I have always assumed that part of Cheng Hsin martial was to learn to act from not-self, to learn to surrender to what arises in each moment. (A question and response) – Peter Ralston Newsletter

Hi Peter,
For a few years I have periodically wondered whether when you fought you fought from a place of self-mind or Consciousness. Or, to be more accurate I have always assumed that part of Cheng Hsin martial was to learn to act from not-self, to learn to surrender to what arises in each moment, to be conscious of and integral with what life demands in each moment. If this was the case there would be no expectation of winning. Winning might happen or it might not, or you might sit down and have a cup of tea if that was the most appropriate action.

Over the past couple of years I have noticed an increasing aversion to trump anyone. I find no glory or sense of achievement in succeeding in a conflict or confrontation. To me if I am a winner and someone else feels like they have lost then there is no winner. I am not talking about a competition such as shooting pool, but rather when there are conflicting values or desires between me and another. Unless there is a mutually agreeable outcome I feel like it is not an outcome of any substance. If there is a victor then there is no harmony.

So, could you talk a little about your disposition towards the task of fighting in those moments please. How did you relate to the opponent and the task? Were you seeking to triumph? It must have been tricky to fight enlightened while knowing that desiring to win would be self-mind. Or maybe your purpose was not winning but for harmony, surrender, Oneness, Love, and winning was simply concomitant. Perhaps you sought to win but refrained from, or felt angst at, hurting another. I am interested in what you have to say about this seeming paradox.




There are many assumptions and some confusion in your questions, so it will take a bit of unfolding. First, you’re asking about more than one thing. This is common. People try to imagine that the “world” works in a simplistic manner that fits into their desired belief system or philosophical sound bite. This isn’t the case.

When you make a distinction between self- mind and Consciousness you need to know you’re doing that, and that ultimately it will be a false distinction. I know that’s a weird thing to say. But what I mean is, lacking direct consciousness in the matter (and even then it is often still misunderstood) when you simplistically hold that these two are as if two separate “objects” or two different states of mind you aren’t talking about either self or Consciousness. You’re mostly referring to ideals about what you want these things to be about, and this will be something you can think and adopt in some fashion.

Consciousness, as an absolute, cannot be thought or adopted. It already “is” and yet remains unknown for what it is. Everything you’re speaking about is self-mind.

You’ve simply made a distinction in the world of mind of two different states. One state is restricted to a self agenda, focused primarily on immediate self interests and concerns. The other has a different focus. Your alternative mind state seems to postulate that there is a “true” state that embraces oneness, love, and selfless qualities, and this of course is “good.” There may be such a state, but it isn’t the Truth and it isn’t outside of self survival.

You would likely take on such an uncommon shift for a different set of self interests, usually more long term and more universally inclusive. In order to do that you need to operate out of principles that aren’t related solely to your self agenda, and sometimes run counter to your immediate self interests or concerns. Such principles as honesty, or universal love, or any others that demand inclusive concerns — rather that merely self centered concerns — orient your experience toward serving a different “master” than your exclusive self sense.

But we already have such notions. They live within our cultural ideals, or the ideals of various belief systems. These are not what you think they are. They are not a transcendence of self, but a different, and perhaps rare, version of self that puts self into a more inclusive or more “selfless” domain and state. This may be rare as a real occurrence but does exist within the mind as ideals or fantasies.

One thing to look at that may have contributed to and influenced your scenario is the idea of the master “warrior.” We hear of valiant knights or “Zen” warriors of the past that learned to make unusual shifts of mind and so perform better in life and death situations than others. This discipline or shift of perspective moves away from self survival in very significant ways, but not how you think.

One of the primary shifts made to accomplish this state involved getting over social self survival and eliminating it from the mind and process during battle. Another shift, of course, was removing fear regarding physical death. This is indeed very different and appears as if transcending self survival but it did not. It transcends what the vast majority of people are caught in and persisting as, and so would have changed how these warriors thought of themselves and their relation to others. Yet they still had the goal of persisting, if at all possible, and of accomplishing a particular outcome, or winning. And they likely had no concern for love or compassion or other social feel-good (or bad) elements. They killed people.

This shift of state, as well as a permanent change in how they related to “life” and self, was essential and significant. Others would see them as an extremely disciplined person that seems not to be motivated by self comfort, nor has concern for the avoidance of danger or death, and so has apparently transcended self survival. Yet this seems so extraordinary only because others aren’t willing to sacrifice those aspects they’ve become attached to and confused with, such as these warriors did.

We need to take care not to paint self survival with the very thin brush almost everyone who hears about it does. It isn’t thin at all. It is the broadest of brushes. Although a very unusual form of survival these warriors still lived within this principle. They simply and dramatically changed “what” they were surviving and how they were doing it. There may not have been much of the “petty” concerns that dominate most people’s attention and efforts, or the same needs being acted out in a social setting, and certainly there wasn’t an attachment to life and death. This does suggest a transcendence from a great deal of the self attachments and confusions that the vast majority of people assume to be “themselves.” But hard as it may be to fathom, it isn’t a transcendence of self survival altogether.

The reason people paint this issue with a thin brush is to easily side step the depths of what I’m talking about. This is done by dividing the self experience into a superficial or “selfish,” perhaps ego-centric, self idea, often attributing to it ineffective behavior and less than desirable traits, from a “you” that is the one you want to be. In this way you get to keep you pretty much as you are, but adopt a disposition that there’s a “self” separate from you that is somehow bad and to be shunned or transcended. The problem here is the “you” that you consider to be more real or “Being,” isn’t. It is actually self! Self includes all of it, everything that you identify with as you. See how that works? It isn’t the “good” you versus the “bad” you.

