Monday, November 18, 2019

A Believer in Babylon

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How do you write a Christian in a world without Christ?

In the world of Babylon Blues, the New Gods systematically destroyed or subverted all competing institutions that could oppose them, including the old religions. They stole the mantles of the old faiths and undermined them, through a combination of cultural warfare and public demonstrations of their powers. The old faiths either forgotten or reduced to minor sects. The Abrahamic faiths were no exception.

After all, in a world where gods walk amongst men, who would believe in a god no one has seen?

Given such a setup, modern writers would take this opportunity to take a potshot at the old religions, including Christianity. I refuse. This is not that kind of story. This is a story about faith, not fashionable nihilism. A story about standing fast to truth, not about redefining truth as whatever that is easy or pleasant or convenient. A story about the transcendent, not the temporal.

Christianity is a rich tradition, one that embraces service, sacrifice, holding fast to truth and goodness, opposition to the authorities wherever and whenever they oppose God. Armed with nothing but faith, Christianity endured through the centuries, outlasting pagan Rome, the Shogunate, the Ottoman Empire, the Soviet Union. The perfect religion for a man destined to stand against the princes and powers of the changed earth.

Making Yuri Yamamoto a Christian was easy. Justifying it was... more challenging.

The easy approach is to simply say he learned it from his parents. It would perfect sense, both in this world and in the story world. After all, this is how most believers were inducted into their religions to begin with.

But it's not enough. Not for Yuri Yamamoto.

His mission is to blaze a light into the darkness, and to defend the innocent from the wicked strong. His duties require him to confront bloodthirsty monsters, fanatical cultists, soul-crushing horrors, and even the New Gods themselves.

This is impossible with a lukewarm faith.

The followers of the New Gods are filled with conviction. They have witnessed the wealth and powers of their gods, they are embedded deeply in communities of fellow believers, they have knelt in the presence of their gods. Their faith in their gods is anchored in direct experience.

To compete with that, Yuri Yamamoto would also need direct experience.

Experience with the awesome immanence and transcendence of God.




What is Faith?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines faith as "belief and trust in and loyalty to God", or "firm belief in something for which there is no proof". Atheists love the latter definition to the exclusion of others, and in the world of Babylon, this is indeed the official viewpoint of the New Gods concerning the old ways.

But what does the Bible say?

Hebrews 1:11 says, "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
Let's take a closer look at the words 'not seen'. In our world, as with the world of Babylon Blues, it's fair to say that, at this time, no universally-accepted scientific test has proven the existence of God. Likewise, there is no universally-accepted, repeatable and falsifiable method for perceiving God.
But if you don't see something, does it mean it doesn't exist?

Pick up an object. Hold it out before you. Open your hand. It will floor to the floor. Thus we see the influence of gravity, even though we cannot see the actual force of gravity.

You don't have to know something exists, or understand its intricacies, to use it. The ancient Egyptians used plumb lines during construction, and its use was so widespread in the ancient world it was even mentioned in the Bible. A plumb line relies on gravity to pull a weight down to the earth, which in turn pulls the line straight and taut, and yet gravity wasn't formally studied in detail until the time of Galileo Galilei in the late 16th century, and codified as an equation by Isaac Newton in 1687.
The Egyptians had no concept of the theory of gravitation, nor were they able to see the force of gravity. Yet they had such conviction in its existence that they used it for plumb lines, and indeed so did many other civilizations that came after them.

They had faith in gravity, a force they could not see but used anyway.

By extension, God does not need to be visible to the naked eye to exist. You don't need to see God to believe in God.

This is enough for most people. But not for Yamamoto. To compete with cultists whose convictions are founded on direct experience with their gods, you must have a similarly deep and unshakeable faith.

You need direct experience with God.

Yuri Yamamoto can't be an ordinary Christian. He has to be a Christian mystic. A man who had experienced the presence of God, and who has been forever transformed.

Conviction of Things Not Seen

Mere words cannot hope to adequate something as profoundly powerful and life-altering as standing in a divine presence, nor capture fully the thoughts and mindsets of a mystic committed to his faith and path. Instead, I will try to attack this from other angles, using physiology, physics and martial arts.

