“Do each task for its own sake and everything you do will succeed.”
How can it be? In the dojo, if you do the technique you are doing, right then and there, with full commitment, then you will succeed at that technique. It may not be perfect. Your work may not be complete. But you will get the most from the moment and from your effort.
If you do the kata you are doing for the sake of doing that kata as well as you can, then your effort will succeed. If you do the workout you are doing for the sake of that workout – the experience of it, the training effect, the elevation of skill and life that come right then and there from whole-hearted training, then that workout is a success.
If we have any other reason for training then success is not guaranteed. It is undermined. If we just “get through” a kata or a workout, if we think the one punch we are doing right then and there doesn’t really matter much, if we are doing what we are doing for the sake of a promotion someday, or to make an impression on others, or to be able to say to ourselves we are a martial artist, then we will waste the chance we have to make the most of the moment; and it may be that our efforts, in the long run, will fail. You may not get the promotion you wanted. Others may not be interested in what you are doing. There may be no extrinsic payoff at all. How can there be one, really?
Some people live their whole lives moving from one expedient to the next. Always aiming at something other than what they are actually doing. They go to social events to be seen or because they think they should. They work only to get to do some other kind of work. They say things which are calculated to impress. Every move they make is contrived, aimed at some benefit down the road.
And they always feel like a liar. And they are pursued by the feeling that others will catch on. They are haunted by the fear that someone else will get their prize. Jostling with their peers, arrogant toward their subordinates, servile to their seniors, they are suspicious. They wonder why they seem to be surrounded by hypocrites, pussycats and tyrants.
They may find that when they get the advancement they have been scheming for, all that it gets them is a chance to keep scheming and calculating and pretending and scamming; always with a nagging feeling that the reward they want is eluding them, that their happiness is up ahead, somewhere out there, if only they can keep the hustle going hard enough, long enough.
But the rewards are not up ahead. Status may be. Pleasures may be. But the shadows cast by those hollow rewards are deep, and get deeper the further into the darkness they go. No wonder hustlers are resentful. No wonder they scorn people who appear to be below them. No wonder they spread misery: It is what they have to work with.
We should all aspire. All accomplished people do. We should continually challenge ourselves and deepen our practice and our skills and our commitment to the people around us.
But not as an expedient. Not as an excuse to get to the next test, the next grade, the next job title, the next rung, the next anything.
We can “plan for tomorrow as the work of today,” as Dogen recommended. What we are doing today is today’s work. What we are doing right now, we do well. That mindset, that skill set, that sense of purpose and passion will accumulate. That good attitude will become a habit of success, in everything we do.
The people who got ahead by scheming and striving for titles and ranks without giving service in return, have made a habit of deception. Their relationships are governed by manipulation. They hurt others, and they themselves are dissatisfied, disappointed, and hurt. Because of their status and property and notoriety they may seem to be the example to emulate. It may seem that the wicked prosper. If you value what they value, then you will fall as they fell, as gullible people always have.
If you do each task for its own sake you will not fail. That is why we can train hard with complete confidence that our hard work will pay off.
Note: The quote at the opening is from an old book, a book which was for a long time revered and influential. At other times the mere possession of it was a death sentence. It teaches by example that conditions change, and truth endures.
* * *
Post Copyright © 2021 Jeffrey M. Brooks author of The Good Fight – The Virtues and Values of the Martial Arts now available in paperback and Amazon Kindle edition
Photo by Tarleton Brooks