Sunday Class, July 24, 2022
Good morning, everybody.
I’ll begin this morning by reading 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.”
This morning we have a two-part quote from Koichi Tohei Sensei. The first part is
“Be grateful for your progress, as others may not be so fortunate.”
And the second part is:
“Be diligent in your practice, as others may have greater experience.”
This first part is interesting to look at. “Be grateful for your progress, as others may not be so fortunate.” Where we each stand in relationship to this statement. When we look around and find ourselves to be in a very fortunate position, and others perhaps not so fortunate, how do we feel? Do we feel grateful? Or do we instead feel maybe superior? Why one and not the other? And how did we come to the place where that is so? If we’re honest, we notice this as how we react to challenges in our life., and as a result, how we make our choices in life. If we’re observant and aware, we see that those reactions (aka choices) come out of our subconscious mind. And what was put in our subconscious mind began way back in the beginning of our consciousness. So, if we have had positive influence from others throughout our lives, from our parents, from our teachers, our friends, our surroundings, maybe these choices that we make every moment are positive and reflect that experience. If so, then we must be filled with gratitude.
How do we say who is responsible for the state of mind that we find ourselves in now? Yes, okay, we like to say that we are the ones responsible for this. But clearly, every person that has been in our life, up till now, has had a lot to do with our state of mind now, and this is something to be grateful for. That’s what Tohei Sensei is saying here.
All too often, we look at life as if it’s a race that we are winning or losing. If winning, we feel very good about ourselves. If losing, not so good. But when we see our lives in this competitive way, we forget that wherever we are, it’s because of, and relative to, everybody else. Where I am right now is because of all of you people and a whole lot of other people in my life. So, this is something to be constantly aware of, and always grateful for.
The second part of this quote from Tohei Sensei is “Be diligent in your practice, and those as others may have greater experience.” This is the other side of this. Quite often we look around and decide that it looks like others are ahead of us in this race. Maybe they seem further along, or more developed than we are. Again, this means we are comparing, looking at life as if it’s a contest. Only this time, we seem to be losing. We see ourselves as somehow insufficient, or deficient in some way. Of course, this means that we’re forgetting, once again, about the great opportunities for us when those that surround us are more experienced. Doesn’t that inspire us to be more, as Tohei Sensei says, “diligent in our practice?” Doesn’t being surrounded by more advanced people inspire us?
In other words, in this life, no matter what we see as our “position,” this is always something to be grateful for. What we are really practicing in our life, whether it be in business, sports, a social situation, or our spiritual practice, is always equanimity. We are always looking to develop our personal relationships with others, which is all about gratitude.
Of course, I would very much like to hear what you have to say about this. Many people live in a constant state of evaluating their level of development as compared with other people. This tends to promote a sense of envy or jealousy when we feel inferior, and pride and maybe even arrogance when we see ourselves as superior. And there are none of us that are free of this, or have never experienced this within ourselves. Therefore, these words from Tohei Sensei are important and we want to take them seriously.
I often bring these sayings of Tohei Sensei to this Sunday class so that we can assess them more fully and take them seriously. This kind of examination of our own tendencies will change our practice radically, as well as change our relationships with people in the dojo, in our work, sports, and even in our families. So, when we undertake this kind of practice, we do so for everyone.
Please let me know what your experience with this is. You may ask me any question you might have about it.
Student: Good morning Sensei. Thank you very much. I do have a question. You know, Tohei Sensei, in my experience, is pointing always towards something, and one of these things I always reflect on is his image of the iceberg. What we normally see is above the surface of the water, but what we don’t see is below the surface. And I’m wondering if, since he points us so much to that portion that’s below the surface, whether gratitude is included which is below. In other words, is there a difference between the gratitude that we participate in just above the surface and that which we experience below the surface?
That’s very interesting – a good question. I always think about the iceberg in this way. When I began living on this earth, the tip of my iceberg was teeny, tiny. And then as I began practicing, in my early 20s, the tip of my iceberg began to grow. And the iceberg began raising up out of the water. And of course, the bottom part that’s under the ocean, I always think of as infinite not just “really big,” and so there’s no end to the possibility it represents. There is no end to the to the opportunities that we have in our life, for awakening. In the spiritual realm, there’s no such thing as having completed anything or exhausted all possibilities. So, it’s this raising up of the iceberg that represents our levels of participation in the universal. It represents just how much of infinity is showing in our daily lives. Of course, the question is always, “What do we have access to on a daily basis?” Some people may have a huge presence showing above the water, while others may only have a little tiny bit showing. And this is what Tohei Sensei is talking about here, when he talks about gratitude.
Is this addressing your question?
Student: Well yes, but I still wonder more specifically about gratitude itself. Does that transition into something, or does it change when comes from the deeper level?
