Monday, January 31, 2011

Mindful Purchasing

The other day I had to go shopping for some comfortable shoes for my new job.  Being one who prefers slip-ons or martial arts footwear, I don't wear real comfortable shoes. Also, since I don't do hair anymore, I don't have to stand eight hours in uncomfortable dress shoes.

I was shopping around for athletic shoes which seem to be the most comfortable shoe.  I looked and looked and couldn't find anything.  They were all to flashy, too many that seemed to suggest "Hey, look at my shoes."  I'm one who doesn't like to stand out, I have a more subtle taste.  The less attention I can attract, the better.

Also, I don't know if animals were killed in the process for the leather, or if they are made in sweatshops, ect.  As a Buddhist, this concerns me. Then I came across a pair of Puma shoes and what I read on the bag was great.

What the Bag says:
Part of the Puma Eco-Table
Organic cotton, Biodegradable Material,
Sustainable Process, Solar Powered,
Recycled Paper, Sustainable Factory,
Chromium Free Tanned Leather, African Cotton
Recycled Rubber, Recycled Polypropylene,
Everlasting Happiness, PVC Free,
Recycled Cotton, Fair Trade Product,
Sustainable Wool, Take Back Program,
Paw Print Management, Natural Fibers,
Recycled Polyester, Recyclable Material,
Renewable Energy, Profit Share, 
Eco Friendly Printing, Sustainable Material,
Multiple Use, World Peace.
After reading what was on the bag, I thought, "How perfect?"  I can support a company that is trying to make a difference with their products.  Unlike many other products in the world with who knows where their materials come from.  I thought to myself, "This could be mindful purchasing."  Realizing that shopping for products which harm the world and it's beings in the least way possible way is excellent.  My wife and I are also using sustainable and non-toxic household products/cleaners/etc.   

The other side of the bag:
Clever Little Bag
 "Well it's smarter than an old fashioned shoebox because it uses 65% less paper. Even Better it doesn't need an extra bag and it can be used over and over.  Clever huh?  Follow the Puma Eco-Table.  Reuse this bag."

If only more products could follow this example.  I try to practice mindful shopping, buying Fair Trade products and ones that harm the environment less.  This is a perfect example.  Even the necessity of buying shoes can be part of the effort.  


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kokoro no Maki (Book of the Heart)

The following is a very inspiring text I found while reading a book titled Budo Secrets.  While researching the text, I was unsuccessful in locating the author, and date of its composition. It is originally from Japan.  I believe it is full of advice and reminders of how to liberate ourselves from suffering and attachment.  I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

Kokoro No Maki - Book of the Heart
When the heart is full of things, the body feels constrained; when it is empty, the body feels expansive.
When there is too much reserve in the heart, love and respect are lost; when it is free of reserve, love and respect are gained.
When the heart is full of base passion, principles are forgotten; when it is free of base passion, principles are remembered. 
When the heart is set on gaudy things, appearances are falsified; when it is free of artifice, appearances are real.
When the heart is full of pride, others are begrudged; when it is free of pride, others are respected.
When the heart is full of oneself, others are doubted; when it is selfless, others are trusted.
When the heart is full of error, others appear frightening; when it is free of error, there is nothing to fear.
When the heart is full of obstructions, others are harmed; when it is free of obstructions, no one is harmed.
When the heart is full of covetousness, others are flattered; when it is free of covetousness there is no need to flatter.
When the heart is full of anger, words are spoken harshly; when it is free of anger, words are pacific.
When the heart is full of patience, everything can be set in order; when it is not patient, everything collapses.
When the heart is full of self-importance, the goodness of others is ignored; when it is free of self-importance the goodness of others is appreciated.
When the heart is full of greed, requests are endless; when it is free of greed, nothing extra is needed.
When the heart is full of illusion, others are blamed; when it is free of illusion, no one is scorned.
When the heart is full of sincerity, contentment is easy; when it is not sincere, there will be no contentment.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Child Without a Voice

Every time I step out of our apartment, and I do not exaggerate by saying "every time," I can hear the mother of two daughters screaming at her children.  Mind you, their apartment is approximately 150 feet away from our front step.  Unfortunately, I hear things like "I should beat your mother F***ing ass," or "Get your damn stupid ass out of the way."

It saddens me deeply.  As a Buddhist, and a father, I don't understand how a parent can act in such a manner.  I know that suffering is impermanent, but what about these two daughters and so many others like them?  I feel that if I know something bad is happening, I should do something to ease their suffering.

I'm curious about advice on what to do.  Is it right for me to call DHS (Department of Human Services) and report the abuse?  Do I really know all of the details?  Verbal abuse is very detrimental.  And judging by the verbal abuse that I hear, who knows what's going on physically?

I very much want to ease the daughters' suffering, but of course the mother is the root.  By saying the mother is the root, she must be lacking compassion and mindfulness.

 How can I help them?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Warrior vs Fighter - MMA vs Traditional

A martial art is the art of martial combat of course.  Dating back thousands of years, it has been developed in every culture as a way of defense, strategy, and self improvement.
I personally believe in and follow the way of a warrior rather than a fighter.  What differentiates the two you may ask.  It is the purpose behind the actions.

A warrior will fight for their safety when attacked, to protect others in danger, for survival, etc.  A fighter fights for fame, money, power, and things of the like.  I do believe sparring is a crucial way of testing your skills and provides ways to improve them. MMA fighters are testing their skill against one another, but to what end?  A proof of power, or control; for money and fame?
The true purpose of martial arts is to make a way for peace.   The true warrior makes a friend of a foe, convinces the attacker to change his ways, and uses physical contact only if absolutely needed. Martial arts is not only physical, but just as equally mental.  Likewise, why humans fight wars is beyond me and makes no sense.

Is one art better than the other?  Does winning a competition make one a better person?  To both of these questions, I sincerely answer: NO 

It may be that I'm a practitioner of and believer in the the philosophy of classical martial arts.  Or maybe it's my religious beliefs; that craving fame and money do nothing more than cause one to suffer if they can't have it.
With all these competitions, I see martial arts being used in the wrong way. Holding these matches which are now so popular is, to me, nothing different then having 'cock-fights' or 'dog-fights.'

As a martial artist, I do not wish to be compared or likened to these who compete.  I am a warrior.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Seven Virtues of Bushido: Rei

Rei: Respect and Courtesy

What's the use of being cruel and unkind?  Bringing suffering unto others only brings suffering to ourselves.
Treat others with dignity and they will respect you in return.  Likewise when you respect yourself, others will respect you.  It works full circle.

Bearing this in mind, why would one need to prove their strength and power to gain respect if they just respect others?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Interview: Ward Black

Ward Black is an experienced martial artist and recently has taken the role of a 16th century Samurai in a medieval battle group.

What is your background in martial arts?
I have taken many over the years. I studied Tae Kwon Do, Hop Ki Do , Kum Do , Ju-Jitsu and brazillian ju-jitsu mostly. Ever since I was nine I have been studying. Tae Kwon do was my first. I went to Korea and did some teaching of Kum Do (sword fighting) for a while. Been involved on the martial arts for about 30 years now.

What art are you currently practicing and why are you involved in martial arts?
Currently I am studying Bushido. Or the art of the Samurai. Literally. I have been studying with a medieval reenactment group called the Society for Creative Anachronism, or just SCA for short. Their primary focus is recreating medieval life from a certain time period and certain place. I naturally study Japanese from around 1550. They dress up in clothes, eat foods, dance, and practice other arts from that time period. Of course they fight as well. Armored combat is one of the big attractions to this game. So you have to make the armor, wear the armor and fight in the armor. Since I am doing Japanese I naturally am learning the ways of the samurai. Currently there are about 30,000 people worldwide that are doing this. I am learning sword fighting (katana and nodachi) as well as naginata (polearm). My teacher is a very wonderful master who not only teaches the martial art or combat but teaches the lifestyle of being early period Japanese.
I am involved in this particular martial art right now, because it has been everything I have been looking for in a martial art. To me being a martial artist is not just about going to a dojo and working out then going home and moving on with your daily life. I am involved because this group sort of makes you encompass everything there is to be about a samurai. The way you act, the way you think, the way you eat and take care of your body. Yea sure you can get some of that from other martial arts here and there. In this group you have to make the armor, make the weapons, make the clothing, make the fighting garb, make the food, make the tents. All of it is there. Even how I act is supposed to be that of a samurai.

I know that you are involved with a reenactment group, does this reflect your beliefs of martial arts? If so, how?A little yea. It has made me a little jaded at the dojos out there that are just cash grabs. I mean those that do not teach the beliefs or traditions of an art. Look at Brazilian Jujitsu for example. It is a fantastic art. lots of real skills. But it is just that. skills. It has not been around long enough to be anything but that. Then look at Kyudo (Japanese bowman ship) there is a art that is just oozing tradition. With my group, you can learn Kyudo from actual Japanese masters who make the bows, make the arrows and shoot the bows all tradition. It gives me a connection to those times. Makes me feel more involved I guess. Plus I learn so many skills in the process about it. I enjoy that to just make a weapon, there are like five other skill you have to learn as well. Very involving. Real skills.

How has practicing martial arts influenced your daily life?
Well now I look at life with a different outlook. I know if I work at it and struggle hard enough I will be able to reap the rewards. I never give up without a good fight. I never start a fight, yet I will be the first to finish it.
Fighting has given me a sense of calm. It clears my mind and allows me to focus on the task at hand. When I fight, that is all there is, some other guy in armor wielding weapons and going to hit me full contact. The rest of the day doesn’t matter, just there and now. I approach people who have conflict in their own lives with a different outlook. Something about wielding a 5 foot blade the night before gives you that confidence to approach those obstacles and overcome them.
Lately with this group I am part of. One of the great things is that I am learning so many other skills besides fighting. I didn’t know how to sew before this, and now I can sew and repair a pair of pants or hakama if needed.

What advice to you have for other martial artists?
Don’t get pigeon holed into one art. Try what you like. Try what works for you. Some people get all hung up on one art and bash the others. Makes me sick. I do what I do because it moves my life forward, not theirs. Variety of arts is a good thing and keeps your opponents guessing. Definitely do not knock other arts, there is a reason those people are doing what they want to.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Greatest Teaching

The following is a popular Zen story:

A renowned Zen master said that his greatest teaching was this: Buddha is your own mind. So impressed by how profound this idea was, one monk decided to leave the monastery and retreat to the wilderness to meditate on this insight. There he spent 20 years as a hermit probing the great teaching. One day he met another monk who was traveling through the forest. Quickly the hermit monk learned that the traveler also had studied under the same Zen master. “Please, tell me what you know of the master's greatest teaching.” The traveler's eyes lit up and he replied, “Ah, the master has been very clear about this. He says that his greatest teaching is this: Buddha is NOT your own mind.”

This is a great lesson.  As the Bodhidharma taught, "There is no Buddha outside of this mind."  In my interpretation of the story given above, there are two truths.  When we are not mindful, or our mind is attached to material things and desire, the Buddha is not our mind.  Likewise, when we look into our Buddha-self, we are mindful and not attached to the material reality, being free of desire and suffering; hence, "Buddha is your own mind."

(The story above, and many other Zen stories can be found on my Links page under 160 Zen Stories

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

This Too, Shall Pass

One of the Buddha's most important lessons was that of impermanence.  When we can realize that everything is impermanent, we can begin to find freedom from our desires and suffering.

The acceptance and realization of impermanence helps us in many ways.  It can help us along in the grieving process (there is no escape of age or death), it can help us say "No" to other's offers (if I drink this alcohol, the buzz is only temporary and may cause others suffering), and physical pain (in most cases).  Even our emotions come and go, such as anger and joy.

But we can't just say to our pain/suffering, "You are impermanent, so GO AWAY!"  We need to acknowledge our suffering or pain to figure out the root cause and also to transform that suffering into healing.  Being mindful of impermanence will also help us be more appreciative of our loved ones.  We know that we wont be here forever, we know we will probably outlive our pets, and our parents.

Our bodies, scientifically, are impermanent during our life.  Different than the were roughly six to nine months ago.  Because of cell replication, old cells die off, new ones are created, and our skeletons even recycle themselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh says in his book, The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings, "Impermanence is what makes transformation possible."  This is very true.  How could we become enlightened or further ourselves if what we were (our habits, emotions, etc) were permanent?

It impermanence that helps turn suffering into joy.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Interview: Randy Crew

Today's interview is actually with my uncle, Randy Crew.  He is my father's brother and served in the military with him in Vietnam.  I decided to ask him some questions.

 What is your background in the martial arts, and which arts do you practice?
 I was first involved with the martial arts while in the service. At that time they taught some basic Tae Kwon Do as part of our hand-to-hand combat techniques. In 1972, after returning from Vietnam, I began training in Bushidokan Karate..a mixture of severl different styles. When my instructor sold his dojo and moved out of state, I started training in traditional Chinese Kenpo and have been doing so since 1973. I earned my 5th degree black belt about 5 years ago. I have also studied Tae Kwon Do and, for a brief time, Hung Gar Kung Fu.

 Why do believe it is important to practice the martial arts?
Traditional martial arts is more than just 'fighting'. It incorporates mental conditioning, spiritual conditioning, physical conditioning, self-control, and so much more. I believe that it helps a person to deal with whatever they may encounter in their life.

How has the philosophy of martial arts influenced your daily life?
It influences me in virtually every aspect of my daily life from what I do at work to decisions I make about what I do at home. It also helps me when I am dealing with other people. I guess it allows me to look at more than just the surface things in life.

Who or what inspires you as a martial artist? 
I don't know that any one person or thing inspires me as a martial artist. I was certainly inspired by some of my early instructors such as Jim Harrison and Al Tracy. I guess I would have to say that what inspires me the most is the quest for self improvement and continuing knowledge.
What advice would you like to give to other martial artists?
My advice would be to continue to train and learn. There is an old saying that a black belt means you are now a real student of the martial arts...with the emphasis on student. I am still learning after more than 38 years in the martial arts. I would also advise people to train and learn the mental and spiritual aspects just as much as they do the fighting arts.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Leaves of a Tree

"When facing a single tree, if you look at a single one of its leaves, you will not see all the others.  When the eye is not set on any one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing at all in mind, any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit.  But if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves are not there."   -Takuan Soho, "The Unfettered Mind"

How can we truly view something without looking at the whole?  A leaf is but a very small part of a whole tree, a word is only a fraction of a sentence.  Making it a habit to view and understand things as a whole opens the eyes and opens the mind.  It clears the mind to view something as a whole without judgment, accepting what is in front of you without bias.
I believe too many times in our society we judge things on the the foundation of one small part. This is not mindful, and is also a fallacy of thinking.  We are also living in a "go-go-go" kind of time and society, and don't want to take time to appreciate others for who they truly are, the tree for all of its branches and leaves, or the flower for all of its parts.
It's the whole which we need to be mindful of.