Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do
Luke 23: 34 – Douay Rheims Translation
The past few years I have had a project, in my study, based on the second half of Chapter 67 of Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu. There are a lot of various translations to English. And in my point of view they are all valuable as a source, but neither variation of choice of words are the ultimate one (and the same could be said about the quote above). Of course, from the technical point of view, a translation should keep the original text intact, conserving the message of the author intact. However, for me, who can’t read the original Lao Tzu text, the focal point is merely if it inspires, or not, at my current situation on my aiki road.
This chapter mentions three treasures, and I believe these three are kind of fundamental to have present at all times in aikido. I previously wrote a post about the seven virtues of the samurai. I guess this is pretty much the same idea, but in a more condensed form.
At the highest level, I guess, is to realize that no idea (any formulation of words or thoughts) can capture this universal principle, without in itself violating the principle by making an idea of it, and giving it a name.
I will change the order of the treasures, saving the first one to last.
The Second Treasure: Economy
Alternate words for it could be (but is not limited to) “Frugality”, “Simplicity” or “Moderation”.
I guess, when we start our study of the basic forms in aikido, this is usually the first one to appear to us as a valuable principle, or treasure, to cultivate. It is true that some variants of basic forms, in order to teach management of distance, integrity and posture, we are doing things in a non economical way. However, that is only a step on the way to keeping what we learned, and transforming our kata into a movement which is economical.
As we proceed in our study we are removing more and more of the more rigid form we learned at first. Maybe the teachers did not tell us to do it in an uneconomic way at first, but that was the only way for our mind to grasp the content, so it simplified the principle down to an idea, to have somewhere to start. And it also is a common pedagogical trick, to first present a more uneconomical, simple, form, at first, and then as we continue to study it, we remove more and more, making it more and more economical.
Economy contains a lot of other principles. If either one of them is lacking it would waste energy. The paradox is that those values I mentioned above, often being taught by making rigid, uneconomical movements, are all necessary to make an economical movement.
I did not practice jiu jitsu a lot, so I will not make too strong statements about what they are doing, but seems to me a big part of the study. To make it stronger, it seems natural that it needs to be more economical. Spending less, to get a higher effect.
The study of this treasure continues also outside the tatami. In my opinion, the stuff we do should benefit the world we live in. How do we interact with ourselves? That question becomes the core of the more advanced objective: How do we interact with others around us?
From the beginning, our identity are our thoughts, our emotions, our “labels”: nationalty, political, gender, religion, occupation, viewpoint on a matters that seems important to us, the list goes on and on. By experiencing interaction with people with the same identification pattern (mind oriented identification) we will find that the only ones we can peacefully, or rather economically, interact with, are the ones with the same identification as ourselves.
In many cases, if we are not into studying economy as a treasure, we simply select to interact only with those individuals who are equal to ourselves, to avoid unpleasant confrontations, and ruckus, in our lives. We simply escape, or run away from every interaction with people who’s identification differs from our own. Is it economical? Well, as long as we never meet these people, at all, yes, but there is no development. And we will meet these people, eventually, and if we did not start our study before, we will be forced into it at that point.
I was myself mainly interacting with people with similar labels until fairly recently, and I was unaware about this. However, life brought me into a position where I was forced to deal with everybody, and I was unable to run away, or hide from certain people. It taught me a lot about myself. The thing is, I probably learned aikido more from life than the study on the tatami during the last decade, but without the foundation from the dojo, I would not be prepared for this.
In aikido we are practising with everybody, and it is relatively simple. We are all there to study. We all came to the dojo; We are all wearing the same uniform; We are all following the same etiquette. So we are already a quite uniform group studying together. Even here conflicts do appear sometimes. However, outside the dojo, not every body we meet will follow “our rules”. They follow “their rules”, and we might not think that their rules are fair, just as they might not agree that our rules are fair. And we are not allowed to touch!
All interactions in life usually have a more or less formal purpose. At least in professional life this is true. There are some specific task we should do together with “our partner”, or ” our partners”.
The economical way is to simply solve our task, together with our buddy. However, very often we will find that there is a lot of resistance in the one we are trying to work together with. And she/he will find that there is a lot of resistance in us. So in the end it does not really focus on the solving of the problem. There will be a lot of distortion caused by our “stiffness” in the mental movements. So instead of being focused on the task which we were set out to do, we are fighting against each other, trying to win over the other. So prevailing becomes the priority, and the “kata” which we started out with, is forgotten.
