Hello everyone. Onegaishimasu. I hope everyone is very well tonight. Okay. I have a Shokushu for you. #7, Living Calmness.
“In a natural state, the weight of objects is always underside. The experience of calmness in our body occurs when every part of our body is naturally underside. Calmness is the state of mind that reflects all things clearly, like the still surface of water. If there’s a moon, a moon appears. If there’s a flying bird, a flying bird appears. Calmness is our original and natural state. If we can understand this, we can experience true living calmness.”
I thought that was appropriate for our subject tonight, which is Tohei Sensei’s saying: “When you are one with the universe you can know universal wisdom.”
Sayaka, could you read that in Japanese please?
Okay. Thank you very much.
Tohei Sensei used to start his public demonstrations quite often by saying “I am the center of the universe.” He particularly loved to say it in the West where it drove people crazy, but he of course quickly followed with “And also each of you are the center of the universe.
So, when I tell you that I am one with the universe, I will quickly add that each one of you is also one with the universe. Of course, you know this because it’s our birthright. Tohei Sensei says here, “When you are one with the universe, you can know universal wisdom.” Well, you are one with the universe. He doesn’t say you will know universal wisdom. He says you can know universal wisdom. Meaning, it’s possible. It’s not probable, at least not immediately. For most of us, we are a long way from universal wisdom as a perpetual state. In other words, we are each born of the Ki of the universe. We are perpetually one with the universe, but because of how our conditioning has been constructed in our subconscious mind, we’re basically blind to this fact.
So, we are not experiencing being one with the universe all the time. Now, for each one of you probably there have been times when each of you have had a moment of being one with the universe, recognizing that oneness, that it came up in you. So, you had a moment of universal wisdom. This is like a sudden realization. Shinichi Sensei likes to call it “Ki ga tsuku.” In other words, this is an “aha” moment. A moment of sudden realization. “Oh, so that’s what’s going on!” So, as you can maybe see, there are levels and levels to this. When someone tells you a joke and you get it, then that’s universal wisdom. Well, that’s at least wisdom of some kind. It might not be universal, but recognizable because everybody in the room gets it.
Tohei Sensei was interesting. He was constantly looking for the principle, or even the “truth” as he might say, that is a universal truth. One that everyone can agree to. This kind of thing is very difficult because we have so many cultures in this world that are so different, and we have so many different ways of perceiving and…well, even so many different ways of requiring. Our culture requires, or the society we live in requires, that we perceive things in a certain way, and if we don’t see them that way then it says there’s something wrong with us.
Tohei Sensei was always looking for that which transcended that cultural requirement.
A good example would be the golden rule. I think every human being understands that it is good advice to always treat others the way you would like to be treated. Don’t you think so? Those are the kind of things that Tohei Sensei was always looking for, and so this pleased him no end to say that everyone is the center of the universe because no one can say “not me.” First, you have to look, and if you can’t see then you can’t say. Same thing with universal wisdom.
The five things that come to mind when I think about this subject, are those that are about what has to be happening in us for universal wisdom to emerge, and those five things are calmness, insight, common sense, humility, and patience. I’ll go into those maybe a little bit more later on. I think I’d like to do some Ki Breathing now.
(13 minutes of Ki Breathing)
So, Tohei Sensei says we must be one with the universe to discover universal wisdom. So, then that means wisdom is not some kind of an esoteric add-on, something to be gained or something to be learned, like knowledge, but is something innate. It’s something we’re born with. It’s something to be discovered, and as I mentioned, there are things that stand in the way that make it difficult for us. Assumptions. Expectations. You know, when we have built up a character like this, like we all have, we naturally have certain kinds of expectations. A good example is when we sit in meditation. We’ve read books. We’ve talked to other people. We’ve talked to teachers. We’ve heard all about it. So, we kind of think we’re just waiting around for “it” to happen. On the one hand that is a natural thing for us to go through, but on the other hand somehow expecting to come upon something in the future may be pushing that away because it’s always out there in the future, like a goal, right? An expectation is like a goal, an assumption that something will happen.
These words that I gave you may give us a lot of hints about the nature of this experiencing being one with the universe, and so experiencing something that might be called the universal wisdom.
Calmness is the first one. So, when we’re sitting…you know, we already know if we just listen, close our eyes and listen very carefully, we instantly become very calm. The same thing if we just look at everything all at once without any judgment or expectation, we become very calm, and it’s just paying attention that makes us calm. It’s as simple as that folks. So, when we’re in meditation, we’re feeling, with this same kind of attention, we’re feeling being in our body, and this feeling we must have had when we were in the womb because it’s completely familiar and natural, and it feels like who we are. It feels original. It feels like it doesn’t need any changing, okay?
