道场 Dào·Chǎng

Notes of a lifelong learner and perpetual beginner on martial arts, mindfulness, Chinese calligraphy…and many, many cups of tea.

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Small Vessel

This past Saturday my kung fu teacher David Wong taught his first class since returning from his visit to Hong Kong and China. I was conscious of how much I had missed his personal flair, humor and guidance in my life. My morning thoughts on the way home were about my estimation that I could never learn and be as skilled at kung fu as much as my teacher. I fear that I could ever learn only a fraction of what he has learned in  his lifetime. If I ever became a kung fu teacher, everything I know would only be a snapshot, a sample of what my teacher knows. Thinking about it as I drove, these thoughts came to my mind: You might think to yourself, “I will never be great. At best I can only hope to be a small vessel.” But it is important to remember that even a single drop of water contains the essence of all water. Small things contain the essence of great things. Conduct yourself accordingly.



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Moving Clouds and Flowing Water – 行雲流水

Yesterday I purchased a copy of Chan Heart, Chan Mind by contemporary Chinese Buddhist monk Guo Jun. The book begins with Guo Jun’s account of his first teacher Songnian. As Guo Jun described the rough personality and teaching style of Songnian, it reminded me a great deal of my own kung fu teacher. More importantly, as Songnian taught the principles of grinding ink for use in calligraphy (shu fa), the essential principles reminded me of the important lessons my own teacher imparted to me especially with regard to the “pushing hands” exercises (tui shou) of taijiquan. Luckily, this chapter is also available online as a publication of Tricycle magazine, and I am able to share it here: http://www.tricycle.com/feature/calligrapher%E2%80%99s-apprentice.




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Audio: D.T. Suzuki’s Swordsman and the Cat

I came across this video narrating a story related by zen master D.T. Suzuki (read by Christopher Reed). The story concerns a swordsman who is furious about a rat that lives in his home, and the solutions he attempted. Suzuki stated that the story may come from the Ittō-ryū school. I won’t spoil the ending and the embedded lessons for you, but you can probably surmise that the story is not really about cats and rats. There is plenty to reflect upon and learn from this story and Suzuki’s narrative interpretation. The insights can be applied not only in martial arts but in life just as well.


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The Greatest Happiness

Mukyusai was astonished and said, “This is truly a lesson hard to come by…I would like to ask you to set forth that Way to me.”

The gods of poverty said…”Then what is the greatest happiness? To be without desire and to know what is enough, to be perfectly fair and selfless, not to fight about what is right and wrong with things, to understand the very foundation of one’s mind, not to be confused by life and death or good fortune and calamity, to entrust life to life and to exert all of your powers in following the Way, and to entrust death to death and to be content in that return. Not to envy wealth and honor, not to loathe poverty and low birth, not to be obsessed by thoughts of the differences between happiness and anger or likes and dislikes, but rather following good and bad fortune, or prosperity and decline as one meets them, and calmly enjoying oneself in the midst  of creation and change. This is the greatest happiness under heaven.”

from Meeting the Gods of Poverty in a Dream
Issai Chozanshai (Niwa Jurozaemon Tadaaki)
Japan, 17th-18th cent.
(translated by William Scott Wilson)


Binbōgami (the kami of poverty)
Iida City, Nagano

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Book Review: The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse

The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse is a translation and compilation of poems attributed to Ch’an Buddhist monk and hermit Shiwu (石屋 “Stonehouse”) written during two periods of his residency at Xiamu Mountain, during the early to middle 14th century. The edition I read was translated by Red Pine and included the original Chinese text, translated English text, and explanatory notes for almost all of the text. I appreciated this edition as a shufa (Chinese calligraphy) student because it enabled me to see the original Chinese text and see the correspondence between Chinese characters and the words, images and concepts they are meant to convey (at least as translated by Red Pine). Red Pine’s explanatory notes were invaluable for understanding the subtle references, allusions and cultural contexts embedded in the poetry of Shiwu. As for the poems themselves, they are not overt and direct lessons in dharma, but rather consist mostly of Shiwu’s observations of nature, his living arrangement and daily activities as a mountain hermit, and the profound detachment from the world of contrivances and frantic thought that he had achieved. Then again, I have to consider that Shiwu’s observations are in fact overt and direct lessons in dharma after all. Reading the poems was very much like paying a personal visit to Shiwu, and perhaps that is the the real beauty of this book. His personality definitely courses through each verse, and his descriptive abilities easily draw you through time and usher you into a seat by his modest stove and teapot. I mostly read this book at the end of my day, and it really was a very good way to step out of my own daily urgencies and worries, and refocus on the ultimate importance of very simple and natural things.

Tom Delaney, dao-chang.com


(Shiwu “Stonehouse” painting by Shi Tao, 17th cent. CE)

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Anger & Warrior Spirit

“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

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第981字 | Character #981: 池

Today’s traditional Chinese character is “pond” or “pool”. There is an old Chinese proverb that also became a popular saying in ch’an and zen: “One moon shows in every pool; in every pool the one moon.” Something to think about…or not to think about! 🙂
Have a good day!
– Tom Delaney

來學正體字 Learn Traditional Chinese Characters

The character 池(ㄔˊ) means pond or pool.
池 at moedict.
Evolution of 池.

水(ㄕㄨㄟˇ)池(ㄔˊ) – a pond
游(ㄧㄡˊ)泳(ㄩㄥˇ)池(ㄔˊ) – swimming pool
城(ㄔㄥˊ)池(ㄔˊ) – a city wall and moat

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