Happiness or “Budō”?
After my Nidan exam, (2nd Dan), Augé Sensei asked me to write an essay on the correlation between Budō and Matthieu Ricard’s Book: Happiness. At first, just like at school in the old days, I froze at the thought of writing. But then I told myself to just start by reading the book at least once, so I can let the content sink in… But what a text it is!
As I was reading, I quickly realized that this was not a book that I would read in one stretch; at least, not if I wanted to understand its content. I read the chapters one by one, and was able to write only after a few months of letting everything simmer.
I started my training in 1982. Over the years, there has been many opportunities to discuss and exchange on Life and Budō. Now that I finished reading, I would like to establish a few comparisons between “looking for happiness” and this life style that I chose: Budō.
In his book, Mr Ricard describes in many different ways the fact that many
people are looking for happiness, and have been for many years, and failed
to find it. How can we find happiness? What is the secret of those of those
who are happy? Of course, there are all the usual empty answers:
people lead a quiet life,
Be grateful for what you have!,
Look ahead, not behind!
Just to name a few. I hope that my reflection will help you achieve your
As a kid, I never worried about this thing called “happiness”. I lived
without real problems. I was born in a very modest family, happiness was
be grateful for what you have and share it with others.
Growing up, society took care of teaching me how to aim higher in order to
get this or reach that… Otherwise, happiness will be hard to get or even
unattainable. But destiny (others may say “karma”) put Budō on my path.
As per Mochizuki Minoru Kancho Sensei:
Budō is the way to face life’s
challenges. But how can you follow
a path when you are completely oblivious to its existence? Matthieu
Ricard’s book offers an accessible approach. You need to start by wanting
to improve your existence. Then, recognize and accept that it can be
Budō training teaches us to stay humble and accept that we are not an
infinite source of knowledge. We can always learn more while developing our
body and inner self:
A healthy mind in a healthy body!
The thoroughness required during training or meditation allows us to recognize that there is more than meets the eye. It also helps us develop determination. This determination leads to success in our endeavours and helps us face disappointment when we experience failure, in order to turn the failure into a learning opportunity.
In his book, Matthieu Ricard explains to what extent the toxins of sorrow can confuse our spirit. Sometimes, we fill our minds with dark thoughts, which can be disguised as a sense of false duty or simply as negativity. With some hindsight (and a lot of training), we understand that we need to start with ourselves to be able to give to others.
If we lose ourselves in our “duties”, after a few years, we lose track of
all of our beacons. We become like dead wood, floating on the river of
life. On the other hand, if we learn to develop a strong, stable and serene
inner self, it won’t matter how hard or strenuous a chore can be, it will
become a source of satisfaction and accomplishment. This feeling can become
a source of happiness by itself, just like when a runner finally reaches
the finishing line of a marathon, or when a student finishes a training
camp (like Yoseicamp or Kangeiko) either for the first time or the
twentieth time. The feeling of having accomplished what seemed at first
impossible is called
Soukha: an inner feeling of deep joy.
We can also establish a correlation between training the mind and training the body. In his work, Matthieu Ricard makes frequent references to meditation and its benefits. During our active training, we consider the required concentration as meditation in action. Sitting meditation is also part of training. It helps develop the inner calm that helps us face adversity. When facing an attacker, it is essential to stay calm, ready for anything without judgement.
Mr. Ricard’s book talks about unconditional love of the Buddhist have
towards others. Likewise, Ueshiba Sensei said:
Aikido is not a technique to fight with or defeat the enemy. It is the
way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.
We can definitively see a link between the unconditional love of the
Buddhist towards others and Ueshiba Sensei’s he hoped to develop in his
Mochizuki Sensei had also developed this love for people. He judged no one.
He even introduced the concept that:
By loving your attacker like a brother, you can’t hate him or kill him.
We understand that our ‘brother’ is not well and we should intervene so
he does not injure someone or even himself.
If we cultivate this compassion, we can contribute to making this world a
better place. But in order to feel this level of unconditional love towards
other people, we need to love ourselves first. Just like when in a plane,
we should put our oxygen mask first before helping others.
Matthieu Ricard explains that in order to develop inner peace, we should accept our situation and not blame others for our afflictions. For example, in our Budō training, when we make a mistake while executing a technique and someone corrects us, we should:
- Recognize that something needs to be corrected,
- Accept that we should correct it,
- Avoid considering the corrections as a personal attack,
- Avoid making excuses,
- Correct the mistake, and
- Promise to redo this cycle if we ever redo this mistake again.
Wasting our energy in blaming others or on external factors only
perpetuates the pain of failure. On the other hand, triggering the
“solution mode” will allow us to act immediately toward our wellness by
allowing ourselves to correct our mistakes with an open mind. Mochizuki
Sensei believed that
Flexibility will overcome stiffness.
