Given the writings span over 500 years, I can somewhat understand that...
There are 22 chapters, each consisting of a writing by some Japanese individual who was well-known as a bushido teacher in that particular time period. Cleary gives a short intro of the person's biography and cultural setting, as well as their philosophical bent. The rest of the chapter is then a translated writing of theirs that covers some element of bushido, be it warfare, personal responsibility, or training. Cleary has done a nice job in translating the material in a way that makes it understandable to the Western reader. Given that each chapter stands completely alone, you can digest the book in small chunks without having to keep track of an overall plot or theme.
I think I struggled in that the writers each had their own slants and takes on Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shinto in terms of how they affected the life of a samurai. Not having a strong background in the differences and nuances of each, I think some of the material was lost on me. Also, I missed the continuity that comes from a single writer exploring a subject in some detail. I'm sure I'd feel different if the subjects were more a part of my normal culture. But as such, they came across as somewhat random and eclectic.
I think Cleary did a fine job in translation of the material. I just think that you'd have to be pretty well grounded in bushido thought to get the most out of this book.