Archive for Zen

Wishful Warrior

Posted in Buddhism, Fighting, martial arts, Mysticism, Reality Bites, Religion, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2008 by wizardsmoke

This whole ideal of Budo, that martial arts practice brings enlightenment — what is it referring to? What is enlightenment via martial arts? Well, provided it actually exists I’ll say it could be one of three things:

  1. Achievement of an adept, deeply intuitive level of martial skill in which one’s psyche has assimilated into the nature of physical combat and such movements (the complete naturalization of one’s being with one’s practice)
  2. Deep awareness of what the martial arts actually are and overcoming any romantic delusions about them, as well as transcending the notion of fear, especially with regards to physical threats
  3. Total, full-blown Nirvana/Nibbana, in which all ignorance and illusion is dispelled

Number one, if I were to dissect that, I’d say it could refer to any practice in which one completely dedicates themselves. Like that tacky book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” — practicing one thing can lead to a deeper awareness of everything. Practicing a musical instrument one’s whole life leads to a complete intuitive awareness of the music, which transcends any technical knowledge — just look at the training regimen of Indian classical musicians or Japanese Bunraku puppeteers. It’s nothing new — way old Chinese and Greek philosophy.

In such cases it seems like the individual becomes a holy patron of the tradition or idea in question; one becomes like a god of music, war, love, etc. through diligent one-pointed mastery of the subject. Many adept martial artists then fall into the camp of simply being elite killing machines. Is this enlightened? Not in any traditional religious sense. Ha! But what does that mean? Not much.

As for possibility number two, I am reminded of William Blake’s famous phrase: “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Or as Spare would say, by exhausting our desire or obsession with something we come to realize what it actually means to us. After years of practice, one learns how important or useless the martial arts they practice actually are. And in realizing the ultimate potential or value of something, it becomes easier or natural to relinquish.

But here the situation can only apply to people who are initially obsessed with violence or fear violence. They’re people who want to be involved in it or get over their fear of it. In the modern population, the majority of people don’t care enough about violence to pursue martial arts. Almost everyone would be going against their natural tendencies or interests, even though violence is always floating around in our heads; (like sex) we know it’s not functional to obsess over it.

And also, it seems like a cop-out to say a person is enlightened because they’re so good at inflicting violence that they no longer perceive it as a threat from others. This is more like an arms race or a typical tough-guy routine. It’s easy not to fight when no one else stands a chance against you.

In the last scenario, which just generalizes that full-blown enlightenment is achieved through martial arts, I would say it is a questionable association because so many terrible people have become efficient martial artists and did not achieve enlightenment, while a lot of people have become enlightened who never had anything to do with martial arts or violence. If people become enlightened through the martial arts, it’s possible that they were going to become so anyway and they happened to spend their time doing these things.

Man, I’m asking a lot of dumb questions here. Basically, most martial artists are not any more enlightened (in the cosmic sense) than anyone else. Martial artists are just on top of some of the subtlest aspects of the physical and athletic experience.

More to come…


This is it

Posted in Beauty, Buddhism, Happiness, Monasticism, Mysticism, Philosophy, Religion, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2008 by wizardsmoke

It can be difficult to see things as they are. Most of us, upon looking at anything within our sensory perceptions, do not actually perceive our environment but only our thoughts about the environment or our perceptions. This kind of thinking surely falls into some form of (post) existentialist philosophy, but what I’m concerned with is how to drop this kind of perception, how to drop this mistaken association with our thoughts and perceptions.

Without lines of thought distracting our awareness, our perceptions become clear and even lucid. The universe is only composed of a handful of ideas and elements. It is not so complex when taken apart. But therein lies the mystery and the beauty — the way these simple ideas evoke so much, cause so much color and experience. The world ripples as foam on the cosmic sea.

You can study biology and medicine, but unless you actually sit and contemplate your body on a regular basis, you will never truly live in your body. “Living in your body” is an interesting concept. It sounds like a Zen mantra (which it kind of is) or maybe a tenet of real martial arts practice. But to live in the body means to intimately know the nature of the body — its impermanence, ability to heal and function; the way it came from the earth and one day will disappear; the way it reacts to emotions and mental phantasms. And what remains after the body passes away?

Zen is interesting as a Buddhist doctrine which (apparently) strove to separate students from attachment to ritual, idolatry and dogma. Which is an admirable goal, though certainly this has led a number of modern Buddhists to disassociate themselves with traditional Buddhist ritual. But the reason I like this “Zen idea,” and surely it has appeared in other religions and sects, is because it reminds us that a religion is just another filter imposed on top of our perceptions. It is another layer of complexity preventing many from seeing reality as it is.

