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Celebrating Our 40th Anniversary
Welcome to the Daily Message. Ito Sensei writes articles for your information and enjoyment. The late Reverend Kensho Furuya started this Daily Message in the late 1990s. Our dojo celebrates its 40th year in 2014 and our monthly publication, The Aiki Dojo, is now it its 30th year.

Warning: When using this website, the Daily Message, and The Aiki Dojo monthly publication, please use caution: Information and Knowledge are not the same thing. You can get information from your computer and the Internet, but you can only get knowledge when you use your mind and your body. 

Protect with AI.

Grow with KI.

Never depart from DO.

Be aware

Hasten to Do Good (Zen wa isoge), The Long and Short of It (Nagashi mijikashi), from the series One Hundred Pictures by Kyôsai (Kyôsai hyakuzu)

Hasten to Do Good (Zen wa isoge), The Long and Short of It (Nagashi mijikashi), from the series One Hundred Pictures a woodblock print by Kyôsai (Kyôsai hyakuzu)

In the dojo, one of the things we stress is that the students be aware of themselves at all times.  This awareness creates a sense of responsibility.  When we see a piece of paper on the ground, “we have to” pick it up.  The meaning behind “we have to” is the responsibility that is born out of awareness.  Since we see something, we must act on it.  There is a Japanese proverb that goes, “zen wa isoge” or that good deeds should be done quickly without hesitation. 

A good student is one who has balance, both physically and mentally.  Aikido is a martial art and thus because its techniques can be lethal, it requires a certain amount of personal responsibility.  In order to be responsible, one must be aware first.  As the old saying goes, “One has to know there is a problem before they can act on it.”

If one is taught to be self-aware and notice things and be responsible for them in the dojo then they might be able to carry that over into their daily lives.  If they can see it, then they can act on it and, hopefully when they do, it will be a natural act that is done quickly at the exact right moment and done with good character.  To be unaware of oneself is to act without character and to be irresponsible.  All martial arts teach responsibility because responsibility is the virtue that ensures that when we do act that we will act accordingly.


Seize the moment

Decisiveness is one of the key factors to success in not only battle, but in life as well.  Being decisive means being able to take control of opportunities when they present themselves.  In Japanese this idea of seizing the initiative is called sen (先).  Timing is super important in being able to seize the advantage and therefore there are many different types of sen.

Go no sen or ato no sen (後の先) means to take initiative after the opponent has attacked.  It can be thought of as a counter attack.  Senken or sometimes called senken no mei (先見の明) means to take initiative in anticipation of the partner’s attack.  Ken no sen means that during the onset of the bout one seizes the initiative first by setting up the opponent.  Tai no sen is to wait until the moment of the attack to seize the initiative as the opponent opens themselves up to attack or some use this to mean to feign before the attack.  Sen no sen means to seize the initiative before they seize the initiative.  Sensei described sen no sen as, “move before they move.”  Sen sen no sen in Sensei’s terms then means to move before they move to move where the initiative to move comes from an almost sixth sense.  One would move before they even knew they were going to move.

Generally a beginner can only employ go no sen where they are waiting to be attacked because they cannot “read” their opponents movement.  The more seasoned or intermediate practitioner is better at reading their opponents movements and thus can start to use ken no sen and move first.  The expert can read their opponents movement but they also can start to “sense” their opponents intention and can then make use of sen no sen.  Only someone with countless hours on the mat and master’s level of ability can fluidly use their sixth sense and pull off sen sen no sen.

The “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” quote attributed to Seneca is apropos to sen.  Training requires that students and teachers alike be determined and diligent in their efforts.   In order to be successful, one must put in the time so that they can be ready when the time comes and thus seize the day.


