By Jeff Brooks
Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from
an upcoming book by Jeff Brooks on the Buddhist ethics of self-defense.
His first book, “The Rhinoceros Tale - A practitioner's guide to
the alchemy of action” should be available shortly on this site.
The custom of morning prayer and meditation is missing from our modern
lives and this lack is harmful. By setting off in the proper direction
in the morning we can change the character of our day and so our life.
This should become part of our martial arts training.
It seems that in effect many of us prepare ourselves for our day by first
having an alarm go off, either an electronic buzzer or the jangling sound
of news, weather, shock jocks joking around or commercials with music
and meaningless messages pumping into our ears. Then we further prepare
our minds for our day by rushing through morning activities - getting
dressed, having breakfast, traveling to the office, store or factory -
which we do not pay close attention to and which actually seem to be an
obstacle to get through on the way to the rest of our day.
This feeling of not doing what we are doing wholeheartedly, but instead
just sort of getting through what we are doing in order to get to the
next thing and the next thing on the schedule, is a mental habit that
infects our lives, more and more if we let it. We lose our whole lives
this way. We may lose them by failing to be fully present, mentally, at
a moment of crisis, or slowly, by losing all the time we have. Our time
just disappears and as it does the things we do are drained of meaning.
You do not have to be some kind of tender, passive, pious, sensitive "religious-acting"
person to appreciate and benefit from making a mental habit of doing exactly
what we are doing when we are doing it with wholehearted attention, conviction
“When you plan, just plan and have your mind fully
in the present action of planning, just as you would have
it in the present action of doing whatever it is you are doing
at that moment.“
An athlete, soldier, surgeon, pilot, musician and everyone else whose
job is demanding must be able to be in the moment (even though the phrase
"be in the moment" may be a cliché, itself deprived of
its meaning by trivialization and casual overuse). To start the day with
a morning prayer and meditation as part of our martial arts practice begins
to condition the mind and aim each person's life toward a presence of
mind, placing our attention on our present activity and so making life
meaningful, more and more so as time goes on. In this way we can begin
to condition our mind just as most of us practice to condition our body
and perfect our techniques of our art.
By the way, living in the present moment does not mean living impulsively,
living for immediate gratification or neglecting the future. Planning
and preparing are essential functions for human life. Everyone from farmers
to monks to generals to kings has to do it. It is no different for clerks,
tradesmen, artists, business people, professionals, managers, parents,
students or anyone else. But as Zen Master Dogen (13th century Japan)
said in his essay on monastery life called "Tenzo Kyokun," or
"Instructions to the Cook": "Prepare for tomorrow as the
work of today." That is, when you plan, just plan and have your mind
fully in the present action of planning, just as you would have it in
the present action of doing whatever it is you are doing at that moment.
“It may be a subtle influence at first, but …the
effect of the morning prayer, meditation and martial practice
Morning prayer in the Buddhist tradition does not require you to praise,
supplicate, or hope to receive benefit from an outside agency beyond your
control. It is a full action in itself. When we place our minds in the
attitude where we, for example, wish that all our actions throughout the
day will benefit all beings, that wish itself has an effect on our mind
and our actions and on the way we will see the world that day. It may
be a subtle influence at first, but with practice and dedication in the
production and sincere aspiration to pursue the benefit of all beings,
the effect of the morning prayer and meditation becomes profound. The
entire character of our lives change, and this helps to orient us in our
transformative intention everyday, again and again. It helps bring us
peace. It is also the “do,” or way of our art.
"No matter how you lead your daily life... if you never let compassion
leave your mind, if you constantly keep in mind the thought of benefiting
others, everything you do becomes work for the welfare of others."
- Lama Zopa Rinpoche
This constant self-reminder is essential for us as martial artists. The
more vigorous our practice, the more relevant it is to our daily life,
and the more practical the effect of the reminder is. If you are engaged
in dojo practice, becoming stronger daily, with increasing influence on
your juniors, training partners and the other people in your life, the
effect of this kind of morning practice becomes more and more important
as your martial arts career progresses.
If you are engaged in bringing your martial training to bear on others
through law enforcement or the military, with modern methods, tactics
and weapons in immediate practical application of your skills - then it
is even more important to be vigilant about our motivation, the condition
of our mind and the action of our body. This conditioning does not make
us weaker or modify our ability to act decisively and forcefully. It enables
us to think clearly, act wholeheartedly, and to know that what we do is
Look for this upcoming book by Jeff Brooks:
The Rhinoceros Tale
A practitioner's guide to the alchemy of action
"An unforgettable account, crackling with energy and full of heart,
of how one man discovers the twin worlds of the martial arts and Buddhist
practice. This is the kind of book that can change your life."
-- Philip Zaleski, Editor of Harper Collins' Best Spiritual Writing
series, Author of Gifts of the Spirit and The Recollected
About the Author:
Jeffrey M. Brooks holds a Go Dan Fifth Degree Black Belt in Matsubayashi
Shorin Ryu, training in Okinawa, Japan and the USA. He is a practitioner
in the Soto Zen tradition. He has an M.F.A. from NYU Film School and works
as a speechwriter for public figures. He is founder and director of Northampton
Karate in Northampton, Massachusetts, offering classes daily for adults
and children since 1988. Through Northampton Zendo he leads meditation
programs for the members of the karate dojo, the community, as well as
special programs for prison inmates and youthful offenders. (www.northamptonkarate.com)
Brooks is a regular contributor to FightingArts.com. His articles and
his column (Zen Mirror) provide Buddhist insight and perspective on life
and martial arts training.