Monday, February 20, 2012

bai bai

Gaijin Explorer Inc is experiencing some considerable cuts and the frequency of posts will surely drop considerably. Sell your stocks, stock your pantry, and hold your weapon or bible close because the apocalypse really is coming. DOOOO IT NOWWWWW! (Enter Arnold Shwarzeneger's voice)

I realize I probably just spelled that name wrong, and don't even have enough motivation to spell check it which would take literally 5 seconds. Proof that this blog right now isn't quite in sync with the mind/body/spirit stuff everyone's talking about lately. Recent revelations are leading me to the center, and fretting over thinking about posting on this blog, and not being able to post a single damn thing about the million ideas about zen/aikido/Japan I have everyday is just too much something when I'm looking for nothing.

This weekend I went to an Opeth concert. If you don't know them and are curious to what they sound like and have the slightest effort to find out, look them up on youtube. If you actually go to the effort, you could look up the song "Bleak" to find my favorite tune. Live would probably be good.

So, anyway, I went to this concert and realized I need to be doing what I want to do. But I've realized that ten thousand times before, and where that has taken me is to some ultra-sped up world where I have created far-off goals that I am trying to realize in the moment ... but they're more like the kind that take more than a moment to realize. For only a couple examples, becoming a great writer, a master of martial arts, and more fluent in Japanese than Japanese. I assure you there's many more, but these three seem to be the biggest. Anyway, so I had this revelation, thought about my past conclusions, and remembered a wonderful theme of a recent show I've been watching, "Spartacus", which is ...

"Kill them all."

(If you know about Opeth and Spartacus, and remember I made a post a while back about how the media we watch affects our life and vice versa, you're probably making some connections.)

This doesn't have to be so violent or extreme. It's merely a fact of life and tenet of zen: In order for something new to grow, or to even see reality, we ought to get rid of excess ... what we don't need. Well, what we don't need may be a lot, especially for all of those living in first world countries. After I publish this post, my postings will become severely more infrequent than they already are, and then I will throw away a lot of things I don't need from my apartment ... then tomorrow I'm not going to take a bunch of stuff I don't need to work like I always do, and try not to drink more coffee than I need. We all have dispositions; mine is a tendency to excess and fascination with zen ... which makes for a very strange and often frustrating condition.

Anyway, I'm rambling on, and won't take the time to edit this, so I just want to say that I probably won't be posting often here for a while, but will keep reading the quality blogs I've become so attached to, keep reading about zen, experiencing Japanese culture, and thinking about aikido every step I take.

What is most extraordinary about myself existed before the time I started thinking and hoarding in fear. I don't wish a return, but a rebirth without the bullshite. While that self is in the womb, samurai zac will be dropping the sword a bit on unwelcome guests.

Will Odysseus come home? Or forever be lost at sea?

We must slay the ghosts of our past in order to be born into the next world.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Aikido, Zen, and Monsters

The motivation for this post is a short documentary of the zen priest, Nishijima Roshi called "Buddhist Life" which can be found on Youtube or a couple of posts back at the wonderful zen blog, created by Brad Warner. Like most of my recent posts about aikido, this is also inspired by the frustration I have with the lack of aikido training I have right now. Aside from the specifics altogether, this is another monster that crawls from the depths of my void; one not quite understood yet I seek to describe it.

Zen is very strange in its simplicity because, it's not zen and life, but zen as life. Practicing zen doesn't necessarily seek to create or give one anything. In fact, I think it seeks to be as little as possible in order to have the effect of realizing your life. It does so by cultivating intuitive knowledge of the universe, clarity, and relaxation (which could arguably be called one thing: Enlightenment). One could cultivate these qualities without zen, and if they could achieve doing so, then they wouldn't need to sit and would probably be doing something else. One could maybe say that in zen, there is just sitting; this tiny practice which seeks to be as small as possible for one to reach certain goals.

But in aikido I am gaining something; this is a difference between zen and aikido. I use up time in order to learn specific techniques and movements. I practice these to achieve certain effects. Some are martial, but otherwise I seek intuitive knowledge of the universe, clarity, and relaxation. If I could accomplish these goals of aikido without doing aikido, then I would be doing something else. I think it is important to realize this. If I want to achieve the goals of aikido, martial ability for example, then I should focus on those goals and practice the techniques of aikido, because that is my goal. However, if my goal is simply the act of going to aikido itself, then that is something different. In that case I should also just go and do it. So aikido is something if it is a means to acquiring a goal, but then it's also nothing because all that is real is the goals. On the other hand, aikido is nothing, because it's just me doing the physical movements, but then it is something because it is the goal in and of itself. In this way, it is the same as practicing zen. They can be just tools to reach goals of realizing life. You do not necessarily need them to do so, but they are intelligent tools used in order to realize your life in as simple a way as possible.

