Re: Religion and Aikido
I am Buddhist and an atheist as well since Buddhism has no concept of God. What I find interesting about the spiritual aspect of aikido is just as its name described--the path to harmonize ki or energy. In practicing aikido, we engage on the path to harmonize energy with our ukes or opponents and extend that connection with the energy of the universe. Because of its "art of peace" philosophy, aikido techniques can teach us how to harmonize negative energy coming our way, but to extend that connection with the energy of the universe, that requires certain level of meditation practice.
The object of zen meditation is to "illuminate the mind and see our true nature" and to see our true nature is to know ourselves absent of delusion. In achieving this, we can cultivate the four sublime states through meditation and they are lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). In brief, lovingkindness is extending our love toward all beings; compassion is having empathy for all beings that are suffering; sympathetic joy is rejoicing in others' success, welfare and happiness; and equanimity is seeing and treating all beings equally.
So how do these four sublime states related to the spiritual aspect of aikido? In simple terms, if we learn to cultivate these four sublime states, we will learn to see things as they truly are not how we perceive them to be. With our visual eyes, we can see the ukes, see the techniques that are coming, but in order for us to feel the energy, often we have to join the uke's attack. But as one practice meditation regularly just as O Sensei practice meditation on a daily basis, one can develop a high level of concentration such as one-pointed focusness and develop what we called the "third eye". So when an uke moves toward us with an attack, we can sense the motion of energy before the attack, connect with the uke's energy, and execute the technique by extending the energy with our surrounding. Energy is gathered through our toes and extended upward toward our "dantien" (two inches below our naval) and from there, channels throughout our body and extends toward our fingers and out, connecting with the uke, and dissipates in a radius that depends on our level of meditation training. We know we are extending the energy with the surrounding if in a randori practice situation, we are executing the technique on one attacking uke, yet, all ukes that are within the circumference of our energy field can feel our energy and are affected by it. O Sensei developed the third eye because not only can he sense the opponent's approaching energy, but he can also see the energy motion as a streak of white light and see the movements of the uke in slow motion so that by the time the uke executes his technique, O Sensei has already completed his defensive technique and the uke is down on the ground and can not see what technique O Sensei just executed.
So through meditation (develop Concentration), we can cultivate our mind to see our true nature and once we see our true nature, we can see the true nature of everything else that are around us (develop Wisdom) and be able to connect with them in a cosmic sense. Then, we can truly achieve the spiritual level of aikido or any other peaceful martial arts such as tai chi.