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In the year 1604, a young swordsman named Musashi made his way toward a duel.

At 20 years old, he had fought many duels. But this one posed special risk.

Over the preceding months Musashi had earned the wrath of the Yoshioka clan, a family of master swordsmen who ran the leading martial art school in Kyoto. Musashi had fought their grand master and left him crippled; when a new grand master took over and asked for a rematch, Musashi defeated him, too.

The Yoshioka family was not one to take disgrace lightly. When they demanded a third duel, Musashi felt in his heart that they would turn to foul play. He was right: they amassed a small army to ambush him.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Before the duel, the story goes that Musashi stopped to pray at a shrine. He asked for his safety and victory in the upcoming combat. Partway through the prayer he suddenly realized what he was doing; he leapt to his feet and abandoned the prayer unfinished.

No, he didn't give up dueling. He arrived early, laid a trap of his own, and won against overwhelming odds.

At the end of his life Musashi wrote:

"Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help."

This policy is the best way to win battles. It is also, incidentally, the best way to succeed in life.

People want the gods to answer prayers and deliver favors. I've felt that way. When you are sick, hurt, or out of money you want to believe the gods will fix it.

What kind of world would that be?

If people succeeded or failed not because of what they did, but because of who the gods favored, would the world really be a better place? Is that justice?

The gods exist because nature exists. They are here because the universe is here. As the souls of this beautiful world, they are not "for" or "against" anyone. Many creatures die each day; some of them are human people. From the perspective of nature this is fair.

This leads us to the paradox of spirituality. A spiritual person thanks the gods for success, but never blames the gods for misfortune. This is because:

  1. The gods do not bend the universe for us.
  2. The gods are always on the side of the natural way.
  3. You can learn from the gods how to follow this way.
  4. When you yourself follow the natural way, you succeed.

The gods will help you learn this way, thus they can be thanked when you succeed. If you choose to go against this way, you cannot blame those who tried to help you. If you blame the gods for bad things, you don't really believe in the gods at all; you believe in some kind of demons and genies who can be plied for favors.