This is a thing which is only learned by failing, multiple times. And we could always blame the other. However, if we are interested in economy, we should maybe study the inside of ourselves? Trying to find out what is in our way. It will appear, at first, that the partner is the obstacle, because the real obstacle, inside of us, is naturally pointing to something outside (which we cannot change).
These things are difficult to learn while it happens, but after a conflict, we can go through the parts and find out what happened. With repetition, with many different people, and by constantly looking for a way to move mentally in a more economical way.
And yes, there is a huge obstacle for those of us who are already so powerful so that whenever somebody stands in our way we will merely brush them aside without a problem. There is never any challenge. The door to a more economical way of interaction with ourselves is open, but as there is no apparent need, we will never look what is on the other side of that door. We will always win so we will never develop.
In aikido this is much more apparent than in real life. Most people who just merely use their muscles to wrestle their partners to the ground move on to different activities, or start to study, within a very short time. In real life this is not so apparent. Many people will never face big enough challenges in their life, to be interested in this economy, until a disaster happens later in life, and then the opponent might be cancer, and all their strength and power counts for nothing, because this adversary can’t be bought, or scared away with all the prowess of the world.
It could be as simple as a red light in traffic when we are in a hurry. The red light is random, so there is no malice to us as a person. However, it is easy to get triggered to a lot of useless mind activity just by this. Very, very uneconomical, right? And with a person, a partner, it is even more easy to perceive the problem as something outside of ourselves. And as long as we run away from our problem inside, we will always be running away.
Returning to the actual keiko. Our first study might be to try to be straight, in the correct distance and we make sure that the structure of our body parts are aligned in a strong position. We are static in that position, and it is a good position. We study it, we are perceptive, and aware. Then we move to the next position in the kata, and study that position. Those perfect positions, where we would want somebody to take a photo, is all that our mind can see, at that point.
However, the photographer might take the picture in between those “pose moments”, right? What happens then? Well, we might not be so happy with that picture, right?
In moving from one “perfect point” to the next passes an infinite number of points. If we want economy, they should all be perfect. However, the only way to do that is to relinquish the initial idea from our mind of what the kata is (this position, this position, this position… or this movement, this movement, this movement…).
However, if nobody took a picture of us, or even more extreme wake up call, if we never saw a video of ourselves, we would maybe continue for a long time to study our “perfect positions” without being aware about what happens in between.
In aikido we are getting aware of our positions, physically in space. We are making our body move more economically. However, the awareness about the activity of our mind is a natural development of the bodily presence.
We might easily question what we hear, from others. And of course we should. We should always check everything which is important for us, for ourselves. Study it and find out how it works. However, we should also do this with our mind. We should question our thoughts. We should question our emotions. If we blindly follow them, we might end up alright now and then, but we could easily get lost.
The second treasure, economy, contains a lot more, of course. However, these are the main parts which are inspiring me right now, in my study of aikido, and study of life, which is basically a study of myself.
The Third Treasure: Humility
I would actually prefer to use the word “Meekness”, but no translations I have read used that word. Besides, my personal objection to the word “Humility” is probably only because in my mind the word “humility” is too similar to the word “humiliation”, which is a totally different thing (which has nothing do do with the treasure which we now discuss). A similar erroneous association could probably be made between the words “meekness” and “weakness”. However, just because the words resemble each other in pronunciation they might contain totally different things.
Other translations use a longer phrase basically stating a reluctance, or refraining from, taking precedence of others, or to be foremost of all under heaven, and so on. Anyway, the words are not important, but the principle which they are all pointing at, are valuable.
The reason I mention the association with similar sounding words in connection with this one is that it is not as clear as economy on what the treasure actually is. There is a trap, kind of, as we have seen, with regard to the word, and in the idea of the mind, of humility. What is humility?
Ego, the way is use that word, is the image we have of ourselves, when we are not aware of it. If we are aware of it the image, it is nothing more than an image, and it is not going to affect our choices. We will not react to situations based on our identification. So our Ego is our unawareness about our view on ourselves. There are different ways to use this word, so I will just clarify what I mean by that word before we proceed.
Ego is both the positive and the negative in our self image. Very often we have some positive parts, which we appreciate, and some negative parts, which we shun, if we can. Some of us are burdened with more negative, and some of us are burdened with more positive. What is a better or worse starting point, I do not really know.
