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Paula Lydon
10-24-2003, 08:03 AM
~~I feel that ego has gotten a bum rap over the past few decades as the West has tried--with varying levels of success--to assimilate the spiritual teachings of the East. Ego is always refered to in the negative, whereas I think it can be both, and usually is a mix. It's how we use it. Most people use the word 'discriminate' in one, modern, narrow context. To discriminate is also to weigh this and that, choose which you prefer. An ego is necesssary in a physical realm.

~~Wendy Palmer sensei speaks of 'holding space' for others. How can one do this without strong ego? Or, when we are judged as doing good works, is the word ego exchanged suddenly for center. We can hold space for ourselves and others because we have a strong center. Now it's positive, because surely there's nothing positive about ego.

~~I hope this makes some sort of sense because I consider it often and would like more clearity on the subject. I believe I see clearly some of the angles and am totally missing other angles on this point. Would love to hear from everyone; especially those with Western and/or Eastern psych/phil/spiritual training.

~~Thanks so much!

10-24-2003, 08:37 AM

You bring up some really good points that I've been pondering myself lately --- I've noticed that a lot of folks tend to mistakenly use the word "ego" (which only means "the self as distinguished from others") when what they really meant was either "egocentrism" (the act of being overly concerned with the self), or even "egotism", (an exaggerated sense of self).

When we make these distinctions, we see that "ego" itself is rather benign, and not the "bad guy" that we make it out to be in our common/colloquial speech (our tendency to shorten words to seemingly make communication easier is more than likely the cause of this). In essence, "ego" is simply what makes you YOU --- in other words, your center, as you suggested. :) When we look at ego in this way, it is certainly not hard to see how you can't have or project martial spirit without it! :)

10-24-2003, 08:40 AM
Hi Paula

its way too early for me to attempt depth here but i think where we get confused is seeing the difference between the Self and self-image-the personality, the stories that we hide our true selves behind.

What i seem to see in the work i am doing with Wendy Sensei is that in "holding space"-or "caring for uke" we can pass beyond the stories into true relationship.(as well as a lot of other really cool stuff)

Which is pretty much the reason i train to begin with.

btw-i really like your poem about tenkaning to the sunset...


John Boswell
10-24-2003, 08:54 AM

I re-read your post a few times, looked up a few words, thought it over a bit and finally came to the conclusion that... your understanding of ego and center are correct. Ego has a bad rap in society and to "hold space" as you put it does require ego or "center." And that's a good point, by the way, I liked that point.

Where you are getting lost, from what I can tell, is in other's perceptions of "ego" or specifically your own self and your own ego. I would put forth this question: Why do you care what others think of you/your ego?

We live in a world of hypocrisy and double standard, not to mention an ocean of political correctness. All of these seek to establish some Other person's 'ego' at the cost and expense of another or others.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion including yourself. That the term Ego has received a bad connotation and is being misunderstood is a valid point, but comes under the heading of "Their Problem." I make it a very specific point in my life to listen objectively to what others may say, but if I feel they are wrong or are mearly out to attack my own beliefs, I quickly drop what they have said.

Don't dwell on negativity, some people live to dish it out and will never change. You have to know when to let it pass on by. ;)

Respectfully yours,

John B.

10-24-2003, 09:30 AM
I think that without a "self," there's no center.

As such, I think what received a "bad rap" is not having "ego," per se, but being "ego centric." Kind of like the difference between having a "self" and being "selfish," I guess -- sort of a matter of degree?

If I remember correctly, I think there are also the concepts of "open attention," "dropped attention," and "ellipted attention," too. The sense I've received is to keep coming back to "open attention" -- in other words, retain the ego/self yet not be totally consumed by it, retaining the ability to keep awareness all around.

In the same manner, I don't think we can achieve "mushin" without touching on "yuushin."

So -- how would all of this apply in aikido?

-- Jun

Kensho Furuya
10-24-2003, 10:53 AM
I think this is a very interesting topic and extremely complex so I don't know if I can help at all here, but I have been dealing with this question for many, many years, in my dojo and with myself. Well, maybe I will throw caution to the wind and add my lousy two-cents here again against my better judgement. Jun brought up two very interesting terms, "mushin" which broadly means "no mind," and "yuu-shin" which generally means, "having or presence of mind." We generally understand these terms to be the "opposite" in meaning more or less. We "have mind" and then go through the process of eliminating this mind. . . . But oddly, in Japanese philosophy, "mushin" and "yuushin" have exactly the same meaning. Both refer to this, for lack of a better term, "pure" or "original" state of mind. Even in Japanese thinking, this is a difficult subject to understand. Perhaps we might say that Eastern thinking may have the "bum rap" of bringing along this idea of "eliminating the mind" or this idea of abolishing the ego.

