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Drifting along the faith highway

I began this Year practicing Nichiren Buddhism, I then switched to a Zen Buddhist practice for a couple of months, I then spent the last three and half months with the chanting practice of Nichiren Buddhism, It seems that I’ve been flip flopping between these two practices for a while now.

As a member of the SGI I wanted to give Nichiren Buddhism another try, despite our local district’s recent closure I wanted to give my practice one last try, I really wanted to receive actual proof, so I stripped away the study aspect as I wanted to approach the practice from the viewpoint of faith.

For the last few months I even stripped away the Gongyo aspect of the morning and evening service and just focussed on chanting ‘daimoku’ to the Gohonzon, with a specific goal and timeframe in mind.

As in the past I’ve chanted for things with no results, leaders have blamed my lack of consistency or lack of setting a timescale, so with this in mind I wrote down the goal and time frame on a small piece of paper and kept it in my Butsudan.

The ‘bountiful Mr. M’ has been in touch a few times during this period he’s the Men’s chapter leader, and someone I consider a friend, he has spent many a pleasant evening at our house talking about Buddhism and life in general, however I have asked him not to visit at the moment also I have not shared my goal to him, as I don’t want to be ‘talked around’ – that is being told that this was the wrong thing to chant for, or to change my perspective and adopt a new goal.

Nichiren Daishonin in writings tells his followers to chant for whatever they want, to challenge their faith, and to seek actual proof, and so I have and the result has been    – nothing.

Now I’m sure the ‘bountiful Mr. M’ will say that my practice isn’t strong enough to garner actual proof, that I chanted with doubt in my heart (that’s true) that I didn’t spend enough hours chanting, that study and attending meetings are as valuable as the chanting itself, whatever he may have said the fault would have been mine…placing the blame squarely on my doorstep.

My answer is a very simple one, It’s based on common sense not esoteric Buddhist scripture – how do I develop strong faith without the proof to start with, how am I supposed to ‘recruit’ others with the great benefits of the practice and share my experiences, when after almost four years, I’ve yet to discover the benefits of practice for myself.

Mr M, has been in touch again, this last couple of days promoting a study lecture at Taplow court, I’ve told him in polite terms that I need some time and space, although I still half expect a phone call within the next couple of days, it seems that sometimes he’s too caught up in his own narrative to hear what others are saying, after all this, I hope to remain a friends, although my past experience is that members quickly loose your number, when you stop practising.

It’s important to stress that I haven’t fallen out with anyone over this, or am I badmouthing the Nichiren practice, I’m just sharing my personal experiences.

The organizational and financial structures of the Zen monasteries and groups no longer appeal to me either, Zen is often called the weekend spiritual pastime of the middle aged, middle class, and while I cannot fully agree with this, I can see where these kind of statements may have a ring of truth to them, again born from my own personal experiences.

I really enjoyed my Zen practice, when I started ten years ago, and found that the Zazen practice gave me strength and hope at a dark time in my life.

I have nostalgic memories of Zen practice those Thursday nights at Sheffield with Bob’s small group.

The times when I’ve returned to the Zen tradition it’s in a vain attempt to recapture that feeling I had at that time in my life, but of course that time has past, everyone has moved on, and now it’s time I did the same.

So as I turn away from my decade of Buddhist practice and study, it’s with a heavy heart, it will be a door that I keep slightly ajar, and who knows I may return to in years to come, with a different mindset.

So once again off I set drifting to parts unknown seeking spiritual nourishment elsewhere, that great quest to find the all important ‘F’ not fame, not fortune, but that most elusive of all – faith.

Seeking the bridge

This week at Wing Chun, I was introduced to the first section of Chum Kiu, the second form of Wing Chun, which introduces the student to moving within a form.

Unlike some other martial arts systems we don’t smash away the on coming energy of an attack, or grip and grasp at it, instead we reach out and connect with it ‘creating a bridge’ we can now utilize that energy to our advantage and take control of the situation.

I’ve been practising this first section all week, I know there are probably faults with it so for now I’m just working on the shape of the form, especially the turning in Lan Sau (bar arm) position, the turn come from the centre (the torso) rather than the shoulders or the feet, the whole body turns on the spot as a single unit.

This week at work I feel that I’ve been seeking to create a bridge, I’ve been involved in meetings with management, working on updating training and working practices. It’s hard to try and changes people’s attitudes and a workplace culture especially when training costs and the introduction of new safety systems and work practices are concerned.

So as Wing Chun teaches us to extend out with positive energy, meet what comes create the bridge (connection) then use that combined energy for the greater good and create a positive outcome.

A year ago this week

A year ago this week, July the 11th to be precise was our (my) last class in Aikido, Sensei took down and tore up the A4 flyer from the notice board, we got out a few mats, he took a very light warm up and then pretty much left Ian and myself to our own devices, there were only the three of us there, for that final lesson.

We did a standing bow to finish, and I thanked Sensei for his hard work and effort and after 18 months in Ki Aikido and almost 12 Years in Aikido overall I bowed out of the dojo.

