Freedom Within Form

Good morning, everyone. 


Today, we’re looking at the 5th of Tohei Sensei’s “13 Rules for Instructors.” 

This says:

“The martial arts begin and end with respect. This should not be only in a visible form but must come from our heart. Do not lose gratitude towards your teachers, especially the founder who opened the way. Those who neglect this should know that they may be neglected by their own students as well.”

As you know, I sent out some notes about this for you earlier in the week. I said primarily that I took this word “respect” to be referring to honoring the sacrifices our teachers make, and have made, for us in the past, to show us the way to freedom. In other words, the teaching, no matter what form it takes, has two aspects. It has a form, of course, a structure that we must learn to follow. And how to follow that is the secondary responsibility of the teacher. The primary responsibility of the teacher is to show how to be free within the limitations of that form. 

Let’s face it, even respecting the teacher is a form and has limitations. How we treat the teacher, how we speak of the teacher and to the teacher. Whether the teacher is alive, or has long ago passed away, it makes little difference. We still must find a way to be free within the limitations of how we operate in relation to the teacher. 

And it turns out that that’s what the sacrifice is that the teacher makes. The nature of that sacrifice is that he or she is living the teaching.  That is, living within the confines of the relative world, which is constantly restricting us, instead of bumping into those boundaries that we are given, and trying to force them and change them. I mean, even if we’re clever enough and persistent enough to move around one of those limitations, since everything is circular in this life it will come up again and again and again until we realize why it is there in the first place, and learn to respect it and live without suffering or struggling in relation to it. 

This is what the teacher is doing for us. 

I would like you all to consider this very deeply because this is not the way we normally think as so-called “free” Americans, let alone as spiritual aspirants. In fact, this is not the way most citizens of this world imagine reality to be. Every time we see a limitation in this world, collectively we immediately begin complaining about it, and talking about how to change it, waving signs, waving flags, making a lot of noise, maybe even dropping bombs on it. Whenever we see something that we are not able to live with, in our collective idea of freedom, we begin to force it to change. We do this because we imagine this world should be heaven. But this is not heaven. This is earth. We can live in heaven here on earth. But we only live in heaven when we learn to respect the limitations of our own body, the limitations of our own level of wealth, our own intellect, our own structure, our own history, our own conditioning. The challenge to do this is what our life is made of. And constantly fighting against that structure is what creates a monkey in our mind, and anxiety in our heart. And that prevents us from extending peace and loving kindness to everyone and every situation that arises. 

This is wisdom. 

I think maybe this gives us something to think about. 

Okay, let’s do some Ki Breathing:

Ki Breathing: 20 minutes

Ki Meditation: 12 minutes

Mind Body Meditation: 13 minutes

We have just practiced three different forms of meditation. Of course, we must learn the form first, kaisho. Then gradually, we begin to feel a little freedom within the form, gyosho.  And then finally, we’re able to operate within a limited structure, with rules, regulations, and purpose, but not be a slave to that, to be completely free of that form. Sosho.

Here I’m talking about something that happens not just in Aikido techniques or calligraphy, but something that is operating in every aspect of our life.

I’m sure you can think of many reasons to question this idea of living within life’s limitations that I’ve just outlined for you. “But, wait a minute! What about…?!” and so forth, and I respect that, of course. This is the challenge of living here in this condition, in this body with limitation. For instance, my voice doesn’t have the golden tones that it had before it was operated on. And when this first took place, of course, it was a restriction that I struggled with and was very frustrated by because I hadn’t yet accepted it. Then naturally I realized this is just the condition that it’s going to be from now on. Now, I hardly ever think of it. I mean, I’m operating within it, but it hardly holds sway over me. Imagine applying that to every moment of our life. We are all in this condition together. There is always something. 

So, tell me a little bit about your relationship with this? 

Student: As you’re talking about this theme, I had the image that to become an artist, first you must learn the form. And then after you have mastered the form, you can express freely.  

Yes, this is the art of Aikido. Exactly that. And yes, it’s every skill that can become an art form, every form of work, even every form of relationship. Learning to be with another person can even become an art form. We can become an artist with our partner.  We can be free with them, or we can struggle with the limitations of that relationship, constantly coming up against those limitations with frustration and maybe even anger, resentment, disappointment. And this can become a complaint that we spend all our life trying to move beyond. 

At such a moment, I always asked myself, “How do I want to spend my life? In frustration, anger, resentment, and struggle? Or in freedom?” We all have that opportunity at every moment. But of course, with artists, it’s very obvious. Yes, thank you. 

Student: Oh, thank you, Sensei, for the provocative question, which, as you know, I’ve struggled with for as long as you’ve known me. In my case, this is in terms of when a teacher I respected behaved badly, and I lost respect for that teacher. And yet, to still hold the gratitude for the teaching and the transformation that may have happened must be done. But then you know, his behavior wasn’t in line with the values that I originally connected with.

So, now what’s the problem?

