‘Onimusha’s (鬼武者) Most Important Messages

In this fictitious story of Musashi Miyamoto (宮本武蔵), he has access to the Oni Gauntlet, which allows the wearer to utilise ‘souls’ of genma (demons) to power up the skills and weapons held. The more ‘souls’ it captures, the more efficient it becomes in gathering more souls and further powering up. In this way, its ongoing power trips eventually tempt the wearer to become an oni (a kind of ogre or troll in Japanese folklore), a sort of ‘monster of monsters’. When battling monsters, does one become even more monstrous, or even more humane?

A ‘Buddhist monk’ reminds Musashi, as he overstabs an enemy while growling with reddened demonish eyes, ‘Even though you were able to obtain the power of an oni, you must not become an oni.’ Yes, this is ‘reiteration’ of Nietzsche’s classic warning – ‘He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.’ It is too easy to slip into the abyss, to be one with it, to give in to ruthless power, to take it up. He ‘wakes up’ and his humanity returns, as he catches the injured and falling monk.

During a fierce confrontation with a ‘chief’ genma, the oni-ish side of Musashi urges him – ‘Kill the genma and become an onimusha (i.e. ogre warrior).’ Even the genma encourages him to ‘leave the limits of humanity’, to join his monstrous ranks. Musashi thought he has lost his humanity when he killed two demon-influenced humans earlier. But it was a desperate act to save another human, in this sense still a humane act, letting them die as humans too. He was reminded of this in time, when about to give in to the gautlet, just before relinquishing his humanity.

This reminds us of one of the most basic yet marvellous teachings revealed by the Buddha, that ‘sentient beings [including monsters] all have Buddha-nature (众生皆有佛性)‘. This timeless nature cannot be lost or destroyed. It is as primordial as it is natural, our true nature. Beyond just being a form of spiritual hope for everyone, this teaching is a fundamental and ongoing form of faith to have. It offers the rationale for advancing towards the goal of Buddhahood, informing us that this is possible, and keeps us on track. It tells us to never give up on ourselves and this noblest of aspirations!

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