We ≠ Our Tools

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Nowadays, when we want to learn martial arts, be it Karate or Kang Fu, we simply register for a class, take the lessons, and practice.  Viola, we are black belts or master martial artists.  Congratulations to the hard work and achievement!! 

However, that is only part of the picture……   

In the ancient time, the process of becoming a master martial artist was much more holistic.  Take Kang Fu for example, when a pupil decides to learn Kang Fu from a master, he must first be accepted as a pupil-in-waiting.  In some cases, the pupil had to visit the monastery, where the master lived, many times over the span of years until the master was convinced by the pupil’s determination and commitment.  

Once accepted, one might think the pupil could right away take lessons and be on his way to becoming a Kang Fu master.  Nice wish, but not so fast.  The master might keep the pupil in the monastery to do mundane work, such as helping in the kitchen, cleaning the toilet, or doing laundry – basically, all the dirty, boring and labor-intensive work.  This could last for several years before the first lesson was taught, if ever taught.  

From our modern-day perspective, where everything is fast and instant, and where children are well-protected and showered with material abundance, this practice might be considered child labor abuse.  Let’s not judge so fast.  

But, why did masters “torture” the young pupils?  There is deep wisdom behind it.  Martial art, as a skill, is like most tools in the world. It can be mastered through practice by anyone.  “Isn’t this a good thing?” one might ask.  

It depends.  

It depends on the character of the person who uses this tool.  It can be a bless or imminent danger to the world around.  Tools are leverages that amplify the intention, accelerate the action and multiply the impact of the person behind the action.  

A tool is neither good nor bad.  For example, a hammer is a tool that can be used to create life shelter or to destroy life.  A smart phone can connect us with loved ones or disconnect us from what really matters in life.  The same logic applies to many other tools such as money, artificial intelligence (AI), NLP, cryptocurrency, army or financial instruments.  Then, who gives these tools their reputations? The persons in charge of these tools.  

Take money for example. Money is neither evil nor blessing by nature.  It is simply a form of energy, similar to electricity.  When managed properly and with the right intention, it provides us basic needs and resources for life expansion, such as traveling the world, learning new skills, creating new companies, and helping those in needs.  But when money lands in the hands of the insecure, greedy or egotistic, we see more conflicts and destructions, such as wars, both visible and invisible.  

Here is another example. A higher “position” in an organization is a tool.  A person kind, wise and competent will use this tool, the influence and power derived from his “position”, to benefit colleagues, customers and society.  A person with low consciousness will use his “position” to serve his self-interests at others’ expenses .

Many people confuse tools such as money or title (position) with self-identity.  As a result of it, we dedicate our lives to pursuing and accumulating these tools.  That’s not different from dedicating our lives to accumulating electricity.  While electricity is useful, it is not the purpose of life.  

A tool is always outside of us, not part of who we are.  It can come and go, subject to external circumstances and other people’s perceptions, beyond our control.  No matter how much money, status or electricity we have, it doesn’t change the core of who we are.  Otherwise, a billionaire with the biggest job title on the planet will be guaranteed respect and admiration from around the world.  

Back to the monastery.  Why “torture” the young pupils?  It is a process to teach them patience, endurance, humility, hard work, equanimity and service. It is a process to diminish their ego which later can become an obstacle to their true mastery: self-mastery.  

After all, when we are privileged to have a tool in our hands, be it money, leadership position, technology or Kang Fu, what comes with it is responsibility – the responsibility to serve collective interests, not self-interests or ego.  The bigger the tool, the bigger the responsibility.  

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