Sit and breathe.

Just breathe. Focus entirely on your breath. If any thoughts or emotions arise, acknowledge them, let them flow away, and continue breathing. Breathe deep, breathe from your belly, fill your lungs completely without straining, and smoothly breathe out without tensing.

Do you feel calmer?

The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary bodily functions. These include your heartbeat, your digestion, sweating, and more. You cannot directly command your heart to slow down, your tears to stop, your kidneys to stop producing urine.

But you don't have to.

Breathing is connected to the autonomic nervous system. It is the one human function is both voluntary and involuntary. Your body breathes involuntarily, but at any time you can take control of your breath.

By breathing slowly, smoothly, fully, your body calms down, your heart beat decreases, your entire body relaxes. By breathing in rapid spurts, you jack up your heart rate, hyperoxygenate your blood, trigger the fight-or-flight reflex. With breath alone, you can command bodily functions that are otherwise inaccessible to the conscious mind.

You know is true because you have experienced it yourself. You can't see it, but you can feel it happen. You have faith that by breathing slowly and deeply and smoothly, you will calm down, even if you are excited. Conversely, if you don't have faith in the process, you are likely to focus instead on a rapidly-beating heart and a shallow pained breath instead of actually breathing deeply. This will merely entrain your body to continue firing the fight or flight reflex instead of stepping down from that state, and so calming down will take you a long time indeed.

In that same vein, unseen powers are available to he who leverages the right principles in faith.
James Williams, master of the ancient samurai martial arts and head of Nami-Ryu Aiki Heiho, said that samurai used different body mechanics than practitioners of other arts when cutting. In many weapons-based martial arts the martial artist drives the cut from the front hip. In Williams' school, the practitioner turns the rear hip.

To the outside observer, the difference is imperceptible. But the effect on target is undeniable.
Let's take a simple cut from the threat's shoulder to hip. By cutting with the front hip, the sword comes down a simple, uncomplicated force vector. The target can resist a shallow slash, and remain standing. The force of the blow travels from his collarbone, through his ribs, and down to his feet, helping him remain balanced. Even if the attack were fatal, the threat is still on his feet, and could potentially deliver a deadly counter attack.

Cutting with the rear hip changes the force vector. Instead of a straightforward slash, it flows like a wave, or a whip. Once the blade bites into the target, it continues to cut upwards towards to the tip, instead of trying to crash through it. The force vector and the angle of attack constantly changes during the cut, gathering and camming and unbalancing the target. The target will find it impossible to resist the slash, and consequently goes down.

You don't have to believe me. I may even have gotten it wrong. But watch this video from 17:07 to 18:03.

With the naked eye, you cannot see the difference between cutting from the front hip or the rear hip. But you can see the difference in the effect on the target. In similar fashion, a man with the right knowledge can use unseen powers and principles to great effect.

Likewise, a man with the right knowledge can find his way to God.

Leaning In

Humans have many instincts for self-preservation. Flinching away from a threat, leaning away from a loud and disturbing noise, backing up and away from danger. They might have saved our distant ancestors, but the modern world demands a more sophisticated response.

Let's take firing a rifle. Most novice shooters instinctively lean away from the weapon and hold it out as far away from them as they can. This places the bright and noisy discharge at a distance away from their faces. It is a human reaction, but in the real world, this unbalances the shooter. With a large enough caliber, the recoil can knock the shooter down.

The trained response is to lean into the rifle, to better control the recoil and the weapon. But this is not a natural instinct; it has to be learned, ingrained so deeply it overrides the natural instinct.
The concept of developing a trained response to an incoming threat takes on greater urgency when dealing with a bladed weapon. When at enemy cuts at you, if you jump back, at best, you are simply create room for yourself to act. The enemy is still free to attack you again. If you simply lean back, or don't move away fast enough, he can crash into you, unbalance you, and kill you. If, instead, you flinch and bring your arms up, you are simply offering your arms as targets.

