Hello everyone. How nice to see you. Onegai shimasu. I will read Shokushu #8 tonight, “Plus Life.”
“The absolute Universe is one. Here two opposing actions appear and the relative world is born. This is called the yin and yang in the Orient and plus and minus in the West. A bright vigorous life is called plus life and a dark oppressive one is called minus. Let’s work towards a plus life by eliminating all minus ideas from now on.“
Tonight our third saying from Koichi Tohei Sensei is: “True beauty comes from within.”
One time, Lynn and I were in Florence, Italy, at the museum where the statue of David is. I’ll never forget this experience. It’s set up so you can walk completely around the statue. It’s Carrera white marble and I am sure most everyone has at least seen a picture of it. But if you haven’t seen it in person you might not realize how large it is, much bigger than human size. And it is so beautiful, so moving to be in the room with this that it made me weep. I thought “How strange!” It is spectacular, carved out of marble like that. The form alone is pretty amazing. But as I looked at this, I realized that the form wouldn’t have made me weep. It was something else. I couldn’t put my finger on what that something else was. And, of course, it’s beauty! As Tohei Sensei says, even in that case, or maybe especially in that case, the beauty comes from within.
Of course, we can say, “Well, it’s art.” It’s the art of expressing this hidden condition called beauty. I think we experience the beauty of something when we are able to perceive the hidden coming through it. This is when that which is unseen steps forward into our lives, right up to us, whether it’s in music or something written or a painting or a sculpture. We’ve all had the experience, I think, of really having seen someone that we thought was very beautiful, and then after speaking with them for a few moments thinking, “Hmm, not so beautiful.” On the other hand, I think probably you have seen someone who you didn’t think was so beautiful at first glance, but then all it took was a moment speaking with them, and you realized how beautiful they really were.
Maybe this is a good moment to take a break and do some Ki Breathing (16 min. Ki Breathing)
I’d like to begin by asking Sayaka Reasoner to read “True beauty comes from within” in Japanese for us.
(Reading in Japanese)
Thank you very much.
Ok. One time I was in Japan with Suzuki Sensei at a Taigi competition. There were these two young men performing and I was very impressed. They were amazing in their movement and I pointed them out to Suzuki Sensei and said, “Look at that. Isn’t that amazing?” He said, “Yes, they move very well but…no more Ki. Too bad.” I was immature at the time, and I didn’t have the insight. Basically, Suzuki Sensei was very keen on inner beauty, inner meaning. There is inner beauty and then there’s the expression of that inner beauty, but all true beauty can only come from within. That’s the only place it comes from. And I think Suzuki Sensei was trying to teach me again and again that fact that I didn’t really get. I was comparing. But it’s not that at all. Inner beauty is incomparable.
True beauty is when what cannot be seen is valued so deeply by the individual that it appears in whatever they’re doing that they love to do. It might be Aikido movement and it might not be. It might be painting or it might be writing or it might be riding a horse or paddling a canoe. I mean, it’s absolutely everything that mankind is capable of engaging in. The possibility is always here. That’s why we’re doing it: to find a way to be natural and so find our original condition and be true to that and have that shine forth.
I sent those papers out to you today. A lot of what I wrote there is describing what isn’t beauty and probably more of that than was needed. But it’s also very important in our lives that we notice what it is that we’re engaged in all the time. Because we spend an awful lot of our time not practicing shugyo, being too busy, too distracted, placing value on things other than what is. Because of our lack of confidence, we may tend to compare ourselves to other people. Whenever we’re comparing ourselves to other people, we’re dealing with form; not the art, but the craft. We’re wanting to borrow or copy something that we value as a fine form. But true beauty cannot be copied or borrowed or taken from another. True beauty only comes from you. It is your personal connection with Universal Mind, with the universal self. When that unification happens, then true beauty shines forth from each of us.
We all know what it feels like – sometimes we call it “being in the zone.” Tohei Sensei just calls it “mind-body unification.” And we also all know when it’s not present. This is why we’re doing this practicing of Aikido.
It might seem like a strange thing for Tohei Sensei to be talking about, this true beauty, but I think it’s very important. I looked up true beauty on the internet and all they have to say about true beauty is you have to learn to love yourself. At first I thought, “Well, that’s kind of a cliche.” But then, of course, this is true. I always say to you, “When you come to the dojo, don’t leave the bad part of yourself home and bring only the good part. When you come to the dojo, bring everything! Because that’s what we’re working with. It’s not that we have to find things that are bad and reject them or get rid of them. We do talk about transformation from something that’s, perhaps yes, less useful to more useful. But that transformation takes place because we accept the part of ourself that we couldn’t accept before. Of course, if we find someone out there with a characteristic that we don’t like and we tend to criticize, that’s because what we see over there in them is the part of us that we haven’t accepted yet. That’s the mirror universe. We talk about that a lot in our practice.
Tohei Sensei talks about putting a drop of clear water in a cup of tea. As we transform our subconscious mind, we put a drop of plus mind, every day or every moment, every thought, every word, every action. This is putting a drop of acceptance of who we are. I accept today this part that I didn’t accept yesterday, and then tomorrow I’ll accept that part that I can’t accept today. Each day we put a little more plus in our subconscious mind, we’re learning to care and accept it as it is, little by little, more and more. So more and more of our natural condition can shine forth, can overtake our life. Our natural condition is not our small mind. Our natural condition is that which we’re born with, our freedom. This is Universal Mind. Tohei Sensei calls this “taiga”: everything at once; or Suzuki Sensei called “living life completely,” which was his way of saying that.
When we love ourselves, when we love this unified being that we were born as and we will die as, then this shines through as true beauty. Whatever we try to do, any kind of expression we do – and even though we might be perfect in some kind of craft – if it’s not original and true then truly it won’t be beautiful.
Ok, so I’m going to let you discuss this among yourselves for 15 minutes.
Student: Hi. Good evening, everyone. Thank you for the subject. It made for a great conversation. We first talked about it being easy to think of true beauty as being our personal preferences like: “I prefer this kind of art or this kind of music.” Then we realized “Wait a second. No, that’s not it!”
I talked a bit about my experiences, like being out in the woods, or watching my child sleeping, or suddenly like being snapped into the moment. And then, as soon as I try to catch it, then it disappears. But that feeling – and it comes in all kinds of experiences – is not necessarily just visual: it can be music; it can be sensation; it can be many things.
It was great talking about beauty with Joelle Perz because of her experience as a painter. We talked about art and beauty and how the beauty that we’re talking about is not necessarily only beautiful, but also powerful. I don’t know the name of the painting that she was talking about: a Picasso painting about war, that is not beauty and beautiful in any conventional sense but completely powerful perhaps in the way that you were speaking about the David statue. Thank you.
I would say that for me this is not something that human beings can be knowledgeable about, because I think no matter what we say, true beauty is still a kind of mystery. It’s that which is unseen stepping forward into our life.
The painting that Joelle was talking about is Guernica, by Pablo Picasso. Guernica was a city in Spain that was allowed by Franco to be bombed as an experiment. He let the Nazi Luftwaffe come over and bomb the city just to get practice, and in the process murdered thousands of people. It was a very ugly thing. But the beauty is the feeling that you have when you see how caring, how much compassion is in this painting. I’ve seen it in Madrid. It’s astounding to stand there in front of it. It can be very hard to be in the presence of it. So yes, for sure it’s what she says: power.
But to me – I’m trying to put words on it. What I’m really saying, I think, is that maybe we can’t put words to it. Maybe as soon as we put words to it, we de-merit it in some way, we limited it in some way, we neuter it. It’s just so astounding to be in the presence of true beauty. And then to realize that it’s us: it’s you and me that it’s all about. We represent this somehow even if we don’t see it in ourselves, and most of us don’t, certainly not completely. We might see it here or there, but it’s because we don’t see that which is unseen.
