Behind What Shows

Hello everyone. Onegai shimasu. Nice to see you all. Thank you for coming. 

I will read Shokushu number 10, “The Principle of Non-Dissension.”

There is no conflict in the absolute universe. Conflict arises only in the relative world. If we are to lead others we must unify mind and body, and practice the principles of the universe. Do not say that this is a world of survival of the fittest, where the stronger prey upon the weaker. The true way of peace is exactly the same as the principle of non-dissension.”

I said, “How nice to see everyone.” It is very nice to see everyone being together here. You know, everybody’s different, everybody has their own way, everybody looks for different things. And as much as possible, we try to address those different things with each other. But I’m sure that it may have begun to dawn on you that there’s something behind whatever you feel is happening to you, whatever thoughts you have, whatever feelings, concerns you have, whatever you’re wishing for, whatever you’re afraid of, there’s always something behind that. The thing itself is like a bubble, and when you pop it, it’s actually just air.  This is like all of these significant differences that we have, that each of us cling to and are so fond of.  

As we go deeper and deeper behind those, we become more and more alike. We say: you’re female, I’m male – get rid of that; you’re Caucasian, I’m Japanese – get rid of that; you’re tall, I’m short – get rid of that; I’m fat, you’re skinny– get rid of that; I’m educated, you’re not educated – get rid of that. In other words, go down to every one of these differences and ultimately you will find out that they aren’t “it.” And when we begin to peel away these onion pieces, discarding them as we go, finally we get to the middle, and you know what’s in the middle of an onion? Nothing. There is no center, there’s nothing there. And, that’s us folks. And that’s empty … of all of those special qualities, and each of those are characteristics that make us different from each other. Those are the things that disturb me about you and you about me. They’re also the things that attract you to me and me to you.

The differences. But underneath – way, way, way, underneath – all of this stuff is gone, it’s zero, or empty/full, and that’s the one way that we are all the same as each other. That’s the source of our true being, that is our true self, that is our true love. It’s not a substance, it’s not a thing, it’s not a difference. You don’t love differently than I love. Love is love.  And, that’s what Tohei Sensei is talking about with this “Spirit of Non-dissension.” So, the point is seeing through all of that difference. It’s not just saying that we are the same, because saying that means you’re comparing two things, and they’re the same. No, this is zero, nothing, empty.

Let’s do some Ki breathing. Please close your eyes …

(16 Min. Ki Breathing)

Last Friday night I talked about Ki testing from the perspective of the formal test, ShokyuChukyuJokyuShodenChudenJodenOkuden, and from the perspective of the examinee and the examiner and both of their respective moves and regulations, how to …

But tonight I’d like to approach it a little differently, which is probably why I talked about what I did in the introduction. When we shake someone’s hand – we can’t practice this right now together, but you can do it with your friend later. You know, Shinichi Sensei likes to start many of his seminars with shaking hands. Why? Why is it so important to him? Well, because when we reach for another, we’re reaching all the way to the emptiness, to infinity, because that’s ultimately what we’re looking for with each other when we embrace, when we even bow, when we hold each other or shake each other’s hands. This is connection.  So whenever we’re doing Aikido together, whether it’s a Ki test, some technique, holding, being attacked, swinging, moving, dancing, footwork,… whenever we’re in relationship with another person we’re going toward that empty, infinite center that is no center. Think about this when we’re going through this exercise tonight. 

You’ve heard me teach option A, option B, option C. Koichi Tohei Sensei, of course, taught me this.  He would say there’s three responses to any kind of challenge, or, I would say any kind of meeting between people.  There are basically three ways we can deal with this. And, it’s not just with another person, but maybe with your computer, or maybe with an animal, or maybe your automobile, maybe with your surfboard or with a soccer ball. 

Whatever it is that you are in relationship with, there are these three options that we have. Number one, we can attempt to manipulate and control, whatever this person or object is, to get the result we want. And always, to our chagrin, when we attempt it like this, it’s always very frustrating, because even though there is a tempting little bit of success, it always is a disaster in the end. Whenever we’re trying to take control and run the show and fix whatever’s wrong and be the one. That kind of a reaction, which is never an appropriate response but always a reaction to something, ultimately leads to stress and what we call suffering. In fact, this is basically a source of our suffering.

