Monday, December 15, 2014

Compassion

Unconditional compassion may be one of the most important qualities a human being can strive to possess. To be selfless is a major key to opening the door to true understanding. I, like everyone else in the world, find this hard at times. I do not have a violent temper or anything like that, but I am human, and humans do not always live up to their true spiritual potential. It's part of the gig. It's part of learning.
I am good to people who are good. I am also good to people who are not good. Because Virtue is goodness.
I have faith in people who are faithful. I also have faith in people who are not faithful. Because Virtue is faithfulness."
-- Tao Te Ching
Compassion, while to a certain degree natural and latent in us all, sometimes needs to be practised and honed just like any other skill we seek to learn. When we practise a martial art, for example, we expect difficulty and challenges along the way. That's why we practise so hard and so long. Our approach to spirituality should be no different.
"The Art of Peace begins with you. Work on yourself and your appointed task in the Art of Peace."
-- Morihei Ueshiba
And compassion does lead to peace in the end. Sometimes the process feels painfully exhausting, I admit, but our spiritual teachers were definitely onto something when they preached patience and kindness. In reality, anger and frustration merely cloud our minds. They obscure our focus and mental clarity.
"When a delusion like anger is present, we lose control."
-- The Dalai Lama
So although we will invariably fail at times, the pursuit of unconditional compassion is a worthy path to embark upon. It will not only help us fine tune our own spirituality, but it will make us better teachers to those around us as well.
"For hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal."
-- The Dhammapada

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Duel




A renowned warrior came into a field to do battle.

The first challenger he met was his greatest adversary: Ego.

Both soldiers drew their swords and engaged in battle. They fought for many frantic minutes with no harm coming to either individual; both becoming increasingly fatigued as the conflict went on. But at a crucial moment, when the first warrior had Ego nearly defeated, he misjudged his opponent's strength and was pushed off balance and fell to the ground.

Ego, a smile coming across his face, raised his weapon and prepared to finish the conflict with one mighty swing of his sword.

But before he could do so, a chill breeze moved across the field, and on it sailed an arrow that pierced the armour of Ego, causing him to fall dead to the ground. The first warrior, incredulous, looked to his right and saw a third warrior carrying a bow.

His name was True Self.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Qi For Two


It exists. It doesn't exist.
We all know the debate over whether or not qi, or energy force, is an actual source of power which can be tapped into by those with the know-how to do so. My attempt here is not to take sides; it is not to prove or disprove qi energy. Rather, it is to relate an interesting situation in which I find myself as a student of martial arts.
For a few years now, I have studied under two different instructors, although I still consider my first sensei to be my main go-to teacher. That said, I have enjoyed and benefited from delving into another style of martial art, one that I hope complements my original knowledge and training. It seems to work, and I have fun while doing it.
So what i find intriguing is this: while I have great respect for both instructors, and try to soak in as much information from each one while in their respective dojos, they differ in one main philosophical outlook. One teacher believes strongly in qi energy, while the other views the emergence of any extra force during a technique as more of a mechanical phenomenon, i.e. something more tangible and physical.
I find the contrasting outlooks of great interest. I find it symbolic of the split in the martial arts in general. Yin and Yang, perhaps. And I don't view one instructor as less effective or less wise. After all, one major thing both teachers have in common is that the technique works best when it is done properly. With proper mechanics. More power comes from this, whether accompanied by qi or not. As to whether more energy can be added is a different story, one that I prefer to leave be for the time being.
Because like I said, I'm not taking sides right now. Instead, what I try to do is embrace the teaching of both, all the while exploring the options myself, in my own mind.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Siddhartha



