Monday, May 2, 2011

Dokkodo #3 and 4

#3: Do Not Rely On Any Half Hearted (or partial) Feelings.

It is very difficult to enter into a world that is not your own. Education, experience, culture, language- there are a host of barriers to other worlds. Age brings it's own generational gap, as does financial positions in life.

The direct translation of the above would say: Don't harbor prejudice or have an attitude about everything. What is meant, is don't view the world with only your own knowledge and experience, or you will be able only to see what you are trained to see- that would be a 'half hearted feeling.' In order to understand others, we must not take sides or harbor preconceived notions.

We have all heard of the story of the university man that went to the zen master for instruction. He was very proud of his knowledge, and instead of listening, he wanted to impress the zen master with his learning. The zen master suggested tea, and when he poured he did not stop. When the university man told the master that the cup was full and to stop pouring, the master told him that his mind was like that- he had to empty his cup to absorb anything the master could teach him. So must we!

The 'stopping or abiding' mind is what prevents us from true understanding. We must, in Musashi's words, "Not stop the mind in one place but keep moving." Not becoming fixed, we can have empathy with others, and understand and enter into their world. By treating all people fairly and equally, we also are able to enter their world. Using simple, knee-jerk reactions and jumping to conclusions about people and thing we really know nothing about is acting without all the truth. A Warrior needs intell before he comits himself. Acting without knowing is not responsible.

#4: Think Lightly Of Yourself and Deeply Of The World

Most of our world veiws or philosophies are limited to our ability to anylize, our intellect. Thinking only with the mind is likely to give you false impressions because as humans we are embarrasingly limited according to our mindset. We meet people that seem balanced and focused, but this mindset seeps through. I have been shocked by the most seemingly nice people that make racist remarks worthy of an Eichman, or condone acts that are questionable or even illegal. This is because all their thinking is done with a shallow, self absorbed mind.

Musashi sees the flaws in depending on your own intellect to see the truth of the world and what is around us. Is is a delusion of egocentricity, where all is based on us and our experiences. It is the same for a maggot at the bottom of a slop pail- it looks up and thinks it sees the entire universe. (Harlan Ellison's metaphor, not mine!!)

The problem then is to see ourselves as flawed, and understand that our own sagacity is flawed, by corrupted data. So we must see beyond our own intelligence. Most people, in their daily affairs, use a certain ammount of discretion. This stems from a feeling of overconfidence in our ideas. By disconnecting the intellect, we can see past it, to veiw the world deeply. Otherwise, we wind up satisfying our own mind, or having excessive confidence in our ability and do not seek further.

The darker side of this is reflecting on your own limited mind- a complex of reliving your own mistakes and failures. When you do this, you give up your aims. Really, you forfeit you own life. Depression and regret follow. And, you are still obsessed with yourself!

The mind also tends to make cold comparrisons and criticisms about others. Labels and blame are the same as thinking with a shallow mind. We are still being selfish and greedy, and placing our trust in our ability to understand what we cannot with the active, thinking mind.

The tool to conquer this is meditation. To quell the mind, or at least to reign it in, is the first step to thinking deeply of the world and lightly of ourselves.

Dokkodo: #2

The sword is the most common weapon associated with the Warrior. In the east, we most often think of the Samurai and his katana as the ultimate duo. However, this is a later concept, as the bow was the primary weapon for quite some time. Essentially mounted bowmen, swords were used to strike from horseback, and it required elaborate training. The need for dismounted warriors came during the civil wars and the various Mongol invasions.

Musashi believed that you should have some experience with all useful weapons. The sword may have been the soul of the Samurai, and Musashi used a sword and sword-like objects, but would be able to use something different if need be.

Code number two on his list: Do Not Seek Pleasure For It's Own Sake.

This is more complex than it sounds. Obviously, a life with no joy is not really worth living. You may say that it would depend on the things that bring you joy. We are not really talking about a hedonistic lifestyle devoted to pleasure, either. I think we are talking about those that see their purpose in life to grub for happiness and immediate pleasure at the expense of others and of their own personal development.

How many of us live in a sort of fantasy world, where we do not really attach any importance to what we are doing? Do we blunder through the day thinking only of the reward waiting later, or do we make the most of the day and reward ourselves as part of our structured 'down time'? I think most of us do not know what to do with our free time, so we become voyeurs and potential consumers. All I know is that when I gave up TV, I had more time and freedom. I no longer have the ad men telling me what to wear, what to buy to be cool and happy like the model on TV.

I don't think this is always evil. Following a good show is fun, and if you do it with others, very rewarding! My family used to faithfully watch CSI and Bones together. It was fun. But, I didn't neglect important things, it was a planned event that took 2 hours out of the week. It is kind of poor family time, but my kids are grown, and it gave us something we could all enjoy, a hard thing to find after they are grown.

I think for the modern Warrior, balance is most important. We all have days when we are on the edge of burn out and need simple things to recharge our batteries. These usually are light entertainment or hobbies that require little investment from us. When that becomes your daily routine, you need to figure out if you are simply avoiding the challenges of life, or hiding. In this respect, you are not really seeking pleasure, you are avoiding responsibility.

How to define a true pleasure seeker? Obsession is not enough, as we all know people obsessed with things that are healthy in moderation. I think we are talking about those seeking an easy life, to avoid all pain and the mundane trials of life. If there is a problem, avoid it. If there is serious work, shirk. Immerse yourself in the things you like, do not do those you do not like. And..the reward is? Nothing. A shallow, empty life devoid of purpose.

Musashi would have clarified it according to Buddha's Shiseitei, the four sacred things to give up upon awakening, to know the truth about pain and suffering. Since ease and comfort are always dependant on pain and suffering, we give ourselves needless anxiety, as they will always come around. Basically, come out of the world of ignorance and break out of the shell of irreverent desires. For us, this would mean to see the things in life as they really are, and not as we want them to be. Work, responsibilities, family, bills, cars- these have to be dealt with. And, you need to accept that this is the way it is.

Bad boss? Naggin spouse? Misbehaving kids? Bill collectors ringing the phone off the hook? Feeling hopeless and powerless? Welcome to the real world, baby. It isn't just you. The difference is how we deal with it. Number one, do deal with it! Don't shirk, evade or run off to your favorite distraction. Moping and whining about the unfairness of the world won't help, either. Anger won't help, unless you use it to motivate yourself to action. Realize that you are not guarenteed a life of pleasure and fun, and that you must forge ahead regardless. Find repose in action, for the Warrior is a man of action. The great paradox of the Warrior is that he is both passive and agressive. The secret is to find peace in the midst of chaos, to forgo your personal desires for a good, easy life and plunge in. When I gave up resentment over the dissapointments in my life, I felt a lot better.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dokkodo: The Way to Be Followed

Miyamoto Musashi was a swordsman of feudal Japan. He was rumored to have fought on the losing side of the battle of Sekigahara, but this is not certain. He also claimed to have fought and won 60 duels. His life is one of extremes. He was known to have a fearsome appearance due his avoidance of any situation where he might be ambushed, including bathing. He was a wild figure with unkempt hair and eczema.

The most famous of his battles took place on Ganryu Island. Having been challenged by Sasaki Kojiro, a swordsman of great reputation, Musashi spent the night in town and overslept. When a messenger was sent to remind him, he leisurely took a slow boat to the island. He wrapped a dishtowel around his head, and on the way amused himself by carving a crude bokken out of a spare oar.

Sasaki was beside himself for this insult, and was no doubt fuming by the time Musashi arrived. To show his resolve to fight to the death, he drew his sword and threw his scabbard into the surf. Mushashi said, "You won't need that anymore!"

Sasaki and Musashi met. Musashi cracked his skull with his carved oar; Sasaki died later. Mushasi's dishcloth was cut- that is how close he timed his strike. In retrospect, we can believe that Musashi wasn't kidding about his 60 duels.

Another story involves Musashi and the famed zen monk Takuan. As they were meditating in a remote mountain setting, a viper crawled into their midst. It payed no attention to Takuan, but recoiled in horror at Musashi and fled. Musashi found this disturbing, as he had developed his aura to the point where he was so fearsome that all were afraid of him. He lamented over this, and was encouraged by Takuan to continue to develop his aura to be like his, where, being in tune with nature and thereby no threat, the viper would ignore him as being part of the natural order of things.

