Saturday, March 18, 2006

Time to Let Go

There is a real openness, associated with ease and fullness of breathing, which is utterly different from all conceptions of openness. It can’t be manufactured.

In moments of letting go in Zazen, I have experienced this real openness. Just odd moments. In this blog I have endeavored to bear witness to how useful, in this regard, I have found Alexander work. Alexander work has given me the first odd glimpse into what Nagarjuna must have meant in the last verse of the madhya-maka-karika when he wrote of “relinquishing all views.”

Through the winter I have spent a lot of time working on this blog, probably too much time. Has any good come of this endeavor? I am afraid not. I don’t know.

It has been an unusually cold March here in England. But soon the blue-tits will be scouting around for a good nest box. It is already getting to be nice weather for Zazen.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Worrying about Good and Bad

In his instructions for sitting still in lotus, Zen Master Dogen wrote: ZEN-AKU OMAWAZU, ZE-HI KANSURU KOTO NAKARE, Don't think about good and bad; Don't care about right and wrong.

How easy is this instruction to follow? For me, it is not easy to follow at all.

Two or three years ago I travelled down to London for an Alexander lesson with FM Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow, then in her late 80s. We had got our dates mixed up, and she was already working with a small group. So there was nothing for it but for me to head back to the train station and home. One of the group from inside Marjory's teaching room must have told her not to worry about it, because I heard her say, in her ringing and feisty voice, "Ooh, but I DO worry." This in itself made the whole excursion worthwhile. I can still hear those words now; the distillation of all of Marjory's teaching. No pretense. Just being clear what is going on within.

The tendency to worry is a very strong one in me. It was a habit I had even as a child. So how to liberate myself from this habit? Drinking large quantities of beer was a strategy I explored often in my teens and early 20s, but the relief it provided was only temporary. Another strategy, equally ineffectual, has been to pretend not to be worried about good and bad. Sometimes I have acted as if trying to force myself to appear not to be worried about good and bad, by indulging in outlandish behaviour. But such efforts are merely an unconscious reaction to the unconscious habit of worrying about good and bad.

In moments of relative clarity, I see that in order to liberate myself from the habit of worrying about good and bad, I have to accept the habit, observe it, get to know it, make a friend of it, watch the chain of deluded reactions it sets off in me.

Master Dogen is telling me, through the ages: Don't worry about good and bad. And my reply to Master Dogen is: Ah, but I DO worry about good and bad.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Being Without Sincerity

One of the first books I remember reading was "Latin for Today." It never occurred to me at the time, but whoever chose that title must have been a great optimist. The reason this book fell into my hands was that in the 1960s my mother worked as a Latin teacher. Later, in the 1970s, when I went to what was regarded as the posh school in Birmingham, we all studied Latin for at least five years.

As a result of the above circumstances, I happen to know that the original meaning of the word "sincere" is the Latin SINE CERA, or without wax. If you were a Roman centurion sending some important official document, you would seal it with wax. But if you were sending something straight from the heart, say, an ode to your girlfriend, you would send it without wax.

For Gudo Nishijima, being without wax is a big thing. We his Dharma-heirs tend to think of ourselves as sincere people. We don’t like to think of ourselves as insincere. Still less do we like to think of our Master as insincere.

I remember attending a Saturday-afternoon lecture in Tokyo in 1983 or 1984 on Shobogenzo chapter 5, Ju-undo-shiki, which contains the sentence "Now that each of us is meeting what is hard to meet and is practising what is hard to practice, we must not lose our sincerity. This [sincerity] is called the body-and-mind of the Buddhist patriarchs." The lecture stuck in my mind because Gudo made such a great point of emphasizing the importance of this sentence, now important it was for us to be sincere.

In this chapter, “sincerity” is a translation of the Japanese words MAKOTO NO OMOI. MAKOTO NO means true, real, genuine. OMOI means thought, mind, heart, wish.

Elsewhere in Shobogenzo “sincerity” is represented by the two Chinese characters SEKI-SHIN, literally “red mind.” Red mind means naked mind, mind that is not covered up, for example, by sophisticated intellectual pretensions.

Not even then the pretension to be sincere.

