Zero

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Posted by admin | Posted in Buddhism, Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 03-09-2012

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I have been away far too long, but this evening, I feel somewhat inspired to put words down.

Four years ago, when I was initially exposed to Buddhism, I discovered a beautiful path that seemed to be eternally bathed in sunshine, and I had never known such a consistent state of happiness for such a lengthy stretch of time.  This was the first time in my life that I was cognizant of being on such a path.

After about two years of near-constant bliss, my life seemed to enter a monsoon-like season, where darker emotions began to surface with increasing regularity.  (“It’s Raining“.)  Yet, the memory of my time in the sunshine-laden path kept my hopes of reaching a similar path again.  What seemed to happen instead was that the monsoon season I was in slowly transformed itself into a diluvian-like period of which even Noah would have grown impatient of.

Such dark times are nothing new to me.  The difference this time was that I was able to cling to the memories of my time in the sunshine-laden path, and although I will never know for sure, such memories may have been what kept me from being crushed by the weight of the encumbering darkness.

For the most part, I have been able to shield those close to me from the effects of my trek through the darkest segments of my recent path, mostly via my own reclusion, but also through exclusion, pushing others out to protect them from the darkness.  Unfortunately, neither of those methods is sustainable long-term—the reclusion kept me alone (“Trekking Through Darkness,”) and the exclusion had me focusing on the knots of others instead of my own (“Lift Your Knot”).  I managed to alienate some good friends, and even lose others, which I sincerely regret.

I once heard that fish have such small brains that their memory capacity can be measured in but a few seconds.  In a fish tank, by the time a fish reaches a side of the tank, it is unable to remember the side of the tank it came from.  From the fish’s perspective, a fish tank is veritably the same size as an ocean!  When a fish is happy, it remembers only that happiness.  When a fish is eating, it believes it has been eating its whole life.  When hungry, the fish does not remember a time without hunger.  In pain, it has been a life full of pain.  If it is afraid, it has lived only in fear.  If the fish is dying, it has been dying its entire life.

Recently, I read a passage from one of Hatsumi sensei’s books:

Speaking of the oneness of things, the number one has a plus one (+1) and a minus one (-1), with the zero as the balance point, with the zero as the balance point.  If you understand the principle of one very deeply then the cosmic dual forces of In and Yō philosophy will become clear.

–Masaaki Hatsumi (Japanese Sword Fighting: Secrets of the Samurai, page 49.  ISBN10: 4-7700-2198-4)

I tripped over this passage while researching something else completely—namely, Kukishinden Ryu Happo Biken—but I had to look back and see what had caused my stumble.  I had heard similar concepts before.  I had even been exposed to the concept of In (陰) and Yō (陽), of which many may be more familiar with as Yin and Yang.  As a math geek, the numbers had made sense long ago.  But for some reason, that one passage brought it all together; not instantly—I had to come back to it several times—but there it was.  That one passage was like a thin but strong beam of sunshine breaking through the dark clouds.

To deeply understand sunshine, you must experience the lack of sunshine.  To understand sobriety, you must vomit on yourself.  To understand the Great Plains, you must feel the Rocky Mountains.  To understand freedom, you must know addiction.  To truly love, you must know hate.  To enjoy life, you have to accept death.

While on the bright path, I was so happy that I vowed that I would never succumb to negative energies.  I renounced the word ‘hate,’ and even blamed it for my past darkness.  It’s easy to do while on the bright path.  But to deny darkness is to consciously omit half of the universe, the “minus one.”

How can we achieve deep understanding of anything by only studying half?  Are we truly students if we purposely avoid the subjects that we fear?

To be clear, I certainly am not advocating seeking out the dark paths, because although I’m no expert, I do believe that such behavior will result in sociological and/or psychological damage.

I am advocating that we continue to follow the path that each of us has chosen, and take responsibility for it; own your path.  When our paths begin to take us through dark passages, instead of looking for brighter paths, instead welcome the opportunity before us to study the “minus one,” as such a study will help us understand the “plus one.”

Move forward with curiosity, but by all means, keep moving.  Trek through the darkness with an inquisitive heart, keeping in mind that by doing so, you are deepening your understanding of the brightness; such mindfulness will serve as your reminder that there is a brighter path.

Because we are not fish.

Better than Best!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Buddhism, Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu | Posted on 06-11-2009

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Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) is one of Japan’s most legendary warriors, credited with having never lost a duel.  By the age of thirty, he had already fought over 60 duels.  However, after thirty and until his death at 61—although his understanding of technique appears to have advanced exponentially—Musashi fought barely 10 duels.

What happened when Miyamoto Musashi turned 30?

“At the age of thirty, I reflected, and I saw that although I had won, I had done so without having reached the ultimate level of strategy.  Perhaps it was because my natural disposition prevented me from straying from universal principles; perhaps it was because my opponents lacked ability in strategy.”

