Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Art of Selflessness: Bicycles, Tea and Love

I was recently asked:

[I've] been trying to comprehend, and apply, the "Art of the SELFLESS". What I realized this morning, however, is that while I have always achieved, & percieved, said philosophy through means of a courageous, SINGLE selfless act, it is indeed instead a way of LIFE. So...what would you recommend to a man seeking to arrive at this way of life?

This was my response:

This is indeed both a simple and a complex question at the same time, which one could suppose would make it complex.  However, it is actually quite simple.  Practice love.

That is easy for one to say.  The actual action requires a lot of someone at first.  It is a conscious effort to forgo the generations of instincts we have incorporated into ourselves and our cultures.  It is first and foremost a sacrifice.  But most importantly, it is a sacrifice with zero gain for ourselves.  To someone unaccustomed to this, it might seem crazy, counter intuitive and quite self-destructive.  It is, instead, the greatest thing a person can do every single day. 

Love, by this one's definition, is a pure and selfless sacrifice.  We often confuse love with infatuation or lust but neither of those things are actually love at all.  Love is beyond a concept of self-benefit.  We gain nothing from love.  We can not feel love either.  This may seem strange, but when you love someone, there is no way to be certain they feel it.  We have faith that love is what we are doing and the other person appreciates it.  When a child is told they are loved, it is not a feeling.  When a parent is told they are loved, it certainly warms the heart, but their child rarely understands the depth of the words and their parent's love.  This is quite a thing to think about.  We have only truly felt our own love for others.

This poses quite a problem for many people.  They require validation in their love.  This however, is not really love at all.  Recently, I was riding my bicycle to the train station on a rainy day.  I was going quite fast as I was running a little behind schedule.  Suddenly a young boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, ran from the far side of the very wide walk way across my path towards his secondary school.  I was aiming right for him.  I never met the boy before, I never saw him again, but I loved him.  I wished him well and that he would have no pain that day.  So, I slid out on my bike in such a manner that we are accustomed to seeing in action films where the person slides under a trucks trailer by sharply turning sideways.  I landed on the ground unharmed, but the bike slid from between my legs toward the boy.  Faster than I thought I could, I caught the bike and threw it over my head so as to keep it from sliding into the child.  It clipped the side of my head as it went and knocked my skull at the temple into the hard stone pavement.  Mildly rattled I got up and assured the woman walking near by that I was fine and continued on my way to the train.  I wasn't angry at all, I wasn't sad at all, I was in pain a bit but I wasn't going to blame the child.  He's a child and I'm a grown man.  After all, I had Judo training to do that night.  The boy did not notice.  His mother looked on from her car in horror as I got up and rode away while her child skipped into his school.  I never saw the child or the mother again but I can tell you this, it was not only the right thing to do, it was love.  I don't care that the child doesn't know what happened.  All that matters is his well being.  This.  This is love.  I have no benefit for the experience and, in fact, my head was swollen to the point of not being able to sleep properly for about 2 or 3 weeks.  This was not a rewarding experience, it was nothing of which to be particularly proud because I was going too fast, and it was certainly not comfortable.  It was however, pure and selfless sacrifice.

The next question someone might ask at this is "How does one do this in every action?"  This is actually a much easier answer.  Understand that every single person you ever meet has the potential to be God/Buddha/Jesus/The single most important person in human history/The cure for cancer, AIDS and world hunger/Your mother/Your sister/Your brother/Your father/Your child/The person who will align the planets and will bring peace to the planet and the rest of the universe.  This understanding will lead you to encourage peace around the world as well as with every single individual you meet.

It is said that one time a great zen monk from Japan was NOT told that the emperor might visit on the day of the first snow but he prepared anyway.  At the first sign of snow, he took all of the meditation pillows from his hall and placed one on each stone on the pathway to his tea house.  When the snow stopped and the next day came, he went out and removed each pillow.  It didn't matter if it was the emperor or a beggar who came next, they would have a clear walkway and when it happened to be the emperor, he was so impressed at the thoroughness that he built a temple for the monk to be head master.  The monk just went back to the old tea house and continued to do as he had done before.  There was no need for reward.  He just did what he would do for anyone.  He would show them love.

Show that same love to everyone.  Friend, foe, family, feline or fox...  That is the way of selflessness.

Osu, love and peace,


  1. True words to live by. I will try to be this way with my students and report on my progress.

  2. Mmmmm. Yes, this is good stuff. It's not an easy path, but love is all about right action...