Shinichi Suzuki Sensei’s
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Onegaishimasu. It’s very nice to see all of you. May I read the Shokushu, please? I’d like to read tonight Kyudoshin, the “Way Seeking Mind.”
“The mind seeking to clarify the practice and way of the universe is called Kyudoshin, or the way seeking mind. Animals are unable to know universal mind even if they are very clever. This is a privilege that only human beings possess. How fortunate are the people who manifest a way seeking mind because this is exact proof that they have discovered their true human nature.”
There is often confusion as to what is meant by “natural.”
What is it that motivates us to approach a self-development practice like Aikido? Turning to a practice to strengthen our connection with our true nature is a natural thing for a human to undertake. But the question is, what is it that starts us along that path?
For this journey to begin, we must first notice that there is a connection between our thought process, the feelings we experience in our body, and our body movement. We may not have any idea what an authentic practice might be like, but at least we notice this connection between mind and body.
For many, this natural inner observation may not have occurred yet. However, at some point, there can be a small flash of awakening and the realization suddenly occurs to us that when we alter the way we think of a person or an occurrence, we automatically alter the way we feel.
Feelings of tension and discomfort in our body result from defensive or negative thought, usually blaming someone else for our emotional condition. This tension in turn leads to a rigidity in the body, clumsy physical movement, and lack of effectiveness in any situation. Of course, there are all kinds of pleasurable activities that we can find to temporarily relieve that sense of tension, but it returns as soon as the pleasurable distraction wears off.
Noticing this is only the beginning stage of our practice. Of course, once we begin paying attention in this way, we are not automatically free of this emotional reactivity. It takes years of work to come to a deep level of equanimity. Until then and even beyond, we continue to have the uncertainty of cause that leads to this kind of tension in our body.
We may come to moments within the dojo, or outside of the dojo, when we suddenly are released, all at once, from this inner rigidity. In Zen they call this a “kensho.” It is a small awakening, a peek at what freedom from tension might be. Unexpectedly, some kind of opening occurs, and we find ourselves in a state akin to our true nature. Then, of course, the very next day or so, the confusion and tension return.
It is popular to say that good teachers never ask anything of the students that they don’t ask of themselves. But a great teacher always asks of the student what the student does not ask of himself and discovering and eliminating the cause of this inner tension is that “what.” Every person on earth, that is aware of this, is attempting to discover how to let it go and replace it with a smooth, mellow, loving-kindness in their true nature.
Koichi Tohei Sensei called the condition that is free of this tension, “mind/body unification.” Suzuki Sensei’s Four Principles of Freedom all point to this mind/body unification. That means that Be Natural, just like the other three principles, basically point this same condition of a deep and original awareness.
One thing that is natural for all of us is caring for another being in a protective way. To support this idea, Suzuki Sensei always hastened to draw a difference between “being normal” and “being natural.” What is “normal” for us is generally what is habitual. What is normal for us might be that which we accept about ourselves because we are used to it. In this case, we might think that something we are addicted to is simply “natural” because that’s the way we’ve always been, or that’s what many other people do. But Suzuki Sensei would say no, that may be normal, but it’s not necessarily natural. Natural is a characteristic of original mind. A habit is something that has been added to original mind. In other words, “natural” refers to our original condition, our true nature, and it is not habitual but arises new and spontaneously in every moment.
Naturalness is a quality of our true self, or true condition. This is a boundless and therefore indescribable condition. Even so, it is a simple way of being completely comfortable with whatever condition prevails, naturally. We may be surrounded by people that have little idea how to be natural, or we might be surrounded by people that are true to this original condition. Either way, our practice is for us to remain natural when we find ourselves with others of any condition. This kind of non-judgmental caring is also what Suzuki Sensei would call natural.
Let’s take a moment to discuss Ki Testing. When I approach a student to give a Ki Test, the person often becomes very serious. They often put on what I call an “Aikido face,” to impress upon us that they are serious about this business of Ki Testing, they are sincere, and they are going to succeed. This is never natural, and it never works. We can’t pass a Ki test if we’re not natural, and it does no good to try to create a natural state artificially.
This “be natural” teaching has always drawn a parallel with taiga, the universal condition. Naturalness offers us a kind of true freedom from the artificial that is without limit and full of authentic possibility. This is taiga, and this is our natural condition. When we are acting with awareness, we always notice when we’re faking it. If we don’t notice it mentally, we are likely to feel it in our body, because whenever we’re not being natural, we feel this tension in our stomach. That’s why our Aikido training always begins with Keep One Point in our lower abdomen. Being natural and free in the body is fundamental.
Let’s try an experiment. Let’s all close our eyes and listen to whatever we can hear, within ourself or outside of ourself. Within, we may hear the blood rushing through our body. Outside, we may hear birds, the wind, someone working in the other room, a car going by, etc. And when we listen, let’s listen to all of it at once, outside and inside. We’re listening just like one big ear, taking it all in at once. We’re listening to everything together, without taking each sound separately, and without comment or judgement.
Okay, now we can open our eyes. While we were listening just then, we were not feeling any tension in our body, right? If we’re listening with full awareness and no self-watching, then we must be free of tension. To be natural just means to be in a state of full and restful awareness in our body. We pay attention to the very center as the center of everything, the very core of naturalness, the One Point in the lower abdomen. We could experiment in the same way with sight, smell, taste, or touch, but sound works very well because we can easily close our eyes and give our complete attention to sounds, within and without.
All four of these principles from Suzuki Sensei are, as mentioned, basically leading to the same thing, which is mind/body unification, or the experience of our natural or original condition. It is important to note that this original experience is not filled with self-doubt or worry, or any degree of tension, but with a sense of relief and freedom. There might even be a feeling of inner emptiness since this natural condition is empty of those characteristics which have always kept our mind busy and preoccupied.
When we hear of “emptiness,” or “empty mind,” this means that what we call “mind” is an invisible foundation upon which all things gather and manifest. This is very similar to looking into a mirror. We don’t see the glass or the silvering behind that glass that allows the reflection. We only see what is reflected. Mind itself cannot be seen as such, as there is nothing there to see. When we look for mind, or self, or consciousness, we only see what is currently filling that emptiness, or blank space, not the space itself.
Of course, meditation is the primary way to experience this natural state. Even when we stop and focus our attention on one of our senses, as we just did through listening, we find that we instantly become calmer. Calmness is of course the side-effect of paying attention, of resting in awareness. We all find this to be true, and we like very much to have even the tiniest experience like this. It is a great relief for most, because usually it is the first time that there’s been an experience of no tension in the body. We can say it’s like Do Nothing, or So What?, or Be Natural, and finally it’s also like “Don’t Worry Be Happy!” All four of these are different ways of expressing what ultimately leads to this same condition.
We might think, “This is fine, when sitting still and alone in our room. But what about when we must go out and be with people. “How do we take this sense of freedom with us.” This is a very common question that many have. We have a sense of freedom from concern and tension when sitting still, and then we try to take this feeling with us as we approach our everyday affairs. However, we experienced that feeling of relief from tension as a result of the action taken while meditating earlier in the day. If it is to arise once again in this moment, then it must happen spontaneously now . We cannot bring the sense of peace we had earlier and have it be active again later. To be natural and true something must arise in this moment, as an aspect of our state of mind now.
Part of the reason why this is so, is that we don’t remember things correctly. We imagine that we did something to make ourselves calm, so then we try to repeat that. But actually we didn’t really do something. Instead, we started listening and stopped trying to act out, and so allowed calmness to take place once again. Being deeply calm is what happens when we are deeply in attention, really noticing what is going on. Our small ego mind is temporarily inactivated, and we let go of trying to do something. We were doing nothing when we experienced this feeling originally, when we allowed it to arise within us, so we must fall once more into this state that Suzuki Sensei is pointing to here so strongly. This calmness is our natural condition.
Of course, this allowing of ourselves to Be Natural takes practice. An important aspect of this is acceptance of the situation that we perceive as our own life. If we can’t accept ourselves and our current condition, how can Be Natural? No matter what is arising in front of us, we embrace that, and by embracing it, we can experience an acceptance. We can own it. However, if we push against it, resist it, or judge it to be wrong, then there can be no ownership, and no peace. When we use our mind in that resistant way, unsurprisingly we create more tension, because those actions arise from negative thoughts filled with worry. It’s important that we practice not putting anything into our subconscious mind that will show up later as tension.
We’re always just learning to listen without judgment, listen without coloring what we hear, without blaming others, without causing more disturbance than necessary. The world is difficult enough already. Why do anything to make it worse? That’s what the whole practice is about, learning to be in the presence of conflict with a calm accepting mind.
