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The Nature of Water

By Jeff Brooks

The Niagara River is powerful and deep as it flow along slowly, mile after mile. In an instant, without any hint of what is coming, it reaches the falls and transforms, explodes into flumes, torrents, droplets and sprays as it crashes violently into the rocks below. It bubbles, roils and spins and settles down again forming a slow, deep river once again.

So what is the water really like? What is the true nature of the water? Deep and peaceful? Chaotic and violent? Misty? Powerful?

The quality of the water is subject to conditions. Under some conditions it is one way. When conditions change it is another way. It adapts to the conditions as they change.

What is our true nature? Turbulent? Peaceful? Wise? Impulsive?

We also adapt to the conditions in which we find ourselves. The difference between our selves and water is that to some degree we can determine the conditions in which we live.
We do not have to be turbulent, angry, greedy, stupid, helpless or hurt. We can act. If we learn what to do, gain the skills we need to act, and then apply ourselves to acting wisely, we can create the best conditions for our own lives.

Unexpected conditions will arise. One day we may go over the falls. But if we have trained wisely and well we will recognize the conditions for what they are, adapt to them and be able to accommodate them, without fear or clinging.

People come in to our dojo and sometimes they tell me what kind of person they are. They say “I am not flexible.” Or “I am very strong.”

Whatever words they use to describe themselves, whatever attributes they think they possess or lack, the fact is that none of it accurately describes them. It describes their response to current conditions. If they attribute these characteristics to themselves as if they were fixed, they will ultimately lose the their strengths (by complacency) or fail to overcome their weaknesses (by failing to make effort.)

If on the other hand they enter into training sincerely, that is to say enter into a setting in which the conditions are perfect for their own inner and outer development, they will get the results they want. They will become who they wish to be. But only by acknowledging that our “true nature” does not describe some permanent inherent characteristic which we possess, but the fact that we are subject to conditions and reflect a universe – of our own making or otherwise.

Once a year we ring the big 200 lb. Chinese iron bell in our dojo. One day only. This is similar to the annual Japanese New Years celebration Kagami Biraki, but not quite the same.

For an entire year the bell remains silent at the front of our dojo. During every practice, every class, every meditation session it stays quiet. The once a year the sound resonates through our dojo, through our building, rings out across the whole neighborhood. The bell has no nature of creating a great sound. But when the conditions are right it rings out loud and strong. Then, when the conditions are withdrawn, silence returns.

It works the same way in our own hearts and minds. To the degree that we can, we create the conditions in which we live. This is how we become who we are.

Copyright Jeff Brooks and 2007

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About The Author:

Jeffrey Brooks, Seventh Degree Black Belt, has been the director of Northampton Karate Dojo in Northampton, Massachusetts since 1987 and director of Northampton Zendo since 1993. He is a police officer and police instructor, and the author of “Rhinoceros Zen – Zen Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom.” His column Zen Mirror and other articles appear on

New! is pleased to announce its first book: “Rhinoceros Zen –Zen Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom,” by Jeffrey Brooks, a work that portrays the dual paths and interplay between Zen and Karate-do. Fast paced and easy to read, it is full of insight and wisdom. It is a rewarding read for any martial artist.

(Softcover, 300 pages, illustrated)


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Zen philosophy,mental flow,self nature

Read more articles by Jeff Brooks

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