If you receive it, keep it!
From time to time I talk to my students about my late teacher, the Rev. Kensho Furuya Sensei. We maintained a long-distance relationship, corresponding daily (along with others in his group) for years. Over that time, he had an immeasurable influence on my training as someone I looked to for both practical knowledge and spiritual development. He shared of himself freely every day; he would talk about his personal experiences in training, his teachers, the hard lessons he learned as well as those he was still working on. He shared his poems, his brilliant insights, and much about his own spiritual journey. He was probably the wisest man I ever knew. He was extremely tough, but also fair, and he was always honest and forthright.
I arrived home one day to the news that he had passed away; we would never again share one another’s company. I was a bit paralyzed for a while, and if I am being honest, I didn’t know how I would carry on my practice without his guidance. I felt like I hadn’t studied well enough, that I had still so many questions, that I would forget or worst of all, that I had taken the lessons for granted. I wallowed in that sentiment for a while fearing that I would never again know such a teacher, and indeed I haven’t, he was a brilliant scholar/philosopher, and unlike the notions that people often conjure relating to martial arts, they are not easy to find.
(The Rev. Kensho Furuya Sensei)
I didn’t immediately realize it, but once I had some time to reflect, I came to understand that he had left me one final task, to carry on the teachings. As I said, no one will ever be him, but as it turns out, I am able to do my part. This is so because I realized that I hadn’t taken him for granted, that I had paid careful attention and I had studied hard and often contemplated his lessons long after he had taught them. Because of this, I was able to load some of the lessons on my back and carry them forward.
Here is the point: In this period of isolation, when we are without our teacher, we will find out just how much we have been paying attention. If one comes to the dojo each week, trains, but then lets the lesson go as they step off the mat, then those lessons are lost. Students may have the attitude that the teacher will simply “do it again soon,” so there is no need to take it too seriously or to truly make a good effort to retain them. Well, as these times are now making clear, nothing is certain, and the lessons may not always be there as we assume.
Please take nothing for granted in your practice. Who can say when or if you will ever receive a lesson again? Someday, the teacher will no longer be there to show us the way, and when that day comes, we will have only what we have kept, what we have truly made a part of us. If we can learn to strongly focus on each interaction, to internalize the teachings, then we will never be without our teacher, and we will be ready for whatever comes.