Last December marked the fiftieth anniversary of Nakamura Tempū’s death. Time allows for an ever-fuller appreciation of the past; and whether by serendipity or by simple coincidence, three books—all recent publications and all unrelated—have come to my attention over the past month for the new perspectives they impart on Tempū’s story and teachings.
The first, A Step Away from Paradise by Thomas Shor, is the true story of an enigmatic and charismatic Tibetan Lama named Tulshuk Lingpa who in 1962 attempted to enter a hidden paradise through a magical gateway in eastern Nepal, high on the slopes of the Kanchenjunga Massive. The book perked my interest because it describes the same corner of the world in which Nakamura Tempū underwent his initiation into the ways of yoga and his transformative awakening, and that I visited in 2014.
I was not disappointed. Shor’s book evokes the aura of mystery I allude to in Heaven’s Wind that envelops the villages surrounding Kanchenjunga; and moreover, it is infused with the author’s passion for his subject, his masterful skills as a storyteller, and his exhaustive research. Which is to say, his is the sort of writing to which I at least aspire in Heaven’s Wind.
To be clear, his story of Tulshuk Lingpa sheds no new light on the provenance of Tempū’s teacher Kariappa. For one thing, it belongs to a far morerecent past than does Tempū’s story, Tulshuk Lingpa attempt on the hidden paradise having occurred well within the span of my personal memory. For another, Tulshuk Lingpa’s lineage, Tibetan Buddhism, is distinct (divergent might be a better word, since Buddhism and yoga both derive from the same Vedic tradition) from that of the yoga practiced by Kariappa. But the book is a page turner, and if you are looking for a great story to get lost in, I highly recommend it.
The second is a work in an altogether different vein. More accurately, it is two books, or one book in two volumes, entitled Mind Hacking Happiness, I & II, by Sean Webb. But I recommend reading them both, back to back, to fully appreciate just what the author is up to.
Mind Hacking Happiness is self-published, and it shows; you will need to turn a blind eye to Webb’s novel and inconsistent punctuation, as well as the altogether too many typos. You will also either take to or be put off by his irreverent and slightly cocky writing style (I was put off in the beginning but gradually warmed to it over the first one hundred or so pages).
To get a sense of who Sean is and what he is about, you might first want to watch his recent interview with Rick Archer on Buddha at the Gas Pump. He combines what I will describe as a redneck demeanor with a blistering intelligence to come across as someone who knows whereof, he speaks. You’ll have to bear with him late into volume II—and I recommend not skipping ahead, as it takes all of volume I and most of volume II to appreciate his reasons for telling it—to get to his account of his awakening, but believe me, it’s a whopper, well worth the wait.
So why do I include this book in a shortlist of recent titles relevant to Heaven’s Wind? Because, despite the enormous differences between Nakamura and Webb in cultural background, life experience, place in time, and manner of expression, the compendium of practices Webb calls “mind hacking” are, substantively, almost identical to many of those contained in Nakamura Tempū’s method of mind-body integration. The similarities between the two systems are uncanny.
Which is not to detract from the originality of Webb’s work; Mind Hacking Happinessstands on its own, and Webb, it’s safe to surmise, has never heard of Nakamura Tempū. He goes to extraordinary lengths in these two volumes to expose the mechanics of the mind and to describe simple but profoundly effective practices designed to put those mechanics in proper perspective. As a taste, here is one of them.
Try on the habit (habits are formed through practice; a couple of days of conscious practice should suffice) of inserting into your internal dialogue the article “the” before the personal pronouns “I” and “me”. Thus, for example, “I need …” becomes “The I needs …”; “I can’t believe I just did that” becomes “The I can’t believe it just did that …”; and “Why is this happening to me?” becomes “Why is this happening to the me?” The result should be obvious: Making “I” into “the I” and “me” into “the me” moves the subjective first person to a place of third-person objectivity. And it moves you, the thinker, into a space of what Webb calls meta-awareness; that is, whereas the I in “I need …” is aware of what it needs but not of itself, the I in “The I needs …” stands out above the needs as that which is doing the needing. Furthermore, since an object is distinct from that which apprehends it—the awareness—the confusion between the I and that which experiences the I dissipates. The thinker detaches from the thought (the I), let alone from the needs beholden to that thought. Leaving one with the question, if what’s aware is not the I, then what is it?
Try it. Better yet, buy Webb’s books and read them, beginning to end. What he is onto may well be an emergent science of mind, the same sort of science of mind envisioned by Nakamura Tempū over fifty years ago.
Webb’s books discuss mind-body relatedness and integration at length, but they do not discuss methods of physical training. Nakamura Tempū’s teachings are adamant that, while the mind leads the body, care and exercise of physical functions, such as breath, nervous response, and strength, tone, and flexibility of muscular activity, are essential to the cultivation of mental positivity; that a mind unencumbered with negative self-appraisals will, naturally, and as an expression of the joy of being alive, seek to exercise and maintain physical functionality and readiness; while a body well cared for will respond all-the-more productively to mental instructions.
I was delighted to receive in the mail a book written by Swiss aikido practitioner and instructor Eric Graf entitled Japanese Yoga, Genkikai. Eric contacted me after reading Heaven’s Windand then graciously sent me a copy of his book.
“Genkikai” means “health or vitality (genki, 元気) association (kai, 会)” and is the creation of Ikeda Masatomi, an aikido shihan who lived and taught in Switzerland for many years. Born in 1940, Ikeda came up through the aikido ranks under Tada Hiroshi Shihan and is a member of that fortunate generation of practitioners who had the opportunity to also learn first-hand from both aikido’s Ueshiba Morihei and the Tempūkai’s Nakamura Tempū. His Genkikai, according to Graf, is a composite of practices adopted from aikido, Nakamura Tempū’s mind-body teachings, the Nishi-shiki health system (the founder of which, Nishi Katsuzō, was also a student of Ueshiba Morihei’s aikido)[*], and Noguchi Seitai (conceived by Noguchi Haruchika, Seitai [整体] is a form of correctional physical therapy based on spontaneous movement)[†].
This is not a book of the same order of general interest as the two above; it will have most appeal to practitioners of aikido and other martial arts. Also, it is not available through Amazon or other online booksellers but only directly from the link above or the Dojo de Neuchâtel website. What renders it worthy of mention here, however, is its detailed instructions regarding the breathing exercises integral to Tada-sensei’s ki-no-renma regime, including Nakamura Tempū’s kokyū sōren. I describe kokyū sōren briefly in chapter thirteen of Heaven’s Wind but then demur from delivering full instructions; if you are curious to learn the method in full, this is the best, and perhaps only, source currently available in English (or French or German). To be more precise, the book provides instructions for kokyū sōren as taught by Tada Hiroshi Shihan; Tada-sensei has made some minor changes to the kokyū sōren as taught by the Tempūkai to render it, in my opinion, more congruous with martial arts training. It warms my heart to see this most valuable teaching being made available and carried forward into future generations.
[*]Some of the Nishi-shiki methods—especiallyKingyō-undō, “the goldfish exercise,” which I first learned as part of Tada-sensei’s warmup routine—have made their way back into aikido.
[†]I participated once in the 1970s in a Noguchi Seitai group session held in Kyoto. I found it to be both effective and intriguing.