But there is another different kind of source to our suffering and that’s option B. And that has to do with belief. This is why any true teacher will tell you, “Don’t believe anything. Find out for yourself.” Option B is when we’re hoping, believing, that someone will take care of this problem for us. Maybe it’s our mother, maybe it’s our kids. Outside of the family, maybe it’s our teacher, or the government or maybe it’s some divine being. But it’s always a belief, it’s an idea that someone is going to come along and save us from having to do the work ourselves, stand up and connect with another human being. I say human being now because we’re talking about Ki testing. 

And finally, when we recognize that we’re reaching through all the differences that we generally celebrate and sometimes complain about, reaching through all those differences to the core, that’s what we call “connecting,” “true connection.” And that’s option C. When we connect with another human being, then something else happens between us that could never have happened when we were alone. That’s why the whole idea of running off to a monastery and being by yourself, only works temporarily, at best. You always have to come back to town. Even in the ten ox-herding pictures, the guy ends up back in town again. You’re going to end up having to come back to relationship, again and again. Because until we recognize that we are of the same element – Tohei Sensei calls it “Ki of the universe” – it’s infinity, it’s this, it’s infinity. And that’s what we’re attracted to in each other. Tamura Sensei used to say, “Universal mind always recognizes itself.”

I’ll tell you something quickly: many years ago I was at a seminar in Portland, Oregon and Koichi Tohei Sensei was teaching. He was teaching Ki breathing. During the break before lunch, we were having a Chief Instructors meeting with him. So all the chief instructors from the United States were together in this room. Actually, this was way back in the late 80s. I was not a chief instructor, but Suzuki Sensei was, and I was his otomo so I was there as well. So, Tohei Sensei was sitting at the end of the table and very quiet. You could see something was up. Suzuki Sensei was at the other end of the table and I was sitting next to him. I was watching Tohei Sensei, because he’s the guy, right? But everybody else was passing papers around getting ready for this meeting and talking. And I could see that Tohei Sensei was getting upset, more and more upset that no one is paying attention. He’s got this look on his face. If you know Tohei Sensei when you see this look on his face, oh oh, we have a problem. Eventually everybody realized it and sat down and was quiet. And he just let it be quiet for a little while.

Finally he said, “You people don’t understand what is the meaning of Ki breathing. You think the meaning of Ki breathing is what happens when you’re breathing out and breathing in. That’s not the meaning of breathing. The meaning of breathing is what happens between breathing out and breathing in, and between breathing in and breathing out. That’s infinity. That’s what you’re not understanding, which is why I cannot teach you what I want to teach you about Ki breathing.” We were all very … well, we didn’t know what to say. This was in the 1980’s. I was practicing a lot of Ki breathing in those days, but I still didn’t really understand what he meant. But, of course, through the years I began to understand more of what he meant by that.

This is what I’m getting at right now. This is option C. It’s never that which is obvious. For instance, when we do standing Kokyu dosa, you’re holding the person’s wrists and the idea is that you’re going to move forward. And the other person is automatically being stable. Of course, if the person doesn’t understand the exercise, then he might be trying to keep you from moving. Even that still happens sometimes, even in our own dojo here on Maui. However, once you’re mature, then m aybe you’re not foolish enough to do that anymore.  So now you’re just standing stably, so that if the person actually connects with you, then movement might happen. But the obvious thing is the physical contact. You are holding the other person’s wrist, and the other person feels you holding their wrist. So, what’s happening here must have something to do with the wrists, right? We think this because we believe our senses, we believe this body is what’s all-important. As a vehicle, yes, it’s essential. Because when it goes, that’s it, it leaves for this lifetime. But it’s not what we’re doing in the middle of this life. We’re reaching through all those differences to touch the core, to become one with the other person. That becoming one, that is this universe. This is the meaning of this universe. This is the meaning of infinity, of our practice.