Many zen texts and practitioners do not say that zen is the "best" way, but the "easiest" way. One doesn't "master" zen because they are smart, but because they are "stupid", and must struggle to truly understand its nature. This is real accomplishment. I do not practice breaking bricks with punches to feel my strength and tell myself I am strong. In that I would not really be learning something, but just encouraging a lack of ego, and in the end, make it a very difficult path to reaching enlightnment. I practice aikido because I feel it teaches me a very honest way to understanding myself and the universe by continually challenging me to use things other than myself (other than my muscles) and continually changes once I start to understand it. I don't necessarily criticize other ways as "bad" or "stupid", I just practice the way I do because I have certain goals that I think aikido can help realize, I have a certain nature that performs "well" within the realm, and I just like going to aikido.

If your concern is not a particular goal, and you enjoy zen and enjoy aikido, then you necessarily want to do them and end up doing them more. Then your goals are no longer something separated from your practice, but rather become the immediate action at hand motivated by genuine inspiration. So again aikido and zen are nothing, but they can also be goals to experiencing enlightenment; life in and of itself. If I love aikido, I love walking down the street with proper from and being conscious of my surroundings in a way that protects my being, this has little to do with traveling an hour one way to put on a white gi and belt to join a medley of throwing among others in precalculated movements. If I love zen, then I love quietly watching my surroundings with proper form and being conscious of my surroundings in a way that has little concern for "my being". This has little to do with struggling to set aside an amount of time to sit still, aside from all else in my life.

If they are nothing, then perhaps I shall not do them.

What is in front of me is my existence, and courage and clarity is being able to deal with those things. Where I may desire to go, is my intelligence and cunning to find a way to get there. If aikido and zen are before me, I will do them. If not, I will not waste worry and energy.

I have been a particular phase of incredible energy lately, one that has seen "a lot" done; both positive and negative. Postive in time spent consciously trying to advance those things that I do with the utmost of effort. Negative in the amount of worry, ego, and wasted energy on the costs of my ambition for more. We can calculate the phases of our life if we like, and if it doesn't hurt, then "go ahead!" I say. But, if we consciously deny our intuition concerning the current feelings of our life in favor of abstract goals which seek to contain them ... then I would call you a fool. If I have any direction in my life, it's to not be a fool in my own eyes.

Already in folly I write that sentence.

Let me write no further for now, but drink another happo-shu (cheap beer-like drink that has become my substitute for beer), watch some "Kung-fu Panda 2" which I didn't finish the other night (a cheerful break from he all too epic-violent-sexual "Spartacus"), and go to bed, not to wake in fear of accomplishing what I need to accomplish, and rather wake up to do what is to be done.

Some creature that has controlled me for months has passed, another which has been incubating for who knows how long now emerges. I wonder if there is some significant cosmic happenings going on tonight ... in planets and stars and such.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gaining Passage

In my job, I teach at four different classrooms around Toyama Prefecture. Only one of the classrooms is actually in Toyama City where I reside, which leaves three in the Niikawa region of eastern Toyama; my old stomping ground. Though I think most would loathe traveling such distances three weeks out of the month, I revel in the long train rides through the country visiting the old places that contain various shards of my heart. My farthest school is Nyuzen, about a 45 minute train ride from Toyama City. It is the smallest town I teach in, and definitely has a special ambience to it. To me, it's a very homely place. It just bleeds cozy, this small concentrated town nestled next to the mountains. It is an extremely humble place with hidden jewels, including two of the best coffee shops in all of Toyama Prefecture in my opinion.

On my fifteen minute walk from the station to the classroom, I pass this shrine, which is also one of the most impressive I've seen in Toyama. It's large, but not overwhelming, and extremely old (or at least appears so.) Certainly something that catches your attention while you walk through the town, though it is not a site of much attention it seems. The picture above doesn't do much service to this description, because it is covered in tarps to protect against snow. To provide entry to the shrine in winter months, a triangle structure is constructed before the entrance. So simple as two sides leaned against each other to form a triangle, but it leaves me in awe. I'd hate to give long descriptions of the "magical and elusive mysterious beauty" of Japan, which is far too often indulged in by travel writers in my opinion. However this is one of those moments I could do so. A funnier image in my mind though is me gawking at this sight while a Japanese looks at me with utter confusion: What is so damn interesting about these two pieces of wood put together?

Anyway, the point of this story is gaining entry to temples we create walls around.

Everyday I make a point to pass through these temple grounds, though I have never breached its steps. Now, in these winter months, the tarps cover it, and this triangular wooden entrance stand before it.

"Whoa, that's so cool! I wonder what it would be like to go in. I shouldn't though. It'd be weird and I have to get to work anyway."


This shrine of unimaginable mystery is just perplexing me beyond reason when I could just take literally 10 seconds to just walk through the gate. It's amazing the quandary that filled me head concerning this simple action.

"Fine! I shall do it!"

So often these types of adventures disappoint. Such grandiose images of places and quests shrouded in mystery are just too much for the real thing. But this wasn't the case here. It really was so cool! Outside was this bland, one color tarp square covering, set in a swirling arena of whizzing snow. But inside, was this tranquil pool of dry brown complexity. The designs on the temple were so cleanly carved in the aged wood. The tarp set-up itself was a sight of precise construction. Truly a different world: one greater than my imagination. I'm so glad I took the steps to get inside. I'll still get to work with more time than I need, and there was no bystander to deem my entrance strange. What was the big deal?

