In Part 1, I recounted the story of how my first great teacher, Master Tri (“Tree”) Dang, told me that “Accepting Everything”, was the Key to Life. “Accepting” is the complete and unconditional receiving of what’s happening Right Now; and “Everything” is the content of our direct field of awareness — the moment to moment flow of Being Itself. In this Part 2, we continue the story of how Master Tri exemplified and embodied this teaching in the most profound and direct way.
In 1995, a few years after he transmitted the teaching to me, we were once again alone together in the Dojo (School). He greeted me with a soft but weary smile as we sat down on the bench, side by side. I had arrived early to spend time with him and see how he was doing because he had been feeling ill and lethargic for a couple of weeks, and I was worried.
He had recently seen a doctor to get a check up, and the lab results were due back any day. I asked him if he had received them yet, and he paused, let out a heavy sigh, looked me in the eyes and said “My Life is over,…I have cancer…it has already spread and is in my spine.” I was shocked, stunned, and in a state of complete disbelief. He looked at me again and said with a tone of complete acceptance, “My Life is over”. He began to weep softly…
Master Tri passed away 8 weeks later, and although this occurred 25 years ago, the intimate moments we shared regarding his cancer diagnosis are burned into my Mind with a clarity, depth, sadness, and sobering reality that I cannot explain. In retrospect, this was the absolute test of his teaching. Can we each Fully Accept Death — the Death of Beings close to us, as well as our own?
To be clear, “Accepting Everything” doesn’t mean to take in an experience, tell ourselves that we accept it, stow it away somewhere safe in our psyche, and move on with Life. That is just mental gymnastics, denial, and avoidance.
On the contrary, by fully accepting what is happening we become Fully Open and Vulnerable to Receive without any conditions, caveats, or justifications. Complete acceptance doesn’t remove physical or emotional pain and suffering — we feel it deeply and allow the waves to come and wash over us. If we can stay in Presence with a courageous Heart-Mind, the continuous flow of direct experience is allowed to move through us and liberate itself. In this way, we facilitate our own healing while simultaneously participating in the collective healing of others.
Tri accepted his own pending death, but he didn’t just shrug his shoulders, resign himself to his fate, and move on; acting as if nothing had changed. During those final 8 weeks, his Unconditional Acceptance allowed him to Open Fully into deep contemplation of his Life’s Path, with complete vulnerability, and Heartfelt Love. And with Beautiful Synchronicity, by accepting his own death, Tri illuminated a powerful doorway for the community.
We were given the opportunity to open into vulnerability and reflect on our own lives, and the impact he had made on each of us, while freely sharing the depths of our fears, sorrows, joys, and Love — with him and with each other.
As a testament to his integrity, Tri did not turn away from any aspect of his Life. He shared the positive and affirming choices he made as a spiritual path walker and teacher, as well as those he regretted and wished he could take back or relive. As one example, He immediately chose to reconcile with his brother (who was himself a famous Aikido Sensei in Southern California), to heal a family rift that had gone on for decades. Also, because he had never married or had children, he wondered aloud about his ascetic lifestyle and what Life adventures he might have missed because of it. The irony was that he was most child-like, luminous, and effervescent when he was engaging with children at student and family events and gatherings. Both he and the children would light up with delightful spontaneity, playfulness, and laughter.
At the same time he was proud of his principled, disciplined, and uncompromising Life of Budo — The Way of the Spiritual Warrior. He had written several books and made numerous contributions to the martial arts by continuously developing and refining his styles through an ongoing synthesis of life long practice and teaching. He was a renowned Sensei, artist of calligraphy, and Spiritual Friend — and his students LOVED him.
Master Tri lived with mindful acceptance of Life, its Gifts, and Mystery; and he instilled that Accepting Mindset in his students. At the end, because he had refused chemotherapy treatments, he suffered intense physical pain, and he wept openly during last visitations with students and family. It was a Heart wrenching and devastating time for me, his many students, family, and friends. I received the news of his passing as the morning sunlight began to shine through the breakfast room windows, and I began to sob uncontrollably. The impact of his death is still mysteriously unfolding in my own Mindstream, and I am still accepting and receiving with profound gratitude.