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 and decisions which one makes.

Look at small children, younger than five -- they’re happy, playful, joyful -- and you were once the same way, but no longer. Life drags people down by drugging them with Four Poisons, until the spirit within them succumbs to the Four Sicknesses which they inflict, resulting in 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 representing the last two Poisons have multiple English translations; Asian cultures apparently regard these feelings as 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. Their apparent existence are illusions caused by incorrect perceiving the world. While this concept is something that can be taught through 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 -- it can only be 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, and fosters 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 -- which 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 a quantum strength -- and by taking on progressively greater challenges, 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’ll be doing it for the first time.

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