WHAT I MEAN IS…

It happens in discussions about the esoteric that your understanding of a word doesn’t exactly match my use of that word. In some cases, this is the nature of the word. “Spirit” can be used to describe a ghost, the soul, or just the feeling of a thing.

In other cases, you’ll be absolutely convinced that I simply am using a word incorrectly or betraying that I don’t know what it means. It might even happen that you’re right. But this short list exists so that we can be clear about what I mean when I use words that are unfamiliar to many people (such as DHARMA) or where my use relies on an understanding that isn’t universal (such as VIOLENCE.)

This list is in no particular order.

SELF: On the surface, the idea of “self” appears simple. But a quick look at the language we use regarding the self can show that maybe we don’t really know what we’re talking about. (I don’t mean you and me; I mean everybody else.)

Take, for example, the word “myself.” MY self. Who is this “me” that possesses “MY self”? Why, that “me” is “myself.” And that really isn’t an answer, is it?

I often use this word and live my daily life as if I believed there was some real, intrinsic thing that could accurately define itself as “myself.” The Ego and all that.

But the Self is an illusion created by the intersection of those processes that give rise to consciousness. In THE HEART SUTRA, we are cautioned that “things” aren’t real in the sense we expect them to be and that what is “real” is the relationship between “things.” You can split these atoms all of the way down. My body isn’t real, its the relationship between limbs, head, and torso. The arm isn’t real, but is the relationship between hand and forearm and upper arm. The hand isn’t real but is the relationship between fingers, palm and…

And so on.

If you cut off your fingers do you still have a hand? Or do you just have a palm? How does removing the part somehow remove the whole?about:blankREPORT THIS AD

Sometimes, quite a bit actually, I’ll say, “You are responsible for yourself.” YOUR self. As if I think your “self” is real.

Just play along. Its easier than typing, “If the you that is a product of the processes that make consciousness holds any value to you (that is, to itself) then you (that is, it) must assume responsibility for the continued proper functioning of those processes within that part of individual outside circumstance within the control of the illusion given rise to by said processes.” Just take care of yourself.

Now…this opinion of mine is NOT universal. You might have good philosophical arguments that refute mine, and we both experience the self as real. You don’t have to agree with me that the self is an illusion to to benefit from what I’m doing here, I hope. And I hope I can gather from you some greater understanding even when we don’t exactly agree on the basics or the details.

DHARMA: “Dharma” is the easiest word here to define. It just means the way. Except when it means THE WAY. There is a certain Dharma that applies to everyone. In Hindu thought, different castes also had different Dharmas that reflected their role in a divinely organized society.

Even if you have no prejudice against pornography, you probably suspect that producing pornography isn’t in accord with the Dharma of religious leaders or school teachers.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote, “The way of the samurai is death.” The Dharma for a soldier requires him to be willing to kill. If he’s not willing to kill, we suspect he misunderstands his mission. Likewise, we don’t want our medical doctors and child care attendants to think their way is found in death.

In this blog, I am going to talk mostly about the Dharma of the warrior caste and the Dharma as it applies to everyone.

VIOLENCE: Violence is usually physical. Even when it isn’t, it is. Violence can be verbal. Violence can be psychological. If you don’t understand this, you’re either incompetent in using those two modes of violence, or a villain who wants to hurt people but then step back and claim innocence because you didn’t touch anyone.about:blankREPORT THIS AD

I say that all violence is physical because we all know the physical sensation of fear and being the target of verbal or psychological violence DOES have physical effects. It changes your body chemistry and has other measurable physical impacts.

In fact, much of the meditation performed by warriors was training for withstanding the psychological aspects of violence, both as the target and the actor.

When I was a police officer, we were taught the “1+1 Use of Force Continuum.” This theory held that a reasonable officer might use just an incrementally greater amount of force than was being used against him. Attack empty handed, he might use his baton. Attack with a baton, he might use lethal force.

The lowest level of force was called “Officer Presence.” It was an understanding that simply standing there with a gun and a badge and the authority of the state behind you changes things.

In a way, I’d suggest that violence is always met with violence. When a Roman soldier punches you in the jaw and you turn the other cheek, that action is hoped to have an impact on the brute and change things.

It is important not to let our understanding of violence be too narrow.

LOGOS/TAO: The Tao that can be described is NOT the eternal Tao. But I gotta try, right?

That aspect of reality that the Stoics called the Logos, an idea imperfectly appropriated by Christianity, was the assertion that the Universe is governed by certain laws immutable even by the Gods. Its an assertion that there are simple, underlying principles that are just so.

For example, one of the most juvenile arguments against the existence of God (not all such arguments are juvenile, but this one is) is “Can God make a square circle?” or “Can God make a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it?”

The idea that since there is no “square circle” is presented as proof that your paltry God isn’t so omnipotent after all, is She?about:blankREPORT THIS AD

But both of those questions defy logic, not the question of omnipotence. As St Thomas Aquinas, a devotee of Aristotle in a Friar’s robes tried to explain, God can only do what is possible. “What is possible” is limited by the Logos.

