Shintaido: a Body Practice for Harmonizing with Nature and the Universe

by Hiroyuki Aoki, Founder of Shintaido
translated by Tomoko Yoshida
edited by David Franklin

[Editor's note: The following is based on the introduction Mr. Aoki wrote for his book, titled simply Shintaido, and published by Shunjusha in Japan in 1997. The book was originally published by the Shintaido Association of Japan as Hikari ni Mau, and then revised and published for the general public. Mr. Aoki added some additional comments which did not appear in the published introduction.]

Shintaido

Shintaido is a body practice that enables us to attain true freedom. Here, attaining true freedom means to realize and come into tune with our true Self.

Written using the characters that translate into "New Body Way" in English, Shintaido is literally the newly developed Way-- the new path-- where we learn the philosophy of life through our own bodies. Moreover, at the same time it is the Way itself, it is also the new method by which we learn the Way through our bodies.

Hence, those who practice Shintaido ( "New Body Way") should sublimate this all-encompassing multidisciplinary body art into Shintaido ( using the character "heart/mind"-- "Heart/Mind Body Way"), then to Shintaido ( using the character "truth"-- "Truth Body Way"), and finally to Shintaido ( using the character "deity"-- "Divine Body Way") as you progress in your practice.

Tao: The Way

Tao (also spelled Dao), which loosely translates as "The Way," was first set forth by the Chinese monk Laozi (a.k.a. Lao Tzu or Lao Tse-- no record of his year of birth and death remains) in around 400~500 BC. Later on, it was further developed and fully established by another Chinese monk named Zuangzi (a.k.a. Chuang Tzu-- around 370~300 BC).

Laozi and Zuangzi both emphasized the unification of the "fundamental truth of the universe" and the "true Self," which are the essential qualities of human existence itself. They referred to this fundamental truth of the universe as Tao, "Emptiness," "Nothingness," and "Chaos."

Hence, Tao is the most profound fundamental truth. And those who have become one with the Tao have been revered as True Ones, Enlightened Ones, or Divine Ones. In other words, they are the ones who have attained absolute freedom. Zuangzi describes in detail the state of mind these enlightened people have reached.

Objectives of keiko (practice or training)

Having said that Shintaido is a body practice for us to attain true freedom, and to become free means to realize our "true Self," then the purpose of practicing Shintaido is to unify the Tao and our "true Self" as it once was, as a means of re-attaining universal freedom.

In Japan, the same character Tao (pronounced dou), is used in words such as Judo ( lit. "the way of softness"), Kendo ( lit. "the way of the sword"), Kyudo ( archery), Sado ( tea ceremony), Kado ( flower arrangement), and Shodo ( calligraphy). However, I suppose you can tell that the character "-do" in this context refers not to the "Tao" as in the fundamental truth but to the learning system that makes us aware of the "Tao." Thus, the same character carries more than one meaning; Tao as the purpose itself, and the other Tao as the method to achieve that purpose.

Great Philosophies of the Ancient World

What is interesting is the fact that the same kind of philosophical understanding was achieved not only by ancient Chinese people but also by ancient philosophers in other countries such as India, Israel, and Greece. As written clearly in the Upanishads by around 800 BC in India, people have called this universal truth-- the Tao-- Brahman, and they called "true Self" Atman. And they have regarded both of these principles identical for thousands of years (in fact, this philosophy had already existed long before it was formally written in the Upanishads). Moreover, Yoga was developed as the training method to realize the unity of these two principles as one.

Christianity and Islam, the two major religions that dominate the majority of the religious population, both grew out from Judaism. Hence, these three religions all share the same Jewish sacred book referred to as the Old Testament in Christianity, which is said to have been written in around 1500 or 1300 BC and completed by 400 BC. However, long before Judaism was firmly established, it included an esoteric religion known as the Cabbala that passed down specialized or secret knowledge to a limited number of people. It had just been hidden for a long time. (Cabbala is spelled in many different ways, such as Cabala, Kabbalah, or Qabalah).

