Updated: Aug 14, 2022
The Eight Precepts that Master Miyagi Chojun chose out of the “Bubishi” help to give us a grounding not only for our study of karate but also for how we live in this world. From the Eight Precepts, I want to focus on the first precept because it is the one that has grasped onto my mind and meets me at my very essence, “The mind is one with heaven and earth”. In a different respect, this precept is also the one that holds the other precepts together. As we go through how the first precept influences the karate ka by itself and how it ties the other precepts together.
In this precept there is the acknowledgement that we are more than just physical beings, that there is also a spiritual aspect to who we are. We have the connection to the now, the not yet, and what has already been. Karate itself is connected to the past with the respect and importance of those who have learnt and taught before. With this connection, there is a transcendence that each move we make is connected through teaching with all those who have come before us. Also, when we think about the simple act of bowing in, we bow to those who have come before us, the students bow to their current sensei, and the sensei bows to the students. Karate itself is like the river that is constantly flowing and moving forward, but it is remembering where it has come from and is looking forward to where it will be going in the future.
For the karate ka, the precept, “The mind is one with heaven and earth” focuses on the need for peace. Each moment has more elements than we sometimes realize. For some we are splitting our mind between what is happening, what could happen, what others are thinking about us, our fears, our past and our worries about the future. With this divided mind we could become overwhelmed in the moment or distracted and not be able to fully live in the moment. In a sparring match this could be the difference between winning and losing, or between getting hurt or not getting hurt. The peace that is required between heaven and earth and our minds is a peace that again transcends the moment to free one’s self to live in the moment and not be held back by the past, by what cannot be controlled, and by the fear of what might happen. If we are too focused in on the past we are living in the past and not enough in the moment. If we focus too much on what could be, we miss what is. But when we are at peace or in a state of oneness with what was, what will be, and what is we have the needed equilibrium that allows us to flow in the here in now, to flow in our thinking and feeling, to flow in our movements. One of the main criticisms that I receive is that I am thinking too much. With this precept it is helpful to tie it into the precept number 5 “Technique will occur in the absence of conscious thought.” I don’t mean to say that there is not a time for studying the technique also but each should have its place and not dominate, again, there needs to be an equilibrium in the karate ka, the warrior spirit, the body, the mind, breathing, movement, and thought. In so doing the peace or unity of the different aspects of the karate ka come together in the moment.
Another aspect of this precept is related to life and living at peace with what is, and what will be. Again this is to bring peace to the now and have a deeper understanding of the moment and what can be done, putting things into perspective so that we are able to function in everyday life. Too much focus and worry stalls people’s lives. We all have things we can change and things we cannot change, things we can control, and things we cannot control. When we understand which is which and spend the appropriate time and energy on them and release the others we can have a greater peace of mind on earth. This can be accomplished through training of the mind, heart, and body whether it is through right thinking, meditation/prayer, or knowing when to let the past go so that you are not anchored in the past. The heavenly part of this comes with being at peace with what was and what will be, are we ready to die today? Some people fear death, other people spend too much time thinking about the afterlife and preparing for it that they also miss the beauty of this life. For us to be able to live we must be willing to live but also be at peace with dying. If we are afraid to live, we are not one with the earth. If we are afraid to die, we are not one with heaven. We need to be one and at peace with the what was, the now, and the not yet. Part of this can be seen through the idea of the Yin Yang. One side is never completely detached from the other and in a constant interchange and movement from one to the other. Heaven helps us to have life and pulls us forward in this life here on earth, while this life here on earth gives us a hint of what will be in heaven. Both give energy and movement to the other.
So far I have talked about spiritual, emotional, and psychological aspects of this precept. We also have the physical aspects of the mind being one with heaven and earth. As we are living, are we aware of our surroundings, what is happening around us, what is useful, what is constant but also what is changing. In this aspect, precept one ties all the other 6 precepts together. When we are constantly aware of our surroundings, what is and what should be, we are able to be aware of trouble but also of blessings. Being aware of changes helps us to be aware of the possibility of trouble and what can be done to avoid it, deal with it, and in some instances solve it. Being aware of the wind, the sun, what is coming up on the path, the feeling of heat, the smells around you, being aware of the movement of the shadows, the sounds around you or the lack thereof prepares us to receive and act. A movie clip that demonstrates this is in the “Bourne Identity” when Jason Bourne walks into a diner part of his training was to assess the greatest threats, exits, and is aware of how people are changing, who is coming in and going out. While this clip shows the awareness of his surroundings, he is not at peace with heaven or with earth because he is worried about what could happen, he is confused, and really is lost. But it does help us to be able to start thinking about what is around us, not allowing our eyes to miss even the slightest detail, and allowing our ears to hear well in all directions. Also when we are aware of our surroundings, it helps us to move with awareness and not accidentally falling over something that you could use to help yourself, “the feet separate and meet, advance and retreat.” However, when we are full of anxiety and distracted from what is around us, focusing on our innerself with worry, we can very easily miss what is happening around us and sometimes even miss what is happening to us.
When we think about the circulatory system being like the cycle of the sun and the moon, this precept helps to create that oneness with heaven and earth and creates a symbiotic relationship between the two. When we are aware of the changing of the seasons, of night and day, the tides, of the weather, it helps us develop a peace with the changing environment because we are aware when certain changes are suppose to happen and we can then react in accordance because even our body changes with these environmental changes. This will help us to find our natural rhythms and work with them instead of fighting them. This then creates peace within and around.
Facing different challenges in life changes how we breathe. When we are able to control our breathing through the different challenges, we are able to deal with changes instead of blindly reacting. By breathing properly, we become stronger in our body and help to protect our body from damage. This happens through inhaling at the appropriate times and exhaling to tighten the muscles so that they are harder when they need to be. Breathing also affects how long we will last in a competition or a fight. If we cannot control our breathing then we will tire faster. Also by controlling your breathing you are able to think clearer and adapt to the changes around you. This is another of the precepts, “Act in accordance with time and change.”
Much like other precepts, this is about being aware of what is around you, what is happening to you, and the environment that you are in. Again like the Yin Yang, we are in a state of change and we need to be aware of this fact and be able to change with ourselves, with our family and friends, with our time of day, the seasons, our surroundings, our feelings, our circumstances, just to name a few. Both of these last two precepts flow out of the mind being one with heaven and earth, being at peace with what is, to change to or become what you need become to be to deal with the moment and more importantly life. Life in itself is always changing, this first precept while may lead people to think of it as a static element, in reality it is one that leads from the present of what was, to what is, and finally going into what will be. In life there needs to be a constant tension leading us forward and pushing us from what was and leading us to realize and live in what is. An illustration of this is a balloon, there is pressure pushing the balloon out when it is inflated, and pressure pushing in on the balloon. Without one, the balloon will either be deflated or will explode and not exist.
While this is a brief look at how the eight precepts are tied together through the first precept of the mind being one with heaven and earth, it has been my goal to delve into some of the richness of the interconnectedness of the precepts through this one precept. This is much like how in the modern katas handed down by Dai Sensei Meitoku Yagi, Tenchi (heaven and earth) is the kata that is at the center of the modern katas and is the one kata that is itself two katas working together in one. I would like to thank my Sensei Keith Harris for helping me to see this precept in a fuller light. Also, I would like to thank the many people who have helped me to see fuller the beauty of this life that is constantly leading into the next.