My favorite action movie stars are usually ones that are martial artists, but I am amazed by how some actors work so hard to transform themselves into martial artists for their roles.  I like to watch the “making of” section of action movie DVDs to see how the actors trained to portray martial artists in movies.  One of my favorite behind the scenes was for the movie Ninja Assassin, which was a mediocre movie, but the training and transformation that the pop star Rain underwent was amazing.  I find it amazing when an actor with no formalized training trains so hard that they look as if they are trained.  For instance, did you know that the actors in the movie the Karate Kid only trained for three months?  Quite impressive.  One of my favorite action stars is Toshiro Mifune.  Mifune had no formalized sword training, but worked assiduously with the fight choreographer Yoshio Sugino, who was a student of O Sensei’s, to make himself look as if he was formally trained in the sword.  Many don’t know that Mifune was an expert in Yabusame or horseback archery as well.  One of my favorite scenes throughout all his movies comes from the movie Hidden Fortress directed by Akira Kurosawa.  In the scene (below) he fights with a yari or spear with a rival leader.  Sensei once told us that the spear duel in this scene was part of an old spear kata and it has something like 108 movements.  Watching Mifune wield the yari one can see that he must have put in countless hours to make his technique appear at an experts level.  They have to have.  If you watch their footwork closely, it is balanced and they don’t wield the yari with their upper bodies which both are indicative of being “trained.”  That is why this scene is one of my favorites.

How did these actors become experts?  What was the punchline to the old Carnegie Hall joke, “practice”?  To become an expert at anything, one needs to practice.

“Life is what you make of it.”

The things kids pick up naturally is kind of funny.  Lately, my son who is almost three years old has been saying, “Life is what you make of it.”  Where did he get that?  Was it the Disney channel or from something I said?  Who knows.  But, the point remains that “Life is what we make of it.”  Nothing more and nothing less.  We choose our life.  I stumbled upon a quote from Uchiyama Kosho’s book titled, The Dharma of Homeless Kodo which is a series of Dharma talks by Sawaki Kodo that struck me and I hope it speaks to you too.  Enjoy!

To you who have just begun brooding over life

What a shame to have been born a human being and to spend your whole life worrying. You should reach the point where you can be happy to have been born a human.

Birth, old age, sickness and death – we can’t fool around with these ultimate facts.

Reality: getting a handle on this must be our goal. Don’t get stuck in categories.

It’s strange that not a single person seriously considers his own life. For ages, we’ve been carrying around something uncooked. And we comfort ourselves with the fact that it’s the same for the others too. That’s what I call group stupidity: thinking that we just have to be like the others.
Satori means creating your own life. It means waking up from group stupidity.

In a part of Manchuria, the carts are pulled by huge dogs. The driver hangs a piece of meat in front of the dog’s nose, and the dog runs like crazy to try to get at it. But of course he can’t. He’s only thrown his meat after the cart has finally reached its destination. Then in a single gulp, he swallows it down.

It’s exactly the same with people and their pay checks. Until the end of the month they run after the salary hanging in front of their noses. Once the salary is paid, they gulp it down, and they’re already off: running after the next payday.

Nobody can see further than the end of their nose. Everyone believes that their life somehow has meaning, but they’re really no different from swallows: the males gather food, the females sit on the eggs.

Most people aren’t following any clear approach to life. They get by with makeshift methods, like rubbing lotion on a cramped shoulder.

The question is: why are you straining your forehead so much?

If you aren’t careful, you’ll spend your whole life doing nothing besides waiting for your ordinary-person hopes to someday be fulfilled.

Source: http://terebess.hu/english/sawaki-to-you.html


Another great video about Japanese carpentry

A wise person knows that there is something to be learned from everyoneThis message is a mixture of things that I am interested in and things that I find that I hope can help other people in their journeys.  Some things I post here just serendipitously pop up or someone sends it to me and then I think, “Oh, this would be great for…” and I send it to them or sometimes I post it.  The last two days I stumbled upon these videos about Japanese culture and how it is viewed through the eyes of traditional carpentry.  I firmly believe that learning about other people, other things or other arts can help us gain a better perspective about ourselves.  To see how others live helps us to understand how we live.  Their passions, love and suffering are the same as our passion, love and suffering.  As the Dalai Lama said, “We are all the same.”  One of the greatest skills to acquire is the ability to see things from another person’s perspective.