The fundamental philosophy of Cabbala is described in a diagram of a Mandala; there is the core element in the center and the other elements relate to it like meshes of a net. Beauty as knowledge and an essential quality is placed at the center of the Mandala, and Intelligence (understanding and wisdom) and Emotion (judgment and compassion) are complementary elements to that core center. The Mandala finally comes to completion by placing the God Yehovah at the apex. God Yehovah is called Yehovah when talking about its divinity of love and mercy, but Elohim when talking about anger and punishment. However, what is most important to note here is that in this context, God is also referred to as "Light."

If we contemplate the fact that God is Light, commonly called "Infinite Light" ()-- and the most divine God in Japanese Shintoism is Amaterasu, the God of the Sun-- it is extremely inspiring that throughout human history we have always reached the same ultimate answer to our philosophical quest, which confirms the existence of a universal network of consciousness.

In Cabbala, this everlasting "Light" of love and mercy is "absolute being," and this "absolute being" can manifest only from nothingness in the background. In other words, "being" presupposes "non-being." Furthermore, in order for "being" and "non-being" to co-exist without any conflict, there has to be "absolute nothingness" behind both of them. Then finally, "absolute nothingness" is literally absolutely nothing; nothing at all exists before it. This is the underlying philosophy in not only the secret teachings of Judaism but also in the teachings of Laozi and Gautama Buddha. And most importantly, this is the core philosophy of Shintaido; hence the ultimate goal we should all be seeking in our practice.

I will not go into depth about Greek philosophy here, but I recommend those of you who are interested in further research to study the philosophies of Epicurus and Plotinus that developed the principal of the One, stating that since the world flows out from the absolute truth, tracing back the process of creation would inevitably lead us to the one and only absolute truth-- the world of the One.

Again, it is truly awe-inspiring to see how strangely these most ancient and most orthodox philosophies have reached the same kind of ultimate conclusion.

Undoubtedly, the "Hanya Sutra" (Japanese: Maka Hanya Haramita Shin Gyo; Sanskrit: Prajna-Paramita Hrdaya Sutra; English: The Heart Sutra of Perfect Wisdom-- there are several different ways to translate the name of the sutra), in which the whole content of the text is occupied by the philosophy of nothingness, is considered to be a gem among the huge collection of sutras. I found out that if I interpreted the concept of nothingness in this Hanya Sutra by analogizing it with nothingness as in the fundamental truth of the universe, the whole text suddenly transforms into a wonderfully inspiring sutra. However, I would have to mention that of course this way of interpreting might be problematic in terms of proper interpretation of the original text.

Let's Grasp the Absolute Truth through Similar Concepts

As I have discussed above, since ancient times, the universal and fundamental truth has been referred to in various ways such as Tao, Nothingness (Absolute Nothingness), Emptiness, Chaos, God, the Buddha, Heaven, Brahman, Pneuma hagion (the breath of God's life-- the Spirit), Sophia (The Logos of life that spreads in heaven-- the spirit of words), Profound Wisdom, Dharma, the Authentic Self, Tenshin, and Wisdom of Heaven. More recent terms are Shinshin ( Beloved God), Great Life Force, Universal Spirit, Existent Truth, and Life Energy. However, regardless of the differences in their names, we cannot dismiss the fact that all the traditional orthodox religions clearly bring awareness to this concept as the ultimate understanding.

Subtle differences in nuance are unavoidable, and this in fact has been the cause of various disputes and ruthless wars that have taken many lives in the past. How can we attain world peace if we do not have the capacity to ignore minor conflicts of opinion for the sake of greater interests? I strongly urge people to think seriously about the victims of war all around the world and display your wisdom for the sake of realizing true world peace for all humanity. And the way to realize this is to abandon religious discrimination-- the main factor that has produced the most brutal consequences in human history.

How we refer to the ultimate truth varies depending on the country, people, and religion. However, in Shintaido, we usually call it Tenshin ( lit. "heaven-truth" or "cosmic reality"). Furthermore, I would like to note here that leading a life full of light and happiness in one with Tenshin is called Rakuten ( lit. "optimism, happy life, complete freedom"), which I chose as the name of the project team that founded Shintaido.

Devote yourself fully to Absolute Nothingness

There are various sects in Buddhism. If we were to categorize the various methods to unify with "the Buddha" into two broad categories-- the independent method and the dependent method, Zen Buddhism and Jodo Buddhism are representative of each.

However, if we come to understand the fact that the principal teachings in Zen Buddhism are Zuiryuukyo-- to live in tune with the energy of the nature and the universe-- and to simply sit and fully devote ourselves to "absolute nothingness" (as discussed by Dogen, 1200~1253); and that Jodo Buddhism encourages people to fully devote themselves to the great Buddha Amida, who is in fact the "nature" and "nothingness" itself (as discussed by Shinran 1173~1262); then we can easily understand that the main point lies not in the method, but in the fact that the underlying philosophy of all the sects lead to the same ultimate purpose. In other words, different sects all exemplify different methods in which we can become unified with "the Buddha."

Body Way Practitioners should also study Philosophy

People might be wondering why I am talking about Tao and Tenshin, despite this being a book on the Way of the Body. However, if religion is meant to be "the most fundamental teaching," we want to make the body practices that we are learning today something that can enable us to reach the ultimate philosophy of life.

Many people practice martial arts and sports with passion. I suggest that those people break away from the conventional methods of training that put too much emphasis on fighting spirit, patience, and effort. Whatever activity we engage in, it is time for us to practice with a greater philosophy that seeks for a deeper level of spiritual awareness.

Attaining Enlightment and Freedom

What happens and what state of mind do people who have become unified with Tenshin reach as a result of practicing the Way of the Body or meditation? Many things have been said about experiences of small awakenings as well as big and deep awakenings. In Laozi and Zhuangzi's Taoist Philosophy, these awakenings are called Chotetsu, Sogu, Soga, Kendoku, and Taimyo. In Zen, they are called Satori, Kensho, Taigo, Daikaku, and Kakujisho. There are even more ways to refer to them, corresponding to each of the different levels of awakening.

Although it varies in different sects nowadays, Christian Protestantism also categorizes the different phases of the experience of enlightenment in this way; Conversion, Rebirth, Conviction, Justification, and Sanctification.

In relation to this topic, I would like to add a few words about people that talk dramatically about their ecstatic experiences of enlightenment such as the physical sensation of electricity rising up as "Kundalini" to the Sahasra Chakra. Practitioners of a body practice should give no heed to those stories, keeping in mind the stories of those high priests that isolated themselves from the rest of the society by living amongst the homeless people at a riverside in Kyoto for more than five or ten years after their enlightenment, firmly committed to further purifying and consolidating their sacred experience.

The Ultimate Goal of Meditation

Above all, meditation is a journey into our undiscovered inner world. Once you enter that world, you will find that it is filled with abundance. You will find something that you could never have known before, something extremely surprising about yourself, the most beautiful scene you have ever imagined, or a mass of energy so huge that it is about to explode.

Hence, meditation is the way for us to actively access the very depth of our existence to discover and uncover our highest potential as an individual.

However, here I would like to say a word to those of you who have been practicing meditation for a long time. We must understand that there are numerous kinds of worlds people reach as a result of meditation. One might indulge in the sacred and sublime visions of beauty whereas another, awakened by the universal life force of nature, might be determined to devote the rest of his/her life to contributing to human society. Furthermore, some people even go beyond the world of prayers, love, and light, where they finally reach the sublime state of complete and absolute nothingness.

As a matter of fact, myriads of spiritual universes other than what I have mentioned here exist in this world, which are all infinite and boundless worlds in their own right. In sum, they all exemplify the effects of meditation; acquiring an ability to expand our awareness and consciousness that transcends the limitations of individual awareness to a much larger one as vast as the whole wide universe. This is what is called "Enlightenment."

However, this stage is only achieved after long and intense meditation practice. Nonetheless, although we do not practice meditation for the sake of becoming enlightened right in this moment, the higher state of being attained through meditation can enable us to transform our daily lives to become happier and more joyful, for we acquire a qualitatively different way of perceiving and living our lives.

Ways of Attaining Awakening and Enlightenment through Physical Practices

Once you begin to have a better understanding of this kind of philosophy as you practice physical techniques, the next thing you should do is to adjust the compass of your heart firmly in that direction. This is most important. After that, just repeat the same simple technique over and over again. Then one day you will have a big realization in which you will be able to see things so clearly as if your sight had just suddenly cleared up before you. The interconnectedness of each and every thing surrounding you will be visible more clearly and vividly than ever. You will be in complete harmonization with all existence, where your whole body becomes suffused with tranquility free from all limitations, restrictions, and boundaries.

Interestingly, you can engage in any type of physical activity to attain this state of mind, ranging from active ones like jumping, hopping, and fighting, to static ones like meditation, soft movements, rhythmical exercises, individual practice, and group practice.

There are many different levels of awakenings, ranging from small ones to big ones. Let's deepen our degree of freedom as we experience more and more of these awakenings and grow from them.

Thinking this way might help: if you tolerate extremely hard circumstances to achieve a certain goal, your cerebrum invariably secretes beta-endorphin to help you overcome those difficulties. In any case, I cannot accept Spartan or masochistic ways of practicing. The most important thing to keep in mind all the time is to enjoy your keiko and practice.

Fortunately, in Shintaido we already have a firmly established comprehensive practice system that allows us to attain these spiritual awakenings in an unbelievably short period of time. However, I do understand that for various technical reasons, it is hard for some readers of this book to practice Shintaido directly under the Shintaido Association. My advice for those people is to keep making sure that the path you are on right now consistently embraces a "healthy" quality.

What God, Tao, and Tenshin Are

The reason we were all given this life was to be born into this world to lead a happy life. Perhaps when we were once a part of the larger universal spiritual body, Tenshin endowed us with this body so that we could live on this planet called the Earth to train ourselves, cultivate our spirituality, help people who are left behind, and live in happiness.

That is why we are truly moved when we see people living with their whole heart and soul, or people who have devoted themselves to help those people suffering in extreme adversity. For instance, in a sense typical sports activities are not good for our bodies, considering the potential for straining and abusing the body. And furthermore, we cannot say for sure that they are effective in developing young people's personalities. Yet we are moved by those Olympic scenes on TV, and tears even well up our eyes. It is because they communicate to us through the TV screen a model of someone who is living their life so fully and desperately.

The same thing could be said about Mother Theresa, who dedicated her life to saving lepers in India. Her way of life touched many people's hearts all over the world. On the contrary, displeasing incidents or self-centered people with corrupt hearts depress and discourage people. These situations prove the interrelatedness of people, and explain why the spirits of people with whom we share our lives can be either raised to a higher state or reduced to a lower state by the actions or attitudes of others.

Wisdom and Compassion, Enlightenment and Service

Realizing what I have discussed so far in its totality as an obvious truth-- such things as those called "God," "Absolute Nothingness," and the "Truth"-- is "Enlightenment." And "Wisdom" is the working of the mind in order to reach that state of being.

Let's have strong faith in believing that we could all definitely attain such state of mind as long as we keep searching for the Way whole-heartedly. However, although attaining such a great realization of "Absolute Nothingness" or the "Truth" brings us to the peak of our Way, we should always keep in mind that it is not the ultimate goal but rather a big starting point. It should be the turning point in which we enter a new phase of life--where we make the commitment to serve our fellow neighbors that are also the children of "Absolute Nothingness" and the "Truth" like us, without sparing ourselves. In other words, our focus in life should change to giving all living beings happiness and relieving them of suffering. This does not necessarily have to be directed towards all humanity but rather "to the people around you who are seeking for your hand of love."

And this is what is called "Compassion."

In fact, this is one of the fundamental views of Buddhist ethics as well as Christianity and Greek philosophy, and to begin with, in its very origin, the first part of the word "Compassion" in Sanskrit (maitri karuna) and the word "friendship" in Greek (filia) derived from the same word implying strong friendship and deep love for others. Furthermore, karuna means "to groan"-- to share the sufferings with those who are suffering.

For this reason, I hope you all understand now that ultimately, the whole purpose of various trainings all comes down to lifetime commitment of service to humanity after attaining enlightenment. The most important thing lies not in the fact that you have tolerated ascetic trainings but rather in coming to understand that the most profound joy and the brightest hope in life can be found in such hard circumstances.

One of the teachings of Gautama Buddha says: "Our life is like a cow crossing a muddy road with a heavy load on its back." If we fix ourselves to having this kind of perspective on life from the beginning, even the smallest happiness can turn into a great joy for us.

In sum, Shintaido is the body art in which we learn such ways of perceiving life and all that our life encompasses:

  • "Un"--one of the fundamental techniques of Shintaido-- is the materialized form of the philosophy of nothingness,
  • "Ah" is the posture in which we seek for the Truth,
  • the last part of "Ah" is the form that reflects our whole existence becoming one with the Truth,
  • "Eh" after attaining that state is the image of leading a life of Love,
  • "Ii" in Tenshingoso is the image of us steadily consolidating such way of life,
  • and finally, in "O," we develop the capacity and receptivity of accepting everyone and every existence in this world.

And all the techniques that follow, including the techniques in Shintaido martial arts, are variations and applications of this fundamental core.

Now, considering it along the same line, we realize how Tenshin, God, Buddha, and Brahman are nothing different, but interrelated and therefore identical to us. That is, we ourselves are their living models.

What I worked on for years and years by dedicating all my energy wholeheartedly was to reawaken the nature in the human body as a means of reawakening the essential and intrinsic divine qualities in all of us through body movement based on a certain law. And I think I was successful in developing such a body practice that fulfills this purpose. Of course, at the time, I proudly thought I had pioneered the very first global achievement in human history! However, as I have written, it was not until much later that I found out I was just rediscovering what humanity had already known well since its very beginning. Nevertheless, now I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for the fact that I was able to reach the most authentic truth.

Lastly

I would like to make it clear that I did not develop Shintaido after I already had a firmly established philosophical thought. I strived and pondered, seeking for answers in biblical texts as well as in the words of sages and artists, as if groping my way out of the darkness every day. And finally after ten years, when Shintaido was close to completion in its development, I put together all that I was seeking for in a solidly established philosophy.

This year (1997) marks the 32nd year since the establishment of the Rakutenkai group-- the first Shintaido founding group. Since about 10 years ago, demands for me to talk about Shintaido's early years of development increased as the Shintaido group expanded and newer members began to have less opportunity to receive direct instruction from me.

Therefore, I started to talk little by little in the dojo (practice place), just as the adults passed down the secrets of hunting, farming, and handicrafts to their offspring, and as the offspring did to their offspring, and as the elderly told old stories to the children by the fireside. Eventually, this dialogue was published in the book Hikari ni Mau ("Dancing In Light," published by the Shintaido Association of Japan).

Since that book was published within the Shintaido Association of Japan for members, it was rarely read by general readers. However, although it is just a story of my past experiences, I certainly did not make any attempt to alter history or add aggrandized facts for the sake of beautifying myself.

After adding, editing, and deleting some parts from Hikari ni Mau and finally adding "As a Preface" and "Technical Instructions on Taimyo," this book is the overall revised version.

Reading this book again, I have realized that the world has changed in many respects even within this short period of time. Yet, I decided to publish this book hoping it would be of at least some use if I could ask all of you to apply the various methods and philosophies I have introduced in this book to best fit the present context. However, I want all of you to understand that my sole purpose of writing this book is to always remind everyone that what we should be seeking for in Shintaido is to become one with Tenshin-- the universal truth. In other words, practicing Shintaido without any awareness to this philosophy means not understanding the very core essence of what you are practicing.

It would be my greatest pleasure if this book can serve as some kind of guidance in achieving your own "Way."

April 15th, 1997

Hiroyuki Aoki