Contrary to most general thinking, in Japanese Buddhism (discussing other forms of Eastern schools of thoughts will make this discussion excrutiatingly endless and painfully boring), the ego is recognized as an essential part of the person and his personality. The Buddha did not say to "eliminate" the ego, he said to "control" or "understand" it. Of course, much of this misunderstanding is due to sloppy people like myself to use these words too freely and interchangeably.

What they are speaking of in Zen, is not exactly what we call "ego." In Western thought, "ego" includes our personality and behaviorial make-up and encompasses nurture and everything else which makes us individuals, including our instincts and will to survive. How can we eliminate such an essential and major part of our make-up? This doesn't make sense at all and this is where, I think, many problems of understanding this topic lies.

In Zen, this so-called "ego," is actually, what they refer to a "clumps of consciousness (Japanese: go-on)," actually five different types of awareness are recognized which are insubstantial but make-up our perceptions of the world around us and ourselves. We like to also refer to these as the "colored" glasses with which we view the world or our discriminatory or biased mind. This is different from ego really and not our "true" selves. In the Hannya Shingyo, or Sutra of Highest Wisdom Beyond Wisdom, it states, "go-on kai ku" or "these lumps of awareness are essentially empty."

More simply, in Zen, we like to differentiate between, these "clumps" of consciousness as the "smaller" self which is essentially the "made-up" part of our personality and, in Zen and many Japanese fine arts and disciplines, seek this "original mind," or this "greater mental state," which is interpret as "mushin."

One point which may help you when reading Japanese philosophy is to think of this idea of "mu" which we translate as "emptiness" or "nothingness" - as "infinite." Generally, we might interpret this idea of "mu" as a form of negativism but this is far from the point.

In Zen, we say, a closed fist holds "nothing," but an open hand (which can hold any and all things = infinite) also holds "nothing." There are two meanings of "nothing" here.

In Zen, this great self is often referred to as "true self" or "original self." Some interpret this part of the individual as "God," or Nature. Please remember that, in Eastern thinking, we are obsessed with seeing ourselves as a tiny part of the greater scope of Nature and continually search for this original bond. In Western thought, we are directly connected to or come from God and God is generally viewed as a superior force to Nature which is also His creation.

In martial arts, why this persistent search for this "mushin" as the ideal state one must attain, is because it is this state of mind which does not discriminate or show bias which, in turn, causes us to hesitate, deliberate or not view the world around us (including the attacker in front of us) as it is, but as we interpret it to be. In our interpretation or bias (go-on), we do not achieve clear understanding or a proper view or even a correct attitude of the situation.

Takuan, in his letter to Yagyu Tajima no Kami Munemori, gives us a famous example of the thousand-armed Kannon, who can use all his arms so freely and in an uninhibited way, because it is a state of "no-mind," where our perceptions and bias do not interfere with what we are doing. . . . . He continues with the picture of viewing a tree and seeing the leaves. Our "smaller self" will try to focus on one or two leaves which may catch our attention, whereas, our "greater" self will view all leaves freely. . . . . .

Anyways, to make a long story short (too late, I know!), in Eastern or Japanese thinking, we are always differentiating between two types of minds within our selves. Generally, the "smaller" self which is biases and discriminatory, and the "greater" self which is what they consider a part of the Universe or Nature. . . . . "Ego" depending on how we view it, is a dangerous word to use so freely. . . . .

Eastern philosophy has been in America since the early 1800's with the popularity of esoteric philosophies which became popular here and in Europe at the time. . . . . Zen came to us here in the late 50's about the same time as Aikido. . . . . coinciding with the emerging "hippie" movement which also had a preoccupation with Eastern thought.

In the 70's, we are deluged in this country with "posivitism." I used to teach one of its great exponents of this movement who was also a former student of Aynn (?) Rand. He used to say, "I love myself" and "I am perfect!" I used to have heated arguments with him and his wife used to tell me, "you are the only one who dares to argue with my husband!" Everytime he took an ukemi and bumped his head or elbow, he would asked me, "What's wrong?" And of course, I would reply, "How can you be wrong when you are perfect?" And he would say, "Yes I know I am perfect, but it stills hurts my head!" I used to think, "What as ego!"

