Wednesday, February 01, 2012


There's a passage somewhere in something Kierkegaard wrote called "The Possibility of Offense," which is a multi-page (20? 30? 40? I can't remember) tour de force examination of what, for a Christian, "offense" might mean in the context of  the bit about that part  about "Blessed is he who is not offended..." in Luke's gospel. In the case of Kierkegaard (and probably most Christians with any knowledge of the subject) "offense" here was sometimes a stand-in for "angry doubt" but in at least one sense just might have meant  offense as we might use it.  Kierkegaard's main point was that offense, in whatever form it took, was an impediment to belief in Christianity. 

There's a lot of offense around here these days; offense that somebody's sacred concept as represented in some form is being misused in some way.  There's offense that a lot of superstition and hoo-hah is being introduced in the modern world.  There's offense at the way  group X is dominant and mistreating groups Y, Z, and Γ.

Buddhists could substitute lots of things for what Kierkegaard wrote as catalysts of offense, as could any of a number of other groups.
I don't think being offended any way changes anything, however legitimate the grievances may or may not be.  And I'm one of the people that think that, though Buddhism is a minority religion in the West, there may not be  anywhere near enough religious ridicule in our discourse today.  As Bill Maher is fond of saying, people that believe in talking snakes should be disqualified from the presidency of the United States.  But even that offense is too much; it's extra baggage.  My point is not to discredit or disqualify the umbrage one might take in response to others' actions- and there's a lot of legitimate umbrage for the taking, and people feel what they feel.  But the alternative is not being an automaton.

My point is that the umbrage, the outrage, as outrage,  is horribly, horribly ineffective.  Outrage fueled conflict is not an opportunity to grow or to awaken. It's not.  And that's not saying that the outrage and offense cannot be used as a catalyst for growth and awakening.  But it can't be used that way if our minds are stuck in outrage and offense.

One of the things that is a "hard" thing for an early practitioner of Wing Chun (詠春) is to be relaxed and to not fight when one is doing, what appears to the unbiased, uninformed observer, as "fighting."   That's because countering force with direct force will, especially for the weaker person, be disastrous. Only by acting "orthogonally" to the direction of force, in as relaxed a manner as possible, as fluidly as possible, is it possible to get an advantage against a stronger and larger opponent.  But in order to do that you have to detach from the "offense" that you feel that you, a smaller, weaker person is being attacked by the stronger, larger opponent.  And if you get a glimpse of that, you get a glimpse of really going beyond the offense, and actually effecting a change. And it's a metaphor that can be used outside of martial arts; for example it can be applied to the cantankerous person in the office meeting, or in the kitchen. It also applies with 書道. This isn't meek passivity by any means.

If you search around Youtube, you'll be able to find a bit where Bruce Lee is saying "Be like water..." It was my first impression on seeing this that it was all gibberish.  But in fact, Lee was actually giving away the secret of his trade here.  Being like water when there's a big rock in your way takes more practice since, especially when we're in "offense" mode, we've forgotten we are water.

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