Sunday, June 24, 2012

More on Martial Arts, 功夫, and "spirituality."

I think there is a place for what, for want of a better term, might be considered "the sacred."   I tend to denigrate the word "spirituality" though because it is hard to pin down a unique meaning for this.  It's not to say that I denigrate things that are conducive to life, harmony, compassion, wisdom,  and generosity, and in that sense I would agree that a "spiritual" practice that would encompass those attributes would be beneficial.  But I think, as the Buddha suggested, it's a good idea generally to deprecate usages and appeals regarding the supernatural.

This post is in response to a video I saw of one Matt Thornton, which I posted here.  I've been meaning to communicate with Mr. Thornton, but haven't had the opportunity yet, though he lives in the Portland area.  I think we'd get on quite well. But I think he hasn't met someone quite like me, a person who engages in what some might call "spiritual" practices, and gets what he's saying about the psychological /"spiritual" aspects of martial arts.

In the video above Mr. Thornton makes a convincing appeal for knowledge of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, though I understand his school also teaches Jeet Kun Do, which is a descendent martial art of Wing Chun (詠春券).  He also makes a very good point or two or three regarding how unprepared many "martial arts" schools leave their trainees when it comes to a real confrontation.  (See also Sam Harris's blog post on the subject here.)

But the thing I wanted to get recorded here is that what Mr. Thornton denigrates in his video, is the idea that what are commonly called "spiritual" practices (see around 18:34 and following in the video.) "Cultural superstition" is one thing that Mr. Thornton associates with Buddhism, and that "Buddhists" pretend to know things they do not know, e.g., what happens after death.  But Mr. Thornton should be aware that many Buddhists do not go to that point.  That said, I'm sure Mr. Thornton doesn't get the proper function of a Buddhist chanting service for example.  When we chant about Buddha nature pervading the universe, it is not necessarily a supernatural statement.   An awareness that transcends our own awareness may or may not exist in a vacuum, but it undeniably appears to be ubiquitous amongst sentient beings, for starters.  And that what I call "I" is a construct of my mind is pretty near empirically verified.  But also, our awakened nature does pervade the universe; as it is in the universe and the universe pervades itself and is interdependent with/in all phenomena. Where does it end?

Still, Mr. Thornton gets that a martial arts practice has a profound effect on one's sense of self. One has to get quite humble to learn about one's self, and useful martial arts are a good vehicle for that. And there are variations of Buddhism, real Buddhism, that are overly supernatural.  That's unfortunate, but such supernaturalism is not the entirety, it is not even the essence of Buddhism.   And Mr. Thornton should be aware that there are practitioners of Buddhism, such as myself, who abjure spiritual hucksterism, yet still find the practices of Buddhism do seem to benefit myriad beings.

But yeah, if hucksters advertise on my site (and some hucksters do), and you click on their links everyone involved is responsible to the extent that they choose to involve themselves.  You pays your money and you takes your chances. So it goes.

No comments: