So, the big question on everyone’s my mind is whether or not martial arts teachers, yoga instructors, and their religious gurus are “enlightened”. In stuff like Tibetan guru yoga, you are supposed to view your teacher as enlightened — sometimes even if they aren’t. It’s part of the practice. I don’t do it, but it makes sense as a practice, in order to discover your belief is malleable and useful to that end. There is no god(s) if you don’t believe in them, and vice versa.
Although Taijiquan is my big psycho-physical investment at the moment, I am willing to believe it’s not the same spiritual ace-in-the-hole for other people. How could it be so? People need to be unique, independent. But at the same time, the big problem of human existence is social friction. How do we deal with other people? This is a big portion of Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy: the existence of another creates a new perception of oneself and one’s surroundings. They are no longer a portion of selfless existence, but exist in contrast to oneself.
Amidst others, we seek to validate our own views, yet for what reason? There is opposition to all views, and human reason and rationale is endless. It is supremely difficult to co-exist with others in peace. And peace is a difficult subject to address, because the moment it is broached and given our conscious attention, it ceases to exist. It is simply the absence of conflict, and the absence of selfish views. But that’s too often misconstrued as being a doormat.
The other strange thing is that, although Taijiquan or dream yoga or Alexander technique or Zen or Sufi or Benedictine chant or whatever else may work for some people, these practices are not guarantors of ability or insight. They are more like rocket boosters that can change one’s mental, physical or spiritual trajectory, but the original trajectory for real insight has to be there in the first place. Those are prior causes, the manifestation of which is natural genius. But then for some reason, hard work seems way more important.
I am a fan of Hatsumi’s books. He is a good writer — an artist; he is able to make you think existence has a purpose. Cool stuff, I admire his work.
I remember I showed his books to a friend and then took him to a Bujinkan class, to which he responded like a real wise-ass: the Bujinkan that can be spoken is not the true Bujinkan. Hatsumi writes beautifully and shares his dream narrative with you; he can make himself desirable to others; he is an artist. But the budo he teaches does not bestowe the same skills as his ability to appeal to you, or yours to accept him.
In social status, and especially in business, much of what makes a person successful is their self-presentation. The rock star’s charisma is what makes them a success, not the music. The music is the background canvas that works once people are receptive to the personal spectacle. In society, talent alone does not create status or ensure survival. What is more useful is ambition, energy, the ability to make people comfortable and laugh, and to speak to their heart.
The bodily arts are interesting, for they take root in the heart immediately. They quickly effect our social presentation.
Martial arts is a discipline which, like dance, is kinesthetic. And the kinesthetic learner is the genius of the arts. And martial arts have mostly become arts, rather than trades, in danger of dying out for lack of necessity.
And so I have seen tons of great artists (martial and otherwise) without the clever endearing qualities in which they can sell themselves to the masses. How strange, that the ability to successful endear oneself to others is an artistic quality, and has no bearing on one’s actual talent or skill in the field being extrapolated. But people without a desire to sell themselves are less likely to seek financial gain from your interaction.
The entertainer does not merely entertain, but rather creates an illusory personality for the world to desire. And like in the world of business, where a compromised upbeat persona is created to angle profitable transactions, the conjured entertainer becomes a necessary function of the art, and soon one loses track of where their own identity lies.
What’s the best thing to do with your time? To become real. But what does that even mean?
Well, as my friend pointed out, it’s the process of making the story you tell yourself — the idealized you, a tangible reality, where there is no delay or separation between your perception of self and the objective self that interacts with the world around oneself. This is the real goal of studying and practicing magic, martial arts, or a religion. They all have different means of achieving this, stimulating different paths of awareness through the body or the mind, but they aim to get to this point. A crappy curriculum of path is one that does not actually have this in the syllabus.
But just because the aforementioned methods are ways of reaching this, they are no guarantee. Most folks practicing these things are floating around helplessly just like anyone doing anything in this world. Plus, what is the ultimate point of enlightenment, or total cessation of attachments and cravings? Well, there is no point in the tangible sense, because it is the place where points are dissolved entirely. And I think I heard Ajahn Brahm say, enlightenment is actually very boring.
When people create the causes for enlightenment, as they describe in Buddhism, by laying down good karma — a good rhythm, to attaining nirvana in this life or the next, they are effectively embedding the rhythm toward that experience or dissolution of enlightenment into the intrinsic fabric of their being and mental developments. Thus the desire becomes inherent to the self-clinging being taking birth and the enlightenment is no longer such a blatant desire. If the drive toward enlightenment is buried deeply enough and forgotten (made automatic), one begins to simply manifest it, now and forever. It will sneak up on you, create an innate moral quality, guide you from beyond your intellect.
