Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.
As I first sat down to write this, I had just finished posting the essay on Disciplina, the Roman personal virtue and military Goddess of Efficiency, Focus, and Devotion. That makes a natural segue for me to begin this piece, in honor of Veteran’s Day, as we visit the Japanese samurai virtue of Chuugi (Loyalty).
Some of you may know the term “bushido” as the name for the samurai code of conduct, analogous to the Western Code of Chivalry and its Knightly Virtues. While researching today’s essay, however, I learned that while bushido describes a “warrior’s way” passed down for centuries, the term itself really only dates back to 1899, when Nitobe Inazō, a famed scholar of East-West relations, used it to show that Japan, too, had a virtue tradition among its “knights” comparable to the Western tradition. This fascinates me, but I’m going to leave exploration of the implications to future visits to the Seven Bushido Virtues, so we can focus on Chuugi.
“Chuugi” (pronounced CHUH-gee, with a hard g; sounds kind of like "Chuckie"), when written in Japanese kanji, combines two ideograms, the first one, “chuu,” meaning Sincerity, itself in turn a combination of the symbols for “heart” and “middle.” (With ideograms, the connections of the ideas lie right before our eyes in the black-and-white written “word” itself. Cool, eh?) The second ideogram that makes up this virtue, “gi,” means right action or Duty. In combination, then, Chuugi presents a virtue not only of proper behavior, but driven by literally-heartfelt Faithfulness.
Back during our visit to Disciplina, we noted that this soldier’s virtue contained within it the ingredient of Loyalty, Fidelis to the the Romans, with us to this day in our Marine Corps’ motto Semper Fidelis. Chuugi, too, captures this sense of Devotion in the service performed for all of us by our soliders.
Like so many qualities, Chuugi can cast a Shadow, where Devotion becomes blind, and tribal loyalty degrades into mindless jingoism. Sensei David Nelson gives a nice exploration of how to move energy past the root chakra of survival to prevent this stagnation of Chuggi at his blog, The Broken Bokken.
Mindful of this “dark side” of Chuugi, gay Tree-hugging Buddhist oddballs might not seem the likeliest champions of veterans’ concerns. I come from a military family, however, as my baby brother B.J., also known as Square Brother or “Uncle B,” serves in the Air Force Reserves and has done tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. B.J. has made innumerable sacrifices to honor his Commitment to the military. (Commitment appears as a virtue in Thorn Coyle’s Warrior Pentacle, and while we think of her teachings with respect to spiritual warriorship, it applies to literal warriors, too.)
I have witnessed how the long tours of duty have disrupted B.J.’s life and career as a police officer. While away, he saw combat and had to bury two buddies in rapid succession. As an AIDS activist who stopped counting dead friends in the epidemic after the counter hit around 40, I can relate in some ways to what he has been through, but not to the personal experience of violence and terror that comes from action under fire. I greatly respect his Icicupi, his Sacrifice.
To honor my brother and his brothers-in-arms, I am a proud long-term supporter of IAVA, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association. I express Aymah at the poor treatment many of our servicemen and -women have received upon their return from duty. Just a few weeks ago I watched a 60 Minutes segment about Stand Down, an annual assembly of homeless veterans. And this is only the latest report of veterans’ struggles. Recall the lapses in medical service to vets reported in 2007, for example. These stories show a continuing failure on the part of our society to serve those who served us. IAVA, under the brilliant advocacy of founder Paul Rieckhoff, has made laudable progress in addressing some of these lapses. If you’re so inclined, consider supporting IAVA in its noble work.
Veteran’s Day gives us a time to meditate on the loyal service of our returning soliders. Our veterans, through generations, have shown us all great Chuugi. In contemplating how we have returned the gifts of their service, I pose to you the question: Have we?
May we see the gates of Chuugi, and perhaps make a home there.