The ‘Ego’ and the Higher Cause of a Shinobi

Shinobi eventually came to be motivated in their endeavors by a value system which distinguished them from criminals or rogue assassins and held them in common with fellow shinobi and samurai. In fact, the notion that an individual may call him/herself a shinobi upon being armed with the numerous skills of ninjutsu, but not the motivating moral philosophy, contradicts what is written in the Bansenshukai.

Fujibayashi Yasutake, the man who penned the 17th century shinobi manual makes admonitions that any individual who attempts to use ninjutsu to achieve selfish ends will eventually be harmed as a result.1 This admonition corresponds with Itoh’s observation that ninjutsu was utilized in the preservation of the state and therefore adherence to a moral code conducive to state interests was a requirement for a true ninja. If one ever attempted to profit oneself through the use of ninjutsu, it was taught that the action would ultimately result in harm to the user.2

The reason for this?

The universal causality, from which all in existence has been derived, operates in accord with motivating laws that underlie the principles of “righteousness”, “fidelity”, “benevolence”, and “loyalty”. Fujibayashi alludes to the notion that these principles must be adhered to and respected in that they are intimately associated with the ways of heaven, and therefore to contradict them is to contradict that which is above you, be it god, gods, “Buddha”, or whatever deified ascription of the universal causality one prays to.³ Fujibayashi admonishes with polemical prose that for one to disregard these principles in favor of the sensory stimulations humankind is apt to seek, is to act out of accord with the way the shinobi. And so, to be on the correct path, it is most necessary that the allure of temptations of the senses is not reciprocated. In other words, one must not seek to indulge oneself, for these lower drives can breed corruption and great fallibility.4

These facts lend support to the idea that men of ninjutsu aimed to become self-less, for only through the elimination of the ego that is at the root of self-interest and desire, would a shinobi be able to maintain discipline in the face of torture, execution, and the facets of missions which required great mental and physical resilience in tandem with an unwavering loyalty to one’s lord.5

With this, it can be argued that the elimination of one’s ego conveys positive social implications that speak of the shinobi’s purpose in war and peace. The death of the ego signifies one’s birth into a domain of being that disregards the interests of the self. This manner of being bears the collective burdens of a society with a strength that the selfish individual could never possess. Because the shinobi was purposed for the protection of the society through whatever means necessary, including self-sacrifice, it should be said that he suffered vicariously – giving the whole of his life to maintain the welfare of others. This sort of living could hardly be construed to represent the qualities of a criminal.

Admittedly, there were probably shinobi who did commit immoral, egregious, and selfish acts inconsistent with the guiding principles of some ninjutsu traditions. However, these sorts of shinobi should not be considered master representatives of what ninjutsu embodies.

Zoughari of the controversial Togakure Ryu relates that the knowledge of ninjutsu’s essence is only imparted to those few individuals who possess the “deepest human qualities”.6 But despite this allusion to compassionate, benevolent masters of ninjutsu, one should know that the authentic traditions of the shinobi were oriented to inflict death and destruction upon whoever challenged their prerogatives.

For example, Fujibayashi expounds that the killing of one indecent person to save many is justified in accordance with the principle of “benevolence”.7 This principle, he says, consists of being compassionate to all and therefore, in adherence of this principle, one may cut down the individual who robs away the welfare of the many.8This concern for the “good” of the collective may be what motivated the shinobi to eliminate any person who may have compromised a mission, innocent or not. After all, the shinobi of old were engaged in a militant atmosphere that polarized one’s sense of right and wrong.

It was their job to protect their lord and his people. The weight of one life was thereby counted as insignificant in comparison to the thousands of lives his activities were meant to protect. And so it is written within the translated works of Chikamatsu Shigenori on the subject of Iga and Koka ninja traditions, that it is acceptable and required that a shinobi kill any person who overhears a secret that is not to be divulged.9


  1. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2013). The Book of Ninja: The First Complete Translation of the Bansenshukai. p.33,37,38
  2. Itoh, G. (1917). Ninjutsu no Gokui. Translated by Eric Shahan. p.13
  3. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2013). The Book of Ninja: the First Complete Translation of the Bansenshukai. p38-40
  4. Ibid. p40
  5. Ibid. p39
  6. Zoughari, K. (2010). The Ninja: Ancient Shadow Warriors of Japan. p23
  7. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2013). The Book of Ninja: The First Complete Translation of the Bansenshukai. p37
  8. Ibid.
  9. Cummins, A. & Minami, Y. (2014). Iga and Koka Ninja Skills. p48

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