Sunday, September 02, 2007





Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dropping Off the Middle Way

Ultimately, in pursuing stillness without fixity, there may be muddy forest tracks, steep stairways, and long and winding roads, but there is no such path as the middle way.

The tendency to fix, in contrast, is tangible, concrete, real and ever present. All I have to do is tell myself: Sit still!, and there he is -- my old friend Fixity, born of fear, my one truly constant companion, stiff-necked and narrow-backed, always inviting me to get to know him.

Fixity, born of fear, is the Zen disease. I hope that I am one of those sufferers who, in small increments, sees it more clearly.

In his true-Dharma-eye treasury, Gautama Buddha bequeathed to us a conscious means of waking up to blind fixing, and an open invitation to spring free from fear. That is my strong conviction.

When Jeff Bailey left Gudo and returned to the US nearly 20 years ago, I was afraid that my behaviour might have been a factor in Jeff’s decision, and I phoned Jeff up to express my concern. Jeff assured me that it was not so. “Sensei is a closed system,” Jeff told me then.

I did not accept Jeff’s conclusion, and I still do not accept it. Gudo is a human being. He is not a closed system. He is an open human system, who has a very strong will to the truth, but at the same time a strong wrong tendency to be fixed in his views. Jeff’s conclusion seemed to me to be defeatist and at odds with the fundamental bodhisattva vow. I took a different view: To the extent that Gudo had wisdom to teach me, I would endeavor to learn from him. To the extent that my understanding was more clear than Gudo’s, I would endeavor to teach him. That is the viewpoint that I have maintained for more than 20 years. To say that I have changed direction in recent times is not true.

This blog, which was instigated as a response to Gudo’s opening of Dogen Sangha blog, has been part of my effort to teach Gudo. I have tried to clarify what the wrong unconscious tendency is that I know from bitter experience exists in Gudo’s sitting-zen teaching -- the tendency to fix. I expected that, if I could succeed in this, although I may never forgive Gudo for killing our translation partnership, reconciliation between us might be possible. Gudo’s decision might then naturally follow, like day following night, to make me his successor, in accordance with his intention all those years ago.

I seem to have failed totally and utterly. Still, as a result of my stupid efforts over the last couple of years, something has become much more clear to me. I have become more aware than I was before of a wrong unconscious tendency in me. In my holding of strong views about the origin and stopping of fixity, and in my fearful and sometimes bullying attempts to uphold and propogate those views, I tend not to flow; I tend to fix.

Anybody heard any good jokes recently?





Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coming Back to the Middle Way

To sit upright and still in the full lotus posture, as Gautama taught, with head shaved and body enfolded by a traditionally-sewn robe, is a very physical thing.

To do this physical thing WITHOUT stiffening the neck, WITHOUT pulling in the head, WITHOUT arching and narrowing the back, and WITHOUT fixing the jaw, shoulders, hips, et cetera, is, in the words of FM Alexander, “the most mental thing there is.”

So, inherent in sitting-zen as I have come to practice it, as my 25-year journey has led me to practice it, and as I have endeavored to clarify it on this blog, are two opposing viewpoints of what the practice is -- physical and mental.

Did Eihei Dogen understand sitting in the full lotus posture as the dropping off of both viewpoints?

Yes, he did. Therefore he wrote:

“Practice physical sitting in the full lotus posture.
Practice mental sitting in the full lotus posture.
Practice body-and-mind-dropping-off sitting in the full lotus posture.”

Did Gautama Buddha understand sitting in the full lotus posture as the dropping off of both viewpoints?

Yes, of course he did. His teaching of a middle way between irreconcilable opposites might have been intended not only as a touchstone for philosophers of the third world view, politicians of the third way, and other would-be leaders of mass movements, but also as a kind of solace, through the ages, to the odd lonesome beggar or broken-hearted loser who sat in the full lotus posture.

