Monday, January 10, 2011

Stop or Yield

In Zen we take vows. These are different than least in my mind. Vows are also not commandments. A vow is a course of action with purpose, but is more of a guideline than an absolute. Goals are more absolute and tend themselves to on and off, pass/fail thinking...also lots of discouragement.

I see it this way.  Goals are like Stop signs. Vows are like Yield signs.

Stop signs are absolute. Stop. No options...stop. If you don't you have broken the law and probably harmed yourself or another. Regardless, it is on/off thinking. A goal like not eating sweets is on/off, pass/fail. You must stop or you fail.

Yield signs give you options. You slow down, assess the situation and determined by the situation you either stop or continue on. A vow is like this. It makes you slow down and assess. I have vowed to lead a healthy lifestyle...I want some chocolate...I slow down and assess the situation. Do I stop (don't eat) or do I continue (eat the chocolate)...depends on the situation. Sometimes I don't eat cause I just don't really need it...or I eat because I am offered a small piece at a social gathering and to refuse would insult the host.

Now, I am sure there are lots of holes in my thinking...but for me this works. If you are a martial artist you might be able to see this.

When someone asks you how to defend yourself from a left hook punch, most of you would say...'don't know, it depends on the situation'...this is living by defend yourself, but the situation dictates the response. Your response then can have multiple dimensions.  If you have only one way to defend yourself in your mind...let's say you will duck whenever a left hook comes at you...this is the may or may not work. Your response is now limited by your one course of action you have predetermined...what if the left hook was just a sucker you are screwed. With a vow you have more options...and you stay on track with your life.

Stop signs have one command. Yield gives you options. Ponder this in self-defense and life. Just some ponderings while I await my next appointment.

Hands palm to palm,


  1. If I have to summarize this post into a sentence, I would say:

    "situation dictates response."

    Very nice :D

  2. Hi Rizal....yes and no about the situation dictating can appear that way, but I would say it is the vow plus the situation dictates the response. The vow still gives parameters (a middle way) to the situation and the response. Thanks for commenting.

  3. this is a great way to look at it from both a zen and martial arts perspective.

    we're doing a class on the precepts at the zen center right now and everyone keeps getting hung up on "what if..." or "in this situation, what would be following this precept..." I feel i'm frequently reminding others that hypothetical situations are meaningless in zen because life is dynamic and so are the precepts.

    in learning martial arts, i think it's important to remember that initially we always stop when learning techniques and only after we've learned them can we yield and assess. introducing too many variables early will lead to frustration and people start getting hurt.

    thanks for the perspective.

  4. Thanks Kevin...I agree with you. Hypotheticals are meaningless because of the dynamic flow of life...and precepts. The martial arts can help us 'see' this and 'feel' it as well. Good point on teaching one technique early on, but as you mature, your eye gets better at seeing all the possibilities.

  5. yeah, a fellow student of mine that I work with a lot because we're the on the same technique/rank has a shodan and nidan in two combative forms of karate and we always have fun looking for weak spots in each others technique in ways that we can't with others. I give him dedicated, realistic attacks and he always tries to get follow up strikes in when taking ukemi.

    It's benefited both of us a great deal, but we wouldn't be able to do it without our basic foundation.

  6. Good stuff Kevin...I call this 'finding freedom within the form'...I have a post on this subject somwehere...Thanks for your comments