I usually like to vary my message/posts and not post the same things or too many videos in a row, but I really liked these two videos.  They really inspire me and help me to understand Japanese culture better.  I hope that they inspire you in whatever you do.  Please enjoy and have a wonderful day!





The way of carpentry

Our old dojo was built by Sensei with help from a Japanese carpenter.  Not until after the old dojo was demolished was I able to see the true craftsmanship.  They used local woods that some might grade inferior and turned it into a pieces of beauty.  One of the interesting things was that the floors were made with wood one might use on a outside fence, but you would have never known it by looking at it or touching it.  They must have used a Japanese plane to create the finish because in the 17 years I was there I can’t recall us ever “re-staining” the floors.  If they would have used sandpaper and stain to create the finish, we would have had to re-do it after a couple of years.  You can see this now as the new floors need to be re-stained.

I found this video documentary below.  It is quite interesting even if one isn’t interested in carpentry because they discuss the Japanese mindset and philosophy as it pertains to carpentry.  One of the hallmarks of Japanese culture is to live in harmony with nature and you can see it reflected in how these people build things.  Miyamoto Musashi said, “To know one way is to know all ways” and so we can understand our own way as we learn about other ones.

Step by step

canstock19216126The other day before we left the house, my son, who is 2 years old, wouldn’t leave until he put away his toys (maybe because his grandma was there).  My mom said, “Oh, he is kichoumen.”  Kichoumen (几帳面) means to be meticulous to the point that everything has to be in place.

Good martial artists of every tradition are by nature kichoumen.  There is no other way to get good if one doesn’t follow the steps.  There is a lot of fervor today of people advocating “formlessness” but that is a bit of nonsense.  By nature, human beings are habitual which means that our lives naturally conform to habituated patterns.  This is something so innate to us that it is almost subconscious.  Think about it, our routes to work or school are almost always the same, we sit in same place and even brush our teeth in the same way.  This adherence to form is our brain’s way of reducing its workload.  It is theorized that we have around 50,000 thoughts a day so you could see how fatigued our brain would become if we had to manage each one and create a new pattern of behavior for each task.  In any given situation, we are constantly laying familiar patterns of behavior over similar tasks and tweaking them to produce favorable outcomes.  Therefore, our brains are hardwired for creating patterns.

This is also the rationale for kata practice or practicing preconceived patterns of movement.  Obviously when we are engaged by an opponent it won’t be the same as the kata we practiced, but our minds are very good at picking out similarities and laying the familiar pattern of behavior (kata) over the situation.

Thus since our minds are hardwired for patterns, we learn the best in patterns.  Every martial art throughout time teaches its style based on some preconceived pattern of movement.  In Japanese it is called kata.  In order to make the pattern “stick” so we can use it, we must practice them repetitiously to the point of ad nauseam.

One of the main differences between beginners and experts is that the expert meticulously covers each step in the movement while the beginner leaves steps out or skips some altogether.  From an uninformed eye it looks as if the expert skips steps but in reality they just do them quicker while still giving each step its just deserts.

Therefore in order to get good, one just has to be kichoumen and follow each of the steps.

Neko No Myojutsu – The Marvelous Techniques of the Old Cat

nekoThe Swordsman and the Cat
Written by Issai Chozan (1659-1741)

There was once a swordsman called Shoken, who was very much annoyed by a furious rat in his house. The rat was bold enough to come out of its hiding place even in the daytime, doing all kinds of mischief. Shoken made his pet cat go after it, but she was not its equal, and being bitten by it, she ran away screaming. The swordsman now hired some of the neighboring cats noted for their skill and courage in catching rats. They were let loose against the rat. Crouching in a corner, it watched the cats approach it and furiously attacked them one after another. The cats were terrified and all beat a retreat.