This blog does not seem to have attracted any kind of a mass following, much to the disappointment of me with my stupid expectations, but one non-blogger wrote to me in a private email that he thought some of the recent posts and comments on this blog were “the dogs bollocks.” Coming from somebody who is content just to get on quietly with enjoying his own sitting-zen and living his own life, this feedback really meant something to me. Maybe my unskilled efforts to clarify the fundamental meaning of the middle way haven’t been completely in vain.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Going Beyond the Middle Way

Really the whole point of this blog, since its inception in November 2005 in response to Gudo’s starting up of Dogen Sangha blog, has been to clarify for self and others the principle of spontaneous flow in what Gautama called “the middle way” of sitting in the full lotus posture, easily, joyfully, fearlessly.

Gudo’s principle is non-thinking. Alexander’s principle is non-doing. I have been enormously fortunate to be taught these two principles by teachers who have devoted their whole lives to the clarification of these two principles.

The two are diametrically opposed to each other, and so, although I have struggled to reconcile the two viewpoints that both seemed to me to be the truth itself, no reconciliation has been possible at all.

In the process of my struggle, the mirror principle has become increasingly evident to me. I have come to see more clearly how, when human beings are afraid, we tend to act not in accordance with reason. We tend to project our own inner demons onto others. This is just how we human beings are. Both Gudo and Marjory have expressed to me their fear that the principle they have striven to clarify and to adhere to, might be lost.

In the end, however, when we learn sitting in the full lotus posture as truly a backward step, then body and mind spontaneously drop off, and it is originally neither non-thinking nor non-doing.

There is inherent in this world something so valuable that even we human beings, in our fear and stupidity, cannot lose it.

Marjory no longer adheres to the principle of non-doing. She gave it up on December 6th, 2006. In the not-too-distant future Gudo will relinquish the principle of non-thinking.

I think that, for the moment, I’ve said just about everything I wanted to say.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Truth Will Out in the End

When I started working as a professional Japanese-English translator in 1989, after Michael Luetchford got me a job at a company called Japan Convention Services, only then did I finally get round to buying the big green Kenkyusha Japanese-English dictionary. For years before that I used to go to Gudo’s office, sometimes several times a week, and ask him the meaning of any Japanese terms in his blue Shobogenzo books that I didn’t understand. Why trust a dictionary? I thought, when I could get it straight from the horse’s mouth.

Between 1982 and 1990 I lived in a flat in Sugamachi, about a ten-minute bicycle ride from Ida Company HQ in Iidabashi, where, from 1983 onwards, Gudo’s office was. (Before that the office was further away, in Asakusabashi.) From the local Marusyo supermarket I would buy notebooks with lines of squares designed to help children practice writing, and in these children’s notebooks I would write out sentences from Shobogenzo in pencil, and mark bits I wanted to ask about in red ink. There is a film record of me doing just this from a 1989 BBC documentary called “Turning Japanese” in which my life in Tokyo was featured. With my children’s notebook of questions, and Gudo’s blue book containing Master Dogen’s original text and and Gudo’s translation/interpretation in modern Japanese, I would cycle down to Gudo’s office to ask my questions. I would phone him up and ask if he was free, and the answer was invariably, “Oh, please come!” Rarely I would have to wait an hour or two for a business meeting to finish, but there was never a case of “I don’t really feel like it today -- I am not in the mood.” Just “Oh, please come.” I would sit there in the office slavishly dictating Gudo’s answers to my questions, and then cycle back home and type up my notes onto a personal computer.

After I got married and moved out to Bushi on the outskirts of Tokyo, where we lived from 1990 to 1994, I used to write my questions on the meaning of Shobogenzo in thick felt pen on A4 sheets and fax my questions in to Gudo’s office, and he, in similar style, used to fax the answer’s back.

I thus asked questions on the meaning of Shobogenzo almost non-stop from the time I first met Gudo in the early summer of 1982 right through to 1994 when Shobogenzo Book One was published. Over this 13 years of questionning, I must have asked Gudo several thousand questions on the meaning of Shobogenzo.

