Tuesday, February 28, 2006


In Shobogenzo chap. 70 Master Dogen discusses a Sanskrit term, bodhicitta, which means the will to be awake. Bodhicitta, to me, means my wish not to be a slave to unconscious reaction.

Master Dogen writes that to establish bodhicitta means to vow that, and to endeavor so that, "Before I myself cross over, I will take across all living beings."

So bodhicitta is not a selfish wish that I should cross over to the plane of conscious control, while the rest of you can sod off, go to hell. It is a wish that we should all cross over together, led by me.

When I have told people like Kwatz and Oreste on this blog that "if your attitude is like that, you can sod off," this is how I intend the invitation to sod off. My wish is to lead all living beings across, and that is what I am endeavoring to do. That is what this blog is all about.

If you do not wish to be led by me, if my attitude does not seem compassionate enough for you, or you have some other complaint about me, then why are you bothering me? Sod off and establish your own bodhicitta.

In the second half of the 19th century, two men were born who would manifest very strong and very conspicuous examples of the bodhicitta. One was FM Alexander (1869 - 1954). The other was Kodo Sawaki (1880 - 1965).

A few years after the passing of these greats, when I was in my teens, I was prone to suffer from chronic blushing. On the school bus, if, God forbid, I ended up sitting next to a girl, I would suffer an extreme autonomic reaction, going bright red and then finally stepping off the bus reduced to a pale and clammy dribble of sweat. It wasn't so much that I was reacting to the girl; I was reacting to myself. The fear of a chronic blushing episode made the meat it fed on. Thus I became conscious to what extent I was enslaved to my emotional reactions, just as surely is if I were in iron chains.

That is what attracted me to the way of karate-do. I wanted to be a big strong guy, in control of his emotions, not a blushing wimp. Karate-do took me to the island of Okinawa, where I trained under the chief instructor of International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate Federation, Morio Higaonna. While in Okinawa I visited an English language bookstore and picked up Gudo Nishijima's book How to Practice Zazen. In the front of this book was a photo of Kodo Sawaki sitting in the full lotus posture, shaven headed and wearing a kesa. I was deeply struck by it. It seemed to fit the bill of what I was seeking to make myself into. I was an emotional wimp, and I knew it, and I wanted to make myself into a big strong independent guy, an emotional brick, as Kodo Sawaki appeared to me to be.

According to FM Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow, FM Alexander's motivation in his youth was the same as mine was. FM didn't want to be a slave to his unconscious reactions. He wished to be free.

Through nearly 3o years on this journey towards Supreme Awakening, Bodhi, how much progress have I made? I don't know. I hope that I have become more awake, little by little, that the iron chains have loosened their grip, at least in odd moments. I am still prone to emotional gusts, but I worry about them less. Have I finally crossed over yet? I don't think so.

But establishment of the bodhicitta does not require me to have crossed over myself already. It requires me to vow:

"Before I myself cross over, I will take across all living beings."

That I do vow. That vow, this Tuesday morning as I await my first client of the day, a 4-year old boy with autistic tendencies, I hereby renew.

Monday, February 27, 2006

My Best Friend is Unconsecrated

To people who expect me to show compassion, I do not say Sorry. I say Sod off.

I sit in the full lotus posture, head shaven, wearing kesa-sewn kesa, but I am not a holy man. As I sit like this, I know a long breath as long and know a short breath as short. Knowing a short breath as short, I know that I am restricting my breathing. I do not hold my breath on purpose. Holding the breath as I do is symptomatic of wrong unconscious habit, of wrong doing.

During 13 years in Japan I tried to become right by deliberately doing something that was originally not habitual to me -- namely "pulling in the chin and keeping the spine straight vertically." But it didn't work. I didn't become right at all.

Then I met the teaching of FM Alexander. In particular, I met the compassionate teaching of Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow, who taught me to regard my wrong unconscious habits as my best friend.

Ah yes, that's better already. I begin to breathe more easily. Thank you Marjory.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Note to Self: Don't Try to Be Buddha

Thanks to all who have contributed, in various ways, to the discussion of what Master Dogen meant by MU-I.

The only thing I feel really confident in concluding about it is this: when the buddhas realize the supreme awakening, they do not do so by doing something unconsciously. The subtle method which is present in them, at the time of their supreme awakening, must be free of unconscious doing.