The master became desperate and tried to kill the rat himself. Taking up his wooden sword he approached it, but every effort of the experienced swordsman proved ineffectual, for the rat dodged his sword so skillfully that it seemed as to be flying through the air like a bird or even lightning. Before Shoken could follow its movement, it had already made a successful leap at his head. He was perspiring heavily and finally decided to give up the chase. As a last resort, he sent for the neighboring Cat widely known for her mysterious virtue as the most able rat-catcher. The Cat did not look in any way especially different from other cats that had been invited to fight the rat. The swordsman did not think very much of her, but let her go into the room where the rat was located. The Cat went in quietly and slowly as if she were not cognizant of any unusual scene in the room. The rat, however, was extremely terrified at the sight of the approaching object and stayed motionless, almost stupefied, in the corner. The Cat almost nonchalantly went for the rat and came out carrying it by the neck.

In the evening, all the cats who had participated in the rat-catching had a grand session at Shoken’s house, and respectfully asked the great Cat to take the seat of honor. They made profound bows before her and said: “We are all noted for valor and cunning, but never realized that there was such an extraordinary rat in the world. None of us was able to do anything with it until you came; and how easily you carried the day! We all wish you to divulge your secrets for our benefit, but before that let us see how much we all know about the art of fighting rats.”

The black cat came forward and said: “I was born in a family reputed for its skill in the art. Since my kitten days I have trained myself with a view to becoming a great rat-catcher. I am able to leap over a screen as high as seven feet; I know how to squeeze myself through a tiny hole which allows a rat only. I am proficient in performing all kinds of acrobatics. I am also clever at making the rats think that I am sound asleep, but I know how to strike them as soon as they come within my reach. Even those running over the beam cannot escape me. It is really a shame that I had to retreat before that old rat today.”

The old veteran Cat said: “What you have learned is the technique of the art. Your mind is ever conscious of planning how to combat the opponent. The reason why the ancient masters devised the techniques is to acquaint us with the proper method of accomplishing the work, and the method is naturally simple and effective, implying all the essential points of the art. Those who follow the master fail to grasp his principle and are to busily occupied with improving their technical cleverness and manipulatory skill. The end is achieved, and cleverness attains its highest efficiency , but what does it all amount to? Cleverness is an activity of the mind, no doubt, but it must be in accordance with the Way. When the latter is neglected and mere cleverness is aimed at, it diverges and is apt to be abused. This is to be remembered well in the art of fighting.”

The tiger cat now stepped forward and expressed his view thus: “To my mind, what is important in the art of fighting is the spirit (ki; ch’i in Chinese); I have long trained myself in its cultivation and development. I am now in possession of the strongest spirit, which fills up heaven and earth. When I face an opponent, my overawing spirit is already on him, and victory is on my side even prior to actual combat. I have no conscious scheme as to the use of technical skill, but it comes out spontaneously according to change of situation. If the rat should be running over a beam, I would just gaze at him intensely with all my spiritual strength, and he is sure to fall by himself from the height and be my prisoner. But that old mysterious rat moved along without leaving any shadow. The reason is beyond me.”

The grand old Cat’s reply was this: “You know how to make the most of your psychic powers, but the very fact of your being conscious of it works against you; your strong psyche stands opposed to the opponent’s, and you can never be sure of yours being stronger than his, for there is always a possibility of its being surpassed. You may feel as if your active vigorous psyche were filling the universe, but it is not the spirit itself, it is no more than its shadowy image. It may resemble Mencius’ Kozen no ki (hao-jan chi ch’i), but in reality it is not. Mencius’ ch’i (“spirit”), as we know, is bright and illuminating, and for this reason full of vigor, whereas yours gains vigor owing to conditions. Because of this difference in origin, there is difference in its operation. The one is a great river incessantly flowing, and the other is a temporary flood after a heavy rainfall, soon exhausted when it encounters a mightier onrush. A desperate rat often proves stronger than an attacking cat. It has been cornered, the fight is for life and death, and the desperate victim harbors no desire to escape unhurt. Its mental attitude defies every possible danger which may come upon it. Its whole being incarnates the fighting ch’i (“spirit” or “psyche”), and no cats can withstand its steel-like resistance.”