I only mention this because in the 80's and 90's, this idea of positivism or ego-ism was greatly disputed my educators who employed this in our educational system of the previous generation. They found that the idea of instilling within a person a feeling of "I am perfect" and "love myself" was actually extremely destructive to the personality and caused a great deal of problems as they grew up. Often, very often, the idea of "I am perfect" did not coincide with the reality of the world. . . . .

i imagine that some of you out there must be of this generation, haha. . . just kidding! Thanks.

Chuck Clark
10-24-2003, 11:00 AM
"mu ga"

Selflessness is a concept many budoka strive for. Is it possible for us to really "lose our self" or our "ego"?

Perhaps what really happens is that we become less fearful and lose our attachements. We can be human, awake, and aware of all that we're part of instead of feeling separate and self-involved.

Could that be ego in a twinkle in the eye?

(Many of the philosophical concepts connected with Vedic, Taoist, Buddhist, and Zen practices are misunderstood in the West because they continue to be translated into the closest literal meanings in English by people that have no understanding of their true meaning.)

Best regards,

10-24-2003, 11:29 AM

I do agree with everything you said as far as the mis-use of the word 'ego' but you also said that ego is necessary in a physical realm. Some philosophies argue that the sense of self is just an illusion that keeps us from fully connecting with the universe. In Aikido don't we reject the idea of competition, of wining and losing? In order to be truely unconcerned about the outcome of an encounter (where your life and your opponent's life may be at stake) don't you have to lose your sense of self, even if its just for a moment?

Even when its not a matter of life and death, losing yourself fully in some activity can be an incredible experience. No time, no concerns, no internal dialog, just doing.

Personally, I could do with a lot less me in my life!

John Boswell
10-24-2003, 12:23 PM
Ken Sparrow said:Personally, I could do with a lot less me in my life!
THAT... is hystarical! I give it two thumbs up! :D

Very funny. ;)

Kevin Leavitt
10-24-2003, 01:22 PM
Some very, very good discussion on ego!

As a practicing buddhist I subscribe to the theory that in order to acheive absolute piece and harmony, you must be able to surrender you ego 100%. That definitely occurs at death! (Interesting paradox in itself!).

That said, it is just that a theory, something to strive for, maybe not something obtainable, but a conceivable idea.

I think the best we can hope for is to train your mind to have less ego and at best maybe have brief moments when we are completely at one with the universe. I think through practices in meditation and arts like aikido you can bring yourself closer to that and maybe be able to extend the time from mere nanoseconds to maybe seconds or minutes.

I also think that the concept of KI is also related to ego. In order to have it, you must not have ego.

I like Ken believe I can live a lot better without as much of myself. (Wish you could lose weight along with ego!)

10-24-2003, 03:53 PM
In order to be truely unconcerned about the outcome of an encounter (where your life and your opponent's life may be at stake) don't you have to lose your sense of self, even if its just for a moment?

Even when its not a matter of life and death, losing yourself fully in some activity can be an incredible experience. No time, no concerns, no internal dialog, just doing.
Good point, Ken --- come to think of it, yes, it is a very liberating feeling to just completely immerse oneself in the moment of simply doing, where there is only serenity and awareness in place of the noisy voice in my mind...ultimately striving towards that perfect moment of loss of self: where there is no longer the feeling of separation or distance between you and uke, but a blending of both.

10-25-2003, 05:32 AM
Why eliminate the ego? Isn't that an unrealistic goal? Wouldn't we just collapse?

"Masakatsu agatsu" and mushin remind me that we're not trying to eliminate something from ourselves -- it's impossible for 99.9% of us. In fact, when do we try to eliminate anything in our practice of aikido? Rather, be in control of it, and don't let it dominate your actions.

The nature of the universe we live in is that no energy is destroyed or created, but transferred. The ego kicks in when some energy causes it to 'wake up'. Trying to eliminate it causes that tingling feeling while you think "Man, something HAS to be done".

Why not let the energy flow from your 'self-protection mechanism' into some other action or idea? Let the ego chew a little bit, then move to something else.


Kevin Leavitt
10-25-2003, 08:36 AM

To use your example of physics...engery can neither be created nor distroyed...that is correct it can only be transferred.

In order to increase your capcity to love, have compassion, and increase your ability to be in harmony with the world and others...you must empty your closet of some of the things you have it it...or make it bigger.

By a figure of speech, by eliminating your ego you clean out your closet a little bit, it allows you to see how much room is in there, the space is infinite if you look around!!! you just need to be able to see it through the clutter.

