View Single Post
Old 09-11-2005, 10:45 PM   #27
Erick Mead
Erick Mead's Avatar
Dojo: Big Green Drum (W. Florida Aikikai)
Location: West Florida
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 2,403
Re: Omoto-kyo Theology... Relevant?

Hello Shaun

Your post, BTW, is an excellent example of "enter and blend." Much appreciated.

As to David's objection, it is reasonable to make. While I could could argue hammer and tongs the specifics of the Neo-Confucian revival of the Ming, the results of that experience in my education attuned me to patterns and processes of interaction between different modes of thought as they historically encountered one another ultimately affected and adapted, both one another and the societies that they serve (or disserve, as the case may be).

These processes turn out to be remarkably similar in their shape and nature the world over, even where the specific cultures in conflict or transmission involved may vary greatly from circumstance to circumstance, and even though the results, highly contgent as they must be, vary also. I do not feel it improper to examine the matter on such broad scales, because a worldwide culture is in the process of forming around us. It is of a scale and coherence not before seen. That said, it is however, not the first example of this process, by any means.

That "meta-question," if you will, is my chief interest, played out with as much specifics as the situation demands for sound observation and analysis. To me, the meta-question is indispensable precisely because Aikido is encountering numerous particular idiosyncratic traditional cultures, a rising worldwide culture that is, to various degrees, encountering each of them at the same time, (in some cases threatening to supplant them), as well as number of the synthetic cultural movements (the cultural salvage missions as I have desribed them). I do not place any value judgments on any of these classifications, as each has it respective merits and demerits depending on the issue at hand.

My point is this that this process has happened before, a number of times, just not at the same pace or with the same seemingly irresistible flood.

Now as to David's points :

"Aikido is an antidote to exceptionalism," David says that no statement could be further from the truth.

On this I submit only the experience of the dojo. Ikkyo requires, REQUIRES, for its effectiveness that in performing the initial irimi that one not care about the fact that one is stepping under a sword, a shomenuchi, into munetsuki or what have you. Ego is self-consciousness, because the conscious appreciation of "me doing [fill in the blank]" is what ego is all about.

If I am self-absorbed to any extent, to that extent I am a danger to myself in trying to step under a sword. The conscious part of my brain is busy watching me step under the sword, when it could helping out more with its focussed observation ability or even by just getting out of the way and quit commanding attention to itself. That does not mean that innocence without technique will not be brutally cut down, but that a new innocence, (the beginner's mind so bandied about) must be regained through the learned technique, once its rudimentary forms are grasped.

Ego is thus reduced through the medium of practice (how much depends on the will of the practitioner). This process is evident in watching anyone who sticks with practice. The objection will be made as to the self-selection of this group, but this is an unavoidable fact.

David also challenged:
"Moreover, when you say such things, you need to manufacture support for such claims, and hence you say things like, "Osensei pursued the same ideal as Omoto but using non-mythological tools." Again, from my perspective, nothing could be further from the truth."

Ask and it shall be given:

It is undeniable that O-Sensei spoke freely about his own understandings of the cosmological and psychological principles underlying aikido, and that these were from traditional sources, given his own idiosyncratic interpretation framed by his Omoto experience, and colored by explicit early Shingon teaching as a child. David had asked for more specifics on the Shingon aspects of O-Sensei's systematic thought. A good discussion with references on the correspondences between Shingon mantrayana and the kotodama system developed by O-Sensei, and a few too brief points on his early education in Shingon is here: (if it is no longer there, Google it for the cached version)

It is equally undeniable that virtually none of his first line student had any of the necessary background in such matters to thoroughly understand what he was saying. They largely did not see its significance to their practice, much less to try to convey to others in turn. It is, in fact, from the third and fourth order students that detailed interest in such things has been awakened, and not from his direct students.

This is not to say that O-Sensei was some idiot savant, whose only competence was the physical art of aikido, far from it. He explained what he was doing, and why he was doing it, simply in terms that do not translate well to post-modern observers, because of their specific mythological basis, and the reliance upon cultural allusions that are esotreic and difficult even for ordinary Japanese to appreciate.