This was a time of mixed emotions for me, Sensei had announced the closure of our tiny rural dojo, which was a weekly class help in an old village chapel a month earlier (June 13th – unlucky for us) the class numbers had fallen, a change of leadership at the head of our association and Sensei’s on-going back injury had really forced the issue.

So we had a months notice, in which time Sensei got Ian and me through our 3rd Kyu grades which was a nice gesture, but it was still a shock that my Aikido Journey had come to such a sudden end, it had taken me a long time to get my head around (a) the transition between traditional Aikido and Ki Aikido and (b) the way Sensei taught.

Like I’ve said previously on this blog, that although I had expected my journey in Aikido to last a few (or many) years longer with hopes of once again teaching, the fact that this abrupt ending happened under this particular Sensei, is that the overriding emotion  was one of acceptance rather than heartbreak.

I had a couple of texts from Ian after the closure, he was moving on to the British Aikido Association in York, I wish him all the best, if he trains with as much enthusiasm and energy as he did at the old dojo then I’m sure he’ll do well.

I decided for a fresh start and begun training in Wing Chun.

For months after the closure, I would have dreams with vague Aikido references, sometimes I would be watching a lesson, at other times I would be training, or I would be travelling to a dojo that I couldn’t find.

At the weekend I had another dream, this time I was walking down a street, in a hurry, I saw Sensei Danford supervising some people, we said hello, then passed by, there was no emotional attachment to the event, so maybe this is my subconscious finally giving me some closure

A strange coincidence happened on the 11th, while I was waiting at the train station I bumped into Yusuf Udin a former fellow classmate, and now instructor at Aso-Ryu Aikido club, we exchanged a few pleasantries, again there was no desire to return to Aikido, or regret for the decision that I’ve made.

 

Onwards and upwards, thanks for reading.

I want to believe

I remember watching the X-Files, with the poster in Fox Mulder’s office showing a UFO and the words ‘I want to believe’ – I feel like that with my faith at the moment, and so last month I set a very specific time weighted goal and I’m chanting to the Gohonzon for actual proof.

Nichiren in his writings told his followers not to act in blind faith, but to carry out the practice from a position of actual proof.

I’m not telling the SGI leaders about the goal, in the past when I’ve tried this kind of practice, I was told that the goal wasn’t specific enough, or I hadn’t set a time scale, so this time I’ve set a very specific goal and time frame, and will continue to chant until the end of July, to see what happens.

I want to believe in the ‘power of the Gohonzon and Nam Myoho renge kyo’, but I’m not willing to follow it blindly.

 

I’m in a bit of a lull with my training at the moment, I know that progress follows a series of uneven steps, sometimes the vertical rises are higher and they take longer to climb, sometimes the horizontal parts are extended and take longer to walk along, but I’m a firm believer that if I keep going and giving my full effort, progress however small will be made.

A lot of this come down to our perception of our own progress, a story I’ve told on here before is that of Aikido Sensei Paul Derrick, one Sunday class (years ago) as it turned out I was the only student there, and I mentioned that I felt I wasn’t making any progress and all I could see were my own faults, his reply was something I’ll always remember – this in itself is a sign of progress, as I’m perceiving faults that have always been there.

I also need to remember to ‘chill out’ more, enjoy the journey, and remember that I’m only a beginner, and not to compare myself with the green belts and brown belts in class, allow myself to make mistakes- and learn from them.

Trying to escape the hamster wheel

Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis, but there comes a time it seems when you stop and look around and think- is this it?

Isn’t there more to life than this hamster wheel going round and round, this cycle of getting up going to work, repeat, repeat, repeat, etc….

Some buy sports cars or motorbikes, or take up extreme sports, being on a tight budget, I looking for a deeper (and less expensive) spiritual meaning to it all.

The more observant among you may have noticed that I’ve changed the tag line on my blog, it’s roughly the same but I’ve replaced the word Buddhism with the word faith.

Regular readers will know that I’ve been struggling with my Buddhist practice and my understanding of the term ‘faith’ in general for a few years now.

I’ve been flip flopping between Zen practice and SGI practice, until recently I realised I had pigeonholed my options because of my adopted label as ‘Buddhist’ – this has also effected other peoples views and opinions of my practice as well it seems.

I commented to my Wife about this situation, and told her I may try a Sunday service at the local Methodist chapel, “oh I can’t see as being a Christian, believing in God and all that” was her response.

I was a little bit taken aback by the response to be honest, just because since she has known me, I’ve been a practicing Buddhist (either as part of a group or just at home) however in my younger days and into my teens I was a regular Sunday morning Church of England congregant, even taking my confirmation from the Bishop David of Wakefield.

So now I’m taking some time, to explore various religious and faith practices, this will be a fairly long process, however I have decided to give my Gohonzon one last try, we’re told as members of Soka Gakkai, to put our practice to the test, to chant for actual proof, after two and half years of practice, I can say that I haven’t received anything yet, I was told that I need to be very specific, so with a very specific time weighted goal, I’ve begun chanting again, and will wait until the end of July to see if this provides any validation or not, I’ve packed away all my Buddhist books, and taken away my altar and other Buddhist paraphernalia, and I’ve gone back to basics just me and my Gohonzon, so lets see what happens.

 

I’m really enjoying my Wing Chun at the moment, for the last two weeks Sifu has gone back to basic’s and focussed on a very traditional lesson format, lots of forms and chi sau. I’ve added ten minutes on my wall bag to my daily practice

The value of martial arts grades

As my Wing Chun grade is now over and I’m pleased that I passed, so now I can put all that behind me for a while and just get on with training.

I’m reminded of comments made by Sensei Mark Danford (White Rose Aikikai) said about grades and their value –

‘The real value of grades isn’t the end result, not the pass or fail, it’s the extra effort and dedication you put in to your practice in the few weeks prior to the grade event’

That extra time and effort you put into brushing up on your technical skill and identifying then working on the weaknesses in your skill repertoire, can lead to invaluable growth in your martial arts journey.

Also the experience of putting yourself under the pressure of a grade examination, voluntarily taking you out of your comfort zone, can be a great learning tool too.

I don’t feel as though, the build up to this grade was particularly good, due to the bank holiday closure and Sifu being away the week prior to that, although I was physically ready, I don’t think I had been able to put that extra effort in during class and get psychologically ready, but I got through, so fair enough I suppose.

Many are guilty, and when I was a younger I was just as guilty, of thinking the faster you got through your grades or the amount of grades you were able to pass, was some kind of contest, and like finding the end of the rainbow, there would be a nice big pot of gold for you to find.

 

I suppose now (older and wiser?), I’m just glad of the opportunity to take a grade, to see if my training in Wing Chun has improved, to examine where I need to improve and what to focus on for the next few months.

 

Some will proudly display their certificate, in fancy frame (and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that) I will put mine into a folder under the bed, with the rest of them, it’s never about the destination, always about the journey.

I suppose one of the values of attaining grades (as in an official documented way) is it allows you with some degree of confidence to show and help others, not that holding a certificate indicates the true level of your ability or experience, but it does help you get through the bureaucratic systems of insurance and authorisation to teach later on.

 

Maybe a story here will highlight my point, many moons ago, when I was teaching Taekwondo (Ki Taekwodo), I received a call from the chief instructor of our association, asking me to visit a club (in my area) to see if I could help them out, it seemed their instructor had decided to quit due to other responsibilities.

So there I remember meeting a Taekwondo 3rd Dan, who was keen in taking further grades, and continuing her training, but refused to teach.

So what I wondered to myself was the real value of those grades, other than the fancy certificates and gold tags on her belt, she was disinclined to pass that knowledge and experience on to the next generation of students.

She had gladly and eagerly accepted the help from her seniors, but was unwilling to return that favour her juniors.

Last weekend was a bitter/sweet occasion for me, on one hand my grade success, but on the other, it marked the end of my martial arts professional indemnity insurance, so I’m no longer an insured as an instructor, as one door opens another one closes, such is life…..

 

 

Everyday is a journey

This is a phrase my Dad used last week when we went to visit him in hospital, he’s making good progress now with his recovery from his stroke, and has been in a wheel chair, so he’s getting some form of mobility back, everyday trying to do something new, gain a bit more independence.

Little by little, step by step, these were the words Alex Man used during his recent UK seminar, describing our progress in Wing Chun.

With the bank holiday weekend, we didn’t have a Wing Chun class this week, which is a little annoying as I’m due to take my grade on Saturday, and Sifu was away last lesson, so I would have liked to cover a little bit more of the syllabus, but I guess I’ll just take my Dads advice and treat everyday as a journey and see where the trip takes me, little by little, step by step.

There’s still a weakness in the third section (tan sau to garn sau) of my first form, although according to the syllabus I’m only graded on the first two sections, and I would have liked to practice my jut sau drill a few more times, but apart from that I’m fairly confident with my basics, so we’ll just have to see.

Sifu put me forward for the grade, so I have to have trust in my training.

 

After the grade is over (regardless of result) I’m investing in a wall bag, so during the summer months at least (as I’ll be hanging it outside) I can practice conditioning and striking.

 

On Tuesday, I sat with the South Yorkshire Zen group at their Doncaster Zendo, with Hoshi Scott Williams (Dana Sangha) it’s been about ten years since I last saw Scott, so It was nice to see him again, also Patrick was there, who I haven’t seen for a couple of years.

It’s been about ten months since I sat formally in a Zendo, so I was a bit conscious of getting the form correct, but I needn’t have worried as due to the size of the group and Zendo, form wasn’t really an issue.

So hopefully I can attend regularly and get back into my Zen practice again.

2017 for me is about settling down and getting into a stable and regular practice in both my martial arts (which I have with Wing Chun) and my Buddhist practice, I’ve spent (not necessarily wasted) time in the past looking for that greener grass, over various fences, but this year its time to realise the grass is just fine right here under my own two feet.