The gray cat now advanced quietly and said: “as you tell us, a psyche however strong is always accompanied by its shadow, and the enemy is sure to take advantage of this shadow, though it may be the faintest one. I have for a long time disciplined myself in this way: not to overawe the enemy, not to force a fight, but to assume a yielding and conciliatory attitude. When the enemy proves strong, I just look yielding and simply follow up his movements. I act like a curtain surrendering itself to the pressure of a stone thrown at it. Even a strong rat finds no means to fight me. But the one we had to deal with today has no parallel, it refused to submit to my psychical overpowering, and was not tempted by my manifestation of a yielding psyche. It was a most mysterious creature – the like of which I have never seen in my life.”

The grand old Cat answered: “What you call a yielding psyche is not in harmony with Nature; it is man-made, it is contrivance word out in your conscious mind. When you try by means of this to crush the opponent’s positive impassioned attaching psyche, he is quick enough to detect any sign of psychic wavering which may go on in your mind. The yielding psyche thus artificially evoked produces a certain degree of muddiness and obstruction in your mind, which is sure to interfere with acuteness of perceptions and agility of action, for then Nature feels impeded in pursuing its original and spontaneous course of movement. To make Nature display its mysterious way of achieving things is to do away with all your own thinking, contriving, and acting; let Nature have her own way, let her act as it fees in you, and there will be no shadows, no signs, no traces whereby you can be caught; you have then no foes who can successfully resist you.

“I am not, however, going to say that all the discipline you have each so far gone through has been to no purpose. After all, the Way expresses itself through its vessels. Technical contrivances hold the Reason (ri, li) in them, the spiritual power is operative in the body, and when it is harmony with Nature, it acts in perfect accord with environmental changes. When the yielding psyche is thus upheld, it gives a stop to fighting on the physical plane of force and is able to stand even against rocks. But there is one most essential consideration which when neglected is sure to upset everything. This is: not to cherish even a speck of self-conscious thought. When this is present in your mind, all your acts become self-willed, human-designed tricks, and are not in conformity with the Way. It is then that people refuse to yield to your approach and come to set up a psyche of antagonism on their part. When you are in the state of mind known as “mindlessness’ (mushin), you act in unison with Nature without resorting at all to artificial contrivances. The Way, however, is above all limitations, and all this talk of mine is far from being exhaustive as far as the Way is concerned.

“Some time ago there was in my neighborhood a cat who passed all her time in sleeping, showing no sign of spiritual-animal power, and looking like a wooden image. People never saw her catch a single rat, but wherever she roamed about no rats ever dared to appear in her presence. I once visited her and asked for the reason. She gave no answer. I repeated my query four times, but she remained silent. It was not that she was unwilling to answer, but in truth she did not know how to answer. So we note that one who knows speaks not a word, while one who speaks knows not. That old cat was forgetful not only of herself but all things about her, she was the one who realized divine warriorship and killed not. I am not to be compared to her.”

Continued the Cat: “Well, I am a mere cat; rats are my food, and how can I know about human affairs? But if you permit me to say something further, you must remember that swordsmanship is an art of realizing at a critical moment the Reason of life and death, it is not meant just to defeat your opponent. A samurai ought to be always mindful of this fact and discipline himself in a spiritual culture as well as in the technique of swordsmanship. First of all, therefore, he is to have an insight into the Reason of life and death, when his mind is free from thoughts of selfishness. This being attained, he cherishes no doubts, no distracting thoughts; he is not calculating, nor does he deliberate; his Spirit is even and yielding and at peace with the surroundings; he is serene and empty-minded; and thus he is able to respond freely to changes taking place from moment to moment in his environment. On the other hand, when a thought or desire is stirred in his mind, it calls up a world of form; there is ‘I,’ there is ‘not-I,’ and contradictions ensue. As long as this opposition continues, the Way finds itself restricted and blocked; its free activities become impossible. Your Spirit is already pushed into the darkness of death, altogether losing its mysterious native brightness. How can you expect in this state of mind to rise and wager your fate against the opponent? Even when you come out victorious, it is no more than accidental, and decidedly against the spirit of swordsmanship.

