The Four Poisons

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In the Buddhist conception of the world, there is no Original Sin. Everyone and everything is intrinsically good, and evil is a learned trait, gradually formed by the choices and decisions we make.

Look at small children, younger than five -- they’re happy, playful, joyful -- and you were once the same way, but no longer. Life has dragged you down, and drugged you with Four Poisons, until the spirit within you succumbed to the Four Sicknesses which they inflicted, resulting in the incurable pathology which is the human condition. The Four Poisons, and the Sicknesses they cause, are:

  • Fear.
  • Self-doubt.
  • Confusion / fascination / hesitation.
  • Surprise / wonder / astonishment.

(The kanji characters for the last two Poisons have multiple English translations; Asian cultures apparently regard these feelings as instances of a larger concept.)

The Four Poisons, the Four Sicknesses they cause, and the restraints those Sicknesses impose on you are not real things. Their apparent existence are illusions caused by an incorrect perception of the world. While this concept can be taught through reading or lectures, teaching can only confer knowledge, and knowledge is insufficient to overcome mental barriers. Mental barriers are only overcome through wisdom, and wisdom cannot be taught -- it can only be grokked through life experiences.

There is no cure for these Four Sicknesses, but treatment is available. By regularly experiencing and overcoming small doses of the Four Poisons, you can gradually build up an immunity to them, just like allergy shots. Martial arts training provides a controlled and structured venue to encounter these negative sensations, and fosters this immunity.

Manageable amounts of the Four Poisons can be overcome through fudōshin -- the “immovable mind,” which is an unshakably calm state of total determination. Fudōshin is a state-of-spirit which is filled with the strength, endurance, and determination to surmount every obstacle in its path. This is a daunting task, which is why small doses are needed at first. Courage begets courage, self-confidence begets self-confidence. Understanding begets understanding, awareness begets awareness. Overcoming a challenge grants you a quantum strength -- and by taking on progressively greater challenges, you can use that strength to become stronger.

Developing fudōshin causes others to perceive you as invincible and/or crazy, making them lose the desire to fight you. By developing fudōshin, you will in part, reclaim your “beginner’s mind” -- the raw enthusiasm and curiosity of new students. By doing so, you will be ready for anything, open to everything, and more prepared to deal with life, because life is a constant barrage of new experiences. Even when you die, you’ll be doing it for the first time.

As such, Goshin-Jutsu (literally: “body-protecting art”) is an excellent segue into Gōshin-Jutsu (literally: “hard-mind art”).