Friday, January 27, 2006

The Blue Lotus Blooms in Fire

You return from abroad to hear that your best friend has been hospitalized with a suspected malignant tumour, and guess what: he has been going out with the woman you love.

Your Dharma-brothers who are publishing your book let you down, and you feel utterly betrayed.

A Johny-come-lately punk who is writing a commentary on a book you translated, writes a post about you on his blog, stating his amazement that someone with 25 years Zazen experience can be "such a total prick."

Your Buddhist master accuses you of being a non-Buddhist with an evil plan, and he asks you to leave his sangha.

What advice does Master Dogen have about coping in such situations? In Fukan-zazengi he writes, SEN-ITSU NI KUFU SEBA, MASANI KORE BENDO NARI: "If we single-mindedly work out, just this is wholehearted pursuit of the truth."

What did Master Dogen mean by work out? (The characters KUFU are as in the Chinese martial arts, kung-fu.) He meant just sit in lotus, and when something arises in the mind--it might be a passing philosophical reflection, it might be a suicidal thought, it might be blind rage; if one waits long enough it will probably be awareness of pain in the legs--just wake up.

"Just wake up" means let the blue lotus bloom. Let it bloom in fire.

There is nothing one can do to make the blue lotus bloom. It can only be allowed. But don't ask me how to allow, because I do not know.

What I can report, from my own experience, is that belief in the teaching of Fukan-zazengi has been, for me, absolutely indispensible.

The blue lotus flower is never mine to give, but I offer my translation and interpretation of Fukan-zazengi to any sincere person who wants it. I do so not with the intellectual confidence of a witty popularizer like Brad Warner, or the dubious legitimacy of a political operator like James Cohen (member of the American Zen Teacher's Association), but with the battlescars of one who has been through 25 years of fire.

20 Comments:

Blogger NickM said...

Sounds good, Mike. How about letting go of your ego and teaching us? What the heck is the Alexander technique anyway? From what I can find it involves the way we use our body. My problem is...bodies come in all shapes and capabilities, and the ability to sit in full lotus or even just to sit at all shouldn't be a prerequisite for awakening.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Ken said...

Mike, you have some good insight. However, you seem to latch on to your personal pain unlike anyone I have ever seen. I don't know, maybe you are just honest about it and my mental picture of you is incorrect. Your life just seems to be very, I don't know...heavy? Sincerely, I hope that you work through the issues you are currently dealing with successfully.

Like Nick said, I have heard a lot ABOUT the Alexander method from you, but NOTHING about how to implement it in my sitting. I have just heard you say that Warner is wrong and that for 20 years you were "bracing yourself" rather than allowing. Care to expand on that?

I appreciate the fact that Alexander Method may be impossible to verbalize completely, but can't you give some concrete step by step instructions on how we can at least begin to appreciate its effectiveness in our sitting? Then perhaps some here may be inspired to go and seek the help of a AM teacher...although you may have turned a few off to this by saying that you learned the method "not from just any old alexander teacher". Well, a lot of us can't run around the globe looking for the real deal.

Without SOME hint of what AM can do realistically, it remains suspicious. Not comparing the two necessarily, but Scientology is kind of like this in terms of ultra secrecy until you put in the appropriate time and energy (aka dollars).

So can you do this for us? can you tell us something real about AM?

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

nickm, ken,

The Alexander Technique is about the use of the whole self by the whole self. It is something very general that does lend itself well to verbal description. But I am happy if what I have written has stimulated your interest in finding out about it, and I have posted onto the sister blog of this one (IT Is Not That), a long and very elegant description of the Technique by Marjory Barlow, FM Alexander's niece. Hope you find this interesting.

I first heard about the Alexander Technique when I visited the Zen Center San Francisco in 1984. I was struck by the easy uprightness of somebody I was sitting next to, a Danish man, and when I told him he modestly gave all the credit to the fact that he was an Alexander student. It took me 10 years to follow up this lead, but a seed had been planted for which I shall be eternally grateful to the Danish man whose name I do not even know.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

nickm,

In Master Dogen's thoughts sitting is not a prerequisite for awakening. He called sitting in Zazen in the upright posture, "the authentic gate," but did not rule out the possibility of awakening via other gates.

In Fukan-zazengi Master Dogen wrote BANBETSU SENSA TO IU TO IEDOMO, SHIKAN NI SANZEN BENDO SUBESHI, "Even though there are ten thousand distinctions and a thousand differences, we should just solely pursue the truth by practicing [za]zen." Implicit in these words is the understanding that awakening can be pursued through, e.g. tea ceremony, martial arts, flower arranging, et cetera et cetera. But the way Master Dogen recommended as supreme was the way of sitting in the lotus posture. He never said it was the only way, just the best way.

The father of a boy I taught was confined to a wheelchair, and I discussed my Zen practice with him. I wondered to myself how I would attempt to teach him if he asked to become my Zen student. He never did ask, but my thoughts about it were that we would have to find an activity -- for example, using the voice to chant -- which appealed to him and which called upon him to put in as much as he could of his whole self.

The central prerequisite for Buddhist awakening, as I see it, is the willingness to open oneself to a new, non-habitual experience of the samadhi of accepting and using the self. Zazen is the traditional and authentic gate. But, for a person who is, say, confined to a wheelchair, it is not necessary to deny the possibility of awakening through other gates.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Ken,

It is for sure that the reality of who I am does not fit the mental picture you have built up by reading my blog.

A few days ago James Cohen circulated an email among Dogen Sanga members recommending, with evident compassion and selfless concern, that I shoud seek psychiatric help for my paranoid condition. But he and I have never met face-to-face even once. He expresses himself on the basis of the mental picture of me that he has formed over the internet, but that view is false, as all views, ultimately are false. Probably my view of him as a two-faced malicious self-promoting troublemaker is also a very partial representation of his true reality.

From your comment, I can tell that you have actually bothered to read and understand what I am trying to say on my blog -- in contrasting "bracing yourself" and allowing, you are touching on the nub of the whole matter. I am encouraged by that.

But, no, I am sorry, it is totally impossible for me to tell you anything real about it. Alexander work is not for everybody, and the more years people are in it the less evangelical they seem to be.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Ken said...

..."But I am happy if what I have written has stimulated your interest in finding out about it, and I have posted onto the sister blog of this one (IT Is Not That), a long and very elegant description of the Technique by Marjory Barlow, FM Alexander's niece. Hope you find this interesting...."

Link?

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger NickM said...

Now you're talking Mike! The Marjory Barlow essay was very informative. It sounds like the old "habit engine" rearing up it's ugly head in physical form. I can see now why you would blend zen and AM. Now you are fighting the engine from both fronts! This is inspiring. Good job, and Thankyou! and thanks for clearing up your views on zazen.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Ken said...

ok, found it...yes, would echo what Nick said, I see where your AM/Zazen integration ideas are coming from now.

So what can I do while sitting in an office chair for 8 hours a day!?

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Dan said...

ken,

Natural Head Poise and Urban-Industrialized Life
Jean Hiernaux
Current Anthropology > Vol. 25, No. 3 (Jun., 1984), pp. 346-347

if anyone has access to www.jstor.org this article is very informative about one element of why AM isn't like scientology.

mike,
i'm sorry if you took offence to some of my earlier comments. i'm not gonna comment on here anymore with my personal opinions about whether you're right or wrong or crazy or sane.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Ken,
Follow the link on the opening page of the blog.

Nickm,
Thank you! Yes, Marjory's thinking is wonderfully clear. She is over 90 now and I haven't seen her for about 18 months. But I can report that she was practicing exactly what she preached in 1965 right up until my last lesson with her in 2004:

"Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen."

Awakening is right there in those words. The difficulty is what does it mean "to let"? I do not know. But to practice Zazen is to ask the question.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Ken,

Even sitting in an office chair, you can ask the question: "What does it mean to let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen?" In short, what does it mean to allow?

In your office chair, you can ask the question in words. When you sit in Zazen, try asking the question without words.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Dan,

Past mistakes are all in the past. As I said before, you are welcome to come up from London and visit me -- as long as you demonstrate your sincerity by shaving your head first. That's what I said and I shall stick to my decision.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Dan said...

