Is Ego the mind killer?

There is no more destructive but imperative construct to our existence than Ego. With too little of it we are like a washed out water colour painting, too much and then self destruction is  inevitable.

Don’t mistake modesty for a lack of ego either, some of the most outwardly modest people suffer the same malady.

Sir Hubert Wilkins the great polar explorer, ornithologist, pilot, soldier, geographer and photographer is a great example of this.  General Sir John Monash , on returning to Australia after WWI eulogised Wilkins as “The bravest man alive” at a large public gathering. He later received a message from Wilkins “begging him not to praise him publicly again.”

And Vilhjalmur Stefanson, a fellow polar explorer met With General Monash later and told the Australian papers:

Sir John Monash seems to agree with me that Wilkins is so aggressively modest that he carries it to a fault. It ought to be enough to hide your light under a bushel without threatening to knock anybody down who wants to take the bushel away.

I think Wilkins hid a large ego under that same bushel, and it is more likely that it was the escape of this ego that he feared more. Wilkins came close on several occasions to destruction, and causing the death of the men and women who served with him but in the end it may have been his strong caring nature that helped keep his ego under that bushel.

A little luck didn’t go astray either.

Ego in the martial arts has ruined many teachers. It seems that a large ego is a prerequisite to lead a dojo, it is especially to attractive to new students who seek a sensei/master/guru figure.

I have seen several sensei self destruct, believing to much of their own publicity and get summarily purged from their style’s national or international organisation. The ego must be held in check.

The first step must be awareness.

“E” is for Ego

Who was the 15th Dalai Lama?

My faourite quote from the 15th Dalai Lama is:

People object when coerced down a particular path, even if they know it is for the better. It is primeval; they feel trapped and cannot get passed this feeling. You have to make them want to go; make the lead so soft they forget it is there.


The current Dalai Lama (the 14th one) trancends the idea of a religeous leader and is almost an architype to himself. I’m no longer surprised when I come across him as a character in fiction. This by no means denigrates His Holiness, it is because he has touched so many of our lives. The drawers at my writing desk are filled with his quotes and advice on little peices of paper or desk calendar tear offs:

“Sometimes we feel that one individual’s action is very insignificant.  Then we think, of course, that effects should come from channeling or from a unifying movement.  But the movement of the society, community or group of people means joining individuals.  Society means a collection of individuals, so that initiative must come from individuals.  Unless each individual develops a sense of responsibility, the whole community cannot move.  So therefore, it is essential that we should not feel that individual effort is meaningless- you should not feel that way.  We should make an effort.”— His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from ‘The Dalai Lama’s Book of Love and Compassion’, available from Snow Lion Publications.

This quote empowers the individual and comes to my mind whenever I hear people lament their “one” vote or slip into apathy. I keep it close.

The quote at the start of this blog appeared in a short Sci-Fi story I wrote entitled “Panacea” set around the middle of the twentyfirst century. In the story I needed to insert a spiritual element in an attempt to “softly lead” the readers mind to a particular conclusion that I left unsaid at the end of the story.

This fictional Dalai Lama (I remind you of this again) I once desribed to a writer friend as the 14th Dalai Lama on crack. He was less predictable than the 14th Dalai Lama. I felt that if His Holiness had any failing it was that he was so archetypal, so good, and therefore predictable and open to manipulation by subversive groups.

My 15th Dalai Lama never held a gun but he was militant and as Murakami wrote in his book 1Q84:

“Once a gun appears in a story, it will be shot and someone will die”.

D is for the “Dalai Lama”

What is the Beginner’s Mind?

The beginner is blissfully unaware of the pitfalls of this form or that; and so their mind does not stop and they move in a natural way. Unfortunately this beginner’s mind slips from our grasp no matter how much we try to hold on to it and may take years of diligent practice achieve, and for many it is never achieved again.

This could be why many people flitter from one thing to another; at first enthralled by their own extraordinary ability and then blaming one teacher after another for its loss.

