Archive for the Monasticism Category

Baseless

Posted in Asceticism, Buddhism, Fighting, genius, God(s), karma, martial arts, Monasticism, Mysticism, Philosophy, Reality Bites, Religion, society, tai chi, taijiquan, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , on January 21, 2010 by wizardsmoke

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.

Sex: right on the money

Posted in Happiness, love, Monasticism, Powermongers, Relationships, Religion, sex, society, World of Emotions with tags , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2009 by wizardsmoke

What do people want to gain from sex itself? In no particular order:

  1. Physical intimacy
  2. Emotional fulfillment
  3. Power

The first is obvious: people want physical contact, warmth, friction — in other words, sticky mucus-membrane pleasure. The raw deal! Another human being to hold, a person to touch. Black-out orgasms, flitting eyelids, gasping for air. This is not a necessary condition of love.

The second is trickier. The problem with these factors, is that the lines blur between them, or what they achieve. Many of us have emotional needs which we hope to fulfill through sexual contact. This often has to do with psychological issues, upbringing, genetic traits, our need for stability or excitement, etc. But there are some, who, because of their emotional state, require power-trips in order to derive emotional fulfillment from sex.

At the basic level, power, for the respective sexes (heterosexual terms for the moment), is that a women wishes to have the power over a man’s desire, via attraction, whereas a man desires the power to dominate a woman via penetration. Some people are different — they want influence over others via their mate, they want to be able to manipulate others with their prowess, they want to control the desires of another to gain self-esteem.

You can call it cynical, but as far as sex goes, I think this is the basic score. The error is not that sex is bad in of itself, but that people actually seem to think sex is a defining factor or catalyst for love. Love exists outside of sex, but can be triggered by sexual intimacy for many. The problem is that this love is limited and can be unreliable if this is it’s basis. Oh well — at least sex is fun.

I think in modern western society, sex has become a game more than a necessity. It’s not really a sin, just an indication of social blatancy and the phasing of the human experience. People who primarily seek power from sex often acquire it from groups of strangers, whereas those who seek emotional fulfillment often acquire it from within their social circles (perhaps a modern stand-in for arranged marriage). Obviously there is not such a clearly defined reason for why people seek sex, but this is a rough sketch of what I have observed.

I don’t think sex is taboo from a mystical standpoint. As one ages, the sex drive naturally fades away and one can spend more time in contemplation. I think religions, with their codes of celibacy were often ways to control unkempt desires in society, especially at times when birth control was crude or non-existent. Especially if many marriages were arranged, or relied on social ties, orphaned or outcast males might have been inducted into a monastic life either temporarily or permanently to keep them from causing trouble. I have no historical facts for this basis, of course, which will horrify empiricists and evangelicals alike (all according to plan).

I don’t believe sex is the “point” of life, or the greatest pleasure, or something to be pursued eternally. Many people have seriously dysfunctional sexual habits, just like many have harmful inclinations towards violent behavior, lying or stealing. These are other reasons for religious tenets, but people cannot be helped unless they wish to change on their own.

Sexual desire is the driving force of nature, whereas the belief (or hope) in a future tranquility or contentment is the bait. Sexual desire does not beget the bait, because the bait is a natural illusion to spur our trajectory forward, and thus enact nature’s drives. Sex is the motivator to reproduce, by giving the emotional illusion of providing long-term fulfillment.

Thoughts?

Go Straight!

Posted in Buddhism, Daoism, Exercise, Fighting, health, martial arts, meditation, Monasticism, tai chi, taijiquan with tags , , , , on March 7, 2009 by wizardsmoke

Lately, in my Taijiquan practice, I’ve been thinking a lot about the principle of verticality. One of the five fundamental principles of Zheng Manqing-style Taijiquan (and numerous other branches) is to maintain verticality in all movement. This means, keep the back straight — and very importantly — keep the eyes looking ahead on eye-level. This last part about the eyes is often neglected unless folks practice wholeheartedly and on a daily basis.

Verticality is important if you do Buddhist or Taoist meditation practices too (and probably other branches, i.e. Hindu stuff, but I really don’t know and can’t say). Of course, in seated meditation, when it is done with the eyes open the eyes are not straight ahead, but must fall a few feet in front of where you are sitting. The exact spot will vary from person to person, depending on their height, torso size, etc. and must be determined by the individual through consistently practicing and discovering which position allows for good posture with minimal tension.

But the point in either case, is that the eyes are directly related to posture, even though we commonly associate the idea of verticality only with the spine. When the eyes drop below the normal eyeline of the head/body, the body slumps and begins to lean forward. In a combative situation, one will lean on or into the opponent, or overextend the limbs and let them become handles by which to manipulate the body. This can also be related to — or an exaggeration of — sloth, torpor or laziness. It is usually an extension of bodily tension and chronic poor posture, further cyclically exacerbated by this eye scenario.

