Zen article on Master Hughes
PATRICK BUTLER, Religion Writer
The national meditation center for World Peace in Jacksonville is not an expansive, sprawling complex.
It is not richly adorned with artifacts on the walls. It does not have a large parking lot - it doesn't even have many symbols on the exterior that shout religion of any kind, except for a small, stone water basin with a rock in the center of it on the side of the building. Every Buddhist knows what the water is for.
There isn't much to the very basic structure of the center, but it has this: the Sensei, or teacher, in charge is very serious about what he's doing and committed to the path of excellence. Everything about the simplicity of the place lends itself to that focus, which is a key word in the Buddhist practices.
Master M.J. Hughes, 47, the tall Sensei of the martial arts, and director of the center for the last 17 years, appears perpetually enthusiastic about life. He loves the benefits of the discipline and focus in the lives of his students, who primarily come to the center to benefit from his 30 years of study in the martial arts, 7th Dan level black belt and master instructor rating in Jujitsu.
"I'll try to explain Buddhism to you," he says laughing, "but it's not all that easy to understand. It's not that hard either, but it is different from what most people around here are used to."
A native Texan, who holds an associate’s degree from Lon Morris, a bachelors in criminology and a masters in technology and development from The University of Texas at Tyler, Hughes became interested in the East and Eastern perspective when his father was stationed in Asia during the Vietnam war.
"He sent many interesting items home from Asia and that got me intrigued into who these people were," he said. "He also was my first Jujitsu teacher and got me started in the martial arts."
Hughes, dressed in his red-trimmed black Kujudogi, (pronounced Koo-doh-gee) surveys the basketball-court-sized interior of the building. Black is the symbol of poverty in Zen. The red trim is the school's color for the women students, and he is their teacher, so he wears both colors.
"Normally you wouldn't have the martial arts mat in the same room where you mediate, but we're Zen Buddhists," he laughs, "so we're flexible.
Starting with the basics, Hughes interprets the Buddhist philosophy.
"First, its important to understand that Buddha is not God," he said. "You don't worship Buddha. What the word literally means is to 'awaken' or 'the essence.' The idea is that one can find the essence through reflection and mediation."
There are some key words in Buddhism to be aware of, he said. "A Dharma is a general teaching. A Sutra is also a teaching, but it's a specific written one," he said. Nirvana literally means to 'extinguish the fire.'"
There are three main character qualities the center focuses on that reflect Asian and Buddhist thought, he said "Honor, respect and humility."
"For instance, in the Asian culture, you don't call people by their first names," he said. "As a teen, I studied martial arts under Master Kim for years and I still refer to him that way, out of respect."
There are forms of Buddhism like there are denominations of churches, he said.
"I lean towards Zen," he said," because it lacks hierarchy and that appeals to me. One of the main ideas in Zen," he said, "is 'the moment.' The moment is special. "You seize the moment because there is really no present," he said. "Time is fluid and keeps moving, the present is gone before you realize it. In meditation we try to seize the moment, which is what the word 'Haiku' means, like the poem. A good Haiku freezes a moment in time. You can read a Haiku from 1,000 years ago, and it will let you experience what the writer was going through in that moment of time." It's that aspect of revelation that cannot be taught to others, he said.
"In Zen you could study forever and not understand the Sutras," he said. Which leads to the concept of what a "teacher" is in Zen. "No person who practices Zen should ever want to become a teacher," he said. "That's not the goal. I didn't aspire to be a teacher. There is no such thing as Buddhist certification. That's why you don't see licensing agencies all around that pump out Zen teachers. I became a teacher out of necessity because, for East Texas, we're it when it comes to having a meditation center. Our intent was to start a temple, not gather power for myself. We try not to create a lot of hierarchy."
Asian philosophy and illustration is unique for creating understanding, he said. It starts people thinking about meaning. "For instance," he said, "one story goes that two monks come to a river and they meet a woman who cannot cross it. The old monk carries the woman across. As they go on their way, the young monk says, 'I cannot believe you dared to touch a woman.' The old monk replies, 'It is not I who still carries her.'" There is a high value placed on individual perception and revelation, he said.