Desire is blatant and therefore must be sublimated to the subconscious to really become effective in one’s life. If one can burn out the desire for enlightenment by going in the right direction towards that experience, they are creating good causes. They are pushing enlightenment into their mind until they manifest it fully. But it has to happen subtly — big enlightenment experiences are usually the stuff ambitious crackpots or intermediate students. You don’t go to heaven, you grow into heaven, to borrow a phrase from the old-school New-Ager, Edgar Cayce. Enlightenment comes to you throughout your whole life, like the expanding, full-on deafening roar of water crashing toward you through a tunnel. Every kind of understanding happens like this, until we’re floating in the water, which is our experience made reality.
From the mailbag…
Q: I finished reading hardcore zen and wanted to know what your meditation practices are and how seriously you take zen buddhism as far as a way to the truth.
Smoke: I read Hardcore Zen too. Brad Warner is a cool dude. I used to follow his blog a lot, he used to write more stuff on it before he was promoting his books. Zen seems pretty sweet, and I don’t believe any method is the best. Tibetan Buddhists seem to say theirs is the best more than most other Buddhist people do, because they have all this magical stuff in it that’s really similar to western Hermetics and occultism. But religions are all conspiracy theories on some level, haha!
But there is secret stuff in lots of lineages, branches of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, Shintoism and Daoism, Yogic/Hindu traditions, as well as Christian and Jewish traditions. Basically they only teach “secret” higher level practices to the next generation of lineage holders — people they can ensure will maintain the tradition to the fullest quality. It’s easy to cheapen something by selling or giving it to everyone and thus no one will really maintain it for the right reasons.
I really like the Buddhist teachers Ajahn Chah, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (both Theravada), as well as Taisen Deshimaru, who was one of Brad Warner’s teachers’ senior classmates. Basically I think it’s a matter of finding the style that fits a person the best, and a good teacher. Like, if I were in a small town, I’d probably just try to find the best martial arts teacher regardless of style, but in a city I would find the MA that fit with my body/personality and find the best teacher within that.
As a skilled (some generous folks might even say professional) musician, I do not take other people’s musical opinions too seriously. I generally just don’t care that much. Does a financier or banker or Fortune 500 director or CEO care what the average person has to say about finance? I would wager he/she does not.
Having admitted to this, I got a call the other night to go see U2 for free. Ahahaha! I declined. “But,” my friend protested, “you’re a music guy. This is your thing.” As I told him, that while U2 does amuse me in a painful manner, the band does not bring me listening pleasure in any capacity (also, I am not sure that I trust that Bono guy. He hides behind sunglasses a lot. Really, what’s with that? No eye-contact? Eye-contact is the most direct form of non-verbal communication, pal, and your music sure doesn’t have any communicable message…).
One fun way to test your mental concentration, is to listen to some music, and whilst listening to it, mentally recall and listen to some other piece of music in your head, singing along to it. It gets harder to do the more accessible and catchy you find the music that is actually coming through your speakers. It can strengthen the kind of concentration you need in performance, magic or martial arts, or any other discipline in which you need to convince the ego’s insecurities or fears to temporarily conform with the will. I.e. you create a strong center of concentration which is unperturbed by direct sensory influences.
This kind of concentration is similar to what practiced musicians are doing all the time during ensemble performances, especially between more complex and seasoned folks (surely you can imagine this exercise is what I do when some kind of trinkety U2-sounding pop music schmaltz is invading my surroundings.). Skilled musicians, like people skilled at anything else group-oriented (military, sports, business, dance, monasticism, relationships, etc.), are responsible for covering their own asses throughout the performance, not listen to or watch the whole band at once the way the audience can. That’s the only way the whole thing stays together.
Ah, but what is pop music anyway? Just the self-willed capitalist propaganda of the masses. Oh yeah I sound cynical, but capitalist culture is just the dictatorship without the dictator. And pop music is the really boring, blatant, thoughtless music product made entirely to consume. There is no high art in pop music — it’s catchy in order to get stuck in your brain and further duplicate itself in sales. It is just like film in that sense (everyone knows a film is an advertisement for itself, I mean c’maaaannnn).
The sole purpose of a pop song is to get stuck in your head. There is no other point, no greater pleasure to be derived from it. It is meant to occupy your mind when you are not listening to it.
Huh, but no matter, ‘coz I’m sure you don’t care what I think of music either.