So, at this point, let me just say something here. You know, I said we’ve all had the experience of awakenings, little awakenings, okay? In Zen they call them kensho. I like that. They have a name for it. That’s cool. You know, in the West, we don’t have any name for this. We just say something like “Aha, I got it!” But if you want to talk about some realization on a little higher level, something that is closest to our original condition, then this is what they call kensho. What is that like? It’s like…the mind stops in this moment. The constant inner gossip, the persistent instructions, the judging, the assumptions and expectations that go on in our mind as a result of what’s in our subconscious. These things stop. When we get very, very calm because we’re paying deeper and deeper attention, they stop. And when that happens there is a kind of an awakening. So, we sort of go from here, can you see, up to here, this new level, let’s say. Now, once you’re at this new level, there’s a little coming down off of that, but you don’t ever go back to where you were before it happened. It can be quite a thrill when this little awakening happens, but then gradually you become used to it. What happens is that our mind and body become used to being a vehicle for that much more energy. Now, we can know that much more of our original condition, and so that much more universal wisdom is available to us, and this whole ladder continues through our life. Every time there’s an awakening, there’s a movement up to more clarity, and then there’s learning to live in that, and so on and on.
If through the years of you continue practicing and if your practicing is more intense then it may begin happening sooner, and if it’s less intense then it’s later or not at all. But as you’re practicing you become used to living closer and closer and closer to this universal condition. Tohei Sensei’s calling this “universal wisdom” not “universal knowledge.” In other words, it’s not knowing something that you didn’t know before. There’s nothing to learn in this regard. It’s just getting peeks at, and then learning to live in, the presence of our original condition.
As these things are happening, characteristics come up and serve to make it more likely for us to awaken to our original condition, and calmness was the first one I mentioned. You know, calmness is just resting in this condition very deeply with all of our attention. In other words, Tohei Sensei says weight is always naturally underside. The weight is automatically underside with each atom in our body, as long as there’s no unnecessary nervousness, anxiety, stress, attempts at acquisition, ambition.
The second one is insight. Of course, insight is our ability to see into a situation, or even a person, penetrating the illusion. Insight is a sudden seeing into the way it actually is. So, that’s why our practice is noticing. When true noticing is happening, we can call this insight. That’s really seeing into what’s going on, what is arising in us, and what’s going on outside of us. Something arising outside of us can often be something that we don’t agree with, we don’t like, and that’s the one that’s most likely to awaken us. This is because when we don’t like something it means that there’s something that we’re not seeing about ourselves. I’ve often been a very arrogant person in my life, and a lot of my expectations came from that way of seeing the world. And so when I began to notice this, to become aware of this arrogance, the first thing I thought was, well, that means I’ve got to get rid of this arrogance because I’ll never be my natural self unless I get rid of it. However getting rid of it is like fighting against it. So it turns out that it was quite arrogant of me to think that I could get rid of arrogance! That’s the ego trying to get rid of itself. It’s insane. So, it’s not that at all. It’s learning to accept and own your own condition, no matter what it is, and then it’s much easier to live with because it doesn’t have the power to enslave us any longer. It gets its power when we are unaware of it, or when we are aware of it, by making us ashamed of it, by making us think we have to get rid of it, that it’s bad. Whenever we think something is bad, right, that takes us away from our original condition. That moves us away from calmness. It moves us away from insight.
The next one is common sense. Now, of course, what this really means is “good sense” because that’s not always common, but we say, in English we call that common sense. This is a little bit like saying, “Come on. Get off of it. Just pay attention and you’ll see what is commonly known, which ought to be obvious.” Let’s put it that way, it is seeing that which should be obvious to you. This is common sense.
The next one is humility. We often assume the opposite of humility is arrogance. But really the opposite of humility can also be seen as ambition, because ambition is the ultimate of the ego thinking it is in charge of its own welfare, and if it doesn’t manipulate and control its own environment, then it will never become what it wants to become. This just works against us when we’re talking about our original condition because what keeps us from seeing it are these layers of self-control that we adopt. So, when we let that go, then we can maybe have humility.
The last one of course is patience. Very, very difficult for all of us. We’re having a difficult time, aren’t we, right now waiting to find out who becomes President of the United States of America [This was before the election took place.]. It’s taking a long time. So, it’s testing everyone’s patience, but patience is not waiting for what you expect to occur. True patience is like the story about the farmer and his son and his wife and the horse I’ve told you so many times. True patience is just like “Well, we’ll see. We’ll wait and we’ll see what happens.” It might be that what’s going on right now might be a good thing for me. It might be a pleasurable thing for me. It might be a painful thing for me and you. We don’t know yet. Patience is setting it aside, resting here in the moment, and so we’re all working with that right now in that particular situation, but it’s true with everything we do.
