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 Post subject: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #1 Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 1:22 pm 
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https://tricycle.org/magazine/the-game-go/

Found this article from 20 years ago on Tricycle. I'm curious what you all think of it.

Personally, I think it's nice to be agreed with, but ultimately the state of the game is pretty far removed from this enlightened ideal these days. The AI revolution has definitely made things worse in this regard, with its emphasis on winrates and grabbing territory early. But online players didn't need AI's help to be unenlightened, with their hatred of handicaps and greedy, violent styles of play.

In contrast however, my games at my local club are very much in line with the spirit of the game espoused in the article. It's very strange to me that this stark separation exists (though I'm very glad that it does).

As much as I'd love to believe otherwise, I ultimately don't think the game of Go inherently pushes players to consider enlightened principles. It provides rich fodder for thinking in that way, provided you already approach the board in that mindset, that much is true I think. But I have plenty of evidence that Go is rather a kind of ultimate playground in which we express our nature and mindset. If that mindset is enlightened, then our play will be enlightened. If our mind is violent and clinging and deluded, then that's the sort of game we'll be playing.

Oh, also, I think if we were really unconcerned with winning and losing, then komi wouldn't include a half point, lol. I'm not sure why we decided we needed blood for it to be interesting. A mutually-interesting jigo is my personal ideal, though I also recognize that that kind of makes me a weirdo.

What do you all think?

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #2 Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 2:58 pm 
Gosei

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Go is a worthwile pastime in itself.

I also always feel good when I spend time with go.

Go is nice solo and in company.

I have a fast intuition, but I am often slow at calculating and reasoning. Go helps me to stay somewhat quick at these tasks.

With Baduk I can communicate with my friends who do not like to talk.

Go is as beautiful and interesting as the rest of the universe, but without the dangers.

We are all going to die, but on the goban there is also Ko.

That is enough enlightenment for me.


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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #3 Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 3:11 pm 
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Well said!

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #4 Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 4:09 pm 
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It's an anecdote I like to tell and you may decide for yourself if it applies to your question.

In 1998 I was living in Lisbon and decided to try Aikido. The master was French, but insisted on speaking Portuguese with a strong accent, while my French was definitely better than my Portuguese as well. Anyway, on one occasion he was teaching how to use the aggressor's energy in your favor as a defender, which is the essence of Aikido, and he urged me to make a fist and hit him on the head. I made a fist and awkwardly brought down my arm above his head, stopping right before touching it. He didn't move: he knew that I wasn't going to actually hit him. "You are not attacking" he said in French Portuguese, "so I don't need to defend. You must genuinely try to hit me, so that I can use your energy and demonstrate the technique". So I landed my arm quickly and firmly onto his head, or rather, right before that happened I was lying down on the ground in agony.

Peacefully going through the motions of a martial art is as remote from the art as can be.


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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #5 Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 5:25 pm 
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I think I see what you're driving at. If I understand you correctly, you're saying that in competition, violence is necessary in order to truly inhabit that mindset correctly, that we shouldn't shy away from fighting or that it doesn't indicate an unenlightened state.

On paper, I don't disagree. By striving towards an ideal of jigo and mutual respect, I don't mean to never fight. And by "violence", I don't just mean contact plays or fighting as a whole. There's still a difference between attacking intent and killing intent, though. Attacking in Go can serve many purposes, including defensive ones, but there's such a thing as wise restraint and mutual respect even in attacking. Which is also true in your anecdote, where the attack was given wholeheartedly because it was asked of you to do so, in full faith that your teacher wasn't going to turn around and just annihilate you.

But I do think it's a measure of just how far gone we are into the mindset of Sirlin-style "play to win" ideology that to even suggest a peaceful resolution is possible brings to mind anecdotes of violence or the urge to double down on fighting.

Any soft-style master, and that includes Aikido, will tell you that we're human beings first and foremost, not weapons.

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #6 Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 6:14 pm 
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I do think the idealized view from the article is hard to maintain but for different reasons.