Once you figuritively eliminate ego, you become ONE with the universe, and the universe becomes your closet.

I suppose it is just semantics...maybe you don't eliminate ego as much as "let go" and allow it to go out into the world to transfer you energy to something bigger.

I think the capcity to love and to think is liited only by our own selves. Ego to me is that concept that prevents you from expaning that capcity.

I don't believe that it mean to destroy your self identity or your abiity to self realization, only to see clearly the world!

Kevin Leavitt
10-25-2003, 08:49 AM
Oh yea to be a little less new age and a little more "hard core".

Sun Tzu said "know yourself and know your enemies and you will be successful in 1000 battles".

I think letting go of ego is a big part of knowing yourself.

Also how do you have mushin or no mind if you have to think or have ego?

Ego causes us to think, which slows us down in our reactions. If you have ego you can't really understand your enemy and KNOW his move...you can only perceive what you THINK he might do.

In theory, if you truely understood your enemy, then he would see your compassion for him and the fact that there exsisted no way for him to beat you, not even a slight possibility, and he would not attack. Again, this is strictly theory!!! NOT TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY!!

10-25-2003, 09:37 PM
"Ego" is a word originated by Sigmund Freud to describe the mind's "reality principle." Since our unconscious drives (id) cannot be satisfied immediately, the ego strives to find a way to realistically satisfy them. When did ego begin meaning "arrogance" or "self-importance?"


10-25-2003, 11:50 PM

Whole-heartedly agree here. Regardless of textbook definition, ego is not a bad thing by nature, so why waste energy trying to get rid of it?

Based only on what experience I have in life, it's what you do as a result of some of those 'side effects' of ego that dictates who runs the show. Just from what I've seen in myself, anyway.


Kevin Leavitt
10-26-2003, 03:53 AM
Phillip, I think we are saying the same thing. Not sure, but sounds like it.

It's those experiences you have as an individual that dictates your perspective or outlook on the world.

Many lessons we learn from those experiences, such as touching a hot stove serves to protect us in a similar situation in the future.

But, there are many more experiences that we have that we tend to form judgements, paradigms, and perspectives on that create a false sense of perception and cloud our judgement.

At the least we need to be mindful and aware of the fact that our mind deceives us (ego) and that we should try and approach every situation with caution as to the actions we take. In the semantics of my world, this is the concept of ego.

10-26-2003, 11:05 AM
Seeing the name of Ayn Rand mentioned here, I could hardly resist replying. . .

First on the general topic, which is one I've been placing rather a lot of thought with lately. I have been frustrated by the Founder's and aikido instructors' teachings of no-ego, because I simply could not accept what those teachings said on face value. What I as a result have come to believe is slightly different from Paula's theory. I think that the problem lies not in the blurred distinction of 'ego' and 'egocentrism', between 'self' and 'selfishness', but in the vague definitions of those terms in the first place.

Here is the modern, commnplace perception of selfishness and egocentrism:

I want it, therefore I have a right to it. I am inherently better than others, I expect others to recognize that, and I will not hesitate imposing my will on others. When training, I will not care for the wellbeing or comfort of my partner, because only I and my success matter.

This, indeed, is something that is irresponsible, immoral and to be weeded out. Here is my ideal definition (incidentally, it's very close to Ayn Rand's):

I do not expect anything of others by default and I do not let others to by default expect anything of me. I consider myself neither better or worse than others merely on the basis of ability - I do not compare myself, for that is meaningless, as I am the only one I am concerned with (what difference does it make that people that I barely know progress faster or slower?). I admire mastery, and I strive to emulate it, but do not envy it - that is likewise meaningless. I reach for perfection, I _believe_ that it is achievable, but I do _not_ believe I am perfect without rational reason. I am a world onto myself, no other holds any right over me, not anymore than I hold a right over any other.

This latter, I believe, is perfectly compatible with the philosophy of aikido. Focusing on the center - becoming one - is, the way I see it, disconnecting from the irrelevant and leaving only the self. By avoiding an attack, I am denying anyone's right to hit me - by redirecting their force into a hopefully harmless fall, I am doing the bare minimum necessary to preserve my self and, to what extent possible, that of the attacker. Furthermore, in training, I am always aware that the nage-uke relationship is one of contract - of mutual consent to train together with certain conditions, such as not harming each other - which cannot be broken without violating another's rights, which would violate the principle of my selfishness. I give respect where it is due, I do not expect it unearned, but I will take pride that I have earned.