“By ‘purposelessness’ is not meant mere absence of things where vacant nothingness prevails. The Spirit is by nature formless, and no ‘objects’ are to be harbored in it. When anything is harbored there, your psychic energy is drawn toward it; and when your psychic energy loses its balance, its native activity becomes cramped and no more flows with the stream.

Where the energy is tipped, there is too much of it in one direction, while in another there is a shortage. Where it is too much, it overflows and cannot be controlled; where there is a shortage, it is not sufficiently nourished and shrivels up. In both cases, it is unable to cope with ever-changing situations. But when there prevails a state of ‘purposelessness’ [which is also a state of ‘mindlessness’] the Spirit harbors nothing in it, nor is it tipped in any one direction; it transcends both subject and object; it responds empty-mindedly to environmental vicissitudes and leaves no tracks. We have in the Book of Changes (I Ching): ‘There is in it no thinking, no doing [ or no willing], absolute quietness, and no motion; but it feels, and when it acts, it flows through any objects and events of the world.’ When this is understood in connection with the art of swordsmanship, one is nearer to the Way.”

After listening intently to the wisdom of the Cat, Shoken proposed this question: “What is meant by ‘There is neither the subject nor the object’?”

Replied the Cat: “Because of the self there is the foe; when there is no self there is no foe. The foe means an opposition as the male is opposed to the female and fire to water. Whatever things have form exist necessarily in opposition. When there are no signs [of thought movement] stirred in your mind, no conflicts of opposition take place there; and when there are no conflicts, one trying to get the better of the other, this is known ‘neither foe nor self.’ When, further, the mind itself is forgotten together with signs [of thought movement], you enjoy a state of absolutely-doing-nothingness, you are in a state of perfectly quiet passivity, you are in harmony with the world, you are one with it. While the foe-form ceases to exist, you are not conscious of it. Your mind is cleansed of all thought movements, and you act only when there is prompting [from the Unconscious].

“When your mind is thus in a state of absolutely-doing-nothingness, the world is identified with yourself, which means that you make no choice between right and wrong, like and dislike, and are above all forms of abstractions. Such conditions as pleasure and pain, gain and loss, are creations of your own mind. The whole universe is indeed not to be sought after outside the Mind. An old poet sings: ‘When there is a particle of dust in your eyes, the triple world becomes a narrow path; have your mind completely free from objects – and how much this life expands!’ When even a tiny particle of sand gets into the eye, we cannot keep it open; the eye may be likened to the Mind which by nature is brightly illuminating and free from objects; but as soon as an object enters there its virtue is lost. It is said again that ‘when one is surrounded by an enemy – hundreds of thousands in strength – this form [known as my Self] may be crushed to pieces, but the Mind is mine with which no overwhelming army can have anything to do.’ Says Confucius: ‘Even a plain man of the street cannot be deprived of his will.’ When however this mind is confused, it turns to be its own enemy. This is all I can explain here, for the master’s task cannot go beyond transmitting technique and illustrating the reason for it. It is yourself who realizes the truth of it. The truth is self-attained, it is transmitted from mind to mind, it is a special transmission outside the scriptural teaching. There is no willful deviation from traditional teaching, for even the master is powerless in this respect. Nor is this confined to the study of Zen. From the mind-training initiated by the ancient sages down to various branches of art, self-realization is the keynote of them all, and it is transmitted from mind to mind – a special transmission outside the scriptural teaching. What is performed by scriptural teaching is to point out for you what you have within yourself. There is no transference of secrets from master to disciple. Teaching is not difficult, listening is not difficult either, but what is truly difficult is to become conscious of what you have in yourself and be able to use it as your own. This self-realization is known as ‘seeing into one’s own being,’ which is satori. Satori is an awakening from a dream. Awakening and self-realization and seeing into one’s own being – these are synonymous.”

