Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The View from the Top of the Mountain

Who climbed Everest first? Tensing or Hilary?

United at the top of the mountain, those guys didn’t care. To the extent that they were an item, the question was irrelevant. Everest had allowed itself to be climbed, and that was that.
Afterwards people with fish to fry turned it into a big deal. Someone had to have been number one.

Yesterday Brad Warner circulated an email to members of Dogen Sangha stating categorically his opinion that “While I was not present for any of the conversations and exchanges involved in Mr. Cross’s work on Shobogenzo, I can assume they resembled the ones I have been involved with regarding other translations. The words in the English version of Shobogenzo may have been chosen by Mike Cross. But the translator of the work is Gudo Nishijima.”

Brad is like those Indian nationalists who proclaimed, without having been there but on the basis of their strongly held assumptions, that Tensing was first up. Brad’s judgement is clouded by a political agenda.

The people who know best about my Shobogenzo translation process are me and my wife Chie. When in 1997 Gudo Nishijima decided to stop my revision, fearing that I was corrupting Master Dogen‘s teaching with “Alexander theory,” I did not shed a tear. I just redoubled my determination to get to the bottom of Zazen. But my wife shed tears profusely. Senior members of Dogen Sangha who were there in Japan during the years in question and who can bear true witness to what happened are Michael Luetchford, Jeremy Pearson, and Gabriele Linnebach. Latter-day politicians who have expressed an opinion, such as Brad Warner, James Cohen, and Michel Proulx, have no basis on which to do so other than their own intellectual suppositions.

Tensing and Hilary’s was a joint effort all the way. The Nishijima/Cross translation was a joint effort all the way. But if someone would like to steal the translation from me, I am going to say: “Wait a minute. That is my translation you are stealing.” I am going to say it long and loud.

Gudo Nishijima is not deliberately lying when he says that he translated Shobogenzo, and I rewrote it, because that is what he sincerely believes. So it is quite logical, from his point of view, that he should recommend me, as he has done, to make another translation, the Mike Cross translation (“based on Alexander theory“). But Gudo Nishijima’s point of view is wrong, and by acting on it, he is in danger of turning himself into a thief. It is time for me to say so. I have suppressed myself out of loyalty to Gudo Nishijima for too many years already.

The last will and testament of Gautama Buddha is this: Endeavor, with undivided mind, to pursue the truth of liberation.

Liberate what from what? The Buddha is talking about the struggle to liberate the self from unconsciousness. The Shobogenzo translation process has and continues to be part of that struggle to liberate the self from unconsciousness -- nothing more or less than that.

I have understood, as a result of struggling for more than ten years to understand the relevance of the discoveries of FM Alexander in the practice of Zazen, that we can never liberate ourselves from unconsciousness by DOING something unconsciously. We liberate ourselves by consciously deciding NOT TO DO what otherwise we would do unconsciously.

This includes the conscious decision, when something arises in the mind, not to suppress it. Suppression is a form of unconscious doing. So Master Dogen instructed us, “When something arises in the mind, just become conscious.” Don’t do something unconsciously. On the contrary, consciously decide not to do anything unconsciously.

One of the dangers of meeting Buddhism is that it may stimulate us, in our idealistic zeal, to suppress our own innermost desires. This form of unconscious doing is always a mistake.
I cultivated the bad habit of suppressing myself during my years in Japan. It was a form of unconscious doing that I felt I should do for the sake of the Shobogenzo translation. In retrospect, it was not skilful practice. Nowadays I see that the subtle skill of Zazen is to consciously decide not to do what otherwise I would do unconsciously. This is the essential skill of Zazen, and my mission to teach it to others has begun.

One task is to demonstrate the difference between true Buddhist teaching of Zazen and the viewpoint of Brad Warner.

On December 16th last year, a visitor to my blog recommended me to check out “Brad’s meditation post” on his Hardcore Zen blog. I did so and came across the following paragraph:

"When I started studying with Nishijima Sensei, I found that he did not like any of these methods at all. Not even breath counting. It wasn't like he warned us all against them as if they were gonnna ruin the practice. I think what he said was something like, "Those methods are a little bit artificial." The only "artificial" thing he recomended was taking three deep breaths at the beginning of practice — and even this, he said, was a bit fakey, though somewhat useful. I have never seen him recommend anything other than this, and fixing your posture, for dealing with thoughts that come up in Zazen."