When facing a blade, you only have two options. The first is to get so far away from the threat that he cannot reach you (i.e. run away!). The second is to get in so close his weapon cannot touch you.
In the realm of spirituality, if you run from what frightens you, from transcendental life-changing experiences, from anything that may alter you at a fundamental level, you are never going to experience the highest levels of reality. If you seek such experiences, then when you happen to you, you must lean into them, approach them with faith, allow it to happen.

But you cannot force the experience either. And you cannot impose your will on it, or resist it, or it will not have the same effect. You must yield to it.

Looking to martial arts as an analogy, crashing into a threat is dangerous. If you simply charge in blindly, you will eat a shot. In a weapons environment, the enemy can cut you down. Different martial traditions have different methods to bridge the distance. In Nami-Ryu, the solution is to yield.

The Art of Yielding

This may sound strange. You want to step into the attack, not give way before it. Why yield?
You cannot contest a sword. If you stand before it, it will cut you. If you try to block it with your bare hands, all you are doing is changing the target. You must get off the line of attack.

To yield before a blade is to allow the sword to fall where it wants to go, move off the line of attack, and maneuver yourself in such a way that you can solve the problem being presented to you by shaping, gathering and releasing energy.

James Williams teaches an all-purpose response to a diagonal forehand slash. When the enemy cuts at you with a sword, you pivot on the ball of your foot, turning your rear hip back, and bring your arm and blade to meet his.

This turn away from the threat makes it appear to him that you are retreating. In reality, you are getting your body off the line of attack, and bringing your other side up against him to flank him. Similarly, when bringing up your sword, you are not trying to block the enemy. Instead, you are voiding the attack to set up your own strike.

Imagine a seesaw. When one side goes down, the other must go up. Now imagine your weapon as the seesaw. When the enemy's force descends on your weapon, you yield before it, lowering the tip of the blade by accelerating your hand through an upward arc. And in so doing, you place your hand in perfect position for a countercut.

If you time this perfectly, with the right angle, your sword will barely touch his, if at all. If your timing is poor and the blades clash, the angle of your blade will ensure that his sword will slide off yours instead of cutting you. Either way, you are protected. You are shaping his energy with your blade so that it can't touch you.

By chambering your sword by your head in his fashion, you are gathering energy. Your own strength, gravity, the energy from accelerating your blade to yield before the enemy's, others. All you need do is release this energy, turn into the threat, allow your sword to flow where it needs to go, and suddenly the problem is solved.

To see this in action, watch this video.

With this one technique, you are protected against all overhead strikes. It doesn't matter if it comes straight down from above your head or from an angle, if it comes from the left or the right, if you pivot to the left or right, if you or the threat are using weapons other than swords, if your blade meets his arm or wrist instead of his weapon. Once you master the principle, you can deliver an effective defense and a telling counter.

This is a trained response. To someone who knows only base animal instincts, it is counterintuitive, even impossible. But to a man who has mastered these principles, who can execute them in faith, they become second nature.

Yielding is a highly sophisticated strategy. You need to know how to perceive the force coming towards you, how to leverage unseen forces to your advantage, and how to shape and move your body to make this happen. 

If you force a spiritual experience, or try to contest it, you are like the man standing before a slashing sword. You cannot control it; you'll only get cut. But if you yield, shape yourself before it, subtle and strange things happen, opening you to a transformative encounter.

To yield properly, however, it is not enough to simply move your body. You still need one more ingredient: an unfettered mind.

The Unfettered Mind

The Japanese see the Way of the Sword as the Way to Enlightenment. Both Ways require developing many of the same principles. Decisiveness, celerity of thought, unity of mind and body and spirit, perception of the world, the attainment of an unfettered mind.

To achieve this state of being, you must see the world exactly as it is. In swordsmanship, you must perceive the enemy's true intention and not be taken by tricks or your own fear. You must see the incoming force vector and respond to it appropriately, instead of insisting on a favoured technique that might, in the moment, expose you to danger. In other words, you must see people and events exactly as they are, without being influenced by your own prejudices and emotions.

To achieve this, you must attain serenity and clarity of mind. You must release all unwanted and unhelpful emotions--fear, anger, disgust, anything and everything that may colour your perceptions. Then you must open your perception, seeing all things at once instead of what you want to see or can immediately recognize. The goal is to achieve mizu no kokoro, a heart like still water.