"Zen is highly intuitive. We try to avoid condemnation," he said. "In order to 'see,' you have to experience it yourself. That is actually why the martial arts are part of it." "Jujitsu is a vehicle for intuition development," he said. His wife, Aime Hughes, born in the Philippines, and son Dano Shen, 5, come to the mat to help give illustrations.
"Jujitsu is called 'the gentle art' Hughes said. "The emphasis is not on force, like in sport Karate. The idea is," he said, while deftly moving out of the way of a thrown fist by Mrs. Hughes, "not to overcome force with force, but be like water." The diminutive Mrs. Hughes then throws the much larger Master Hughes to the mat, using the force of his own motion to unbalance him as he comes directly at her.
"True power is ultimately not physical," he said getting up. "The object is to think and understand. Jujitsu teaches that there are more way to approach things, and helps the students get confidence, become the master of themselves and turn them into leaders."
The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism is called the 'way' and is defined as cultivating certain character qualities.
"We strive for right view, right intention, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration," he said. People come to the meditation center for a variety of reasons, Hughes said. "When we started years ago, I was only training law enforcement officers and prison guards in martial arts. They were so happy about it, they brought their kids and the word got out," he said. "Soon we had all sorts of kids coming and then abused women and girls who needed their self-esteem and confidence built up too." The training helps settle problems of many types, Hughes said.
"Most young people come for the martial arts training," he said. "We keep the meditation and Buddhism separated from that for the most part. Other people bring their youth here because the kids have ADD (attention deficit disorder), or they want the focus and quiet for their kids that our philosophy brings them. For the abused women, working with men who have proper respect for them is healing just in itself," he said. Buddhism is called the middle path, Hughes said, between asceticism and mysticism. "This is what the Buddha did," he said. "He helped us get started because there is so much more in finding truth and awakening. Life is a long process and there are no quick sayings to make it 'micro-waved' into quick perfection. We are such an impatient society."
One thing that people don't understand about Buddhism is their view of Christians, Hughes said. "There is no prohibition in Buddhism about being a Christian at all," he said. "As far as we're concerned, you can go to church all you want, and worship God any way you see fit."
His martial arts students range anywhere from age 7 up to 18. He also teaches some adults. "I judge that I have a 90 percent success rate with the kids, who often come to me from underprivileged homes, have terrible self-identity problems, or have even been referred to me by doctors," he said.
"When you have someone say to you, 'you did so much for me to help me in my life,' that is what really is gratifying to me and makes life worthwhile," he said. "That's better than gold. Why make yourself crazy chasing material things all your life, when the real gold is right in front of you?" The wall of his office is papered with commendations, degrees and certificates of thanks for community service.
One from 2002 is from Gov. Rick Perry, for 'remarkable volunteer service' and for standing 'as a sterling example to all in our great state.' Perry's certificate said "I commend your commitment and your generosity." There are many others he has that he never bothered to put up, he said.
"For 17 years we've been focused on community service," he said. "That's just who I am. I just love to help people, and that's what life is all about to me." The Asian community is growing in East Texas, he said.
"There are hundreds of people from the Philippines, right here in Cherokee County, he said. "There are people from Vietnam, Cambodia and China. There are a lot more here than you think," he said.
And some feel lost in East Texas. "Asians and Buddhists are really quiet people as a rule," he said. "They're not going to say much, or attract attention to themselves. Some are afraid to say that they're Buddhists because they fear reprisals. Some fear they will lose their jobs."
The temple attracts many of those types of people on a rotating basis, he said. "We've always been open for those people to come and go, as they need us, as they want to come. Everyone is invited. That's what the stone and water in the front are all about."
The bamboo cup and water that can be found in temples throughout Asia are symbolic for anyone who wants to come and cleanse themselves at the temple. The water is poured over the rock as a sign of willingness to be cleansed spiritually.
"Anybody is welcome," he said. "This place is here to help people take responsibility for their lives. We're here to continue on the path."
Patrick Butler covers religion. email: firstname.lastname@example.org