Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I recently went for my first degree Black Belt testing (Taekwon-do), in which a thesis, or essay, needed to be submitted.

My original Black Belt Thesis was about 10 pages long. The final edited version ended up being closer to 6 pages. Although I am confident much of what was cut was the proper choice, on hindsight there are parts that I regret removing, especially in light of what I learned through the actual black belt testing itself.

One section that was edited out of my thesis was on the topic of General Choi's* Jungshin Sooyang – Moral Culture. [It never made the final cut simply because it was not something my Master specifically taught, or for that matter, even made mention of].

The whole concept of General Choi's Jungshin Sooyang (the ethics and morality behind Taekwon-do) I believe, was built upon Buddhist and Taoist principals, and one Buddhist concept is that of Mindfulness.

In his book, Dharma Road, Brian Haycock has this to say;
“If you want to develop mindfulness, there are several options. First, you can join a monastery. This is the traditional way. For thousands of years, seekers have left their lives behind to take up a new life of contemplation and meditation...

Not all spiritual practice is about peaceful contemplation. The martial arts are based largely on mindfulness practices. The goal is really to keep your head under extreme conditions and react to the action without becoming distracted.”

I think this is interesting. In my black belt thesis I speak of something similar.

When I spend my energy worrying about Tomorrow and regretful for Yesterday, I do nothing but destroy my Today. The illusion is that our Today – our Now – is a tiny hairline separating Yesterday from Tomorrow. The truth of the matter is that there is no future and there is no past, but only an eternally endless Now.

I believe these points all came into coherence for me during the actual black belt test.

The test itself was 3 ½ hours long. It began with running for a half-hour, followed by having to do 200 sit-ups and 200 push-ups within 15 minutes. Then came the patterns – all 11 (near 300 memorized movements/strikes). Then having to perform 400 kicks (shoulder height or higher) within 15 minutes. Then self-defense (had to hold off 3 attackers for 5 minutes), followed by sparring. 3 Rounds with a new (fresh) opponent every round. Then, finally the board breaking (14 boards in total).

It was at the patterns stage of the testing that my legs felt like rubber. I kept thinking of how much more I had to do and how little energy I felt I had left. But it was also at this same time that my method of thinking changed. I cannot honestly say whether it simply happened or I chose it. I got to the point when I had to (literally) force myself to function exclusively within the Now. No more thinking about how much more I had to do. No more thinking about how my energy levels were dropping. No more thinking about time. Just focus on what I was doing right here, right now.

And I believe, that was a near perfect example of this Mindfulness.

* General Choi (1918 - 2002) was the founder of Taekwon-do.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


"[A] man, who going on a journey, sees a great stretch of water, the near bank with dangers and fears, the farther bank secure and without fears, but there is neither a boat for crossing over, nor a bridge across. It occurs to him that to cross from the perils of this bank to the security of the further bank, he should fashion a raft out of sticks and branches and depending of the raft, cross over to safety. When he has don this it occurs to him that the raft has been very useful and he wonders if he ought to take it with him on his head or shoulders. What do you think? That the man is doing what should be done to the raft?

"When he has crossed over to the beyond he must leave the raft and proceed on his journey.
[A] man doing this would be doing what should be done to the raft. [T]he raft [is] for getting across, not for retaining."
Adapted from the Majihima Nikaya, translated by Christmas Humphreys.
Religion is a tool. Religion can be a useful tool, even a necessary one.
A tool serves its purpose, accomplishes its task and then must be either left behind for another to use, or simply abandoned and discarded.

Like a raft built to cross to the other side of a river. Once the other shore is reached, dragging the raft behind you through the trees, brambles, and thickets only holds you back. It is falling victim to the disease of Religiosity.

Our purpose was never to build, protect, guard, or worship the raft. Our purpose is the journey. We should never be raft-centric.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Three Lotuses

The three Jewels of Buddhism are 1) the Buddha, 2) Dharma, and 3) Sangha.

I don't believe this concept belongs exclusively to the religion of Buddhism. I believe Buddhism only expresses it through its own particular paradigm. In fact, I think these 3 treasures - these three jewels - are universal truths. I see these as three Lotuses.

“Nirvana shares one quality with the lotus. As the lotus is untainted by water, so is Nirvana unstained by all the defilements”.

The first jewel – the Buddha – does not necessarily have to mean Siddhartha Gautama himself, but, in all likelihood, might refer to the awakened nature of all beings.  I see this as extremely similar to the martial art's Taekwon-do's tenet Guk-gi (Self-Control). (And Solace is a fruit of Guk-gi).

The second Jewel, Dharma, is the teaching, but let's not take this too literally. This doesn't have to mean Buddhism's teaching(s). We shouldn't become frightened that to accept this Dharma means a path away from whatever belief or religion we currently belong to. No, I think this treasure - this universal truth - is simply being open to learning. I take Dharma as taking and accepting truth whenever and wherever we find it. (In fact, this might very well fly in the face of propositional truth [fundamentalism?]). I see this Dharma as akin to what is borrowed from the Chinese -do, or Dao, or possibly Tao, meaning the way or path or route to something, and that something is the fundamental nature of the universe.

The Sangha in Buddhism generally refers to the Buddhist's community itself. But the further we take this concept the larger one's Sangha becomes. On its largest level we are faced with the global community as our own, and I think this is a perfect place for us to reflect on the underlying concept of Compassion. I think it is important not to mistaken, or force a necessary interpretation, of this Sangha as meaning a specific and exclusive religious body of followers. I take this Sangha concept as being boundless and without boarders.

I believe the most valued truth that we can discover is that of Solace and Compassion.
And Solace and Compassion are entangled by Dharma.
These are what I call the Three Lotuses.

Solace, Compassion, and Dharma

That's one of the reasons I have three lotuses tattooed on my arm. It is one symbolism it holds to me. But not the only one.

The third lotus has a skull within its heart. It reminds me of impermanence; of both mortality and immortality. As I myself am mortal, I know of my own impermanence, of my own mortality. Yet the other two lotuses represent my children, and through them I have achieved immortality.

The final significance is the only method I have discovered to overcome Lust. (See A Practical Guide for the Spiritual Sojourner: A Cure for Lust).