When one practices discipline and moves from the beginner’s territory to immovable wisdom, one makes a return and falls back to the level of the beginner. -Takuan Soho

When you study an art, be it martial or otherwise, you are taught diverse ways to move and act; how to hold the sword, racket, bat, or paint brush, and where to put your mind and therefore it stops in many places. Then when you move you are extraordinarily discomforted. After many months and years of training and practice one’s posture or the clinical manner of holding this or that do not weigh heavily on your mind and the mind no longer stops and becomes as it was at the beginning; when you knew nothing and had yet to be taught.

The beginning therefore is the same as the end and is also known as the state of No-Thought-No-Mind. More on that on another day.

Again, we can speak with reference to your own martial art. As the beginner knows nothing about either his body posture or the positioning of his sword, neither does his mind stop anywhere within him. If a man strikes at him with the sword, he simply meets the attack without anything in mind. -Takuan Soho

The mind does not stop he simply meets the attack without anything in mind

“B” is for the Beginner’s Mind

A is for “A Fettered Mind”

Hiroshima Dome:

We’re all fettered by something, not least of which is our biological “gilded cage”.

Anyone who has had more than a passing interest in either the martial arts or zen would recognise that “A Fettered Mind” stems from Takuan Soho’s book The Unfettered Mind – Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master. But things for me are always more organic than just lifting a title from someone else’s imagination.

It was somewhere in the 2000’s that my writing focused switched from technical articles, mostly related to Spatial Science (my day job) and the martial arts experience particularly Aikido and Ki, towards more creative writing. My grandfather was an officer in the Second Australian Infantry Forces and served in a non-combat role in Europe,ack home in Australia, and later in East Asia. My mother was born after he enlisted but by the time the war had ended five years later he had not been home to see her. Rather than return home to his family though he chose to volunteer for the British Commonwealth Occupational Force (BCOF) in Japan. Most of this I discovered shortly after his death.

Why would a man I knew to be good and kind abandon his family?

It was a question I had failed to answer through research so I decided that I would literally solve it myself. At first this project wa entitled “Tex” the name he was known by, having been born in the small town of Texas, Queensland, Australia. Late one evening while researching the novel Takuan’s “The Unfetered Mind” fell onto my writing desk from the bookshelf.

“Now that is one saying I can’t use to describe you Tex,” I said into the darkness.

I browsed straight to my project and entitled it “A Fettered Mind”.

A is for “A Fettered Mind”

I have uploaded the short story Hanami, which is based on my grandfather Tex’s service with he peace keeping forces in Japan.

No-Mind: Do not think about not thinking at all

Thoughts have a power all of their own. Any thought we hold too tightly, or keep too close to our hearts, can have a detrimental effect on our lives.  A thought can become an obsession. For example, a thought that our partner is having an affair develops in our mind, and we filter all of their actions through it, searching for evidence however small. This small thought could develop into an obsession and jealousy and mistrust begins to taint every moment of our lives. Eventually we will see things that are not actually there and over time this will strangle the relationship like weeds in an untended garden.

We should strive to regularly empty our minds lest a thought achieves a foothold that cannot be overcome. Takuan Soho (1573-1645), a Japanese Zen Master and Philosopher from the 1600’s, provided similar advice to his contemporaries whether they were the Shogun, Master Swordsmen, fellow monks or lay members of his community. In a translation of his writings The Unfettered Mind by William Scott Wilson, he said:

If your mind leans in the direction of these thoughts, though you listen, you will not hear; and though you look, you will not see. This is because there is something in your mind. What is there is thought. If you are able to remove this thing…your mind will become No-Mind, it will function when needed, and it will be appropriate to its use.

Unfortunately achieving this state of No-Mind is difficult if not practised regularly. We must make this state, even for a heartbeat, part of our daily lives. But again Takuan warns that this too is a thought: “…the mind that thinks about removing what is in it will, by the very act, be occupied.” He wrote a short poem to help us, and four hundred years later it rings as true as the day he wrote it:

To think, “I will not think.”-

This, too, is something in one’s thoughts.

Simply do not think

about not thinking at all.



Takuan Soho (1573-1645) was a prelate of the Rinsai Sect of Zen, well remembered for his strength of character and acerbic wit; and he was also a gardener, poet, tea master, prolific author and a pivital figure in Zen painting and calligraphy (William Scott Wilson – The Unfettered Mind, 1986).