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Beyond Tolerance: WE2


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When I first went to Japan five years ago, I had to leave behind my language and I soon discovered what that meant to my thinking. When taking up a foreign language, you lose many words of expression but you gain a host of new terms. As I started to understand Japanese, I began to see a mentality that is not Christian but is equally blessed by eternal truth. I saw a spiritual tradition fundamentally different and still related to my own.

The unshakeable heart

The respect for something unchangeable and unshakeable is a value that I have learnt in Japan. It is visible in a respect for tradition and religion. Many Japanese keep their history and their festivals alive in a meticulous way. They talk about historical names as if they were the neighbours'.

One of the most impressive swordsmasters that has lived in Japan, Miyamoto Musashi, contemplated 350 years ago the idea of the "unshakeable heart". He meant a heart that will not be torn out of balance by the body or one's surroundings. "A heart that does not tremble even in a pressed situation. A heart that cannot be contaminated." Musashi showed with his life that he came very close to this ideal. He went through more than 60 encounters with famous swordsmen without losing once. What was his source of inspiration? Besides strict practice, the answer is probably silence and solitude. Musashi and masters of his format were all lonely people. They didn't seek a friend or a public dogma in order to find answers. In fact, I don't think they sought answers or remedies at all. Instead, they trained themselves to meet whatever life offered them - to be present in suffering as well as joy - not to run away from anything, not even a razor-sharp sword flashing through the air. This utter acceptance of reality is a tremendous lesson for us Westerners. We can neither understand it nor accept it.

When we are puzzled about what motivated the Japanese Kamikaze pilots during the war, it is because of this ignorance. And when we condemn or criticise the Japanese, it is because of our perverted drive to label everything as 'good' or 'bad', 'right' or 'wrong'. We are so obsessed with having an attitude that we fail to accept life with all its colours. The unshakeable heart has not time to grow in us.

I feel we can learn a lot from the Japanese ideal of not being strong-opinioned. A strong opinion signals a weak mind, because when you come out too strongly, you are ignoring the voice within you that speaks a doubt. Leaving opinion aside and instead concentrating on furnishing a heart indifferent to outer matters, you gain strength to handle worldly affairs appropriately. It is just like the typhoon which has power to lift roofs, turns around a centre that is not moving! One famous martial artist, the man who created Aikido, once said: "As soon as you concern yourself with the 'good' and 'bad' in your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticising others weakens and defeats you!"

Gunnar Johnson, Norway

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:20:06 (EEST).
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