Student: Good evening, Sensei. We were kind of wondering what does this saying “True beauty comes from within” have to do with Aikido practice and with Aikido practice in daily life? It seems like kind of how you said after meditation, it was something like: “When we accept ourselves fully, beauty shines forth.” I’m just wondering about that.
Yes. Well, what that’s really saying there is, if we think we know who we are, then maybe we don’t. Accepting is not judging. There’s a little bit of what I was saying about beauty in general that is kind of arrogant. Maybe it is even kind of ignorant to imagine that we understand this beauty. We understand so little. We don’t even know how we digest our food, for goodness sake. We have no idea how all this is happening. I run into this constantly because I’m always talking about the nature of the human being in this the teaching. Tohei Sensei’s whole system of teaching is based on what is the human being and how do we operate at an optimal level? How do we make ourselves available to that which is infinitely possible? How do we not limit ourselves?
Well, one of the ways we talk about that is saying, “we accept ourselves.” But accepting doesn’t mean, “Ok, I know exactly what I am now, and that’s OK.” It’s that no one knows what will arise next and no matter what arises, it’s OK. It just does not work at all to judge ourselves, because when we’re judging ourselves, we’re basically finding ourselves to be somewhere between extraordinarily special and unfortunately very ugly and nasty. There’s a big scale there, but we’re finding ourselves somewhere in between those two. That’s just bullshit! I’m sorry to say it that way, but it’s just absolutely deluded to imagine that it would be accurate or even useful to know ourselves that way. The feeling that arises when we accept ourselves is love. We call it love. You’re not loving something that you’re judging to be either bad or good. We just accept everything that are are, and then your beauty can shine forth as that is happening. Ok?
Student: Thank you, Sensei.
Student: Hello, everybody. We talked about several topics. One, there was some discussion about what you said when we criticize some behavior or way of being in another person, that must be because it is inside of us. Then, the discussion shifted to more general that everything that we perceive, we can only perceive when we have awareness, and when we do, then it all appears in us.
Basically, the realization is that how you feel is how you react to things that happen in the world. It’s not the thing itself that you feel, but your reaction to it. We didn’t really come up with a question but maybe you can talk about that.
When I lead the students in meditation at the beginning of class, they often come to class straight from work, or with home problems or financial problems. Some have arrived early – they are already sitting in meditation for several minutes – and they all look completely different when you look at them. Not the physical experience, which is of course different, but the look, if you look deeper. And then I lead the meditation, sometimes with words, leading them to a calm place where sometimes they use pictures: “You see the sky; everything is floating like clouds”; or be the sky maybe. Then I look and everybody has changed. It looks like they all look same now. Physically, of course, the features are different but they have the same look about them. But this is only see-able if the looker itself is in the same state. Otherwise you can’t feel it. So if somebody walked in from the street, he will just see a bunch of cabbages sitting there quietly. “What are they doing?” But if you are in the same place, you can see it. So maybe you can talk about that, Sensei.
Well, that’s a beautiful expression of it already. I’m not sure how much I can add to that. I remember when I first started Aikido and during the first years of my training, before I became a teacher, and certainly before I became the teacher of our group. At that time people would say things to me that they don’t say to me anymore. I used to hear people say, “I don’t understand. Are we supposed to be all the same? If we do this kind of practice, if we follow these principles, won’t we all just come to be the same? How dull! Because what makes us interesting is all these differences.” As if those differences were going to go away, or we were going to lose them in some way. Now, this is very humorous to me, but I remember it being a concern of everyone’s. And I suppose even today once in a while, I hear someone say or express that concern. They might say to me, “I’m afraid I’ll lose my edge. I’ll lose that which makes me dynamic.” It makes me wonder if they are thinking, “Then if we only have plus mind, how dull and bland is
that?” when actually it is just the opposite. This true beauty can only come out of us when we have plus mind.
I think that the way you expressed that was very nice because it’s happened, of course, to me also. I noticed this also about people. For instance, let’s just talk about this group here on Zoom. We’ve sort of been together now as a class for six or seven months. Just think about yourself as a member of this class and the ones that you interact with and if you don’t interact with, at least you watch or read about. Don’t we all have a feeling of a commonality of purpose, a commonality of realization, a commonality of commitment that wasn’t as completely there before? Maybe you had an individual or a unique personal sense of that yourself, but you might not have had that in your group.
