Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Caravaggio, Narcissus 1599Image via Wikipedia

We live in a country where the word "Master" has a lot of selling power. You have people calling themselves Reiki "Ma$ters", Qigong "Ma$ters", all kinds of martial arts "Ma$ters". What does this word really mean? Can anyone truly call his or herself a "master" and be truthful about it?

The Mistake of Mastery
I believe we Americans have a cultural obsession with being "good" at things. I know I have had this for a long time. In the past, I have gotten a lot of my feeling of self-worth from how "good" I was at one thing or another. This is something that starts early: "Oh, you're such a good pooper!" Is something that all children hear. We learn that we get love when other people see that we're accomplishing something to their standards. Later, we adopt these standards for our own, and feel good when we are living up to them.This is why Narcissism is so rampant in our society. Narcissus fell in love with his image, and that's what killed him. He stared into that pool for his whole life, and never was able to really move and be alive. Our culture is obsessed with images in much the same way. We have our models, ideal image of beauty, We have the image of what it means to be successful, all kinds of images that people strive for. Unfortunately, this tends to leak over into areas where it is not appropriate.

What happens when you, deep down, NEED to be good at something that, by definition, you can never be good at? We have a saying in Wujifa "There is no end to feeling, understanding, and being aware." The Buddhists talk about "Beginner's Mind." Both of these are warnings about putting stock in achievement. Both of these statements suggest that there is always more to learn, and that "mastery" is a concept that may not hold a lot of water.

We tend to hold up achievement as a guiding light. The formula goes like this: study, achievement, retirement. Once you say "I'm good at this" (achievement) there is a danger of ceasing to be curious about it, to explore it, and to realize that what one understands is merely only a certain level of awareness.

What it means to be a Master
When someone says "I'm a master at this or that" it is meaningless. Since there is no end to feeling, understanding, and being aware, there is no point at which it's beneficial to say "I've got this! I understand this!" because it's always just a point in development, never an ending.

For me, each person is a master. We are masters of our own destiny, and we can choose how we will live our lives. A master is not someone who has reached a certain level of skill, or of understanding. A master is not someone who takes a weekend class and pays $400. I believe a master is a person who has put time into something, who maintains their fascination with that thing, and who always sees how far they still have to go down the path. I don't believe this kind of person would ever say "I have mastered my skill!" But they may look at someone who is learning and say "I remember when I was there too, let me help you a little further down the road."
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  1. Master is or can be ambiguous in the meaning.

    Slave and Master is one way of understanding the term. Master can suggest skill like in golf the "Masters." I believe both can be true. Master in terms if respect... Although most masters like being called teacher. Parents are teachers and little one may not know what is safe so the parent or teacher as the master tells them not to or to for example do your chores befor you go out and play. Families have a certian structure and roles. Maybe respect.

    I like what you say about being responsible ones own master as you say... And yet I also Tom Hanks when he gave his award to his high school drama teacher for getting him started. Respect and responsibility... Have many roles

    Yet I remember a teacher who told me that I mastered something, to be honest I don't remember what it was. Anyway as a side note I was talking to a friend who practiced Zen for many years and lived for many years in the Japan... He said the word master is used in a couple ways and that the term many times simply means one has mastered the basics.

    So we need parents, teacher, others to watch over us and take responsibility for us... Many of us will hold these people dear our whole life fir their willingness to share and help us. Also we need to notice we are responsible as well for our "sevles" as we do not always have other watching over us... As we grow up. The third point is that sometimes master simply means a basic understanding of the basics.

    I agree with you when someone takes a weekend course and masters the basics... And instead of owning that they need to take responsibility for what they do... Command respect from others. On the other hand theirvare some parents and teachers who don't understand their responsibility to thier children and student and put it all on them. Their is an interesting aspect to how people engage or avoid with "certian" ambiguites...

  2. Absolutely, I think it's important to respect the skills of others who are further down the path, and to appreciate the teachings that we have received. I do prefer the word "teacher" to master.

    What I'm talking about here is more about people who use the word "Master" to inflate their own egos or to make money. OR people who stop learning when they feel they have "mastered" something.

    Having written this whole post, I think there are some instances where it is appropriate to use the word master, but I believe this only works as a sign of respect. I don't think anyone should call his or herself a "master", but could be called a master by others.

    Words can be ambiguous, yes. Sometimes I'm not comfortable with how those ambiguities are used. That is why I wrote this post.

  3. Yes... I like this post too! You have a masterful skill in sharing your insights and I really enjoy reading your blog here. I think about Jesus after all Easter is this coming Sunday. Jesus the master Jesus opens his heart and shares himself with the world. I think heart has a lot to do with mastering and being masterful... Like I said beforevI really enjoy reading your writings... You feel your passion, heart and soul is in there... Exposing more of ourselves... and sharing with others.... How wonderful! Thank you... For blogs like these are a real blessing as well.

  4. Hi Dan,

    I like verbs. I'd rather be focused on mastering, or being enlightening, than get stuck on being a master or enlightened.

    Of course, a lot of people like claims and titles, and other people like to attempt to knock over those who claim or who have titles.

    It's the real essence and ability that matter.

    Have a great day my friend!

    Mr Twenty Twenty
    Whooo yah!

  5. Hahaha... you got me 20, I get my Jollies knocking stuff down sometimes. It's like when I was a kid, I loved building up high towers with blocks, and then pushing them over.

    Thanks for the check.

    Great to count you among my friends, too.