Musashi’s way; Trump as the Other.

by Modaser Shah


In order to see, act…
In order to stay the same, change
(Heinz von Foerster)

You can’t face yourself or turn away from yourself because you are IT
What do you need to understand? Can the eye see itself?
(Zen saying )

In order to see, we need to face it (whatever the it may happen to be)  and to get through, we must act. So what do we do? Mullah Nasruddin, the sage of Sufi lore, is likely to answer: Look in the mirror! You can face yourself and the eye can see itself, in it. The mirror is other people.

Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s foremost swordsman, philosopher/painter,  says, “If you don’t know others, you don’t know yourself.” He advises, in a utilitarian vein, “Do not do things  which are useless.” This would disappoint Nasruddin, as he is wont to counsel things that seem useless or worse (his strategy seems to be to lead people to go beyond thinking and yet think again, perhaps, in a new way: to unlearn and begin to learn .  However,  the Mullah would certainly concur with the samurai that “..there is more than one path to the top of the mountain.” (The Book of Five Rings,  1645 ). Musashi also states, “If you know the Way broadly, you will see it in everything.”  In other words, the way of the sword became the way of painting, art, of living and dying. And then giving it up (in his case, the sword) became possible for him; clinging to it was no longer necessary.  The way of the sword became the way of no sword. I think Bruce Lee was referring to this situation when he talked about his way as the way of no way.

Knowing and realizing ,or, becoming, oneself is possible only via  the other, according to Musashi.

A Sufi saying seems relevant here: ” The meaning of life is to plant a tree, under whose shade we do not expect to sit.”  ( Nelson Henderson ). The other deserves that place of solace and peace. In Nasruddin’s story of the lost keys, he needed an other to complete the narrative and achieve/convey insight into man’s blind spots, into the yin and yang , light and dark, the dialectic of being , of knowing and unknowing, of life and death.

Rumi expresses our need for the other poetically:

Be grateful for whoever comes

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond

The other here refers to the other or alien outside and inside ourselves ( i.e., unwanted feelings, thoughts etc. ) .

We need the other to know ourselves; however, like anything else, if this is carried beyond reason,a surrender to the other results, rather than self knowledge. Just as the other can be dehumanized, so can the self. A current example:

Trump, what he symbolizes,  seems to be the other,  for the United States in general but for the Republican Party, in particular, the shadow,  the dark side, long disavowed, disowned, as if not existing. The Republicans , in facing the shadow, could learn a great deal about themselves, their values, their moral compass, their strength of character. Instead, mostly what seems to be happening is: surrender, no increase in self knowledge, in the face of a strong personality. He also represents a kind of stress test for the US system of government, for the part represented by Lincoln. Trump will pass but this dark aspect of society will remain, posing a challenge from time to time; and an opportunity for betterment, if faced sans denial, illusions ,delusions,paranoia.


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