I dare you readers to enter the temples that inspire you!

Let not fear of death, work, or awkwardness keep you from realizing your life.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Oneness is Duality

(Toyama Castle amid recent heavy snows)

Here again is another discussion concerning Soetsu Yanagi's wonderful book, "The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty." It has become an incredibly slow read, but only because I've enjoyed it so much and wish not to rush through, instead trying to tease out the most interesting aspects to discuss here on this forum. I've found this book particularly interesting because I relate to his discussions and seek the same: making connections between different modes of art which seek to honestly express ones experience of reality. However, I've also come across many points of disagreement. Let's look at one I found on page 127 in his chapter, "Buddhist Idea of Beauty."

"What then, is Englightenment? It is the state of being free from all duality. Sometimes the term "Oneness" is used, but "Non-dual Entirety" (funi) is a more satisfactory term because Oneness is likely to be construed as the opposite of duality and hence understood in relative terms."

Though Mr. Yanagi's efforts seem genuine, I believe his attempt to define enlightenment fails to accurately do so. In my opinion, his efforts to remedy any misunderstanding of the term Oneness, which may be interpreted as the opposite of duality, is well warranted. I agree that one must understand that Oneness is not an opposite in a relationship, but a holistic state in and of itself. However, by using the description of "Non-dual Entirety," one is still trying to negate the idea of duality and relativity, which is entering an argument of dualistic proportions. By attempting to negate a misinterpretation of Oneness, one is entering into duality. I don't think this is not the Oneness he is attempting to describe. In order to see, understand, or be Oneness, I think one must incorporate duality into the equation. Oneness is duality. Duality is a part of onenness. Oneness is also things other than duality. If one of those things is non-duality, that is also duality, but this does not limit Oneness. Instead of saying "Oneness is not duality", I think it is better to say "duality is Oneness."

Yanagi continues on page 128, "The Undifferentiated, the Non-dual, is assumed to be the inherent nature of man; all Buddhist discipline, therefore, has as its goal the achievement of this Non-dual Entirety. To be in the Non-dual state forever is the meaning of the expression "entering into Nirvana", which is the same as "attaining Buddhahood."

Here I also think Yanagi's words betray him. He speaks of Nirvana as something to enter, and enlightenment something to gain. But this said, means we are outside of Nirvana, and without enlightenment. But isn't that just back to the dualistic argument we're trying to not solely engage? He already states, "The Undifferentiated, the Non-dual, is assumed to be the inherent nature of man."  Isn't this enough? I relate to his discussions, which is why I so badly want to understand them and find the most accurate way to describe the experience of life as possible. But alas, trying to do so is endeavoring towards failure merely upon the first step. There is no step to take, we are already there. There is nothing more to see; we already see it. Our experience as is, is Enlightenment.

But, there is something else; a desire, a goal, a journey. As if we do not understand our own Englightenment, we search to find, attain, and enter it. This is paradoxical quest, and so our discussions of it will share the same fate: duality.

One (of many!!!) potential aspects of my misinterpretation of this discussion concern language. In studying the Japanese language and Japanese martial arts, I've found that the Japanese language does in fact have words to accurately describe certain phenomenon which are considerably distorted when translated into English. Is this the same with Buddhism? Are Soetsu Yanagi's accurate descriptions warped by the English translation? The real word in question is "Non-dual", which is even given in Japanese in the book perhaps in order to signify a difference between the Japanese and English translation. Non-dual: funi. I looked up the kanji (Chinese characters) for the word in order to gain more insight, or some kind of nuance, but if there is one it's lost on me.


不 - fu: "not"
二 - ni: "two"

"Not two."

The character 不 is included in many words, and has a slightly different connotation in each word. Perhaps if one understood each of those words, some kind of nuance could be discerned, but it is beyond me. Generally, the character means, "not", and that's as far as my understand can tread.

One can be skilled in describing certain phenomenon, and the Japanese language is an excellent tool used to do so with more intuitive concerns. However, the big-dog, this Oneness business, may truly be beyond all descriptions. Perhaps we should leave it as that: Oneness.

On a more specific note, I'm going on a small trip with my Aikido dojo to an onsen in Shizuoka Prefecture. It is really ridiculous in a wonderful Japanese traveling sort of way. We're going by bus to somewhere really far away for onsen which will only last one night. Why don't we just go somewhere in Toyama or one prefecture over instead of across the mountains? Well, not my problem, I'm not planning the trip. I'm here to sai "hai!", pay money, and enjoy the ride. Sensei has been planning this trip for a little less than a year, so it's a pretty big deal. I'm looking forward to this trip of long bus rides, onsen, fancy Japanese food, and of course ... a lot lot lot of sake. Aikido is not the purpose of this trip, and there will be no planned aikido training ... but I hope to procure some words of Aikido wisdom from Sensei before things get a little too blurry.

But then if we do Aikido once, aren't we always doing aikido? There is nothing to enter, nothing to attain: I am Aikido!