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Dustin LindenSmith

father | musician | writer

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on enlightenment and self-mastery

The current issue of Andrew Cohen's magazine, What is Enlightenment?, has a great interview with a martial arts master named Vernon Kitabu Turner, to whom the secret of self-defense "from the inside out" was revealed in a blaze of light during meditation. With no previous formal training in any of the martial arts, Kitabu put this realization to the test with a number of martial arts masters. In what must have been quite a show to watch, he was invited to participate in a "trial by combat" sanctioned by the highest-ranking sensei on the Board of Dojo Organizations, and he successfully defeated all of his opponents; one trial saw him take on six seasoned black belts simultaneously. When he asked his opponents what they felt when they attacked him, they said, "It's like you weren't there - I thought I had you, but then you were gone!"

The very well-conducted interview focuses not on the excitement of those defeats, but rather on Kitabu's understanding of the relationship between enlightenment and self-mastery. His clarity of vision and expression on this relationship is a joy to read.

Interviewer: What, in your view, is the relationship between enlightenment and self-mastery?
Kitabu: Well, enlightenment, first of all, is coming to understand that there is no self in the conventional sense of the word. People tend to think of the self as, "Well, I'm the guy who went to this high school and had these parents, and I'm the guy who's got an accounting degree, and I worked my way through it all and achieved these things." Now that's purely an illusory self that we're talking about. Enlightenment is coming to understand or experience that there is no objective self--there is being, but there's no objective self--and it's in the process of letting go of that notion that one experiences what one truly is in the universal sense. That's when enlightenment comes--when you realize that you are not in control. And because of that, you are very much in control.

Interviewer: And how would you distinguish that from self-mastery?
Kitabu: Well, enlightenment is the opening up of the eye of perception to the ultimate reality of existence itself. But on the finite scale, the application would be self-mastery. In the enlightenment aspect of it, there's no one there--there is no you to operate as opposed to this person or that person; your experience is complete, it's whole, it contains the cosmos. But when this enlightenment expresses itself in form, as in walking down the street, speaking and carrying oneself, then its light shines through the eyes of a single entity, and that is when it is known as "self-mastery."

What a great working definition of enlightenment that is: Enlightenment is the opening up of the eye of perception to the ultimate reality of existence itself. As the interview continues, Kitabu expands further on how this understanding of no-self (aka "Not I" or "neti-neti") is manifest in his day-to-day actions and life. The interview reads like a modern-day translation of the Bhagavad Gita or the Tao Te Ching.

While I don't personally aspire to become a martial arts master, I took away a lot of practical stuff from the interview, mainly to do with diet and exercise. Like so many people on this side of the hemisphere, I consistently eat more than I require for my activities, and reading Kitabu's words made me think more clearly about the detachment I could successfully employ in my own daily life with respect to what I eat. I'm experimenting with that today, also along the lines of what fey wrote about last week, and I wonder if this no-self approach to eating and exercise might be what will work for me to achieve the physical balance I'm looking for in this regard.

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fireceremony December 10th, 2001


no wonder the Tao Te Ching mentions wei wu wei so much, actionless action or beingless action. On a fast scale wei wu wei would certainly be spontaneous self defense as Kitabu performed or perhaps fast and powerful postures, the way the oriental martial arts is supposed to have been developed from physical yoga postures.

Physical movement and wei wu wei can certainly give interesting results, fast reflexes and added force.

I don't know about eating and wei wu wei but hmmm... wei wu wei is manifestation in the moment that manifestation is needed, so why couldn't it be used for regulating eating or physical exercise.

iamom December 10th, 2001
wei wu wei is manifestation in the moment that manifestation is needed, so why couldn't it be used for regulating eating or physical exercise.

Yeah, that's pretty much what I was thinking, too. For those so inclined (such as myself), I think it might be a helpful way to approach it.


fireceremony December 10th, 2001

That sounds good.
If you develop a "method" let me know.

I'd like to have a more wei wu wei kind of exercise too, preferrably without lifting a finger. :)

iamom December 10th, 2001
Funny you should mention that, actually. I've been thinking about the application of wei wu wei in exercise (that was a good joke, by the way, about exercising without lifting a finger), and I can't help thinking that the balance must be achieved through eating and exercise simultaneously. That is to say, if your level of activity is quite low, then so should your intake of food. The opposite should also apply, right? Unless you're overweight, I suppose, but still...

