Saturday, December 24, 2005

The knack of Zazen

Shobogenzo begins with the information that when buddhas are experiencing the supreme awakening (Sanskrit: anuttara samyak sambodhi), they have a subtle means which is supreme and natural. "Subtle means" is MYO-JUTSU (I am sorry I can't input the original characters with this PC). MYO means fine, wonderful, subtle--too subtle to be susceptible to verbal expression. JUTSU means art, technique, skill, means. This MYO-JUTSU is not something that Mike Cross or any other dumb-arse inherently possesses as soon as it touches down on a zafu. It is an art or a skill that buddhas have when they are experiencing the supreme truth of bodhi. In other words, MYO-JUTSU does not mean Zazen itself. It means an art, a skill, a knack that buddhas bring to Zazen. In his instructions for Zazen, Master Dogen uses the phrase ZAZEN NO YO-JUTSU. YO means essential, vital. So ZAZEN NO YO-JUTSU means the essential knack of Zazen, the secret of Zazen. Master Dogen states a simple criterion for whether a person has got this knack or not: the criterion is the samadhi of accepting and using the self.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Intending to Allow the Ineffable

The real point of Alexander work is to allow the possibility of action which is different from thinking and liberated from habit. If you permit me to describe this action as "THE INEFFABLE," then I would like to express my understanding as follows:

THE INEFFABLE is something totally unintentional.

THE INEFFABLE is a spontaneous, unintentional response. Therefore we should not intend to do it and we should not intend to regulate it. All we can do is to allow it. Our practice is to allow it. Our intention is to allow it. We endeavor to allow it totally, with our whole being, through action which includes the acceptance and use of the whole of our being.

As Buddhists, we intend to obey Gautama Buddha's teaching, which is just to liberate ourselves from thinking and from habit. Zazen is the concrete, physical, real manifestation of Gautama Buddha's intention. So one moment of manifesting THE INEFFABLE in Zazen is the real, total, and utter manifestation of Gautama Buddha's intention.

In the Zazen of a Buddha, this intention exists. A veteran Buddhist Master says that "There is not any kind of intention in Zazen." But I say that in the Zazen of a Buddha, this real intention exists. To have got this intention is to be like a dragon that has found water. The Zazen of a person who has got this intention (for one example, Pierre Turlur) is never the same as the Zazen of a person who has not got this strong and clear intention.

I think I understand what the veteran Buddhist Master is trying to say, and I agree with him. Just to sit in Zazen, and not to have any other intention, is just the attitude which ALLOWS THE INEFFABLE TO HAPPEN. So it is needless for a Buddhist to have any intention in Zazen other than to sit in Zazen. Because sitting in Zazen is already inclusive of 84,000 Buddhist intentions.

I want to hit the target, and I want there to be no doubt that I hit the target--like catching a rugby ball and not dropping it, or like kicking an unduly aggressive karate opponent in the head and knocking him out. That is how I am. It is not even that I want to hit the target. I want to be the one who hits the very centre of the bull's eye. Thus I have continued my stubborn effort to hit the bull's eye, forgetting about breakfast, and it is the afternoon already.

I am a fool, a selfish fool doing his own thing. Like a golfer spending all morning trying to get a hole in one on a par-4 hole. Thank God there has been at least one person on this earth, Pierre Turlur, who didn't mind being taught Buddhism by a selfish fool.

The Contents of Zazen: A Veteran Master's Response

The Contents of Zazen
(A veteran Buddhist Master responds to yesterday's post)
The idea that the essence of Zazen is to enter and experience samadhi, is true.

The idea that samadhi is our original and our natural state of being is true, but without getting the regular posture we can never realize samadhi.

Samadhi comes when we keep ourselves in the regular posture, and so it is all for us to keep ourselves in the regular posture in Zazen, and so there is no intention for us to avoid any habit.

To sit in Zazen is just the act of avoiding habit, and so there is no necessity to avoid habit intentionally.

It is just the practice of Zazen, which transcends both something habitual and something occasional.

There is not any kind of intention in Zazen.

Therefore there is no necessity for us to promote any kind of intention, and just sitting is Zazen.

"It is different from thinking" suggests that Zazen is just an act.

Thesis and antithesis belong to the intellectual area, but synthesis belongs to the area of act.

It is the main effort to transcend from any kind of intention completely in Zazen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The True Essence of Zazen

The essence of Zazen is to sit upright in such a way, to accept and to use the self in such a way, that we enter and experience samadhi.