Incidentally, between 1986 and 1988 I would go to Gudo’s office on Thursday afternoons to take his dictation of Shinji-Shobogenzo, and then accompany him to his Japanese lectures of Shinji-Shobogenzo in Asakusabashi. Back in my flat, I would sit at the computer, basically transcribing the dictation, but with one eye also on the original text. I felt the fact that I had sat there absorbing the Japanese lectures somehow lent more authenticity to the work. By the spring of 1988, I had transcribed most of the 301 koans, but I then gave up work on the Shinji-Shobogenzo dictation in order to concentrate on Shobogenzo itself. If you read the published version of Shinji-Shobogenzo, you won’t find my name featured too prominently. Apparently this was because, by the time the work was published, Gudo had forgotten who it was that began taking the dictation -- he thought it had been Jeremy Pearson. Michael Luetchford and Jeremy Pearson completed the project without supposing the amount of work that I had put into it. (This is not to take anything away from the considerable effort they evidently put into the project themselves.)

I digress. In the spring of 1988, while I was in Thailand, Gudo wrote me a letter asking me for my full cooperation with the Shobogenzo translation. He asked me for five years. I gave him those five years, and more. In return Gudo started paying me a “scholarship” of Y50,000 per month. This scholarship continued even after I returned to England at the end of 1994, and didn’t stop until around the time that Gudo wrote me a letter -- I think it was towards the end of 1996 or in early 1997 -- expressing his hope that I would “come back to Buddhism.”

In addition to the scholarship, in view of my desire to provide for two sons born in 1991 and 1993, Gudo generously agreed to forego his half of the money which we received for the translation from the Japan Foundation.

Our translation partnership was a totally joint effort. “Fifty-fifty” in Gudo’s own words, but those words didn’t do it justice. The fundamental principle of the partnership, as I understood it, was that of the mutual veto. Neither side was allowed to change the translation text without the consent of the other.

This was the fundamental rule of our partnership that I never, ever, expected Gudo to break. Why would he need to? If he wanted me to correct some mistake I had made, all he had to do was ask. But in 1997, during the final editing of Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo Book 3, Gudo decided to break the rule. Apparently he felt he needed to put his foot down, lest some stupid person adulterated the pure, practical teaching of Master Dogen with a different kind of knowledge, borne of “Western intellectual civilization.” (Heard any good jokes recently? Spotted any examples of the mirror principle?)

Breaking the rule wasn’t a mere oversight on Gudo’s part. There was a meeting in Tokyo in which a conscious decision was taken to make changes to the text without consulting me in England. The meeting was initiated, as I understand it, by Michael Luetchford. But the decision to blank me was taken in the end by Gudo himself, together with Michael Luetchford, and overriding the objections of Jeremy Pearson.

When I heard from Jeremy what had happened, several months later, after Book 3 was already published, I went into shock. I couldn’t believe it had happened. I gave up translation work and retreated into my own sitting-zen/Fukan-zazen-gi. At the same time, I retreated into denial.

Now then, how can I spring this 47-year old body of mine, which is ordinarily governed by a dodgy vestibular system, totally free from denial?

A very interesting question.

Before trying afresh to ask it well, I wouldn’t mind forty winks.

The Mirror Principle Revisited Again

• Almost 800 years ago, Master Dogen wrote that the student may be compared to a piece of wood and a true teacher to a skilled carpenter.

• A couple of weeks ago, Gudo wrote on his blog his suspicion that one of the joint translators of Shobogenzo would like to erase the name and efforts of the other.

• Then Michael Luetchford indicated that Gudo seems to be becoming a sad old man who is losing the mind in confusion.

• Michael Luetchford wrote further that Mike has in recent times turned against Gudo.

• Then James Cohen wrote that while some students of Gudo, including himself quite often, can express Master Dogen’s wisdom, students of Gudo in general need to show more compassion. (Heard any good jokes recently, Jimbo?)

• Yesterday I protested that a good teacher should not try to teach others using bullying and intimidatory means, because fear fucks up the learning process.