An unconscious person cannot become truly conscious just by doing something unconsciously. A person whose body is not awake, a person who is a slave to unconscious habit, does not get that body out of its unconscious, slumbering, automatic-pilot mode of being by, for example, running around the block in his or her habitual way. (Running around the block in a non-habitual way might be a different matter.)

In order to wake up in the true sense, in the sense of liberating oneself from unconsciousness, one has to be guided by a principle other than the principle of just doing one's old thing unconsciously.

So I think that MU-I, however one decides to translate it for oneself into English, inevitably includes the meaning of absence of unconscious doing. Going deeper, it must also include the absence of the roots of that unconscious doing, by which I mean any hidden agenda that one has, any fish to fry, any secret intention to achieve something, to become something, to be someone.

Over the course of the discussions of MU-I, I saw again, with renewed clarity, in my reaction to Pierre's comments, that one of my own particular fish that I have to fry is the desire always to be the One who Knows. This causes me, on a very deep level, to try to be Buddha. But such trying is death and destruction to the true enjoyment of just sitting in the lotus posture.

This is why I call myself a fraud. Calling myself a fraud is not a double bluff. I AM a fraud. Here I am subscribing to a principle, and actively promoting to others, a principle that is too difficult for me to follow. I preach what I don't practice. The principle I am preaching, the principle of non-doing, is a wonderful principle, a beautifully simple principle, the Truth itself made into a principle, the Supreme Principle. But in practice, in the innermost core of my being, I don't follow it. This is probably why Joe Walsh's old lyric rings so true in my inner ear:

My Maserati does one-eighty-five.
I lost my license, now I don't drive.

Friday, February 24, 2006

MU-I: Free of What?

In the opening sentence of Shobogenzo Master Dogen DID NOT WRITE that when buddhas verify, in their own experience, the supreme awakening of bodhi, then there is present in them in-depth knowledge of the sciences of psychology and physiology.

Master Dogen wrote that when buddhas verify, in their own experience, the supreme awakening of bodhi, then there is present in them a subtle method which is of the highest order and free of *******.

Free of ******* is two Chinese characters: MU-I.

In a compound, the first character, MU, means "without" or "free of." On its own it means "nothing." The original Chinese pictograph is of paper above flames.

So the big question is this: when Gautama Buddha sat under the bodhi tree, there was present in him a subtle method which was free of what?

In endeavoring to learn the backward step, I come back to this question often. And at different times I come up with different answers. Twelve years ago, when Shobogenzo Book One was published, the translation of MU-I that I selected was "without intention." I now regard that as a woeful translation. But I still like "without intention to achieve."

Another translation that I like is "free of doing."

But my intention in this post is not to put forward a definitive translation of MU-I. Rather, I invite you to leave a comment saying the translation that would be most meaningful to you now.
To help you, the English translation of the second character in the compound, I , is given in the dictionary as "be of use; do; try; turn into" (Nelson character dictionary) and "do; be; become" (Spahn/Hadamitzky character dictionary).

As a compound, MU-I is given in the Kenkyusha New Japanese-English dictionary as "idleness; inactivity; inaction."

As further background, Master Dogen exhorts us in Fukan-zazengi to "revere a person who is through with study and MU-I."

In his translation of Shobogenzo into modern Japanese, Gudo explains MU-I as saku-i no nai koto; shizen na koto, "without artificiality; natural." In his original translation of Shobogenzo into English, Gudo went with "natural."

Finally, in Buddhist sutras translated from Sanskrit, MU-I represents the Sanskrit word asamskrta, which is given in the Monier-Williams as "not prepared, not consecrated; unadorned; unpolished, rude (as speech)."

Please, don't be shy: go beyond right and wrong and have a go. Probably there is no right answer anyway. The great thing is to ask ourselves the question.

And if you find this kind of exercise useful, let me know and I will do the same thing with other key terms in Shobogenzo. I have often thought that the ideal thing would be for each person to be able to translate the key terms in Master Dogen's teaching for themselves, not to rely on the dirty filter of other people's understanding.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Way of the Birds

There can be great freedom in just being stiff. And there can be great stiffness in trying to be free.

To paraphrase the words of a great and compassionate old Buddha, Marjory Barlow, "The pursuit of individual freedom is the most serious thing in the world, but you mustn't take it seriously."

