On the meaning of 黙想 (mokuso) and our Dōjō
Recently, a student asked me a wonderful question: what is the right attitude when sitting in seiza before the bell is rung before the start of class?
Mokuso. This is the short meditation that should be the state of a student before the bell is rung. The first kanji, 黙(moku), can be read as “silence, to become silent, stop speaking,” and the second kanji, 想 (so) can be read as “concept, think, thought, idea.” Together the two kanji mokuso are usually translated as meditation.
Sitting still, without chatting, without moving about, is the desired state before class. One lets the thoughts of the day go, the tensions drop. We sit for a few minutes, just being, appreciating the here and now of the moment, allowing mind and body to settle into the earth. We experience gratitude for a dojo that allows us a place to Be, to wake up.
People milling about, talking, laughing before class– this is not the proper attitude to prepare for a martial encounter, for a true encounter with one’s self, one’s teacher, and one’s fellow students.
It is important to note that we practice in a dōjō– which literally means a place of the Way. A Way in which to study and reveal ourselves. Our practice at the dōjō starts the moment we open the door and cross the threshold. Entering the doorway, bowing, changing into gi– all of it is part of, or at least a preparation for our mokuso. We do not simply enter into a space– an undefined, generic abstraction that is malleable to our whims and will. We enter a place that has been consecrated in the Shintō tradition, the Zen tradition, and blessed by Chiba Sensei as well. It is a place of refuge, and a place of danger for the ego. It is a dōjō, and should be thought of as such.
When we understand exactly where we are practicing, and what the intention of a dōjō is– a place to walk the Way and to awaken– we will immediately have the right attitude and bearing: before, during, and after class.