• Responding to my protestations, Jeremy Pearson wrote me that Gudo was never a bully to him. Jeremy added that he always feels grateful for what Gudo taught him, and that anyone that knows me also knows that I too feel grateful to Gudo.

Just reflections.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Show some emotion; Put expression in your eye...

A “Zen Seminar in English” at the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai HQ in Mita, Tokyo, in February or March 1984. In questions and answers after Gudo’s lecture on Shobogenzo, with ideas far above my station, I thought I would have a stab at expressing my intellectual enlightenment. In response, at least as I experienced it through my warped perception, Gudo seemed to get very angry at me. He went on about how human beings should not try to make themselves into gods. “This tendency is very comical,” he said. He seemed to be ridiculing me in front of everybody. I, whose sensory appreciation was already debauched, both from congenital vestibular dysfunction and from almost 2 years of sitting as if with a poker up my backside and a ruler down my throat, experienced this dressing down as a kind of trauma that seemed to go on for ever.

For several weeks after that I continued going to the Saturday lectures but steadfastly kept my mouth shut. I also stopped going to Gudo’s office to ask questions on Shobogenzo.

Eventually he phoned me up and asked why I hadn’t been asking any questions recently -- as if he didn’t know. After receiving his phone call, I got on my bicycle and went to visit him at his office in Iidabashi at once. “I hope you will recover the courage to study Buddhism,” he told me.

It occurs to me now, as I reflect on my present situation, as I reflect on why Marjory emphasized to me again and again and again: “Listen love, being wrong is the best friend we’ve got in this work,” it occurs to me now that on some deep, deep level I never have recovered my courage completely. All my efforts in pursuit of the Buddha’s truth since that day have been tinged with the fear of being wrong.

From the moment I walked through the door of her teaching room, Marjory had my number. She saw my fear. People who know me less well see anger. But Marjory saw the fear which lay beneath it. Good old Marjory.

Funny how it’s taken me 23 years to let the tears roll down.

The Way of a Non-Buddhist Non-Monk

An old friend in sitting-zen, in a private e-mail, asks:

“It’s better to move on as freely as possible I think. Would you agree?”

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

The way of a non-Buddhist non-monk is just this -- it is not about literary fame, not about political power, not about trying to be buddha, not about putting on a show for others. It is just about freedom in practising and experiencing the sitting-zen that gets to the bottom of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

And the kind of freedom we are talking about, at the most basic level, is freedom from fear.

A few days ago I was swimming in the sea and realized I was a long way out of my depth. How far? I wondered. I duck dived, intending to find out. But the water down below was black and cold, and I felt fear, so I came back to the surface, gasping for air. I really didn’t feel like trying again, but I didn’t want to have given up, to have been beaten by fear. So I made a more determined effort, equalizing the pressure in my ears by holding onto my nose and blowing, and going for it again. This time I touched the bottom. I did it. My fingers dug into the sand. I did it by doing, by deciding I would bloody well do it and then bloody well doing it. Thus, in a sense, I defeated my fear. But in a more profound sense, as is habitually the case, my fear defeated me. I reached my goal, I touched the bottom, but the process was adulterated by fear; it wasn’t joyful. There was not much joyful flow, not much sense of humour, just plenty of grim determination.

Fear is the enemy. Deep, deep down, for all of us, fear is the enemy.

About 20 years ago, I asked Gudo what he feared most. “Old age,” he replied. “I don’t fear death. I fear old age.”

You can enthusiastically subscribe on a blog to the principle of realism, but when, in your sitting-zen practice, something really stimulates deep fear in you, how then are you going to react? How then is your philosophy of realism going to help you? Will you have the means at your conscious disposal to spring the whole body free of fear/denial, so that you will be able to keep sitting upright in the lotus posture every day, until the very end, with true ease and true joy -- that is, without stiffening the neck, without pulling the head back and down, without narrowing the back, and without fixing all the joints?

I expressed an emotional criticism in a post earlier today and then worried about what I had done, and worried about whether or not to delete the offending paragraphs. You see, I’m afraid of my anger, afraid of being wrong -- afraid of my best friend, Marjory would say.