Wether these stories are all true or not- the battle was documented, but Musashi is the stuff of legend- the are certainly inspiring. What Mushashi left for us is the Book Of five Rings- Gorin no Sho, and Dokkodo, a manifesto of his personal martial philosophy.

Dokkodo is as follows:

1. Do not stubbornly rebel against the ways of the world.

2. Do not seek pleasure for it's own sake.

3. Do not rely on any half-hearted feelings.

4. Think deeply of the world and lightly of yourself.

5. Remain detached from desire.

6. Do not regret what you have done.

7. Never be jealous of others.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.

9. Abandon resentment and complaint.

10. Do not let yourself be guided by feelings of love or lust.

11. In all things have no preference.

12. Accept your dwelling and living conditions.

13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.

14. Do not hoard treasures or hold on to things you do not need.

15. Do not mindlessly follow the ways of the world.

16. Do not become obsessed with weapons or fighting.

17. Do not fear death.

18. Do not accumulate goods and riches for your old age.

19. Respect the Gods without relying on their help.

20. You can abandon your body, but never let go of your honor.

21. Never depart from the Way.

All in all, a formidable list. Who can follow all these precepts? And, how much validity do they have for us today? As this is a Warrior blog, I have decided to look at Musashi's code and see how it can apply for me, today- or not. I have used several translations, as it is sometimes difficult to get the correct nuance for the modern reader. In particular, some knowledge of feudal Japan is helpful in understanding what he meant.

In this first installment, let us look at #1: Do not stubbornly rebel against the ways of the world. Another translation I found said: Accept things the way they are. But, why? do we not want to make the world a better place? Hasn't most progress been made by those that have decided to buck the established order of things and experiment, often going against the grain? Well, yes. but we must understand Musashi was not interested in building a better light bulb. In the context of east versus west, we must look at ideas of improvement. If a bow won't pierce enemy armor, build a better bow. In the east, they would build a better bowman. So it does Musashi no good to develop anything that does not flow with the established order of things, and would take a great deal of energy and still not accomplish much.

Saul Alinsky wrote a book back in 1971 called Rules For Radicals. He did not advocate marching, slogans, or any other dramatic approach. He called for change from within. That is, join the system to change it. You disagree with government, you get involved. The Clintons were advocates of this approach, and credited the book with the initial desire to enter politics.

So, for Musashi's code, do not waste time trying to fight something bigger than you. And, as we discovered in Iraq, what happens when you have no real solution after a dramatic change? Would it be just as bad, or worse? Would not that be the Ruling Ring approach? (For all you that are not Lord Of The Rings fans: the Ring was powerful but evil, so even if you used it for good, it would change you to evil- just another problem.)

So- accept things for what they are, but look for ways to make things better. You can best do this by working on what I call my Zone. The idea first came to me while playing wargames. When you move a piece, the spaces around you have a zone of control- that is, if an enemy unit moved into that space, your weapons, depending on range, can strike him. Your zone reaches as far as your longest ranged weapon. My theory was that, since I cannot change the world overtly, I must change my zone, the area I affect. This means I will create a zone of peace, compassion and encouragement at home, in the workplace, and when I drive and go into the community. I can do some good here. If it spreads, the world will become a better place. Therefore, I do not rebel against the ways of the world. It was here first, it will run according to it's flow. But, I can redirect that flow just a little. You are personally responsible for what you create in your zone.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Intellectual Obesity

I recently ran across this concept in another blog. The meaning is simply that with time, money and other pressures piling up, we choose the path of least resistance when it comes to our fun time. The quickest way to get our 'fix' is with video games, silly movies and shallow sitcoms. Instead of meaningful movies, books or activities, we deal with this like we do food. Busy people may know that driving through a burger place isn't healthy, and that it is far better to create a good meal yourself. But time is limited, so here is another happy meal for Junior! Fast Food entertainment is also quick and easy. Fun as Family Guy may be, there is nothing thought provoking there, and nothing to be gained aside from some chuckles and time spent.

