The Benefits of the Teaching

Hello everyone, welcome. Onegai shimasu. I hope everyone is well.

I will read number 20 of the Shokushu, called “Intoku.”

“Just like the number one can never become zero, our words or actions never disappear once they are created. A good action causes a good result, and a bad action causes a bad result. This always returns to ourselves.

A good action means acting without expecting a return, or getting attention from people, or bringing happiness and success to ourselves and to our descendants. This is called “Intoku” in the Japanese language. The highest form of Intoku is to practice the way of the universe, leading others and supporting their practice of this principle.”

I had a student one time, who wrote me and said that he had been hosting others, providing them with food and drink, and he was quite upset because he said he didn’t think they appreciated his hard work, and he didn’t think they gave him credit for what he had done for them, cooking the food, buying the wine and so forth and so on. He wanted to know what I recommended. So I recommended to him that he should charge money for hosting people at his home. And he told me he thought I was crazy. “You don’t ever charge money for people to come and eat from your kitchen.” I said, “Well then, it seems to me that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re expecting a reward for hosting, for giving something out of the goodness of your heart to your friends, and in this case your students, and even your teacher.” I don’t know if he understood. 

This is a principle that I want you to consider. Tonight, I promised you that we would talk about the benefits of this teaching, of Tohei Sensei’s teaching. And if we don’t understand Intoku maybe it’s going to be difficult to obtain all the benefits of Tohei Sensei’s teaching.

Okay, let’s do some Ki Breathing please …

(17 Min. Ki Breathing)

When Tohei Sensei asked me to come to his home on one occasion in the late 90s, he asked me if I would bring the Hawaii people together to form a new school, a Ki Federation, and would I please also teach on the mainland in the United States and in Europe. And he said, “By the way, don’t just teach techniques, but teach what is behind the techniques. Teach the Ki Principle that all the techniques arise from.” And when he said “Ki Principle” like that, he didn’t mean like the five principles of mediation or the five principles of Ki aikido or the five principles of breathing … Those are wonderful, but that’s not what he meant. When he says teach the principle behind, he means mind leads body. He means the experience of mind-body unification. 

You know, when I was a young man, I told you that I went to this 3-year retreat to learn to meditate. I was a voracious reader … from when I was a young boy I loved to read, because it let me be by myself and I liked being by myself a lot, and I liked the stories, I just loved reading, I loved literature. And so I told my teacher right away and he told me “but while you’re here you cannot read.” For 3 years there’s no reading. So that was kind of a shock and he said, “But you can read, as long as you study the world religions. So please while you’re here for these 3 years, study all the world religions and when we’re done you can tell me which one you want to do … if any.” So at the end of the period I said, “Actually I have no idea which I would choose, because they’re all teaching the same thing. It doesn’t matter.  Besides, they’re mostly filled with cultural things that have no application today, in any case. 

So he said okay, and I went my way, moved to Maui, and I was missing the formality of the training and I wrote him, telling him that I had met this guy Aitken, Robert Aitken Roshi, who was quite a well-known Zen roshi, who had, I think, The Diamond Sangha, he called it. It was a Zen group. And I met him and I was intrigued and I wrote my teacher and I said I want to do this, and he said, “Yes, he’s a very good teacher but not for you. So sorry!” Well, I thought we decided it didn’t matter, you know. “Oh yes it matters! For you it matters! You need to do a Zen-based martial art.” I had no real idea what a Zen-based martial art was. It didn’t occur to me that it was Aikido. I had a little experience with Aikido in the theater in the years before when I was and actor in New York City. But it didn’t occur to me. 

I think most of you already know the story here … that I searched around until I found out and was led to Shinichi Suzuki Sensei, and Wailuku Aikido Club, it was called in those days. And Suzuki Sensei said to me, among the other things I’ve told you, he told me, “Whatever you do, stop shopping around! You decide, if this is what you want, then you do this now and you do only this and you do it 100%. You go all the way deeply into this!” So you know, 20, 30 years later, when I was at Tohei Sensei’s home and he was asking me to do this, and he was telling me what and how to teach… if Suzuki Sensei said had not taught me that I could not have understood what Tohei Sensei meant, you know.