Miyamoto Musashi (Gorin no sho: Writing on the Five Elements; ISBN-13: 978-0-8348-0567-5)

Miyamoto Musashi, considered the greatest warrior in Japan, was able to objectively look at himself and conclude that not only did he have much room for improvement, but also that his past successes “may have been lucky.”  Miyamoto Musashi had conquered his ego.

In martial arts, I have found that ego is the largest obstacle to learning.  When the teacher demonstrates a technique for us to learn, some students will:

  • Attempt the technique very fast, trying to demonstrate how instant they absorbed it.
  • Resist the technique, trying to show how that technique is ineffective on them.
  • Perform a different technique that they know, trying to show how successful they are, even without the technique being taught.

(The list above is not exhaustively inclusive; these are just some of the things I have observed not only in other students, but in myself as well.)

The source for all such behaviors is ego.  We are so good at what we do that we don’t need to learn any more.  I am better than you.

In a dojo, I have found three sources of feedback: the instructor, our training partner, and ourselves.  The first two are external, although students may tend to treat them differently.  Generally, students will always listen to the instructor’s feedback.  (Even then, ego will sometimes prompt the student to raise an excuse as to why the instructor’s feedback doesn’t apply to “them.”)  It is much more difficult to accept feedback from our training partner.  They just learned the same lesson too, and our ego tells us that we are smarter than them, and thus we know the lesson better.  Our techniques always work; we don’t fail.  Our ego tells us their feedback is incorrect, although only our training partner has firsthand knowledge of the effects of our actions.  In a large class, the instructor will seldom be able to simultaneously observe all students, but our training partner is a constant source of feedback.

The third source of feedback—ourselves—is internal, and can also be further categorized.  The first category is “extraspective.”  This is the feedback from our senses; our tactile and visual inputs usually, but all of our senses.  Our ego will sometimes interfere with how we interpret these inputs, but we tend to believe them outright.

But the hardest feedback source from which to eliminate ego from is introspective; taking a look inside ourselves.  True honest introspection requires us to admit that there is something about ourselves that could be better, that we are “suboptimal.”  It forces us to realize that there is such a thing as “better” than “best,” as Musashi was able to conclude.  With honest introspection, we realize that if we didn’t get the technique to work, it’s because WE did something wrong.  We realize that although we managed to take down our opponent, it was because we did something else, or applied extraneous strength and/or speed.  We realize that although we did manage to do the technique properly, we don’t know why it worked.  We learn.  We improve.

Ironically, being honest with ourselves first also makes it easier to accept external feedback.  Once we acknowledge that we can improve, we look for information that will help us improve.  The easiest sources are external, and we actively seek them.

If suspending my ego accelerates my learning martial arts, what other aspects of my life can it help me improve?

All of them!  Taking a hard, critical look at ourselves helps us discover—and acknowledge—those important areas in our lives in which we are performing suboptimally, and the steps we have to take to improve them.

The same sources of feedback apply.  A martial arts teacher is an “authoritative” figure, akin to a parent, supervisor, et al.  A training partner is a “peer,” akin to a coworker, a sibling, a friend.  The same tools are available!

But how do I eliminate my ego?

Begin by assuming that it can’t be done instantaneously.

A simple yet surprisingly effective tool that I have used in the past is the Tendai-Mikkyo meditation Sange Mon:

  • Warning:  Sange Mon is a meditation that can be done alone.  However, the exercise contains a subtle power capable of adverse effects when the mind isn’t completely open.  It is difficult to properly convey the full instructions—and the potential pitfall—of the meditation in written form.  I highly recommend finding a “guide” to lead the first iterations of the meditation.

1)      Clear your mind.  (Everyone has a method that works best for them.)

2)      Review your events and actions from a period.  (Usually the previous day.)

3)      Identify an event in which you acted suboptimally.

4)      Understand that each of your actions stems from a choice or decision that you made; take responsibility for those decisions.  Identify the decision and the point in which it was made.

5)      In your mind, relive the relevant actions that took place exactly up to the decision point.  Make the same decision that you made.

6)      In your mind, play out the consequences of your decision exactly as they happened.

At this point, you may be swarmed with negative feelings.  Regret, embarrassment, chagrin; these are all consequences of your decision, and are part of the meditation.  NEVER stop here.

7)      In your mind, once again relive the relevant actions that took place exactly up to the decision point.  This time, make the optimal decision for that situation.

8)      In your mind, extrapolate the consequences as they would have played out based on your optimal choice.

There are numerous effects to this meditation, and two people will never feel the same.  There is no guarantee that it will even work for you.  It is simply a tool.  I can only attest that it works for me.