Student: Well, you know, I’ve struggled with this for 30 years, and I do feel in a clearer place with it, now that I can hold both sides, but I definitely have lost respect for that teacher that I really respected very deeply. And, you know, excuse me, that’s been a challenge for me.

We say that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others. Or Jesus of Nazareth said, “Let he is without blame throw the first stone.” Isn’t it amazing? We somehow feel completely free to be disturbed by the limitations of others. And yet we’re living within our own limitations, perhaps without even noticing. We all have our own limitations. And, you know, if we want to have freedom, we all have the choice to spend our life struggling with someone or something that we cannot control, and being disappointed about it. Or we can accept the person or situation for what it is, and move on with our life freely because of that choice. 

I think you have mentioned that, in our practice, we are following a teaching, we’re not following a teacher. When we think we are following a teacher, we are tricked into adoring something that is not adorable. The teaching is adorable. Yes.  And I don’t mean that “adorable” in a childish way.  I mean the teaching is to be respected, to be cherished. The teacher is there functionally for us. And we accept that and are grateful to that teacher who is willing to show his or her own sometimes idiotic and restrictive imperfections to everybody, just to get this teaching across. Someone must step forward and expose themselves like that. And if we’re called to do that, as both you and I have been, then we just do our best with it. And I think once we become a teacher, we’re much less likely to criticize another teacher. At least in my case that’s true.

Student: Yes, I think my idealization and adoration for this masterful teacher prevented me from seeing that he was also a flawed human being. Yeah, yeah. So, then that’s myself, that I’m being disappointed in, if that’s what I’ve been doing. 

Thank you very much for that. Our practice is to examine each of these restrictions as they arise in our life and see the truth of them individually. It’s too often that we look at a generalized malaise, like “the way the world is,” and feel disappointed and fearful and anxious about it, instead of looking at each individual challenge as it arises in our life and addressing that individual one fully. That way we can be more capable of living a life of freedom. 

You know, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi used to say we must “simplify our lives.” And people perhaps thought that he meant not to eat so much food or something like that. But that’s not what he was referencing at all. He was talking about taking life a moment at a time, because otherwise it’s all just too, too complex.

Thank you very much. 

Someone else please. Come on. This is a big subject, and it affects every single one of us.

Student: Good morning, Sensei. There are moments when I’m perfectly aware that my problem with someone else is my own problem. And that this is an invitation to myself to show loving kindness and so I force myself to open up and go to that person. And then when the meeting is there, I shrivel up, and I cannot be loving, and I react to the person, and then I think I’d been better not to go there at all. So, then what should I do? How do I force myself to open? Because, you know, I know I’m the problem, but maybe I better stay away until I genuinely feel able to open?

Yes, that’s like a sub-limitation, isn’t it? Let’s say that this problem with the other person is something you would like to address freely. But you can’t do that. And there you have another, a sub-limitation. That limitation is a lack of confidence, perhaps, or a hesitation of danger in case there’s some sort of recourse that happens. So, that’s the limitation that we work with first. 

What you’re saying is, it’s so revealing to you because you see a problem with another person. Now, you may not be recognizing this problem with the other person as altogether your own problem. Or you might think that you’re beyond blaming the other person for the problem…

Student: No, but I do blame him!

So then, no wonder you can’t address it, if you’re blaming someone else. We can’t address an issue that we are feeling in our hearts and our bodies and our minds until we fully recognize who is feeling that. As long as we think someone else is causing that, rather than our own conditioned reaction to that other person, then we’re not seeing the whole picture, let alone the true picture. So here is the reason it’s so difficult for you. It’s because you set out in some way to fix that other person, or to fix the problem by talking to the other person. 

Student: That’s true. I even try to fix myself for trying to fix that person. So, I just keep fixing and fixing.  But there are moments when the situation calls for me to meet that person. And refusing would also be closing myself off, yes? So, I think the universe is asking me to go there and to open myself and meet the person but I feel not ready, because I still blame that person.

Right, so it starts to get complex there. Remember the four aspects of our practice; are show up, open, follow and accept the result. So, when we are not able to do that with someone else, then we see the sub-limitation and we bring those same four aspects to that thing within ourselves. We show up, we face it, we open to it. We follow it so we can see where it’s taking us where that attitude or belief is taking us, and then we accept the resolution. 

It’s like one of our teachers in Aikido, Tracy Reasoner Sensei told me that in the beginning class, he asks the students to ask themselves five times why they came to Aikido. “Why did you come to Aikido?” “Well, I want to learn to be stronger.” “Why do you need to be stronger?” “Well, I find myself weaker.” “Why do you find yourself weaker?” etc. etc. and you go back and back and back. This process can bring clarity. We use openness and a willingness to follow, to accept the result, all of that to each situation that arises. We take them one at a time, never thinking, “How can I change this other guy with what I am learning?” No, we just resolve through this process…

I promise you, in the end, you’ll find that nobody needs fixing. 

Okay, thank you very much. 

This is the big subject for each of us to tangle with, to investigate, and address within ourselves. This is a very important part of our practice. 

Domo arigato gozaimasu. 

Thank you very much. See you next week.