Sunao & Gimon

[There was a collection of writings by Kuroiwa sensei for which the link – somewhere earlier on this blog – is now dead. Recently, the author of “agasan”‘s blog put up an old interview of Kuroiwa sensei that touches on these writings. There was a section on “sunao” that I will put below:]

– Is there anything you can say for our new students?

As the saying goes, “Three years on a rock”, meaning, no matter how hard it is now, persevering will bring you what you want. What it really means is that it’s no good if you don’t feel “something” within 2 to 3 years.

That “something” is first a feeling of questioning that which you are being taught. That is, do you feel anything unnatural regarding the format in which you are taught. Nothing is perfect or complete, and effort is necessary to resolve such questioning. If you can pass 2, 3 years without feeling any questions, then you aren’t likely to advance much in the future. If it takes more than three years, you get lost in the flow of things. You may have some questions in the first 2, 3 years, but unless you resolve them then – and to resolve them means to feel “something” – then your training from then on is simply imitation and nothing with your individuality will arise.

To be extreme, it becomes a meaningless activity, only done for self-satisfaction. Of course such an activity cannot beget progress. With respect to whatever it is one is learning, there is a true, straightforward, honest open-ness (sunao) to throw out questions such as “Is this really okay?”, “I wonder if this is what that means?”. If one simply takes in and is grateful for whatever they’re told, then it is not that true, straightforward open-ness.

But when you’re a beginner, you can’t determine such a thing objectively. So no matter how mistaken or nonsensical the thing being taught, the beginner straightforwardly accepts it as is. And thus the tendency to not question develops.

Word association:
Sunao. Straightforward. Sincere. Honest. Open. Forthright.
Gimon. Question. Doubt. Objection.

It is interesting, the dichotomy of selfishness and selflessness in the “coin” whose two sides this topic is about. In my own experience, I noticed and acknowledged my own ego, ambition, and aggression at some point. I decided against repression, stigmatism, and anything neurotic, (ie simply stifling my aggression and ambition) and instead chose to make use of what I had. I wanted to be able to throw down the other person harder. I wanted to be more precise. I wanted to almost overwhelm my opponents with my technique. Sublimation, I think it’s called – “a defense mechanism that allows us to act out unacceptable impulses by converting these behaviors into a more acceptable form”.

The core, which relates to the possibility of not heading down a negative path only, was that I wanted more.

What potentially stood in my way toward “more”? Other people ceasing to want to practice with me. Rejecting or not noticing the experience and wisdom of my seniors and predecessors. Rigid attachment to a specific sense of what it would feel like “to be better”, “to throw harder”, etc.

So, in pursuing “more” I had to consider how to practice with others, who to refer to and how. That is, I had to see and care about matters that initially I had no concern for. I needed to gain or cultivate the ability to continually be vigilant for that which not only stood in my way but was a circuitous waste of time.

How to reconcile the selfish and straightforward, honest? How to doubt, for example, a teacher, and still be open and forward-moving? It is impossible if I don’t have my own desire and hunger. If my teacher presents me with something I come to quickly doubt, what is my response? To wait for him to clarify (i.e., to amend himself) in a way that is satisfactory to me? To dismiss that piece of the art, that part of him, that episode in our relationship? To wait for my own understanding to improve, to have an epiphany someday, to presume that something is useless to me now other than to merely remind me how immature I am and humble I should be?

It is because I have my own desire and hunger (i.e., my ego) that I don’t wait for the external to satisfy me, that I don’t throw something away easily; it might be useful in another way than I can initially conceive; it presents an opportunity to make use of my current experience of the teaching rather than wait for some future understanding, an opportunity to revisit what it is I desire and hunger for. In this sense, it is both selfless and selfish. The expression, “I owe it to myself,” comes to mind.

The signs that there might be something of value or interest don’t necessarily come from outside. My teacher may present me with something to which my response is, “Hm? That’s curious,” or “Huh?! What was that?” If I don’t pursue my own desire selfishly, then I pass by that opportunity that some part of me is indicating by that little “Hm?”. If I don’t pursue my interest and instead passively wait for it to happen (i.e., what amounts to procrastination or “playing the lottery”) or for it to be handed to me, practically speaking, I might be waiting for a long time for the next time something similar to “Huh?!” to occur again. Not only might I be waiting and thereby wasting time by not inquiring about the “Huh?!” experience. The inquiry could consist of learning about the external, ephemeral thing that made me go “Huh?!”. The inquiry could also be about the internal, introspective angle, such as examining what it is in me that was and maybe continues to be impressed by that thing. There could be a “meta” angle also, such as thinking on why that thing happened then but not every time or more frequently or with every person.

I imagine it is not uncommon to feel somewhat disillusioned when something that makes you go, “Huh?!” doesn’t happen every time or more often. There is an opportunity there to question: Am I being taken in, did I “drink the kool-aid”? Did it happen with that one other student because he’s been taken in? It was impressive but is it really valuable? Do I seek it or am I captivated by it because it’s impressive or valuable? Am I here in the long run, the big picture, because I seek that impressive thing? that valuable thing? or just to be around others who can do those impressive things? Did I experience that impressive thing by chance? or was my teacher showing us intentionally? or showing someone specifically? show me? What were others’ reactions? Was everyone else impressed? Did he show that young aggressive guy, that scared, nervous person, that frenetic woman, etc. to communicate something to him/her? Was he showing us something by using that young aggressive guy, etc.? Do I have to be like that young guy to experience it for myself? Do I want to be like him? Do I want to experience it for myself or just be witness to it? Am I in this practice, am I coming here to be like that young guy? to just be witness to things?

One cannot be honest and straightforward if one is lazy, dull, shy, wary, unwilling to consider and face one’s tendency toward security and comfort.

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