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a thousand arms and eyes

March 27, 2009

by Giun Kendo

A bit ago, I had a chance to spend a week as a guest at Brooklyn Aikikai. It was my first time to visit the dojo and my first time to do aikido. I was quite impressed by the dojo -- most specifically by the energy and positivity of the community. I am very gratefully to have been so warmly, thoroughly, and immediately welcomed into the midst of such a vibrant and inspiring practice community. Thank you all! As it happens, while I was staying at the dojo, I received an unsolicited and uncharacteristic e-mail from my brother, in which he asked point-blank: "What do you think the point of your life is now?" In part, I told him that I imagined myself to be engaged in an effort to learn how to live a good human life -- and to put it into practice. And this is one of my strongest impressions about the dojo. I left the City thinking that Brooklyn Aikikai offers a positive and invigorating example of how one might live a good human life, and the value of such an example is not to be lightly dismissed. I tend to think that mainstream American society often does a lousy job of guiding people in the direction of a good human life -- a meaningful life; a dignified life; a beautiful life; a sacred life. Frankly, many, many modern Americans are utterly adrift and have no sound understanding of how to live…and, in the midst of this, the dojo offers an example of how life can be. To further this stream of thought just slightly, one might say that the ideal of Mahayana Buddhism is the bodhisattva -- a being who vows to be reborn again and again and again in the cycle of suffering until all sentient beings have been liberated. Probably the most well-known bodhisattva in Buddhist mythology is Kanzeon (or Kannon or Quan Yin or Avalokiteshvara). Kanzeon is the bodhisattva of compassion and is often depicted with a thousand eyes and a thousand arms. These symbolize Kanzeon's ability to perceive all the suffering of all the beings in the universe and to respond compassionately to each situation with just what is needed. So, since I received my brother's big question, I have been thinking about what it means to look at the state of the world around us, identify what is most needed, and respond accordingly. And I have been thinking that Brooklyn Aikikai responds to the needs of the present world in a few critical ways. The dojo offers training in discipline and self-control. Somewhere along the way, our culture seems to have forgotten that discipline need not be a negative term, and that, in fact, well-disciplined people are happier than those with poor self-control. The dojo offers physical, visceral, concrete training to a world that has become dangerously abstract -- and in which many have largely lost touch with their physical bodies. This physical, concrete practice does wonders to re-unify one's mind and body -- to foster a healthy integrity between one's physical, mental, and spiritual sides. And, perhaps this is a harder term to pin down, but I feel it is important. The dojo teaches its students to carry themselves and to treat each other with dignity. To behave in accord with a conviction that human life is meaningful and valuable. Indeed, sacred. And that human action matters. This, too, I am afraid is often lacking in our era, but it is of boundless importance. So, that's my reflection. And it circles around again to end on a note of gratitude. I know that Brooklyn Aikikai in the form that I witnessed it would not be possible without the dedicated effort of many, many people, and I wish to express my thanks and respect to all those of you who have put your energy into building and nurturing this dojo. You've created something truly admirable, and I only hope that you will charge forward…optimistically, intelligently, diligently. And if the situation permits, I hope I will be able to join your Way and your community again.

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