It may be difficult to sit and read, for example, Russian literature, but you have to create the desire first. To create the pressure to motivate you, you need to have outlined goals. For instance, I once had a goal of reading all the Harvard Classics books in our Library. I started out with Plato and worked my way onward. If I had not set this goal, this 'pressure', I would not have read it. I would have immersed myself in light fiction or magazines. I had to have the desire to do so, and realize that there was a purpose.

I have often thought that we entertain ourselves out of habit, not because we need it or have earned it. Most people don't know any other way to live. They have not considered any form of self improvement because it is a foreign concept. And our education system fosters this as well. The belief is that if you aren't educated by a trained professional, that is a teacher, then don't bother. If you must drop out of school and enter the workplace, you will be taught all you need to know for that job. I assume our goals after that are to be good consumers and spenders.

I also like to play games and read fiction. I enjoy movies that aren't intellectually stimulating. But I also desire self-improvement. So I opt for working in more meat into my 'down time.' There are so many things I want to experience before I die, and re-runs of sitcoms are not on the menu, at least not constantly. To be intellectually healthy, we need challenge. You need to know that you are just enjoying a shallow experience for a bit, then get on with making yourself a better person.

In the concept of Warriorship, leisure time is a small interval. It may be spent with the family. Who hasn't had a show that you watched with family or friends? It may be your way of recharging emotionally. But the Warrior takes his life seriously...just not him self. That is, I want to be accountable for my actions and know that most of my time was well spent, and that when I found myself lacking, I improved. I can't see that happening watching re-runs of Three's Company on Netflicks helping me achieve this goal.

I would make our shallow, fast-food quickies more of a guilty pleasure or a reward after completing a goal or project and not the norm. That is the nature of yin and yang as well- after a very busy time, a time of inactivity. It is just, striving to be Warriors, we structure even our down time. We desire to be quality people, and not experience a disposable, drive-through life.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring Brings Renewal

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. It gives a certain feeling that can't be defined, but can be felt. If I had to describe it, I would say it is renewal, the beginning of a new process in the life cycle of the cosmos. I think that resolutions should be on the first day of spring, not new years! This is the time to be open to change, and to embrace spontaneity. And, to illustrate, here is the little bundle that changed our lives recently.

Tristam helped me make that transition from young parent to middle-aged grandfather. It is hard to realize that some of the best moments are slipping away from you, and you forget all the hardship and begin to romanticize what was really a very difficult time. I tend to try to forget all the frustrating moments where I was the less than reasonable parent. Or, when my panic caused me to say and do some things that I am still puzzled by years later. Only now, when I can look at my grandchildren and see that there is an unbroken chain that I am a part of do I start to understand.

Young parents: rejoice! It is just part of the process, and you should strive to enjoy every moment of it, regardless. It will not come again. The little people that you have been privileged to share your lives with you will not remain little. They will grow, if you have not been attentive to them- mindful of the process- you will feel cheated when they are no longer little people but big people, with adult needs, one of which is detachment from the parents that represent a regression to them. And it will lead to friction where none is really needed. I was at best a so-so father, yet my current relationship with my children is perfect. This is because when I realized my mistakes, I admitted them, and told them I was sorry that I didn't do better. I treated them as equals, and explained my fears and worries, and why daddy was sometimes so distracted and inattentive. I wanted them to know that it wasn't because I didn't' love them, but because I felt so inadequate for this important task, and I wish I could have provided them with a better life.

To my surprise, they remembered a lot of bad moments, but they also remembered a lot of good moments where we all pulled together and made a family. If you let them, your children can save you from the darker parts of yourself. Mine did.

And, there you have it- my spring renewal project. I can now enjoy all the things that I just couldn't fully appreciate when I was 'under the hammer.' I can now look back and see how simple it all was! Enjoy people for what they are, not what you think or want them to be. Find the joy in the little things, and know that this moment will not come again. The things I thought were so important were not. The important things- the people- are here. The other stuff is long gone.

