Aug 152010

I have always admired Tokugawa Ieyasu. He established the Tokugawa Shogunate which went on to rule Japan in the name of the emperor for 250 years. But during his lifetime, this outcome was far from certain. There were many rivals who surpassed him in skill and might. But by being in harmony with the time and circumstances, Tokugawa survived all his rivals to unite Japan. What follows is a quote that shows how he coped with the difficulties he faced in life.

Quote by Tokugawa Ieyasu

Life is like unto a long journey with a heavy burden. Let thy step be slow and steady, that thou stumble not. Persuade thyself that imperfection and inconvenience are the natural lot of mortals, and there will be no room for discontent, neither for despair. When ambitious desires arise in thy heart, recall the days of extremity thou has past through. Forbearance is the root of quietness and assurance forever. Look upon the wrath of the enemy. If thou knowest only what it is to conquer, and knowest not what it is like to be defeated, woe unto thee; it will fare ill with thee. Find fault with thyself rather than with others.”

The Burden of Responsibility

To Tokugawa, life was a heavy responsibility. The lives of his many followers depended on all the decisions he made. Each choice could lead to the deaths of many men and women. With so many lives at stake, there was little room for error. This is why he had a reputation for being prudent and cautious.

Similarly, there will be many lives that depend on the choices you make. These could be your loved ones who are dependent on you. Or they could be your colleagues, customers and clients who depend on the job you do. Taking your responsibility seriously and giving your best reduces the chances of mistakes that will affect those around you.


Life was not a smooth journey for Tokugawa. He faced many setbacks and defeats. Things did not always go according to plan for him. But he had the great ability to bear all these inconveniences in a stoic manner. When things did not turn out well for him, he did not lose hope but merely adjusted and dealt with the changing circumstances.

There will be many ups and downs in life. Not everything will go the way you wish it to. If you expect to face setbacks or accept that you have to adapt your plans as things unfold, you will be better able to reach your goals. When you accept the realities of life, you will waste less time feeling despair or discontent whenever you face an obstacle.


Tokugawa’s great ambition was to unite Japan under his rule. But the reason for his success was his perseverance. He knew that to achieve his goal, he would need to take the time to build up his power. Thus he kept his ambition in check and focused on working towards his goal step by step. So great was his perseverance that he finally achieved his ambition by becoming Shogun at the age of 60.

To have ambition is to have a desire for personal achievement. But to fulfil your goals and to make your ambition a reality requires time and effort. If you are not focused and prudent in laying the foundations for your success, it is hard to attain your ambition. This is why perseverance is important. Success only comes about by sticking to the path that will lead to your goals no matter how tough the odds are.

Learning from Mistakes and Failure

In his long and illustrious career, Tokugawa had his fair share of victories and defeats in battles. Although he fought to win, there were times when losses were inevitable. And so when he lost, he did not let his defeats affect him too badly. Instead, he took the opportunity to learn from his failures so that he would win his next battle.

Whether you manage to succeed at what you do or not, depends on how you view your mistakes or failure. Some people cannot handle mistakes or failure. A temporary setback is such a crushing defeat for them that it becomes a permanent failure which they never recover from. In truth you have to make mistakes and fail before you can hope to succeed. It is part of the learning process and the path to success that everyone has to thread. Those who realize and accept this truth are likelier to turn their failures into stepping stones for success.

Taking Action

Tokugawa’s views were the result of surviving a lifetime of hardship. He was not a mere philosopher but a battle hardened leader and statesman. As such, he had to find the most practical means to achieve his goals. Anything that was not useful to him had to be discarded. What remained was the most effective way to cope with life. Though you may not face the challenges that Tokugawa did, his timeless wisdom can still serve you well when you face your own problems. So remember his wisdom in times of difficulties.

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