Thread: Spirituality
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Old 06-28-2006, 02:03 PM   #68
Erick Mead
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Dojo: Big Green Drum (W. Florida Aikikai)
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Re: Spirituality

George S. Ledyard wrote:
This term "spiritual" is coming to mean something specific in the American mind. When polled, some large proportion of Amereicans stated that they were "spiritual" but not religious. So the term is starting to have a meaning that counterposes "spiritual" against "religious" which I take to mean having to do with the established religious faiths.

This certainly seems to be the way in which many people view Aikido... it's somehow "spiritual" but stripped of the overtly religious aspect which it had in O-Sensei's view. O-Sensei was clear, though, that he did not see Aikido "as" a religion but rather as a practice that enhanced all religions. It is that statement that seems to leave quite alot of leeway in defining what Aikido spirituality can be for different individuals.
This is long, but, I hope, worth it. It pulls together several threads of thought I have been considering separately until late.

The history of religion is sadly neglected and vastly more important now as its influence becomes far less explicit -- in the manner that Ledyard Sensei accurately describes, as well as positively aggressive and dangerous (as discussed at length in the "Aikido, military, fighting" thread and in a related OT discussion over on Aikido_L).

Rome, Persia, China, and even Japan historically were organized along the ancient "priest-king" model. The very idea of a division between religious and secular matters was at one time simply, and almost literally, inconceivable. Religion was seen in ancient societies as the glue that held the people together. Religion means "To bind together." A highly accurate translation of the Latin (religere) into Japanese, BTW, is "Musubi." Christians were early on described as "atheists" by pagan Romans, for whom the idea of breaking the relationship between the secular and religious was simply indecent and disordered.

Buddhism broke this paradigm in the East. Christianity broke this paradigm in the West. There have been contenders against the principle in both areas, notwithstanding that, but the principle has held, by and large despite the exceptions proving the rule. Kokugaku represents one fairly recent attempt at revival of that mode.

The same conceptual division of sovereignty led to the ideas of British constitutional restraint of sovereignty and ultimately to the U.S. constitutional federalism, and without the prior ("give unto caesar ...") example the idea of a "divided sovereignty" would be a nonsensical non-sequitur. That divided sovereginty was premised by and exists to protect individuality.

What has this to do with Aikido and spirituality? Religion requires (creates) form and structure. People do not like to live without form and structure. Religion is therefore a necessary condition of social existence. Spirituality is the morphing of religion into an individualistic form -- as so many other social concerns have morphed into individualistic forms.

Those opposed can rail against it all they want, but the ideals of individualism are not going to go away and they will inevitably affect all human societies and all aspects of them. With religion however, strict individualism is somewhat at odds with the basic function of religion, of which "spirituality" is the individualistic evolute. What "spirituality" lacks is form structure and common bond, which is precisely what indivdualism strips away and religious need requires. As the King of Siam said "It is ... a puzzlement."

I believe that one cannot practice aikido and get any good at it without inculcating its spirituality into the very fibers of your body, and to the same degree that one becomes technically capable in it.

Aikido is therefore religious in its mode, -- it is a coherent form and structure and ethics manifested and requiring devotion of self in committed connection other human beings, even if it cannot be adequately identified with any one religion of local adherence, even those of its place of origin. Just because it is religious in mode, does not make aikido a "religion."

Aikido is something rather new, actually. It is not superior to any of those religions of local (or global) adherence, nor is it necessarily antithetical. Of course, I would not hold to any system of belief that would likely violate my sensibility of aikido, and I do not find that any principle or practice of aikido violates any precepts of traditionally orthodox Christianity either. I see no reason for any necessary conlfict with any traditional religion of consequence.

I find this to be true even acknowledging Prof. Goldsbury's points about the seemingly contrary actions by some practitioners ( and even O-Sensei) at odds with this sense of spirituality. Even saints are still sinners -- the difference is, a saint who sins will repent of his error, and the magnitude of the repentance will be matched to the degree of realization of the error. O-Sensei even said once to the effect that he did not cease making the same errors that new students made, he just had learned to make them less often and to recover from them faster.

The loss of religion as a separate and independent pole of "binding together" in all modern societies, (as this is a general worldwide trend) has resulted in the continuing displacement of religious primacy in areas in which religion formerly held sway and in the growth of secular control over those areas, and increasingly to the detriment of individual liberty -- which was formerly the watchword of opposition to certain religious mandates. Such is the irony of history and power.

Secular powers increasingly act in ways to discredit or diminish or push out the influence of all religions over many areas of social and individual existence. This is also a part of the impetus of radical Islam's highly reactionary push-back that is ongoing.

Many people in modern societies also sense this. Lacking as much confidence in religion of their forebears (for the foregoing reasons of its active displacement and discrediting by secular forces) they are actively seeking a replacement for the absence that they feel.

Some people seek out cult religions of specious sorts. Many seek the roots of their own traditional religion -- but in a modern mode that has yet to come to grips with modernity's individuality of expression or opinion and yet also maintain coherence as a system of common bond. Some make a religion out of secular power, which is becoming a very dangerous thing, and arguably, more dangerous than the ancient kind.

This does not mean that Aikido is about to become a religion, now or ever. The modern sense of individuality is antithetical to the development of the coherence known to traditional religions. Even the fairly sober non-traditional religious cults are ever so slightly pathetic, because they are attempting to recreate something in a place that is not fit for its present development. Modern cults (including Omoto) have largely tried to collectively individuate or individually collectivize -- in the collective chant of Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' "Yes! We're all individuals! We're all different!"

Traditional religions developed in circumstances where the individual as an ideal did not seriously affect social evolution. They have developed along with the trend toward indivuality, and are indeed responsible in many respects for incubating, and causing it to flourish it. Both Christianity and Buddhism enjoy this accolade, and Islam is not wihout its own contributions, present controversy not withstanding. Traditional religions will continue and they will grow because their essential function is not lost and their necessity remains. But reckoning with the full flower of individuality they have nurtured has yet to occur.

Aikido stands apart from this -- but yet in the middle of it, somehow. Its paradox intrigues without end. There is an overall historical trend toward individualization. Like the political split of sovereignty in federalism that exists to protect individuality, Aikido has to some degree split the idea of religious connection from doctrinal agreement, without deeply wounding the benefits of either one.

The concept of Musubi is at the heart of this, it seems to me, and O-Sensei's emphasis on Takemusubi (conflict/connection) underlines this. Musubi individualizes the notion of gaining meaningful religious connection to other human beings, in a way that does not dminish their individual differences and in many cases, oppositions, and both permits and teaches means to develop common bonds despite, and in some respects BECAUSE OF those differences. Takemusubi is a foundational concept upon which ecumenical ideals have far greater range to play.

Erick Mead

Last edited by Erick Mead : 06-28-2006 at 02:16 PM.
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