Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Does Budo require a sense of shame?
Yes, I think you are all making some very relevant points - all excellent comments. You are all getting what I am poorly trying to talk about. Moreover, you all are helping me to better formulate what I am trying to get at. So, for that, thank you.
I am beginning to see that the word "shame" carries too much negativity today. So much, that it seems unable to really function as a spiritual tool and/or as a tool for self-advancement and/or self-perfection. To be sure, there was a time when that was different, but, today, it seems we cannot get over the "dark" things that are now associated with this word. In my mind, yes, this is part of the problem. That is to say, our incapacity to utilize a sense of shame spiritually is connected to our modern tendency to try to avoid these more repulsing aspects of our emotional selves. That said, I would never want to suggest that such introspection is for everyone or even that it is something that everyone MUST do. I have already said numerous times that not every is open to such teaching and/or to such learning. My only critique, or (better said) the only critical deduction that can be drawn from my position is that for those folks that are pursuing "spiritual" cultivation and/or mastery of the art (whatever those things may mean), it seems overly accepting, and therefore foolish, to try to achieve such things with only the utilization of our more positive emotional states. (More on this below.)
As I said, there was a time when such a position would not be considered such an affront to common sense and/or to our common wellness. The discrepancy between that time and this time, and the ensuing effects of that discrepancy is what I am interested in. How has such a thing affected our training -- our understanding of Budo as something that cultivates the spirit and/or that inspires mastery (i.e. inspires a penetration of the depths of our art and inspires a dissatisfaction with the superficial aspects of our art)? For example, here we are today saying that "shame" is not so important and/or that there are better ways of thinking of what we want to say with the word "shame," and yet here is what Meng-Tzu (Mencius) said:
"'Shame' is the greatest and most important word in a person's lifetime. Why? Because one who knows shame, will put forth his or her best efforts into reforming faults and will eventually attain sagehood or become a saint. One who cannot comprehend the word ‘shame' will be unrestrained and immoral. This person will then be just like an animal."
It may be important to note that being "like an animal" meant that one was not human - that one could not therefore fulfill the depths of their own humanity (i.e. becoming virtuous, following the Will of Heaven, etc.). As everyone knows, the writing of Meng-Tzu are central to both Budo and to the thought of Osensei. Here is another example -- this one taken from the tales of the Buddha (Buddhist thought, especially that concerning the various states of mind, is also important to Budo and thus to Aikido):
"As if to make up for the seven years he was without a father, the Buddha took great interest in Rahula's (the son of the Buddha) moral and spiritual education, teaching him many times himself, and making Sariputta his preceptor and Moggallana his teacher. Rahula responded to this excellent tutelage by being an eager and attentive student and it is said that each morning as he awoke, he would take a handful of sand and say: ‘May I have today, as many words of counsel from my teacher as there are here grains of sand.' As a result of this enthusiasm, the Buddha said of his son that of all his disciples, he was the most anxious for training. When Rahula was still a boy, the Buddha discussed with him aspects of Dharma that were suitable for the young and in such a way as he could understand and remember.
Once, he got a pot of water and calling Rahula to his side said to him:
‘Rahula, do you see the small amount of water in this pot?'
‘Even so (i.e. like this), little is the training of those who have no shame at intentional lying.'
The Buddha then threw the water away and said: ‘Do you see this small amount of water that I have thrown away?'
‘Even so (i.e. like this), Rahula, thrown away is the training of those who have no shame at intentional lying.'
The Buddha then turned the pot over and said: ‘Do you see this pot that has been turned over?'
‘Even so (i.e. like this), turned over is the training of those who have no shame at intentional lying.'
The Buddha then turned the pot upright again and said: ‘Do you see this pot now empty and void?'
‘Even so, Rahula, empty and void is the training of those who have no shame at intentional lying.'
The Buddha then impressed upon his son the importance of speaking the truth.