But truly, isn’t it great to really see what anger is -- to sit in lotus and notice all that energy in the neck and shoulders, and the concomitant dearth of energy in the pelvis? That wrongness there is my best friend. There is the raw material for enjoyable work.

When the practice of sitting-zen is understood like this, when this point is got, then there really is nothing to fear -- no nets, no cages.


Pete’s Good Question

Pete’s Question:

Hi Mike,
“If you practice the ineffable for a long time, you will be ineffable”.
How is it posssible to practce without endgaining when Master Dogen seems to be saying there will be a reward for our efforts. Does he mean that if we practice the balanced state we will become balanced? I have just written that sentence but I don’t know what it means.

My Answer:

Vital question, Pete -- thank you. Thank you very much.

The point is to inhibit the desire to go directly for the end, relying on old vestibular circuits that are wrong, IN ORDER TO create a space for the new conscious means that will reliably take us to the end.

In learning to swim without stress, for example, the challenge for the nervous non-swimmer is to inhibit the desire to touch the side by relying on his old non-swimming ways, IN ORDER TO allow the easy gliding movement that will cause the other side to seem to touch him. It is a very simple principle, but not easy for a non-swimmer to understand without help from a good teacher who can help the non-swimmer overcome the fear which, unless assuaged, will fuck up the whole learning process. (See for example my brother’s webpage at

In sitting-zen, when the thought of enlightenment causes us to stiffen up, we are like a nervous swimmer splashing about ineptly, but when we just sit easily and joyfully, this is just the practice and experience that gets to the bottom of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The old wrong messages, mediated by the inner-ear, are tied up with fear. The new means is characterized by fearlessness.

The 3rd noble truth, the truth of stopping suffering, does not mean to give up the desire for enlightenment; it rather means to suppress the urge to grasp for enlightenment relying on wrong instinctive means, IN ORDER THAT all living beings may reliably cross over, relying on true conscious means, to the far shore of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Any Questions?

To sit fully upright and totally still in the full lotus posture, easily and joyfully -- in other words, without stiffening the neck, without pulling the head back and down into the body, without narrowing the back, and without fixing all the joints: this is the challenge, the ongoing adventure. This is what interests me. This is what continues to interest me.

To tell the truth, I am not very good at it.

Even though I am not very good at it, having devoted myself to it four times a day since I first shaved my head 22 summers ago, I feel that this practice/experience is totally my possession. That is why I wrote that Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo totally belongs to me. I wasn’t talking about the translation; I was talking about the Treasury itself.

At the end of his Rules of Sitting-Zen for Everybody, Master Dogen promises:


“The Treasury will open, spontaneously, for you to accept and use as you please.”

Master Dogen’s promise is universal. He wrote those rules not just for me to make Shobogenzo my own possession, but for everybody to do just that.

Are there any questions?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Parting Shot

Dogen’s rules still enslave me.
I wish to let my neck be free.
A is A; B is B.
But A vs B can lead to C.

If A is the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, and B is the sympathetic branch, then A vs B is an autonomic matter -- one kind of unconsciousness against another kind of unconsciousness.

If A is gravity and B is levity, or if A is the wind and B is a person intending to open an umbrella, then A vs B may be a matter of unconsciousness vs consciousness.

But if A is a conscious decision to do, and B is a conscious decision not to do... then what?

I wonder if it will be another 750 years before anybody understands the meaning of this question.

On his blog, Gudo writes of knowing True Buddhism, as if there is something called True Buddhism, with a capital T and a capital B, that he knows. From where I sit, the Buddha’s teaching of the Middle Way encompasses truths that the Buddha knew but Gudo is very far from knowing, and furthermore Gudo, in his arrogance, does not even begin to suspect the depths of his own unknowing. I sincerely hope that I am not like that. I sincerely hope that it is not a case of “Like father, like son,” but I fear it probably is.

Anyway, I am off to the seaside for a few days, so if any good questions emerge, or any good jokes are heard, please save them up.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dogen vs Marjory, Bird Music and an Umbrella Opening

Just sit upright.
“Free your neck.”