A normal misconception about humility is that being humble is to think lowly of oneself. In my opinion this is quite the opposite of humility, just the same way as thinking highly of oneself is. Always downplaying our value, our skills, our achievements, is just as much Ego as bragging about them is.
I guess humility is to spend less effort thinking about ourselves and our position in the world, rather than thinking negative about ourselves. Humbleness is a natural quality of advanced experience. It is an expression of confidence. Being confident means that we have no need to neither add nor subtract anything, from just being. We are.
So humbleness, has nothing do do with humiliation, or being humbled. Like I mentioned, it is rather a natural consequence of confidence. However, a certain kind of confidence. Here the words can be used in different ways.
A high level form of confidence does not derive from being better, or having more, or knowing more, or being of higher status, than others. And so on. Humility is very often coinciding with a high level of experience, or skill. Although we will eventually lose the skill and the Ego-related confidence (the “I am better than you confidence”), the real confidence will remain: The Humbleness.
How do this relate to the life in the dojo, and the life outside? For me, once more, it starts with the interaction with my own mind. Having a peaceful interaction with my mind gives a foundation to having a peaceful relation with other minds.
In the dojo, everything is more simple, mostly because we are all following a certain pattern of form of behaviour. Outside it is often confusing, because everything is far more complex.
If we are confident in ourselves we have no problem with accepting imperfections, both in ourselves, and in others. There is no urge to correct our partners. There are no complaining chatter in our mind regarding what we ourselves, or others, do. No judgmental thoughts. No anger. No reactions. Merely awareness of the emotions and thoughts.
One might ask how does this improve our waza? Well, about that, it is kind of the chicken and the egg koan. Which came first? Our waza will be improved by the quality humility, but once we have the treasure the skill level of our physical play with our friends on the tatami becomes irrelevant for us.
But this humility might take the physical appearance of confidence as nothing can stop what we do when we are doing keiko. A humble aikidoka are able to proceed on their aiki road, no matter who stands in their way. They will proceed, and the obstacle with be “unobstacled”, and are able to without their obstacles continue on their aiki road. No words are ever needed. Just keiko.
If we are traveling to different countries, and meet different cultures, and practice with aikidokas from different schools, we are likely to meet aikidokas who do things slightly differently from ourselves. This could even happen in our home dojo. How do we deal with this? Do we need to disturb our keiko together to express the content of our mind to our partner? Or do we have the confidence to accept the situation that is, and find a way to proceed with the keiko, starting from what is?
The situation might be developing from the other side as well. Our partner might criticize us for our ways. That might easily trigger non confident students into defending, and criticizing the partner in return.
However, there is nothing to defend, is there? Aikido is, no matter what opinion any of us has about it. It is a universal principle, and it does not require me to defend it from accusations. However, if we are identifying with what is being criticized, we will feel threatened, although we do not see how this came to be. We just feel fear, anger and frustration, and react to it by striking back.
Humbleness is also to see the limitations in ourselves and in everybody around us. Nobody can be expected to act at a higher level of awareness than what they have exactly at that precise moment. Seeing this clearly gives an understanding of how the behaviour of the partner is originating in something they are not able to control. Just as we sometimes are not able to control what happens inside of ourselves, leading us to make mistakes, it happens to others. The only reason we can see it more clearly in others, is that we have the third person view of it, making it easier to see outside the maze of the mind. That is if we are not in the maze of our own mind at the time.
The same goes outside of the tatami, of course. If we are confident/humble we are able to act natural in a hierarchical world filled with people who play with power. I mean, we can’t change the world before we first change ourselves, so complaining about how it is, by thoughts, and by words, is not going to improve the world around us. However, by understanding how the mind controls us, it is easier, somehow to deal with our “training partners” in life outside the dojo.
The Ego´s view of the world is that it is the single hero in a world filled with villains. And it actually does not matter if we have a negative self image or positive self image. If we are fighting something, we see ourselves as the hero and our adversary as the villain. This does not really make much sense for those that have a negative self image, but our ugly bad image of ourself, becomes a hero in some bizarre reality where we are battling “evil”, even though the very image of ourselves might be that we are “evil”.
Humbleness gives us the overview, the confidence, as I frequently have called it in this post, to see this effect in ourselves, and act according to the situation. And to not react to our immediate thoughts and emotions passing through at that moment.
I guess a lot more could be said of humility, however let us now move on to the first treasure from chapter 67 of Tao Te Ching.
