The Blind Men and the Elephant

Six blind men of Hindostan cartoonThis is a poem written by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887), as an adaptation of a famous Indian story. It is widely known in Buddhist and Jainist traditions. I thought I will share this as a reminder to everyone that each of us has our own version of universal truths, and each of  us has had a glimpse of these truths based on our individual experiences and walks.

In any given topic, maybe we are just talking about the same thing, from different angles? Instead of arguing “I am right and you are wrong”, maybe we should start learning to respect, reflect on, and appreciate the different views of the elephant as expressed by different people who has touched it. That through our different perspectives, we can see more clearly what the elephant really is, and how big the elephant is. Only then can we truly begin to dig deeper and realize the mysteries that lie beneath the surface.

This can only happen when we first become aware of, accept, and eventually do something about our own individual blindness.

On a more personal note, I think this story has a lot of applications, even (or especially?) in a martial art like Aikido. What do you think?


The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong.


(Please also see this article: “Bob“)

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Bob

know-it-all13And some people think they know it all. I know of a person who thinks he knows it all, at least about Aikido. I will call him Bob. Bob has been practicing Aikido for quite a long time. His Aikido is like a basics DVD. He has very good technical as well as philosophical background in Aikido. He knows the small details of each movement; he even knows the precise moments of when to pause in doing a certain movement to emphasize that he is able to completely control his uke (the pauses are for the photographer’s benefit as well).

Ask Bob about the terms, he is a walking Aikido glossary. Ask Bob about how to navigate through a technique, he will give you very detailed explanations. Ask Bob what you need to work on, and he knows it just by looking at you. Ask Bob something and he will tell you the answer. Ask Bob why and how and he will answer you with a dissertation along with the procedure.

Bob can say that a movement is correct. Bob can say that a movement is wrong or incomplete. Bob says these things and he means them. He knows the very truth of all things Aikido, at least, that’s what he thinks. He is perfect in his eyes.

Bob is now a Sensei. He started his own dojo. He has many students. His photographer is also his student. Do not argue with Bob. You will just be wasting your time. His students look up to him all the time. He is their Aikido hero. In their eyes, he is O’Sensei incarnate. But Bob denies this. Bob says O’Sensei’s Aikido is incomplete, just like Freud’s psychology was. He believes in the evolution of Aikido, and in the evolution of our art, he is among the pioneers, or so he envisions. know-it-all

You see, Bob knows what is right and what is wrong in Aikido. When you talk to him he can pinpoint the mistakes of different teachers from O’Sensei down to the current Shihans of the art. They are missing crucial steps he says. Oh I just smile when listening to Bob! He is always right, and his Aikido is immaculate, at least for him. If you do not follow what he says, you are in the wrong and your Aikido is incomplete.

For Bob, his way is the only way.

I know Bob from a dojo I trained in before. At that time he was still in training. We talked sometimes. When I have questions, I can ask Bob and I am sure I will get an answer. He has touched the core of Aikido itself and has been basking in the very source of the ki of the universe, or so he believes. Bob knows the way to the gods of Budo and he is willing to show you if you follow him. He has a lot of followers. They believe in Bob. And Bob believes in himself.

Do you know Bob? Bob is judgmental, thoroughly critical, and entirely immature.

(Please also see: “Shoshin: The Beginner’s Mind“)

Austerity

3 billy goats bridge troll 1

Simplicity
To minimize the complexities of living.

Regarding procedures and processes:
To achieve an effect as efficiently as possible,
Using the least material, expending the least effort.

Regarding how to state the facts:
To say it in the clearest, most direct manner.

What is the frugality and wisdom of living a simple life?
Does it mean not enjoying the finer things in life?
Does it mean not employing the subtleties
of human behavior and interaction?
Or does it mean learning to live without
the added burdens of the unneeded, The un-necessary?

Is it possible to be austere yet happy and content?
To pare down everything to the basics.

Regarding material things:
Is it a necessity?
Is it a luxury?
What do we pare away?
In your heart, you will know:
What can stay
and what
can
go.

