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What is the “Secret” in Secret Teachings ?2012.01.23

    One of the things about the East that has always fascinated the West is the idea and discipline of Secret Teachings. Of course the West has its own Occult tradition, meaning Hidden Teachings, and it is an irony or accident of language that the word Hidden is similar in pronunciation and meaning to the Japanese word Hiden (秘傳 or 秘伝).

    Hiden are found not only in religion, but also in the martial arts and in traditional craftsmanship. It is widely assumed to be that the inner secrets of the art are only revealed to selected disciples who have proved their merit and dedication over decades of practice.


    Traditionally the reasons for this were to protect the school’s identity, livelihood, or even safety. However, today there is a monthly magazine published in Japan on the Hidden Teachings of the Martial Arts called Gekkan Hiden (, and many arts and techniques that were once closely guarded can be viewed by anyone on YouTube.


    What is going on here? Has the Asian secret tradition been massively exposed? What significance does it have that once hidden teachings are now out in the open?


    If you look closely into these arts and crafts, and if you follow one intensively for several decades, you become aware that the teachings have always been out in the open. That which has hidden them from you is your own lack of awareness, readiness, or desire to discover.


    The transmission of the teachings is no secret

    On the hearer, not the master does it depend

    How soon the student forgets

    Because of the time so unwilling to spend


    In another sense they have always been hidden, and are only revealed when they are expressed in some small way in words, arts, and deeds.


    This aspect only increases the fascination, because unlike conventional education with its tests, graduations, and certifications, the study of Secret Teachings is an endless path, and a gateless gate. It can be enjoyed and appreciated across generations, and there is always room for a renaissance of discovery. A famous Confucian saying has it that we should find something new in the old (温故知新 onko chishin), and that is how it should be.


    There is no room for pride in such knowledge, because each discovery is only a partial view, a vantage point along the way. Master teachers measure their student’s understanding in part by the way they perform their arts, but also by observing the way that they walk and carry themselves in daily life.


    A person who has stopped learning has a certain hardness about them. They walk with a swagger, look down on other people, and show little interest in learning something new. They forfeit the ability to lead others, because they themselves have stopped moving.


    Although the teachings may be quite serious, there is no need to always take them so seriously. Most of the arts and crafts of Japan have been influenced by Zen, and it is possible to enjoy them on many levels. You can appreciate Zen-inspired pottery without having to practice Zen meditation, and you can be moved by a demonstration of a martial arts master without having to train in a dojo yourself. Just to remember that your enjoyment and appreciation will probably only go as deep as your practice.


    This process of transmitting culture is one of the missing ingredients in conventional education, leading people to stop learning as soon as they get out of school. Learning and teaching could be one of the greatest pleasures in life, if it weren’t made so tedious by the people who have stopped learning themselves.



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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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