Countering and blaming others for our inabilities only proves that our mind
is stiff. These negative actions, thoughts, and words will have an impact
on our self-esteem. When we accept that we made mistakes and when we strive
to correct them, then we show flexibility. With the assurance that we can
correct our mistakes and better ourselves, we develop our self-esteem.
Life and its Challenges
It is not always easy to accept pain and suffering that afflict us. Life is a long series of events, hardships and challenges. It is up to us to find the lessons that will enable us to grow. Just like with failure, we need to notice the teachings of our successes and learn from them. When we find a life lesson, we grow. Then, if we find a life lesson in failure, is it still a failure?
Let’s come back to meditation. Matthieu Ricard tells us about its benefits. How can we use it daily? Life challenges and “opportunities” burn a lot of our energy unless we take time to meditate, to see clearly, one thing at a time. Meditating and weighing the pros and cons allows us to cut through the fog so that clarity comes. We can see things more clearly and solutions become concrete.
When joy or anger kicks in, we need to refrain from making decisions. They
would be tainted by a cloud of emotions. It is preferable to let the dust
settle in order to see the situation clearly. Otherwise, we risk making a
decision that we would regret later. Again, taking the time to think
(meditate) could save us a lot of trouble. As we say during our training:
take three deep breaths. Thinking about it, how many times have
we been the instigator of our own dismay? How many times would our
decisions have been different if we had not jumped on impulsion of the
moment? Acting on emotions does not yield to positive results. We need to
keep our head clear to make the right choices. It takes practice, but it is
feasible. We need to start with small successes and use them as milestones.
This is how we develop the inner strength that enables us to stay calm.
This confidence and this mindset become the source of self-esteem. But
Matthieu Ricard warns us that
this confuses ego and self-confidence.
Ego has the power to
absorb everything like a devastating tornado. It wraps the truth in a veil
of pride and arrogance. Developing a good self-esteem enables us to
understand and accept our limits, while we continue developing ourselves.
Those who put their ego aside have found a path towards resolution and
fulfillment. We don’t have to suppress or shut every emotions we feel. By
developing a good sense of self-esteem, we develop a self-confidence that
gives us access to our emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is
what allows us to better manage our emotions instead of being controlled by
them. By analysing them and familiarising with them, we learn to tame them.
All while staying in touch with our inner self. Matthieu Ricard wrote about
how we can use our emotional intelligence to
… use negative thoughts in
a positive way. For example, when we
feel a wave of frustration building up inside ourselves, we can decide to
calm it before getting trapped by it. This effort leads to more positive
This insightful work starts as soon as we understand the benefit of
meditation. Instead of keeping busy, we learn to make good use of our time.
We can use it to advance a task or a chore or as a resourcing time
(meditating). For example, at night before going to bed, our mind is
wandering over the day’s events. Taking a few minutes to meditate is a good
way to calm it to sleep well.
Great oaks from little acorns grow!
Slowly, step by step, we can build a strong inner self. The same goes for
Budō training: if we skip steps and try to go too fast, we will face
disappointment. By following the natural course of our training, we develop
gradually without even noticing it.
Having vs Being
One of the biggest diseases is material attachment. It pushes us to try to justify and feel valued by looking at what we possess (like ranks). Concentrating on a rigorous training allows the student to develop determination (“Kime”) which in turn helps to avoid discouragement. Our society pressures us to move on, to try “better” things as soon as something becomes too difficult. With determination, we succeed where others quit. Our training provides us with a better understanding of our inner strength, and allows us to see that we are stronger than we thought. “Having” is just another distraction compared to “Being”.
Refusing to be distracted by possessions keeps our focus on the important
things. St-Exupéry wrote:
It is only with the heart that one can see clearly; what is essential
is invisible to the eye.
In his work, Matthieu Ricard also states that
The renunciant has taken
the time to look within oneself… We must
consider the absence of attachment as the joy of being and watching life’s
Of course, we need transportation and money to feed and dress ourselves. But do we absolutely need that $300,000 car or that huge bank account? How does that better my inner self? If we lose ourselves in “having”, we forget to grow.
Our training helps us understand that the more we give from ourselves, the
more life gives back. Altruism stemming from thinking about the others and
staying in harmony with people is priceless. We develop humility and learn
about “life” a bit more every day. For the student, altruism and compassion
become their emotional foundation, their signature. After several years of
training, students become one with each other. Hating an attacker becomes
impossible when the attacker is an extension of ourselves. What could look
conflicting is actually the sum of both parties. The student must calm the
situation and control the attacker before he hurts anyone. With his
“emotional intelligence”, he will calm his own spirit before losing it. As
Matthieu Ricard explained:
Buddhist compassion, however, is based on the wholehearted desire for
all beings without exception to be liberated from suffering…
In that spirit, vengeance or the will to hurt someone actually is
mirrored upon oneself.
