The stars are jealous tonight
They should be, of
The beauty before me.
Instead they smile
and blink
and understand
Their part in the whole thing
Brush strokes
In the art of the world.

I just got back from the aikido seminar in Denver. It was fun, I escaped without injury (well, someone did fall and hyperextend my knee a little bit, but since it hyperextends on its own, there was no additional damage beyond whatever's already wrong with it), and I learned a lot. I had to deal with an awful lot of testosterone, some from the guys from the dojo, some from guys on the mat; I remembered, on Saturday night, that my life is better when I stay more quiet, because then I remain centered. So much of what I say is ego-driven; no one else notices, but I can feel it, when I try to compete with the testosterone instead of (here's the aikido bit) harmonizing with it. I don't feel good about talking a lot, because in a lot of situations it ends up that I'm just trying to get people to like me, when the right approach, for me, is to shut up most of the time and let the people around me figure it out for themselves.

The seminar was hosted by an enormous dojo called Nippon Kan in Boulder--they have 200 or more students (my dojo has 40, and that's an all-time high) and have a restaurant attached to the dojo. I had mixed experiences with people from the dojo: some really, really wonderful, maybe a few more negative for one reason or another. I felt in general like the people I trained with generally used a lot more force than was necessary, and wrenched my wrists a little bit. Nippon Kan felt very large and bureaucratic and disconnected from its dojo-cho ("dojo owner", kind of); for a second I was worried that our dojo could grow into that, but then I realized that we wouldn't grow into Nippon Kan, we would grow into a larger version of Aikido of Berkeley, and that would be okay. The people at Nippon Kan are probably pretty happy with how things are, and this is all part of the endless variety of how the essence of aikido comes through the different faces of cultures and teachers.

The seminar was actually held, for space reasons, in the gymnasium of the Denver Buddhist Temple, which according to the Internet is something like the second largest Buddhist temple in North America, or the largest outside of Asia, or some such. It's quite large. The thing that astonished me when I looked a little closer, though, is that it's very...Christian, at least to my worldview. I mean, it has an elementary school and holds bake sales, all of which makes perfect sense, but the flavor of Buddhism is this wacky thing called Jodo-Shinshu, which I'd never heard of (although it seems to be either equivalent or related to Pure Land Buddhism), but is one of the salvationist sects of Buddhism which make little sense to me. Basically they believe that we cannot achieve enlightenment through our own efforts, and we must have faith in a Buddha called Amida, who may grant us enlightenment (possibly only after death).

So, uh. There's a very large congregation with a big physical plant and priests trained in seminaries, praying to an external entity to take them someplace happy after they die. The congregation runs its own elementary school where students are taught the elements of the faith as well as standard school subjects.

It's hard to stay open about this, because I see every day in the world around me the suffering of people who think they can't pull themselves out of the prison they see themselves in. I've been there. I'm still there, I'm just starting to see it clearly. The whole point of Buddhism is that there's a way out, and that way lies in you. "In this very body", here, now, we can realize, which is not the same as understanding, how we create the suffering in our lives. Pain is mandatory; suffering is optional, and we generate it in our minds.

The language you use here is less important than the concepts, because this is the heart of mysticism: you are One with the Infinite and it is only your selfishness that separates you. Are you Catholic? Ask Thomas Merton. Muslim? Ask Rumi. (Technically difficult, since they're both dead, but they've left us a lot of beautiful writing to help us find what they found.) You are enormous, unending, huge, a Child of God whose awareness extends to the end of the Universe and beyond--except that you shrink yourself down into an ego the size of a walnut and the final result is very much like damming the Colorado River and trying to relieve the stress by letting it out one drop at a time. If you're above the level of subsistence and you're still deeply unhappy, it's because you're fighting the cosmos instead of letting it burst through you to wash over the world.

Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life is suffering. Yeah, I know. It sounds terribly pessimistic. Is it wrong? Is the world not filled with pain, old age, sickness, and death? Your parents were right when they told you, in their own words, that real life is not like "The Brady Bunch". The first step of the solution is to acknowledge the problem.
  2. Suffering comes from desire. I want, want, want. I, I, I. I want to live a certain kind of life. I want some amount of money, I want these people to like me, I want to sleep with some woman or other. How much of my suffering comes because the world is not the way I want it to be? Wanting is not always bad: we should have ambitions, we should want to excel. We must have impetus to action. The suffering begins the moment we think that any of the things we want will really make us feel happy and complete.
  3. There is a way out of suffering. Well. This is certainly good to know. I mean, I kinda knew about it in advance. But these are the Buddha's Four Noble Truths, so I have a pretty hefty head start. He had to come up with this stuff from scratch.
  4. The way out of suffering is the Eightfold Path. The last eight Precepts. These are not commandments you follow because you hope if you behave then someone will save you. These are guidelines you follow because they're the way out, because you are One with all other things and these guidelines will help you respect the Universe as yourself and realize your true nature as such. Most of the time you follow them. There are times to break them. It's up to you, but understand carefully what you're doing.

I ranted again. Not a very peaceful rant, either. I just want people to understand. There's so much pain and we keep chasing our tails trying to make it go away, and we just have to sit still.