That’s why all of Tohei Sensei’s exercises are built around this experience which he calls mind-body unification.  They are designed to show infinity, to suggest no limitation. Whenever he would teach a class on Aikido, when he was younger and could move easily, he would like to have you hold him stably in some place, and then he would show you all the different ways and places that he could move where you weren’t holding him, and that was delightful to him. He was always trying to get to the point of us understanding that there is no limitation, or if there was, that we put the limitation ourselves. 

So, here’s the ironic thing, and it reminds me of my vocal chords that don’t work so well these days. As we get older, you know, things break down. My daughter used to say, “Dad, things are breaking in you.” As you get older things don’t work as well anymore. Some of you are getting older, so you know this. Ultimately, of course, they stop working altogether, and we call that “dying.” But the nice thing, the wonderful things is, as you do get older those things that aren’t rewarding you like they always did, other experiences take over.  When your fluid motion, and your super health, and your painlessness, while these are fading away, somehow this core, this infinite emptiness inside, begins to exhibit greater and greater influence. And so, when you’re doing something like Aikido, it changes everything about how you do it, how you interact with other people, and what you see movement and interaction as.

So is getting old a bad thing? Or is getting old a good thing? 

Ok, maybe I’ll let somebody else talk.

Student:  Thank you for your words. Maybe you remember one day I shared with you some thoughts. I said that there was something I enjoyed very much with you, this absence of varnish, this absence of … I said I had this feeling of direct connection, and I was not anymore seeing the American citizen in you. Do you remember when I said that to you?

I sure remember that, of course.

Student:  And I made a comparison with some other people that were traveling with you, and I said I cannot help seeing the social-cultural aspects when I’m interacting with them, but that very often I don’t see with you, or I don’t see at all with you.  And I said, for me, this is a very nice experience this is a very interesting and appealing thing. 

And another point that I was thinking about when I was listening to you this morning, is that what you were saying is almost political because – and of course politics are relative world.  If you think of the United Nations and the values underpinning this organization, and this organization aiming at bringing all people on Earth together and having some common ways of being together. I was thinking that there is this element as well in what you are saying, because there are a number of people on the Earth that don’t like the idea of the United Nations and they make great efforts to go against it.

Yes, I do remember this. This has more to do with you than with me, of course. This is very good news that you are seeing this, even if it’s only in me, and not so much in others. I am referring to what you told me first … 

And that is what Tohei Sensei was about, that’s all he taught all those years. He just wanted us to experience that infinite movement in and through each other. Everything was designed around that. Of course, that’s not always obviously evident. For instance, you might think Oneness Rhythm Taiso is not built around that. You might think that –I have heard that said – but it is completely built upon this, because without true connection, without true mind-body unification, you cannot practice Oneness Rhythm Taiso properly. You might even perform it perfectly, in form, but without experiencing this unification in your mind-body in the movement, then it’s not it. Nothing is. That’s all things.

Behind everybody’s visage is this, behind the curtain of all your specialness, all our differences, all of our uniqueness, all of the things that we cherish and cling to, behind that is the very connection that we’re reaching for. It’s the ultimate quality that we recognize in each other. We might think it’s those nice ears and the shape of your head and that beautiful Roman nose you have there, but that’s not what makes me like you. I might think that, but actually that’s not what makes me feel what I feel. It’s not what makes the connection between us. Our noses have nothing to do with this connection; our ears, our body parts, even if we’re male or female, those things ultimately don’t carry the weight. We have to think about all the weight we put on differences. We spend our lives loving and celebrating those differences, and fearing and hating those differences. It’s missing the point. It’s missing the point. The point is not the differences. 

I’m not saying that you can’t appreciate somebody’s beauty, or their culture, for instance, their cultural practices. I’m not saying that you can’t appreciate and celebrate that together with them. We can. We do. Only don’t forget to notice what’s actually happening between me and you. Yes, we honor each other for all these reasons. And no, we don’t hate. But when we’re really enjoying each other, don’t forget to notice, don’t forget to look behind, behind, behind. And that behind is infinite.

Student:  Thank you, Sensei.

Someone else, please.