Turned out a bit rambling. . .anyway, that's my take on it. As for the earlier post involving a student of Ayn Rand and perfection, one of two must be true for the case:

1) The student was not a representative of Ayn Rand but of his own philosophy. Ayn Rand was a propagator of objectivism and rationality. A statement 'I am perfect' which does not match the facts of reality she would reject outright. She advocated the quest for perfection, the rational mind's continuous drive to improve, and even that was mostly a matter of ethics and morals - she asked for moral and ethical perfection, not for the instant ability to roll perfectly or build a house perfectly. She more than anyone emphasized the need for learning - and bumps on the way - before any person could achieve mastery of a given craft. Considering this, an 'I am perfect in everything' attitude can in no way be attributed to her. I am singularly unacquained with the positivist movement of the US in the 70s, though, so perhaps it was a characteristic of that movement.

2) I do not know how long you were acquainted with this person, Furuya-sensei, so I am no judge of this. Forgive me if I presume, but perhaps you did not know the philosophy of your student fully? If a man sees but a snippet of aikido, he will often think - 'those people are just jumping around. there's nothing to it'. The same holds true for any art, craft or philosophy of any depth.

My self and my selfisness, under _my_ definitions, are two things I would never give up, not even for something as dear to me as aikido. They are the only things that allow me to say 'I am', that allow me to feel joy in my work and satisfaction in my life. Without them, there would be no point in doing anything, aikido or anything else. One poster in this forum said - 'losing yourself fully in some activity can be an incredible experience. ' - indeed, but how is that an example of selfishness? I absorb myself in my writing or in my practice, and I derive selfish pleasure from it. How can an experience by incredible if there is no self to appreciate it? We cast away external concerns, yes - but we never lose and cannot lose our concept of self. We need it and we cannot separate ourselves from it - we can only try, and those attempts always end up leading to guilt, for, since we do not fail, we consider ourselves lacking in something, never understanding that it is inherent in us to have a self, that we should rejoice in it.

Enough typing for today.

Kensho Furuya
10-26-2003, 12:36 PM
I have read Ayn Rand and think that this person was more her "former lover,' as well as her student, as most people more acquainted with him say. . . . I really don't want to judge or make any qualifications in this. I just remember my own experiences with teaching him on the mats. . . very difficult for me. . . and I always thought just brash and unqualified statements as "I am perfect" were not well-thought out at all - everytime time he tried to learn a movement or take ukemi. I am only speaking from my experiences on the mat teaching him, not as an expert on Ayn Rand or this other person's philosophy.

As I mentioned, in my little essay. In Zen, they do not deny the "ego" and admonish to "abolish the ego" as many mis-understand today. It is an essential part of our beings and Buddhism and Zen recognize this well. What Zen says is that there are "perceptions" which also make up our personality and it is the part which creates "bias" and "discrimination" which causes problems for ourselves.

In Zen, there is a popular story about a couple who could not end their argument. The wife said, "I like you but actually I love myself more than anyone!" The husband also argued, "I like you too but not as much as I like myself."

They both went to the Buddha and asked for his advice. In this story, the Buddha is reported to have said, "As much as I love you both, there is no one in this world that I love more than myself!"

Of course, this is just a story which we use to teach students in Zen. But it means that we are all subject to our "egos" and there is nothing wrong with this. Probably, I have say, is that we recommend to use this "ego" more postively and constructively. And In Zen, we are always concerned with "selfishness" as being a source of many problems.

When I talk of "discrimination" here, please refer to Takuan's letter to Yagyu Tajima no Kami in the Fudo Chishin Myoroku, for an excellent, more qualified explanation than my own. Finally, I am speaking from the

standpoint and perspective of very traditiional Japanese martial arts and I think my thoughts and training are not as up-to-date as many here. Many thanks!

10-26-2003, 03:33 PM
I always appreciate your thoughts, Mr. Furuya. :)

Yes, ego isn't bad. But it really becomes 'dangerous' when it's working, and we don't know it.

"Irresponsible" and "immoral" are words from that body. I'm not disagreeing or picking on Toms, just using that as an example. We don't really notice it, but ego will drive as much as we let it.

When I took a 'sabbatical' from aikido several years back, I questioned my own integrity and my own actions with respect to my selfishness and perceptions. When I came back, I wasn't necessarily a 'better' or 'more enlightened' person, but I was a little bit more aware.

I learned that there is a lot of work to do to make myself aware of what I'm REALLY saying and what I'm REALLY doing... and I also discovered those answers don't come from perceptions from myself or other people, but rather, they come from the unblinking eyes of truth, the "what is".

