Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Good Fight

In theory, I should go to grappling class tonight, since I haven't in few weeks. But I've become somewhat addicted to Savate (see links here and here--the first has more pictures, but the second has an interesting entry on the history of the art, even connecting it to common ancestry with Capoeira, which was what I studied last before coming to MKG). So I'm going to follow my intuition. After all, the whole notion of mixed-arts is based on the intuitive understanding that different bodies function differently, that technique and form are ultimately subservient to use.

In fact, to tie this in a little with my other post today (on Ichinen Sanzen) . . . Bruce Lee was always a believer in martial-artistry as a true form of artistry, a vessel for the expression of self, of truth. To engage with another body in combat is to engage with the science of interrelation, all actions committed an effective channelling of emotional content. Lee often spoke of the illusory boundary between opponents, and asserted that the most effective athlete/warrior was one who came to an ability to KNOW an opponent's movement through a realization that we are already one with the opponent, that each of us contains the whole of the other. A microcosm of mutual possession, perhaps? Who knows . . .

In any case, I like the skittery footwork of Savate, the delicate savagery of its kicks (lithe and balletic, yet almost invariably aimed at soft, vulnerable targets), the element of taunting (certainly French in character, but also attributable to the possible African origins of the art). Bruce Lee himself integrated a fair amount of Savate footwork and kickery (I don't know if it's a word, but I like it) into his own Jeet Kune Do (also the subject of several MKG classes); and who am I to question the judgement of the Dragon?

A Manifold Manifesto

One of the concepts that sits at the heart of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism is Ichinen Sanzen, the observation of 3000 realms in a single moment of life. To me, this is at its heart a doctrine of infinite possibility, as well as part of a broader metaphysical assertion of universal inclusivity, what modern theosophers often call pantheism; Renaissance Gnostic, hermetic philosopher, and heretic monk Giordano Bruno expressed a concept not unlike Buddhism's idea of "mutual possession" when he said, "Anything we tak in the universe, because it has in itself that which is All in All, includes in its own way the entire soul of the world, which is entirely in any part of it."

Or, to paraphrase Heinlein's shaggy-dog barb near the end of Stranger in a Strange Land (I don't think this constitutes a SPOILER, but I'll give y'all a qualified heads up anyway), "Thou art God; but then, who isn't?"

For those, like yours truly, who are better able to grasp an abstraction if it's tied to some sort of rational construct, there is a useful symbolic equation for this concept. The 3000 realms in question are actually the product of the ten basic "life states" or "worlds"; the mutual possession of the ten worlds (simply put, the accepted fact that each life state, or world, possesses the other nine); the ten factors of life, which are the ten ways in which an organism affects--and is affected by--the world and other sentient beings; and the three realms, or spheres of worldly being. Given our ten worlds, and our mutual possession, we begin with 100 possible worlds in any given moment; multiply that by ten factors--the ways in which these worlds, through the individual, affect the literal, observable world at large--and you have 1000 possible "effects"; and finally, multiply those possible effects by the three realms which may ultimately be affected. And so we've reached our number.

Confused yet? Good. I'm going to revisit this equation later, so just let it sit and simmer on the proverbial back burner.

First off, let's take a look at those ten initial "worlds". Where Western morality often focuses on easy duality (good/evil; right/wrong; flesh/spirit), and Western psychology on an ever-expanding litany of emotions and neuroses (and let me say here that there are times where either duality or irreducible complexity are still useful models), Nichiren's Buddhism postulates that our "life states" can be understood by way of ten "worlds". To my still-embryonic understanding, the advantage of equating life-states with worlds, as opposed to emotions, neuroses, or pre-judged moral conditions, is that treating each life state as a "world", with its own rules, its own obstacles, its own character, accurately reflects both the ostensible pervasiveness of any of these states when you feel "stuck" in one and the fact that one may still experience a broad spectrum of emotions while inside.