The Third Treasure: Compassion
This is maybe the one which adds the new level to aikido, which is missing in many other arts. There are a multitude of translations of this quality. I also gain inspiration from the words “Love”, “Kindness”, “Gentleness”. They fit very well to my study, at this time. “Mercy” and “Pity” are also translations frequently used, and although they do not give the same inspiration for me, right now, in my aikido study, they still are just as valid as a translation of the original text.
Like we actually started to touch in the previous part, when we realize that everything a person is doing is according to their current level of awareness of the mind, we are starting to realize the futility of discussing free will. I mean, we did not choose our body, neither did we choose our gender, our nationality, or the time and culture to be born into. Neither did we choose our mind nor how it is going to develop from childhood on. We stuck our hand in the bag and what we grab is what we get. That is all we can expect from our choices. We could have become “a murderer”, “a rapist” or even Adolf Hitler. And until we arrive at the level of questioning our own mind. There would have been nothing we could have done about it. Nada.
As long as we are run by the mind, we are blindly following our emotions and our thoughts. Until the moment we are starting to question what the content of our mind is, and where it came from, we have no free will.
This realization makes it possible to forgive. Nobody can be expected to do things above their skill level in any field. Presence is no exception. So what we received when we were born determines our starting point. And until there comes an opening, and we have the reason, and curiosity, to look what is on the other side of that door, we are on a one way street going straight, wherever. Hitler or a saint? Who would know? Maybe our victims would know?
So here we come back to the correction of others part. When I did my mandatory military service, about two decades ago, I joined to help kill Nazis, should there be a need to do so, again (Norway was occupied by the Nazis during WWII). My only solution was to just kill them all, every single one, of the ultimate enemies of the world, and there would be no more evil in the world.
I guess aikido has been developing me a bit, spiritually, since then. I don’t believe in violence any more.
We see the same effects as the Holocaust happening again and again in the world, mostly in less extreme cases, but still. Those perceived as different are still being labelled and treated with hostility. The idea, or ideology, is replaced in these cases, but it always returns to a difference of opinion and of mind, as well as physical differences.
I am not going further into politics, because it is neither an interest of mine, nor is it the subject of this blog. However, awareness is.
Sometimes we meet people who are challenging to have interaction with. On the tatami in a smaller degree, and outside the dojo to a greater degree. These challenges are the ones who develop us to the next level. Very often we realize after an interaction if we have erred. At the moment we were in the interaction we were “blind to it”. Sometimes we remain blind, even, for a long time after. And some, of course, would remain blind forever. Aikido opens the door, but unless there is a demon chasing after us, we might never consider what lies beyond that door (the spiritual part).
However, when we are still (after the thoughts and emotions has calmed down after a conflict), we can see how our thoughts and emotions worked against us, and caused problems which would not have been there, if we were present at the time. However, we can’t expect to have acted differently, because we were at that level, at that time, and things played out exactly as they did. Judging ourselves, or others for this, is futile.
Actually that is a new situation for consideration. It is a new challenge where we can fail or succeed. Looking what what happened, understanding the mechanics of the mind. Are we attacking our past selves for what happened, and is our past self defending itself against our judgmental self? Either we realize that neither of these selves are who we are, and seeing that the only road ahead is towards a higher level of consciousness, or we continue to feel shame, guilt and remorse, until we forget (the actual event) what has happened.
Anyway, there is a huge difference, of course, between the magnitude of gassing people in a concentration camp, and throwing them in an unfriendly way on the tatami. However, the difference lies in the quantity, not in the quality. And we were merely lucky enough to not end up as one of those. We did nothing to deserve the better situation. We just put our hand in the bag, the moment we came to this world, and we happened to not become Josef Mengele.
So it is quite apparent why this kind of study is useful. What if we are a Josef Mengele, and we don’t know? I mean he probably thought that he was a good guy, right? The spiritual part of our study is to find out, at every moment, and receive the three Treasures.
So both Humbleness and Compassion also have the common trap that we have to accept whatever is wrong in the world. And of course we should not accept what is wrong. We have to heal the parts which is broken. However, to fix it, we first have to understand how it became like that, how the mechanics works, and see all the consequences of any act.
To take it to the extreme: even if we kill all the “Bad Guys”, they will be replaced by new “Bad Guys”. As Eckhart Tolle so elegantly puts it: “Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” And it seems to me to fit very well with the history of the world.