Brad Warner does not know what he is talking about. Before he published it on his webpage, he asked me for my feedback on his article “Proper Posture Required.” It contains the following further gem:

After a few years of sitting zazen wrong, I finally buckled down and started doing it right and noticed a tremendous difference, not just physically, but mentally as well. You will too if you try it.

Presumably thinking that Alexander Technique is all about “fixing your posture,” Brad thought to ask me for my feedback on his article--as if, while having nothing to say to him about Buddhism itself, I might know a technical or issue or two about how to fix oneself in the right posture.

When I took the trouble to reply to him, Brad didn’t want to engage with me in a discussion of why his thinking about posture might be flawed. He ignored my reply to his email and went right ahead and published his misguided teaching on his webpage. I shall persist in my efforts to demonstrate the falsity of the viewpoint expressed here by Brad Warner. What he is propagating is never true Buddhism.


Blogger NickM said...

outside the window sun shines on newly fallen snow

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger RepeatDose said...

Your assertion that supression is actually an unconscious, rather than a conscious act is very important, and seems to get lost in a lot of other zen teachings.

I have a question, though, with regards to the teachings of FM Alexander. Do you advocate a synthesis of the teachings of Alexander and buddha dharma, or do they essentially represent the same teaching, formulated and articulated differently?

Thank you

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Friend said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, nickm. Refreshing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, repeatdose. Your question is a very pertinent one.

I was attracted to sitting in the full lotus posture from the age of about 10 yrs old. Since meeting Gudo Nishijima at the age of 22 and beginning to read Master Dogen's teachings, firstly in English and then in the original Japanese, to get to the bottom of Zazen has been a kind of obsession for me. When I had my first Alexander lessons in Japan in 1994, I knew with all my heart that the teachings of FM Alexander were the way by which I was going to get to the bottom of Zazen.

I had a lesson with my Alexander teacher yesterday. She doesn't claim to know anything about Zen, but I told her after the lesson that for me her every word and action were teaching me how to sit (or how NOT TO sit) in Zazen. Mind you, she is no ordinary Alexander teacher.

So, to answer your question, I have nothing to advocate other than what Master Dogen advocated in Fukan-zazengi.

But what I am bearing witness to here is the fact that without meeting the teachings of FM Alexander, I don't think that I would ever have understood what Master Dogen advocates in Fukan-zazengi. I would still be labouring, like Brad Warner et cetera, under the wrong conception that Zazen is about making unconscious adjustments to one's physical posture.

Thank you

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Chris said...

"...unconscious adjustments to one's physical posture"


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".

Am I to allow the daydreaming and relaxing of posture? Or am I to try to Consciously supress daydreaming and relaxing of posture? It seems that consciously NOT DOing and supressing are the same. Yet supressing and allowing are quite the opposite are they not?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Chris h,

On the Dogen Sangha blog, you wrote:

You don't really have to know what stations the trains were coming from to see the train wreck....

Would you like to explain to me what you mean by that?

From now on I'm going to start exercising a bit more discretion in whose comments I respond to.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger RepeatDose said...

Thank you Mike.

So, as I understand it, Alexander's teachings have enabled you, personally, to understand Dogen's Fukan-zazengi.

On the other hand, you would presumably agree that it is possible, albeit extremely difficult, to understand Fukan-zazengi without Alexander. After all, its author, Dogen, lived five centuries before the technique was developed, and we are to assume that he understood his own writing.

Why were Dogen, and presumably Gautama before him, able to reach a level of understanding as expressed in fukan-zazengi, through zazen alone, and you yourself require the additional practice of the Alexander technique? Has something changed in five centuries which necessitates that the true student of zazen seek guidance from the teachings of another practice?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger HumptyDumpty said...

Dear Mike

Have been curiously keeping abreast of all the viewpoints being banded around on this and other blogs recently. Always willing to give someone else's point of view a chance. I have a practice that get's me through life just now. That's why I got invloved in the first place. Not really interested in most of the stuff that gets discussed. Way over my head. Not Buddhist enough to keep up. Have questioned lately if I AM just blindly repeating things I've been told or read. Interesting. But the fact is I don't really care about Buddhism anymore. I don't have much need for it now. I'm enjoying my life the way it is. I know that will change but for the time being I'm enjoying myself, ups and downs and challenges and all. If I was on my death bed tomorrow I think I'd be satisfied that I did my best with my life. When I look back on it I have had a good life so far. I am very lucky. What has helped me realise that I think is a combination of Zazen, contact with a person who has helped point me in the right direction sometimes, maturity, and the love and support I get from those around me, or it might not be, I don't know and I really don't care about it that much. I don't spend the time like I used to analysing everything and bothering about all these Buddhist things. Takes up too much headspace. Better giving that to my life as it is right now. To the people that matter. What happens if I get to a point where I've sacrificed so much in my life in pursuit of some truth that when discovered is exactly like it was before I discovered it. What a waste of precious time that would be. Follows that the person I occasionally keep in contact with has become less a Buddhist teacher to me than someone I can phone the odd time and have an everyday friendly chat, or confide in to help iron out a wee crease or two. That person is occasionally mentioned on these blogs and it hurts me to have his name dragged through the mud. He has helped me through some tough times in the past and I am very grateful for that and I really couldn’t give a fuck if he’s made the grade or not. He's just a normal guy to me now, a friend. This latest post has made me write. Something I've thought about before. Interesting. Have wondered if avoiding suppressing thoughts is just another form of doing. Will never be a follower. Shoot me down in flames if you want people. That seems to be largely what these blogs are all about. But remember, before you waste your time, before you find that I've maybe contradicted myself somewhere, I couldn’t really give a fuck for your smart arsed comments. Sincerest best wishes to you all and thank you Mike for this latest post.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Michael said...


"...Has something changed in five centuries which necessitates that the true student of zazen seek guidance from the teachings of another practice?"

There's something called uppaya (I'm not sure if it's one "p" or two) -- skillful/expedient means -- that may be able to answer your question.
As I understand it, skillful means are whatever it takes, whatever you find useful, to help you to understand something. Koans are uppaya, as is zazen, as is the incense that burns during zazen (if my understanding of the term is correct).
Whatever helps you to jump over that wall (or blast through it) has the potential to be uppaya.
This is my understanding, anyway.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Michael said...

... and, I forgot to add that I would think that ideas coming from outside Zen and/or Buddhism in general can be uppaya -- if not for you, then for someone else, and vice versa.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...


Your questions, again, are very pertinent ones. Thank you.

Yes I would absolutely agree that it is possible, albeit extremely difficult, to understand Fukan-zazengi without Alexander. And I would add that it is also extremely difficult to understand Fukan-zazengi with Alexander.

With Alexander or without Alexander, the point is to get to the bottom of Fukan-zazengi.

How do I know that I have finally got to the bottom of it now? I don't know. Sometimes I feel that I do know, but my feeling often turns out not to have been reliable. What I do know is that the understanding I had before was false, and Brad's teaching about fixing the posture is also false. To be fair to Brad, the fault probably lies more with his teacher than with him. At the same time, maybe we get the teacher we deserve.

I don't see Alexander work as an "additional practice." It is a kind of tool to help one see where one is going wrong, to drop off one's false perceptions.

In response to your latter questions, don't forget that both Gautama Buddha and Master Dogen had their teachers. The seven legendary buddhas in the former case, Master Tendo Nyojo in the latter case. It is not accurate to speak of "zazen alone."

In my case I needed the Zazen teaching of Gudo Nishijima, but that teaching alone wasn't sufficient for me. I have also needed the hands-on guidance of Alexander teachers (and not just any old Alexander teachers) to help me see where I go wrong.

Master Dogen himself said that without meeting a true teacher, it may be better not to practise at all. That is a big statement.

I say again that I don't advocate any practice other than Zazen. The Alexander Technique is not "another practice." It is a set of principles that can be applied to any activity.

Your questions are good ones, and I haven't got all the answers.

Keep asking.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Chris said...


No disrespect intended. I was merely pointing out within the context of your discussion with "justin" that one need not know the entire history of Dogen Sangha to see what is going on now.

I would have quoted you here in your reply to "justin" but your comments have been deleted.

But in effect what you said was something to the effect of "Mind your own bloody business" or some such.

Let me remind you that you have brought this issue to the public forum. It just seemed silly to me that you would berate someone for commenting on it.

I do, however, have the utmost respect for anyone who has practiced with sincerity for such a long time. I wish to try to learn something. I hope you might address my previous question now.

Thursday, January 26, 2006  

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