I remember sitting on the number 90 bus as, one afternoon in autumn of 1977, it rolled down the hill of Wake Green Rd in Hall Green, Birmingham. I had just finished my last school exam and was filled with an enormous sense of liberation. I resolved not to lose this sense of liberation. For the next five years my life was often too free -- there was too much allowing, not enough self-restraint. Karate-do found me, but I still allowed my deluded self to descend into drunken brawls and mindless acts of vandalism. Love found me, but I still allowed myself to stray onto the dismal path of one-night stands.

Then when I met Gudo Nishijima in 1982 I became convinced that the supreme enlightenment of Gautama Buddha was a genuine historical truth, not only a legend, and so I determined to pursue that truth, following Gudo's teaching. To what extent my own reaction was responsible, and to what extent the misguided instruction of Gudo was responsible, I do not know. Rather than apportion blame, it is probably truer to see it as a mutual effort: we were a mirror for each other's rigidity. Anyway, the way I sat in Zazen was very stiff. In my effort to "keep the spine straight vertically" I stiffened my joints to a degree which, from an Alexander viewpoint, was not good for my health. I was so stiff that I could hardly breathe without deliberately using my abdominal muscles to do so. And yet, the funny thing is that in this rigidity, in this extreme form of self-restraint, there was also a certain freedom. To the extent that I knew no other way of sitting, I was not inclined to worry too much about how I sat. I just got on with sitting stiffly. However much it restricted the process of natural breathing, I still enjoyed it.

From 1994 when I dived into Alexander work, I realized that there was indeed another way of sitting. A totally different way of sitting. A way of sitting guided not by instinct but by conscious direction. So I brought myself and my family back to England in order that I could enter Alexander teacher training. I wanted my sitting no longer to be stiff but to be free as possible. The funny thing that I see more and more clearly, however, in myself and in many other Alexander trainees and teachers who are going around trying to be free, is that there can be a tremendous amount of subtle stiffening in this trying to be free.

It is as if some higher power, with a lively sense of humour, has given us an inherent tendency to wish to pursue liberation, and is looking down and laughing at our efforts to do so. We can never be truly free through trying to be free. Because tree freedom includes freedom from trying. But we can never be free by sitting stiffly upright either.

So here I sit, making friends with the stiffness that I create in my joints, knowing that a freer way of being exists, but also knowing that if I try to reach out and grab it, it will elude me.

I will end this post by cutting and pasting a comment left by Ordinary Bloke on my blog of February 17th.

During zazen this morning what did I hear? A car starting up in the street outside, the rumble of some heavy machinery in the distance, the central heating boiler in the kitchen, an early morning train on the railway, the old guy next door coughing, his grandchildren running up and down the stairs laughing, and, oh yes, a bird singing in the garden. After morning zazen I usually find myself getting on with doing stuff. Gardening, cooking, cleaning, shopping, diy, whatever, but strangely this morning I found myself reading the WILD NOTEBOOK column in the Times, a column I generally never even look at. In the last paragraph Simon Barnes writes "In stillness, the natural world can come to you. Move towards a bird, and it goes: stay where you are and it comes to you. Sometimes.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Learning the Backward Step

The most important thing to learn is what Master Dogen called the backward step. The backward step of turning one's light inward so that body and mind naturally drop off, and one's original features appear.

Once a Zen master in the authentic one-to-one lineage of transmission from Sakyamuni has transmitted to you this fundamental principle, then other things are no big deal.

The woman you love ditches you. After 20 years, you still haven't got over it. Still, it's just a part of being human--no big deal. Your Zen Master himself, in his dotage, suspects that you have evil motives. In the end, that is just an old man's worry--no big deal.

In his comments to the previous post, Oxeye wrote: "How many people out there don't give a damn what other people think of them? You just put your head down and keep pushing."

Oxeye's words were intended kindly, but it is not true that I don't care what others think of me. I do care. I hope that I don't care unduly, but I do care. Because I care, I hold myself in fear, I brace myself against the chill wind of external criticism, holding on to body and mind as if I might otherwise fall apart.

In the past I have made the mistake of pretending not to care. Nowadays I prefer to bear witness to the fact that I do care. I cannot change what I did in the past, but what I did in the past was false. It was symptomatic of trying to be right.

The Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow once said to me, "Listen love, being wrong is the best friend we have got in this work." These were words of true compassion.

I have come to see that holding onto body and mind is my starting point in Zazen. It is the foundation upon which to build.

Oxeye observes that I am always pushing forward. The truth I wish to tell you is that I go back, again and again. I do not put my head down and push forward. I direct my head forward and up and step back.

