Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fukan-zazengi Fundamentalism

In his comments on my last post, Michael (One Foot In Front the Other) expressed the view, or at least implied it that, the Alexander Technique might be understood as a skilful/expedient means on a par with koan study, or Zazen itself, or incense, or ideas such as those of physiology, coming from outside traditional Buddhist thought.

I like Michael’s style, his tone, his blog, and his evident courage, but there is something in what he suggests here that I disagree with, and would like to clarify what it is.

The first thing I want to emphasize is that, for me, anything that I see as incompatible with Master Dogen’s teaching in Fukan-zazengi is out. That definitely includes so-called koan study. Intentionally thinking about koans in Zazen only excites the brain. What Master Dogen means by “Just wake up” is something totally different. He is talking about liberating the whole self from unconsciousness.

Of course in the process of translating Shobogenzo, one finds oneself thinking about koans the whole time. But Master Dogen’s teaching is that, when one recognizes one has been thinking about a koan, just then we should make our effort to wake up.

If I ever felt that the principles of Alexander’s teaching were incompatible with Fukan-zazengi, those principles would be out. I would discard them without hesitation. But I would stake my life (in a sense I have staked it already) on the fact that there is nothing whatsoever in Alexander’s teaching that is incompatible with Master Dogen’s teaching in Fukan-zazengi.

In recent months I have come increasingly to the conclusion that Gudo Nishijima’s view of the centrality of balance of the autonomic nervous system is incompatible with the teaching of Fukan-zazengi. Understanding about the autonomic nervous system is not understanding of how to wake up. It is a view that should be dropped off in Zazen, not brought into Zazen. Alexander’s understanding is just understanding about how to wake up, about how to drop off all views, including Alexandrian views.

The second thing to emphasize is that, in Shobogenzo, Zazen is never put on a par with anything else. Master Dogen writes of the wonderful skill/means (MYOJUTSU) that buddhas have, and he writes in Fukan-zazengi of the essential skill/means of Zazen. But Zazen itself is not only a skilful means. Master Dogen reveres even the Zazen of a beginner who has no skilful means. He reveres Zazen above all other things. This reverence runs through the whole of Shobogenzo and it is distilled in Fukan-zazengi.

Gudo Nishijima taught me to be a Fukan-zazengi fundamentalist. The irony is that, in order to truly be so, I had to go beyond his teaching. Neither he nor I have coped very well with that necessity.

In Gudo’s eyes, to go beyond his teaching was to depart from Buddhism. But that was only the old man’s arrogance. It is this arrogance that I hated so deeply even before we fell out over Alexander work--probably because in the mirror of the old man’s arrogance I saw my own inflated sense of self-importance.

So I have reacted to him and he has reacted right back at me, resulting in the present mucky and heated situation. But it is out of such muck and amid such heat that the blue lotus blooms.

Don't dwell on all the crap and don't worry about the heat -- just look out for the blue lotus.


Blogger Michael said...

Hi Mike,

Many thanks for expressing your thoughts on what I wrote. Whether, in the end, one agrees with them or not, I think it's a good thing to learn about other perspectives.

Thursday, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Many thanks to you Michael. In the matter of open-mindedness I hope I have learnt something from you -- not because you have tried to straighten me out, but because of the example you set. At least to begin to see the narrowness of one's habitual thinking patterns may be something.

Thursday, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Chris h wrote:

Please explain further this "unconscious adjustment". When I get to daydreaming in zazen or leaning too far to one side that is what seems "unconscious", though my adjustment seems rather "conscious".

Chris, When we are daydreaming or leaning off to one side, we are not conscious of our erring, and so there is nothing we can do about it. We might as well enjoy it.

But at the moment we recognize our daydreaming or leaning, if we are able to delay our immediate reaction to this recognition, then the possibility exists for a variety of responses.

The response which Gudo Nishijima used to recommend me to take, at least as I understood it, was to bring my attention back to "keeping the spine straight vertically." (What Brad has called "fixing the posture.")In other words, I would bring my attention back to the matter of doing something. But nowadays I don't think that this kind of attention/doing is what Master Dogen meant by "waking up."

When we are making this kind of postural adjustment we seem to be conscious, but it is just nerve-cells becoming active in our brain, and setting off a chain of unconscious reactions. It is not the whole body being liberated from unconsciousness.

How to liberate the whole body from unconsciousness is the problem. This requires not a gross physical act of postural self-adjustment but what Master Dogen called a "subtle skill."

I don't regard myself as being a master of the subtle skill by any means. I have not yet managed to get my dirty paws on it. But, in my ceaseless efforts to justify the enormous Mike Cross ego, I have discovered the real existence of this subtle skill. And so here I am letting everybody know about it--like an ancient explorer returning to the royal court, leaving a trail of destruction behind him and eagerly expecting glory.

Efforts to describe the subtle skill in words cannot succeed. But it seems to have to do with NOT DOING, ALLOWING.

Thursday, January 26, 2006  

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