It was almost twenty years ago that I first read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. The book, a fictional account of a wandering monk in the time of the Buddha, is a story sure to trigger spiritual contemplation in any reader. It traces the protagonist's journey through asceticism, worldly desires, and eventually peace and reflection. It is ultimately about seeking truth in all its mystery, which, for Siddhartha, is what life is ultimately all about.
Although it is difficult to remember my exact thoughts about the book twenty years ago, what I do realize is how differently the words feel now that I have had much more life experience. Don't get me wrong, I was still very spiritually minded as a young man. At least as much as today. However, our consciousness seems to be ever-expanding, and as a result, time truly does give us perspective.
One of the things that really struck me this time reading the novel was the fact that this was not just a westerner's interpretation of Eastern thought, but a fusion of Eastern thought with Western mysticism. Hesse was, after all, German, and his take on Eastern philosophy was still seen through the eyes of the West. That said, the truth is the truth regardless of where one lives, and therefore the author still manages to cut through to the core of Siddhartha's contemplative nature.
While doing this, Hesse very deliberately draws parallels between the Buddha and his character, Siddhartha, but is very careful to separate the two in their approach to spirituality and teaching.
At the heart of Siddhartha, is the idea that, "Wisdom is not communicable." Instead, it is seen and heard everywhere all at once, and everything in life is timeless and unified.
However, regardless of which age I happened to be reading this novel, the author's words made me reflect deeply upon the nature of life and reality itself. While now I can relate more to the different stages of Siddhartha's life, perhaps when I'm older I'll look back with even more perspective upon Hesse's eloquent story.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Anger...


In the book, The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell retells an old Japanese legend about a samurai who had "the duty to avenge the murder of his overlord." But, in the moment he was about to use his sword to strike down his adversary, the man spat in the samurai's face. "And (so) the warrior sheathed the sword and walked away."
Campbell explains how the warrior was angered by the act of spitting, and realized if he struck down the man in rage it would have become "a personal act." That was not what the samurai had come to do, says Campbell.
It rings of Luke Skywalker's temptation to strike down the Emperor--an act that would have altered Luke's fate forever, as the act would have been one based in anger and hatred. This would have made him as malevolent as the one he sought to destroy.
While emotion may be a useful and powerful thing, anger and fear can distort. They can blacken our hearts and create reactions not thought through with a rational mind.
Viewed historically (and on a larger scale), armies have been mobilized based on anger-inducing propaganda. After all, if there is only compassion for the other side in a conflict, what soldier would pick up a weapon to kill? What population would give consent to a war that had no villain?
I'm not saying what wars have been justified and which have not. I'm just saying that the masses can be swayed either way by the right use of media. And often, anger is the emotion targeted in order to influence large groups of people.
On an individual scale, anger can also make us do things we shouldn't. Such emotions can cloud the mind. And even the most passive soul can be angered by something.
I guess it is about whether or not we strike out at others when we become angry, or whether we try to tame the emotions and wait until we can think clearly once again.







Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Return...



I gave up on meditation about two years ago. Things in my life had drastically changed, and as a result, my focus on many things in life began to diminish. Also, a major factor, was that my time alone decreased significantly.
But recently, the art of sitting in silent contemplation has returned to my life.
It wasn't deliberate. I wasn't searching out solace or a way to regain my mental focus. And I'm not sure this will be the outcome, anyway, to tell you the truth.
Really, what happened was that I was reunited with a group of friends, who meet each week, and discuss books and spiritual ideas over coffee and tea. And they meditate. Twenty minutes at the beginning of each meeting.
Returning to meditation was daunting. At least at first. It had been a long time--my mind raced and I felt trapped. The clock ticked and my breathing was all over the place. But I settled in soon enough, and ended up having a pretty positive experience. Since then I have gone back four or five times, and manage now to find my zone pretty quickly.
But don't get me wrong, this isn't at the level of "no mind," transcendental type meditation. I'm still a hack, really, just trying to calm my mind here and there. No chakras are being opened, believe me, I'm just trying to sit and be relaxed for a twenty minute space of time.
And this approach has made it easier for me this time around. I am putting less pressure on myself to achieve results. In fact, I'm just happy to sit, my mind swirling, with the odd moment of peace tucked in for good measure--often accidentally.
But it's good to be back, for sure, and we'll worry about those chakras another day. 



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Parent-And-Tot Class

I just got in from my first ever parent-and-child karate class. It was great fun, and reminded me of how excited I used to get when my dad would play in the parent-and-child hockey games when I was young. The class was just run like a normal kids class--no tailoring it to be more suitable for parents. I think more clubs should try this type of event. It shows the parents how hard their kids work and why they like to go to the classes in the first place. It's both humbling and a good bonding excercise.
(Now, after class, my son is wiped out and fast asleep in bed. And I'm sure I won't be awake much longer.)