Vagabond – A journey of introspection and realization

A Book Review



Often when I try to read something new, I typically ask some friends of mine for recommendations, but often I end up looking online to find what I really want to read. One rainy day when I was surfing online, one piece of fiction kept on popping up consistently from people. And that, was Vagabond. Vagabond is a fictionalized retelling of Miyamoto Musashi’s life, based upon Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel Musashi, but focusing on how Musashi attained enlightenment step-by-step throughout his life. While I was listening to reviews online, or reading them in comments sections, the whole theme of the manga sold me. It took me a couple weeks to finish reading, but upon completion I started to look at things differently around me. From my morning routine, to how I could appreciate nature, even to how I interacted with people had been fundamentally shifted in an extremely positive way. And the primary thing that changed me was seeing Musashi learn, adapt, and overcome his all-consuming hunger to be Invincible Under The Heavens. In most of Musashi’s life, his main goal to become the strongest swordsman was all he focused on. The primary way he attempted to do so was by combating widely known fighters, from the Hōzōin spears, the Yagyū swords, & the Yoshioka swords to claim glory and strength. During Musashi’s pursuit of becoming the strongest, he encountered all kinds of people, from feudal lords all the way to little kids trying to become his apprentices. Out of all the people he encountered in his travels though, the most important were Temple Master Inei Hōzōin & Sword Master Sekishusai Yagyū for their vast wisdom, and their overall feelings to fighting, and life itself. When Musashi spends time with both of those men, he is obviously seeking how to improve his skills, but he understands more about the value of life itself when with them. One such case was when Musashi needed help in training from Inei Hōzōin, and at one point the old master said “How many people have you killed? You must have faced so many enemies throughout your life…but you must understand…enemies they were not until you forced them to become so…” (Chapter 38 pg. 17) When Inei said this to Musashi, it struck a chord with him because of he has killed countless amounts of people, with little to no thought of it. With that question, Inei essentially forced Musashi to recollect on his previous battels and enemies and realize that they were only his enemies since his actions caused them to oppose each other. When I read that panel, it made me go back and think about my life, and how some people I have had trouble with, or old enemies I used to have occurred to me from my own mistakes and transgressions, not the other way around. Another great instance of what I could reflect on was a quote from Sekishusai, who had said to Musashi while resting “What does it mean to be invincible…? ….. Musashi… Invincible… It’s merely a word. The more you think about it … The more you squint your eyes in desperation to see… …the more obscured the answer becomes. If something’s too obscure too see… Then try closing your eyes. Well…? Do you see how infinite you are?” (Chapter 102, pg. 10-11, 14-16) When Sekishusai posed that answer to Musashi, it speaks volumes to Musashi and me. For Musashi, his whole life he’s been chasing essentially an illusion, which was to be Invincible Under The Heavens. Upon realization that being invincible is just a word, it makes him stop, and think for a moment of what that truly means. In that moment he would most likely be thinking, “Wait, I’ve been chasing an impossible task for essentially my whole life? What does that mean?” With that sudden awareness of the meaning of being invincible, I also realized how I could apply that thinking to lots of things. Like how being a “champion”, or “the best”, or “Grade A” is just words. They truly don’t mean anything, like a tag. If someone were to ask you, what do you do with your life, most people would typically answer with their occupation. But people are more than just their jobs, they have thoughts, friends, family, feelings, and many for things that identify you, as you. Who are you? Everything within yourself… is infinite. Just close your eyes… and see.  

Earlier into Musashi’s journey, and later, one constant figure that pops in, and out, of Musashi’s life was Takuan Sōhō. Takuan has known Musashi since he was a kid and acted like a big brother for him., especially with helping him out of tough situations. At one point when Musashi’s mind and heart were clouded, he was told that if he became preoccupied, he would most likely die. Then, Takuan said to Musashi “Preoccupied with a single leaf… you won’t see the tree. Preoccupied with a single tree… you’ll miss the entire forest. Don’t be preoccupied with a single spot. See everything in its entirety… effortlessly. That is what it means to truly ’see’.” (Chapter 35, pg. 19-20) From what Takuan said, Musashi was able to apply it to himself, and his swordsman ship. If he was preoccupied with worries about an opponent, or anything else, he can’t see the rest of the whole picture. If he can’t see the whole picture, he’ll possibly end up dead. At that page, that quote hit me like a truck because of there have been many, I mean many times where I would get hung up and preoccupied with a single thing. And that could be with schoolwork, family events, world event, or essentially anything. In those moments, when I was too focused on one thing, and too preoccupied, I’d eventually slip up in some regard, which would take more time to fix, and I’d become even more preoccupied. So, with seeing everything in its entirety, effortlessly, I realized that I could truly “see”. Not partial clarity, but understand everything as completely as I could, and make decisions based upon that, and not being hung up upon specific things in my life. So, in conclusion, Musashi’s journey in Vagabond has truly helped me see things in my life with a different lens on, or how I can’t be focused on attaining something that has no meaning. What truly matters is how you go on throughout your life, understanding that lots of how your day is made, is your own actions. How you can’t get stuck trying to achieve something as great such as Invincible Under The Heavens, since all it is, is just a heat haze. It has no true meaning. And finally, how seeing everything in its entirety, effortlessly, can help you pass better judgment, and how to understand things more clearly than before.