Only Hope Left

Please

He cried alone
behind a closed door.
This boy listens to everyone
yet speaks words
no one hears-

She cried alone
behind a closed door.
This plump girl with curly hair
and beautiful eyes
no one sees-

He cried alone
behind a closed door.
This man in debt who lost his job
and reputation because of lies
everyone believed-

She cried alone
behind a closed door.
This woman has lost her husband
to someone younger with fuller breasts;
he only loved her youth-

They made him
a liar.
They made her
ugly.
They made him
incompetent.
They made her
unworthy.

Please.
Help.
Rescue them.
Help rescue us.

My Hope,
You’re the only one left.

Please, save now…

(Please also see: “Cry “Wolf” !“)

Aikido: Fall Down Seven, Stand Up Eight

Roberto Martucci Sensei, Photo Source: aikidoroma@wordpress.com

Roberto Martucci Sensei,
Photo Source: aikidoroma.wordpress.com

When we fall down or after we are thrown off balance, we instinctively try to regain balance. In accidents where people fall or have a concussion, it is the natural tendency to try to get up.

In Aikido, knowledge of this instinctive reaction becomes our advantage. We use it when we throw our uke in iriminage. Actually, we use it most of the time in the throwing techniques. That split second where we lose balance and try to regain it? We have to be sensitive to that. Be open. The losing of balance and the return to a stable position is part of the practice. It is all right to fall, as long as you get back up again. And keep moving. Because in movement arises the opportunities to enter, to throw, to regain balance , to shift the control.

In continuing practice, despite feeling that we are in a plateau, we could learn to see more, learn to feel more.

Learn to be more sensitive to the openings in movement.

Sometimes, when you are just watching, you see it. And sometimes, when you are the one doing, you feel it. Sometimes, you get lucky! And when you take it, a little light bulb lights up in your being for a split second, and you learn something exciting and new.

Waste one split second after recognizing that opening, then you lose it. Lose that opening, lose that eureka moment. Just like that, gone, snatched away. You try to recreate it, bring it back, but it doesn’t, and you go back to practice again. You return to that state of being open and sensitive.

It’s all right. Just get on the mats and just train. Your training will not betray you.

(Please also see: “Senshin: The Enlightened Mind“)

I am a Christian and I Choose Not to Judge

I am a Christian and I do not believe it is right to judge others. Throughout most of human history, the world has been a battlefield. Religion plays a big part in motivating people to take arms against another, killing each other in the “name of God”. These wars led to countless deaths and human suffering- children orphaned, women widowed, and homes and countries destroyed. After all the anguish religion has caused, I wonder if this is really what God wanted. In my walk with God, I have come to believe otherwise.


The Christ I Know

I was born into a devout Christian family. Since a very young age, I was raised to be God-fearing. I was an obedient child. I would go with my parents to Church every Sunday. I involved myself in the children’s choir of our church; and we would sing hymns in front of the congregation as worship to God. I joined church camps and tried to live a holy life as I was told. I was baptized when I was 15, and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Then I became an adolescent. I was a victim of peer pressure. I began to doubt God. At this point in my life, I began to see what the world has to offer and I was seduced. I began to give in to a hedonistic lifestyle: I began drinking and smoking. I did drugs. I did not go to church anymore. I started living a life of sin and began fornicating with the pleasures of the world. Of course my conservative Christian family was aghast. But I did not care. I enjoyed myself. Pleasures of the flesh are indeed very pleasurable.

After about 5 years of living this life of pleasure-seeking, I was hit by tragedy. I was betrayed by people whom I trusted. I did not know what to do, or who I should run to. My pride “forbade” me to pray. So instead of looking up, I started to act out my hate. Looking back, this was the worst decision I have made. I pushed myself to despair. I was living in a downward spiral. Everything was disgusting. I thought to myself: Love is a lie; I can only trust myself, F*** you. I learned that pleasures did not bring me Joy.

regretI was surrounded by people but I was alone.

One day, I thought of ending it all. I was alone in my room. I was crying because of the deep, lancinating pain of my heart. I call it God’s grace when at that moment, I started to pray. All I said was: “God are you there?”. I do not know why, so I will call it grace as well, but I looked for my Bible and opened it. You see, before all this, I was a hardcore church goer, so my Bible is filled with highlighted verses, complete with notes about scripture. When I opened my Bible, I was drawn to one verse in particular:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

It felt like heaven opened up and poured mercy and love over me. I broke into tears and started praying out of remorse. I thought to myself: “What have I done?” I started to pour my anger and grief out to God in prayer. That day changed my life. I started praying again. I did not go to church, I just prayed. I was a prayerful non-church goer for a year.

I was steadily allowing myself to be fixed. Then after a little over a year, I went back to church. I was a changed man. This time of my life made me understand the Love of God and the Peace of Christ. This experience made me understand that worship is not in singing the hymns or going to church.

God looks at the heart.

Worship is having a contrite heart before the Lord. It is knowing God, His love, His mercy and His forgiveness; and living a life of gratitude for all that He has done. It is an outpouring of love and thanksgiving from my heart and soul to the Lord who is always good.


Exclusive Christianity

Christianity is indeed exclusive. We believe there is a heaven and a hell; there will come a day that people will be judged by God. Some people think this is a doctrine that discriminates and condemns non-Christians. But I think about it this way: Christians believe in God as the one true God, and that the Bible is His inerrant word. This belief is a statement of faith. What the Bible says is God-breathed, it is the very Word of God. And God is the ultimate truth. And Jesus said in the Bible: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“(John 14:6)

mahatma-gandhi-quotes-5Now for Christians, those who are not in Christ are not yet in the truth. As I said, it is very exclusive. However this doesn’t mean that those who are not in Christ are incapable of doing good. Just read the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We become each other’s neighbor for as long as we show compassion.

For Christians, we have been tasked by Christ to spread His truth and His love all over the world. There will be people who will not receive Christ and there will be those who will. Exclusivity is GOD valuing free will. God, respecting the will of His created, gave man the freedom to choose to follow Him or not.

ForgivenChristianity as a faith is exclusive, and I also believe that our compassion and love for mankind should be all-inclusive and not borne out of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. In Christianity, I remind myself that we are all sinners before the Lord; that there is no one righteous (see Roman’s Road). I believe in the Jesus who healed the gentile sick, and reached out to the nobodies, the lepers, the outcasts, the prostitutes, and thieves. I believe in the Christ who said:

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

As a Christian, I believe in a final judgment. But I am not the Judge, God is. I will not act as if I am. Instead, I choose to follow Christ’s example.


The Nonviolent Christ and A Love that Endures

God's LoveJesus is the image of reconciliation, non-violence, forgiveness and peace. He preached love and peace wherever he went. He taught us the love of God. He came in love to give love and He came in peace to give peace. I have come to view the cross, the symbol of reconciliation, this way: The vertical line symbolizes the reconciliation of man and God, and the horizontal line is God’s intention that we reconcile with each other. This reminds me of Jesus’ commandment: to love God and love each other.

Above, I said that I did not go to church for over a year and just prayed. Looking back, the reason I did not go to church was because of fear, fear of being judged by other Christians. You see, I know what it feels like to be judged by others. It hurts. Didn’t the Bible say: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged?” (Matt 7:1)

I am a sinner, forgiven by grace. I have experienced the mercy of God first hand, and I have seen how He loves me just as I am. And so instead I will show my Christianity through compassion. God is love and Jesus personified Love. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He never shunned anyone who came to Him. As a Christian, I believe that the way to peace is the way to love. As a Christian, nothing can separate me from the Love of God.

God pours out His love to His people, and from the spring that flows out of His heart, we have access to an endless supply of compassion for everyone. This way, Love endures and never runs out.

God is Love. The way of God is the way of Love.

(Please also see: “8 Tips to Making Peace a Habit“)

Opposites: A Humourous Approach to Balancing Acts

Photo source: Publications International, Ltd.

Photo source: Publications International, Ltd.

Yin and yang, dark and light, soft and hard, cold and hot, female and male. Working with these opposing characteristics everyday makes the world go round and mat practice interesting. We harness their balance to create an effect. And of what worth is one without the foil of the other? There can be no appreciation for light without the contrast of what is dark. Of what value would chiaroscuro be without contrasts?

