The list of my beliefs is pretty short, but it does include some ideas from Taoism and Zen. A thing I believe in is Ki (or Chi) 気, concentrated willpower. Ki is basically when you allow your intuition to flow directly to your actions, without hesitation or pause.
This occurs in martial arts, for example Aikido. In the middle ages the Samurai were the ruling class in Japan, so the Buddhist monks made efforts to educate them. The idea was that you don’t want to be ruled by ignorants. Zen merged with the Japanese martial arts, until it was impossible to say where one ends and the other starts.
“The sword cutting,” monks explained, “is like the strike of a flint. A flash appears at once; since the sparks appear the moment you strike the flint, there is no gap, nor interval!” This channelling of Ki is described in “The Capacity to Act in a Flash”, as part of Immovable Wisdom of the Buddhas.
The same is true in drawing and calligraphy. Ki is the gesture, line of action, life-force of the brush (or the sword). This is what gives beauty to artwork; Like the one below.
Nakahara Nantenbō, Enso (Circle)
I should say that Ki is no magic. It’s just good concentration. There is a set of ninja scrolls, the Bansenshukai, which explains that astrology is pseudo-science and not reliable; Magic is not to be trusted. And there are different opinions about this, I know only one of the Ninja scrolls. It teaches astrology and magic as reverse-psychology. If your enemy believes in astrology this can be used to strike fear and design subversive tactics. Bansenshukai 萬川集海, i.e. “Many rivers merging into the ocean,” is the Ninja manual of the Iga and Kora medieval kingdoms presented as gift to the Shogun.
As an aside, there was superstition that Yin energy is evil. A vampire, or ghost, or nightmare Ranma is completely Yin. Living people are always a mixture of the two energy types. In the anime Ranma ½, these two energies were separated, and the character Ranma switches between boy Ranma and girl Ranma due to a curse.
Zen & Tao
Zen Buddhism was imported from classical China, so has always been heavily influenced by Chinese Taoism. There is a kind of “God” in Taoism who has no gender. Tao (or Dao, Do) 道 is not he/she, it is the physical law governing the Universe. From the vast Universe logically proceeds the planet Earth. From the planet proceeds the interplay of Yin/Yang (Female and Male) energy. These two energies are always fluid, in a state of interplay. Yin and Yang energies together give birth to the living creatures. We are one of the creatures, nothing special ’bout us. So it goes like this: Tao → Universe → Earth → Yin/Yang → Humans, and other creatures.
This is also the Taoist explanation why people are attracted to the same sex, which was well known in ancient China. Men who have high Yin (more feminine guys) will naturally seek a man with high Yang (very macho) as their partner, to preserve the Yin/Yang balance. Similarly a high Yang woman (very strong and manly) will seek a very gentle woman as her partner. This doesn’t explain all modern forms of sexuality but it was well ahead of its time.
How do you describe the Tao? It is beyond understanding, but we can make comparisons with things we know and understand. Water is similar. So we say, “Tao is not powerful. Tao is not jealous. Tao is weak, like water flowing to the lowest places. Because it flows to the lowest places it always succeeds in reaching the ocean.”
Buddhist Reincarnation (i.e. law of karma)
All forms of Buddhism, and not just Zen, teach reincarnation… it’s not necessary to believe it. Basically, if you do not believe in reincarnation, Buddhism becomes a humanist philosophy. If you do believe, it becomes a gentle religion. Nobody is damned in Buddhism. When you die, all your life dissolves into the constituent Yin/Yang energy and returns to the Earth. You are reborn as another creature according to your good or bad deeds. It is considered unfortunate to be reborn as animal, because animal spirits have a long way to go before they can reach the Pure Land of your chosen Buddha. This is the paradise, after many reincarnations. If you are exceptionally good you may become a Bodhisattva or Buddha yourself.
One controversial aspect of this culture is the Samurai readiness for death. It is said, “A man’s life is like the morning dew on a blade of grass. The droplet evaporates by noon, life ends; Nothing is lost and nothing is gained.” This was a dangerous teaching! It was used both for good, and for bad. To use it for good is to abandon all your fears and be happy. However, Samurai warriors entered a frenzied state during battle because of this teaching. Imperial Japan twisted it to create the Kamikaze warriors, who are not ethical from modern point of view, but were considered honourable at the time. Check out my article about The Five Elements if you want to learn about the element Emptiness (Void).
Queer Gods & Spirits
This balance of Yin/Yang is tilted according to your gender (more Yin for women, more Yang for men). Furthermore, this balance is different for gay people. Tu Er Shien 兔兒神, the Rabbit God (known as Ta Yeh 大爺, The Master) is the Taoist god who protects gay love. He has a temple in Taiwan, where single gay men can ask him to help find a lover! He is the gay alternative to Yue Xia Lao Ren 月下老人, the matchmaker god. Yue Xia Lao Ren apparently is very confused when gay people ask him to match them with the same sex.
There is something similar in Buddhism, where gender-fluid Avalokiteshvara and transgendered Kuan Yin 觀音 are Bodhisattvas of compassion.
To sum up:
1. Taoists believe in a universal way of the Universe, the Tao. There are good influences and not good; good places, and not good. Generally “evil” is the absence of Tao, something that forgot why it lives and what is its purpose. You have to trust your instincts, always follow your gut feeling.
2. I do believe in clarity of intention. This also is Tao, it is logic, you have to clarify your goals logically.
3. Ki is concentrated will. It is the good form of art and war; It is good way of doing things. In a similar vein, Confucius described the importance of proper ceremony, music and correct “from” of everything in life.
4. There is innate power and strength in nature’s creatures. Humans are not “the chosen ones”, we are just one of the creatures. From the point of view of the Tao, there is no difference between a human, or an ant. Tao is equally in the human, in the ant, and in a blade of grass.