John Matsushima wrote:
It is in obvious question that many ponder the relevance, or necessity of spirituality in Aikido. But for those who do want to include it, why do so many seem to practice the traditions of the East instead of their own? Why do people chant kotodama who can't even speak Japanese? I have seen many people bow before kamidana and shrines in their dojos, and clapping their hands before practice and not even know why, thinking that it is just a form of "respect". I don't even know why so many people in the west even have these things in their dojos if they aren't somehow rooted in Shinto or Buddhist religions.
To me, Aikido as an art would be much richer for those who include spirituality to keep to whatever faith they had before they started Aikido. For example, I would say if you are Christian, then you should say an Our Father and pray for world peace before practice and have a cross on the wall instead of a picture of "The Great Sensei". I'm not saying that I think you have to be Japanese to follow these Eastern traditions, but why not just follow your own? Instead of bells and incense and little oranges on a shrine, why not something a little closer to our hearts? Practicing a faith, one which we can truly understand and is close to our hearts, I think would bring new meaning and depth to our practice of Aikido.
This is not a question of whether or not spirituality should be a part of Aikido, but that for those who do think so, what are your thoughts ?
This is a deep question with lots of answers.
In the West, we have not only a bias against our religions but in some cases even a hatred and I might add, it is a mindless one. I have friends who would never allow a prayer to the Christian God to be offered in a dojo and that would be offensive to them but then turn around and allow all kinds of Japanese Shinto practices in the dojo with no question at all. Part of this is because they lack awareness of the Shinto nature of the practices and it is their own ignorance of that which gives them a benign attitude toward it.
Also, the Japanese world view is open to many religions while the West mostly has "one true religions" so we are more sectarian than the far Eastern people tend to be. Again, this is raw ignorance.
Here's the weird part. As a Christian, it is easier for me to participate in the Japanese rituals than it may be for them to do the reverse. It is like the Apostle Paul's argument that it is OK to eat meat sacrificed to idols because there really are no other Gods (He taught there was only one true God). In other words, any Christian offended because a fellow Christian was eating meat that had been in a pagan sacrifice was in fact weak in his understanding because what he was being offended at was a myth with no fact in spiritual reality. (ICorinthians 8:1-6) If I accept the tenets of the New Testament, I know that the particular beliefs of Shintoism aren't true and that O Sensei really isn't coming back by the clapping to observe the practice or aid it in any way. It's just clapping with no real metaphysical results. In that case, because I hold to the tenets of my religion, it is easy to go along and ignore the Shinto but accept clapping as a cultural practice rather than a religious one because by clapping, I, in my heart am not accepting Shinto cosmology. I am just clapping because my teacher is clapping.
Finally, Kisshomaru Ueshiba said that the final criteria he had for the expansion of Aikido to other countries is that Aikido not be internationalized culturally. He said, "As far as Aikido is concerned, the uniqueness of Japanese philosophy forms its essence, and my conviction is that anyone who disagrees with this is no longer an Aikido practitioner. The meaning of internationalization is not that the unique tradition becomes internationalized, but that Aikido practitioners in every country should change and unite with the tradition."
So we have a compromise. Me as a Westerner not accepting O Sensei's Omotokyo or Shintoism but willing to participate in some outward forms that are part of the Japanese culture because they have no basis is metaphysical fact (in my mind). At the same time, I as a western Christian can find some commonalities where we do touch on some spiritual truths that are commonly true and I can accept O Sensei's and Aikido's overall general philosophy without having to check in my mind at the door and drink the Kool-Aid. If I can accept most of the more general philosophical results or conclusions, then I can do Aikido and promote it's philosophical "ends" without having to accept it's philosophical "means". I can strive for peace and harmony and ki- mind - body coordination - it's "end", without having to believe that when O Sensei practiced Aikido, he really stood on the rainbow bridge between spirit and matter - his "means".