Many of you seem to have a better handle on this idea, so I'm eager to hear what others have to say.


10-27-2003, 11:34 AM
I absorb myself in my writing or in my practice, and I derive selfish pleasure from it. How can an experience by incredible if there is no self to appreciate it?
Try letting your writing or your practice absorb you instead. There is a very important distinction.

Anders Bjonback
10-27-2003, 02:42 PM
Acharya (senior teacher) Reggie Ray said something interesting in my into into Buddhism class on this subject. Some people have this idea that any sense of self is bad. That's not necessarily the case. In some situations, like organizing for the future, or studying for an exam, a strong sense of self is very important. In others, such as very intimate moments between oneself and another, a moment when one needs to just let go of onself, a strong sense of self can actually be very harmful.

My understanding of this is that it isn't that having a sense of self is entirely harmful, it's that we grasp onto it as permanent and unchanging. It's something that comes and goes, continually falls in and out of existance in each moment, like a thought. When we grasp onto it as permanent and unchanging independent entity, we don't allow ourselves to grow naturally, and don't allow ourselves to not have a sense of self when we really don't need one.

It's also important to understand that, as Sogyal Rinpoche has often said, in realizing egolessness in the Buddhist sense, you actually have a very healthy ego in the western sense.

Anders Bjonback
10-27-2003, 02:54 PM
Oh, there's also another common misunderstanding. Buddhism isn't about "destroying your ego." If you focus on destroying your ego, then that's completely against the point, since you're thinking there is a self to get rid of.

There's three different kinds of thirst according to Theravadin scriptures, the third being "the thirst for non-existance." The thirst for non-existance is trying in some way to escape your experience, by drinking heavily, etc, or by meditating, trying to convince yourself that you do not exist.

10-27-2003, 07:34 PM
Try letting your writing or your practice absorb you instead. There is a very important distinction.
There is not, in fact. You cannot 'let' anything absorb you without absorbing yourself in it - the idea that you are 'letting' it happen in itself defines that the source of action springs from yourself. In any case, the point was grammatical/logical. What I am saying is - I think have experienced and appreciated the state of mind you are describing, but I disagree as to its meaning - that is, I disagree that it is a state of no-self.

Thanks, everyone, for the Eastern philosophy insights, by the way. The attitude towards the ego of those systems of thought seems much more logical to me now than before, from only hearing bits and snatches of ego-denouncing.

I am still fairly sure that a significant portion (though certainly not all or even nearly all) of misunderstanding in the general ego debate is a misunderstanding of definitions.

Johann Enslin
10-28-2003, 04:22 AM
Ego simply refers to "SELF" (from latin origin)Where no self interest or self love exists, none can be shown to others.

Paula Lydon
10-28-2003, 07:47 AM
~~Hear! Hear! Johann E. I know some people who claim to be working on their monkish detachment and 'death of ego', and quite frankly, I find them cold, distant, rude and much more absorbed by and focused on themselves (their ego) then in simply moving through their day unconcerned. This, to me, is the negative side of ego where their self-interest and self-love is negative and so that's what they manifest in the world~~

10-28-2003, 12:57 PM
I have no ego, I'm the most humble person I know.


Kensho Furuya
10-28-2003, 03:12 PM
I think this is a very interesting discussion here. Several points I think we have to be aware of is that in Japanese, we do not really have an equivalent term for "ego." There are terms for "self," etc. but nothing which carries the same range and depth of meaning as "ego" and I think this is where we may have problems in finding direct correlations of such terms as "self," "ego," and "I." In another similar thread, the terms, "mushin" and "zanshin" are also brought up. Another point, I think is that, even in Japanese philosophy or martial arts, etc., there are no neat catagories for each of these terms nor do they fit into a rational and empirical system of thought. One has to understand each term in the situation and time and circumstances in which it is used. The meaning also varies greatly between one master and the next, one school and the next.

Actually, mushin, yushin, zanshin, etc. all have the same meaning. . . . and really refer to the same mental state. I think we are also caught up in this discusssion without realizing a very Eastern custom of referring to abstract ideas in the negative. As an example, when we speak of "self," we generally refer to it as "no-self," in a sense meaning that "self" itself is difficult to define. This is a very common practice in Eastern thought, so we must not get too caught up in positive and negative dualism. In Japanese, for instance, "infinity" is "mu-gen," meaning "no limit." I don't want to go into this too much but there is no "positive" word for infinity. It is this similar practice to refer to such "difficult to define" things in the negative. Much like an ink painting which is defined by the blank spaces as well as the brush strokes. . . . .