Student:  Hi, Sensei. So, you know, in our circle maybe we think we have overcome –  whatever word you want to use – seeing these physical differences in each other as true differences or as important differences. But when it comes to understanding the world, worldviews and this kind of thing, in my opinion it gets a little trickier, it gets a little more hairy, you know. We can be very critical, at least I can, of someone with a different worldview than my own. So I thought maybe you might like to comment on that.

Well, maybe, for instance, you’re talking about ISIS. That’s a strange worldview.

Student:  That’s a fine example. Of course, there are more subtle ones all around us. But yes that’s fine.

Yes, there probably are as many world views as there are people on Earth. And there are general ones, for sure, like ISIS and other groups. But let’s remember that the thing we don’t like about ISIS is that they’re just like us, in principle, in that they are trying to spread their world view, to change everybody else’s view. That’s what they’re doing. And we don’t like their methods, either. But the main thing is we don’t like to be fixed. I just can’t imagine that Mohammed didn’t know that.  I very much doubt that he thought that would be a good approach to take. But humans love to try that. We all have this same disease. We all want to convince others to see the way we see. 

This again, to me, is this business of being blinded by the surface of something, what we’re seeing, what we’re hearing, and what we’re cognizing when we meet something or someone, when we meet a view.

What do we feel, when we’re touching? Do we feel a body? That’s not really what we’re feeling. Even a physicist will tell you that, that you’re not feeling a body. So what are you feeling there, then, when you hold someone? What are you hearing when someone’s speaking? What are you stirred by when you are thinking about a difference, a different view, a different perspective, pro or con? We’re caught in the difference: we might even be adoring it as incredibly beautiful, or we might be terribly disturbed by it.

Tohei Sensei taught us about plus mind, the relationship between yin and yang, this conflict that’s going on. In the midst of all this conflict we want to have plus mind. So what is plus mind? Is that just seeing the positive side of things? That’s what you often hear from people in Aikido, that plus mind means seeing the positive side of things. Yes, maybe so, on a very basic level, it means that’s a good choice to make, plus over minus. If you have a 50-50 chance, take the 50 percent that’s positive every time. It’s a good thing to do. But “plus mind” means seeing through everything. As Tohei Sensei says, then we don’t need to get nervous or excited in our daily affairs. Those are two opposite ends of the pole, nervous and then excited, but they’re very much the same thing. They’re being trapped by the difference that we see, hear, taste, smell, touch. And forgetting that that’s a screen, that that’s a representation, a physical representation, because that’s what we require in order to understand. But understand. Yes, celebrate … but understand. 

It’s very difficult, you know, what we’re going through with our particular administrative leaders in this country right now. That can be very challenging. But it’s a good opportunity to learn to look. You know, we make jokes, and that helps; humor helps to keep you not feeling too negative, not too hateful, making you feel more positive. But the best is to look through and see, and be able to say, “Even Mr. Trump is me.” That can be a pretty terrifying thought so we push that away. We don’t want to go there because the difference is apparently so overwhelming. It’s obvious to each of us, yes. But that’s what is the illusion.

Christophe pointed out that this is political in some sense, but I’m not interested in politics. I don’t mean any of this as a political move or commentary, or as any kind of a way of seeing or a philosophy or something. That would be far too limiting.  It’s much more important than that, it’s much more fundamental. It’s how to live with each other in a very intimate and personal way.  If we learn to do this, then society takes care of itself.

If we don’t see through our differences, then it’s all fake. It’s just fake. If we don’t see this, then we’re just pretending. Granted, for most people in the world it is pretend. It is a narrative that we’re living. A drama.  We all do this. But our practice is to notice, to see through, to notice deeper and deeper what it is that is behind how we are.

Student:  Thank you, Sensei.

Someone else, please.

Student:  Hi, Sensei. It’s sometimes difficult because we are making a judgment when we’re trying to achieve that connection. And we want to get away from that judgmental mind to achieve or not to achieve that state of consciousness, and our practice is more about habits built into our subconscious mind. Is that the goal, seeing through or behind the wall, what our subconscious mind could be looking for or seeing through? 

That’s an interesting question. Tohei Sensei says the materials stored in the subconscious mind come from the conscious mind. In other words, we put the materials that are in our subconscious mind, little by little. We cannot affect our subconscious mind in any other way. That is how it works.  

