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11/25/03


Home______Yoruban-, Sports-, and Zen-Consciousness

In the southwestern Nigeria rain forest live the Yoruba, some twenty million people. Their shamanism is called Wisdom of Nature, or in their term, Ifa.

Ifa holds that consciousness inheres within nature, plants, animals, trees, rocks, people. In it lies a reality of many dimensions. To tap this consciousness the Yoruba sit under an Oroko tree, massive in trunk, with its neighbors forming a canopy to hide the sky. Under the tree live moles, nematodes, microbes; above ground, birds fly, monkeys scramble, leopards stalk. The Yoruba find here the relentless cycle of death and rebirth and expect an altered state of consciousness to arise when they sit under the tree.

Anthropologists term their state possession, although the Yoruba have different words: ini and ogun. The first means I am, the second, medicine. They believe that merging with this consciousness allows them to influence future events. For example, empathy with plants can help crop prediction or foster future harvests.

I do not doubt that their way of knowing would prove a revelation to Westerners who practiced it. That is, pride in highly vaunted Western common sense would be tarnished, although not unseated. (Nor should it be.)

Still, would I take a Yoruba tribesman to a horse race to help me pick a winner? No. Not that I doubt his ability to predict but that, as a scientific experiment, it could not be repeatedly verified. Assume that such prediction has hits and misses, with probability greater than chance that predictive hits outnumber misses. That is good, but not enough to place five grand in the Trifecta on Whodunnit and other thoroughbreds.

Is Yoruban belief alien to Western culture? In a way, no. Sports psychology has rendered a discipline out of views long held by top athletes. They have always understood how to muster mental abilities to win a boxing match, baseball game, or golf tournament. This includes self-picturing successful punches, swings, or strokes. Now highly paid sports psychologists coach them. Among several, one difference between ini & sports is that the Yorubans relate their view to a world as organically conscious while athletes focus on their own minds. Yorubans vis a vis Descartes.

Zen Buddhism has never doubted abilities such as those possessed by the Yorubans. Buddhists even have a term for it, gedo Zen, literally the outside way. It is often practiced to develop supranormal powers or skills, or to master arts beyond the reach of ordinary people. Tempu Nakamura was said to make people act without himself moving a muscle or uttering a word. A gedo practitioner might, in his bare feet, walk on sharp, upturned sword blades. Gedo, however, is not regarded as ultimate Zen practice. Rather, it is often viewed askance as turning the student away from the finger pointing at the moon, the obviousness of Consciousness, and toward personal exploits.

It leads one toward ego, personal consciousness, rather than toward his true nature.

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