Earlier I used 'problem' to describe an incoming attack. This is deliberate. You don't want to attach any emotional baggage to a situation. It only colours your perception of the threat, and with a muddled perception, your sword will be muddled too.

Even if you defeat a threat, a clouded mind leads to blowback. For example, say an enemy attacks you with a sword. You close in and disarm him. In that moment, he is no longer a threat. But if your heart is filled with anger and fear, if you still see him as an enemy, it is all too easy to turn around and cut him down. If you do this, you become a murderer--you have just killed a man who cannot harm you. With that comes a lifetime of suffering.

Every problem carries within itself a solution. It may mean disarming a threat, then shoving him off and warning him to leave. It may mean running away. It may mean drawing your sword and overpowering him with your fighting spirit. It may mean ending a life. The key is to not be attached to any of these techniques or outcomes; perceive the threat for what it is, then respond to it in the most appropriate fashion that ends the danger without piling own more woes on yourself.

An unfettered mind is one free from the poisons of anger, fear, and other prejudicial preconceptions and ideas. As such, it is completely immovable, immune to outside influences that attempt to stir up negative emotions or lodge prejudgments, and free from fixations on anything that might bias its perceptions. To achieve this, it must be yielding, and in yielding it is open to all possibilities instead of a narrow range of preconceived ideas.

The Principle of Return

The universe returns what you send out. If you send out fear and anger, you will receive it; if you send out love and goodwill, you will receive it also.

If you walk around with your fists bunched, address people rudely, glare at everyone around you, you are sending a message of aggression, hostility, and challenge. Sooner or later someone will take you up on your challenge. Conversely, if you walk around with a happy smile, be polite and cheerful, do your best to smoothen over conflicts, you are sending a message of peace. People will respond to that, and mirror you the best they can.

 If you go back to the example of the cut and counter-cut above, you will see that the enemy, by cutting at you, gives you the opportunity to use his energy to load your sword and send the energy back to him. He is sending you the intention and the energy of deadly force; all you are doing is returning them to him.

Sending is easy. You are always sending your intent and energy to the universe with every little thing you say and do and think. But receiving is difficult. If you improperly receive something, it may well destroy you, as in the case of improperly handling a rifle or dealing with an incoming sword. To receive something with grace, without in the process destroying yourself, you must be yielding. You must let the energy come to you, shape yourself accordingly, and deal with it appropriately.

Earlier I brought up mizu no kokoro. Still water perfectly reflects everything around it like a mirror. Similarly, a heart like still water perfectly reflects incoming energies.

To receive with grace, you must develop the qualities described above. You cannot resist the incoming energy, you cannot force it to become what you want it to be; instead you must shape yourself and dissolve your biases and preconceptions so you can perceive and execute the solution.

To receive and return perfectly, you must have faith.

What Makes A Mystic?

I could spill an ocean of ink on this subject and not be done. But to sum up Yuri Yamamoto, it is like this:

Recognize that there are invisible forces that are invisible to the eye, forces and phenomena more powerful and transcendent than a mere man, yet available to he with the right knowledge and mindset.

Train yourself to release fear and negative emotions, to move into what is threatening or frightening, to receive instead of reject or flee. Repeated success in executing these principles builds up knowledge, experience and faith.

Drop all negative emotions and preconceptions, and approach the world with complete receptiveness and softness. Through this, you develop immovability, serenity, and faith.

Send the appropriate intentions to the universe through word, act and thought. When the universe responds, yield before it and allow yourself to be changed.

Now apply these concepts to God.

This is, alas, only a surface level treatment of subtle universal principles. There is much I have described above that have been glossed over for the sake of brevity, principles that would take entire treatises to explore in greater detail. Some ideas, also, are deliberately hidden from plain view.

This post, after all, is about Yuri Yamamoto.

His martial practices help him develop the qualities described above. He applies these principles to all aspects of life, though not necessarily perfectly. You may see him as a warrior, but he is above all things a human who seeks the truth. Through the Way of the Sword he walks the Way to Heaven.

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