Good evening, good morning everyone. Onegaishimasu. It is very nice to see you all again. Tonight, I would like to read you Shokushu # 21 “Setsudo.”
“There is no selfish person who fulfills the way of the universe. If you awaken to the principles and way of the universe, you are given the responsibility from the universe to share them throughout the world.
Do not say that you don’t have the strength to help people. If you have this experience one day, you are already a teacher for that experience. The world is full of people who are lost and are suffering from an unhealthy mind. Let us share this awakening with others with all our hearts. “
Tonight, we are exploring another of Koichi Tohei Sensei’s pithy phrases. This one is:
“Your character shows in your technique. If your character is corrected, the technique is corrected.”
Sayaka, would you please read that in Japanese for us? (Sayaka reads)
Thank you very much.
Another way of saying this is basically just “mind leads body.” Right? So that’s Tohei Sensei’s primary principle of this universe. You know, I think I’ve said before that when he says, “the principal,” in singular form, he means mind leads body. What he talks about “the principles,” in plural, it’s probably the three principles of the universe, (the universe is an infinite sphere with an infinite radius, an infinite gathering of infinitely small particles, and it’s always changing). But it could be any of his other lists of principles, such as the “Five Principles of Shinshin Toitsu Aikido.”
This phrase may seem like something easy understand. You know? But as we mature, going through the process of our training, this is plainly a process of the maturing of our character, isn’t it? Please let me just clarify what I mean by character. First there’s our present state of mind, when we’re doing a technique, or when we’re in relationship with another person off the mat. This might be nervousness or some type of anxiety. Or it might be excitement, or wonder, or calmness. Those are not character traits; those are states of mind. But deep underneath that state of mind is a character trait. And it can be a positive one like loving kindness, or a generosity or compassion. But it also might be a negative one, like greed, or envy or jealousy. And usually when we have some sort of disturbed state of mind, it’s because we have a negative character trait that hasn’t yet been resolved within us. So, as we’re going through this process of maturing through our Aikido practice, we are gradually refining our character traits. So, my question is: Tohei Sensei always talks about our conscious mind drawing from our subconscious mind. And he also says that our subconscious mind is a collection of our past experiences and knowledge. So, does that mean then that someone with positive character, has a subconscious mind that is full of something or empty of something?
Okay, let’s do some deep Breathing. (20 minutes Ki Breathing)
All right, so is the subconscious mind empty or full, in one who has a “good character”? I would like to suggest that the answer is both at the same time.
When someone betrays us, or we are mistreated in some way, (as we all have been sometime in the past), we carry that hurt in our subconscious mind, and then that causes us to judge others to be untrustworthy in the future. In other words, when we judge another person to be a certain way, that judgment is based upon something that happened to us in the past. We may become suspicious of them. That’s when our subconscious mind is filled with negative experiences.
But when our subconscious mind is filled with positive experiences, there’s no judgment like that. There’s just an openness and a willingness to explore and discover what it is that’s happening. This is not thinking that you know what’s happening ahead of time. Of course, nothing is absolutely one way or the other, so the subconscious mind is always in a state of evolution in terms of its content.
So, how does this relate to our Aikido practice? Well, when the uke is attacking us, they are voluntarily adopting some judgment, they have some idea, and as a result of this idea, there is something they’re trying to do to us. Of course, in the dojo, the uke is only playing a role. But if it’s played correctly, if it’s convincingly played, then the role represents someone who is judging us to be a certain negative way. So, in Aikido as nage, what we learn to do is to face someone who is judging us, without judging them. Or in other words, our character must be free of any ideas. Our mind is open and accepting. And that means that the judgment that the attacker has, actually provides us with an opening to move in and capitalize on this focus of intention we are receiving from the other person.