I have learned that this is the most important thing to learn -- the backward step. We go back to the drawing board, back to beginner's mind, back to square one, back to the starting point. We can't push forward to the drawing board, beginner's mind, square one, the starting point. What gets us back to the starting point is the backward step. The backward step IS the starting point.

So I go back, again and again, to awareness of how I am -- wrong in my doing, holding, caring, fixing. And, in that awareness of how I am, I come back to the intention of how I wish to be. I don't mean only paying lip-service to some words that I learned before, like "neck free, head released out, spine released into length, back expanding...." I mean: How do I truly wish to be? I wish to be free.

Here and now, how am I? Am I holding my breath again?

Yes, to some extent I am.

How do I wish to be?

I wish to be more free, less held. I wish to go in the right direction.

In the end what I want is to be sitting in the full lotus posture allowing body and mind to drop off.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Life's Been Good


The present and future are open to change

My mistakes of the past are not.

The mind-seal of Buddha we cannot arrange

But to see that is worth quite a lot.


I was laughing inside this morning after this verse emerged, and remembering the old Joe Walsh song:

My Maserati does one-eighty-five
I lost my license, now I don't drive....

Lucky I'm sane after all I've been through;
I can't complain, but sometimes I still do:
Life's been good to me so far.

I love those lyrics. I chug along in a 3-door 1997 Toyota Starlet, lovely wife in the passenger seat, two healthy adolescent sons squashed ino the back. The Toyota is not a Maserati, but it has proved itself totally reliable in getting us from A to B these past nine years. Life really has been good to me so far. Thank God for all the mistakes I have made. How else would I ever have learned anything?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


A cloud of unknowing?
Or light in the dark?

Does it put out the fire?
Or light the first spark?

Like the eye of a tiger?
Or the flight of a lark?

Like a greedy spring acorn?
Or a birch shedding bark?

Like strenuous rowing?
Or a stretch in the park?

The mind-seal of Buddha
Bears what kind of mark?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sunday Prayer

In the Sunday-morning drizzle a songbird sings with all his might.
It is neither God, nor the Universe.
Thy will be done.
Thy will be done.
Sweet songbird's song,
Thy will be done.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


The criterion of the Buddha’s true teaching is a state of being that Master Dogen expressed by quoting five chinese characters. In Japanese they are pronounced JI-JU-YO-ZAN-MAI. JI means the self. JU means to accept. YO means to use. ZANMAI represents the sound of the Sanskrit word samadhi.

Gudo Nishijima has taken a definite view on the meaning of samadhi, identifying it with the homeostatic function of the autonomic nervous system. According to this view, accepting the self corresponds to the function of the parasympathetic nerves, and using the self corresponds to the function of the sympathetic nerves.

Each person is free to make up their own mind about the usefulness to them of this view of Gudo. Some may feel that this view is useful for their Buddhist practice, just as some people feel it is useful in Alexander work to study anatomy and physiology. Later they may come to understand that the original teaching of both Gautama and FM calls upon us to relinquish all such views. Or they may not.

Either way, what one can say is that Gudo Nishijima, because of a lifetime spend reading, thinking about, translating, and lecturing on Shobogenzo, clearly understood the central importance of JIJUYO-ZANMAI in Master Dogen’s teaching. This centrality is not a view; it is the essence of the Buddhist tradition, as Master Dogen endeavored to describe and record it in Shobogenzo. It is just the pursuit of this centrality that requires us to stop holding views, to stop all our holding.

In his original instructions for Zazen, Master Dogen wrote, “When something arises in the mind, just wake up.” The question I have been asking on this blog, mainly of myself, is: What did Master Dogen mean by “just wake up”?

The true answer to this question does not lie in the dictionary, or in any post or comment that we might make on this blog. The true answer might be in the asking of the question itself. The supreme answer might be to ask the question with one’s whole being sitting in full lotus.

So the true answer might be the asking of an open question, or the open asking of a question. At the same time, the answer/question has a criterion for whether its asking is truly open or not. And that criterion is the samadhi of accepting and using the self.

As I have written in previous posts, I have come to see samadhi as having to do with stillness. Stillness in the sense of not, at least momentarily, being disturbed by unconscious reactions.
The habit of holding oneself still, of fixing, is the most pernicious of these unconscious reactions. What I want in Zazen, or what Zazen requires of me, is not this kind of unconsciously held stillness. What is called for is stillness without fixity.

Some bright spark will doubtless comment that I have relinquished one view of samadhi (autonomic balance) only to replace it with another view (stillness without fixity). Maybe that is true, but I haven’t experienced it like that. Rather, my experience has been that, as I have formed one view after another, the combination of Zazen and Alexander work has invited me to recognize every such view as just an impediment to freedom, an impediment that I should drop off.

When one sits in lotus and drops off all views, what is left?
Detachment -- “a bit of nothing.”
The true Dharma teaching itself.
Stillness without fixity.
The Samadhi that is King of Samadhis.

So JIJUYO-ZANMAI means to me something like “stillness (without fixity) in accepting and using the self.”

Accepting the self means accepting the head/spine, torso, arms, and legs, all together. Using the self means using the head/spine, torso, arms and legs, all together.

Waking up in Zazen has to do with not accepting and using the head/spine, torso, arms and legs in a habitual, automatic, instinctive, unconscious, way; and thereby allowing a new, non-habitual, consciously directed acceptance and use of the self.

The habitual way of accepting and using the self is a way that is bound up with old, obsolete views. The new way is the way of relinquishing all views, which is the way of samadhi, of stillness without fixity. To have realized this way is, as FM Alexander expressed it, to have experienced detachment in the basic sense.

Balance of the autonomic nervous system is a new idea in Buddhism, an innovation of Gudo Nishijima. But I do not think that I have expressed above any idea of my own that is new in Buddhism.

I would like to bear witness to the fact that the teaching of FM Alexander caused me to understand that I should not subscribe to any new idea in Buddhism, but should just drop off my own views and opinions about everything.

My first real understanding of this teaching came in the context of Alexander work. Then, when I came across this exact same teaching in the words of Master Nagarjuna, as translated by Michael Luetchford and quoted in Floating Weed’s blog, I was grabbed by them. It is one and the same teaching.

As a Buddhist, I should drop all views, including views whose holding I do not recognize. Because I hold, and am held, like this by views, there is nothing for it but to intend just to sit. Then, in that sitting, when something arises in the mind and I am tempted to react to it, the secret is not to react to it blindly on the basis of my habitual pattern of viewing/holding; but instead to allow something else.

Not to be perturbed by surface movements, be they raging surf of gentle waves; to acknowledge the deeper possibility of something else.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bodhicitta: The Will to Be One

Good old BBC Radio 4, the voice of British reason, tolerance, and fair play.

My mind has been busy of late with thoughts about the meaning of submission, and its antithesis -- disobedience, or opposition.

The Islaamic principle of submission seems to me to be totally admirable. To submit oneself utterly must be the supreme allowing. The examples of Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, all spring to mind.

For the antithesis, one thinks of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela as examplars of the principle of non-violent disobedience. Going further, for examples of outright opposition, one thinks of Churchill and Roosevelt, and the British carpet bombing of Dresden, or Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The principle of submission is all very well, but if some dictatorial, oppressive power would like me to force me to submit to their will, my strong instinct, as one individual, is not only to disobey, but to fight back.

The unenlightened endeavor to suppress this instinct, by holding myself rigid, has been a constant theme of my Buddhist struggle for over 20 years. By turns, I have prostrated myself to Gudo Nishijima, literally and metaphorically, and then given way to violent verbal outbursts against him. It is only in very recent days (I hope I am not kidding myself) that I have arrived at what feels like at some kid of stability (though I hope not fixity).

With such sentiments cursing through my veins, this morning I gave my son a lift to his football match, and on the way back switched on Radio 4. As part of the discusion of religious tolerance/intolerance, a Christian church leader was giving his impressions of an art
exhibition by Gilbert & George. The title of the exhibition: "Was Jesus Heterosexual, 2005." This churchman was singularly unphased by the artists' apparent attempt to shock with titles that combined God and the f-word. "Yes," the churchman intoned, "God did create fucking."

At the conclusion of his interview, this bastion of British tolerance was asked if he would like to tell a religious joke. He came up with the following:

A Buddhist monk goes into an Italian restaurant and orders a pizza. The waiter asks him what kind of topping he would like on his pizza. The monk's response:
Make me One with Everything.

What is the practice of just sitting, if not our expression of our desire to be One with Everything? In just sitting there can be no lowly subject who submits himself and no objective higher power that demands submission. There is just one individual act of total and utter submission. It is not yielding to a superior view; it is the giving up of all views. It is not the assumption of a position of rightness; it is refusal to hold onto any fixed position. It is not the gaining of moral legitimacy; it is losing my false sense of security -- a little bit of nothing.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Practising Detachment

Practising Detachment
A short introduction to the F.M. Alexander technique for Buddhist practitioners

Practice of Detachment in AT

"The fact to be faced is that the human self was robbed of much of its inheritance when the separation implied by the conception of the organism as 'spirit,' 'mind' and 'body' was accepted as a working principle, for it left unbridged the gap between the 'subconscious' and the conscious. I venture to assert that if the gap is to be bridged, it will be by means of a knowledge, gained through practical experience, which will enable us to inhibit our instinctive, 'subconscious' reaction to a given stimulus, and to hold it inhibited while initiating a conscious direction, guidance, and control of the use of the self that was previously unfamiliar. I suggest that only those who become capable of translating into practice what is involved in the procedure just described can justly claim to have experienced detachment in the basic sense."

F.M. Alexander, 1946 The Universal Constant In Living

Practice of Detachment in Zazen

In Buddhist sitting practice, called zazen in Japanese, the given stimulus is the instruction to sit upright. The formal instructions for zazen laid down by the founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan, Zen Master Dogen (1200-1254), centre upon the command "Just sit upright. Do not lean to the left, incline to the right, slump forward, or arch backward."

For most of us, the instinctive reaction to this stimulus is to stiffen up or to brace, fixing the joints and holding the breath in the process. The more clearly we see it, the more possible it may be to inhibit this reaction, along with the false attempts at self-organization which are its offshoots.

To initiate a conscious direction of the use of the self that was previously unfamiliar may involve the wish to sit upright without fixing, keeping all the joints as open and free as possible, beginning with the sub-occipital joint where the head sits on top of the spinal column.

This process requires trust, because it entails opening up to the unknown, abandoning the false security of holding and fixing. Again, it requires clarity, especially in regard to habitual responses to the stimulus "Just sit upright."

The Secret Is in the Preparation

An ideal way to develop this clarity and trust, and hence an ideal way to prepare for zazen, is to practice Alexander's procedure of inhibition and direction in sitting and standing, under the guidance of an AT teacher. Having experienced how conscious inhibition and direction make for a freer use of the self in rising from a chair, thereafter, to counter any tendency to stiffen in zazen, we can simply think of sitting 'as if to stand.'

The secret is not in the movement of standing but in the readiness to stand. "The readiness is all." Therefore, even with legs crossed in lotus, it may help to think of being able to pivot freely, 'all in one piece,' on the sitting bones so that the head being released forward and up, against the back lengthening and widening, could lead us up into standing.

Learning Clarity in the Moment

Alexander arrived at "the only place, and the only moment in time, where change could begin, or where he could have any control over the habitual patterns of misuse which were dominating every-thing he attempted to do. This place, or this moment in time, was the instant that a stimulus to activity reached his consciousness."

Marjory Barlow, 1965 F.M.A. Memorial Lecture

The stimulus "Just sit upright" tends to trigger a stiffening reaction which, if practiced, becomes a habit that feels familiar and right. As we endeavor moment by moment to shed this habit and to transcend this feeling, the clarity of our consciousness of stimulus and response is greatly enhanced by freedom from ulterior motives or extraneous wishes --­ "People that haven't any fish to fry, they see it all right."

Learning to Trust New Means

"In learning the Technique, the pupil must learn to stop doing, to leave himself in the hands of the teacher, neither tensing nor relaxing. Further, any emotional involve-ment in trying to learn what to do, or in what is going on, should be avoided. The best results are gained when a pupil can dissociate himself from what is happening, as if standing on one side watching someone else being taught.

Alexander named the opposite of this kind of behavior 'end-gaining,' i.e. the desire to bring about the end in view however wrong the means might be. He demon-strated that the quality of means employed brings about the kind of end arrived at, and that poor means invariably bring about a mediocre end. He showed that if a new kind of result was wanted, a new set of means would have to be used."

Patrick MacDonald, The Alexander Technique As I See It

Learning to Let It Happen

"Non-doing is, above all, an attitude of mind. It's a wish. It's a decision to leave everything alone and see what goes on, see what happens. Your breathing and your circulation and your postural mechanisms are all working and taking over. The organism is functioning in its automatic way, and you are doing nothing. If you're going to succeed in doing nothing, you must exercise control over your thinking processes. You must really wish to do nothing. If you're thinking anxious, worried thoughts, if you're thinking exciting thoughts that are irrelevant to the situation at hand, you stir up responses in your body that are not consistent with doing nothing. It's not a matter of just not moving--that can lead to fixing or freezing--it's a matter of really leaving yourself alone and letting everything just happen and take over.

This is what we're aiming at in an Alexander lesson, and if we're wise, and we understand, it's also what we aim at in our own practice of non-doing. It is something that requires practice. Like most other things in life, it isn't some-thing that you can achieve by simply wishing to do so, by just thinking, 'Well, I will now leave myself alone and not do anything.' Unfortunately, it doesn't work out like that. The whole process requires a lot of practice, and a lot of observation. Out of this process a tremendous lot of experience is to be gained..."

Walter Carrington, Thinking Aloud

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Teetering Stillness

In Master Dogen's instructions for Zazen, at least in the later versions such as Fukan-zazengi rufu-bon, and Shobogenzo Zazengi, which is chapter 58 in Book 3, there is a phrase of four Chinese characters. I am not able to reproduce them on this computer. But phonetically the phrase is read "GOTSU-GOTSU to ZA-JO shi te...."

Speaking of Book 3, when Michael Luetchford and Jeremy Pearson published Shobogenzo Book 3 in 1997, in consultation with Gudo Nishijima they decided to make certain small changes, mainly to the footnotes but also in several places to the text, without consulting me. At that time I had already moved to England to join an Alexander teacher-training course. Gudo Nishijima had written me a letter in 1996 or 1997 expressing his hope that I would "come back to Buddhism," but I hadn't taken much notice. I was quite confident in my own mind that the only reason I was pursuing the Alexander way was better to understand the Buddha's way of Zazen. Gudo's letter was a danger signal, but I just never imagined what it might be signalling, so I tried to ignore it. What happened in due course was that a meeting was held in Tokyo and an explicit decision was made that I should not be consulted about various changes to Book 3. My understanding is that Michael and Yoko Luetchford were responsible for calling the meeting, that Gudo Nishijima had ultimate responsibility for the decision, and Jeremy Pearson allowed his initial objections to be overridden.

The changes were no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but I regarded the whole episode as a total and utter betrayal, and it effectively signalled the end of my translation partnership with Gudo Nishijima--which was more of a tragedy than he will ever realize. He has remained firmly in denial with regard to who did what in the English translation of Shobogenzo. He likes to think he did it himself, with a bit of assistance from me on the re-writing side. Maybe that's why he felt justified in making changes uni-laterally, going against the one fundamental rule of our translation partnership. But the truth is that when he translates Buddhist texts into English, what he writes is not a translation but rather his own interpretation and opinion. If Brad Warner re-writes the Nishijima translation of Nagarjuna's MMK, without going back to the original Sanskrit, it will be very interesting to see what Sanskrit scholars make of it. I suppose that Brad, having apparently accepted the re-writing task, will never actually bring the project to fruition. If he does, then I strongly suppose that the translation will not stand up to the scrutiny of anyone who knows Sanskrit. I suppose these things because I know very well what kind of English translator Gudo Nishijima is.

I digress. Notwithstanding the fact that they let me down in the process -- for which both Michael Luetchford and Jeremy Pearson have apologized to me in recent years -- they did actually publish Book 3. And they did a bloody good job of it; as they also did a bloody good job of publishing Books 1, 2, and 4. As far as I am concerned it is a damn shame that they are not still publishing Shobogenzo. It is a damn shame that Emma Gibson is not still distributing it in the US.

Why are MJL, JMP and EG not still performing these services? Why did I feel unable to continue serving Gudo Nishijima as his translation partner? The answer is because of the suspicions of a controlling old man. He suspected an "evil plan" on my part to subvert his Shobogenzo translation and his Buddhist movement with what he calls "Alexander Technique theory." Later, he grew suspicious of MJL's motives. He was afraid of losing his grip on control of Windbell Publications. So he sabotaged the whole publication process, through the agency of his malicious enforcer James Cohen. Last year the old man became suspicious, in turn, that James Cohen, with his dubious legal know-how, was out to gain control over all his copyrights, and he sent me an urgent email to that effect. When I reflect on how I responded to the stimulus of the old man's email, I can but shake my head that I have remained in denial for so long. I clung to the utterly vain hope that somehow, if I could only express myself clearly enough, all would once more be sweetness and light between us.

