Monday, June 28, 2010

Irimi and the Dalai Lama

So I'm a little behind in the news, mostly because I do not follow the news. Occasionally, though, there's a nugget that meshes well with with our studies. That not even I would expect this one from the Dalai Lama just makes it all the more interesting:

From "Celebrity Supporters | Armed Forces Day"

I have always admired those who are prepared to act in the defense of others for their courage and determination. In fact, it may surprise you to know that I think that monks and soldiers, sailors and airmen have more in common than at first meets the eye. Strict discipline is important to us all, we all wear a uniform and we rely on the companionship and support of our comrades.

Although the public may think that physical strength is what is most important, I believe that what makes a good soldier, sailor or airman, just as what makes a good monk, is inner strength. And inner strength depends on having a firm positive motivation. The difference lies in whether ultimately you want to ensure others’ well being or whether you want only wish to do them harm.

Naturally, there are some times when we need to take what on the surface appears to be harsh or tough action, but if our motivation is good our action is actually non-violent in nature. On the other hand if we use sweet words and gestures to deceive, exploit and take advantage of others, our conduct may appear agreeable, while we are actually engaged in quite unacceptable violence.

The ultimate purpose of Buddhism is to serve and benefit humanity, therefore I believe that what is important for Buddhists is the contribution we can make to human society according to our own ideas and values. The key to overcoming suffering and ensuring happiness is inner peace. If we have that we can face difficulties with calmness and reason, while our inner happiness remains undisturbed. The teachings of love, kindness and tolerance, the conduct of non-violence as I have explained above, and especially the Buddhist theory that all things are relative are a source of that inner peace.

It is my prayer that all of you may be able to do your duty and fulfil your mission and in due course when that is done to return to your homes and families.”


~ Dalai Lama

The emphasis added is my own.

In my experience, Aikido and Zen--or, Buddhism in a broader sense in this case--are predisposed to attract certain broad personality types, including pacifists, where here "pacifism" like many other -isms represents a fixed view. Given a fixed view, it is natural to project that view upon and to see it reaffirmed within your practices and daily life.

But there is something inherent in each of Aikido and Zen practice that defies holding such fixed views. An Aikido student's notion of non-violence may be challenged the first time a punch lands solidly on her, while a Buddhist's notion of violence may be challenged on his reading the Dalai Lama's words above. With practice, perhaps you eventually see Aikido and Zen for what they truly are.

But perhaps that's just my view...

So, just what are Aikido and Zen absent your view and my view?

O-Sensei and Bodhidharma are waiting on our responses...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Roles & Responsibilities

With the new day job, homeschool aikido club went into hiatus. Knowing that that day was coming, we let the class mature, the class size dwindle due to natural attrition, and we did not actively recruit to fill the ranks. Today there are no students; so, am I an aikido teacher?

The question seems silly, doesn't it? But how would you answer it?

Have you ever been laid off? Unemployed? How would you answer the dreaded "Who are you? What do you do?" at the barbecue? You can answer, "I'm John Q. Public, and I'm an engineer"---but are you? Aren't engineers folks who are paid to do engineering work? You have a degree in mathematics; why are you not a mathematician?

Don't aikido teachers have students?

Sometimes there is an obvious conflict that confounds the definition of the job title itself, an obvious affront to one's identity. Are you aware how often, though, you are bound or guided by identities and titles you hold? Are there things you do because you are an engineer? Are there things you do not do because you are an aikido teacher?

How about because you are a friend, a sibling, a spouse, a parent, a child, and employee, a boss, ... How often is it the titles themselves that keep us acting a particular way---or, rephrased, how often is it the title itself controlling you?

As an aikido teacher, I define the roles of uke and nage for the students, and I use these roles to shape the class. The students alternately adopt the roles and perform their responsibilities. In one moment, you are powerfully tossing an adversary across the mats; the next, you are helplessly pinned to the ground. Can these two really be the same person? Or was it a nage that threw, and was it an uke that was pinned? How might these exchanges have looked without the roles? Without the teacher creating these roles for you? Without your entering the dojo doors as a student, creating the role of the teacher in front of you?

Or was it the fellow in the crazy outfit in front of you who created a student? But how could that be?

This is not to protest roles or responsibilities---aikido class certainly wouldn't be as productive or as fun without them... nor perhaps would the commute to the dojo be routinely uneventful without your complying with the "rules of the road." But consider this lesson now: physical self-defense is not all that you are learning, and there's more to "harmonizing with the universe's ki" than meets the eye. If a teacher truly understands this and conveys this, the student is very fortunate and should practice diligently.

So, are you a student without a teacher?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Martin Luther is not the Buddha.

A Reading from the Book of Wikipedia:

Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a German priest and professor of theology who initiated the Protestant Reformation. Strongly disputing the claim that freedom from God's punishment of sin could be purchased with money, he confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the emperor.
I have heard of people who root their present attraction to Buddhism in their aversion to their Christian past. For these people, one cannot be cultivated without the other; together, they grow. They hold that this is not that, but do not see the flowering lotus in the Buddha's palm is Jesus' losing his life on the cross. Still they circle Hell, or perhaps not Heaven.

So, what are you willing to do to enter Heaven and to avoid Hell?

How much will people pay to escape their present, to become something different?


Cost: $350 (MRO Students: $275)
Retreat Dates: June 17 - 20
Course: BOD1064
Zen Mountain Monastery Aikido Seminar

Making offerings, saying prayers, performing rituals, perfecting forms, ...: Can doing these free you of that?

Believe that you do not need redemption or believe that you have already been redeemed? One is bad; one is not good. Still you carry the burden that every great sage---whether Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Lao Tse, the Patriarchs, or another wise one---has already removed.

Now, have you no faith?

So it is true, then: Martin Luther is not the Buddha, but the Buddha is Martin Luther. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Finding a Teacher

Janet over at Zanshin Art wrote a post that highlighted the distinction between an Aikido teacher an Aikido instructor. This strikes a cord with me, though it is difficult to discern whether it is harmony or dissonance. The best I could do at the time was to table my own question.


Ah well... So, how about a koan?  From the Gateless Gate, Case 26:


Two Monks Rolls Up the Screen

Hogen of Seiryo monastery was about to lecture before dinner when he noticed that the bamboo screen lowered for meditation had not been rolled up. He pointed to it. Two monks arose from the audience and rolled it up. Hogen, observing the physical moment, said: `The state of the first monk is good, not that of the other.'
Mumon's Comment: I want to ask you: Which of those two monks gained and which lost? If any of you has one eye, he will see the failure on the teacher's part. However, I am not discussing gain and loss.

When the screen is rolled up the great sky opens,
Yet the sky is not attuned to Zen.
It is best to forget the great sky
And to retire from every wind.