Sit upright.
“Free your neck.”

Sit upright.
“Say No! Free your neck....”

Breathe out fully.
“Back to lengthen and WIDEN.”

Breathe out fully.
“Back to lengthen and WIDEN.”

Breathe out fully.
“Say No! Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and WIDEN.”


Now then:

Sit totally still.
“Don’t fix.”

Sit totally still.
“Don’t fix.”

Sit totally still.
“Honestly, love, there is no such animal as being right. Being wrong is the best friend we’ve got. Don’t try to be right. Don’t fix.”


Non-thinking. Just do it.
“No, the upward direction is an undoing. You can't do it. Just think it.”

Non-thinking. Just do it.
“No, love, you’re still doing it.”

Non-thinking. Just....

Doo, doo, doo, doo, da, da, da, da, is all I’ve got to say to you....

Twitter, twitter, twitter... chirp, chirp... twitter....

A memory:

Some time during Japan’s bubble years of the 1980s, I am stepping out with Gudo into a cold, wet and windy autumn evening. Gudo, back turned to the wind and rain, is struggling to unfold a compact umbrella; the wind keeps catching it and bending the spokes back upon themselves. “Point it into the wind,” I say. The old fool does so and the umbrella suddenly opens out. “Ah, yes!” Gudo laughs loudly. “It is a kind of wisdom.”

But I wonder if he truly ever got the point, or not.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Jordan’s Question on Beginner’s Mind

Jordan’s Question:

What is the "beginner's mind"?
Where is there no "beginner's mind"? Where do we leave the "beginner's mind"?

My Answer:

Your asking me these questions, Jordan, is a very significant thing. In my answer, I will point you directly to the heart of the difference between the true teaching of Master Dogen and so-called Soto Zen.

Beginner’s mind in Japanese is SHO-SHIN. SHO means to begin. SHIN means heart or mind.

Beginner’s mind means the mind of a beginner, what a beginner has in his heart.

A common Japanese proverb, which every Japanese Shintoist and Confucianist knows, is SHOSHIN WASURERU BEKARAZU, “Don’t forget beginner’s mind.”

So if you study so-called Soto Zen, that is the secular teaching of the secular Japanese group called the Soto Sect, or if you follow some traditional Japanese way like swordsmanship or shakuhachi playing, it is very likely that the common concept of beginner’s mind will be emphasized to you.

But if you read Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo in detail, you will find that Master Dogen emphasizes another concept altogether and that is HOTSU-BODAI-SHIN. HOTSU means to establish or to awaken. BODAI means the supreme, integral enlightenment of Gautama Buddha, in short, enlightenment. SHIN means heart or mind.

HOTSU-BODAI-SHIN means to have it in your heart to save all living beings because of the supreme, integral enlightenment that Gautama Buddha realized.

I noticed that what you wrote on your blog was a kind of negation of enlightenment. Master Dogen called this view DANKEN-GEDO, as I explained in a previous post. This kind of negation is very common in American Zen today. And at the root of the problem it may be that Japanese so-called Zen masters who profess to follow the teaching of Master Dogen, in fact are just stuck through their whole lives in their traditional Japanese secular ways. This is what Master Dogen described as HOTONDO SHUSHIN NO KATSURO O KIKETSU SU, “almost totally lacking the vigorous road of getting the body out.”

The teaching of Master Dogen has got nothing to do with any kind of Japanese -ism -- not Shintoism, nor Confucianism, nor Japanese corporate realism, nor even Zen Buddhism.

In order truly to follow Master Dogen’s teaching, Jordan, is necessary for you and me, as individuals, if we really have it in our heart to save all living beings, to strive to spring this body free from all old patterns of thought and action.

Even if great and famous Japanese Zen masters can’t do it, you and I have to believe that we can do it.

Mon Dieu! Ay Caramba! Gazooks! What a challenge! But what an adventure!