With his rigorous training, the student develops mental strength and kindness that has him strives to give the best of him and love others (even the ones that want to or have hurt him). Don’t think that this student is easily fooled or a push over. He understands that the other has not “walked in his shoes” and he’s not ready to face what life has to offer. He also understands that the other is taken hostage by his own emotions and is consumed by his own hatred. This understanding of others enables the student to stay humble.
In this context, Matthieu Ricard states that
Humility as an attitude is also essentially focused on others and their
He also says
Joy and satisfaction are closely tied to love and affection. As for
misery, it goes hand in hand with selfishness and hostility.
It’s a very nice link to Ueshiba Sensei’s words
…and make human beings one family.
As in all families, there are challenges. Life is full of them. All along
the path, we face challenges that confuse us, burden us and have us
question ourselves. In the book, Matthieu Ricard talks about a man being
hit in the chest by an arrow. Will he wonder:
What wood is the arrow made of? What kind of bird do the feathers come
Of course not! He needs to pull the arrow out immediately. The student
must remember that it is useless to waste time trying to understand why
something happened. It is more important to immediately seek solutions,
and to fix the situation than to feel sorry for oneself.
Getting used to finding solutions instead of getting stuck on problems
conditions our brain to visualize solutions first. At first, it is hard!
But it becomes a reflex. As Augé Sensei says:
Our thoughts become our actions (…) and our actions, our habits (…)
Matthieu Ricard mentions:
To familiarize yourself with this method (…) Remain in a state of
simplicity that is free from mental construct…
If we get familiar with finding solution, it will help us overcome our
hardships. Augé Sensei says:
The antidote to fear is familiarity.
Budō students must develop several qualities and abilities; and
concentration is one of them. Either it is while doing a thousand
suburi, running a marathon or digging a pool, he must stay
concentrated. He must do what he must do until he’s done. Matthieu Ricard
has a chapter about this:
One with the Flow of Time. He starts
We all have had the experience of being intensely absorbed in an
activity, an experiment or a feeling.
He explains that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly named this
phenomenon the “flow”. We often experience this flow during training. How
many times have we realized that time flew by, or that training is already
ending when Sensei indicates the end of class? As a computer specialist, I
decided quite often to stay at work just “a bit” longer to finish a
program, only to emerge from my bubble five or six hours later.
On the other hand, when a task or an activity is boring or uninteresting, it’s mainly because we lack concentration. If we are executing a thousand suburi and let our mind wander around and away from executing these suburi, we lose concentration and time slows down. But if we execute them as meditation in motion, we won’t notice that time flies! We’ll have the satisfaction of accomplishment, without the burden of sufferance. Suffering gives us a feeling of being a victim.
Victimizing ourselves is almost natural for human beings. Statements like
Why me? or
I’m so unlucky! put the blame on external
things, on an “evil” force that wants to hurt us. We should think
(meditate) on the cause: is it because of a bad choice? Is it just the
natural course of a situation? Or is it an external factor that is
Sometimes, we can influence the flow of events but normally, Life happens and we have neither control nor influence on it. When we get rid of feeling that we are a victim, it is like taking a deep breath after having been under water for some time.
Considering a situation without victimising ourselves lets us start right away on finding a solution and sets us on a faster track to recovering our balance.
In the context of a comparative study of the human brain done with magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI), Matthieu Ricard says:
Musicians that start their training earlier in life and practice longer
show bigger changes in the brain.
MRIs demonstrate a higher rate of development in certain brain zones.
Thus, if we avoid the “victim” mode and train ourselves to venture into
solution mode; our brain will develop this ability better, and it becomes
easier. Just like Augé Sensei says:
We become good at what we practice.
Accepting that life is what it is and that we are who we are is a first
step on the path to inner joy, balance and soukha. Our soukha
helps us open to others and trust them while helping them to grow without
expectations. Mochizuki Sensei talked about
Mutual welfare and prosperity!
Matthieu Ricard says
(…) bringing happiness to others is ultimately the best way to
guarantee our own.
As a teacher, I feel a great satisfaction when I help my students develop
and grow. Sometime, I almost feel like a father to them. What I say or do
can have an impact on their life. This is not to be taken lightly. We need
to develop certain wisdom in order to guide. As Matthieu Ricard says:
Wisdom is precisely that which allows us to distinguish the thoughts and
deeds that contribute to authentic happiness from those that destroy it.
At this point in time on my path, I can still see life’s continuous changes; even in my life. I want to be in harmony with these changes. No matter the events, I am the author of my own inner joy. With training and meditation, I can maintain my inner peace and a balance. Recharged, I can use this energy to give to others.
Matthieu Ricard’s conclusion was:
The sense of flourishing I now feel at every moment of my existence was
constructed over time and in conditions conducive to understanding the
causes of happiness and suffering.
Matthieu Ricard’s work hits home with me. It helped me realize how much
Budō has evolved in me since 1982. I know that I still have quite a way to
We must get better a little bit every day for when the big day comes,
we’ll be at our best version of our self.