The ten worlds are best described as follows:

1) HELL - The world or state of Hell is said to be characterized by rage. Because this is our first state, it's important to note that the rage, in this case, isn't directed at other beings or events, but rather at being itself; it's not unlike the existential rage William Blake describes in "Infant Sorrow":

My mother groaned, my father wept,
Into the dangerous world I leapt;
Helpless, naked, piping loud,
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my father's hands,
Striving against my swaddling bands,
Bound and weary, I thought best
To sulk upon my mother's breast.

This condition could even be seen as a parallel to Sartre's nausea at his recognition of being.

2) HUNGER - Greed is the primary characteristic of the world of Hunger, which can mean both literal hunger and, more generally, the tendency of all organisms to seek acquisition.

3) ANIMALITY - This is where hierarchical struggle begins; the dominant characteristic is foolishness. In a condition of animality, one dominates those which one recognizes as weak, and grovels before those recognized as strong.

4) ANGER - This anger is quite different from the more metaphysically rich rage of the Hell condition. Also called ASURAS, a name for a class of angry spirits left over from Hindu cosmology, the state of ANGER is characterized by perversity and arrogance, and refers broadly to a condition wherein one experiences jealousy, envy, competitiveness, duplicity, and deceit.

5) HUMANITY - This is the state of civilization, the mutual agreements we make with other organisms to effect peace. The tranquility characterizing this state isn't really comparable with the peace that comes with enlightenment, but it's obviously a necessary component of civic life.

6) HEAVEN - HEAVEN--like HELL--represents something far more ephemeral in Buddhist cosmology than in Western theologies. The primary characteristic of HEAVEN is the happiness that comes from material gains and worldly pleasures; unlike true happiness, this "happiness" leads to yet more desire.

7) LEARNING - Also referred to as the realm of VOICE-HEARERS, this state represents the beginning of the quest for enlightenment, the point at which one glimpses truth (which, for one studying this Buddhism, is the moment at which one is introduced to the Lotus Sutra, as summed up and expressed in the law, or Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo).

8) REALIZATION - The realm of CAUSE-AWAKENED ONES, wherein one begins to seek self-improvement through observation or effort; having heard the ring of truth, the "voice-hearer" of the last state now pursues study, engages in meditation through chanting, etc. These last two states are important steps on the road to enlightenment, but are also intrinsically self-centered; these worlds are characterized by an ernest desire for truth couples with a high level of introspection and a certain level of indifference to other sentient beings.

9) BODDHISATVA - When the voice-hearer and/or the cause-awakened one feels compassion rising within him, and he wishes to share what he knows of the truth, to bring others to enlightenment, he has enterered the world of the BODDHISATVA. The self-centered nature of practice then opens itself up into a new mission to help one's fellow beings. While this refers primarily to sharing Buddhism with others, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to imagine that anyone engaging in spreading true compassion, through charitible work or other selfless acts, is experiencing this world.

10) BUDDHAHOOD - If the world of the BODDHISATVA is characterized by compassion, BUDDHAHOOD is characterized by limitless compassion and reflexive wisdom, an ability to see all potential at all times in all beings.

Now here's where things get really interesting. We started with these 10 worlds. Our next step is to recognize mutual possession. To make sense of this concept, we need to understand that we ALL possess these conditions, these worlds. Moreover, these worlds all possess each other. What this means is that even if, say, I'm currently functioning in the world of Hell, I still possess the other nine worlds, including the Four Noble Worlds (Learning, Realization, Boddhisatva, Buddhahood); conversely, someone functioning in the world of Buddhahood still possesses the first Six Paths, as well as the three remaining Noble Worlds. In other words, each world possesses all worlds in itself.

This is a recipe for some beautiful--if unrepentantly heady--stuff. If, through practice, I come to function at the level of Buddhahood, recognizing conditions like Hell and Animality in myself creates ground for empathy when faced with someone functioning at those levels; recognition, also, that those functioning on such levels possess Buddhahood allows for greater compassion. But wait; it gets better! Someone whose primary life condition is that of Buddhahood is not always well-served by functioning in that world; for instance, active opposition of injustice may require a Buddha to function in the world of anger. But if one can function in the various worlds with an awareness of the seed of enlightenment at the heart of her being, one may function in the world of Anger (for instance) in a different way than one unaware of--or unconcerned with--mutual possession, for said individual may engage with anger with the goal of sharing boundless compassion.

Remember our equation? Take your Ten Worlds, and assume that each of the ten possesses all ten within itself. That's our first 100.

Our next order of business is to analyze the ways in which each world (or, more importantly, how each organism possessing all ten) becomes manifest in life, space, and time. These are called the Ten Factors of Life, and are as follows:

1) APPEARANCE - Also called FORM or BODY. Refers to the physical properties of being.

2) NATURE - Spiritual properties of MIND.

3) ENTITY - Also called SELF; refers to the confluence of body and mind that establish BEING, or the physical and spiritual aspect of all things).

4) POWER - Also called INHERENT ENERGY: the energy of a person's life allowing a person to act a specific way in each of the ten worlds.

5) INFLUENCE - Volitional activity--the words, thoughts or actions that emerge from an individual based on in which he/she currently resides.

6) INHERENT CAUSE - Karma, basically. Not easily defined, but for these purposes, we can call it the seed of the experience(s) a person will have when all conditions manifest.

7) EXTERNAL CAUSE - Influence from the environment or from other sentient beings.

8) LATENT EFFECT - Internal reaction to any and all phenomena, not yet manifest outwardly.

9) MANIFESTED EFFECT - Observable outcome of the past causes outlined above.

10) CONSISTENCY FROM BEGINNING TO END - The constant interrelation between the first nine factors, representing the cyclical nature of these factors.

So we have our life-states and their mutual possession; we can multiply that total by the Ten Factors, because these are the channels by which our life-states affect the world at large. 100 becomes 1000.

But . . . what of that world at large? Well, according to the doctrine of Ichinen Sanzen, the world itself operates at three different spheres, each of which can be influenced by the life condition of any given individual.

These spheres are:

1) SELF/INDIVIDUAL - Entity composed of the 5 components of life: form, perception, conception, volition, and consciousness.

2) SOCIETY/OTHER SENTIENT BEINGS - Other people, community.

3) ENVIRONMENT/LAND - Can refer both to the Earth, in the strictly environmental sense, or to the nation-state, the confederation between communities.

And so we reach 3000.

The mathematical equation is of more symbolic than literal significance; we could quibble over internal variations in any one of the categories, or the possibility of states between the states, but for the purposes of allegory, what we have is more than functional.

More important than any attempt to empiricize the doctrine is to analyze its metaphysical function. I've already noted that mutual possession gives us ground for empathy and compassion; but of more interest, to me, is that the doctrine in its totality creates a holistic template for unlimited possibility. Ichinen Sanzen is about the pregnancy of any given moment in time, wherein the entirety of any world, any sphere of being, is available; the myriad channels by which one can use one's life-state to interact with and extend compassion to other organisms; and the spheres upon which one can commit such action. As in existentialism, choice becomes the defining characteristic of being . . . and the number of available choices is manifold. Through this realization, we have stumbled upon fertile ground for the discovery of Buddha nature, for enlightenment, for the realization of goals personal and global. Viewed through this lens, we see each moment as an opportunity to effect change in ourselves, and through that, on our communities and on the world at large. My God, it's so exciting, I'm shaking a little just writing about it (of course, I DID have two cups of coffee).

Hope this held the interest . . .

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Values Profile (Interesting)

Your Values Profile


You value loyalty a fair amount.
You're loyal to your friends... to a point.
But if they cross you, you will reconsider your loyalties.
Staying true to others is important to you, but you also stay true to yourself.


You value honesty a fair amount.
You're honest when you can be, but you aren't a stickler for it.
If a little white lie will make a situation more comfortable, you'll go for it.
In the end, you mostly care about "situational integrity."


You value generosity a fair amount.
You are all about giving, as long as there's some give and take.
Supportive and kind, you don't mind helping out a friend in need.
But you know when you've given too much. You have no problem saying "no"!


You value humility a fair amount.
You tend to be an easy going, humble person.
But occasionally your ego takes over.
You have a slight competitive streak - and the need to be the best.


You value tolerance highly.
Not only do you enjoy the company of those very different from you...
You do all that you can to seek it out interesting and unique friends.
You think there are many truths in life, and you're open to many of them.

As might be expected, I'm maddeningly moderate (something I always find I am, despite being drawn to extremity in expression and performance).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Head Spaces

First and foremost, I'd like to offer a tender, giggling R.I.P. to the late Syd Barrett, who died some undetermined number of days ago of yet undisclosed causes. Roger Waters may have led the Pink Floyd we best know, as we were more likely to have started with The Wall, or Dark Side of the Moon, than with Piper at the Gates of Dawn; their later epic psychedelia was more immediately canon-ready--at least on the terms dictated by "classic rock" radio--than Barrett's bent, whimsical, noisy drug-rock. But when punk and post-punk musicians were turning their backs on the would-be neo-classical noodling of '70s art-rockers, many still embraced those early, Barrett-led recordings, and the results can be heard throughout the post-punk scene (and its descendents and revivalists); spin any track by Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope (and his early band, the Teardrop Explodes), XTC, Animal Collective, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Residents, and on and on; post-punkers who sought psychedelic transcendence within punk's revolution against the virtuosic and masturbatory, Barrett's sparse, silly constructions allowed them to be minimalistic and primitive, but with a heady expansiveness and sense of play that provided a delicious antidote to the political stridency, wonkish theory and relentless anomie of compatriots like Gang of Four or the dour and ultimately self-immolating paranoia of Joy Division. Bolder (and funnier) than the Beatles, more sonically adventurous than the Stones, and less recklessly dystopian than the Velvet Underground, Syd's Pink Floyd remains rock's ultimate surrealist confection. Sorry to see you go, Syd; we hardly knew ye.

OK, so, if word hasn't gotten around, I've taken the plunge: I'm now, officially and for the record, a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism. My resistance was largely dialectical, but funny enough, it's through my own meanderings through various points of rhetoric that led me to a bright flash of revelation: binary thinking and facile dualities permeate our understanding of even the most relativistic and inclusive of our philosophies. I was struck, on the very evening on which I signed the card, by an assertion at one of the meetings. A passage by Nichiren suggested that "darkness" was an illusion, the tarnish on the mirror of our lives. I say we can go one step further than that, and accept that the illusion is that darkness is different from light; since darkness is the absence of light, and we are never without light, the notion that one cannot dwell in darkness and serve light is itself absurd. By that same token, chaos isn't different from order (indeed, any attempt to create order, even if successful, only proves that there's chaos that requires the imposition of order; the success of the various forms of hierarchy, in turn, prove that chaos is responsive to order, and therefore subject, in some measure, to acts of will). So the propositions that we all have the seeds of enlightenment, that our destiny goes (essentially) where we goad it, that our "Buddha natures" exist at multiple levels at any given moment, and that our compassion guides us to seek peace and happiness for all living things don't contradict the important premises (important for me, anyway) of nihilism, existentialism, pantheism, or the writings of Giordano Bruno, William Blake or the Marquis de Sade (I'm actually using passages from Bruno and Blake as part of my current study project, the text of which I may post once I've given my presentation). The one thing I'm having to turn my head around on a little is the "existence precedes essence" question, since my observation still leads me to believe that directive; the notion of an innate Buddha nature carries with it the implication that essence precedes existence. But this almost seems like a semantic quibble: if one imagines the Buddha nature to exist at a subatomic level, it would seem to suppose that existence IS essence, transmitted along in time through multiple organisms--again, a clear refutation of binary thinking.

In any case, I'm finding my study is focusing a lot of things with regards to my writing, my martial arts study, my way of BEING. My practice had already produced some benefit; now that my practice is an official reality, I hope to find more profound and interesting ways of sharing it, studying it, expressing it. Stay tuned . . .