I want to say one more thing about intelligence. Intelligence is not necessary for universal wisdom. It might help, or not, but it’s not required, and having intelligence by no means indicates that you have universal wisdom. Those are not the same thing at all. Some of intelligence may be innate, and of course it also can be developed. But intelligence refers to our ability to qualify and quantify knowledge, which is knowing about something, what it’s made of, how it works, etc. That’s all fine, but that is not universal wisdom. This cannot be developed. It can’t be obtained. It can’t be improved upon. It is an original condition. It is the original condition of our original condition, being one with the universe.
Student: This is a challenging topic, I think. Eventually we came around to the idea that we have a sense that it just somehow happens sometimes. Sometimes we have glimpses, or we have moments of understanding that seem clear, and they come suddenly and oftentimes when least expected, doing menial tasks or maybe even sleeping, and it’s like something that’s clear and just compelling. Maybe its’s a decision that has to be made that suddenly appears clearly. We also spoke about, you know, this idea of the empty cup of not knowing and not thinking, and so I guess the question that we’d like to ask is what is the relationship between not knowing and universal wisdom?
That’s a good question. During the 14th century someone wrote a book called “The Cloud of Unknowing.” The author is anonymous, and he was a Christian mystic. Basically, the Catholic church, like any organization that’s aiming toward awakening, had lots of ritual, lots of rules, lots of things to follow, to pursue in order to become one with God, and the fellow who wrote this just got tired of all that. You know, illumination in surfeit. He just got tired of it, and he said no, that’s not it at all. We are all getting in our own way with all this stuff. We need to accept that we don’t know anything, and just follow the way of the universe. That’s what we say in Ki-Aikido. Follow the way of the universe, which means just be your original self. I always say that awakening is being able to accept that we don’t know anything, and it’s okay. This is living in the cloud of unknowing.
Student: You mentioned earlier about Tohei Sensei liking transcending society and culture with an idea that everyone can agree to, or that no one can disagree with, and how he was looking for those things, and so he came up with “I am the center of the universe and all of you are the center of the universe.” Conceptually, I think about it and it was probably explained to me this way that since the universe is infinite, the center is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, but what does it mean? I am the center of the universe experientially? How does that translate to actual practice?
As long as we’re in a body, we live in a place of time and space with dimensions to it. It’s measurable. I am over here in Maui and you are over there in Seattle. We know this. We live in a world like this. So, we think of this. We must, he’s suggesting, think of this as the center and everything else is the universe, okay?
Let me give you the metaphor of breathing. So, Ki Breathing is whole body breathing, okay? So, that’s just the body and mind breathing itself in and out, in and out, in and out, filling up, empty, fill up, empty. But then in universal breathing, you’re the center and you breathe out through the whole universe, and then when you breathe in you take the whole universe into, right? And then there’s one more stage after that, and that’s called musoku, or “no one breathing,” okay? So, the center is what we need to work with as we’re in a human body because we are subjectively looking at everything as objects, including our own the body, with us as subjects. So, Tohei Sensei says go to the very center of that, and that is infinitely small, and then look out there and see that that’s infinitely large. So that, if you’re in your original condition, that will instantly make you experience musoku. That will instantly make you see “oh, it’s all infinite.”
I am not sure I am giving you the kind of explanation you are looking for here. When we talk about being the center of the universe, it’s actually a very relative thing, isn’t it? I think that’s what I’m trying to get across. The body doesn’t last forever, but as long as we’re here in this body, in this dimensional space, we can experience the center of it all the time in this way, okay?
Student: Thank you, Sensei.
Student: I think our question was about the relationship between knowing and innocence, which in essence means not knowing, right? Like, there is a moment when you are enlightened by a sudden knowing. You have an “aha” moment, and then you start thinking about it. “So, how does that affect my view on things?” And I wonder if the moment you start reflecting upon the aha moment and how that influences your views, is that the moment when you lose it, the wisdom of the universe, or can it be also a part of conscious deliberation?
Thank you. Thank you very much. That…it’s very easy to tie ourselves up in knots with this kind of questioning and answering. So, instead, maybe think of it this way. You’re in the dojo and your opponent is standing in front of you and they proceed to attack you, shomenuchi, yokomenuchi, munetsuki, whatever. When they’re standing there, you need to be in an original condition. If you’re reflecting on the moment, he’s going to smack you before you even know to move, right? So, you have to be very open, which means very empty of any kind of reflection. And this is why we talk about all this stuff as a feeling to begin with.