So, here we are at those “Five Priniciples of Shinshin Toitsu Aikido.” The five principles are, let’s see; 1) Ki is extending, 2) know your opponent’s mind (know what their judgment is, know what it is that they’re trying to do), 3) respect your opponent’s Ki (remember that you’re not judging them, they’re judging you to be one way or the other). So, we respect whatever might arise, we 4) put ourselves in the place of our opponent. And we can only do this effectively by following our partner. If we’re thinking of leading our partner, that means we’re judging, that we’re trying to control the other person, we’re trying to do something to the other person. Instead, we follow their intention and move together. So then wherever you go from there on, you are moving together with great confidence. And because that judgment, that intention of the other person, is captured, and so from then on, he follows where ever we go, hence 5) lead and move.
This is why Tohei Sensei talks about the importance of character being corrected. Character is something that we have developed. It is not something that we are careful to create in the moment. In other words, we don’t want to be watching ourselves to be sure we are doing something correctly. No, no, no, this is an immature misunderstanding. A character that’s empty of judgment doesn’t have to watch itself at all. The expression of character is automatic, be it on the mat, at a party, or anywhere in any situation. It never watches itself because there is no need to. The character of the person that constantly watches him or herself to try to act correctly, or according to an idea of morality or rules, is an immature character. A character that is mature and free is free of judgment, because he or she is free of negativity in the subconscious mind. Then, whatever happens, whoever attacks, whoever comes, we can easily join with them, we can accept them and embrace them.
Of course, none of us is perfect. No one’s subconscious mind it is perfectly clear and positive, right? So, we do react at times, we have moments of reactivity, we still have judgment, it arises all the time in our lives.
So that’s why we practice meditation, so that as soon as it arises, or as soon as possible, (just like when we’re meditating), we just return to the state of no judgment.
I think that’s enough for now. Prakash is your moderator tonight. So, he will assign you to your discussion groups, and I will see you in 15 minutes.
(15 minutes of group discussion)
Alright, let’s begin.
Student: I have a question that arose for me. In the Western lexicon, the ego or the personality is often called the “character structure.” So, I was getting caught up in this thing about in my training, in that I feel as though my character has been dissolving, and I’ve become more transparent and less associated with my character.
Student: And…as we discussed, we saw that there was a process of maturation, that the more identified you were with your character, the more conflict and you know, clashing there was. But the less you became identified, the more in harmony you were with the universe.
Okay, well, I think that’s a good summary there. The tricky thing here is that basically we are not able to leave ourselves alone. We are obsessed with watching ourselves in order to be correct. And so, even when we’re soaring, we somehow remain conscious of and very pleased with this soaring.
To me, personality is not the same as character, state of mind is not the same as character, and ego is not the same as character. Character is our fundamental core recognition of what is. And so consequently, whatever the nature of that recognition is, this immediately and automatically and without hesitation, dictates how we see other people and circumstances. So, that’s what I was mentioning about past life, past experiences, and knowledge in our subconscious mind. That history brings up reactivity, right? It brings up judgment. But, if we really experience those past injuries fully, if we really notice them completely and allow those negative feelings to be completely felt within us, say, in meditation, then little by little the subconscious mind is really transformed out of the state of needing to be controlling others all the time.
We seem to be so obsessed with labeling everyone, and then we try to put the labels all together to figure out the idea of the entire being, ourselves and other people we know, when really what we’re after here is freedom from all that. Right?
The wonderful thing that I love about Tohei Sensei’s teaching, and Suzuki Sensei’s teaching, is that the bottom line is always move freely, without hesitation. I take that to mean not just physically, but in every way, respond freely, without hesitation.
Student: Yeah, that clears that up for me. Thank you.
Okay, thank you.
