Forget all sorrows!

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Forget all sorrows!

© Ioni Lazarov, Bulgarian Go Association

When we play, we have the ability to transport ourselves into other worlds. When we play Go, we transport to the best possible world – if we paraphrase the words of the philosopher Leibniz (1646 – 1716). Leibniz is pursuing the theological goal – to show that we live in the best possible world. Volter (1694 – 1778) ironically opposes him and as a result the question remains largely unsolved. And this is so wonderful – to live with unsolved problems – this way every generation has to think with its head and to take up a position on the new-old problems. One of the things that helps us think are “logic games” – and isn’t Go the best of them, which we are hinted at, no matter how incredibly it might sound, by Leibniz himself[1]?

Games are so essential to human society that the Holland philosopher Huizinga brings in the term homo ludens – “the playing man”. In his book of the same name he shows convincingly that games and the process of play are at the root of culture and civilizations. Here we can recall the words of the mathematician Martin Gardner: “These games are so old, as civilization itself, and are so divers as butterfly wings. If we are to consider that not too long ago logic games have been used for “resting” and refreshing of the mind, we can’t help but acknowledge that humanity has used up fantastic quantities of mental energy on them.” From this we can see how important is the intelligent practice of logic games.

Games take up the whole range between “escape from reality” to meditation. In other words in fact we transport and find ourselves in different worlds. It is no accident that there are so many grades and stages in Go – they hint at the various worlds where players reside. Luckily everything is up to the specific person and his choice – what game he has chosen and the way he plays it. So applicable is the proverb: “Tell me what game you play, so I could tell you what kind of man you are”. But after all games are too different to be compared, every game has its own charm.

I’ve mentioned that “logic games” assist the development of thinking and the art of decision-making. But there is more about Go, it is not only logical but intuitive as well. And intuition begins where logic ends. A way to develop intuition is silence and non-thinking (One of the names of Go is shudan – silent communication):

“A monk asked Ye-Shan:

  • What does one thinks about when absorbed in himself ?
  • Thinks of non-thinking – the master replied.
  • How does one thinks of non-thinking? – the monk asked.
  • By not putting his mind on it – the master said.”

            The saying “forget all sorrows”, become one of the synonyms of Go, comes from the treatise “The Essence of Go” by the famous Chinese historian Ban-Gu[2] (32 – 92). There is also said: “As far as it concerns the elegance of playing Go, if you train intelligently you will reach a state when you forget to eat and you’ll be so happy that you’ll forget all your worries and sorrows. If you have such intelligent attitude then Go is right for you and we will value your persistence, because that’s what Confucius thinks of himself.” Ban-Gu means that Confucius (551 – 479) in “Lectures and ratiocinations” explains his behaviour like this: “… he is such a man who puts in so much passion in his studying and research that he forgets to eat, who is so much filled with joy and bliss that he forgets his worries and the signs of the old age.”

            The fragment above and the whole treatise by Ban-Go illustrate wonderfully the research nature of Go, which itself is a Model of the Universe, and the joy of being involved in this vast search. But let’s not fly too high – let’s just recall Woody Allen’s words: “I am fascinated by the desire people of people who want to “get to know” the Universe, when it is hard enough to find your way in Chinatown.”

            Cho Chikun, in “Complete Go introduction”, notes the depth of concentration, achievable when playing Go. An example illustrating this is the surgical operation by the well-known Chinese doctor Hua To (141 – 208). He operates on general Kuan Yu’s shoulder, a historical hero from the “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, while he plays Go. And as a painkiller – the general plays Go.

Here are some of the ancient Chinese treatises on Go: “The gate to all wonders”, “Collection of harmless and recreational games”, “Mystical and amazing Go manual”, “Ode to Go”. 35 poems about Go has been written through Tan epoch alone (618 – 907). At that time China has been the leading country in the world in science, culture, with harmonious relationships between the “three religions” – Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism[3].

In the past Go has been a target of attack from the Confucian scholars, namely because the carefree look of the players, sometimes righteously, sometimes not. There is fundamental criticism in the face of Wei Yao (around 255), three of his arguments are: Go wastes too much time, that could be used for creation of material valuables; Go causes chaos and destabilization in the country; he criticizes that players often start playing in the day and continue on candles[4]. How can we respond to these critics? A society cannot live simply for manufacturing material valuables – we don’t live just for the food; Go is symbolic and ritual game, carrying a whole cultural layer. Go is not a tool for chaos and destabilization. Just the opposite in a stable country it is a means of supporting order and stability – as Tokugava Ieyasu realized it perfectly through the Edo period in Japan, creating the National Go Academy in 1603, and the example of Tan China[5]. What about the “gone with the wind” – that we do not recommend to anyone. Go is not a tool for “killing time”, unlike many others which civilization invented.

There is a Japanese senryu (humorous and ironical verse)[6]:

Saying “just one game”,

            they started playing…

                       That was yesterday.

            Where does the Japanese proverb come from: “The playing Go are late for their parents’ funereal.”? Although there is an anti-Confucian tease in the proverb, maybe it is an answer to the criticism of the strict Confucian scholars, often not seeing further than their hat. Actually the proverb comes from the practice o-shiro go – “the games in the palace”. Each year in the Edo epoch two of the best players have played a game in the shogun’s presence. They had absolutely no right to leave the palace before the game and the related ritual are over. Later the o-shiro go practice has been suspended but the proverb has remained as an expression of the Go passion.

Some of the Confucian[7] scholars want to make games, and Go in particular, look useless[8]. And here comes the koan invented by Huang Zu (around 370 – 300): “What’s the use of the useless?” One never knows – two solution threads come to me.

By the game we are connected with our opponent and thus the game cultivates the sense of humanness – jen (term introduced by Confucius). The sign jen is made of the root “man” and the sign “two”: which means that man is a man, only if connected to another man. The other thread sounds astoundingly modern: by the game of Go we cultivate the “art of decision making in uncertain situations”, which teem in real life.

When we play, we stumble across many other problems. Although noticed in the past they have present-day dimensions. Anatoly Kaprov[9] point out: “Chess is my life, but my life is not just Chess.” To play Go well, being symbolic and associative game, requiring rich imagination it is necessary to pay special attention to life and taking the good and inspiring things from it[10]. Korean master, Cho Hun Hyun, says: “Instead of trying to win every game, I think, that the player has to give his best to make a good game, which he could be proud of. In our life we constantly meet opportunities to take the right path. The same is with Go – opportunities to take the right path are met every move. Life is beautiful, and so is Go”[11]

            The continuous playing is apparent not only when we play but even when we think about the game before or after an actual game. Thoughts about a Go game before and after it are very good and recommended thing, an important stage of the player’s perfection. But when we cross over the reasonable limits the following koan is indicative:

“Two monks were walking on a muddy road. It was raining heavily. When they got to the turn they saw a beautiful girl in silk kimono, who couldn’t get over a big puddle on the road. One of the monks called her and carried her with his hands to the other side. The other monk remained silent all the way to the temple, where they stayed for the night. Then we couldn’t hold it anymore:

  • As monks we don’t get close to women – he said – It is dangerous. Why did you do it?
  • I left the girl on road – said the first monk. – Do you still carry her?”

It can be said that one of the things unifying the examples given in here is the relation to the tensility of time. There is a paradoxical race with time – this is when you sit and meditate and “observe the growth of the rocks”. The process of playing Go is very similar to the observation of rocks’ growth, which is one of the synonyms of meditation.

The situations where we find ourselves in Go are countless – we cannot go through them even in ten thousand lifetimes. That’s why we are left to orientate with some of the Go-proverbs: “In an implausible situation, the implausible move is plausible!”; “Before playing to the left, first play to the right”; “Often the simplest move is the best move”… But there principles are true for life as well and their understanding is a part of the intelligent approach to Go.

Play Go and successfully solve the puzzle and the tangle of problems, until everything comes in place. And then you will feel the realism of the koan: “Wonderful snow – and the snowflakes do not fall just anyplace else!”

 

*****

 

[1]Leibniz explicitly refers to Go and his hypothesis that it was created by wise men for softening the temperament.

[2]Has also written “Hisroty of the Han dynasty” (206 BC – 220 AD)

[3]“San Jiao” – “the three teachings” is the ideology of the integration of the three religions, emerged in the Han epoch and officially accepted in Tan.

[4]In other words inactive and deranged spending of time.

[5]According to Dao Ge Hong (284 – 363) there was a battle “all against all” before the creating of the state. The invention of Go is being related to the creating of the state organization according to popular legends.

[6]William Pinckard, “Some Senryu about Go”, from www.kiseido.com

[7]I mention Confucians because they are perfect for the opposition seriousness-game. But most of the Confucian scholars are very nice, like: Ma Jun (79 – 166), Yan Sun (53 BC – 18 AD) and Ouyang Xiu (1007 – 1072) with great contribution to the development of Go-theory.

[8]“If Dao was not laughed at, it would not be Dao.” Citations from “Tao Te Ching”

[9]A. Karpov is the twelved world chess champion. Here is mentioned a Go article because the realities of Chess and Go are not that different and he himself can play Go.

[10]As it is said in the ancient treatise “Si Qi” (4th century BC): “The totally wise were carefully observing nature. And from what they were seeing they were judging of what they couldn’t see.”

[11]From Malinovski, “Go and human life”

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