Samadhi, as enjoyed by Gautama Buddha under the bodhi tree and as recommended by the Buddha as the eighth item of the eightfold noble path, is our original and natural condition of integration and balance. It is our original state and our natural state of being.

We don’t have to manufacture samadhi artificially. It is our birthright as a human being.

The above teaching I received from my original Buddhist teacher Gudo Nishijima.

The teaching that follows I did not understand in Japan but have only begun to understand since returning to England, under the direction of experienced Alexander teachers:

Samadhi may be our original and natural state, but it is not our habitual state.

Therefore to enter and experience samadhi requires us to refrain from doing those things that we habitually do which prevent us from entering and experiencing samadhi.

It is not that, when we sit on the zafu and cross our legs, all our habits suddenly leave us. We bring our habitual (partial) manner of accepting and using the self with us onto the Zazen cushion.

So, for me, the practice of just sitting does not mean simply switching onto automatic pilot. Rather, my practice of just sitting in the full lotus posture is the physical manifestation of my Buddhist intention to go against the stream of habit.

Even within the sitting practice itself, it is necessary from time to time to renew this Buddhist intention. When the right thing is doing itself, fine, let it be: just enjoy it. When the body-mind passes out of quietness, when the body complains, or something arises in the mind, then it is necessary to wake up, to renew my Buddhist intention.

This intention is the meaning of Master Dogen’s instruction:
“Think the state of not-thinking.”

“But how can the state of not-thinking be thought?”

“It is different from thinking.”

This is the true essence of Zazen. The true essence is not only the synthesis, but also the thesis and anti-thesis.

Intention is the thesis. Negation of intention is the anti-thesis. Just sitting is the synthesis.

Just sitting is the synthesis. But without the thesis and anti-thesis, there is no synthesis. Without intention there is no just sitting.

Intention is the key that unlocks the door to the inner sanctum of the Buddhist patriarchs. Intention is not the inner sanctum itself, but it is the first key that unlocks the door.

Not only before Zazen, but also during Zazen, when I drift out of balance, I renew my intention to come back to balance. Intention is the first key.

The second key is attention. Renewing my intention, I bring my attention back to the manner in which, in sitting, I am accepting and using the self. It is probably my habitual, partial manner of accepting and using the self.

My intention is to sit NOT in a manner which accords with my habit.

I have probably written about this in a way that makes it sound complicated. It is actually a very simple way of practice. Very simple, but not easy.

In asking us to go against the stream of habit, Gautama Buddha gave us a much more difficult challenge than most people are prone to assume.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Zen Monk's Alexander Experience

Gudo Nishijima is my father in Buddhism and I am his son. But when he writes on his blog entry today that my opinion "is based on the the theory of the Alexander Technique," I would like to make two points in response.

Firstly, Alexander work is a kind of effort to liberate myself from my own opinion. The fact that I fail does not change the essence of what Alexander work is.

Secondly, Alexander work is primarily practical rather than theoretical. So whatever understanding I have got from Alexander work is based not on theory of the Alexander Technique but on experience of one-to-one, face-to-face work with experienced Alexander teachers.

What an Alexander lesson entails cannot be put into words, any less than the content of Zazen can be put into words. But for what it is worth, here is an authentic record of questions and answers between a Zen monk and an Alexander master:

Monk: "Master, I have understood from your teaching that the most vital thing in my Zazen practice is my intention, the quality of my thought."

Master: "The quality of being. The quality of being."

Monk: "Do you not think that intention is vital?"

Master: "Intention is vital, because it leads you to shed intention. And leaves you open to this state of not minding that there is nothing to find."

Monk: "In this work, as we search for that free and open condition, the dropping off of body and mind, where is the starting point?"

Master: "Intention is the starting point, of course. Intention is the key to the door. But it is not the building that you enter."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Just Wake Up

In his post on Buddhism and Realism, Nishijima Roshi wrote, "When we want to understand Buddhism...."

These words raised in my mind the old question of the role in the Buddhist process of wanting, desiring, volition, intention.

The samadhi of accepting and using the self includes, as I see it, the intention to accept the whole of the self and the intention to use the whole of the self. The samadhi that is king of samadhis is dependent upon the intention just to sit.

When one understands this, it is so obvious that to assert it seems redundant. The reason it is such a big deal for me to try to clarify this point is that, before Alexander teachers clarified this point for me, I was labouring for many years under a total misconception about it.