Many of these students around trhe world are already fully invested in aikido and understand to varying degrees its practice and significance in its own terms. They are now trying to translate its significance into terms that their cultural references make available. This is strongly suggestive. They are looking Omoto and Kokugaku and other aspect of Pre and Post War Japan for clues that will tie in more readily to their own cultural systems, to furthr aid their own students in turn.

The point is, O-Sensei had developed an art of intuitive physical and spiritual significance which did not depend on the mythological underpinnings he used to develop it and to understand its significance for himself. Aikido as he developed it did not require his particular mythological foundation to teach it, as few if any of his primary students ever learned it. He also made clear by his continued teaching that aikido did not require scientific validation in order to justify its effectiveness. (Science is but another, vastly more rigorous, highyl effective, form of mythology. If you disagree with this, ask any handy quantum physicist.) It is not too far a leap to suggest that he intended his art therefore to be taught in terms that were spiritual, but not mythological, and physical but not physics.

But I do not have to make that leap because he said it for himself.
He did not intend for his own mythological understanding to be a limitation on the understanding of his art in extremely large terms. He meant his art to be understood in any mythological tradition, and thus it could not be dependent upon his own.

For such traditions to survive for any length of time they must speak to truths of the human condition that are relatively timeless, and therefore common to all human societies. When references become stale, they necessarily change, but the core content (while not rational in nature) is true, coherent and preserved. In making the multifarious connections I have discussed, I am, indeed, merely following his lead.

"Kirisuto ga ‘hajme ni kotoba ariki' to itta sono kotodama ga SU de arimasu. Sore ga kotodama no hajimari de aru." (‘In the beginning was the Word', spoken by Christ is this kotodama SU. This is the origin of kotodama.) See "Andre Nocquet Returns To Japan," Aiki News #85 (Summer 1990).

Some ideas or observation have been made in one place and then and transmitted around the world. These broad connections have potential significance. Some ideas echo around the world and then are given new and different voice when they are heard across the seeming chasm. Aikido is one of these ideas.

I will immediately depart from the particular content of the quote, if only to avoid the crows squawking "Christian" "not Christian" in the "are not" "are too" mode that tends to be prevalent in other threads that venture into the topic. Do not infer any disagreement on my part with the quote, however.

Shaun Ravens wrote:
Hi David,

I do not want in any way to make it seem that I am in support of Erick's point of view, which by and large I am not.

If someone watched a thousand hours of aikido videos and read 100 books in various languages, and yet had no interaction with any aikido teacher, is what he is practicing with his next door neighbor in his garage aikido because it looks like the aikido he saw in the pictures and videos? How does he even know what Aikido is, or that any of the individuals in the videos or books did not garner their understanding of the art in the exact same fashion as he - that being completely disconnected from the art.

What separates most from the founder is their own ability to say, "Yeah, this is what the founder was doing, cause if I'm doing it, and I say it is Aikido, then it must be aikido…
Shaun leaves me teased and wondering on what we may disagree, but I will await the opportunity for him to elaborate.

I find Shaun's point a useful observation, because Aikido has often been described by the unknowing as somehow related to Zen when it comes from a different Buddhist lineage altogether, and that only derivatively as a result of ryobu shinto and continued transmission of that line of thought through Omoto, and other dissident to the Meiji kokugaku official orthodoxy.

Aikido does relate to Zen, but rather by right of common function. They are in fact two examples of the same class of teaching methodology even though they are only very loosely related in historical terms. The classical definition of Zen, which focusses on the manner and purpose of its method, resonates well with Aikido as it is taught by those generally acknowledge to be among its best teachers.

A special transmission outside the scripture;
No dependence on words or letters;
Direct pointing at the mind of man;
Seeing into one's nature and the
attainment of enlightenment.

This perspective also makes a significant reason for aikido's cross-cultural success intuitively obvious. It is the things taught that are not said in books, or said at all, and certainly not capable of being seen on video, that define the art. For this reason lineage of teaching still matters, not for narrow parochial competition, but to understand one's place and role in the universe of teaching that exists.

That is why Omote matters to me, as it lies in the lineage of my teaching, as does Shingon, and perhaps as well some of the more interesting connections that I explore.

Erick Mead
  Reply With Quote