Someone mentioned that "there is no self without the center." Actually, in Eastern thought, it may be more the idea of "there is a center, but the self is insubstantial." When they speak of "no self" - it is often in regards to finding one's center and disregarding or not focusing on the "bias" self which we identify as ego. In Eastern thought, the "ego" is not the "true self" which exists and is undeniable. I think there is a danger of mxing up this idea of true self which we seek as "mushin" or "mind" in our training - our true center - and this other idea of an "imaginary" self which is that part of our personality which is made up of discrimination, bias, duality, chaos, confusion, doubt, hate, etc. . . . .

In Buddhism, the "self" is definitely recognized and it is easy to say, "destroy or disregard the self" but this may be just sloppiness on our part to define such terms so superificially. Again, in Buddhism, they are not referring to the real or true self of the individual but perceptions, bias, etc. which we create as an image of one's self. Especially, in Zen, if I were to ask my teacher such questions as "what is mushin?" etc. I would probably be smacked real hard! What this means is to not concern yourself with such definitions or catagories - in another words "see mu-shin with mu-shin." Mu-shin is mind but, for Easterners, "no-mind" describes this mind better than "mind." Haha! By now, you are probably ready to beat me with a stick along with my Zen master!

We often define zanshin as a mental state of focus at the end of the technique. This can also be misleading, I think. This particular focus at the end of the technique is actually what connects one to the following movement. Zanshin is a strong mental focus which connects one movement to the next, to the next, etc. In this respect, as in Aikido, there are no separate, distinct movements or techniques, but one technique flows and is well connected with the next, and the next and next, etc. What keeps this flow continuous, is the state of zanshin which keeps the mind from breaking off this flow. Just as in traditional Japanese calligraphy, one stroke of the brush may end, but it actually continues into the next stroke, it is merely that the brush is lifted slightly off the paper. The end of one stroke is actually the beginning of the next. This connection is extremely important in good calligraphy. Zanshin keeps this mental flow going and connects each physical movement or technique, as the case may be, with the next. In this light all movements and all thought is one flowing process and really does not break up into separate or distinct segments - this one grand process of movement, physical acitvity and mental focus is mushin. It is the "smaller" self or bias mind which says, "ok this is finished," "ok, let's start the nest technique," and on and on. . . . . Zanshin, mushin, yuushin, etc are simply looking at different sides of the same coin. . . . .

And speaking of coin, with one more, you have my "two cents" here. . . .haha! That's all it worth! Ouch! I think my dear, beloved late Zen master just reached down from Paradise and gave me a smack on the head!

Anders Bjonback
10-28-2003, 06:50 PM
~~Hear! Hear! Johann E. I know some people who claim to be working on their monkish detachment and 'death of ego', and quite frankly, I find them cold, distant, rude and much more absorbed by and focused on themselves (their ego) then in simply moving through their day unconcerned. This, to me, is the negative side of ego where their self-interest and self-love is negative and so that's what they manifest in the world~~
I hope I'm not one of those people.

If someone misunderstands the Buddha's teaching and thinks that he or she has to destroy his or her ego (as I have done before), then I think it's pretty natural for them to be negative. The way they treat themselves will reflect on the way they treat others. If one is only becoming cold-hearted, then I think there is something fundamentally wrong in one's spiritual development. I think it's really important to remember maitri, or loving kindness, towards oneself, and that working for the enlightenment or happiness of all beings does not been all beings besides oneself. (Sorry for being all-Buddhist in these posts but that's all I really know in terms of this subject matter).

But I don't think it's about moving through one's day unconcerned, either. Trying to remain unconcerned about everything could be seen as another way of trying to remain detached from everything, perhaps as a way of trying to put up a sheild between myself and my experience.

Suzanne Cooper
10-28-2003, 09:29 PM
Good heavens! There are so many deep thinkers here.

I love to read threads like these. They really give all of us insight into our aikido brethren.

And brethren I do consider all of you!

And to think that a martial art would be such an open door! There isn't anything in mystical Christian theology, that I can point to from my limited experience, that resembles aikido.

It's as though aikido were a sort of physical prayer. I know that doesn't make clear sense. I'll keep working on figuring out a better way to describe it. Unfortunately, I'm quite full of pain medicine at the moment [horrifying root canal yesterday][busted shoulder, toothache--what next?? :)]. Perhaps my thoughts will be clearer later.

I hope that I can continue to learn from everyone here on the aikiweb forum for a long time.

