I was upset and worried. Things weren’t going the way I wanted them to. A change had come along that broke my heart. At one point I sat in my small Japanese flat, feeling every bit of the misery and loss, and just cried like a child. If the tears had washed away the pain, maybe that would have been the end of it. But that wasn’t the case. My sorrow was having an impact on my martial arts training. I’d go to the dojo, but my concentration wasn’t where it needed to be and I was finding myself getting knocked around far too easily, and far too frequently. When I went to the shrine that evening and attempted to meditate, thoughts of my loss flooded my mind, and my meditation was worthless. My sensei, one of my spiritual teachers, noticed my mental disturbance, and my self-pitying downcast appearance. He sat in seiza in front of me and spoke softly.
“What is troubling you?’
I looked at him and tried to fake a smile. “Nothing, sensei. I’m fine.”
He rapped me on the forehead with his palm as he always did when he knew I wasn’t being authentic. “Try again. This time, tell the truth.”
I apologized and said, “Well, my relationship ended. She meant so much to me. But her parents don’t want her to marry an American, so rather than dishonor her parents, she ended things between us. I guess I’m just mourning the loss of her. Not very enlightened of me, is it?” I dropped my gaze to the tatami beneath me.
“No, not enlightened, but human. Grief, sorrow and loss touch the bodhisattva and the fool alike. It is common to all. However, the bodhisattva understands these experiences properly. The midwife knows that when there is no pain, the path of the baby isn’t open, and the baby can’t be born.”
“I don’t understand.”, I said, confused by the talk of babies.
“For the Self to be born anew, hardship is necessary. Just as the steel of your sword must go through intense fire to become strong, enlightenment is only found by passing through the fires of human experience.”
I knew he was right. I nodded silently. “It is just hard to go through.”
He smiled. “Yes, women have a powerful magic. But don’t worry about where the road ahead takes you. Instead, focus on the first step. It will be a difficult one, but you must take it, even if you feel like you’re alone. When you take that first step the universe will lead you naturally. You Americans have a saying: ‘go with the flow’. Instead of just going with the flow, be one with the flow. Actively seek the flow of the scheme of totality. Right now, you’re resisting. Resistance creates pain.”
“How well I know.” I said dejectedly.
“I know you’re aware of this truth, but you need to be reminded. So, don’t worry that your life is being tossed about by the winds of change. Often the wind carries us to a better place than we’re in right now, if we simply trust the flow of nature.” His smile returned again as he placed his hand on my shoulder.
“Remember, whether you can sense it or not, the divine is with you in the process. The divine is the process itself. Everyone-you, me, and your former girlfriend-we’re all a work in progress, slowly moving toward enlightenment. So, embrace the journey, with its mountains and valleys, the sunrises and sunsets, the love and loss. It is all a part of your wonderful story of enlightenment.”
Tears began burning my eyes as the wisdom of my teacher’s words sank into my heart. I realized at that moment that what he said was all true, but even more-he was the very voice of the universe reminding me that everything is as it should be. All things flow as they should. I suddenly saw the trees moving in the breeze around the shrine as if it was the first time. They knew to bend so as not to break when the winds blew. I looked up at the cold moon above me, misty in the night sky. Yes, all things were flowing just as they should.
Most people find themselves stunned, panicked and dumbfounded when unforeseen events occur or disaster hits. Our stability, sense of security and mental and emotional well-being all suffer. Needless to say, this isn’t a net positive for anyone. There is a Japanese saying, “Banpen Fugyō”. It is best understood as “Ten thousand changes, no surprises.” The idea of ten thousand things is one found in both Shinto and Buddhism and refers to all of creation-everything that exists. The innumerable things and beings. The meaning of the phrase is this: the material world is shared by all material things and beings. Every moment of material existence holds in it the possibility of disaster and danger, along with goodness and peace. Anything can happen at any time. This means that, left to the laws of nature, material existence is one of spontaneous change and growth. The enlightened person doesn’t resist the flow of the laws of nature, but rather studies them and through spiritual practice, cultivates a mind of quietness and peace in the face of change. If life deals him or her a difficult financial setback, they’re no more moved by it than when they receive a financial bonus. They’re content in whatever comes their way because they understand the laws of nature and are prepared for all eventualities. The mind and emotions remain free of conflict in the face of change. This is sometimes called Fudoshin, the immovable heart.
“No one possesses the knowledge concerning the events of tomorrow. This means that we do not know when our life will cease. However, you should not be surprised by any kind of happening. Whether a change in the divine process occurs, a cutting action is attempted by an opponent, or natural catastrophes take place, you should never feel such a thing as surprise. This is the spirit of Banpenfugyō. ‘Banpen’ means “change” and “Fugyō”, “never surprised”. What one should have in mind, first of all, is caring for one’s own life; this is common sense. Health, both physical and spiritual, is needed in order to prevent accidents.”-Takamatsu Toshitsugu