What Exactly have we Stumbled upon Here? by Steve Kanney

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We are all very busy in our lives. We need to earn a living, take care of family, etc. In the midst of our busy lives, we suddenly stumble upon a practice that teaches us viscerally to respond to violence with compassion, and not just on a superficial level. As we have seen in previous posts, by cleansing our minds with this process thoroughly over time, we can wipe out all sources of discontent. At the same time, we can improve our ability to function in the world enormously. The objective is bold and all encompassing.One of the properties of this approach is an ability to provide an endless spring of benefits. If you plant a seed for a strawberry plant, you will get a few strawberries that year. Next year you have to plant a seed again. But this process of replacing a selfish mode of existence with a more altruistic alternative is first of all enjoyable and secondly bears fruit in geometric proportions over time.  For example, Koichi Tohei talked about his experience in World War II as a commanding officer in the Japanese army on a mission to penetrate deep into China. Imagine for a moment the psychological damage one might sustain engaging in warfare and killing other people and losing friends in the name of the Japanese Imperial cause (think Viet Nam Vets). Imagine the damage to the families of those who died. Koichi Tohei used his meditation practice to learn to center himself during combat. Yet as a practitioner of Aikido he found taking life reprehensible. When he caught a Chinese enemy, he was supposed to kill or imprison him. Instead, he disarmed and released the man. The Chinese subsequently realized his wish for peace and would simply wave at his forces in the fields rather than shoot.  He was able to accomplish his mission without losing any of his own men or killing any of the enemy. What better outcome could you desire than have no one die? One simple act of kindness led to saving countless lives in horrific circumstances. (Journey to the Center:  Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind and Spirit by Thomas Crumb pg 79-80)

Morihiro Saito explained that there are two types of people in the world of Aikido, those who talk about it and those who do it. Saito Sensei tended to use very simple language. Given the benefits Koichi Tohei experienced, we can recognize the level of responsibility he took towards his own practice and the wonderful results. Talking about Aikido is simply a lower level of responsibility towards one’s own practice, an aspiration to practice without any application of effort.  Compare for a moment a person who spends their days immersed in anger and a desire for vengeance towards anyone who trespasses their interests, with another person who wishes to develop a more altruistic attitude but has yet to act upon it. If an aggressive person ran into both of these people, clearly their interaction with the vengeful person would spark violence like a match to dry wood. But their interaction with the person who has altruistic aspirations would be far less likely to produce a violent outcome. So there are obviously some substantial benefits to maintaining only an aspiration. But next to Koichi Tohei’s outcome when faced with mortal combat, there is no comparison.

We know practice is difficult; it takes time and effort and further we need to find opportunities to train which do not always abound. We put effort into more mundane activities and find we must constantly work to produce results. The practice of Aikido, however, can produce very positive results and with a geometric response to our efforts. An aspiration to practice is at least helpful, but actually engaging in training is far more powerful.

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Altruism and Aikido