I retrospect, I begin to see the single root cause of many problems. Taking off the rose-coloured spectacles of denial, I begin, with a rapidly diminishing sense of inner-conflict and anger, to see, as they are, the suspicions of a sad old man who wants to hold onto control. That is all it is. That is all it has ever been. Just that.

Again, I digress. When MJL and JMP, aka Windbell Publications, published Book 3 in 1997, the translation of "GOTSU-GOTSU to ZA-JO shite...." in chapter 58 was: "Sitting in balance in the mountain-still state...."

While standing by that translation, I have not stopped trying to hit the target, in my own understanding of the words, closer to the bulls-eye. Every practice of Zazen is a new opportunity to examine afresh what those words might really mean.

ZA means to sit. JO (otherwise pronounced TEI) means definite, fixed, constant, regular, set. If you go to a restaurant in Japan and order a TEI-SHOKU, "fixed meal," you will get the set menu. When Chinese translators of Sanskrit texts wanted to find a Chinese character that matched the meaning of the Sanskrit word samadhi, they chose JO. JO expresses samadhi as something definite, constant, regular -- "the balanced state of body and mind" in Gudo Nishijima's words; in other words, according to his very definite view on the matter, "the balanced state of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system."

Still, I am not totally happy about "sitting in balance" as a translation of ZA-JO. The original characters are more direct--two words, not three. Not "sitting in samadhi" but "sit-samadhi-ing." Not "sitting in balance" but "sit-balance-ing." But "sit-balancing" doesn't sound quite right, does it? Do you see? Translating Shobogenzo into English is no easy undertaking. In a sense, I wish that everybody could translate Master Dogen's instructions for Zazen for themselves, and not take my word for it, or the word of anybody else.

The character GOTSU, or KOTSU, is given in Chinese-English character dictionaries as "high and level; lofty; bald; dangerous" (Nelson) and as "rising high; bald; unstable" (Spahn/Hadamitzky). The original pictograph is a very simple one of three strokes. It looks like an overhanging cliff. If I remember rightly, Gudo Nishijima told me that the character originally did depict a cliff.

When I first met JMP in England at the end of 1989, Jeremy was interested in parallels and correspondences between the teaching of Master Dogen and the poetry of TS Elliot. I responded to Jeremy's interest in the way I had cultivated through my twenties -- with closed-minded arrogance: "Elliot never practised Zazen. What would he know?" But in 1994, when I came across the phrase "stillness without fixity" in Marjory Barlow's teaching, as an expression of what we are aiming for in Alexander work, I was struck by it. And it turns out that the phrase is derived from the first of Elliot's four quartets.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity.

In Gudo Nishijima's translation of Shobogenzo into modern Japanese he gives the meaning of GOTSU-GOTSU as ugokanai-sama "a state of non-movement." So this is how I understood the words in 1997, simply as expressing something unmoving, like a cliff or a mountain -- "mountain-still."

But as I have progressed in the Alexander work, I have become more clear about what kind of stillness we want, and what kind of stillness we don't want. What we want is stillness without fixity. What we don't want is to hold ourselves still. We don't want to stiffen up. We don't want to fix. Fixing, as Marjory Barlow says, in her book An Examined Life, is our biggest evil: "That's our biggest evil, fixing. FM Alexander used to say that. 'You all fix.' See, it's the desire to hold onto something. You've got to let it go and be in danger."

Thus I have started to wonder about what else, in addition to the central meaning of stillness, the character GOTSU, with its connotation of an overhanging cliff, might suggest. An overhanging cliff is still, yes, but precariously so. It carries an inherent sense of insecurity, of instability, of danger, of precarious balance. Do you see what I am getting at?

"Sit-balancing in teetering stillness, think the state of not thinking."
No, it's not a good translation. Or is it? I don't know. Translating Shobogenzo seems to be a never-ending process.

You may see this post as a rambling mess. Rightly so. The attempts of a suspicious old man to hold onto control, and the unenlightened reactions to him of people like me, have created an awful bloody mess. But do you also see how, in a very real sense, the two strands of this ramble are very profoundly interconnected?

Do you see what I am getting at? Am I succeeding in conveying what Alexander work has demonstrated to me? The great enemies of true Buddhism are not, as the old man sees it, out there. The most formidable enemy of true Buddhism lies within: it is our desire, the desire of each of us, to hold on. We dare not let go and be in danger. We are afraid to teeter on the brink.