By Hiroshi Ikeda
Translated by Jun Akiyama, edited by Ginger Ikeda
O-sensei once wrote, "If you have not linked yourself to true emptiness, you will never understand the art of peace." What does this mean to you? How do we develop such emptiness?
"Mushin" (emptiness), is frequently interpreted as "empty mind," or "not thinking about anything." However, a more accurate interpretation is "being in a neutral state" or "being without preconceived notions, plans, opinions, or emotions." I think you can see that there is a subtle difference.
I believe that in the quotation you cite, O Sensei meant that in order to be in a position of choosing to apply a peaceful resolution instead of a contentious and damaging one, a person must come from a neutral position. To do this, the person must have great resources of strength - both physical (in the aiki-sense) and inner (in the spiritual sense). To reach the level that O Sensei was referring to would mean that this physical and inner strength must be so complete that the person possessing it could remain calm and "empty," neutral and ego-less in the face of any attack or adversity. It would be from such a position of strength, neutrality and true emptiness that a person could greet adversity with a peaceful, or non-injurious solution, or perhaps, even better, could preempt adversity with a peaceful diversion.
This is a high ideal for which to strive. Just how do we go about achieving this? Paradoxically, I think one would need to first have a very full mind. We should strive to learn as much as we can - to think, imagine, and wonder about everything we encounter. We should be open and take in everything. To be truly open, we must be ego-less. If we develop an ego, it can only get in the way of our ability to approach subjects with an open mind and heart. Egos obstruct our learning processes.
In the context of budo, taking everything in would mean we should immerse ourselves in martial training until we have assimilated everything there is to know. The Japanese word "shugyo" describes unwavering, dedicated training. We should reach such a level of mastery that techniques become fully integrated in our body's memory and we become able to execute them in perfect anticipation of an untoward movement by an opponent.
It is hard to imagine reaching such a level. As students, we usually perform techniques that are based on thoughts centering about ourselves, often planning our moves before even knowing the actions of our partner. To fail to progress beyond this level will only lead to defeat, since a wide repertoire and versatile spontaneity is needed to counteract the unknown moves and strategies of an opponent. The founder, Morihei Ueshiba, said, "One does not create technique. It is born naturally." This can only occur when your mind is free of thoughts about techniques.
This is all to say that we must be "very full" and accomplished, very wise and without a strong ego in order to be able to know true emptiness. But this does not yet guarantee that a conflict will be resolved peacefully. Our final actions will result from "who we are." If we have learned compassion, our actions will be those of peace and reconciliation...it is all up to us.
This article first appeared in the Boulder Aikikai Newsletter as a response to a question posed by a student at the dojo.