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.