And to me, that is the magic of spring- the ability to enjoy once again the things that were always there, just hidden or hibernating for a while. All the old joys are new again, and the world turns. Knowing my place in it, I turn, too- and I am no longer afraid.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A New Year

New Year's resolutions are a tradition that goes back to the pagan festivals celebrating the new year and a change in the cycle of seasons. I doubt they thought of it as a beginning like we do, but I am sure there was a lot of significance to it. I imagine that, with a lot more time on your hands due to decreasing daylight and bad weather, you had more time to consider the significance of a winter festival. I am sure that, if you had to get up in front of the entire village and proclaim your 'resolutions' for the year, you would keep them.

I suppose the fascination of the black page keeps us coming back. I used o like to start new things on a Monday, as I consider it the first day of the week, the beginning point. Silly, but it had a meaning for me.

There are lots of good sites that will have the ins and outs of resolutions, how to achieve goals, etc. My only thought for the new year is to make my immediate surrounding a better place, if I can. I am hoping the the 'spoke' effect, or maybe ripple would be a better word. If I can start here, in my home and my workplace, maybe it will ripple out and the world will be a little bit better. At any rate, the Warrior always strives, to improve himself and his environment. We must be a little bit better tomorrow, wether it is a small physical improvement, a better outlook, or just feeling more in tune with yourself and those around you.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Uncertainty For An Uncertain World: Be More Efficient

It seems that it has become a habit to try and contain our lives in small, byte-sized chunks for easy consumption. And, if it can be done, it is probably easier on your nerves and health in general. But life has a way of making things interesting for you, and keeping you on your toes. It has a way of making sure that we are tested, again and again...and again. I am beginning to think that the responses to our situations are more important than the situations themselves. Otherwise, why does it happen again and again?

It makes sense that there are life lessons that will be repeated until they are learned. It also makes sense that you will have the occasional refresher test, to see if you have really learned. Otherwise, the universe is capricious, and we are subject to whim and intentional malice. It seems easy for me to say this, here, right now, in the comfort of my home, surrounded by my family and safely cocooned. But that is what home should be, a haven, to rest and refit, to prepare for another foray into the chaos of the gather our resources, muster our courage, and venture yet again into world gone mad. And, the maddest sort of mad, where nobody gets the awesomely ironic joke.

To me, this is the test of a true warrior. It isn't in some sort of fantasy MMA thing, or dominating others. It is getting out of bed, getting up on your hind legs, and going through yet another pointless day doing pointless things...and, doing them well. Doing them for your family, so they can share your haven, your Hobbit Hole. And, the Warrior must be well versed in many things. If I may share a quote from Robert Heinlein, author of Strager In A Strange Land and Starship Troopers:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

Oddly enough, this was mentioned in the May 2011 issue of Black Belt magazine. Of course, they added the things a good, well-rounded martial artist should be able to do, as well. But, it is an example of how he are beginning to become more fragmented. I like the idea of being able to

perform the purely mental skills and the menial. The Sage with a hoe, the Scholar with a shovel. I don't think that Heinlein was talking about duality here, but it certainly is applicable.

One thing that prevents us from being able to provide this is the growing tendency to live our lives virtually. We used to be mere voyuers, but now we do so in the realm of the pixel. I succumb to this as badly as the next fellow, for at my fingertips is a glut of information. How can I be expected to turn off the magic box that caters to my passion for raw data and venture forth to actually do something myself?

I used to play an online wargame that had a social content. By that, I mean that it had friends and allies, and we chatted together and planned things. It required that I be at the PC in the AM and the PM lest my troops and cities be neglected. I had a hard time quitting, as it had become my ritual, my habit. And, lo! I still got up at the same time, and instead of doing something productive, turned on the box and stared at the screen!

Hence my comment in the beginning of living our lives in small, byte sized packets. We get our input in tiny bits of data. We don't live our lives anymore, we stream it....and don't realize that anything is wrong. We are in danger of losing our ability to do so many things.....

Is Specialization for insects? In some fields, it is a requirement. If you are going to do some brain surgery, you can be forgiven if you can't re-roof a barn. but for the rest of us, we need to expand our horizons....before we become part of that great community of brain-dead zombies, chained to our virtual pacifier by our CAT 6 cable.