Perhaps many people need religions or ethical philosophies which they can put their efforts into and thus use to achieve a more lucid or painless awareness of the life experience. This I can understand. But many people think religion is some kind of Masonic lodge that can be worked through, or something that has increasing levels of awareness. But the levels of awareness actually work in reverse, stripping one of levels of mental complexity.

Not that a person should no longer think. It’s just that thinking has more to do with the ego’s desire to entertain itself. Thinking is a little fantasy or pleasure we create for ourselves, a ripple of insecurity against the threat of something we don’t want to look at. It’s all very flowery and nice, but ultimately it means very little in terms of actual awareness.

A naturally talented artist or musician or fighter or businessman is able to see things in their fields of ability as they actually are. This is what makes them experts — their amazing ability to see things as they actually exist. But it is not an adult-like, profound, learned expertise. It is seeing the potential of things before they take place, seeing them arise and pass away before they actually do. It is the most unpeeled layer of the mind. I would like to extend this “natural vision” or ability to the root of existence, revealing what things originally are.

Sword of the Warrior

Posted in Asceticism, Drug Abuse, Monasticism, society, Ultimate Reality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 5, 2008 by wizardsmoke

Amazing that even this universe is nothing but a single clumsy brush stroke. And every single action just an exponential manifestation of the universe. This whole cosmos, it’s just a single tear-drop! But knowing that doesn’t satisfy me. That’s boring. I’ve been losing interest with all phenomena at a rapid rate.

A while back I realized I hate drugs and all mind-altering substances. Don’t be confused. I’m not against anything and I certainly don’t think anyone else needs to share my view (it’s funny because wizard smoke seems to be a brand of “legal hydroponic drugs” so I get a lot of hits from people looking to smoke their brains out, hee hee). Despite doing drugs for so long in my teenage years, I have long ceased to enjoy them. The last one to go was alcohol (and maybe caffeine). My friends all talk about how great certain beer or ale or wine is. But on drugs I just feel like I’m watching TV or hanging out with hoodlums — it’s going nowhere and is a waste of time. I practically pass out when people talk about wines and ales.

Now, I’m sort of an idiot about cuisine in general, but when it comes to figuring out fresh ingredients and cooking techniques, I can pay attention. With alcohol, this is never the case. As a result, I have no interest in going to bars or any such things. No problem for me. I think bars are the seediest acceptably mainstream social experiences possible! I should note: if you never drink caffeinated beverages, having a couple of cokes instead of beer is a much more intense mood alteration! Makes you feel so good, ambitious and enthusiastic in a way where your senses are overly sensitive rather than merely dulled. Not advocating, but it’s an interesting alternative…

Too bad I feel uninterested like this about so many things in the world. People peg me as some kind of nihilist, but I live in a deep level of self-indulgent illusion and say it’s more of a “warrior monk” type thing. Ya dig? I figure I could become a complete recluse or monk, but part of me feels like that’s too easy. Not that it’s too easy for everyone but just for me. Of course, people only do what is easiest for them, so I could be totally delusional… Still, part of me feels like following some extreme outlying experience (isolation or perversion) is totally crazy. And not in the good, Wizard Smoke way!

Things appear naturally in life and everything comes and goes so fast. From a bigger perspective, it’s all just a single brush stroke. As they say, “even the saints and patriarchs are but lightning bolts across the sky”. No time to waste!

Wizard Quotes

Posted in Buddhism, Daoism, Mysticism, Philosophy, Religion, Ultimate Reality, Wizard Quotes with tags , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2008 by wizardsmoke

An excerpt from Gyoji (Practice Every Day), found in Taisen Deshimaru’s The Ring of the Way:

One day the Buddha Shakyamuni was preaching and at the end he said, “Do not run after a man or a woman; it is better to look into yourself.” The internal revolution is important but hard:

A man always remains a man. A man congeals like a man. A woman congeals like a woman. An intellectual congeals like an intellectual. A madman congeals like a madman.

This congealing, inflexibility, is the cause of many troubles. But once it is finished, once the personality becomes straight and honest and a person joins the cosmic order, then the mind grows soft and supple and there is no longer any reason to hide or run away from anything. The mind, the spirit, is always shining, sparkling, day after day. That is sainthood. The quality is straight, the consciousness unresisting. That is the essential point of Dogen’s Zen. Sky and earth have the same body, all existences have the same root. No need to create a separation between myself and others. When you let go of the “isms,” the solidified, congealed thoughts, then you can find true satori, true do, the Tao (the way).

Who For Whom, a Thomas Cleary translation found in Vitality, Energy, Spirit — A Taoist Sourcebook:

Once a man held a huge banquet with a thousand guests. When someone presented a gift of fish and fowl, the host said appreciatively, “Heaven is generous to the people indeed, planting cereals and creating fish and fowl for our use.” The huge crowd of guests echoed this sentiment.