mike,
i dunno if that would be a very meaningful demonstration of sincerity cos i shave my head about once every 3 months anyway!thank you for your offer though i am honestly interested in alexander technique.looking at your website, am i right in thinking that you can go to your center to learn about one of the 3 areas you teach? or is it all taught as one complete package? i have to say all this current drama has deeply shaken my faith in all forms of organised religion.i lost faith in tibetan buddhism as an organised religion when i discovered the massive rift between the dalai lama and the dorje shugden sect. that was way worse than what's goin on on these blogs. buddhist monks an lay people were actually physically attacking temples and other monks and people! buddhist monks! fighting! google it if anyone thinks i exagerrate. what is curious is that i tried to see both sides as variously wrong or right. i would think, 'the dalai lama is wrong' and then a few weeks later ' Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is wrong'.the thing is that everything i have heard and read about HH gives a good impression of him and my best friend is a memeber of the NKT (the dorje shugden sect) and lives in a commune with buddhist monks and lay people and they seem nice as well. i realised that it was ridiculous of me to proclaim that one side was wrong and the other right. who the hell was i to do that anyway?either way i lost faith in organised religion tho. then i discovered soto zen which i took to be free of the problems in inherent in a large scale and popular form of religion like tibetan buddhism. in the whole of london there are a mere two groups of a handful of people practising soto zen!then this drama erupted and, entirely forgetting the conclusions i reached about the split in tibetan buddhism i immediately took sides and decided you (mike) were the wrong side. i've just realised that i've done again what i realised i had no place doing with tibetan buddhism: forming an opinion about who was right and wrong!unfortunately tho, the fact that such a rift can exist within even the smallest group of members of an organised religion is something that has kind of depressed me.in my teens i thought buddhists were buddhists. then i found out about the whole mahayana theravada split and that was kind of depressing at the time too. then i learned of the tibetan split, so then i turned to zen and again i found the split between soto and rinzai. and now right down to a sub sect of a sect of buddhism there is yet another split! how absolutely ridiculous. i still practice sitting tho so what does that mean? hmmm. i also am still interested in visiting your center tho but i am just as interested in visiting michael leutchfords thing in hackney.i know you both think the other is wrong but i do not know which if either of you is right or wrong anymore. (as i said before) all i know is that i have pain in my lower back when i sit and i think that AM would help.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger NickM said...

"to allow" sounds kind of like "don't do...just be"...don't put your head where your habit engine thinks it should be, rather just allow it to go where it knows it should be. Something like that?

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

"The excitation is seized upon and re-organised to make it resemble the perception which it is about to cause."

This surrealistic Merleau-Ponty quote in the memorial lecture by Marjory Barlow is amazing.

She referenced it, then claimed to have no understanding of what he meant.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

When I find myself in times of trouble,

My friend Marjory comes to me,

Speaking words of wisdom:

Let it be.


Nickm, Oxeye, I am happy to have sparked some interest in Marjory's words. She deserves to be much better known than she presently is.

As far as I know, the lyrics to Let It Be pre-date Paul McCartney's coming to Marjory Barlow for Alexander lessons, but the connection is nonetheless interesting. Walking up the stairs to Marjory's teaching room one would pass some photographic artwork featuring Marjory sitting in a chair; it was signed by Linda McCartney.

Yes, nickm, I would agree with you. Truly to allow is to come to stillness, to allow everything to be as it is. Let it be.

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Virtual Ain't Reality said...

Hey Mike,

Here's Master Dogen's advice: "That you go forth and experience the world is delusion." & for all your OBVIOUS mastery of Zen, of Dogen, of volleyball and whatever else, you still don't get it. You absolutely do not get it.

Saturday, January 28, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Saturday, January 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,

Do you think that one can sit in balance in the half lotus?

Do you think during Zazen?

Thanks for your comments about James Cohen, he is a terrible bloke.

Thanks

Thursday, July 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Yes, absolutely one can sit in samadhi in the half lotus. But the full lotus is king of samadhis.

Yes, I think in Zazen. I don't know of any teacher who denies the existence of unintentional thoughts in Zazen. The issue is whether or not one should think intentionally. I say yes. Thinking can be a bridge to that which is beyond thinking: samadhi itself.

To put it another way, I intentionally remember myself, by doing and by thinking, with a view to forgetting myself -- with a view to losing myself in spontaneous undoing.

I have never met James Cohen personally. But from his writing I clearly notice the existence of what Master Dogen called a gap. He says what he says, and he shows the photo that he shows, in the effort to manifest himself as an authentic successor of Nishijima Roshi. But the principle on which he is operating is not the principle that Nishijma Roshi taught me -- which is to pursue the balanced state in which the will to fame and profit does not arise.

It is late at night now, and this clearing by the forest is uttterly peaceful. I have been practicing Zazen all afternoon and evening. I feel that this state that I am enjoying now, this simple life, is just to authentically succeed to the samadhi of the ancestors. How to share it with others I do not know. Blogging is a very poor way.

Thursday, July 27, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home