‘Rahula, for anyone who has no shame at intentional lying, there is no evil that that person cannot do. Therefore, you should train yourself like this: 'I will not tell a lie, not even in jest.''
Having explained what has to be done, the Buddha went on to explain to Rahula how it could be done.
‘What do you think about this, Rahula? What is the purpose of a mirror?'
"The purpose of a mirror is to look at yourself."
‘Even so, Rahula, one should act with body, speech or mind only after first looking at oneself. Before acting with body, speech or mind, one should think: 'What I am about to do, will it harm me or others?' If you can answer: 'Yes, it will,' then you should not act. But if you can answer: 'No, it will not,' then you should act. You should reflect in the same way while acting and after having acted. Therefore, Rahula, you should train yourself thinking: 'We will act only after repeatedly looking at ourselves, only after reflecting on ourselves.'"
I do not believe it is mere accident and/or coincidence that the author of this story has connected the need for a sense of shame with honesty, the Truth, introspection, social responsibility, and had the Buddha speaking thusly to his student that was the most anxious to receive training. For me, Ron has repeated a very similar story, filled with as much wisdom, when he said:
"The fact of the matter is, even in those less frequent times he is on the mat, I find something in his training manner that is less 'casual' than mine. I guess my awareness of this difference and how it motivates me is what you are calling 'shame'? Personally, I'd simply call it honest self-reflection, and the ability (when used correctly) to modify my approach to achieving my goals."
In answer to your question Ron, yes, this is what I would call "shame." As I said earlier, I am trying to refer to a repulsing energy that I am suggesting is vital to our spiritual pursuits. On the one hand, I am talking about this, and, on the other hand, I am talking about our Modern resistance to such repulsing emotions. I am interested in what I have called a deeply personal and internal emotional response that is repulsive in nature and that is related to some aspects of our training in some very real and positive ways. I tied this "deeply personal and internal emotional response" to the presence of an ideal, a desire to be near that ideal, and one's given distance from that ideal. In my questions, I suggested that an awareness of these three things is something positive. I also suggested then when "shame" is understood as an awareness of having two contrary desires (i.e. the one mentioned just above and any other desire that acts contrary to the latter) it too could be considered something positive. While Modernity may want us to "only feel good," such an emotion as shame does have within it the capacity to repulse us into consistency and thus away from self-alienation and/or a need to manufacture delusion. Thus, as we can see in Meng-Tzu and in the tale of the Buddha, shame can be considered part of our mental and emotional well-being -- part of our overall wellness.
As I have said several times now, this is quite contrary to how we reflect upon shame and/or how we let ourselves experience shame today. As Rob said, few of us will be able to utilize repulsing emotional states, "to focus on letting go of our habits and really try to see more of what's going on." Most of us will indeed only go on to perpetuate a sense of disempowerment in another. (Yes, Alice Miller is very relative here -- excellent recommendation!) For me then, this too is part of the problem -- there are three things now on the table: a) The role shame can play as a repulsing energy; b) Our Modern resistance to experiencing shame and/or utilizing shame; and c) Our individual incapacity to turn shame into anything other than an unsaid excuse for abusing others. For me, all of these things are interconnected. So perhaps it is best to take on Ron's suggested definition of "an honest self-reflection that is coupled with the ability (when used correctly) to modify our approach to achieving our goals." Maybe today there is just too much baggage associated with the word "shame."
The only downside to such a definition is that we are today prone to carry out such introspections, very well and good, when everything is light and airy, whenever everything can feel good, when it is easy, etc. We are not so capable of doing this when what we will see is not what we will like. Somewhere in the definition then I would personally like it to be clear that we are indeed referring to both attracting and repulsing emotional aspects of ourselves -- what today we call positive and negative states of being.
Camilla, I really like your reply. I think it balances things out nicely and makes sure that things stay on the ground somewhat. I would never want to get too distant from what you are pointing out quite nicely. However, I think it is important to also point out that within your position there lays two positions that could possibly end all need for reflection. First, there is the position that such reflections are irrelevant -- at least for those that are not "serious" or for those that are not attempting to "master" anything. Second, there is the very position I am attempting to problematize. Though not stated directly, there seems to be present the notion that all can be achieved through positive means alone.
I realize I am PULLING these things out, but I am doing so in order to explain the following more clearly. It is true that I have used the words "serious" and "mastery" above, but I would not want to limit such a reflection to these two types of training only. They were used here as extreme cases for magnifying the topic at hand. Really, we are talking about an awareness of (and the ensuing repulsing emotional response) any discrepancy, contradiction, and/or inconsistency between where we are and where we think we are (i.e. between our true selves and our sense of self). We do not need to be serious and/or master of anything in order for such awareness to remain relative. Therefore, I would like to suggest that we think of things in this way and not become caught up on the words "serious" or "master" and start talking about the vagueness of such terms and/or the impossibility of the latter.
In problematizing the Modern tendency to always stay positive, I have attempted to question the validity of such a position. In particular, I have raised issue over how closely such a tendency is to a need to engineer delusion. In a similar way, other religious thinkers throughout time have connected a capacity for shame to clarity of mind -- or a type of wisdom that sees things more clearly. For me, because of the relationship between Modernity's tendency to keep things positive and its supporting need for delusion to be manufactured, the positive route is not only often NOT the shortest, it often goes nowhere. For example, in the example brought up by Ron, a thing we have all experienced, we may want to say we can just concentrate upon getting better. We then go on to assume that this is all we need. However, we often do more than this. We also often go on to believe that this is exactly what we are doing -- when we are in fact not. Consequently, we create delusions, through which we can allow ourselves to interpret reality in such a way that it reflects our positive tendency more than it does the Truth. In the end then, we end up justifying more a will to do nothing than our original will of doing the best we can. A good example of this is when we connect our will to do the best we can with a notion that progress is restricted to a distant future (which we know is a time that never arrives). Along the way, we support this odd coupling with bits and pieces of conventional wisdom (e.g. "There are things other than Aikido that are also important." "To train maturely is to train without a preoccupation for progress." "No one can ever master the art." Etc.) I think we have all done this in one way or another. What we do not all realize is that through these conventional wisdoms, when they are coupled with the notion that only the distant future holds our improvement, we have basically justified our inaction -- in that we have for all intents and purposes equated non-action with doing our best.
At times like this, what the ancients knew, and what we seem more and more incapable of understanding, is that this cycle of non-action and/or wrong action needs to be broken at the incapacity to see things clearly. A prime way of coming to break this incapacity to see things clearly is to be pushed (repelled) out of our self-manufactured and self-serving delusions. How does this happen? Or, how can this happen? Either we or someone else goes right to the heart of the matter (i.e. the discrepancy between our true selves and our sense of self). For example, we say, "There are things other than Aikido that are also important." They or we say, "Yeah, but are you capable of treating those things as if they are significant or do you dabble in everything as you do in Aikido?" We say, "To train maturely is to train without a preoccupation for progress." They or we say, "Yeah, but the key word here is ‘train,' and you do not do enough of it to progress -- let alone to be preoccupied with progress." We say, "No one can ever master the art." And they or we say, "Then you might as well quit now since you have robbed yourself of the one goal that might have had you training throughout the hardships and changes of your life," or "Yes, the point of mastery is that it is unattainable -- for we can only chase eternally after something that is eternally beyond us. We do not use ‘mastery' to train less, we use ‘mastery' to train more." Through these honest self-reflections (again borrowing Ron's phrase), we cultivate clarity. Through such clarity, because we are being repulsed from our self-serving positive-oriented delusions, we experience a sense of shame as the contradiction between our stated desires and our unstated desires become known to us. With this sense of shame, our future actions, our redirections, carry with them both a repelling inertia and the capacity to bring us a keener "eye" -- a mind less prone to creating, falling for, and/or needing delusion.
This is just more of what I am thinking with all of your help.