Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Buddhism is Realism

What is Buddhism? It is a very good question.
Zen Master Dogen said: Buddhism is the action of sitting. The action of sitting is Buddhism.
For me, a devotee of Master Dogen, the practical question, the real question, is: How to sit?
In essence, for almost all Zazen practitioners, there is only one way to sit: the way that accords with my habitual sense of myself.
But I think that the words of great masters of the past “Just to sit is to drop off body and mind ” suggest the existence of another way. So, for me, there is a search for this other way, which I believe to be related with the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
It is an extraordinarily difficult and challenging search.
I do not know what Master Dogen’s Buddhism is, but I do know, I have experienced, how extremely difficult it is to understand what Master Dogen’s Buddhism is. It is more difficult than we are prone to assume.
To be asked to give up the way of sitting that accords with who I feel I am, is to be asked to give up a lot--much more than most of us are prepared to give up. It is to be asked to give up everything, to be one who does not know. To be a total loser. My ego doesn’t like that.

16 Comments:

Blogger Jules said...

Hi Mike.
You wrote: "I do not know what Master Dogen’s Buddhism is, but I do know, I have experienced, how extremely difficult it is to understand what Master Dogen’s Buddhism is. It is more difficult than we are prone to assume. Dharma-heirs of Nishijima Roshi write about it as if they have understood, when in fact they have not understood at all."

I assume you're specifically referring to Brad, at least. I think you're a lot more familiar with Dogen's writings than I am... I believe you did a lot of the work on the version of the Shobogenzo that I'm currently reading. But I don't think I've seen anything Brad has written that really contradicts what I've read so far in the Shobogenzo. I'm curious what leads you to this conclusion. Could you please elaborate?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005  
Blogger Jules said...

It is to be asked to give up everything, to be one who does not know. To be a total loser. My ego doesn’t like that.

I think this is a really honest way to look at it.

But I would think this would not be a problem once you can see directly that you are so much more than your ego. Then maybe your ego's opinions about what makes a "loser" wouldn't seem so important.

But I don't know, I'm still a newbie at this stuff. What do you think?

Thursday, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Hi Jules,

Thank you for your clear and perceptive questions. To be honest, I have hardly any personal contact with Brad, but looking at some of what he has written-not least about "Mr Angry" (yours truly)-I do not find him convincing.
To use my translation as the basis for his own book, while at the same time holding me up as an example of bad behavior, seems to me to betray a certain lack of integrity.
Because of Nishijima Roshi's particular way of teaching Buddhism, with a heavy emphasis on clarification of true Buddhist theory, he has tended to attract a certain kind of disciple--an arrogant kind, who assumes airs of understanding what he or she has not really, truly, deeply understood. This has certainly been my own experience. Under Nishijima Roshi's influence I believed I had understood what I had not in fact understood.

You write of "seeing directly." My understanding is that how I see is conditioned by how I sit. It is that way round. In general, my way of sitting is not free--my attempts to sit upright cause me to be fixed, stiff, braced, held. Because I sit like this, my perception is clouded.

So I come back to my original point: the real question, the practical question, is how to sit.

Thursday, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Michael said...

Then, Mike, how do *you* sit? Can you describe the physical posture?

Thursday, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Jules said...

Hi Mike,
I'm not going to judge based on an e-mail exchange I haven't seen. All I can say is that I wouldn't think there was a lack of integrity on Brad's part unless what he wrote about that e-mail exchange was untrue.

"You write of "seeing directly." My understanding is that how I see is conditioned by how I sit. It is that way round. In general, my way of sitting is not free--my attempts to sit upright cause me to be fixed, stiff, braced, held. Because I sit like this, my perception is clouded."

I don't understand... in Fukan-zazengi you and Nishijima chose these words:
"Give the myriad things a rest"
"Stop the driving movement of mind, will, consciousness"
"It is simply the peaceful and joyful gate of Dharma"

Those phrases seems to suggest to me that one should be as relaxed as possible while maintaining an upright posture. When I sit, for me, learning to relax is part of the practice. I am habitually tense in some parts of my body. When sitting for an extended period of time, if I am holding myself rigidly, this becomes painful after fifteen or twenty minutes. So I start to recognize the ways I am subconsciously holding my body. If I am carefully balanced, and my back, shoulders and neck are relaxed, I can sit upright for a long time without pain.

Thursday, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Michael,
Thanks for your question. The conception of a "physical posture" is a large part of the problem. It may be better to talk of "postural activity." I think that we can fruitfully discuss conceptions and misconceptions by email, but we can't get very far by trying to describe postural activity. My response to Nishijima Roshi's "keeping the spine straight vertically" caused me to run into all kinds of problems--because of what FM Alexander called "faulty sensory appreciation." If a person's sensory processing is faulty, as is true in the case of almost all of us, then verbal instructions are liable to be dangerous. Have you come across the writings of FM Alelxander? It has been said that he re-discovered the secret of Zen for the modern age. I wholeheartedly believe that.

Thursday, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Jules, it seems that you have got everything figured out already. Just like Brad.

Thursday, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Jules said...

I certainly do not! I'm just getting started, I've recently met a local teacher and have my first dokusan coming up next week. I've been studying and practicing at home for a few years, but I don't give that a lot of weight.

I was just saying that I can see how holding yourself rigid would cause some problems. And I haven't seen anything in Dogen's writings that talks about holding yourself rigid. Quite the opposite, in fact. If you hang a rope from a tree branch, it will be straight up-and-down vertically. But it won't be rigid.

You seem to be saying that Nishijima and his other Dharma heirs (does that include you?) are either teaching something incorrect about holding your body rigidly vertical, or maybe you don't think they emphasize strongly enough that you should NOT be holding your body rigidly. I'm not sure.

I have read a lot of both Brad & Nishijima's writings, and as I wrote in my last post, my efforts have been in the direction opposite from rigidity. So I don't know where you got the idea that proper zazen implies "holding the body rigidly." But I am happy that you have overcome this problem, if I'm understanding you correctly.

But a good part of what you've written so far on Nishijima's blog has been tinged with bitter sarcasm, as well as your last response to me, which I don't think I deserved. You're asking me to believe that you have some wisdom that Brad doesn't possess. I've kept an open mind. From what little I know about you from reading what you have written, you do seem bitter and angry. Not the kind of qualities I would expect a wise person to be carrying around.

Thursday, December 01, 2005  
Blogger alanpitt said...

dear Mike. I thought I had found an authenticity among the interpretors of Master Dogens work, including Mike Luetchford and Brad Warner. Your recent postings seem to be questioning this and I would be grateful if you could elaborate as maybe I am reading you wrong. Many thanks

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Michael said...

Hi Mike,

No, I'm not familiar with FM Alexander. Is there a book of his you'd recommend above all others? Sounds interesting.
I enjoy Nishijima-sensei's and Brad Warner's interpretations of Zen, and I really appreciate your insights, too.
I believe, though, that these "fingers pointing at the moon" will get me only so far. I'm looking forward to advancing on my own journey of discovery so that I can come to my own conclusions (for better or worse). Still, I'm grateful for these signposts along the way.

Gassho,
Michael

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Jules, Sorry that my baggage does not meet your expectations of a what a wise person carries around. Your disappointment could be totally my fault, or it might lie in your expectations, or it could be a combination of both.

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Alan, Make up your own mind. No-one can make it up for you.

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Michael, I had a quick look at your blog and found your attitude inspiring.
The vital thing in Zazen as I see it, and certainly the vital thing in Alexander's work, is to ALLOW.
I think that to practice allowing in Zazen can be a kind of practice for allowing life to happen, and also, I suppose, when the time comes, for allowing death to happen.
Does it seem to you, as it seems to me, that as our capacity to allow expands, so our capacity to allow is tested?

The Use of the Self is perhaps the most easily readable of Alexander's four books.

Bon courage in your own voyage of discovery, and if the Alexander signpost proves fruitful to you, I shall judge my blog to have been worthwhile (despite the flak I seem to be in danger of attracting from the Brad Warner fan club).

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Jules said...

mike cross wrote: Jules, Sorry that my baggage does not meet your expectations of a what a wise person carries around. Your disappointment could be totally my fault, or it might lie in your expectations, or it could be a combination of both.

I think people choose what baggage to carry around, and a wise person lets go of things that are causing suffering for themselves and others. So there are my expectations. Maybe the Alexander technique can help you forgive yourself and the people you are angry with. That will be a much more effective sales pitch than spreading bitterness on other people's blogs.

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Michael said...

Hi Mike,

Many thanks for your kind words, and for the book recommendation.
Yes, I would say that enlarging our capacity to allow also exposes us to having that capacity tested. To put it another way, if you give a person (or a situation) an inch, they'll take a yard. I think this is a good thing in the context of zazen and, by extension, in life.
Funny, but I think that perhaps it's not so much our allowing more that puts us at greater "risk" of being tested. Rather, I think that allowing more opens up our eyes and minds to situations that existed all along, but that we allowed to pass unnoticed or that we even intentionally ignored. Maybe this is what is meant by "opening the third eye."
Thanks again for your comments. My capacity to understand -- to truly understand -- some of the topics being discussed here and in other forums is often overwhelmed by the complexity -- or is it the simplicity? -- of those topics.
I'm indebted to you, to Brad, to Nishijima-sensei and to everyone else here for providing the uppaya to raise my awareness.

Gassho,
Michael

Friday, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Jules, It looks to me that you are motivated by true Buddhist intention. But it might be our mistake to seek Buddhist enlightenment with some expectation of how it might be. We hold such expectations unconsciously--or it might be more accurate to say that they hold us. So we renew our intention just to sit, not to hold on to anything but just to sit. And in this renewal of our intention just to sit, we let all those expectations, and all those other unconscious self-holdings, drop away.

Saturday, December 03, 2005  

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