I joined Gudo in 1982, several years before he got the idea to establish a multinational group called “Dogen Sangha.” The group he led at that time, for an annual Zazen retreat and weekly lectures on Shobogenzo, was called SEKI-SHIN-KAI, The Red Mind Club.

During the 1980s, as a keen young member of The Red Mind Club, I felt part of something that was a cut above any other kind of Zen group. We were the truly sincere ones, the sincere Zazen practitioners. We were not like the scholars who studied Shobogenzo only intellectually, as if counting grains of sand on the sea-shore. We were not like the professional priests who claimed to belong to the so-called “Soto Sect,” devoting themselves to making money from holding funerals and tending graves.

We were the sincere ones, the ones who had no fish to fry.

Except: from where did this attachment arise to the theory of balance of the autonomic nervous system as an explanation of the “real content of enlightenment”? Out of nowhere? Out of nothing? Out of sincerity itself?

No, the truth is that we were not and we are not the sincere ones. We are human beings, in the same boat as everybody else. Sometimes we are very sincere. Sometimes we are very insincere.

Zazen gives us the opportunity of experiencing ourselves as we really are, in all our sincerity and also in all our insincerity.

If, falling in love with the idea of my own sincerity, I can’t face up to the fact of my own insincerity, I am liable to react to the latter fact in all kinds of deluded ways.

First of all, I may try to deny it:

* “If FM Alexander’s idea is the same as [my] Buddhist idea, I need not study the idea of FM Alexander. If FM Alexander’s idea is different from [my] Buddhist idea, his idea must be wrong.”

* “If some rude person says that Gudo is insincere, that his teaching about the autonomic nervous system arises just out of insincerity, just out of intellectual pride, then the reason he is saying it is only because he is a total prick. Or else because he is mad--out of compassion for all living beings, let him be asked to leave Dogen Sangha.”

Or for another example of deluded reaction, there is anger. For that there is an ample resource of more than ten years of my emails.

Or for another example of reaction, deluded or not I don’t know, there is silence. Who knows what emotion or non-emotion might be shrouded in the silence of Dharma-heirs such as Michael Luetchford, Gabriele Linnebach, Jeremy Pearson, Taijun Saito, Denis Legrand, Luis, Herve, Rachel, et cetera, et cetera.

Maybe shame? Maybe fear? Maybe bewilderment, confusion?

Who am I to say? My frank perception is that there is a fair degree of cowardice operating. People who are nominally devoted to pursuit of the truth are actually afraid of facing the truth.

I do not exclude myself from this criticism. On the other hand, I have had something that has really helped me in the direction of seeing my insincerity for what it is. I have had exposure to the teaching of FM Alexander.

Alexander said, “The most difficult things to get rid of are the ones that don’t exist.” He said it; he saw it; he knew it.

Insincerity does not exist. In the clear staccato warbling of a dunnock, where is there wax? Originally there is no wax anywhere. And yet, it seems, wax is very difficult to get rid of.

Old FM knew that in order to liberate ourselves from insincerity, we have to know what insincerity is, we have to face it, we have to truly see it, to know it, first and foremost in ourselves.

What does it mean truly to be liberated from our own insincerity?

It means being without, being bereft, all pretensions and conceptions dropped off. In short, it means just to sit, sincerely.

The criterion for this sincerity is the samadhi of accepting and using the self.

Samadhi is stillness without fixity. Don’t try to fix it; don’t try out of intellectual pride to grab it with a theory about the autonomic nervous system. That kind of intellectual grasping is just insincerity. And don’t I just know it?

Another Reading from a Birdsong Sutra

In Zazen this morning I listened to a dunnock singing. From the back, a dunnock looks to me very much like a sparrow. From the front, it is distinguished by features that are even drabber than those of a sparrow -- a grey front and thin beak. It is a shy bird which likes to stay under cover: I have watched a dunnock remain under the roof of the birdtable in our garden for almost an hour. But when a dunnock perches on a branch and sings, it really lifts the spirits. My birdbook describes its voice as a "jingling, staccato warble," but that hardly does it justice.

Bill Oddie (famous British birdwatcher for American readers) went to the same school as I did in Birmingham. Probably he also found watching birds a healthy antidote to the education we received, which was very much focused on how to be great thinkers and doers.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Hating Insincerity

I know a man who deeply hates insincerity. When he meets insincerity, especially when it disguises itself as sincerity, it makes him angry. What really sends him into a rage is arrogant upstarts who give themselves the airs of knowing.