One of the things we’re stretching out to touch is: What is the beauty of this kind of practice, which is so different than practicing in the dojo? We know what the drawbacks are. But what are the positive aspects of this? Why has it been so moving and meaningful to us? I think you, Olaf, really hit on it when you described the change that takes place just in a simple class of meditation from beginning to end. We tend to come into the dojo if not still dwelling on our problems, perhaps an echo of those problems is still bouncing around in us a bit. That’s why I always ask people to come to class quite early and sit for a while so that they get the feeling of being in the space with the people. And then this gives you kind of a head start. That’s why I always want you to come even to this Zoom class early. I do it. I go to the dojo usually a couple of hours early. There’s all kinds of reasons for that, but even this class I come on line at least half an hour before I’m going to open the class. That’s just to be in the space. Actually I come over here from my house to my office an hour and a half before the class starts to sit alone and be in this space. I’m not saying that you should do that. I’m just saying the real value is in the unseen. It’s being in the presence of the unseen, which is not as easy to do maybe when we’re at our work or when we’re out with other people or when we’re engaged in some other kind of activity. This is the beauty of what we’re doing.
Student: Hello, everybody. Hello, Sensei. We had a very lively discussion. A lot of wonderful parts of the topic came up. One of the things that was said is that, do we have to create this capacity of beauty or is beauty in the eye of the beholder? And how can there be a beholder if Curtis Sensei says, “You sit and watch a sunset and you shouldn’t be saying, ‘Oh, this is beautiful.’ You should be experiencing the sunset.” So how I wrap that up in a question, I guess, would be: Is there somebody beholding the beauty?
Ok. That’s sort of all over the place, isn’t it? Very interesting. “Is there someone beholding the beauty?” Of course, of course. There is a beholding taking place. Otherwise, you would not have anything to talk about. Of course there is someone beholding the beauty, but I think this point is important: It’s not about someone self- consciously judging the beauty. That’s kind of what I was trying to say before and I didn’t use the word “self-conscious.” When we’re in a relationship with another person, or with the sunset, it is the same. In the morning when I walk, I often come upon a group of deer in the area in my neighborhood. Of course, they won’t let me come near them, they’re wild dear. They always stop what they’re doing. I mean they’re generally eating grass, and when they perceive that I’m coming upon them – I’m still quite a ways away – they stop and turn and look at me for just a beat or two, a little longer than you might guess, and then one of them barks. And then they’re gone. They don’t run, they don’t gallop like a horse, they move in leaps. Anyway, they’re very beautiful and the beauty stays with me. They’re gone and I’m still experiencing the beauty until I notice that I’ve experienced the beauty and then my mind goes to all sorts of remarkable things about the deer, which is OK, too.
There is no wrong here, but the actual experience of beauty is not self-conscious in my experience. It is in no way self-reflective. Of course, of course. As soon as you become conscious of experiencing the beauty of a sunset – it’s not that you’re wrong then – it’s just that you’re not experiencing it anymore. Now you’re experiencing something else, the memory of it.
Of course, no matter what, there is a beholder.
Student: One person was feeling that they come in contact with beauty through nature. That’s when she’s moved. And then the challenging piece that we had was when you talked about when you’re judging someone on the outside, it’s something that you’re rejecting in you that you have some aversion to. It’s as if we don’t really want to accept the parts of ourselves that we deem as being ugly or wrong. So how do we make that shift to accepting what we’re rejecting in ourself?
That reminds me of something I discovered when I was an actor. There are some things that perhaps are not the greatest about being an actor, as a way of life. But the process, the art of acting itself, is quite interesting and I think very valuable for anyone to practice. That is because, in order to act, in order to adopt a character as yours, you have to actually accept all the burdens that that character carries. For instance, I had to play the role of Iago in Othello once. Iago is a very nasty fellow, very nasty. But you cannot play “nasty.” It doesn’t work. You have to actually understand and accept his circumstances which produce the actions and thoughts and words and emotions that come out of him. It’s someone else’s job to say that he is “nasty.” When you’re acting it, you’re that person. So you have to find all of those characteristics. Where do you find them? You can only find them in yourself. You cannot adopt them from someone else. You can copy form: accents, ways of walking, looks and costumes and so forth, things like that, ways of talking. Those are forms. However, you cannot imitate, or borrow, the emotion itself. That must genuinely come from within yourself.
This teaches you to accept the circumstances that brought about the result, and the result is that character. Then you look at your own life and you notice the things you don’t like when you say something that you shouldn’t have said or wish you hadn’t said or did something that was maybe not the best choice for you. You can see how that came about in you. If you’re noticing – that’s why I said the “Five Principles of Noticing” is going to come into this somewhere – then you see. If you’re really noticing, then you notice the source. How this conditioning came about in you is what makes you do this thing. And the thing itself, the process of speaking, that is only negative or only positive by virtue of some judgment from an outside person. Subjectively, you are this phenomenal being yourself. You are love. You are … every word that I want to use has an opposite, so I don’t want to use it.
Let’s remember also that when you say, “Well, when I see something that I don’t like over there, I need to recognize that it’s because of something in me,” this does not mean that the person doesn’t have a fault or isn’t doing something nasty, but that’s their problem which is for them to deal with. It is for me to deal with that conditioning in me that makes me react the way I do. This process of discovery is revealing that which is hidden. This seeing altogether is very beautiful, very meaningful. It is the beauty of being alive. That’s living our life. If we leave out the parts that we’re unsure about or unclear about or confused about or not feeling good about, then we’re missing much of everything. Then, there’s no way we can say we’re living our life completely, that we’re open to all possibility. Ok?
Student: Hello Sensei. Hello everybody. We had a wonderful discussion. The question we have is: When we are in the state of Universal Mind, do we see beauty in everything and everyone? Do we not get affected by negative attitudes or behaviors of someone? The reason we are asking is we would assume that when we are calm, we can see the beauty. One person even shared that when his mind is calm, he can see the person suffering behind the behaviors, bad behaviors. But still we have limitations that we cannot accept it. We still don’t see that’s beauty in there. One person said that the state of true beauty is to overcome these differences or mechanisms that we’re influenced by in our environment. When we have taiga or state of Universal Mind, can we still see the beauty in it, not just accepting it? That is our question.
Ok. I think I understand. This business of calmness can be kind of a slippery slope if we’re not careful. We’re not looking for a neutral state where everything is ok. We’re human beings. I think that I like this practice of otomo so much because by living with and hanging out with and traveling with, maybe just being with, my teacher so much and seeing every part of him and not just an idealized version of him as my teacher but getting to know him as a human being, without even saying this to me, he has influenced me. When he said, “Living life completely,” he meant all aspects of life. He was not a person that never got angry or never cried. I saw him crying. I was crying too. We once heard an opera singer, a young man sang for us at a restaurant dinner and he made us both cry. Suzuki Sensei was very emotional and very loving and very attached. Ok? He was a complete human being in every sense. He didn’t shy away from anything. But you would never say that he did not have a calm mind. I think when we practice something like Aikido, like mind-body unification, we’re really practicing experiencing everything on a much, much deeper plane. So trying to parse it into saying, “Well, if you see somebody who’s doing something wrong to you, do you not see the beauty in them anymore?” I think it’s missing the point completely. We’re not here for that kind of judgment anyway. I think we’re here to experience everything as deeply and as profoundly as our being is able. The more we open to the experience of our life itself, leaving nothing out, the more we’re able to experience it on a deeper and deeper level.
Student: What you’re saying is the definition of this beauty is much larger and deeper. Just experience everything as it is. Is that correct?
Yes, exactly. Student: Thank you.
Ok, thank you very much. I think that’s everyone and so I’ll say thank you again and good night. Domo arigato gozaimashita. See you all Sunday morning.
(Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei, 16. October 2020)