I suspect like most, after hearing about this subject, you’ve divided your experience into self and real you, and perhaps call the distinction of real you “consciousness” that is free from self, or some such. Understandable, but wrong. These are both you. And everything you speak about is self. As I’ve said there are a vast array of possibilities within the domain of self survival. As a matter of fact everything you think, see, feel, imagine, or perceive in any way is all in the domain of self-survival. It is the domain of “life” and the “world” in which you live. Do you want to get out of that? Probably not.

This is all very difficult for people to grasp, that’s why I’m taking the opportunity to go into it a bit. People want to make self and self survival a simplistic matter, and it isn’t. You might say it is the most complex matter there is. Simple, but infinitely complex. There is a vast difference between what you think of as your self, and being free from any self. For example, unlike the “warriors” your concerns are totally social in nature; your shift isn’t away from self or survival but from an exclusive self to a more community self. You desire your social relationships to have a different outcome, one that produces harmony or partnership.

You are playing with alternatives to your self survival. Not a bad thing to do. It really helps get some space from particular self attachments, and to become more conscious about what you’re doing as a self. But there’s a huge gap when it comes to understanding what the self principle is really all about. The chances are high that you really have no interest in being free from self — most people who think they do, actually don’t — what you want is a better self, a more ideal self, perhaps a self without so much struggle and pain. But you don’t want to get rid of “you!”

Asking me about my experience in something like fighting is trying to get information that your mind can use to confirm or alter your concepts about how you think all this should work. Doesn’t work that way. There is no way to productively communicate what I experience in such matters since there’s too large a gap between what’s so for me and what’s so for you. This isn’t a put down, it’s just the challenge that faces us. Your mind would relate to anything I said within a context and perspective that would make it something it’s not.

To master fighting of course it is essential to be in the moment, and without concern for winning and losing (the way most people think of it), and free from social survival. In other words, interacting without concern for being humiliated, lose, embarrassment, ambition, greed, glory, fear, worry, internal dialogue, self image, esteem, and everything else that normally plague people’s interactions. Those and more are all born from social concerns. In fighting such concerns are irrelevant and very much get in the way.

So one must learn to be “empty” in a sense, completely attentive, acting faster than one can think, and so on. But this is not free of self or survival. It is, as I’ve said, a shift in state, into a more powerful interactive mode necessary for mastering an immediate psycho-physical interaction such as is fighting. There are also principles to such effective interaction that seem paradoxical to the nature of conflict, such as joining or following, non-judgmental acceptance, and so on. But these have to do with being effective, not seeking a social outcome such as harmony or love. Beyond this we have no common ground in which to communicate successfully.

But an area of confusion we can tackle is the fact that all games are competitive. It’s the nature of games. To interact within a game — in which I include fighting, war, business, as well as monopoly and chess — means there is competition. How you compete may be up for grabs, but that you relate to winning in some form is not. If you’re goal is not to win, in whatever form that takes, then you won’t be playing the game. Winning here simply means pursuing an outcome consistent with your purpose for interacting. For all games you must do this otherwise there is no game. You don’t have to do it the way most people do, but it is that way nevertheless.

Your concern for “trumping” others isn’t about competition, it is about relationship. You confuse competition with all relating in some way, as do most people without knowing it. Given self interests and fears, we end up “competing” with others on all sorts of levels, even when it goes unnoticed. This is a natural tendency of self survival and specifically social self survival. Yet there are other possibilities.

One possibility that we can and do engage is partnership, and what you’re speaking about is likely in that domain of relating. In such relating it is inappropriate to trump someone or to win at their expense, since it’s not about “sides” or merely self interest but the collective interest of all involved. This doesn’t mean there won’t be different views and goals but that these are dealt with collectively to find a way that works for everyone. Without some outcome that works for all involved it isn’t a partnership, or perhaps the envelope of “partner-self” has altered to exclude someone or some view, but then they are excluded from the community, group, or partnership.

Including others within your self concern is a function of grasping that isolating yourself and limiting your agenda to strictly selfish concerns isn’t healthy or ultimately effective. Especially when it comes to living in a world that is empowering, enlivening, connected, and satisfying. This open inclusion, however, is also often misunderstood and some confuse it with neediness, or worrying about other’s views, or trying to “please” everyone, etc., which are just concerns found within one’s own self image and self agenda.

Yet even if it isn’t made into something it’s not, inclusion is still in one’s self interest and an aspect of survival. It’s just more intelligent and effective for community life than limiting yourself to separate self concerns. This direction could be called becoming more mature. If you grasp that the world in which you live isn’t only internal or merely about your personal desires but includes the world around you, then it becomes more obvious that having concern for the world around you is in your self interest.

Anyway, I’ve gone on way too long so will stop here. Thank you for the question. I hope I’ve added to your consideration.

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One thought on “I have always assumed that part of Cheng Hsin martial was to learn to act from not-self, to learn to surrender to what arises in each moment. (A question and response) – Peter Ralston Newsletter

  1. Wow, there is so much in your response. First there are some interesting principles related to what is needed for fighting…things I am not currently doing and have not yet begun to work on.

    Generally, I found myself more confused after reading your response. My state of confusion is a result of undoing, unraveling and taking apart some things I held to be true without replacing them with something else. An opportunity while at the same time leaving me with a feeling of uncertainty. A feeling I have judged as “bad” in the past. A judgement I am learning is related to cultural and societal structures that I have agreed to live within. My agreement (between me and cultural/societal structures needs to change for my judgments to change.

    Therein lies a small part of my confusion. I am unused to living without judgments. Questions to ponder: can I live without them within our world? If yes, how does that manifest? If no, what do I want to replace them with?

    Many thanks for sharing both the question and answer.

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