Why? Whose insincerity is it that really disturbs him?

I tell this guy, who, worse luck, I am forced to meet on a daily basis: Go beyond likes and dislikes. Insincerity is insincerity. See it as it is. Get to know it. Don't react to it emotionally. Don't be afraid of it. Make a friend of it.

He hears the words, but he doesn't seem able to listen. He is a very difficult student -- to put it more bluntly, a total prick. Sometimes (I hate to say this in public of someone who sits in Zazen every day, but it is true) I even doubt whether he is truly sincere or not.

Monday, March 13, 2006

What a Fool Believes

Following on from my reply to Oxeye in the last but one post, I would like to write about the dichotomy that Master Dogen expressed as trying to make a mirror vs polishing a tile, and that FM Alexander expressed as "end-gaining vs the means whereby."

The late Dennis Thatcher used to say, "Sometimes it is better to keep one's mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt."

Well yes, but sometimes to have opened one's mouth and removed all doubt is a favourable circumstance for a Zazen practitioner to consider afresh why Master Dogen described the subtle method of buddhas as MU-I, or "without pretense."

Sitting in lotus, bereft of pretension of being anything other than a fool, where does the fool begin his foolish practice?

For this particular blog-writing fool, the letters MW offer a starting point with a double meaning.

MW stands for Middle Way, which is a useful conception to begin with, as long as I remember that it is only a conception that in due course I should dare to drop off, along with every other conception that I cling to, like a baby holding onto its security blanket. The words "Middle Way" are a signpost pointing to a path between the extremes of unconscious reaction, but it is a path that leads I know not where.

MW stands for Means Whereby, a reality beyond my deluded endgaining, a reality in which the fool believes.

Patrick Macdonald, in his book The Alexander Technique As I See It, introduces the means-whereby vs end-gaining dichotomy like this:

Any emotional involvement 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 disassociate himself from what is happening, as if he were standing on one side watching someone else being taught. If he can do this for a time he will find himself taking his proper part in the process, with an awareness that is quite different and greatly enhanced.

Alexander named the opposite of this kind of behaviour “endgaining” (i.e. the desire to bring about the end in view, however wrong the means might be). He demonstrated 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 needed, a new set of means would have to be used.

In one respect my Zen Master Gudo enjoys much more freedom than I do: he doesn’t worry about right and wrong, whereas I am an inveterate worrier.

In one respect I am much clearer than Gudo is: I know that the unconscious mechanisms upon which I habitually rely, are wrong. I have been made aware of the problem that FM Alexander called fautly sensory appreciation.

On this point, also, lies the difference between me and Brad “doubtboy” Warner. I don’t have any doubt about it: I know, it has been very clearly demonstrated to me by Alexander teachers, that my habitual manner of using my head in relation to the rest of myself, is wrong; and, this being so, it is utterly useless for me to try to be right. Trying to be right blocks me from going even one step in the right direction.

My daily work of giving Alexander lessons seems to confirm that I am not the only damn fool to get in his own way by trying to be right. The truth is that we are all in the same boat. We are all going around trying to be right by doing something, by end-gaining blindly.

What I am here bearing witness to is my belief, corroborated by the experience given to me by three or four excellent Alexander teachers, of the possibility of working to the opposite conception.

What is the opposite conception?

Not trying to be right by doing something, but rather seeing the wrongness of this very conception of trying and doing, seeing in oneself the wrongness it causes in terms of holding and fixing, and ALLOWING oneself to release out of this wrong condition, in the right direction. What does it mean to allow? It doesn’t mean caring, it doesn’t mean trying, it doesn’t mean grasping something intellectually. What it does mean, I don’t know. Patrick Macdonald describes it much better than I can. It does not mean end-gaining.

Following a link provided by Pierre on his kesa blog to Sotozen-net, I found the following description of "How to Do" Zazen:

Rest both knees firmly on the zabuton, straighten the lower part of your back, push your buttocks outward and hips forward, and straighten your spine. Pull in your chin and extend your neck as though reaching toward the ceiling. Your ears should be in a line parallel to your shoulders, and your nose should be in line with your navel. After straightening your back, relax your shoulders, back, and abdomen without changing your posture. Sit upright, leaning neither to the left nor right, neither forward nor backward.

