The Four Poisons

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In the Buddhist conception of the world, there is no Original Sin. Everything and everyone is intrinsically good; evil is a learned trait, determined by the choices you 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 a way of dragging people down, by drugging people with Four Poisons until the spirit within them succumbs to the Four Sicknesses they inflict, creating the incurable pathology which is the human condition. The Four Poisons, and the Sicknesses they cause, are:

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

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

It should be noted that the Four Poisons, the Sicknesses they cause, and the restraints those Sicknesses impose on you are not real things. Your incorrect perception of the world causes you to believe that these Four Poisons exist. While the concept is something that can be taught, by reading or lectures, teaching can only confer knowledge, and knowledge is insufficient to overcome the barriers of the mind. Such barriers can only be overcome by wisdom, which cannot be taught -- only grokked through life experiences.

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

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

By developing fudōshin, others will perceive you as invincible (or crazy), and they will lose the desire to fight you. By developing fudōshin, you will in part, reclaim your “beginner’s mind” -- the raw enthusiasm and curiosity of a new incoming student. 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’re doing it for the first time.

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