Student: There is this thing that I was taught that the subconscious mind is our survival mechanism, and that the subconscious mind will actually react faster to a situation than the conscious mind. And I was wondering if you know if, due to our training in Aikido, when we unify our mind and body, is the conscious mind like a leash system so that when we do have a subconscious reaction, it is tempered by our trained conscious mind to not do anything harmful, or, you know, judgmental, negative? For instance, most human beings are afraid of fire, but,
you know, we have our first responders who are trained, you know, particularly firefighters to go into a burning building and help people out. So, is that their mind and body training so that they can perform and function in a positive way, and you know, just be able to react without fear or negativity that would worsen the situation?
Of course, we have this same training in Aikido. Every discipline has this kind of training, where we learn to move forward in a dangerous situation and control ourselves and the elements within this sphere, as much as is humanly possible. Of course, if we go outside that sphere where we have some training and some control, we may very well get burned. Or we may cause harm to someone else. We learn the techniques that offer us some degree of control in very limited situations.
However, we do not want to spend our life watching ourselves, forcing ourselves to act effectively according to certain rules or forms. We don’t want to be constantly watching ourselves in order to avoid any mistakes.
In every discipline, there is something called “mastery.” Of course, it’s not easy to achieve that level. And because of this difficulty, there are very few that reach whatever you might think of as mastery. To me, mastery basically means that you no longer need to watch yourself and control yourself to be effective and useful in any situation.
Most still feel they must watch what is said or done very carefully to be effective and correct. As long as we’re at that stage of training, that is fine. We’re all practicing and nobody’s perfect. But in everybody’s life, let’s say that there are “moments of mastery.” When you suddenly realize that you just responded to a situation accurately and immediately, without any reactivity and at the same time without any attempt at inner control or guidance, this is a taste of mastery. In other words, this is what we call “sosho,” letting go of all the training, letting go of the form or techniques and just moving freely in the moment. That is, of course, a kind of an ideal. And that’s what we’re all working on and looking to understand.
How does that come about? I can describe it to you, but where does it come from? I don’t think anybody can tell you, exactly. Sometimes we say it happens as a state of grace. In spiritual training, they often say that it is a kind of accident, and that the reason we meditate so much is to make ourselves more accident prone, more likely to have this thing happen where we suddenly realize we have moved beyond self-restraint.
So, yeah, it’s a wonderful thing that we have this opportunity to practice like this. And, you know, we can never figure it out ahead of time, in any case. It evolves and opens itself to us as we practice sincerely. Once we think we’ve got it, once we think that we know it, and we stop practicing in every moment, then we’re toast. We’re done. So, let’s all keep practicing.
Student: You always say that the way we do Aikido is the way we do everything in our life. I remember you telling me while I was driving you in the car that people drive the same way they do Aikido. And this is so true. You already talked about mastery in some art. The question is, is our mastery in some technique like golf, automatically making us a person of a better character in some other discipline? And can the same be said for Ki Aikido? Is it automatically true that when our technique is flawless, our character is also flawless? Or is a lot of fakery also possible? And, or maybe there is a different mindset behind our training and so our training actually is transferred to every aspect in our lives.
Well, we all know about Tiger Woods. He has definitely achieved certain moments of mastery on the golf course, at the least. He spoke about this just after he won the Augusta National a few years ago. He said he went into a state of mind that was like being “in the zone,” where he said he could do no wrong, could not hit the ball poorly. And yet this obviously does not mean that he has the character of a master in regards to his family life, which wasn’t so good. So, no, one doesn’t guarantee or cancel out the other, either way. We also don’t judge him to be therefore bad golf player because he didn’t handle his personal life choices as well as he might have. No, he’s still a master on the golf course.
You can think of other sports personalities that you know, other businesspeople, or those that are very highly skilled at some art form, but in their daily lives were extremely unhappy. You know, there’s so many I don’t want to mention names, but let it be said that mastery of one form does not necessarily translate into another form in our daily life. So, in my view, Tohei Sensei’s teaching is not centered on becoming a dojo expert. What would be the point of that? Yes. Please do the best you can on the mat, and yes, please master this if it’s possible for you. That’s very cool. But make sure that what you are learning is transforming your relationship with your wife or your husband, your children, your grandchildren just as much as your Aikido partners. Let’s be very sure that our life is becoming less judgmental as a result of this practice.
Student: We discussed the real basic applications of this issue. And that would be just training on the mat with your partner. And we discussed that in training, basically, you have a partner and you’re told to do a technique. And you go through that technique. And it seems that this structure of training is, is really built from judgment, an issue of judgment, you are taught to do this art and to do it well. So, in training, how can you do it? Is it still possible if you’re in a training mindset, to do that without judgment?
Of course, that’s the whole point of training. For instance, in the beginning when learning to drive, you have very heavy self-judgment. But as you learn to master driving, you leave that intense self-watching behind as no longer needed. Judgment is something that we use, when we are imperfect, something that we use, when we are in doubt about our abilities. As we become more confident and skillful, we become freer of self-watching.
I want to make a point here: When I use the word “noticing”, I am not referring to self- watching. Noticing is not self-judgment. Noticing is just open awareness. And so, to be able to perform Shomenuchi kokyunage with open awareness and without watching yourself or the effect on your partner requires a true connection and unification, moving smoothly as if in a state of grace.
Come on, this is what these years of dojo practice are all about. And as you know, as you become more and more mature in your practice, you’ll have moments of this more and more often. Certainly, it isn’t happening all the time. But you come upon moments of it more and more. I was teaching a seminar in the Netherlands several years ago, and I went through a period of quite some time where no matter what, everything just worked out perfectly. And I was unaware of even directing myself to do anything or controlling anything. It was just automatic. And then we took a break. And I reflected on it. And I started to laugh because as soon as I started reflecting, I started to judge it, to qualify it. And then I knew, “Oh, okay, so that makes it go away!” That’s like myself getting in the way of myself. The self is perfectly capable, the mind and body in unity is perfectly capable of operating without any system of guidance of any kind. And we all have moments of this, sooner or later as we become more mature. The point here is that what we are working towards in mind body unification, not being able to follow a form perfectly!
You know, there is this thing that I think we’re all aware of but don’t always acknowledge. It’s like a kind of “elephant in the room.” When we have a session like this, where we all get together and we bring up a subject, and everybody discusses it, and then we have a “question and answer” period about it, it is like a giant invitation for speculation. We are often just trying to figure out what’s going on. Right? So even this must be viewed like a period of training on the mat, where we don’t speculate, we don’t try to control, we don’t try to calculate, and we don’t try to manage our own understanding. Suzuki Sensei used to say that we have to be like “one big ear.” That’s not just when I’m talking. That’s when you’re talking too. In other words, when you’re speaking, listen to yourself. “One big ear” means there’s no judgment organ in there in your head, there’s just emptiness.
When you listen to yourselves speak, or when you listen to someone else speak, even when you’re in your discussion group, you want to always be in a state of open inquiry. That’s why I don’t want to come to a class like this knowing everything I’m going to say about some subject. Naturally, it comes up in my mind, because I have it on my computer for the week. I go back and read it and look at it again and again. And then, when I’m meditating in the morning, it pops up. And then that gives me a chance, not to try to figure out what it means, but just to sit there with it. So that means I’m just open to it, just resting in that idea, resting in Tohei Sensei’s pronouncement.
Maybe other people have trouble understanding the things I say, or maybe they are understanding right away. I don’t know. I often never find out. But the only way I can do this, and I suggest the only way you can do this, is to always be in the state of inquiry, even when you’re speaking. Does that make sense? How to do this? I’m just putting in a word here for emptiness, for leaving room for discovery, for all possibilities to take place. And that way, what happens when we’re having this kind of a class is that previously unknown things come up. Things that we never would have left room for if the class was all planned out.
So, this is the kind of feeling that you want to have when you are here. Act as if it is always the first time and you discover something about it that you never knew before. This is like when we wake up from a dream and we’re so stunned by how important it is, but we can’t really remember what it was about. It doesn’t matter what it was about! Forget the form, the story. It’s great because it has had its way with you, directly.
Student: We have four questions.
1) The question of Kayomi is, how can I release a judgment that I make?
2) And Joelle asks, if I feel that there is a situation in which a reactive pattern is coming up, how can I not judge myself?
3) Sally has a statement that in some negative situations she experiences grace. She is just helped in some way, like an accident. And she would like to know how can this happen more often?
4) And my question was, if I am in a close relationship with a person with a mental health disease, like a post-traumatic stress disorder, how can I practice this, because in this situation, and even if the person is very close to you, the mental patterns are very strong.
Can I take the last question first? Yes. So, no one is perfect. That’s the answer to your question. We all have mental patterns. You know, the clinical handbook that psychiatrists add to every year, that just gets bigger and bigger because we find more names, isolate more mental patterns. I love it that you call it a “mental pattern.” Because it is exactly that. It’s just a pattern of the mind. And we all have these patterns, and they are repetitive patterns, so this makes them very strong and difficult to deal with. And this right here is sort of answering some of your other questions also.
When we’re with other people, we must remember to maintain a state of humility, and forgiveness. Otherwise, we’re just going to jump all over their mental patterns. We’re going judge them to be defective, or to be “less than,” or damaged goods in some way needing to be fixed. And when we see someone that you think needs to be fixed, you tend to want to fix them, don’t you? Of course, but as we have been saying all evening, our practice encourages us to move beyond judgment.
If we can manage this, then we are in a kind of state of grace. We have mind body unification. The situation we are in is being mastered. Maybe that is in spite of us, not necessarily because of us. Because we can never demand a result from ourself or from anyone else. We all live with people and over a lifetime of living with another person, some things change, and some things don’t. So, if you’re going to be bothered by that, that’s going to give you heartburn. If you’re going to feel like you need to do something about that to fix it, then you’re going to drive yourself crazy. Right?
This is what I meant by having to be in a state of humility and forgiveness. We really have no choice if we don’t want to torture ourselves. I know I also have things that drive other people crazy. So that’s the way that relationships are. There’s no such thing is a perfect pattern-free relationship. Everyone is in the same boat.
We all have to begin to understand how to be in relationship from the very beginning of our practice. My wife, Lynn, always says to beginning students, “Be quiet, sit down and don’t speak, just listen to what’s going on around you. That’s how you learn in the dojo.”
And I know that you all understand this. This is a principle that we all follow in the dojo. But it’s also a principle that we often ignore when we are not in the dojo, in a personal relationship, or in some other situation. When you’re a caregiver, for instance, for someone that is really troubled, or really difficult, that can be challenging. Of course, this does not mean that you don’t recognize the patterns that exist, but you just don’t react to them. If you recognize the patterns, then you are much more likely to be able to respond with support for that other person.
The core of our practice is always seeing, noticing the pattern in our self, and not judging myself for having that pattern. We practice on ourselves. We’re just like the other person. How we treat our self is how we’re going to treat other people. So, if you’re judging yourself, that means you’re judging other people in the same way, and just as harshly. We have been learning this all our lives. So, re-learning to just allow someone to be who and what they are, including yourself, is what we are doing.
Awareness about this will begin to take place. There is a lot of noticing, and this noticing, in time, brings about a knowing. We practice meditation, we practice Ki Breathing, we sit and sit and sit. You know folks, I have been sitting for over 50 years, and I still need to sit every day. Naturally this knowing I was just talking about frees us from our reactivity. It frees us from judging others. But it doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It just means that we harm people less than we used to. It just means we’re kinder than we used to be. And that right there, folks, is huge. One little moment of kindness. One little moment of not harming changes the world.
Let’s keep practicing. I love you all. Domo arigato gozaimasu.
(April 9, 2021 Zoom Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei)