Essays Archives


"Do you realise you will have to unlearn all you have learned and start from square one?" asked Bruce Lee to a person wanting to learn the martial arts.

The man responded with a no.

Bruce smiled and placed his hand lightly on his shoulder. "Let me tell you a story my 'sifu' (master) told me. It is about the Japanese Zen master who received a university professor who came to know about Zen. The professor ceaselessly talked about himself and his opinions. The master perceived that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was in impressing him with his own opinions and knowledge. The master listened patiently and finally suggested they have tea. The master poured his visitor's cup full and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself, 'The cup is overfull, no more will go in,' he said.

'Like this cup,' the master said, 'You are full of your opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?'"

Bruce studied the man's face. "You understand the point?"

"Yes. You want me to empty my mind of arrogance for knowledge so that I can learn."

After the sixteenth century the martial arts in the Orient came to be appreciated for its potential for self-development. It is more than a physical contest between two opponents who inflict damage to one another. Fundamentally they are avenues through which one can achieve spiritual and mental tranquility. This emphasis came to light after the 16th century. The martial arts were not merely seen as a combat-to-the-death means but as a tremendous exercise to inner development. Thus the art of sword fighting, kenjutsu, became transformed into ken-do - "the way of the sword." Soon other martial arts were given the ending 'do' which means "the way." In other words, "the way to enlightenment, self-realisation and understanding." This Zen element (Zen is a Japanese sect of Mahayana Buddhism that aims at enlightenment by direct intuition through meditation) i.e. the enlightenment aspect, is found in various degrees in aikido, judo, karate-do, tae-kwan-do, hapkido, jeet-kune-do, etc.

The Zen in martial arts dilutes the role of intellect and emphasizes on intuitive action for self-development. Its final aim is to free the individual from anger, illusion and false passion.

The practice hall where you learn and better the art is called a 'dojo'. It is here that you learn more about yourself - your fears, anxieties, reactions and habits. It is a world where a partner teaches you who you really are and your reactions to various situations. The conflicts that take place in the 'dojo' helps you handle conflicts that take place outside in the world. The disciplines you learn in the 'dojo' carries over to daily life. Each 'dojo' is presided by a 'sifu' or 'sensei' - meaning master.

In the realm of religion an individual is taught how to become free from his animal instincts. He masters the art of spiritual combat from his Guru. The 'dojo' he goes to is the mandir. Here he learns more about himself, his passions and habits. He comes to recognise his inner conflicts and the means to root them out through 'satsang.'

The path to spiritual freedom requires him to relegate his intellect and promote sound faith. Moral disciplines help to reinforce his character; introspection gives a clear picture of his conflicts. And 'satsang' i.e. association with his Guru frees him entirely from the influence of all passions and conflicts. It is the 'sensei' or Guru who drills him for mental tranquility.

To the conflicts raging in Arjun's mind on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Bhagwan Krishna tells him to empty his cup and seek his refuge alone. He says:

Sarvadharmaanparityajya maamekam sharanam vraj !

"Renounce all your duties and take refuge in me, alone." (Bhagwad Gita. (18/66)

Manmanaa bhava madhbhakto madhyaaji maam namaskuru!

"Fix your mind on me, be devoted to me, sacrifice to me, prostrate thyself to me." (Bhagwad Gita (18/65)

Mamev ye prapadhyante mayametan taranti te!

"Those who come at my feet transcend the three 'gunas' (i.e. sattvagun, rajogun and tamogun). (Bhagwad Gita (7/14)

A man approached a Guru for knowledge.

"How long will it take?" he enquired.

"One month," the Guru replied.

"But I already know the following things." The man started unfolding the list of what he knew.

"Then it will take one year!" the Guru replied calmly.

"But you said only a month a minute ago!"

"Young man, after having told me what you know I will first have to empty your cup before imparting the redeeming knowledge."

As long as we are 'full' we perceive things through our own attitudes and beliefs. This hampers us from receiving the guru's knowledge.

Socrates, the great father of philosophy believed and preached. "There is one thing I know, that I know nothing." It was with this maxim that Socrates scaled the heights to wisdom.

Yogiji Maharaj cited an anecdote about a Brahmin who was invited to a neighboring village for lunch. On the way he took a bag of grams to munch. He finished them before reaching the village. Along the way the grams made him thirsty. So he drank lots of water. This made his stomach heavy. When he arrived at the village and sat down for lunch, he managed to eat only five sweetballs whereas his friends had completed fifteen and were still having more." What's the matter with you?" one of them asked. "You've only eaten five!" said another.

"Oh it was those damn grams I ate! If only I hadn't eaten them I wouldn't have been thirsty and bloated." the Brahmin lamented.

Yogiji Maharaj explained the moral of the story, saying, "Like the sad Brahmin who failed to eat his share of sweetballs because of the grams, we too, come to the mandir filled with worldly thoughts. This renders us helpless in having our hearty share of the spiritual food of God's wisdom. Whenever we attend a spiritual discourse sit with an empty, clear mind."

Try emptying your cup and you'll learn tremendously. You'll find room for improvement in your academic, social and spiritual aspects of life.

The principle rule to learning and imbibing is humility and emptying oneself of all airs

© 1999-2024 Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha), Swaminarayan Aksharpith | Privacy Policy | Terms & Conditions | Feedback |   RSS