Kensho Furuya
10-28-2003, 10:46 PM
Oh my gosh! Please don't say that - there is a great treasury of wonderful writings in Christian mystical thought going back to the Bible, through thru centuries into the modern age. Thomas Merton writes on both the East and the West and is well known and recognized in many quarters of literature and the fine arts. Please read some of the recent writings of the current Pope John Paul II on his ideas of meditation and prayer. The writing of some of the early saints resemble Zen anbd Buddhist writings in a most profound way. Please read some of the writing of St. Ignatius and you will see the monastic order and method of practice very similar to what we observe in the traditional dojo. I think when we get down to discussing pure spiritual experience - most religions are very similar indeed.

It may cause problems of understanding to refer to Aikido as "prayer" or "physical prayer."

Again, the definitions of "prayer" and "meditation" etc are broad and defer greatly. Thanks!

10-29-2003, 05:19 PM
IMHO, the learned-identity-ego is very useful, it just should not be take too serious or too personally.

Suzanne Cooper
10-29-2003, 09:04 PM
Hello Kensho-san!

I knew it! I was afraid I wouldn't explain myself very well. Yes, indeed, the purely mystical experience is very well discussed in mystical Christian theology!

May I try again? :)

There isn't a Christian equivalent to aikido's concentration and visualization. As best as I can tell so far, ki hasn't been represented to be equivalent to prayer.

Prayer, in a Judeo-Christian context, is in essence an intimate conversation with the One whom we know loves us, as observed by St. Teresa of Avila. And by definition, one may pray while working, and should, but they are not really equivalent activities. Complementary, but not equivalent.

What I was after when I called aikio 'physical prayer' was a way to describe such a perfect melding of purely temporal mental power with purely physical activity.

It is completely outside my sphere of experience. Every mental thing I do is prayer-related. Everything! Now, it is probably nothing more than vocational motivation, but I don't have any other point of reference.

Sensei's 'beginners' questionaire asks what the student wants to get from aikido. I listed 'self-knowledge.'

So far, I've discovered that there is another side to the mind--even my mind! And I've discovered I shouldn't try to communicate just because I wish to! :blush:

Pop! goes the ego! :)

Kensho Furuya
10-30-2003, 09:17 AM
Don't worry, I give you more credit than that! Pope John Paul's writings talk of meditation as part of our everyday physical activities of living which cannot be separate in how we communicate with God, as in prayer and meditation - this exactly echoes the Zen idea of "mindfulness" in all of our daily behaviors, or as in the expression of "every-minute Zen."

The late Mother Teresa also practiced daily service to others as a form of prayer and communication with God.

One of my students, a very well known celebrity, went to Calcutta to visit with her and returned very disappointed in her. I think he tried to impress her with his credentials and pestige but she totally ignored this and simply put a shovel in his hands and told him to get to work! Although my student was totally disenchanted with her, I was so impressed her spirituality and devotion that I almost thought of going to live in Calcutta myself.

In our daily activities from one moment to the next and when we are on the mats training throwing people around, when does this flow of energy stop, when are we not doing Aikido? I think it is all the same activity. It is only our biased mind ("self") that distinguishes between practice hours on the mats, work, play, sleep, eating, walking, etc. . . . .

I still don't want to call Aikido a form of "prayer" only because I think my own students will misunderstand this idea. . . . . . . As usual, my first concern is how I am teaching my students. I do think that there is nothing which separates our spiritual lives from our so-called normal lives. Many thanks!

11-04-2003, 06:10 AM
I've practiced aikido for three and a half years and zen for 6 months.This was the same question that occurred when my zen training began.As a fine artist I would'nt have a career without ego.That is probably true for all proffesions,but glaringly so for anything in the creative field.We are the only species on earth (that I know of anyway) that feels the need to express itself in this way.The question may be what is the true deffenition of ego vs. more contemorary conotations.

The training I've done has lead more toward a conclusion of whether you control your ego or it controls you.

An ego is a terrible thing to waste.I'm quite fond of mine.

Miss Jen.

Kensho Furuya
11-04-2003, 06:24 AM
Why limit your life to the slim boundries of your ego? It is not a question of definition or whether you accept it or not. Ego is there and a part of your personality so there is really nothing to do to about it.

Kevin Leavitt
11-04-2003, 03:03 PM
....other than to acknowledge it and be constantly aware of it's affects on your view/perspective or outlook of the world.

Kensho Furuya
11-04-2003, 03:17 PM
exactly! Thank you!