This is Zazen as it is typically taught in the so-called Soto Sect. This is Zazen as it was taught to me by Gudo Nishijima, based firmly on the end-gaining conception, without any awareness of the problem that the means upon which I habitually rely are wrong, without any understanding of the problem of faulty proprioception.

The Zazen I am teaching is not a slight modifaction on the above theme. The Zazen I am teaching is based on a totally opposite conception.

Pierre Turlur is my friend and Dharma-heir and I have been trying to teach him the above for about 5 years already. But he still hasn't got the point clearly yet. Over the last 12 years Michael Luetchford has become more open to what Alexander meant by "thinking," but he still hasn't got the point either. What I am saying is much more revolutionary than people realize. Master Dogen clearly instructed us "Think the state of not thinking." But so-called Zen Masters of the so-called Soto Sect recoil in fear from the idea of thinking.

In Alexander work, to think is synonymous with to allow.

In Zazen, what does it mean to think, or to allow, the state of not thinking? It doesn’t mean trying to keep the spine straight vertically. It has to do with wishing to allow the head to be released right out from the very depths of one’s being, right out from all its connections along the whole length of the spine. In the process of this allowing, the spine may lengthen upwards vertically. Or it may not be vertical. Working to the new principle, what I wish in Zazen is not to realize a position of verticality, but to allow release in certain directions, beginning with the outward release of the head. I thus allow myself to breathe, to really breathe.

What I truly wish to do with this blog is to bear witness to this other possibility, the possibility of working to a new conception which is totally opposite to my old conception of trying to be right by doing something.

What I can do with my hands in the way of one-to-one teaching is very limited. Limited because of my own relative clumsiness and inexperience as a teacher, and also limited in the sense that I haven't got the time or the energy or the will to provide one-to-one teaching to more than a few people.

But what I hope to do with blog is to bear witness to this other possibility, the one reality beyond the dual designation MW, which is other than (though ultimately it must be inclusive of) my blind end-gaining. Beginning with this blog, foolishly, clumsily, ineptly, I wish to bear witness to everybody, and I welcome questions on this blog from everybody.

Two Further Readings from the Birdsong Sutra

(1) Every birdsong I hear preaches to me the principle of individual freedom. And yet, when you watch what is going on around the bird feeder, the birds are clearly very much aware of a definite pecking order. A sparrow who ignores it is liable to get a starling's sharp beak up its arse. The feisty little acrobat the blue tit seems to enjoy skirting the edges of the Law. There are four or five starlings, squawking and fighting like juvenile delinquents, each of them very nearly as big as a blackbird, and yet the solitary blackbird ignores them totally. He evidently knows that a blackbird is above a starling in the pecking order, regardless of numbers, and the starlings know it too.

(2) Praise be to the second law of thermodynamics, and thanks again to bubbha for bringing it to my attention. I put out sunflower seeds and peanuts, whose energy, in its never-ending quest to disperse itself spontaneously, manifests itself as the chirps of sparrows, the tsee-tsee-tsee of blue-tits, and the fluting song of the blackbird.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

James Cohen: Internet Psychiatrist (in his own words)

In a message dated 28/01/2006 00:53:55 GMT Standard Time, writes:

Dear Roshi,

Sorry to disturb you and everyone with this again.

Michael's latest post on his homepage is particularly strange, especially the reference to "suicidal thoughts" and "rage" while sitting Zazen. My psychiatrist friend (I have not contacted him again about this) told me that such use of such destructive (self-destructive and other-destructive) violent words by Michael is not accidental.

Gudo Sensei, most of me never wants to speak to Michael again and to just "cut off" all contact. I find him disturbed and disturbing. However, as Buddhists, we need compassion even at the most personally difficult times and difficult persons. So, I recommend the following to you ...

(1) Michael be told that he can return to Dogen Sangha upon furnishing written proof of completion of 1 year of weekly therepy sessions with a psychiatrist or other mental health professional, plus proof of continued therapy thereafter if his doctor feels it necessary. