Saturday, January 2, 2010

Equanimity

"If one tries to befriend an enemy for a moment, he becomes your friend.
The same thing occurs when one treats a friend as an enemy.
Therefore, by understanding the impermanence of temporal relations,
Wise ones are never attached to food, clothing or reputation, nor to friends or enemies."
The Buddha

In an earlier post, I discussed to some degree our moral responsibilities as martial artists. Later I came across similar discussions here, and again here on Ikigaiway. All of this has led me to further thinking on this subject specifically in relation to the execution of the arts I am studying. If we follow our arts far enough we can learn plenty of techniques useful in the task of defending ourselves, and/or neutralizing a given attacker or opponent. And, as I noted, some of these techniques can not only immobilize but possibly cause serious harm and even death to a potential attacker. While this may be something that must happen to protect oneself or the life of others, it certainly isn't something any balanced person should ever desire and something we should strive to prevent. On the other hand, I have found numerous references to peace in the writings of O'Sensei, and in the various thoughts of Taiji practitioners and writers. But the actual practice of peace in the face of conflict is a very illusive subject.

In his very first entry in The Art of Peace, O'Sensei says to "Work on yourself and your appointed task in the Art of Peace." But he doesn't say how. I mean, sure he goes on to recommend that one should "Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter." But again, how? The sticky point here is not in how to live a peaceful life per se, but how our training as martial artists lends itself to that. Jesus and The Buddha, among others, taught to love one's enemy. But how does that happen, especially in a martial context? From what well of inspiration is that strength brought forth? In Buddhism with an Attitude, B. Alan Wallace writes that loving one's enemy doesn't mean to love the person you hate, but to love those who hate you. In what may at first appear ironic to those outside, the practice of Budo can lead the practitioner to just this attitude.

O'Sensei says the purpose of training is to "tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit." And it is this polishing of the spirit that we are addressing. Following the teaching of Grandmaster Feng, Yang Yang recommends that our foremost intention in the practice of Taijiquan is nurturing. In his book, Taijiquan: The Art of Nurturing, The Science of Power, Yang states that Grandmaster's Feng's first principle of Taijiquan practice is xujing: empty and tranquil mind and spirit. Grandmaster Feng teaches that xujing is the essence and ultimate goal of Taijiquan. Xujing leads to tranquility and heightened awareness. Xujing can obviously be arrived at through meditation and form practice. The key, as in all mindfulness practice, is to take it further into the larger world. In this case we do that through training. If we follow Grandmaster Feng's example and make xujing the essence and ultimate goal of our practice it will eventually become a part of our beings. Xujing can and should lead one to a state of equanimity. In Buddhist terminology, equanimity means the ability to remain balanced and centered in the middle of whatever may be happening. This in turn can lead to a compassionate state of mind, and discernment in dangerous or potentially dangerous situations.

The practice of push hands can be very instrumental in developing equanimity. One of the hardest things to overcome for newcomers to push hands practice is the tendency to stiffen up and resist the violation of their personal space. And rightfully so. We have a natural inborn tendency to protect ourselves, and the violation of our personal space sets this in motion. Overcoming this discomfort is a major breakthrough in training. In order to relax, to abandon oneself, and to apply the techniques of sticking, following, and listening, one needs a tranquil state of mind. The practice of our various forms or katas, Wuji and Zhan Zhuang meditation practices, Qigong, and various Ki exercises help to develop, or nurture xujing. And it is an ongoing process. This is why we train, why we constantly train, why we continue to train, and if we are true to our intentions, why we will always train.

Of course we need to be comfortable and confident as well. Which is why we need to go beyond form and push hands training. Even with a tranquil mind we need to know that within us we have the ability to defend ourselves. Equanimity implies balance, equal parts Yin and Yang. Knowing how to deliver a well-timed Dim Mak knock out punch is incomplete knowledge without the peace of mind to also know when to not. Accordingly, being well-versed in slow meditative and healthy Taiji forms, or the dance of interactive Budo techniques and knowing little or nothing about the martial applications behind them, much less having the ability to use them, or the intention to fully carry them out is equally incomplete. Equanimity is balance, equal parts Yin and Yang, and an appropriate goal of training.

2 comments:

Shang Lee said...

Great post! Followed you from Rick. Will be adding you to my reading list. :)

Rodney said...

Thanks Shang Lee. Actually, I bounced over to your blog--very, very good. I will be following you as well. It's always good to meet a fellow traveler.