The other possibility, that the eyes extend too far above the relaxed, default position, reflects tension and excitability or irritability. It’s less common that people have this problem, rather than the previous one of slumping. If people are overly upright in posture, they typically are carrying a lot of tension in the shoulders because they’re using too much muscle mass and are disconnecting from their dantien or hara — their bodily center below the navel.

It seems pretty obvious, but the eyes are a subtle part of our posture. Most people walking down the street are looking at the ground, only glancing up at noises or approaching people. By looking at the ground, their posture is already beginning to suffer — and they’re revealing themselves to be a more viable target for predators seeking people lost in their own thought-worlds. In fact, the drooping of the eyes and the slumping of one’s neck and back is directly tied to thoughts — the more lost in our thoughts we are, the more our posture will suffer.

Flow’s Way

Posted in Buddhism, Daoism, Fighting, martial arts, Monasticism, Religion, Stayin' Alive with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2008 by wizardsmoke

Somewhere along the way, internal martial artists and “soft” Aikido-type people got the impression that being gentle was the path to power. But really, the point is that experts on power no longer have to use much effort to exert themselves. It becomes subtle, natural, easy. I think when the Dao De Jing says things about soft overcoming the hard, it really means that the strong or unyielding are destroyed by the flow or tide of the world, mostly because they don’t take the time to recognize the changing direction of life.

Hatsumi’s philosophy interested me for the way it turned me on to one major concept: that one resists illusion and the destruction of powerful people by failing to stand out. Normally this sounds like some mass-religious peasant nonsense, but I am willing to accept that his message tells us to live internally aloof from the way of the world.

But if one has no interest/investment in the world at large, they will become a martyr or a loner. And one with strong interests in the world (“the world” being material wealth, power and prestige, sexual desire and conquest — basically violence, anger, greed and lust) will often become blind to their own presence and actions.

One must go with the flow in life because the flow is life. Even the most powerful people are destroyed if they resist the flow of life and society. However, on the other hand, it seems a person becomes self-aware by resisting the flow of the world, purportedly pointed out by the Buddha upon achieving awakening (religious figures! yay!). I really would like to believe that some people are so totally beyond the competitive world that they just aren’t moved to act in its vicious ways. But resistance is not enacted by some mystical nonsense, it’s all done by people like you and me. It’s not hard at all to do, it just takes persistent effort. The effort that happens right now is easy, it’s just hard to keep doing something consistently. And I think that’s what I forgot to mention in that slightly delusional post about martial arts enlightenment the other day: martial enlightenment is possibly the ability to keep going regardless of one’s circumstances.

I just wonder where all this interpretation that internal martial arts are magically soft and relaxed, and therefore stronger than “normal fighting” (a debate continuously ruminated over on the Formosa Neijia blog). Every martial art is fundamentally the same (in their original theories, not how they are dogmatically taught) because there is only so much efficiency to moving the body. I happen to think some arts like Taijiquan and Baguaquan merely have a much better teaching method of transmitting the body’s subtle movements and personal health and combat applications. This does not make them internal or mystical, it just makes them more complete “boxing” strategies. I feel like older dudes don’t need to spar (and probably shouldn’t) because their perception of space and intent is so developed from their rougher, younger days. 85 year old dudes may not still be able to drop kick you in the face so easily, but some of them sure as hell can still toss you around in push-hands.

But everyone who practices something long enough will figure out how to make it work. That’s why all success is only hard work. Even if you suck or are magnificent, your hard work will be the final word. And individuality, internal individuality compared to the flow of the world — that takes a lot of work.

Like a monkfish out of water…

Posted in Asceticism, Fighting, martial arts, Monasticism, Reality Bites, Relationships, Religion, sex and violence, society, Stayin' Alive, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2008 by wizardsmoke

It is interesting how monks, nuns, and those who take religious vows learn to defend themselves from social harms and ills. And those vows to abstain from drugs, sex, violence, harmful speech and behavior are all the more possible because of a secluded monastic environment. But the monastic environment is not meant just to shelter the religious from the world, but to create a safe environment in which they can build a base of profound mental awareness. The ordained may not necessarily ever stop practicing or living in their ordained community, just as any martial artist (let’s say anyone who follows the fabled-to-exist practices of budo, chivalry, gongfu, etc.) does not stop practicing or teaching at their school despite their adept level of ability. Furthermore, religious monastics and martial artists  are both ideally practicing to ward off negative elements in their surroundings.

Wait, are they both? The martial artist parallel stops short because of the outcomes of these different methods of practice. An honest religious disciple is learning to see troublesome elements in the mind before they arise, and easily avoids these things. A martial artist is usually learning to sense violence before it appears in their surroundings. On the one hand, a good monk is exempt from pernicious social atmospheres which may result in lust, greed, crime, violence, etc. and intuitively learns how gauge these things. A martial artist might not learn to perceive these elements, but is better poised to deal with violent confrontation should it happen (which is almost always due to stupid social conflicts, but let’s say we’re talking about horror-story confrontations with occasional, random, mean-spirited groups of thugs, Clockwork Orange-style, or even complete psychopathic nutcases). Here the combat training — in a “do-or-die” scenario with no other choice but to fight — becomes useful.

But what has always bothered me about a number of fighters and martial artists is a subtly angry disposition. I’ve met people in this line of practice who are virulently aggressive people with dysfunctional social problems. They’re not the majority of the people involved (a lot of the angry violent types end up in questionable lines of work anyway), but martial arts rarely has anything to curb a penchant for anger — except to let the person go berserk on another person. And even if a martial arts practice does succeed in warding off negative elements, does it have to be done through the practice of violence (even if in a controlled environment)?

So I admire this about religious vows: even if the ordained do not keep to such precepts or vows, the idea of giving up anger, greed, lust — this is very impressive and admirable to me. Because a number of people who take these vows succeed in keeping them. I know from experience that during the periods one gives up these things, so many formerly conflicting aspects in one’s environment, social sphere and daily life just float on by without causing any mental disturbance.

But talk is cheap, and here I am hanging out with the angry people.

Triple Gem Meltdown

Posted in Buddhism, Monasticism, Philosophy, Religion, society, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2008 by wizardsmoke

I seem to be totally obsessed with religions, particularly Buddhism. One reason is because, to me, religions seem to give the initial impression of possessing clusters of virtuous people among their ranks. Obviously virtuous people are socially all over the board (and never mind the fact that any group you think is special will look special to you), but this is the racket. Yeah, I think religions are idealized as clusters of virtuous people.

But then, like every social mechanism — government, law, science and research, business, and so forth, religious hierarchies are easily subject to social and financial corruption. Ah, too bad for us sorry saps who want to place lazy faith in something! So much for that idea…

Again, let me reiterate: the false connection a dopey person like me is making here, is aligning virtuous people with religious people. That’s like aligning artistic talent with financial success, really. It has no basis in reality. Oh, and never mind the whole freaking problem of defining “virtues” of virtuous people in the first place. But for the sake of convenience, let’s just assume virtues are like… classically positive, wholesome, energized character traits in some cosmic reference book.

Yah, the “virtuous people” do seem to exist. And I am somewhat a fan of them. I suppose my confusion as to associating them with religion is the way religions describe their paths to virtue. A religion like Buddhism defines the Triple Gem at the heart of the practice as: faith in the Buddha, the Dharma (teaching) and the Sangha (religious order). In other words, you gotta stick to the Buddhist Sangha if you plan to figure it all out. But don’t all the other religions say the same thing? It’s almost like they naively think their own path is the only path. Ha! Obviously false, but also obvious that it’s dumb to try and take all the different paths at once… I do smite thee, New-Ager!

Therefore, I have my own religious interpretation of dogma, one which declares, in order to shine super effing bright (spiritually speaking), an individual takes refuge in (1) virtuous people, (2) virtuous conduct and philosophy, and (3) virtuous peers and habits. Virtuous people are just any people who are wise and really cool and realized. And the last one is really easy because virtuous habits can be found in every person. That’s why we say absolute cock-a-mamey baloney about slimy businessmen, like, “although he’s a jerk, I can respect his drive for business.” Or maybe, “yeah, he’s a malicious businessman, but you have to admit he’s pretty smart.” Except unfortunately, intelligence is not really a virtue.

To admire someone’s positive traits, you don’t have to be all dorky and “New Age” about it, pretending to ignore the person’s glaring flaws, but just make sure the habits that one retains from others are positive ones.

There you go, totally excellent advice and nothing asked in return! Actually, promise me this, dear reader: pull me outta this torturous, illusory existence once you transcend the samsaric waves of all creation, will you? Pretty plz?

Dogen said there’d be days like this…

Posted in Asceticism, Beauty, Buddhism, Cults, death, Monasticism, Mysticism, Religion, Ultimate Reality, Wizard Quotes with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2008 by wizardsmoke

The flowers, although we love them
Fade and die;
The weeds, although we hate them
Grow and thrive

Dogen Zenji

As I said the other day, at the end of the path, religions are actually obscuring reality, or keeping us attached to the world of suffering. They become like fences in front of the final destination, fences which we can see through but are encouraged to climb over in order to reach paradise or whatever. Yet if we know what we’re doing, we can see reality without putting up a fence to climb.*

But really, I don’t think religions are so crazy. Because all cults are just manifestations of the desire for concrete meaning, the basic impulse for tangible deep understanding. This cyclical search for meaning is a fundamental, natural occurrence — which makes it some kind of mysterious truth or idea in of itself.

Anyway, some obvious facts that have to be realized with the body in order to mean a thing:

  • what’s happening now telegraphs what is happening in the future
  • people die, get injured, and get sick every moment; eventually it will be your turn
  • the simplest things that we take for granted are also often the most mysterious things in life

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*Wizard Smoke assumes no responsibility whatsoever for potential spiritual damages incurred by his advice