So, whether we’re noticing and asking the question and looking in this moment or not, then that determines the nature of what goes into our subconscious. If I’m rejecting you right now, and allowing your difference, whatever it might be, to make me feel superior or inferior or negative or nervous or hateful in any way, then that’s what I’m putting in my subconscious mind. Remember, we’re always practicing. At every moment we’re practicing something.  So, if we are judging that way, if we’re having that reaction, then that’s what we’re practicing. In other words, that’s what we’re putting into our subconscious mind. This is how we are conditioning our mind. The subconscious mind is literally the conditioned mind. So tomorrow, when I see you again, it will pop up out of my subconscious mind. But if when I see you and something like that comes up, some difference or some disturbance, either way, I just notice what is happening, and by noticing, then what I’m putting in my subconscious mind is to be in a state of query, asking, noticing, looking, learning, open. You see? So, then the next time I see you again, guess what pops up? Interest. Ahh, very interesting. I want to know what’s going on with this person. 

This is how we condition ourselves. We have this opportunity, when we’re really practicing noticing, to change the nature of our conditioned mind, of our subconscious mind, so that more and more, through the years, drop by drop by drop – Tohei Sensei used to say like putting a drop of water in a cup of tea – drop by drop, it becomes clearer and clearer and clearer. More open, more open, more open, less judgmental as you say. So that, yes, the subconscious mind at any one time has tremendous influence over the way we perceive things. We need to notice that.

I talk about it like what’s behind what is happening, what’s underneath that. We need to see what’s underneath that. So in that sense I’m saying we need to notice what’s coming up out of our subconscious mind. We need to notice what we have put there that is controlling us and causing us to see things a certain way. Once we’re practicing like this, then everyday it becomes better and better and better.

Student:  Thank you, Sensei.

Always that’s all I know what to say. Ok, we still have 5 minutes.

Student:  Sensei. It’s the kind of question that hopefully I can ask properly. It’s a process what you’re talking about, and to pay attention, I’m wondering, let’s say if I want to approach peeling away these layers …layers that are to behave properly, to behave politically correctly, we try to be right. A lot of us do, maybe not all of us. But is that such a good way of peeling away these layers? Or should I just honestly be the son of a bitch that I am, and take a good look at it?

Ok, so it’s not an either-or, not one way or the other. Both of those are the same thing, finally. Whether you’re trying to be a “good boy” or a “bad boy.” Whether you’re trying to be good and do things the way the politically correct crowd wants you to, or whether you’re just letting it all hang out.  Neither of those are actually practicing, is what I’m saying. Practicing is noticing what is arising in every moment. It is not trying to say the right thing or be the right way. It’s just noticing. In the beginning, if you have a subconscious mind that is filled with nonsense, then you’re going to be spewing nonsense all the time, until you start noticing. And then your subconscious mind will begin to change.  

You know, the way it works – in your case you’ve been practicing for some time now. So you can trust the universe, which you are the center of. You can trust that. You can just notice and it will be ok. In the beginning when people start training, they don’t trust that. The most difficult thing to do is to trust that you’re not going to say something stupid. We have all this etiquette to follow. We show you how to be a “good boy,” how to be a “good girl.” And you do that for a little while until you learn to love it, until you notice, ohh, this is just paying attention to what already is. It is not that I should care about people, but I actually do care. Actually, the negative feelings that I have about other people, they’re from my subconscious mind. They’re from me putting nonsense into my subconscious mind sometime in the past. Because if you peel away all that stuff, of course you are left with only love. That’s what there is. That’s what’s underneath everything. So it’s not going to be one hundred percent instant, of course, because it took a long time to get that all built up in your subconscious mind. So it’s going to take some time for it to get relaxed, for it to get trustworthy, for it to get true. That’s why we practice together like this. Really, I’m trying to emphasize what we all know and feel all the time, and encourage all of us to pay deep attention to the center of the universe, to infinity, to love, to caring deeply. Not that you should. But that’s the way it is, and you already are feeling it, so notice it. Notice it. Then that’s your practice. Ok?

Thank you very much everybody. I’ll see you Sunday. 

(Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei, 15. May 2020)