It might be better to ask “Even if this being were omnipotent and omniscient, why do those attributes make the being God? Could God resign? What is it about the nature of the universe that necessitates (or precludes) the existence of Gods?”

And our answer is the Tao…I mean the Logos.

We can certainly argue over the attributes and details of the Logos/Tao, and ask, “What is virtue?” or, “Is this attribute virtuous?” but you can’t ask, “Is virtue better than vice?” without sounding like that sophomoric D&D player trying to argue that Evil is “better” than Good.

The only reason these things are important is because trying to understand the Tao or the Logos is the only path to Virtue. It is necessary to adopt that childish habit of asking, “Why? Why? Why?” until we come to that point where the only possible answer is “That is the Logos.”

MEDITATION: Once upon a time, meditation was viewed as an exotic practice whose end result -enlightenment- was attained only after years of austerity and discipline. Yeah. You know, that is actually right on the money.

Fortunately, while there are a great many woo-woo meditation teachers and practitioners out there still, meditation has become a little more mainstream and there are books, videos, and even phone apps to help you practice. There are meditation groups at most universities and even one at the pentagon. I took a mantra meditation class at the VA of all places.

But what is meditation and what do I mean when I advise you to begin a meditation practice?

Meditation is loose term describing a dozen different techniques designed to help the individual develop greater control over their own consciousness. Most techniques involve sitting quietly, though some utilize walking or even martial arts moves as a focus, and observing the mind.about:blankREPORT THIS AD

Even the briefest period spent observing the mind quietly will lead most of us to want greater control of it. For me, there seems to be a background voice saying something another voice then echoes and that other voice insists it is a thought and I am thinking.

Which isn’t noticeable until I’m in a position where I’m trying to concentrate on one thing and can’t stop thinking about a dozen other things instead. In the BHAGAVAD GITA, a bit of Hindu scripture which takes place on a battlefield, Krsna (yes, THAT Krsna) explains to his friend Arjuna that the mind is like a chariot being drawn by the horses of the senses. Meditation, then, is the training and practice that enables the individual (the Self, see above) to effectively use the reins to keep the mind focused.

Other analogies include referring to those voices as the “Monkey Mind” and meditation being the tool used to cage him before he shits everywhere.

The practices I use involve walking meditation, but mostly focus on sitting with my hands in a mudra (a position for the hands kinda like yoga asanas for the entire body) and simply counting my breath, or standing in a cold pool of water and doing the same.

I am also interested in kata as meditation but haven’t actually begun that research.

WARNING: The same people who were afraid of Dungeons and Dragons in the 1980’s thought the goal of meditation was “emptying the self” and were convinced that meditation made you susceptible to demonic possession. Avoid these people. They’re stupid. If you’re one of these people, I beg your mercy and your indulgence and ask you stay away from me.

MINDFULNESS: One of the results of a meditation practice often presented as it’s own practice, mindfulness is a degree of appreciative awareness to the circumstances at hand. When eating, be aware of the food. When carrying water, be aware of the muscle strain and your own strength. When kissing a beautiful girl, be RIGHT THERE and with her entirely.

The relationship of Mindfulness to Meditation is that a form of meditation, Vipassana, is the practice of sitting quietly and simply observing the mind itself. Instead of “thinking” your “thoughts”, you just experience them arising and experience them passing away. If you can’t do it when sitting quietly, how will you do it on a battlefield?about:blankREPORT THIS AD

When meditating in the pool on a Sunday morning, just meditate and feel your body and your mind instead of thinking about the difficult phone call you have that afternoon.

Mindfulness is often best experienced in its lapse. How often have you been reading a book, faithfully attending to the words and flipping pages while also thinking about supper or why the kids are quiet until you discovered you had no idea what you had read? Or looked down at an empty plate, having been lost in an argument so that you don’t remember eating that meal? That is a lapse in mindfulness.

On the other hand, there is mushin, which is a sort of total absence of thought as one performs physical activities and is also a result of meditation and training of considerable use to the fighter.

MUSHIN: I cry like a little girl at the end of THE LAST SAMURAI. I’ll write more about that in my essay about the Good Death. Its possibly the greatest movie Tom Cruise ever made except for TROPIC THUNDER (where I also cry like a little girl at the end.)

But the part of that great movie that concerns us now is the scene where Algren is failing miserably with a bokken in his hand. He is then approached by his friend Nobutada who tells him that he has “too many mind” while trying to fight. He minds the sword, the crowd, the opponent…too many mind.

He then lifts his sword, clears his mind, and fights the greatest swordsman in the clan to a draw.

This state of “no-mind” is called “mushin” is the literature of Japanese swordsmanship and zen. The idea is that one fights instinctively, in accord with the will of the universe (See LOGOS/TAO above) and that your actions are faster, more efficient because they are not delayed by passing through the filter of conscious thought.