Source: Suzuki, D.T., Zen and Japanese Culture. New York: Pantheon In, 1959. Print.

Give up your self

I stumbled upon this article last night while my daughter was up with a fussy spell at 3:00 AM.  I found it exceptionally good and one that I put in my “must re-read” list.  Before one can have a masakatsu agatsu or “victory over one’s self” moment, one must first know thy self.  Everything before that is just self gratification.  I hope that this article might shine some light on some thing or things that you are working on.

The Art of Giving Up
by Dyske Suematsu

One winter night, one of the few Japanese friends I had in my early 20s was playing a guitar at his company Christmas party. He was an architect and was about 10 years older than I was. Before he decided to study architecture, he was making a living as a guitarist in Japan. This was not the first time I heard him play, but I was still stunned by how good he was. After his performance, I told him that it was a shame that he was no longer pursuing his musical career. He then shared with me his recent realization that life is a process of giving up. At the time, I didn’t think much of what he said. I think I remembered it only because of its unusual reversal of the popularly held beliefs. Especially on this land of dreams, “giving up” is seen almost as sacrilegious. Everyone’s livelihood seems to precariously hinge on holding big, albeit distant dreams. For some people, the more dreams, the better. So, what did my friend mean when he said that life is a process of giving up?

Now, I not only understand it, but also believe it myself. Another way of saying the same thing is that life is a process of letting go of your own ego, or letting go of your attachments. Contrary to what one might assume from the connotations of the expression “giving up”, this is done in order to enjoy life more. For instance, you cannot enjoy alcohol if you are attached (or addicted) to it. Enjoyment of anything requires a certain distance. When the idea of self (ego) is attached to the object of enjoyment, you lose the ability to see it for what it is. I believe this is partly responsible for the phenomenon called “writer’s block”, in which the identity “writer” is attached to one’s ego so much that the fear of losing that identity becomes greater than the enthusiasm for writing. It is by giving up the idea of becoming a “writer” that one is able to be a writer and enjoy being one. This is difficult to do especially in a country where one’s existence is defined by one’s profession. The fear of not living up to the reputation of the greatest American writer is probably what killed the writer in Truman Capote, for instance.

“Giving up,” in this sense, isn’t the same as quitting. My friend was still playing guitar; he just wasn’t pursuing it professionally. Most alcoholics cannot enjoy alcohol in moderation; they have to quit entirely. In the same way, when you are attached to something, your choices are either to quit altogether or to depend on it for life. Either way, it is not enjoyable. It is also common to see aspiring artists, musicians, and actors entirely drop their activities once they come to a conclusion that they are not going to make it. At that point, it becomes clear that the driving force behind their creative pursuits was not their enthusiasm or passion, but their attachment to the idea of becoming someone. Or, it is also possible that whatever enthusiasm they had was overwhelmed by their fear of failure. Ironically, I believe that, if you can give up the idea of “making it,” you would have a better chance of actually making it. If you were not under pressure from your own expectations, you would enjoy your activities more, and therefore produce better work.

The big question is: Why do we develop attachments at all? As Aldous Huxley said, most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. We develop attachments and we don’t even know it. Only when we are threatened by the lack or the loss of them, do we realize how much we are attached to them. If we lose our sight, for instance, some of us would probably consider suicide, but if we think objectively about many blind people enjoying their lives, it seems silly to even be depressed about being blind. Also, why don’t animals have the same problem? A dog could lose its leg, and go on living just as happily as before. Such a dog would obviously struggle and suffer the inconvenience, but its spirit would not be affected by it. Some animals like elephants apparently exhibit the signs of depression from the loss of friends and relatives, but many animals leave their own kids behind almost as soon as they are born, and never see them again. They seem to have no attachments, and live strictly in the present moment.