Then a youth about twelve years old, who had been sitting in the most remote corner of the banquet hall, now came forward and said to the host, “It is not as you say, sir. All beings in the universe are living creatures on a par with us. No species is higher or lower in rank than another, it’s just that they control each other by differences in their intelligence and power; they eat each other, but that does not mean they were produced for each other. People take what they can eat and eat it, but does that mean that heaven produced that for people? If so, then since mosquitoes bite skin and tigers and wolves eat flesh, does that not mean that heaven made humans for the mosquitoes and created flesh for tigers and wolves?”

The Golden Age, found in William Butler Yeats’ Mythologies:

A while ago I was in the train, and getting near Sligo. The last time I had been there something was troubling me, and I had longed for a message from those beings or bodiless moods, or whatever they be, who inhabit the world of spirits. The message came, for one night I saw with blinding distinctness, as I lay between sleeping and waking, a black animal, half weasel, half dog, moving along the top of a stone wall, and presently the black animal vanished, and from the other side came a white weasel-like dog, his pink flesh shining through his white hair and all in a blaze of light; and I remembered a peasant belief about two faery dogs who go about representing day and night, good and evil, and was comforted by the excellent omen.

But now I longed for a message of another kind, and chance, if chance there is, brought it, for a man got into the carriage and began to play on a fiddle made apparently of an old blacking-box, and though I am quite unmusical the sounds filled me with the strangest emotions. I seemed to hear a voice of lamentation out of the Golden Age. It told me that we are impure, incomplete, and no more like a beautiful woven web, but like a bundle of cords knotted together and flung into a corner. It said that the world was once all perfect and kindly, and that still the kindly and perfect world existed, but buried like a mass of roses under many spadefuls of earth. The faeries and the more innocent of the spirits dwelt within it, and lamented over our fallen world in the lamentation of the wind-tossed reeds, in the song of the birds, in the moan of the waves, and in the sweet cry of the fiddle. It said that with us the beautiful are not clever and the clever are not beautiful, and that the best of our moments are marred by a little vulgarity, or by a needle-prick out of sad recollection, and that the fiddle must ever lament about it all. It said that if only they who live in the Golden Age could die we might be happy, for the sad voices would be still; but they must sing and we must weep until the eternal gates swing open.

Tengus, Musashi and Joshu

Posted in Asceticism, Buddhism, Fighting, martial arts, Monasticism, Shintoism, society, Stayin' Alive, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2008 by wizardsmoke

What are the pinnacles of a martial artist’s path? Endless willpower (the embodiment of faith), natural, animal-like movement and an awareness of one’s place in the universe. Alternatives include trouble with the law, a bohemian lifestyle or a macho complex…

But does this come at a price? A martial artist keeps the peace by intimidating the opposition to a point of no return, by forcing potentially dangerous or malicious people to hide or change. This is admirable, but a martial path is often lonely. It is difficult to befriend people genuinely if one does not perceive themselves as equal. By becoming tough, deadly and virtuous, one is robbed of basic human weaknesses and empathies. Fortunately, a virtuous person is beyond conscious value judgments of character!

An ascetic path would say that basic pleasures and empathies are human weaknesses that cause suffering and the disorder of society. This is true, but at the same time, many people are driven to practice martial arts for very human reasons: for their jobs, to protect their families, for ego boosts (to be tough), or from seeing too many Naruto episodes.

Sometimes, people who take these factors as inspiration are driven to achieve very high levels in the martial arts. But I would not be surprised if the highest levels were achieved by people like Musashi, who had much disdain for society’s records and rules. Part of having a job or a family also involves conforming to society and adjusting to its rules. Here one can argue that this is either a further martial development, or a hindrance to one’s martial development. In other words, Musashi was something of a tengu.

Does a martial artist become so secure in his/her ability to kill or destroy that they care so little about other people to the point of no longer noticing their presence? Is this different from realizing how easy it is to kill or destory people or things to the extent that the existence of such things makes them emanate extraordinary substance and value in the martial artist’s eyes?

It’s like what Leonard Cohen said about his Zen teacher, 100-year-old Joshu Sasaki: “He became someone who really cared about—or deeply didn’t care about who I was. Therefore, who I was began to wither. And the less I was of who I was, the better I felt.”

We don’t know Musashi the man, we don’t know ourselves, but we can certainly understand that people like him, living in seclusion from society, perfecting methods of killing (and some slick painting), with nothing in the world to protect except his deep passion to know the essence of combat, are not normally functioning members of humanity. There’s no human glory in that life, which is one obsessed with violence and so far beyond driven to understand things that it eclipses a normal life. Not saying Musashi had a choice necessarily–he seems like he got dealt an interesting hand to play out in life–but it’s something to consider. Sometimes desire for this stuff can be too strong.

Do you lean towards being a tengu or some noble humanist? Sometimes you’re too far in either direction to change in one lifetime.