This can be very difficult, because we al, as human beings, want a reward, and Keiko practice is where the rewards come in. Aikido is very valuable in this way. If anything, it probably saved most of our lives. Ki breathing is so healthy and good for us, right? And not just physically, not just oxygenating the blood and getting rid of impurities, as Tohei Sensei said. But it’s teaches us such deep sense of peace and quiet and calmness. It’s not that this is not available somewhere else. It is; it is. But nowhere else, that I’ve ever heard of, has what you call Ki Tests. Tohei Sensei invented the Ki Test. When he was studying, Tohei Sensei had basically 3 teachers: Ogura Sensei, who was the Misogi teacher, where he learned Misogi; and O Sensei, of course, who taught him Aikido and how to relax; and then Tempu Nakamura Sensei, who taught him mind leads body, mind moves body, mind-body unification. And he taught him Ki Breathing, which he actually brought from India. At the time, Tempu Nakamura had been training in India and came back, and Tohei Sensei sought him out and asked him about it. He said, “well you need to learn to do Ki breathing.” So these things became an early part of Tohei Sensei’s teaching. 

I’ve said so many times, there’s no original teaching. Anybody who claims they’re teaching something original is missing the whole point. And if you’re valuing something because you think it’s original, you are also missing the point. It’s like, yes, Chris Curtis and Toby Voogels and Joelle Perz are unique and original. One-of-a-kind. It’s true; but that’s not the significant part of us. This is how we chose to express ourselves in this lifetime, yes. But it’s not Keiko that counts.  It’s not the technique, it’s not the form that counts, folks. It’s not this smart philosophy. It’s what’s underneath everything. I told Toby Voogels the other day, “Even when you see the tree, and it sparks something in you and you see something you’ve never seen before, that’s still not it. That’s just “it” peeking through to you. So all of this teaching – to benefit from this teaching – we always have to see at every moment when we are practicing, we have to see what’s peeking through, what’s underneath this. How does it arise in us, in you, today, at this moment? How is it arising? How is it informing you?

You know, Tohei Sensei was very big on Aikido in the dojo, of course, but much bigger on Ki in daily life, the name of his book, “Ki in Daily Life.” You know, we have Keiko practice, and this is self-improvement practice, and it’s something that is very important and very useful, and every form of spiritual practice offers self-improvement. If it doesn’t, you can’t get started. You have to have a goal to practice towards. Otherwise you won’t stick around. But at the same time, at some point, you do have to realize that the goal is always out there in the future somewhere. We have to transcend that, we have to move beyond Keiko, at some point. Otherwise, we’re just stuck in form, stuck in ideas, stuck in philosophy, stuck in conceptions, stuck in things that give you reward. I said in the beginning in my little story about my friend: if we don’t get that, if that’s not what we’re noticing in ourselves, which is our practice, to notice, then there’s not much chance of really benefiting in the highest way from this practice. 

Some teachers will tell you that theirs is the only way, And they usually offer as proof of that, that only through their teaching and through them can you reach this highest level, the highest level of realization. But I want to suggest that if you hear that from someone, that’s still Keiko, because “highest” is still relative. Relative to what? He wants you to get better and better and better and better, and that’s all fine, but that’s not what Tohei Sensei was teaching. Yes, he was teaching all that. Get better. But that’s not what is really behind this practice, and what the real benefit is. 

Now, I know, when I say benefit I’m talking like that is a reward. But it’s not that kind of thing; it’s not that kind of benefit. It’s the benefit that happens in spite of us instead of because of us. In Keiko training, all the benefits apparently happen because of our effort. You know, there’s a kind of cause and effect apparently happening there, there’s a risk-reward, there’s an effort and a return for that effort, as there should be. Like when you invest some money you expect to get some return. This is the same kind of thing. This is very straightforward.  But you’ve heard me, I’ve written many times in the things I write about, like in my books: the real practice doesn’t work that way. Real practice is resting in your one point, present and open, with no judgment and no requirement and no expectation. It doesn’t mean that you have to accept everything that happens. Sometimes I say that, like the fourth principle, we say you have to show up, (the 4 principles of practice) you have to show up, you have to open to whatever’s happening, you have to follow along without judgment, and then you have to accept the results without editing. And that’s fine; I didn’t make those 4 principles up; they came from someone else. But like I said, there’s nothing original in anything, in any case. But in this case, the longer I live the more I feel that the fourth one is not quite getting to it. Because when I “accept” without question, I always seem to miss something. I’m not saying “accept,” and I’m not saying reject anything. Please don’t reject anything; but don’t accept it either. Just be here for it. Just be here for it whatever it is. And you know what I’m talking about are not things that other people do. It doesn’t matter what anybody else does. I’m talking about what happens inside of you when somebody else does something. I’m talking about what arises in you when you’re sitting in meditation; what arises in you when you’re on the mat and you’re training with another person. That’s what we notice. And it’s what that arises out of ultimately, that we rest in.

So, when we’re practicing Shugyo, it’s basically empty-full. It’s basically everything that happens. No matter what is happening, it’s just happening, and you’re just here for it, and you’re fine with that. We’re not trying to alter any condition of any kind. We’re not trying to get more pleasure, we’re not trying to get less pleasure. We’re not trying to get less pain, certainly not trying to get more pain. (Although you know some people do that.) The Buddha said that his teaching is only to put an end to suffering. Suffering is our reaction to pain coming and pleasure going. When we accept that, when we reject something, when we react in our own mind-body, to the condition of pain or pleasure that’s present in our life at this moment – and that’s always happening, no matter how quiet and peaceful you are, there’s a fear that you’re well aware of. If it’s peaceful that’s pleasure; if it’s quiet and calm that’s pleasure, right? And so you want to keep that, you want to hang on to that, and you’re going to want to repeat it tomorrow. That’s not bringing an end to suffering; that’s not following the teaching of Tohei Sensei. Tohei Sensei said the purpose of our practice is to experience oneness with the universe. Non-separation. Okay, so that means everything, folks. That means whatever is, is you. Whatever is, is not separate from you. It doesn’t mean that it exclusively is you, your small self. It is you in a very mystical way, in a very mysterious way, in a way that is peeking through at every moment, right now.

Okay, so I’ve kind of talked a long time here. I’d like to hear what you have to say about this. I’d like to start with Olaf Schubert

Student:  Thank you very much, Sensei. And hello, aloha. Benefiting of the teaching. This current situation that we are in now for almost 2 months now, this really showed me that there are benefits of the teaching beyond what we normally think of as benefits of the teaching. So noticing this quiet is completely opposite of what ten years ago I would have reacted to this similar situation. We didn’t have any situations with the reverberations that could happen and at the beginning I was astonished how that did not upset me at all. If this is not one of the benefits of our training then I think this is the one. To be, not brush it aside, but just be in it.

Can you see what I said, though, about the distance between this kind of benefit and the kind of benefit that you expect as a result of an action?

Student:  Yes.

This is a gift. This is grace –in Christianity, they call this “grace.” It’s always present, and not because of us. And not just when the coronavirus is here … I remember you 10 years ago, you know. I think I met you at that time or a little before that. Yeah, so it’s always present. This is always here. I keep saying peeking out, making the possibility or the offering. It’s almost like, you know, Oz behind the curtain, but except there’s no Oz. And there doesn’t need to be; we don’t need to name something. It’s already everything. Well, I’m sure you’ve noticed over the years, my experience with all this has also changed, considerably. But you know, that was 20-some years ago when Tohei Sensei said that to me. And so, maybe I didn’t quite get everything that he was implying, but I’ll never forget it and it has guided me. I was saying things like this to you when I came to Europe and to the European students some 20 years ago … the same thing, already I probably told that story that you just heard a thousand times, because that’s so dear to me. It’s so important, it was so important to him that he said “Don’t forget, this is what I want you to do when you go to teach in all these places that I want you to teach. I don’t want you to just go over there and show off.” He considered people that appreciated techniques too much to be lacking in their understanding of the teaching. He said that to me often. He would say “yes, if a person is too much into techniques, probably he doesn’t understand my Ki principle. And again, when he said Ki principle he’s talking about mind-body unification, not talking about some individual principles.

Someone else. Thank you very much.

Student:  Hello, Sensei. 

Please, hello.

Student:  It falls to a way of a mind that seeks truth, and while practicing we get that feeling through the Ki test that that’s the true practice. 

Yes? And …?

Student: And the more we feel this practice is our subconscious dwelling in our mind, the mind that seeks truth in our practice. And not only that’s within ourselves, the mind that seeks truth.

Okay, so can I say something about that? 

Student:  Yes.

Remember, all these sayings that we have …for instance, Kyudoshin, is the Japanese word for “the mind that seeks truth,” Kyudoshin. When we translate them into English, sometimes it alters the meaning. For instance, truth is a relative thing, it’s a fact. Something is the truth or something is not the truth. It’s possible to seek the truth. An investigator needs to seek the truth, a police investigator. If he’s investigating a murder, he must seek the truth, that’s important. In the relative world, when you’re getting a PhD you must seek the truth. Ok? When you’re trying to learn a technique and how to move in the way the teacher is moving, you must seek the truth. But Tohei Sensei, when he says Kyudoshin, he’s saying “seek the true”, “seek that which is true.” When he says “the purpose of our practice is to be one with the universe,” we’re not seeking to be one with the universe, we already are one with the universe. So it means to realize or to experience or to awaken to the fact that you are one with the universe, that there is no separation, that wherever we look that’s the mirror universe, that’s you. So our original condition is true already.  It’s impossible to be false if we’re in Shugyo, because there’s no reward there. But in Keiko it’s very easy to be false, because there is reward.  There might be money involved, or approbation, or some credit to us. That’s the danger of Keiko. Because that’s where manipulation and control and falsity, deceit, come into the picture, because there’s a reward possible. That’s where thievery came from, that’s where criminality arises; because there’s a reward. 

My teacher told me one time, it’s possible for the Whore of Babylon to become again the chaste virgin. That’s you and me, my friend; not somebody else. He meant by that what Tohei Sensei means when he says Kyudoshin. We are necessarily open to this seeking, awake to our original condition, which is the chaste virgin, which is true innocence, no judgment, no doubt, because there can be no deceit when you’re true and original.

Student:  Thank you for the clarification for the truth.  Truth means a lot of deeper meaning behind that. 

Yeah, I think so. Of course, that’s my sort of response to everything. It is that there’s something behind whatever we think, whatever we feel, whatever we experience, there’s something beneath it that can be revealed. Everything is revelatory. Every single moment is a moment of revelation. It’s available right here to you and me, but we think it’s later or somewhere else of for somebody else or this is not the important moment, that’ll be the important moment. No, no, no, this is all there is! There is no other moment! It’s only this. So, thank you.

Someone else.

Student:  Longtime listener, first time caller. Suzuki Sensei used to teach “easy come, easy go.” And when I was a very new student that was very relieving to me because he said you can have it right now. To sustain it is the hard part. And that has never stopped. It just keeps going and going and going.

Thank you very much. “Easy come, easy go.” Yeah, I remember … So I can show you, I can show anybody how to Keep One Point. Today, the first day they come in the dojo, you know that, they can have this experience. But of course, without me there, it’s not going to be lasting for tomorrow. And when we get together we have meditation class, the same thing happens. If I’m here with you, not just me, but if the teacher is here, the experienced person is sitting with you – then you tend to have a deeper experience. That’s why I’m suggesting to everyone that when they get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to breathe, or sit, that you do it with me, that you do it with every person here, that you realize that physical presence ultimately is not… I can’t say it’s meaningless… but it doesn’t offer what you think it does. It’s already there, folks, because you are it. You already have that available. That is arising in you at every moment. We don’t believe that, I know, we don’t think that way. It’s what causes us to seek out companionship. And again this is Keiko not Shugyo. Yes, companionship is wonderful. I really appreciate my companion in life, my wife! I really appreciate companionship with you folks! But I’m learning that it’s not so much that we have to be in the same room together at the same time. In fact, that’s not really the point. I mean, let’s keep going to the dojo, please, and let’s keep having seminars. But take note, practice this so you have this experience too.

Student:  Hello, Sensei.  I was just thinking about the benefits of the training. It often doesn’t feel like there are any benefits; it’s more like a burden sometimes to me, because of this judgment that I have in my mind. That was what went through my mind when you were talking about the benefits of our training.

Okay, let me just tell you – maybe I told you this before – when Tohei Sensei first asked me to be Chief Instructor of Hawaii, assemble Hawaii, I was so stoked. I was proud that he asked me. I thought, “Wow, I must be something very special!” You know, I didn’t do that out loud to myself or I would have embarrassed myself, you know, but it was in there. And do you know how I found out it was in there? Because I found myself in my bedroom on the edge of the bed one day sitting there, really, really deeply disappointed that he had asked me to do this, when there was no way I was going to be able to fulfill it properly. I was in tears! I was like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Take this from me, oh Lord! take this burden away from me!” But, that’s what made it all work! If you don’t have that moment, I pity you. Because you’re full of yourself. Where’s your humility? This is good for you – this is progress! I like to hear about this burden you are carrying. It’s only a poor sucker, that thinks there’s pleasure in every moment. And you have to teach, so you wouldn’t want to teach that, would you?

Student:  No. 

I know. Well you’re very fortunate. In fact, most all of us are fortunate in this way. We are so fortunate to have homes to live in, and food to eat and beautiful families, you know, or even if we don’t have big families, maybe some day we will. Or wherever you came from has allowed you to have the time and the inclination to come and do this today, with me. See, yet 99% of the world is not here and there are reasons for that. They’re not here because they’re all out trying to survive right now. How is it that we get to be here? Are you remembering that at every moment? Are you remembering to be grateful for that? Who else has what you have? You’re just loaded with gifts. My daughter calls those burdens you have, “first world complaints,” because in some sense it doesn’t come up as a problem unless we have time for it to be a problem. They don’t complain about that particular thing in Syria, probably, or Yemen. 

Student:  That makes me feel worse, Sensei. Ha ha!

So it’s good that you have a sense of humor, that’s true. That will probably save your ass one of these days, if not already. It’s always so nice to see you.

Student:  Thank you, Sensei. 

Student:  Hello, Sensei. Hello, everyone. Yes. When you were telling us that we always have expectation, I never thought of benefits in this way, being beyond expectation. So I looked at them like this for the first time. I never thought it. You explained what the benefits are. Because you always have expectations, what it should be and look like.

Well, as I said, and as everyone knows, I’m always wanting to go behind the curtain, to go deeper into whatever it is that we’re experiencing. And that habit is from sitting a lot. When we sit a lot, over many, many years watching things arise, well, when you learn to sit just resting in whatever is arising, it’s always coming more and more, and revealing more and more as long as you have the attention to stay with it.

Do you see?  If you don’t have the attention this cannot happen. That’s why you want to do lots of sitting, because you’re building your capacity, your power of attention is becoming stronger and stronger. And if you really want to see what’s behind whatever it is that’s arising in your mind, a thought, a feeling, even a memory, or a foreboding … whatever it is that’s arising, there’s a reason for that, there’s something behind it, there’s something much deeper. And then, you know, there’s something behind that.

You know, Tracy Reasoner, in his class the other night, told us about the 5 why’s. He said that he likes to use these in his beginning class. He asks the new student “Why did you “ And they say, “Oh well, because I heard it was really great.” “Well then, why do you want something really great?” “Well, because I heard…” you know, it keeps going … and by 5 questions of “why,” maybe you get to the real answer. But let me tell you that it’s not 5, folks, it’s infinite. It just keeps going and going. But you will not be able to enjoy this as much if your power of attention is weak, because you’ll become distracted, you won’t stay with it, you won’t stay in it. You all know that some days your attention is much better, and some days your attention is much worse. People say, oh I was just thinking, thinking, thinking. And that too, even though maybe that will always happen to you, over time, maybe not so much. It’s all about attention, which is really what Suzuki Sensei would call “awareness.” It’s just resting in awareness in the one point in the lower abdomen.

All right. So that’s the end of our class. Thank you very much for coming and I will see you all Sunday morning.

Domo arigato gozaimashita

(Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei, 1. Mai 2020)