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Old 02-16-2006, 09:14 AM   #1
ian
 
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Freaky! Social responsibility vs individualism

Some recent posts regarding people not showing respect, people being banned from the dojo etc have suggested to me a conflict in the philosophy within martial arts.

Samurai obviously honoured their lord and had a philosphy of respect within the hierarchy. I can also see this reflected in some people's posts.

Conversely, in taoism and zen, it would be too strong to say that they have a sense of 'individualism', but they completely dismiss the hierarchy (other than as an operational thing with no real intrinsic value).

I suppose I tend towards the later view, believing there are unspoken 'social contracts' between people whereby you respect certain codes (e.g. the law) in return for something.

What are your thoughts? - do you believe that we should abide by social convention (or have a social conscience) regardless of the cost to ourselves? Is that the 'honourable' thing to do? Is there a conflict between the spirit of zen, and the philosophy of the samurai? Is it dangerous to obey the hierarchy, or is it irresponsible to ignore it?

---understanding aikido is understanding the training method---
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Old 02-16-2006, 09:43 AM   #2
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

a) How strong is the actual link of 'Zen' to a class known as 'the samurai'? There has been some spirited debate about this...I tend to think that the connection to zen is overated, though not entirely absent.

b) How strong is the actual link of 'Zen' and the 'Samurai class' to aikido? I see some of the issues above here as well.

Quote:
do you believe that we should abide by social convention (or have a social conscience) regardless of the cost to ourselves?
Social conventions tend to make good guidelines, but bad laws. As a guideline, I think they function fairly well. But the moment we give up our own responsibility for our actions to the group, serious problems can occur.

Quote:
Is that the 'honourable' thing to do?
'Honourable'? you'd have to define that for me.

Quote:
Is there a conflict between the spirit of zen, and the philosophy of the samurai?
Does it matter? If there is not much of a relationship between zen, the samurai, and the many different philosophies associated with that class (some superimposed on the class during and after it's demise), then it probably doesn't matter.

Quote:
Is it dangerous to obey the hierarchy, or is it irresponsible to ignore it?
Both. The individual should always feel the tension between the two extremes, and seek to find balance. This applies to life...not just Martial Art culture in a dojo.

I've been thinking about this subject due to the conversations that have been taking place, and frankly, have to wonder why the issue is so difficult. For me, aikido is mostly about relationships. So I would be very carefull not to damage those relationships due to my online posting. And I understand that the things I say online can legitimately affect those relationships. Anything else to me, smacks of schizophrenia...one personality online and one offline. To me, they should be the same, regardless of the fact that online others may not be able to distinguish that. It is good if you can supplement your online presense with video as David V. does, but not really necessary, in my opinion. The fact is, I try to get out and about in aikido...there are enough people who have trained with me in person to cry foul if I should step over some line (or my estimation of myself, for sure).

To me, freedom of speech / action is not separate from responsibility or consequence. To suggest otherwise (in my opinion) is to be morally bankrupt.

Best,
Ron

Last edited by Ron Tisdale : 02-16-2006 at 09:54 AM.

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
St. Bonaventure (ca. 1221-1274)
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Old 02-16-2006, 10:07 AM   #3
Alec Corper
 
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Absolutely Ron,
We are not and can never be two people (or more). If we believe this we are simply becoming an increasingly fractured individual, and the truth of that will eventually manifest to all who know us. To respect a hierarchy is only possible if there is something there to respect, if not, then disassociate yourself from it. The value of a group depends upon the values it holds for those who need that group. Cease to need the group and the question then shifts to your sense of obligation and service: does the group need you? All of these (and many other apparent contradictions) are resolved within the michi of continual developement.

If your temper rises withdraw your hand, if your hand rises withdraw your temper.
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Old 02-16-2006, 10:31 AM   #4
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Quote:
Ian Dodkins wrote:

Conversely, in taoism and zen, it would be too strong to say that they have a sense of 'individualism', but they completely dismiss the hierarchy (other than as an operational thing with no real intrinsic value).

Are you sure about your assertion?

I remember when Buddha started teaching after his enlightment, his first students were his old fellow "truth seekers" before his enlightment. He demanded them to call him "master". A few times, when his new diciples called him "dear friend" out of habit, he corrected them in a stern tone "call me master".

It seems to me that respect to your teach is a very must in zen as well.
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Old 02-16-2006, 10:42 AM   #5
Alec Corper
 
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

the middle way requires constant polarity shifts, from hard to soft, from quick to slow, from discipline to freedom, each a correction to the previous state of attachment, to prevent arrestation from setting in. One who teaches should be capable of administering what is needed when it is needed, having overcome partiality to personal opinions and states of being where social conventions are concerned.

If your temper rises withdraw your hand, if your hand rises withdraw your temper.
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Old 02-16-2006, 11:46 AM   #6
Edwin Neal
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Roosvelt said, "I remember when Buddha started teaching after his enlightment, his first students were his old fellow "truth seekers" before his enlightment. He demanded them to call him "master".

i do not recall him ever demanding i call him master...

Edwin Neal


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Old 02-16-2006, 11:48 AM   #7
Edwin Neal
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

loyalty to a group or person is a virtue... blind, unquestioning loyalty is not... we all have brains and we should use them...

Edwin Neal


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Old 02-16-2006, 11:59 AM   #8
roosvelt
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Quote:
Edwin Neal wrote:
Roosvelt said, "I remember when Buddha started teaching after his enlightment, his first students were his old fellow "truth seekers" before his enlightment. He demanded them to call him "master".

i do not recall him ever demanding i call him master...
Buddha only taught to who he deemed of worthy teaching and demanded them to call him "master". To the rest, he said "rotten wood can't be sculptured. son of a dog can't be taught".
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Old 02-16-2006, 12:17 PM   #9
Edwin Neal
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

"He went first to Mrigadava in Varanasi where the five mendicants who had lived with him during the six years of his ascetic life were staying. At first they shunned him, but after they had talked with him, they believed in him and became his first followers." --Dhammapada

Be the master of your own mind. -Buddha

both delusion and enlightenment originate in the mind...

Edwin Neal


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Old 02-16-2006, 12:25 PM   #10
jonreading
 
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

That's a tough question, and I'm not sure about the best way to address it...

As an individual, I am bound by the constraints of society; many of these contraints are written into laws but some are not. We obey some societal constraints and ignore others. In the US, we constantly fight over individual v. government rights, it does not suprise me that conflict exists elsewhere.

I think the first point I want to make is demostration of loyalty and respect is utterly changed from earlier times. The roles and expectations of people have utterly changed from earlier times, the dangers of life have utterly changed since earlier times. We look down on those that are obedient, and we look down on those that are "blindly loyal." We condemn "servants" and those that serve others as a poor profession.

Imagine an aikido class with a diverse group of participants. An individual begins training and shortly begins injuring students. The new student is not intentionally causing the injury, but eventually injures half of the student body. At what point does societal good (student body) outweigh individual need (reckless student)?

No answers, just more questions...
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Old 02-16-2006, 04:48 PM   #11
Michael O'Brien
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Quote:
Ron Tisdale wrote:
The fact is, I try to get out and about in aikido...there are enough people who have trained with me in person to cry foul if I should step over some line (or my estimation of myself, for sure).

Best,
Ron
I'm just not getting the opportunity to start attending seminars and traveling to some different places to train finally. I'm hoping to have the opportunity to train with you someday in the future Ron.

Harmony does not mean that there are no conflicts,
for the dynamic spiral of existence embraces both extremes.
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Old 02-17-2006, 12:16 AM   #12
Duarh
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Individualism per se need not lead to conflicts within a dojo setting (or most other places, really). It is my individualistic wish to train and better myself in aikido; the dojo I wish to train at requires a certain standard of etiquette and behavior from all wishing to train at it; therefore, it is in my interest as an individual to comply with said standard.

Alas, the slogan of individualism is all too often used to basically cover up spoiled brat behavior - the equivalent of "I want, so I must have". This is the kind practiced by gangsters and dictators, and also at least on occasion by most of us regular folks. Individualism can only be practiced consistently (by peaceful people) by recognizing not only your own individuality, but also that of the people around you - that includes your sensei, senpai and kohai too. There need not be no conflict between individuals who understand individualism to mean "I put my own interests first, but recognize that no one else is obliged to do likewise". My sensei has no obligation to teach me; if he does so, it is perfectly reasonable that he stipulate conditions and rules, which I can then accept and train or refuse to accept and leave. In this sense, social responsibility can be automatically enforced - if a part of society dislikes my behavior, it is free to refuse to interact with/help/teach me. This creates a framework within which it is in my self-interest to be cooperative. If I refuse to accept the rules of a group and yet demand that the group expend energy on helping me and teaching me, I am no better than the kid who won't do house chores or homework, but still clamors for that new game console.
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Old 02-17-2006, 06:27 AM   #13
ian
 
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Forgive me for saying, but zen buddhism wasn't introduced by Sakyamuni (the Buddha) but by Boddhidharma; however I suppose the master/student relationship is strong in zen. However, it does seem that, on the students enlightenment, this relationship completely disppears.

I think Edwins quote:
Be the master of your own mind. -Buddha

is fantastic.

But - when we talk about social responsibility in terms of finding 'the middle way' don't we really mean, doing whats socially acceptable when it is either a. part of our conditioning or b. it will be of gain us in the long term.

I think Nazi Germany is a simple example of where doing something not accepted by your society (e.g. helping Jews) was actually a good thing. Don't we have to develop our own moral standards, independent of the society or culture in which we live? And if our morals are not based on our society, what do we base them on? Also, where do we make that balance of when to act against our 'society' - is that dependent on how much we will suffer as a consequence (e.g. our standing in that society or rejecting by it), or is it a strict moral decision?

As a simple example - why is killing bad? Is it not just socially bad rather than intrinsically bad. And if that is not the case, why do we allow it in certain cases (e.g. when backed by our own tribe or 'society' i.e. in war)

Last edited by ian : 02-17-2006 at 06:29 AM.
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Old 02-17-2006, 06:45 AM   #14
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

As someone who works with the public and sees many strangers every day, it seems to me that "individualism," here in the U.S. at least, has lost much of the meaning that it once had. Individualism can be a strong force for good if it is tempered with respect for others. Unfortunately, that respect has crumbled and what remains has degenerated into a crass materialism. I see amazingly thoughtless behavior, and irresponsible attitudes, becoming more commonplace.

Indeed it was to escape such attitudes in myself, and to find a way of dealing with what I see in others, that I came to Aikido. And here, at least, I have found something that will help. In my dojo, there is plenty of room for each of us to be "individuals," and to have our own goals and desires. But all behave respectfully. I've learned my own lessons, of course, and found myself re-thinking some of my own attitudes. And I find myself less willing to become angry if I am treated disrespectfully. I have grown as a person, and I see that as true Individualism.

And I've only been at this for six months. How will it be in ten years' time? Those of you who have been at this for longer...how do you feel?

This is an amazing Art.
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Old 02-17-2006, 07:50 AM   #15
Robert Rumpf
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Quote:
Ron Tisdale wrote:
a) How strong is the actual link of 'Zen' to a class known as 'the samurai'? There has been some spirited debate about this...I tend to think that the connection to zen is overrated, though not entirely absent.
For starters, books like this provide you with resources about koans particularly created on behalf of samurai in the past.
"Samurai Zen: The Warrior Koans," by Trevor Leggett.
"Zen and the Ways," by Trevor Leggett.

Other books of a more recent bent speak directly to the involvement of notable martial arts individuals with Zen and Buddhism, such as:
"The Sword of No-Sword : Life of the Master Warrior Tesshu," by John Stevens

I'd have to reread my Munenori or my Musashi to judge that again, but my memory has them at least talking the talk.

Even recent people are very strongly influence by Zen and Buddhism.
"The Spiritual Foundations of Aikido," by Bill Gleason

As someone who is not a scholar in this area, but who merely reads what is written, I'd love to know if there was any reason why I should specifically doubt this connection. Do you have any resources available on the lack of linkage between the two?

Rob
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Old 02-17-2006, 07:54 AM   #16
grondahl
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

An interesting read regarding bushi and zen:
http://www.e-budo.com/forum/showthread.php?t=29123
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Old 02-17-2006, 08:45 AM   #17
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Hi Rob,

The ebudo article is a good one. Yagyu Shinkage Ryu is a valid Zen connection. But many other examples are often things that were grafted on...take for instance Aikido, Zen, and Chiba Sensei. He replaced the Shinto items with Zen as his personal choice. Nothing wrong with that...but as for Aikido's origins, Shinto is where it was at for Ueshiba. Not Zen.

Also, my A) and B) were simply to make sure people questioned those linkages and made informed decisions for themselves. By doing so, when they make a decision, it will be based on good information, not just a slap shot, hit or miss, mostly false if partly true common [mis]knowledge kind of thing.

Best,
Ron

Ron Tisdale
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Old 02-17-2006, 09:00 AM   #18
SeiserL
 
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Oh man, do you mean its not all about me?

Lynn Seiser PhD
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We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 02-17-2006, 11:37 AM   #19
Erick Mead
 
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

Quote:
Ron Tisdale wrote:
He replaced the Shinto items with Zen as his personal choice. Nothing wrong with that...but as for Aikido's origins, Shinto is where it was at for Ueshiba. Not Zen.
Let me put my foot in ... Many westerneers have only a superficial knowledge of East Asian culture and the very complex way in which it developed. This topic is REALLY at the heart of some of those complex interactions. Since I spent a lot of tax dollars to learn it, let repeat a little of what I learned.

First let me give a couple of historical observations and then an observaiton about the operation of KI in indiviual and social responsibility (from an Eastern perspective) that flow from that history through to Aikido.

Although the two are quite distinct, there are deeper connections among the roots of both Zen and Shinto than many realize.
Fifth century Confucian and Taoist teaching informed the development of Shinto thought as a sytem of belief and with the attendant adoption of aspects of the Chinese metaphyiscs int Shinto. IN-YO (yin-yang) systems date in Japan from this era.

"Zen", is the Sinicized Sanskrit word "Dhyana" that simply means meditation or contemplation. Zen came along into China in the about the same time that Confucian/Taoist ideas were entering Japan. The Taoism of the time had its own rather different set of contemplative practices, very similar in concept to many of the misogi and shugyo practices of Shinto, if different in detail. From that developed the spare, minimalist, non-dualist, non-rational style that we now recognize as Zen. By the eighth and nith centuries, Shinto was beginning its own encounter with the tantric forms of esoteric Buddism, Shingon and Tendai. (Shingon in particular also informed OSensei's early upbringing.) Zen came to China with Rinzai (Linji) and Chinese Zen Monk in the late tewlfth century.

Shinto is more carefully mytholigized, idealized and ritualized than Zen, as was the older type of Taoism that came over with Confucian teaching at that earlier era. Where as Zen tended to minimalize, Shinto tended to elaborate. Both of these teachings in Japan have strong Taoist components despite their distinctly different flavors, The most critical of these is the concept of ki.

The Confucian developement of the Taosit idea of ki is seen blended in the Chinese idea of the Mandate of Heaven. Ki must flow smoothly from uke to nage and back again and any blockage of the ki circuit is percieved as force or conflict between the two. Similarly, the Chinese and later Japanese ideal had the flow of ki upward from the people through their superiors (nobles were often refefrerred too as "kami" -- "those above" it should be noted) to the emperor (Son of Heaven), and then flowed back down again. This is the model of Confucian/Taoist social piety.

This developed a revolutionary aspect in China. When the flow of ki from heaven to earth (Tenchi) and back again became blocked, anyone who had the power to remove the blockage was obliged to do so (tenchi-nage). In extreme circumstances an entire dynasty could be (and not infrequently was) justifiably removed.

Japan did not deveop this last element to the same degree, or more fairly, perhaps it had to wait for it to develop on its own from a later start than it did in China. In any event, the social stasis that persisted from the advent of fo the Tokugawa to the Meiji restoration, was a period where social aspects of flowing ki were not well-developed, but neither were they absent. The effort to "purify" Shinto in the late nineteeth centruy as a bolster to the Imperial State Shinto cult was an effort to expressly remove such "troubling" "foreign" elements. The resulting blockage of social ki led, as we all know, to disastrous results in the 1930-1940's

Japan (and China now) are deeply committed to an encounter with the (seemingly) chaotic ideals of the West, in which they find both close cousins and seemingly intractable conflicts. (The idea of the "Invisible Hand" as an economic organizing principle is about as good a Taoist image as could have been hoped for from an eighteenth century scotsman). Individualism as an ideal (instead of an "unfortunate" aberration), is still being slowly digested as an uncertain addition to East Asian sensibilities.

Both Shinto, and to a greater extent, Zen are in the process of a deeper encounter with Christianity, in its own cultural environment, and vice versa. The interplay of ideas about social responsibility and individualism and mutual respect that flow from our present encounter should be richer for the interaction, as long as we let the ki flow where it will and do not stop it up with either ill-will or ignorance.

I would note that, with the possible exception of Sufis generally, and Turks, particularly, that much of the Muslim world seems very much outside of this ongoing process.

This is a very deeply troubling thought.

There is little evidence to suggest that respect of those in one social structure willingly given to those in another is developing among the Sons of the Prophet as it has between East Asians and Christian (and Jewish) Europeans. The sense of individualism as a necessarily complementary ideal within a social structure is notably lacking any obvious advancements. General applause and admiration for suicide bombers cannot be interpreted any other way.

Anyway, I will remove my foot now...

Cordially,
Erick Mead
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Old 02-17-2006, 01:16 PM   #20
Scott Josephus
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Re: Social responsibility vs individualism

[quote=Jon Reading]

I think the first point I want to make is demostration of loyalty and respect is utterly changed from earlier times. The roles and expectations of people have utterly changed from earlier times, the dangers of life have utterly changed since earlier times. We look down on those that are obedient, and we look down on those that are "blindly loyal." We condemn "servants" and those that serve others as a poor profession.

QUOTE]


I think that this is a very interesting point, considering our Samurai tradition, and that the meaning of the word Samurai translates as "to serve" roughly. At least, that is my understanding of it . . .

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