And one thing we have got that they haven’t had, is the possibility of understanding at least a little of the teaching of FM Alexander. I recommend you to check out his writings, in his own words. Read his books. Get it straight from the horse’s mouth, and see what you make of it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Suffering Loss Without Losing the Mind-Seal

Have you ever heard a bell, unstruck
Begin to sofly ring?
She walked into Gym II, worse luck
And my heart began to sing.

With apologies to my wife, I wrote that poem about an event that took place nearly 30 years ago.

At the beginning of a relationship like that, when there is a mutual sense of “This is the one!”, it is very difficult for each side to envision anything other than a rosy future, and so an unconscious expectation is formed, leading in most cases to disappointment.

This disappointment, doubtless familiar to most readers of this blog, is akin to a bereavement -- there is a natural healing process beginning with shock/denial, then anger, et cetera. Incidentally, this grieving process also seems to follow the primitive reflex hierarchy, beginning with the fear paralysis response (which corresponds to shock/withdrawal/denial) and progressing through the Moro reflex (which corresponds to anger). For a first hand account of what happens when the Moro reflex shows itself in raw form, breaking a person out of fear paralysis, read Michael T’s courageous post “Breaking Point” on his blog One Foot in Front of the Other.

By the spring of 1984, when I received the shock of disappointed in love, I was already very fixed in my sitting-zen practice -- straightening the neck bones, pulling the chin back and down, et cetera. My response to what felt like a great loss was to fix even more, pushing my spine to lengthen more and more by narrowing my back.

When I next met my former girlfriend, on a trip back to England in the autumn of 1985 she told me, and I remember her exact words: “I am not getting at you, Mike. But what has happened to your back? You used to have such a beautiful broad back.”

My response to hearing this, in typical hardcore Zen style, was to bloody well do something about it. I started doing press-ups all the time, believing that widening of the back, and therefore possibly my former love, were things that I might get back by trying. Before long I was doing a hundred press-ups straight off for fun. Bloody idiot.

At that time, I could only see one face of the pyramid of sitting in lotus dropping off body and mind -- the doing face. I was almost totally blind to the other side -- the not doing face, the thinking face, the truly smiling face.

The truly smiling face does not mean a mind that hasn’t got the joke masked by a stage smile. (On the contrary, it might mean a mind that sees the joke, smiling behind a grumpy frown.)

On his blog One Foot in Front of the Other, Michael is sharing with us his experience of what may be the greatest loss of all. But we are all suffering lesser disappointments all the time.

How can we bring about the cessation of the suffering of disappointed expectations?

We can’t. A lot of the sporting contests that we enjoy, when you think about it, involve building up unreal expectations in each other (“He’s going to give me a low blow” “He’s going to return the ball to my backhand side”) and then confounding those expectations (“Whoops, copped one on the nut;” “There the ball goes down the forehand line”...).

Now then: is it possible to suffer such losses without losing freedom, but with an inner smile? Is it possible to suffer a loss and within that disappointment to fix not more but less?

In many cases, probably not. But 20 years ago I could not frame this challenge in the terms in which I now can frame it -- in terms of the dynamic inter-relation between body parts, beginning with the head being fixed down into or released up out from the body. I don’t feel confident now that I can meet the challenge well, but I do at least begin to see it in these real terms. It is like being given a constant supply of exciting new peaks to climb, from rolling green hills to great snow-capped mountains -- except this adventure is on the inside.

The ability to sit in the lotus posture smiling inside and breathe out fully, while keeping going not only a lengthening direction but also a widening direction, is a rare and wonderful gift. It is a wonderful gift to be able to give to oneself and a wonderful gift to be able to give to others. What follows from it may be something truly inspiring.

You may not understand right now what the hell I am talking about, but if you stick with me, I promise you will. Because I am pointing you to something that is not un-real. The Buddha-mind-seal that this dream-hero has re-discovered is something very real.

How to go about transmitting it, however, is more of a mystery to me than ever. I continued to expect -- against a mounting pile of evidence -- that I would be endowed with a certain position, a certain status, to help me in my task. But my expectation was disappointed. It turns out that I am not going to be as important, after all, as I was led to believe I was going to be.

That doesn’t change the importance of what I re-discovered, but it may mean that I will finally have to get down off my high horse. Bugger!

In any event, please don’t be discouraged if my answers continue to appear to be confrontational or dismissive. Recently those comments that I don’t value, I don’t publish. If I publish your question or comment, it is because I value it. So by all means be disappointed, but please don’t be discouraged.

Are there any questions?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Going Without (2): Massive Obstacles?

- Attachments

- Delusions

- Extreme Views

- Instinctive Impulses...

These are the truly great obstacles -- things that don't exist.

The hip-joints exist. The spinal column exists. The head exists. The ears, shoulders and arms, teeth, lips, eyes and nose exist. The earth and sky exist. Water exists. The stars exist. Big cranial nerves connecting the spinal cord/brainstem/cerebellum and the ears exist. All exist together.

But attachments, illusions, views, mental impulses, misconceptions, ambitions, expectations, beliefs, superstitions... these are all things that don't exist.

Old Testament Jews believe in the real existence of an entity called for example God or Jehovah, who chose them as a people and gave them a promised land called Israel. Apparently God had an exchange -- involving the believer's willingness to murder a son -- with an ancient Jew called Abraham, who is still revered today not only by Jews but by all orthodox followers of the "great mono-theistic religions" -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islaam.

Enlightened followers of the non-theistic non-religion of Gautama, by contrast, strive every day to spring this body, which exists, free of the influence of every kind of un-reality. How?

Just by sitting.

It is the simplest practice in the world, but it is far from easy.

Yesterday somebody I regard as a brother non-buddhist non-monk said to me in an email, in connection with the discrepancy that tends to arise between our professed practice of autonomous just sitting and our actual practice of mutual unconscious expectation: "We tend to create our own confusion and then look for ways to get out of it... We end up fighting with ourselves."

As FM Alexander used to say: "The most difficult things to get rid of are the ones that don't exist."

Friday, July 27, 2007

It's in the Without

The kind of spontaneous flow that makes sitting-zen joyful is not something I manufacture on the black cushion. It is a tendency inherent in all the energy in the universe ( In endeavoring to realize it, the major difficulty always seems to be in the without.

To walk into an unlit place full of unknown things is not difficult: the difficult thing is to do so without fear.

To survive a stormy ferry crossing is not difficult: the difficult thing is to do so without getting seasick.

To lengthen the spine is not difficult: the difficult thing is to do so without narrowing and twisting the back.

To extend the neck while sitting in lotus is not difficult: the difficult thing is to do so without stimulating the monkey reflex in the arms.

The difficulty is always in the without:

Confidence without arrogance.

Stillness without fixity.

Lengthening the spine without narrowing the back.

Working towards a definite end, such as the Buddha's enlightenment, without end-gaining.

From translating Shobogenzo I picked up some understanding, mainly intellectual, about Master Dogen's teaching of just polishing a tile, not worrying about making a mirror.

My understanding was not totally intellectual -- before I started the translation in earnest, I spent two years in which I sat in the full lotus posture for a minimum of five hours, every day. And that kind of practice inevitably involves a certain amount of going without -- at least at a very crude level.

But I really only began to wake up to the problem of my own end-gaining tendency when I began working with Alexander teachers.

FM Alexander really was, in my opinion, a truly great human being. What Gautama Buddha discovered starting from one side, with a traditional yoga asana, FM Alexander discovered starting from the opposite side, with only his own conscious reasoning.

People in future will erect Mike Cross statues, because I was the first stupid donkey who really put two and two together. But for the present there is nobody who understands what I am talking about.

Confidence? Or arrogance? I don't know. You decide.

If you are still here reading this blog, you must suspect there is a grain of truth in what I am writing. But in that case, why the hell don't you ask me questions?

We have got this wonderful tool here, through the internet. Why the hell don't you use it? What are you afraid of?

You....! You....! I would like to reach out of the computer screen and hit you with a big stick!