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Old 07-14-2004, 10:22 AM   #9
Fred Little
Dojo: NJIT Budokai
Location: State Line NJ/NY
Join Date: Apr 2001
Posts: 632
Re: Article: Lack of Spirituality by George S. Ledyard

Szczepan Janczuk wrote:
I don't think that O sensei, Shioda sensei or Tohei sensei had "a well thought out system of belief ". They took elements from different sources, and modeled it at their will. i.e. O sensei beliefs were quite different that Omoto system. The same for Tohei sensei and Tempu Nakamura sect.

I prefer to think, one's mind has to reflect pure aikido technique's teaching as water of the lake reflects a moon's light. It is very safe option, cos any system of belief is very tricky for human's mind and will deform O sensei's transmission.
We can definitely say that the Founder's spiritual practice has roots other than just Oomoto. But it's far from clear, given the eclectic nature of Oomoto practice and belief, that the Founder's "beliefs were quite different (than the) Oomoto system."

By the same token, whichever one of the Founder's students is "transmitting" the Founder's teaching, that individual's "system of belief" will color the transmission. The notion of "pure aikido techniques" as with the idea of any kind of "pure transmission" is, arguably, like "a rabbit with horns" or "a barren woman who has given birth," in short, a logical impossibility.

The phrase "system of belief" may be as misleading as it is helpful. Are we discussing "belief in spiritual entities," "belief in common ethical principles," or "belief in the benefit of particular practices?"

The Founder seems to have been clear on the first point, saying that practice of aikido doesn't require adoption of another religious tradition, as in his often quoted advice to Andre Nocquet:

[One day] I said to Ueshiba Sensei, "You are always praying, Ueshiba Sensei. Then aikido is a religion." "No, that's not true. Aikido is never a religion, but if you are a Christian, you will be a better Christian because of aikido. If you are a Buddhist, you will be a better Buddhist."

On the second point, there seems to be little difference between the various wisdom traditions. All of them seem to agree on the basics: avoid killing, avoid stealing, avoid screwing around, avoid lying. The rest is pretty much local nuance.

The third point is where the rubber hits the road, and I think that is part of what George Ledyard was getting at in the article that spawned this thread, as well as his thread on "Ancillary Practices."

With aikido or anything else, getting your mind to the point where it is capable of "reflect(ing) pure....teaching as water of the lake reflects a moon's light" is one heckuva job.

This is not an overt technical focus of most methods of "prayer" in the Abrahamic tradition, although there are a few mystical traditions such as the Trappist Monasticism or some forms of Eastern Orthodox practice which have emphasized this sort of thing.

But in the context of East Asian wisdom traditions, whether you are talking about Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism, or Confucianism, basic mindfulness meditation practice seems to be a foundational technique of all of them, although some are better known in the West for more elaborate or exotic elements.

My feeling is that this kind of practice may have been so much a part of the cultural water the Founder swam in, that its absence elsewhere may have been beyond his ken. Additionally, it is a form of "physical practice" that doesn't necessarily require a particular "belief," although individual traditions may emphasize the need to begin meditation practice with that tradition's notion of a "right view."

From the perspective which regards basic meditation practice as fundamental "mind-body training," time spent simply sitting while engaged in contemplation may be as important as mat time in terms of developing the facility of clear perception untinged by "attraction or aversion." Manifesting that same level of clarity and "non-reactiveness" while someone is attempting to grab you, or hit you with a hand or a stick seems a bit trickier. Maybe some people are ready for that kind of advanced practice without basics, but I'd be hard-pressed to make that claim for myself.

My personal belief is that such practice is generally beneficial, to aikidoka as well as other individuals. Conversely, given what we do know about not only the Founder, but most of his most advanced students, some practice of this kind seems to be a part of almost all of their lives. Abe Sensei and the late Hikitsuchi Sensei included misogi practice (including meditation) in the instruction they gave to many of their students, Tohei Sensei and many of his followers drew this material from the Tempukai, and similar examples reach down into the lives of many, if not most, of the Shihan in North America.

But as Sugano Sensei once said in an interview when he was asked about weapons practice in aikido dojo, "If you want mochi, go to the mochi maker."

Less obliquely, people who are looking for this kind of practice should find a source that is in keeping with their own proclivities and cultural affinities. That may take them outside their aikido dojo, but that's just fine.

If someone is receiving benefit from aikido practice without any of that, that's great. And for those folks who feel no need for this kind of ancillary practice, if the Founder didn't require it of anyone, who am I to say otherwise? Maybe they will change their minds at some point. But pushing it on them in the meantime and insisting that they simply must do this, that, or the other thing isn't likely to help either their aikido practice or get them to the meditation cushion.

Theory and belief are one face of the coin, pragmatic action in the world is the other. Separated from each other, you get fanaticism in the first case and amoral opportunism in the second. For me, much of the beauty and power of aikido lies in the way good practice brings the two back together again creatively and experientially.

Though I must admit that my meditation instructor would be very happy if I spent more time sitting......

Best regards,

Fred Little
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