Vagabond Series : An Introduction

I can’t say that I am a connoisseur or an addict of manga, but there is a series that I hold dear in my heart. It is called Vagabond, a series written and illustrated by Takehiko Inoue. Takehiko Inoue is most definitely an outstanding manga illustrator. His attention to detail is ridiculous and it makes you wonder how he goes about drawing rock walls with so much variance or giving scenes a sense of motion that compels the reader to aptly imagine each manga cell in his mind.

The Vagabond Vizbig edition books in their full glory!

And it is with great pleasure that I will be sharing remarkable scenes from the manga series over the next few weeks. These scenes often demonstrate Takehiko’s ability to convey powerful messages and lessons through his art. I can honestly say that some moments in the manga series made me stop and reconsider myself. Since the books deal with philosophy, buddhism and the meaning of life in a medivial Japan setting, there is a lot of compelling material to absorb and be transported by; both intellectually and spiritually.

I will be leaving you with a basic summary from Wikipedia, which should give you enough information to understand the context of the story for future articles that I will be writing :

Growing up in the late 16th century Sengoku era Japan, Shinmen Takezō is shunned by the local villagers as a devil child due to his wild and violent nature. Running away from home with a fellow boy at age 17, Takezo joins the Toyotomi army to fight the Tokugawa clan at the Battle of Sekigahara. However, the Tokugawa win a crushing victory, leading to nearly three hundred years of Shogunate rule. Takezo and his friend manage to survive the battle and afterwards swear to do great things with their lives. However, after their paths separate, Takezo becomes a wanted criminal and must change his name and his nature in order to escape an ignoble death. -Wikipedia

Obviously, to truly appreciate this work of art I invite you to find the books at your local libraries or purchase the series and support the author.

On Eliminating Thoughts

We’ve all been there before. We are living life with peace of mind, life is good, sometimes we get minor road bumps but we manage. Then on a random day, when we least expect it BOOM! a tragedy occurs. It could be bad news, an accident, an illness, family affairs… anything you can think of that has the potential to challenge your life style is an adequate candidate.

There’s a lot that can be said about this topic. For this piece I will concentrate on a common fallacy that all of us fall into when facing a tragedy; obsessive thinking.

It is difficult to stop thinking about something. Whenever we try to suppress a thought in our mind we are actually re-enforcing this thought. Think, for example, when you are giving attention to a baby. The fact that you are giving the baby your attention indirectly means one thing. That the baby is important and that it is worth caring about. In the same way, when we try to get rid of a thought that we want OUT of our head, we are indirectly saying : “This thought is important, it is worth my attention.”

In Zen and Buddhism, this obsessive thinking is described as a fixation of the mind. It is even classified as a sickness. In order to give ourselves a chance to deal with obsessive thinking we the proper tools. A plumber needs a wrench. A surgeon needs his scalpel. You need your tools!

The following text is taken from Soul of the Samurai, which was translated by Thomas Cleary[1]. It will provide you with the tools you need to face a fixation of the mind.

Eliminating Sickness: Elementary and Advanced Levels

Elementary Level

“Free from thought having gotten into thought, free from fixation having gotten fixated.” The meaning of this is that the intention to get rid of thought is a thought. To intend to eliminate sickness in the mind is getting into thought.

Now then, the expression “sickness” also means obsessive thought. To think of getting rid of sickness is also thought. Thus you use thought to get rid of thought. When rid of thoughts, you’re free from thought, so this is called being free from thought having gotten into thought.

When you take thought to get rid of the sickness that remains in thought, after that the thought of removal and the thoughts to be removed both disappear. This is what is known as using a wedge to extract a wedge.

When you can’t get a wedge out, if you drive in another wedge to ease the pressure, then the first wedge comes out. Once the stuck wedge comes out, the wedge driven in after isn’t left there. When sickness is gone, the thought of getting rid of sickness is no longer there, so this is called being free from thought having gotten into thought.

To think of getting rid of sickness is fixation on sickness, but if you use that fixation to get rid of sickness, the fixation will not remain. So this is called being free from fixation having gotten fixated.

Advanced Level

To think of riddance is itself sickness. Letting sickness be while living in the midst of sickness is to be rid of sickness.

This might be hard to grasp at first, but once it clicks it can feel liberating. So whenever you feel like you are having having obsessive thoughts, think about the obsession as it’s own thing, before you know it, the thoughts will dissipate and you can resume your day.

[1] Soul of the Samurai, page 46–47, Tuttle Editions. Used for educational purposes.

Never heard of Patikulamanasikara, but it sounds like exactly what I should do to shake up my…

Never heard of Patikulamanasikara, but it sounds like exactly what I should do to shake up my meditation practice. Thanks for sharing the metal song too, music has a way to set a mood. I wonder how you feel when you listen to death metal. It’s easy to tense up, but maybe we can try to relax while head banging and recognize our relationship with the music as well as our state of being.

Comparisons

We have eyes. These beautiful gems grant us the ability to see the world we live in. They help us navigate around physical objects and can triangulate distances in complex scenarios so smoothly we don’t even know it’s happening. As far as reality goes they are very, very good. Tremendous tools.

Where we fall short is how we interpret what we see. Where am I going with this? I’ve been doing harsh boxing training for about five years. I learn new things about my body everyday. I have friends who I started training with and even some that started way later than me that are now taking a shot at national competitions. I’ve taken in none of that. There’s a relative feeling of disappointment that jabs me intellectually every time I think about it. I’ve done my share of sparring, but the commitment to competing doesn’t quite sit right with me. At least not right now. I use my eyes to see my friends grow in fighting experience and I feel like I am on the sideline. Which is indeed the case to some degree. It’s like going back to high school all over again. Wondering why we would follow our friends instead of our own interests. We’ve all seen it happen. Twenty years down the line we might end up working in a field we don’t enjoy because of a decision we took when we were teenagers.

On the other hand some people have what we can call happy misgivings. They end up doing something they didn’t want to and happen to find a passion for it. The world can be a very random and odd place at times. We have no idea how much chance can play into the decisions and acts we will take over the course of our lives. A movie like Match Point by Woodie Allen is a decent demonstration of my point here. There’s also a book called Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnema that goes over the influence of luck in our lives. I got the point, but once I got it, there didn’t seem much to do, but to embrace this beautiful mess.

My plan, as far as I was concerned, was to get as much sparring experience I could get, do my thing, get older and rougher and then participate in competitive bouts.

This whole discussion came up to me because of how I saw myself in relation to everyone else. How I used my eyes to feed my brain information on other peoples life decisions.

Let’s redouble in prudence when we compare ourselves to other people. After all, we all have different backgrounds, different life situations and I would go as far as saying that our genetics play an important role here too; physically and intellectually.

Peace.