“There is a saying of the elders that goes, ‘Step from under the eaves and you’re a dead man. Leave the gate and the enemy is waiting.” ~ Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure
“Alas! The world is a nuisance!” ~ Takuan Soho
(Minneapolis Institute of Art, photo by Tom Delaney, 2014)
During my normal commute yesterday morning, I was almost rear-ended by a speeding aggressive driver while I was changing lanes to the right, with my blinker on, nice and slow, with all possible care. Luckily no contact happened as the other driver resorted to speeding down the parking lane on my right with their horn blasting and I let them pass. But the trigger in me had already been pulled.
For a long time I have been one of those guys who walks around with an invisible chip on my shoulder that can sometimes be the size of a railroad tie. I have been working on getting the chip off my shoulder by seeing my short temper and anger as an expression of fear and ego, the same two forces that tear apart our world on a daily basis from the level of homes to the level of wars between nations. There are plenty of injunctions against anger in Chinese and Japanese traqditional martial arts literature. The one I always find easiest to remember is…
“Let anger be your enemy.” ~ Wang Foudeng, Bubishi
Anger, along with greed and delusion, is another one of the “three poisons” of the mind identified in Ch’an and Zen Buddhist tradition. It is an obstacle to establishing an enlightened view of things and way of life and inevitably leads to causing suffering for others and oneself. You cannot walk around as an angry person for a long time without causing a lot of damage to self and others. On this point, I can sincerely attest that I do not feel good when I am angry or ever feel good about having been angry. Later in the morning after my commuting encounter, as angry as I was at the driver I became just as disappointed with myself at having lost my temper. I began to think that I needed to really nail down the alternative to anger and put it into action that day! The warrior’s path is the path to true victory…and “true victory” in this case meant victory over myself and my anger.
“Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men, is he who would conquer just one — himself. Better to conquer yourself than others. When you’ve trained yourself, living in constant self-control, neither a deva nor gandhabba, nor a Mara banded with Brahmas, could turn that triumph back into defeat.”
~ Siddhartha Gautama
“I do not know the way to defeat others, but the way to defeat myself.”
~ Yagyu, quoted by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure
“To win without fighting is the highest achievement of a warrior. Never forget this wisdom, and live your life according to the principles of the warrior.”
~ Sun Tzu, Art of War
“Using the orderly to deal with the disorderly, using the calm to deal with the clamorous, is mastering the heart.”
~ Sun Tzu, Art of War
I thought about it a lot and concluded that this true warrior spirit, this true path to victory, lies in being a person who restores and preserves harmony in the world. A very good Native American friend whom I met for lunch that day described this higher path of warriorship as a path of “healing,” and I think that when you consider that healing is about restoration of harmony (as in when a scratch or bruise on your body heals) then we are talking about the same thing. When I began thinking that this was all well and good as a concept but needed to look like something in terms of action, I remebered reading once somewhere that the antidote to anger is doing acts of compassion. For example, on a few occasions my gongfu teacher David Wong prepares a meal for all of us students. I now understand that this preparation of a meal for all of us, this act of community-building, is a demonstration of true warrior spirit. Then I understood that what I needed to do was acts of compassion, kindness, generosity — no matter how small or in what way — and I would whip my anger.
(David Wong, photo by Tom Delaney, 2014)
The other lingering issue was my own disappointment and impatience with myself. I need to remind myself to be patient, believe in my own potential, and take small steps. Mistakes and stumbles are going to happen, and are maybe even necessary for real growth. When asked to describe the life of a zen master, the great teacher Shunryu Suzuki would quote Dogen and humorously declare, “Shoshaku jushaku! One mistake after another! Life is one long continuous mistake!” With this and a few other admonitions in mind I can cut myself some slack and instead just allow mental calmness that is free of impatience and perfectionism.
“The jeweled sword of Taia was originally raw iron.” ~ traditional Japanese ichigyomono (tearoom scroll)
“One must edge forward like the inch-worm, bit by bit.” ~ Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure
“Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never-ending.” ~ Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure
“This one word, ‘patience,’ is the gate to myriad wonderful accomplishments.”
~ Lu Pen-chung