Autonomic balance is autonomic, i.e, not intentional. In emphasizing the importance of physiological balance, there is a danger, as I see it, in overlooking something very vital. That something is mental intention.

The act of sitting in the full lotus posture is something physical. But once one has got one's legs's crossed, one's torso seated on the zafu, et cetera, the practice of just sitting is the most mental thing there is. In his comment on the Dogen Sangha blog, Pierre Turlur described it beautifully.

Master Dogen's instruction in Fukan-zazengi is:
"When something arises in the mind, just wake up."

Pierre commented:
Wake up and it will vanish. What will vanish then? Thoughts? No, they come back, it is the natural stuff of the mind. Delusion? No, it is very sticky too. What might vanish is the illusion that we have to do something, become somebody, get out of here. And when this vanishes, we invite surrender.

Who are you?

I don't know.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Buddhism and Realism

Nishijima Roshi wrote: "It is very important for us, when we want to understand Buddhism, to realize that Buddhism is just a philosophy, which is based on Realism completely."

When we want to experience and enter samadhi, Gautama Buddha teaches us to sit in the full lotus posture, sitting with the mind upright. [Shobogenzo chap. 72, Zanmai-o-zanmai]

Thinking about the problem of the basis of pragmatic philosophy, I think that, when a person wants to enter samadhi, it might be appropriate for a Buddhist teacher to teach them how to sit with the mind upright.

But I wonder: if a person wants to understand Buddhism, how then might it be appropriate to teach that person? How then might it be possible to teach that person?

If a large country is filled with many millions of such people wanting to understand Buddhism, and I convince them all to buy a copy of my sexy self-promoting book, am I in that case truly comprehending my one true purpose, or not?

The puritans who went from England to America were not greedy people, and the native American people who lived in America already were not a greedy people. But nowadays in America, it seems to me, there are many big fat greedy people. Even many who are not so fat also have a strong greedy tendency.

Gautama Buddha taught his followers to have small wants and know satisfaction. But many Americans bring their greedy tendency to Buddhism. They want to understand Buddhism easily by reading some flimsy book or by surfing the net. So they are particularly attracted to so-called "Zen Buddhism" which seems to offer them the opportunity of easy understanding.

They do not have any idea to get their hands dirty in the service of a Buddhist teacher. They do not even have any idea to study diligently the words of great Buddhist thinkers of the past. When they visit the Dogen Sangha web page, they don't even seem to notice the words of Nishijima Roshi himself. Instead they just express their own utterly useless and immature views which they mistake for Buddhist wisdom.

Many people who have been attracted the words of Brad Warner seem to show a certain attitude, a charade of phoney coolness and casualness. It is an attitude that Brad himself and his imitators appear unable to see that they should drop off.

I do not know Brad personally. I do know that Brad publicly insulted me on his blog. I quote: "It amazes me that someone with 20 years experience doing zazen can be such a total prick." But Brad has barely met me at all. So I feel that there might be something very wrong in Brad's efforts. It might be an unconscious will to fame.

I think that if we have unconscious will to fame, we should make it conscious. We should see ourself for the fraud we are. Michael Luetchford and Brad Warner are not the enemies of Buddhism because they have the will to fame and power. In my opinion, they might be the enemies of Buddhism because they do not know their own minds. Their will to fame might be unconscious. That might be the problem.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


In his post on Pragmatism on Dogen Sangha Blog, Nishijima Roshi wrote: "Dewey realized that the most important matter in our life is whether our act is the most suitable at the present moment to meet with the circumstances."

Dewey himself did not hesitate to acknowledge that he was helped towards this realization by lessons with FM Alexander, each of which he described as "a laboratory experimental demonstration.... And so I verified in personal experience all that Mr Alexander says about the unity of the physical and psychical in the psycho-physical; about our habitually wrong use of ourselves; and the part this wrong use plays in generating all kinds of unnecessary tensions and wastes of energy."

Here are some other quotes taken from John Dewey's introduction to FM Alexander's books:

"In re-affirming my conviction as to the scientific character of Mr Alexander's discoveries and technique, I do so then not as one who has experienced a 'cure,' but as one who has brought whatever intellectual capacity he has to the study of a problem. In the study I found things which I had 'known'-- in the sense of theoretical belief -- in philosophy and psychology, changed into vital experiences which gave a new meaning to knowledge of them."