So if we are an aikido teacher and we walk around in the dojo observing the class, we might see something which draws our attention in the keiko. The question is what are we drawn to, and which part is drawn to it. We should be aware that any beginner can point to a flaw in a technique, and after a few months, and by looking at the pictures in a book from a high level practitioner, anybody can say, it should be done like that. Yes, it might very well be that it should be done like that, but there lies about forty of fifty years of keiko in between the level of the aikidoka in that book and the student in front of us. Maybe our only attraction to say something is the same as the people commenting on YouTube videos. They can only say that it is wrong, and nothing more, and it is not useful for anybody, because we don’t have an understanding for how to get from, what is, to that image in the book, if that is what we are limiting our goals to.
And even if we ourselves can do what is shown in the picture, and maybe even we are the person in the picture (or rather we were the person in the picture some years ago)? Can we help the person in front of us go from their current state, to the next one, leading forward on the aiki road.
And if we know how to proceed, we would refrain from using humor at the cost of the one who made the mistake, right? Because it is an effective way to make the mistake clear, and make sure everybody remembers it. However, it is not kind. Guilt, shame and remorse are drawing us further into the realm of the mind, making it difficult to proceed to the outside.
In the second treasure, economy, we mentioned integrity. This is a very interesting concept in aikido, I think, because we are striving both for uke and tori to have full integrity, at all times. In economy it fits, because the cogs needs their integrity for the machine to work. If the cogs are broken the machine will not function properly.
However, in the first treasure, compassion, it is even more interesting, because the one being thrown will be given integrity in the throw. I guess that is why it feels so great to experience aikido throws, compared to being exposed to martial arts focusing on breaking the posture of the one being thrown? Because we are falling with our integrity intact. Maybe, I do not know?
And this concept is even more fascinating in real life. If we have an interaction, or even when we have a conflict, both partners should receive a feeling of integrity of their values and position during the interaction. So in dealing with people around us, we should not only not use violence against them, but also take care of their mental state. It is a great challenge. And it starts with our own mental state; With our awareness.
When we ourselves are conscious about our thoughts and emotions; in constant observation of them; always questioning the sanity of our mind. From that point we might be able to make a positive change in the world. Presence breeds presence. Reactiveness triggers more reactiveness in those around us. If we want somebody else to change their ways, they should not change out of fear of us. They should change because they themselves wakes up and realizes what is right and what is wrong. However, there are no easy solutions for the complex problems of the world.
Like I mentioned earlier, I see that all these treasures actually can be summed up as only one, in this thematic. There are of course a lot more to this part of Tao Te Ching, but for the parts which inspired me in my study.
In my opinion chasing after virtues just because of an idea of the mind will not work. Being economical for the purpose of gaining more and to become powerful. Being humble to become respected and in secret hope to be made a leader. Or being friendly and treat people nicely, just because we expect kindness in return, or so that we can tell ourselves that we are a “Good Guy”.
It will be the same with our aikido and our life. However, in aikido we will clean such stupid ideas away quite quickly. We will not really find economy, because this economy is hidden. Our humbleness is not real, and it will be revealed easily because we hold on to each other and study deeply, so nobody will follow us, no matter how humble an act we would put on. And being kind just because we expect kindness in return. Well, guess, what? After meeting a few people, that balloon will rapture and the air will go out. Not everybody will be kind in return.
However, presence gives all of these treasures naturally. Not because we are seeking them. By seeking them, we are almost certainly pushing them away. By quiet observation of ourselves during the keiko, we gain the ability to observe ourselves during more complex situations in the real world. There are no simple solutions to most of the problems out there, but at least we are better prepared for whatever is coming if we have the inside awareness.
I would like to add a part, just in case. I express myself about a lot of things which I know very little about, out of necessity, to express some things which I do know a few things about, so if anybody would actually read this, please take my words at that level. The stuff I am studying is difficult to put into words (it is easier to express through the grab). This is just a public extension of my personal note book from the keiko. I am absolutely not suggesting to anybody what they should be doing, or should not be doing. These are my thoughts from the keiko, today. Tomorrow I will have moved on, to something similar, or something entirely different. However the road is always the same.
Also, the “happiness” I speak of in the statement: “Aikido makes people happy” is not just merely positive emotions. I call it happiness, but it could just as easily be called “serenity”, “peace”, “love”, or “presence”. But it does not sound as cool.
Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy.