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Battling with the foundations of t’ai chi , Mu, the odaimoku, and non-attachment

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The Chinese script for the character "mu," which means nothing.

Only fictitious criminal defense lawyers Perry Mason and Matlock seem to be able to get consistently innocent clients. Some of my clients fit in that category including with assault charges and wrongful arrests for disorderly conduct and disobeying an officer’s lawful order. Most of my clients have probably violated one or more of the criminal laws they have been charged with.

Fortunately, it is not my role to judge my clients. It is my role — in cooperation with my clients — to arm myself to the teeth, to know how to fight battles and wars for them (this warfare approach is no exaggeration and is essential); to know how to negotiate for my clients from a position of strength, stamina and battle-readiness; to provide my clients with assessments of the mutual parties’ strengths and weaknesses, and estimates of the possible outcomes in order to enable my clients to make informed decision about their cases, including whether to accept, reject, or counter a particular negotiation offer.

Fighting on the side of the angels suits me well, and that is the side I know I am on. Our society is overmilitarized, over-national security-ized, over-policed, over-prisoned, and over-judged. The work I do helps to offset the vast injustices and excesses in policing, jailing, prosecuting, and judging.

I surprise myself to recall that as recently as four years ago, I still would sometimes feel an initial dread over injustice in walking into a courthouse; the feeling now is rare. As I said at the time:

I blogged last year: "My temptation to feel dread over all the [world’s] ongoing injustice is strong, including the dread I often feel in the pit of my stomach as I enter a courthouse with the recognition of all the injustice that has happened there, but needing to remember all the justice that has been done there, too, and that will continue to be done there. Like the protagonists in M*A*S*H, I search out the often bent side of humor to maintain a sane balance. T’ai chi alone won’t do it for me."

Fortunately, any dread I feel when entering a courthouse disappears rather quickly, as I refocus on the battle at hand. However, I want to feel full balance, full power, and no dread at all in the courthouse, which is my legal battleground. I have come closer to doing so, and this is how: [Read the rest here]

For too many years, I let the dread of injustice drain too much joy and life out of me. Driving in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I would often be overtaken by thoughts of how much more harshly many judges there sentence defendants than in the counties closer to me. Walking down a beautiful trail, I too often dwelled on all the environmental degradation that made such oases too few and far between, and too close to — and often overtaken by — superhighways, sports bars, and shopping malls.

For decades, I was so averse to going to Germany — knowing that concentration camp murderers still walked the streets there — that in planning a 1999 trip to Japan, I intentionally avoided a plane route that would have transferred in Frankfurt.

And then, two years ago, online I found most of Wim Wenders’s wonderful Tokyo-Ga (see here, too), which I first watched around fifteen years ago. My attention was first drawn to the film for its Japanese themes, but it turned out to be a film with universal ideas vastly transcending Japan, as director Wim Wenders retraced and discovered the footprints and path of legendary film director Yasujiro Ozu. Japan is what initially drew me to Tokyo-Ga, just as it was Japan that originally drew me to my key peace mentor and friend Jun Yasuda in 1991. It was an interest in East Asia that drew me into conversation with the late, brash, trial lawyer Victor Crawford in 1991, who finally inspired me to pursue a t’ai chi path three years later.

Re-visiting Tokyo-Ga two years ago, I finally noticed Mu, which did not take hold in me when I first experienced the film. I wrote at the time:

I found a scene from Wim Wenders’s Tokyo-ga that visits late film director Yasujiro Ozu’s gravesite. Instead of saying Ozu’s name, his headstone has the symbol "mu" (see this photo of his headstone, too), which I understand can be defined — perhaps very imperfectly defined — as "nothing".

What did Ozu mean by having his headstone say "mu"? The senses of cinema webpage says: "Whilst in China during his war service, Ozu asked a Chinese monk to paint the character ‘mu’ for him (an abstract concept loosely meaning ‘void’ or ‘nothingness’). Ozu died painfully on his sixtieth birthday in 1963 of cancer and his tombstone in the temple of Engaku in Kita-Kamakura bears the inscription ‘mu’ from the monk’s painting that he had kept all his life." 

As Alan Watts aptly said, "Nothing is more fertile than emptiness." "You can’t have something without nothing."

As I further learned about Buddhism, I learned about our interconnectedness with everyone and everything around us, and also about the importance of non-dualism, not to attach excessively to our bodies, situations, nor feelings. 

By now, I have learned that the path to happiness, fulfillment, and power is here right now within each of us. So long as we look outside ourselves for fulfillment — including getting a certain job, having an ideal circle of friends, amassing a certain monetary goal, and overcoming certain health problems — we will not reach true fulfillment.

It took Bhagavan Das several years in India with extraordinary teachers to learn that his trip to India from California was not necessary to reach the state of fulfillment that he ultimately reached in being here now, although I wonder whether he would have reached such a state as quickly, or at all, without first getting away from the material excesses in the West and to a place where few found it odd to spend weeks on end in a cave reaching higher levels of spirituality.

T’ai chi (and to a related extent Taoism, which is a foundation of t’ai chi), Mu, chanting the odaimoku (which I first learned from Jun Yasuda), and non-attachment are things I had to learn starting several years out of law school and even many years beyond that for Mu and non-attachment. By now, I practice all of them daily, throughout the day. They ground me and give me the foundation to be happier, more fulfilled, and more prosperous than I ever have been. They give me the power to persevere and succeed as a trial lawyer, together with all the experience and battle scars I have obtained along the way. They give me the way to understand, empathize with and connect not only with my clients, but also with everyone else. They help me overcome boredom that I might otherwise feel while waiting for my trial or motions hearing to be called. They make the plea of innocent invigorate me as much today for a trial battle as I ever have been invigorated.