"Mr Alexander has demonstrated a new scientific principle with respect to the control of human behaviour, as important as any principle which has ever been discovered in the domain of external nature."

"The technique of Mr Alexander bears the same relation to education that education itself bears to all other human activities."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

What is Dogen Sangha?

Dogen Sangha is an organisation of people who are devoted to the teaching of Zen Master Dogen, centred on daily practice of Zazen. The head of the organization, very definitely, since its inception, has been Gudo Nishijima. Let us not kid ourselves that Dogen Sangha has been a democracy. From its very start it has been a benevolent dictatorship.

For many years I have been in conflict with our benevolent dictator, Gudo Nishijima. Somehow Nishijima Roshi and I managed to struggle together to accomplish an English translation of Shobogenzo--although the process has never reached, from my viewpoint, a satisfactory conclusion. Jijuyo-zanmai remains translated as "samadhi of using and receiving the self," instead of "samadhi of using and accepting the self." There are many other examples.

Since coming across the FM Alexander Technique, I began to understand the primary importance in Zazen of thinking, of intention. My efforts to convince Nishijima Roshi of the truth of this approach were totally counter-productive. In retrospect, my own reaction to the stimulus of beginning to discover Alexander's discoveries for myself, was totally immature and inappropriate. I have made a complete mess of the whole thing.

Never mind what Dogen Sangha is. What does it mean "to use the self"? What does it mean "to accept the self."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Zazen Posted by Picasa

Champsecret, summer 2005 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Philosophy of Action

Caution: The Philosophy of Action Can Seriously Damage Your Health

When Gudo Nishijima first preached to me the philosophy of action in the summer of 1982, the truth of it totally won me over. I thought that I would gladly like to give up everything to follow this teacher and this teaching.

So how did things go so badly wrong? Like this: I grasped the philosophy of action intellectually and, thinking it to be the truth, sought to identify myself with it.

My situation thus became exactly as described by Master Dogen in the second paragraph of Fukan-zazengi:

However, if there is a thousandth or a hundredth of a gap, heaven and earth are far apart, and if a trace of disagreement arises, we lose the mind in confusion. Even if, proud of our understanding and richly endowed with realizations, we obtain special states of insight, attain the truth, clarify the mind, manifest a zeal that pierces the sky, and ramble through those remote spheres that are entered with the head; we have almost completely lost the vigorous path of getting the body out.

The reason that I call FM Alexander a modern-day Buddha, the man who re-discovered the secret of Zen for our time, is that his work opened up a way for me to get back on the vigorous path of getting the body out.

The philosophy of action is true. It is so true it is dangerous. It is dynamite. Beware of it--or, more accurately, beware of your own deluded reactions to it.

ReallyNotImportant said...
mike: I think you think way too much. I am starting to picture you as this huge brain just floating in a tank with no body attached.I am pretty sure that my pet cat had grasped "The Philosophy of Action" as unfortunately had the mouse it caught....

Pierre Turlur said...
reallynotimportant, very good example of deluded reaction. Yes, we should be grateful to Nishijima Roshi for this amazing clarification of Buddha's teaching. At the same time, it is altogether so easy to fool ourselves and think we have caught the mouse of zazen when we are just playing old records, viewing old films and chewing old thoughts. Good old cats. I have seen too many zen zombies at it, nazi-like priests behaving like army guys, not really making the difference between reaction and action. The real question is :where does action come from? Is this action a byproduct of our favorite patterns or beliefs or is it this unknown springing and falling like blossoms, snow, blue mountains and rivers? True action is only possible if i am not in the way. How can I be sure I am not in the way? The more I sit, the more I am aware of fake action in this body-mind, and it does make you a bit more humble. At least, I become a bit more aware about the risk of becoming another military zen bloke.

Mike Cross said...
Pierre is spot on. The issue is action or reaction. Receiving Master Dogen's stimulus "just sit upright," the phoney Zen masters of today react to the stimulus blindly, and they proclaim that this practice of blind reaction is just enlightenment itself. Their Zen students imitate them and we have a perfect situation of the blind leading the blind. The dignified action of buddhas should not be confused with the animalistic reactions of a cat to the stimulus of a mouse. In the case of buddhas, the intention is to allow. In the case of mice and other animals, the intention is to get their dirty paws on something.
8:21 PM

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Body-Mind Integration

The point of Zazen is not to integrate two things which are originally separate. Body-mind integration is our original state and our natural state. But for most of us it is not our habitual state. So we need to make intentional effort to get back to it. This effort is not intention to achieve a balance, because balance is not something that I can achieve; it is intention to allow something to balance me.

Because of our stupid desire to explain the unexplainable, we call the intention to allow "mental" and we call that which is brought back to balance "physical"--I refer you back to Nishijima Roshi's posting about balance of the autonomic nervous system.

So in Zazen I intend to allow a space (so-called mental effort) in which my body can liberate itself from the habitual holding tendency (so-called physical effort).

I do this very badly. My intention is usually muddled by miscellaneous worries. So I sit badly, but I hope gradually less so--taking two steps backward for every one step forward.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Estimation of Idealism and Materialism (2)

Idealism, Materialism, Existentialism, Humanism, Pragmatism, Realism.... Just so many flowers in space!

People of clear eyes ask: "What has all this got to do with Buddhism? What has all this got to do with Zazen?"

The answer is: EVERYTHING.

Because we human beings are led, and are misled, by ideas. Even the Zazen of a very tough Zazen practitioner is just led, or misled, by his or her idea.

So Master Dogen instructs us in Fukan-zazengi TO THINK. He instructs us: "Think the concrete state of not thinking."

If we want to practice "just sitting," the vital thing is to have A CLEAR INTENTION just to sit, and not to be misled off in other directions by other intentions.

Zen Master Dogen saw this very clearly. FM Alexander saw this very clearly. I see this very clearly. My friend and student Pierre Turlur sees this very clearly. There is a contributor to this blog called Michael who, it seems to me, is on the verge of seeing this very clearly.

But, truly, there are not many of us, and the opposition which we face from Zen orthodoxy is not dissimilar to the opposition which Galileo faced from Catholic orthodoxy. Still, I believe that we will triumph in the end, despite the efforts of arrogant people of fixed views to defeat us. Why? Not because our idea is the truth -- because the truth can never be only an idea. We will triumph because our idea leads us to devote ourselves whole-heartedly to the truth of Gautama Buddha, which is sitting in the full lotus posture, which is supremacy itself.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Estimation of Idealism and Materialism

In Shobogenzo, true Buddhist intention, (bodhicitta in Sanskrit) is called MUJOSHIN, "the will to the supreme." MUJO (anuttara in Sanskrit) is a negative: nothing above it.

When Nishijima Roshi writes that we should esteem idealism and materialism, what he is saying, as I understand it, is that we should know our enemies well. We should size up idealistic and materialistic thoughts in the light of our belief in supremacy of Gautama Buddha's enlightenment, and we should compare idealistic and materialistic philosophies to the dialectical philosophical system that has emerged from the practice of Zazen--the philosophy of the middle way.

When Nishijima Roshi calls idealism and materialism the enemies of Buddhism, I understand his teaching in this light.

As Buddhists, I think we are compelled to participate in a kind of battle for supremacy, whether we like it or not. It is a battle on many fronts. Remember, the traditional symbol of the Buddha's teaching is a weapon: the Dharma-cakra.

Nishijima Roshi taught me that Buddhism is not a religion but a philosophical search. A search for the truth. He taught me to search not only in the narrow confines of Zen Buddhist temples and Zen Buddhist writings but in books of western philosophy, and books of physiology. Above all he taught me to trust myself totally to the practice of Zazen, with no holds barred, and let others judge my actions as good or bad, polite or rude.

My Zazen life brought me to the Alexander Technique. I wholeheartedly believe that FM Alexander re-discovered the secret of Zen for our time.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Denial of Idealism and Materialism

To meet a Buddhist teacher who understands Buddhist philosophy so outstandingly clearly as Nishijima Roshi might be a blessing, and it might be a curse, depending on the karma, and the associated response to the teaching, of the one who meets it. Because to understand intellectually Nishijima Roshi's denial of idealism and materialism, and to drop off body and mind in Zazen, belong to totally different dimensions--they are as far apart as heaven and earth. The former was not a problem for me. The latter is a continuing struggle. I bring to the struggle my intention just to sit, dropping off body and mind. I preach just this intention and I endeavor to practise what I preach. But a moment of clear intention is a rare thing. Thank you, Nishijima Roshi. I do not regret having struggled.

When in sitting I believe
There's no intention to achieve
And no desire to beat the clock
Just clear intention to unlock
With every tick and every tock
Like a trickle drilling rock.