Violence, aggression, fighting and the like is part of the game. Bots can teach why: you need to play into shapes that bring out the most from your stones, maximize their effectiveness - even if, as is often the case, this leaves them in fights to death with neighbours, or outright sacrificing. There is just no other way without compromising their usefulness.

But the respectful, Japanese-like view of the game is not shared by everyone. There are various reasons, maybe the most important is that Go just doesn't work this way in practice. It lacks the necessary level of strategic consistency. In typical games many unreasonable things happen, and outcomes mostly depend on better reading - or simply better luck.

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #7 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 1:48 am 
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Applebaps, I don't mean this as an ad hominem, but the games you play in your club which you like for their "enlightened/peaceful" style would almost certainly make a stronger player like myself baulk at their inefficiency.

Also when a game appears peaceful to the casual observer ir does not mean there was not s lot of violence below the surface in variations the players read that went unplayed because they both agreed it was too good for one of them.


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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #8 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 9:41 am 
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Uberdude wrote:
Applebaps, I don't mean this as an ad hominem, but the games you play in your club which you like for their "enlightened/peaceful" style would almost certainly make a stronger player like myself baulk at their inefficiency.

Also when a game appears peaceful to the casual observer ir does not mean there was not s lot of violence below the surface in variations the players read that went unplayed because they both agreed it was too good for one of them.


Here's a quote from the linked article:
Quote:
The character of the game encourages players to abandon attachment to getting stronger, as well as to winning, and to focus instead on enjoying the game at their present level.


From this perspective, if a person plays some inefficient moves at their current level, it might be said that enjoyment can be found in those moves that you might balk at.

That being said, I'm not sure I even agree with the author on this point. I find enjoyment in aiming to become stronger :-D

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #9 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 9:48 am 
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Kirby wrote:
That being said, I'm not sure I even agree with the author on this point. I find enjoyment in aiming to become stronger :-D


Agreed. It's more like I find a way to accept that playing at my current level is the only way to get beyond it.

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #10 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 10:51 am 
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Uberdude wrote:
Applebaps, I don't mean this as an ad hominem, but the games you play in your club which you like for their "enlightened/peaceful" style would almost certainly make a stronger player like myself baulk at their inefficiency.

Also when a game appears peaceful to the casual observer ir does not mean there was not s lot of violence below the surface in variations the players read that went unplayed because they both agreed it was too good for one of them.


Ok

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #11 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 10:54 am 
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It seems I don't really fit in very well with the culture of this forum. Y'all take it easy.

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #12 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 11:47 am 
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First of all, I am not sure there exists such a thing like enlightenment. I know that some people like Buddha were supposed to be enlightened, but does history tell the whole truth? What is the part of reality and the part of myth? Some 20 years ago, I used to pratice martial arts and met some well-known experts (9-dan or equivalent). Although they seemed to know and understand a lot about human nature, they looked very human to me, and could be subject to negative feelings like anger, so were very far from behaving like "pure spirits". So why do people believe that praticing martial arts is supposed to bring you enlightenment? IMO, reasons include:

  • To improve, you need to practice a lot, overcome laziness, break bad habits, understand new ideas.
  • At some point, progress becomes slow but you need to continue to pratice and improve one step at a time.
  • You have to stay humble and accept that some people are much stronger than you.
  • To win a fight, you have to be at your maximum level of concentration, speed, etc.
  • You need to control negative feelings of fear or anger so that your mind stays clear.

So, what about go? Well,

  • To improve, you need to practice a lot, overcome laziness, break bad habits, understand new ideas.
  • At some point, progress becomes slow but you need to continue to pratice and improve one stone (or fraction of a stone) at a time.
  • You have to stay humble and accept that some people are much stronger than you.
  • To win a game, you have to be at your maximum level of concentration, make the effort to read more deeply or more widely, etc.
  • You need to control negative feelings of impatience, greed or anger after losing a local fight so that your mind stays clear.

In my case, I don't have any hope to reach enlightenment, nor even to reach a high level, but I am enjoying the journey at a leisurely pace and will continue to do so for some time.

P.S. Of course I like to win, but may also be satisfied after a lost game if I felt I played at my maximum level and found some good moves.

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #13 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 1:23 pm 
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Applebaps wrote:
It seems I don't really fit in very well with the culture of this forum. Y'all take it easy.


Folks have different opinions about stuff, sometimes (you should see some of the arguments I've been in on L19!), but it doesn't meant that we don't fit in the same culture. There are also lots of folks on the forum, and many have varied opinions about different topics, including this one. And sometimes, folks might agree with a perspective, but they just don't post as much - so reading the thread, it can seem like everyone is against you, when that may not be the case.

Anyway, I enjoy your contribution the the forum here, and think you fit in with our weird little culture very much :salute:

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #14 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 2:05 pm 
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I'm not convinced the author of the article fully understands either Buddhism or Go tbh.

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #15 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 3:19 pm 
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Applebaps wrote:
It seems I don't really fit in very well with the culture of this forum. Y'all take it easy.


Forums can be pretty nasty. It's not the best part of the internet. But you may find this forum not the worst around.

I wanted to express that for me fighting is part of the essence of the game. The way YOU want to play is entirely up to you.

Take care!

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #16 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 3:22 pm 
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dust wrote:
I'm not convinced the author of the article fully understands either Buddhism or Go tbh.


From the same page:
Quote:
William S. Cobb is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. He is certified by the Nihon Kiin (Japanese Go Association) as an International Go Instructor. This is an adaptation of an article that originally appeared in The Eastern Buddhist.

William Cobb is also author of “The Empty Board” (See also https://senseis.xmp.net/?ReflectionsOnTheGameOfGo)

… so, I’d assume that he understands more about both Buddhism AND Go at least than I do.

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #17 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 3:27 pm 
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Also, re: playing “peacefully” vs. “fighting style” … a few years ago, a friend from South Korea, 9d [KGS], visited me, and I took him to the Go club in the next big city … he played a few 4 and 5 Dan players and crushed them all, peacefully, calmly, meaning that they didn’t even realize their groups were dead until some time after the moves that sealed their fates. It was amazing to watch. (But then again I’m currently (still) just 9k [OGS], so what do I understand …)

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #18 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 4:12 pm 
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Applebaps wrote:
It seems I don't really fit in very well with the culture of this forum. Y'all take it easy.


I'd like to think the culture of this forum is one in which people discuss Go, can have cordial disagreements, not take offence, and continue contributing. I hope you do.


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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #19 Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 5:44 pm 
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Uberdude wrote:
Applebaps wrote:
It seems I don't really fit in very well with the culture of this forum. Y'all take it easy.


I'd like to think the culture of this forum is one in which people discuss Go, can have cordial disagreements, not take offence, and continue contributing. I hope you do.


Well, you prefixed your comment saying that you didn’t mean the comment to be ad hominem... I can see how it could have caused some offense. This is not to say that I didn’t think your presentation was cordial. But I also think it’s wrong to say that someone can’t take offense.

I don’t think your comment was wrong, per say. I probably have a similar opinion. People take things differently, and that’s also ok :scratch:

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 Post subject: Re: The Game of Go and Enlightenment
Post #20 Posted: Fri Dec 20, 2019 1:20 pm 
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This is something that I struggle with myself, especially as I try to reach dan level. I am a peaceful player by nature and I enjoy playing "negotiating" rather than "fighting" games. But I think it is essential, not just for playing strength but also for understanding of the game, to realize that underneath the negotiation there is always the possibility of a fight breaking out, and all of those fights, whether played out or implicit, involve tactics and violence. In any pro game that looks peaceful, every player is still trying on every single move to play the maximally efficient move in an all-out struggle; they just thought that in that game the best moves were the ones that were quieter (on the surface).

I think that by the time people reach dan level they generally have to be pretty balanced in their approach, and be able to scratch and claw when it's called for, but it's very possible to get to SDK level and still shy away from fighting (ask me how I know!), and I think it really holds one back both in strength and in appreciation. Knotwilg's anecdote really resonated with me for that reason.


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