Probably the method is something like what fey was suggesting, in which you maintain a high level of awareness about your actual dietary and exercise needs at any given time, and respond directly only to those [physical] needs at all times. I guess that's common sense, really - eat only when hungry and only to the degree required for satiety, etc. There's a trick in there with respect to how you control the body's emotional desires for food, but that's something that could be worked on in the context of a spiritual practice, I think.


fireceremony December 10th, 2001

Agreed.... the desire to overeat or starve yourself b/c of unadressed emotional needs would probably be reduced over time in spiritual practice... at least I think it's one of the issues that would appear on the way, sometimes with a bang, if overeating/anorexia is an issue to begin with.

>you maintain a high level of awareness about >your actual dietary and exercise needs at any >given time, and respond directly only to those
>[physical] needs at all times. I guess that's >common sense, really - eat only when hungry and >only to the degree required for satiety, etc.

That sounds really good to me... and I think those signals for right eating /exercise would easily be picked up on and heard.

I would say the determination or motivation to actually follow thru with those needs once they appear would be the really hard part, but if the determination is there, I think it would work well. One wouldn't need to have to run off to the treadmill or the veggie stand every time that signal appeared either, listening and acting when you could, when you're home for example, could be enough. I'm sure it would lead to better weight regulation and physical health and more stable weight regulation than restrictive diets. I'm definitely up for trying to build that kind of movitation and follow those impulses more.

iamom December 10th, 2001
Me, too. What helps me the most is to remind myself that I'm feeding the body, and not the mind. It's becoming a bit of a mantra as I approach the fridge: "Whatever I choose, I feed the body. What does the body need right now?"

I don't think they cover that approach in Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, though. :)


fireceremony December 10th, 2001

Heh heh, maybe the temptation to use it as an excuse to skip the diet that day is too strong for weightwatchers to want to go nondual ?

eating what's needed sounds a little like what pregnant women do when they get cravings, the body knowing what it needs both calory and vitamin wise then and there... and when not pregnant the body has to rebuild some mass every day too, especially if you're exercising a lot.

Do let me know how it went, if you lost weight and/or got more exercise.

Good luck !

vyus December 10th, 2001
that i have no idea
what wei wu wei is

seems like the emotional attachment to food can be transcended just like any other impulse (my favorites to watch in me are those that are ravishingly difficult to resist). like psychological issues, one can watch them when they arise in awareness, and they lose hold. and that may lead to understanding why the desire exists, which may lead to the dissolution of that desire.

it sounds to me like any other spiritual practice - that each thing we do can be an exercise in awareness.

once we become that in-tune with the physical aspect of ourselves, then another, more mundane problem arises. the body's needs for food may take planning, anticipation (this might be where my lack of understanding of the topic at hand comes in). you might suddenly decide you need broccoli, but there isn't any available. There needs to be some way to anticipate food requirements because we will inevitably put ourselves in positions that we can't just up and forage. currently this is what i do, but from a strictly rational, scientific mind, not from awareness of myself.

certainly fast food joints don't help with this.

iamom December 10th, 2001
Thanks for your comments.

The concept of wei wu wei is probably best understood in its native context of nondual teachings such as the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu. I don't know if you've ever read that before, but a principal theme concerns adopting the manner of the Tao (the "Way"), which is like water, always flowing in and amongst everything, but not creating any friction or stopping anywhere. Wei wu wei literally means "action without action," or "action through inaction." It's kind of paradoxical, but it reflects the demeanour of one who acts without attaching oneself to the action; one who acts simply in accordance with the essential Tao, or Way, of the universe. Taoist Tai Chi, traditional yoga, and other such practices come directly from that philosophy and approach.

Even without that semantic understanding though, I think you've successfully and clearly summarized the approach in life. If one is concerned with conquering emotional addictions to food or anything else, one certainly must begin by cultivating a deep awareness of such, and then transcend the craving by being able to look beyond it, to identify it as truly illusory in nature, I suppose.

You also mentioned something about watching cravings as they arise in awareness, and that they immediately lose hold once they've arisen. I've noticed that same phenomenon in virtually every aspect of my life except with eating, so I guess that must be my own last bastion of sanity, hm?


vyus December 10th, 2001
yes, you've mentioned that before. i've taken note, something i can learn from. my resistance to my own awareness is so high that it seems the only way to get me to really look at it is to create a sort of mini-battle. it is also frustrating when i can glimpse a concept but when i try to grasp it, it slips away. not so easy ;)

maybe food is more difficult because mixed in with emotional response is that physiological need. i have to trick myself; i'll let myself have pizza one day a week, so i can look forward to it. funny thing is, sometimes that day comes and i don't have it anyway. sometimes ;)

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