This leads me to believe that there is an evolutionary reason for our tendencies to develop attachments. The more evolved the species are, the more tendencies for attachments they seem to exhibit. I suppose it is quite obvious in one sense. The more attached to one’s own life, the stronger one’s desire to survive. Natural selection, in this way, perhaps favored those humans with stronger egos. Strong egos clash and create conflicts, but these clashes of ideas and egos force better ideas to float to the top. The ideas themselves go through the process of natural selection. Without egos and attachments, this system would not work, and we as a species would be less equipped to survive.

Zen Buddhism is a process of detachment. It is so concerned with attachment that, one is discouraged from being attached to the very idea of detachment, and I can see why; because attachment actually has positive, useful functions. In this sense, Zen is not a process of detachment, but simply an understanding of what attachment is.

As I grow older and face various physical deteriorations, I’m forced to be in peace with the idea of giving up certain things in life. I could possibly refuse to accept the idea of giving up, and try running 10 miles every morning or spend hours in gym, but if my motivation for keeping up my physical strength is to be in denial, then what I’m really giving up is to have the courage to face reality. Again, this attachment to physical strength will eventually extinguish any enjoyment I might get out of exercising.

Having a child is a double-edged sword where it could expedite this process of detachment, or encourage greater attachment to one’s own ego. If you are to see your own child as an extension of your own ego, you are inclined to mold him into something you want. If you succeed at it, your child strengthens your attachment to your own ego. On the other hand, if you see your child as another person with his own ego, he provides plenty of opportunities to make your own ego objectively observable. In other words, your child becomes a useful tool for you to detach yourself from your own ego.

When you say, “I sacrifice myself for my kid,” what you really mean by it is that you are willing to make compromises between what your ego wants and what your kid’s ego wants. In an ideal world, you want your own ego to coincide with that of your kid (because he is merely an extension of your own ego.) If you had no such expectation, there would be no “sacrifice”, because the difference would be exactly what you would want in order to allow you to achieve the detachment from your own ego.

If my observations are correct, detachment allows us to enjoy life in its uncontaminated form, but attachment allows us to achieve better chances of survival as a species. It appears that the forces of evolution are acting against our desire to enjoy life. Ironic, it might seem, but life is all about the interaction of two opposing forces.

Source: www.dyske.com/paper/897

Never give up

Zhongnan Mountain Retreat
by Wang Wei (701-761)

In middle age I am rather fond of the Dao,
Recently I set up my home at the foot of the Zhongnan mountain.
In the mood, I would go to the mountain alone,
Splendid things, only I know.
Walk to where the water ends;
Sit and watch when clouds rise.
I meet by chance an old man of the forest;
We chat and laugh without a time to return.


Translation from Jingqing Yang’s book The Chan Interpretations of Wang Wei’s Poetry: A Critical Review.

The implications in Yang’s book is that, “having reached the end of the water, other people may lose interest and return, or feel disappointed, but Wang Wei did not. The water ended so he sat down and watched the clouds. His mental peacefulness was not disturbed because the water had ended. He did not care about anything other than following his destiny and accommodating himself to the circumstances.”

cloudI came upon this poem after discovering this piece of calligraphy brushed by Shodo Harada Roshi.  Supposedly, it was titled “Walk to the place where the water ends,” but I cannot find any information to corroborate this.  Regardless, the title intrigued me.  When I searched farther I came upon Wang Wei’s poem.  His poem struck me and brought me a sense of ease as I thought of watching the clouds.  This poem reminded me of the clouds I saw one day as I looked out my mother’s hospital window.

Life is tenuous.  We should do our best to savor every moment and follow our hearts and dream.