Tohei Sensei’s very strict about making sure that we could actually stand in front of another person and allow them to attack us while being in a completely empty state of judgment or thought, of concern or anxiety or worry about what to do or how to move. So, that answers your question very well. That’s the purpose of these classes. You know, when we have…I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because we are having class after class after class and now we’re using Tohei Sensei’s phrases, which are brilliant and very suggestive and really awaken all this stuff in our minds. However, I want to caution us to always remember the purpose of this. It’s not just in the dojo course. It’s Ki in daily life, but so just when you sit down with your partner to discuss these things, try not to have an agenda. Just listen. We all have to constantly notice when we’re having some sort of a struggle with trying to understand what’s going on instead of just emptying out and listening and being there with the other person, to see what’s happening. Okay. So, that’s really my answer to your query. Thank you very much.
Student: Our question is, when we accumulate all these aha moments, do we ever go back and recreate that not knowing from that aha moment? Can we miss that mark of that aha moment when we’re in our practice by doing that?
Of course. We miss it all the time, if I understand what you’re saying. You can never go back to a moment of recognition, an awakening, because the recognition is not an intellectual one. It’s an experiential one, and it always comes out of nowhere. You don’t see it coming, because everything just stops suddenly.
I will tell you this story, which just takes a moment. I can tell you about this one moment, one of the first times I had one of these moments. I was just chopping vegetables, and someone knocked loudly on my front door of my little apartment that was in New York City, and suddenly, just as I heard that sound, everything dropped. All the anxiety, all the tension, all of that just fell away suddenly, and there was nothing left. Why did this happen? I don’t know. I mean, why did that happen at that moment? I don’t know. What I just said is all I remember of it, but it’s me remembering this phenomenal experience that I had, and when I remember it, I get a little tingle of it. Of course, now that I’ve trained a lot, I have a different sort of view of it, and so in some sense I can remember it better now.
But the whole point is that the reflective mind is not the mind that was present when it was happening. For everything to drop away, there’s no speculative mind there present. You do have awareness. So, there is a memory. There’s a recording so there’s a memory, but the memory, the recording, is not at all the same as the thing that happened, right? So, you can never go there again, and because you notice that every time one of these happens it comes out of the nowhere, you know you didn’t create it. You didn’t make it happen.
At some point we realize that all of this practice we’re doing is simply making ourselves available for this “accident of awakening” to happen. We’re just making ourselves available, and in the process of doing that we practice these five things I mentioned. You know, we practice calmness and insight and common sense and humility and patience. We practice being open, opening. So, how do we do that? We meditate more. We sit and allow ourselves to be completely, infinitely open. You can start with an outward and inward, but ultimately, it’s just infinitely open everywhere. That’s our practice, and it’s very practical because it’s the thing that prepares us and allows us to be in a position where if whatever makes this happen causes it to happen, you’ll know it. You’ll receive it. You’ll be aware of it.
Student: Thank you.
Student: One of the questions I basically had was becoming one with the universe, what is that feeling? You know, I will sit, and I’ll come to a point where it’s nothing and yet it’s everything. Like, you lose all your boundaries, and even like the feeling of your body goes, and your breath sometimes, you know, it’s like am I breathing? So, and then I think oh, wow, and then it’s gone.
Yeah. It’s the “oh, wow” that gets you every time.
What’s important here is experiencing the feeling you mentions more and more and more, deeper and deeper and deeper. Everyone who is like you and sits a lot, knows what you’re talking about when you say it. It’s difficult to talk about, right? It feels clumsy because there are no words. You can’t actually say what you want to say. You have to use words that are inadequate, and that can be frustrating and clumsy and a little bit of a struggle. And that is because what we are point to is not a thing, you know?
You can’t buy. You can’t sell it. You can’t use it for anything, except it’s the very center of everything. Isn’t that amazing? Think about what we spend our lives pursuing when this is just right here in our very center, in our very being. It’s what we’re made of. All we have to do is sit down and shut up and we’re home free.
Of course we do have to learn how to be with people in a way that we don’t lose track of this, that we don’t give it up. So, universal wisdom I think in this sense means to value this condition for what it is. If there’s anything that is wise about universal wisdom, it’s knowing the value of our original condition, and then everything can be in its own place. Everything is okay, but always this original condition wants to be felt, wants to be experienced, okay?
Student: Thank you, Sensei.
I love to hear it. I love to hear you’re sitting so much. That’s great. Okay. Everyone, thank you very much. Domo arigato gozaimashita. I will see you all Sunday morning.
(Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei, 6. November 2020)