Relative and absolute Truth – the Meaning of Aikido.

合 – Ai

氣 – Ki

道 – Do

合 – Ai: Most everyone commonly interprets ai to mean “harmony.”  The calligraphy for this word Ai is made up of three separate characters, and literally means human, one, and mouth. So Ai means “human with one mouth”. Maybe you can imagine the meaning already. What do we do with our mouth? We speak, we chant, we sing. So we can say that Ai means “everyone singing with one voice”. “Harmony” is a good word to use for that. It is a popular one. But sometimes words have different meanings for different people. So it is important to look carefully at the source of important words like this. Of course, all kanji (Japanese calligraphy) originally came to Japan from ancient China. So this is Chinese from long ago. It is important to remember that when we look at these. So this is all people singing, or speaking with one voice; all humans unified. 

The challenge with the word “harmony” is that we often conceive of harmony as two or more things coming together. However, this is a relative and limited view. Harmony, as it is used in the word Aikido, doesn’t mean multiple things coming together. Harmony here means all things are already together, even though we might not perceive them as being in that condition. Humans are already one, unified. There is no need to make them one. We humans, through our limited and relative perception, actually make them separate. The way we see the world, and hence the way we see each other, is almost always relative, limited to time and space dimensions, you over there and me over here.  So he definitely seems different and separate from me, and either better or worse off, but never the same. 

Since we perceive this incredible variety, where everyone is apparently so different, then we must practice remembering that there is some fundamental essence that is one. And what is that? That is the question. If we are going to practice Ai, then we have to have some kind of deep contact with what that is, if that something can even be spoken, or defined. Maybe, when we speak it, or define it, it suddenly becomes part of that relative condition, and it is not what we meant to point to at all. 

氣 – Ki: Ki is made up of two separate characters, and each has its own meaning, as with Ai. For the first character, on the top and to the right, we can say “clouds and rain”, which would be coming down from the heavens. Or at the same time it can mean “steam”, which would be rising up. And the symbol in the center, the second one, is the symbol for “rice”. If this above is clouds and rain, then the rice is considered to be growing. If the first symbol is seen as steam, then the rice is cooking. In both cases, it is exploding outward. It is important to understand why they made these symbols to signify Ki of the universe. Obviously, to the ancient Chinese, the word Ki was very significant for them. Because if the rain didn’t come and the rice crop didn’t come in, they didn’t live. They couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy some more rice. If the crop didn’t come in that year, there was a famine. Everyone suffered. So, having the rains come, having the rice crop be successful, and having the rice to eat as food, for the ancient Chinese this meant life itself.  Therefore they used this combination of two symbols to represent Ki – life itself. Life. 

道 – Do. Again, Do is made up of two symbols. The first one means “way”. And this second one means “leader,” or you can say “individual,” or it also can even mean “prominence.”  So, we might say “the prominent way” or “the way of the prominent individual”. So, yes, this is “Do”, and most know that “Do” means “the way”. Ju-do, Karate-do, Ken-do, Kyu-do, Aiki-do. 

This is made up of two symbols, which is telling us that there is a further qualification to the word “way.”  We have “leader”, or “individual,” added on to, or coupled with “way.” What that is pointing to, or qualifying here, is that, yes, there is only one way, but that you have to come upon it individually, from your particular individually conditioned mind. We can say that the action path through life of each individual person is unique. There is one general “way,” but this “way” manifests in each of us uniquely. The way is not something that we must follow blindly. Our task it to awaken to the realization of that way, as it evolves in each of us.

Another note about this word:  just about everyone has heard the word “tao” these days. This is “the way.”  But again, when we read or hear about the Taoist philosophy, we often interpret it as a sort of generalized way that everybody has to follow. And indeed it is, but you can only come upon it in a very individualistic and private way. You have to lead yourself to it. The way is the most prominent aspect of your character, at any given moment. The way is working itself out in you right now, at this instant. At every moment, that is what is happening in your life. So maybe you can see why this practice was originally called “Aikido”. These are very powerful symbols with huge implications. And realize that this word is meant to represent the potential that may be experienced.  This is not an understanding, exactly, but more like a way of being.  Hence the word “way.”

Lets go back to Ki for a moment.  We said the word “Ki” basically means “Life.” Many people think Ki, Chi, Prana, Mana, etc. are some form of energy. This is not wrong. But people conceive of energy as a kind of a force, as in, “I can extend my Ki to you.” Waaa!

But let’s look a little closer. Our bodies are made of organs, our organs are made of cells, our cells are made of molecules, our molecules are made of atoms, atoms made of subatomic particles, quarks, and so forth on down to the infinitely small. This can be seen, but of course only to a point. The problem begins when the things get smaller and smaller and smaller and “things” turn out to be not necessarily things. We think of a thing as an object, something substantial, matter. However, when the “thing” gets small enough, how you look for it dictates what it is when you find it. If you look at it a certain way, then it appears as matter, a particle. If you look at it in another way, then it appears as energy, a wave.  What we see is what the structure of this universe is comprised of. Which one? Well, one or the other, depending upon what you are looking for! You get a kind of Yogi Berra answer here. “When you come to a fork in a road, take it.” 

If we ask, “Is it that or is it this?”, the answer is “yes”. And this is not the same as saying it’s “both.” The answer to the question is “yes”. So, we find that the “essence” of this universal structure is not so easy to pin down and define, particularly when we look very closely at it.

Koichi Tohei Sensei said very simply, when we look closer and closer, that tiniest, infinitely small fundamental building block of life, is Ki. This “Ki” is the fundamental structure of what we call life. Whether it goes together to make a boulder, a racing stream, or human being, it doesn’t matter. You can take an atom out of a lizard’s tale and stick it in your brain and your brain won’t know the difference. It doesn’t matter, on that fundamental level. Of course, once it gets manifested and organized more, then of course it begins to make a difference. You can’t take an organ out of a lizard and put it in your body. Naturally, it doesn’t work that way.

So… at a fundamental level, all life is one; undifferentiated. Not one “thing”, now…we can’t say one “thing”. We are not able to say this is either a “thing” (particle) or an “energy” (wave).  We can say that it is one, meaning universally the same, in that it is completely interchangeable.  And don’t forget, it is what we are made of, nothing else.  And we can also say that it exists now, because it can only be perceived in the present, and so, for us, only exists here and now. It’s what this is right here. So in this sense, we can say the Life (Ki) is universal (everywhere the same) and present (always only now).

So…Ki equals Universal Presence. We see all these differences around us in the room, such as gray hair, black hair, brown hair, less hair, more hair. We see and experience these differences. And we know that if we look closely at anything we get to know it better. The closer we get to each other, the more we get to know each other. And at the same time, we all know that the closer we get to each other, in relationship, the less we see the differences and the more we see the sameness. We look at a coffee cup with an electron microscope and we know something about it that we don’t know by just glancing at it or drinking from it.  Similarly, when we move into closer relationship to a person or thing, we automatically have a deeper understanding and more awareness.  Like the coffee cup, we see each other quite differently than we would by a cursory glance or a hand shake. 

So, we can say that when we look very closely at anything at all, whether intellectually or emotionally, we are closer to seeing this universalness, or sameness. In fact, the differences are not at all fundamentally important. What is fundamentally important is this condition of sameness.  We can name this whatever we want. But we must be careful when we name it.  Be careful when we name it because, just like with a word like Aikido, whenever we give something a name it gives us the feeling that we understand it and we know what it is. 

You can see that we are talking about the fundamental essence of life that we call Ki. Other people may call it different things. They might call it God, Supreme Intelligence, Ground of Being, Essence, etc. In fact, there are an infinite number of names.

But I say “be careful” because every one of those names is charged. Of course they may be charged because we have been conditioned to think of them a certain way. But even more so, they are charged because each one has an opposite. Every one of those names represents something seen as “good”. That implies there must be something “bad” set off against it.  But if what you have named, which is presumably everything that is, is good, then how can there exist something that is bad? It would have to be outside of “everything that is”!

How can there be anything outside of what is? It is impossible. It may seem like there is something bad. When we want things to go a certain way and they don’t, then that seems bad to us. That is what we call “evil” in this world. When I want things to be a certain way and you don’t agree, you are evil, you are bad, because you are taking away my plan for my life in this universe. So as long as we can avoid defining things a such and so, and demanding that they be recognized and honored as such, then we can avoid setting up an opposite something that can threaten our definition.

So, we can see what a mine field we are presented with when we try to name this experience.  And it is an experience.  The unique thing about this is that, since it cannot be successfully named and defined, then it is something that is impossible to know about.  Yes, we can and do experience it directly, but the minute we try to pin it down as a “thing,” then we lose it.  

There was a crisis of consciousness in the physics world at the turn of the twentieth century, over 100 years ago. Up to that time we had been looking at the world through the eyes of Newtonian Physics. Life was considered a series of discrete subject/object relationships. Suddenly, up popped quantum physics and the theory of relativity onto the scene. This tends to blow old Mr. Newton out of the water. Suddenly we discover that everything is not certain, in the way that subject/object perspective gives us the tactile impression of certainty. Suddenly we are told that everything is uncertain. It turns out that what something is, depends on how you look at that something. 

This is so, but maybe hard to understand. Maybe you can even see this is true when you look at your friend or your spouse. How you feel about them in any one moment, depends upon how you look at them. Don’t we learn this after many years marriage? Therefore, we must be very careful how we view something or someone, because we may be surprised by what we see.

In other words, perception is every thing . And expectation controls perception.  So notice what you expect to see when you interact.

Two Truths:

Here is a problem from centuries and centuries ago. People have been breaking their brains on it. The question is how to resolve the “principle of two truths.” 

First, the world that we experience everyday appears to be made of discrete objects, observable by an inner subject.  That’s the way we see it.  And all of Newtonian physics is based on this, and provided as a proof of this.  And it is true. This is how it apparently is. This is how we sent a group of people to the moon. Everything technical that man has accomplished is based upon those principles. They are true, detectable, and dependable, as long as we are not looking very closely! Unfortunately, physicists, philosophers, and other concerned citizens, have found that when you look very closely at discrete objects, all that makes them unique and separates them evaporates, breaks down, and is apparently not so. 

So, we have two apparently different and contradictory realities here. Two truths. Through the centuries, each religious tradition has invented some way to deal with this problem, even Aikido. 

When Tohei Sensei established the Ki Society, he founded it on the principles that he felt brought these two truths together in a livable, realistic, practical way. It’s not practical to blame or credit something that is unprovable. In other words he wanted to find a way to use the physical world to confirm that which is un-seeable. If you can’t find something, you cannot prove that is does or does not exist. You can only prove something if you can find it, or at least find an indicator of that something. You have to somehow confront it in order to discover its true nature. If non- existence is its nature then of course you can’t find it. 

It is not at all a useful thing, to depend upon myths for one’s daily decisions. Tohei Sensei said “No.” We will make Ki Tests. A Ki Test brings these two truths together. In order to function optimally we have to have a complete grounding in both of these truths. We have to find a way to recognize them and live in both of them at the same time. It is called dual, non-dual. The nondual world and dual world must both be experienced at the same time, in the present moment. Both these realities are experienced and accepted at once. And at the same time we must see that they, in fact, don’t contradict each other. They are not contradictory, but are, in fact, co-serving.

We may find it difficult to see that these two truths serve each other. We tend to like to look at things one way or the other way. We must see them both at the same time.  The problem in the past has been that the two were looked at from an objective position, and therefore as complete opposites. But instead, they must be lived, co-experienced. This is why we call this “dual/non-dual,” both at the same time.

Aikido is the practice of being present. Or in other words, it is the adherence to the truth of this.  The truth is this, and of this at the same time. Just this right here. There are facts that are written or spoken about some moment or event. But we are referring to truth itself, not fact. Truth is just this here, not something about this here. It is what is actually happening and being experienced here and now. The “two truths” are two different perspectives, or views, if you will. There is a relative truth and an absolute truth. It does seem like they are against each other but in fact they are two ways of looking at the same thing. The relative world is not separate from the absolute, but is included as part of it.