Why are we here on earth in this body right now? If we cannot say the answer to that question immediately, without hesitation, then we may want to consider that question much more deeply. The first moment I met Suzuki Sensei he said, “This is life and death training.” That’s the first thing he said to me, as he chased me into the corner of the dojo with a wooden training sword. He said, “This is “shinken shobu,” life and death. So ask yourself, “Why am I here?” Do you know? If not, find out!”
Everybody has been experiencing a pandemic. Now everybody is maybe being reminded that this is a life and death situation here, and completely unpredictable. Of course, this is always the case, but now this has been brought to our attention a bit more starkly. And there are so many more things that can imperil us, other than a virus. There is heart disease, cancer, guns, all kinds of accidents. Usually, when there’s no pandemic, we tend to forget all about the immediacy and potential finality of each moment of this life.
The key to our practice is noticing, noticing what’s going on in our whole mind and body. When we have a negative thought, we may be accustomed to that thought that way, and not immediately realize that it is even negative. However, we can know what the nature of the thought is if we can feel it in our body. Therefore, we don’t just think about an action, but we also feel in our belly, and we feel in our heart. We feel in our body and notice with our whole being, “Is this what I want in my life?”
Every time we truly notice that we have a negative reaction to something, we become more familiar with the conditioning that caused that reaction. The more we begin to notice this, the more we will exhaust that tendency, particularly if we can see how it causes harm to ourself and to others. At some point, we will see the whole of it clearly, and it will lose its power to cause us to react that way. But it definitely will not stop happening if we just say to our self, “I shouldn’t do this anymore. I must stop doing this.” If we try to tell our self that we should not be doing something, that is the self, telling the self. How do we usually react when someone tells us not to something we are used to doing? Not well! Life rarely works that way. What works is noticing, recognizing a reaction for exactly what it is. Once we see it happening enough times, evolution takes place, naturally.
When we decide to approach some form of spiritual training, we usually say that we would like to get to know ourselves better. This “noticing” is how that works. “Know thy self.” We get to know our self by noticing. The practice is noticing when we’re natural and free and noticing when we’re not. And when we are not, we don’t have to do anything about it, except to truly see it for what it is. When we notice enough times, our thoughts and actions will change automatically. This is the only way true and lasting change takes place.
We just don’t want to make life more difficult by longing after an imagined result. We only have the capacity of attention that we have right now, and we don’t have any more than that. As we practice more, we will gradually build more strength of attention. As we develop, we will be able to notice on a much deeper level.
When we are engaging in this practice, and we temporarily lose our attention by worrying about something, we simply remind ourselves that we are practicing noticing. Then we come back. That’s all. Very simple. And we don’t beat ourselves up by accusing ourselves of failure. No. No. We simply allow our attention to return to awareness of the present. This is just like going to the gymnasium to build muscle strength. We must lift the weights repetitively, or the muscle doesn’t get bigger, right? We can’t just look at the weights. We must actually lift them, again and again. Likewise, in meditation and in daily living, we lift our mind into a state of attention, listening, and every time we fall back out of attention, we just return. This is our exercise. Similarly, every time we go through this process of losing and gaining attention, it’s not a bad thing. In fact, it is the whole point of practice. It is that whole back and forth process that is what strengthens and builds our capacity of attention.
This is a lifelong study, so even if we have had years of this, there’s still infinitely more that we don’t understand, because there’s no end this kind of knowing. There’s never some point when we can say, “Okay, now I am awakened.” We’re always beginners. Every day, every moment, we maintain the attitude of a beginner.
Koichi Tohei Sensei’s always said the ultimate purpose of our practice is to “become one with the universe.” In other words, we are here to awaken to our true condition. And so, a reasonable way of looking at this is to Be Natural. When we know what we’re here for, then we may be able to see how everything is serving that purpose. Tohei Sensei is not saying that our purpose should be to become one with the universe. He is saying this it is the purpose of life. For instance, we don’t say that we “should” be making certain choices, because in every moment whatever it is that is happening ultimately has the same purpose. That purpose is to awaken us to what this life is for. This means that every moment is equally important. Every person, every happenstance, every situation, is equally important.
Maybe we can begin to see how this is something to be incredibly grateful for when we begin to live with the immediacy of our natural awareness.