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going into battle with kindness

(Further to the two previous posts.) To situate the sidewalk incident in a broader context, I turn to an ancient text on Japanese swordsmanship. Zen master Takuan (1573-1645) writes that “adepts do not use the sword to kill people; they use the sword to let people live. …. Whoever attains this freedom is invincible against anyone on earth and is utterly peerless.”

According to Thomas Cleary, the translator, the moral basis for this approach comes from Taoism: “Good warriors are not militaristic, good fighters don’t get angry, and those who are good at defeating opponents don’t get caught up in it.  … If you go into battle with kindness, then you will prevail; if you use it for defense, then you will be secure” (Tao te Ching).

Taking ‘warrior’ and ‘battle’ as metaphors for life in an essentially chaotic world helps to unfetter my thinking. Comments to yesterday’s post reminded me that “you’re human” and “not the Dalai Lama.” What a relief, I thought when I read that, even if my intentions — to save all sentient beings, for instance — are as unattainable as his. “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness,” the Dalai Lama says, “in the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

text source: “Tai-a ki: notes on the peerless sword” by Takuan, in Cleary, T. (2005). Soul of the samurai: modern translations of three classic works of Zen & Bushido. Rutledge, VT: Tuttle, p. 144; image credit:


10 responses »

  1. I am sorry to learn of your incident with the cyclist and happy to hear you are OK, Peter. I find it interesting that the best and sometimes most memorable learning moments of life are from an uncomfortable or unsettling situation. Certainly in my case that is true! It is not the incident itself but my interpretation and reflection of it afterwards that has had an effect on me. And it is my own discomfort that pushes me to be open to viewing other angles/possibilities of a situation.

    • thank you, d. the incident happended days ago … and what am i still carrying with me, what has it taught me?

      bliss followed anger followed compassion followed remorse followed acceptance.

      • sounds almost like a grieving process!

        • and so it is with everything: morning and night, youth and old age, birth and death. true, yes, but so difficult to graps by the ‘small mind.’.

          • the bookends, the dichotomies of life…

            • 2 current reflections are being triggered for me here – one is my observations ( often in my work ) of what behaviour ( often apparently negative ) can be triggered by fear and my ongoing intent to feel compassion toward those who project their fear onto me.
              The other is the use of these words of ‘war’ – eg battle, fighting – so often used in the same sentence as the curing or living with cancer or some such other threatening diagnosis. Can we take kinder, yet equally strong words into this journey of healing, do you think ? Reflecting on the word ‘warrior’ as in the yogic asana can bring forward clear, strong intention, rather than …fight to kill

              • disease and death in western society are ‘public enemy #1, therefore the experience is often described in war-like langage….e.g. read most obituaries. I have often thought about this, as a palliative care nurse, ‘why don’t people accept and move on?’ well, seems it is so much more complicated than that! one explanation is that the very essence of being alive brings forth (maybe on a cellular level) the absolute need for survival, no matter the odds; possibly another is the western beliefs and values of youth, beauty, and the constant fight against aging. Other views…

  2. “I whacked him with a cane …” That’s precious. Good for you. Although, technically, that’s assault and you could get in a lot of trouble. But hey, he deserved it. Bastard. I, for one, applaud your superhero side. The whole zen scene (and yoga scene) is so contrived and inauthentic when it comes to human behavior. Everyone walks around with soft, mellow voices, talking endlessly about compassion and love and kindness … just to convince themselves (and others) of how Buddhist they are. They’re all constructing more false fantasies of themselves and further denying themselves from the liberation that zen aspires to. You, Peter, are a guy who will whack a miscreant with a cane. Be comfortable with it. It will probably never happen again. But I’ll stay on the other side of the street … just in case.

    • Thanks JIMMY for your words of encouragement and caution. I try to carry a soft stick: speaking gently (especially at the bedside) and shouting when needed. May your day go well. peter

      • Thank you. Just read about your end-of-life care. I have great respect for that. My mother did it for a while. Definitely a time when gentle words and a soft voice are not only appropriate, but probably authentic. It must be difficult at times, but certainly an invaluable service. Best wishes.


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