Of course. There has to be relative gratitude and also infinite gratitude. Sometimes this suddenly comes up from a deeper level when we are not expecting it, and not aware of the source. I’ll tell you a short story that happened to me before I began training Aikido. This was soon after I’d moved to Maui, and just after I had gone through the three-year meditation retreat:
I was the manager of a few rental homes on the property I took care of for an absentee landowner. When I took this job, the owner immediately raised everybody’s rents. So, nobody liked me very much since I was the owner’s representative. I was in the process of re-roofing one of the rental houses, and suddenly we experienced a Haiku downpour. It was nighttime, and I knew the roof that I was replacing would be leaking. So I rushed over there with a big tarp, neglected to say anything to the tenants, jumped up on the roof and started hammering away to secure this tarp. The fellow that lived there had been drinking and he came out of his house and up on that roof screaming at me. He didn’t like me much to begin with, and now he was drunk and angry. His roof had been leaking into his home, and now I was banging away in the middle of the night up there. He called me a few names and clearly wanted to throw me off the roof. Maybe that’s illogical, since I was trying to do him a kindness, but he didn’t see it that way. Somehow, I did manage to complete the task and survive the encounter.
Move forward two months. My wife was pregnant with my first son, and we’re both on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant ordering takeout. This same person comes screeching to a halt and jumps out of his car in the middle of the street. He is drunk again with plenty of anger still and he started screaming about how I mistreated him and disrespected him, using foul language. I was getting scared because of my wife being right there, and of course she was also terrified. I had no idea what to say to him. Finally, he said, “You know, I could kill you right here right now if I just smacked you until you’re dead.” I am not sure why, but I just said, “You might do that, and you might succeed at that, but let me ask you, if you did that, would that solve the problem? Would that make you feel better about me?” And he kind of stuttered a little bit and seemed to get confused. I think maybe no one had ever said anything like that to him before. He backed away shaking his head, got into his car and drove away.
Move forward two years. I was in a men’s volleyball tournament in the Paia gym, and as the team we were about to play stepped out on the court, I saw that this very same guy was on the other team. And I thought “Oh boy, what’s going to happen here?” He saw me right away, he brightened up and came over under the net and extended his hand to me. He said, “I want to shake your hand. What you said to me that day, you changed my life. I stopped drinking, I have a better relationship with my wife. I just want to say, well, thank you very much.”
Just as I was beginning to feel pretty good about myself, I realized that I really didn’t have that much to do with his transformation. It seemed to have been the result of how he heard what I said. I wasn’t the wise master, like I was probably thinking for a moment. He made the change himself. He had somehow found some gratitude within. He seemed to credit me for that, but it really came from his own hidden spirit. He found gratitude in his life. In this way, we both benefitted from the whole experience.
As the iceberg raises up gratitude, which was down below, you know, there’s no end to how gratitude will grow and change. It becomes constantly larger and more independent of cause. And as the iceberg develops, as we develop, and grow, our access to gratitude becomes deeper, because we understand and experience more and more the source of our well-being. That’s what all that hidden stuff is made of down there in the lower part of the iceberg. These are the things that we don’t understand or experience and are therefore not grateful for in our lives. Gratitude is like the light. When the light is off, we are feeling sorry for ourselves, complaining, depressed, negative, feeling diminished, feeling disrespected and unimportant. We are feeling like the tip of our iceberg is a tiny thing.
Simply put, as we practice, we mature in our gratitude.
This was a very good question. Thank you.
Student: Good morning, Sensei. I am very happy to be here. What I was thinking when you gave us this quote from Sensei was just how much our gratitude and kindness are our tools. In those moments when things are hitting the fan, so to speak, it is just a matter of remembering. And the story you just described was a moment that, even though it was stressed, you were kind to him. You offered him another path in a way. You just said to him, “Hey, there’s a door right here by the way,” and he just went through it. And that choosing to say that in a time when you felt threatened. I mean, wow.
It has been striking me lately that that, for myself, when things are difficult at work or elsewhere, that that is just a matter of switching my mind around and seeing what I can do for the other person, no matter how difficult the situation is, in that moment. We just listen to them to just try to get to see their side, so to speak.
There’s gratitude right there. I mean, instead of coming to fisticuffs or having some, some serious argument, just having the will to listen, to listen with equanimity, and loving kindness. I mean, where does that come from? How can we not be fighting with that other person? Well, it’s because our deep subconscious mind allows us to be free of that. And that comes about because of all the influence in our life that we carry but may not even be aware of. This is everything and everyone, the whole gang of people that have given us their lives so we can have that one moment. And that, that’s… yes, gratitude is what it’s all about.
Student: Thank you so much for your teaching.
Thank you. Thank you all for being here.
Domo arigato gozaimasu