How light is a feather without comparing it to the heaviness of, for example, a brick? Unless a pound of feathers is equal to a pound of bricks, then a pound is a pound is a pound. Let’s take a look at dragons, for example. Smaug, the dragon in the hobbit, is a western born dragon. By that, I mean, he was conceptualized by someone from the West. Smaug was grasping, greedy, exceedingly proud and exceedingly destructive; a total manic gold-hoarder. Eastern dragons, on the other hand, are usually regarded as benevolent beings, bringing rain to parched land, teaching man the arts. The eastern dragon usually guards a pearl . Just one pearl, not a hoard of pearls. A creature much revered for its wisdom and elusiveness . Same creatures, but polar opposites.

Cultures are like that, as well.

In my line of work, I have met a lot of people from different countries. For some cultures, smiles are few and far between, sometimes they are even considered a sign of weakness . Being brusque to the point of being rude and firm is the norm. It takes some getting used to, but I have to try to understand, since I was born and raised in a city of smiles. I smiled at someone once who misunderstood it for disrespect. Since I cannot vow never to smile again, I simply and sincerely apologized.

It is the same with eye contact. In some places, a direct eye contact indicates you are open to conversation, in other places, direct eye contact is considered an affront and could get you into trouble. So many differences and opposites that it could drive a body to hermit-dom.

We try to establish a balance of these opposites to allow us to be ourselves yet operate in a world that might not be as understanding as our birthplace culture.

creekIt is a delicate on-going process in our day to day existence. I tend to liken the situation to a tightrope walker, wherein the tightrope is the life you want to live, and it is the tightrope walker’s job to stay balanced and focused so he can reach the other end safely. He uses his arms, his feet and his body to keep himself on that rope. Whenever he becomes unbalanced, he compensates by moving his arms or feet. But his center of gravity must, at all times, be within his control while on the rope.

It looks easy when you are just watching him do it, but when you try it yourself, you fall after 2-3 seconds. When we watch other people’s lives, it is easy to think “I can do that!” But when the time comes for us to live it, we falter and wonder how they can do it.

Once, a long time ago, while I was out in the field doing some grassroots peace education, I met a very stern and unyielding man. He had grown stern and unyielding from the hardships of farming and poverty. He never cracked jokes, and every attempt at humor me and my friends made fell flat. He was guarded, suspicious and angry. But he was interested collaborating with an education program that would benefit the residents in his area.

And, his eyes softened every time he saw his grandchildren.

Just that. Right there and then, I knew. He wasn’t doing this for himself. He was too old, too set in his ways, too brusque, too angry. He was doing this collaboration for his grandchildren. And it was all there, in just one soft look from one hard and angry man. All the hard work made it all worthwhile, for all of us who were involved in the project. Since he could not do what I can and I could not do what he can, we had to find a way to finish the job without losing his identity nor losing mine.

Sometimes, there is no middle ground, and we have problems reconciling two opposing ends . So it becomes a balancing act of understanding where the other person is coming from and what we can do from our stand point, too. All this trouble, going back and forth, working on working harmoniously together to finish a project must be seasoned liberally with a sense of humor and a willingness to try something new or strange.

DandelionWe had problems, sometimes, because neither one of us was willing to concede decisions to the other. There were times when one of us had to walk away and take a time out. I realized I could never fully understand being in his shoes, and he bluntly told me, he couldn’t imagine himself to ever be in my position, as well. But we both had the community’s best interest at heart, and neither one of us was going to leave any unfinished business behind. That we were both very stubborn was obvious. We also had to keep the integrity of the project intact despite our differences.

For about 18 months we were seesawing with working it all out, that when we finally came to a mutually satisfying plan of action and an even better execution, we felt a huge sense of accomplishment, relief, joy and fulfillment at the closing celebration.

When all was done, and it was time for me to leave, in the end, seeing that man’s smile was my own secret reward.

(Please also see: “8 Tips to Making Peace a Habit“)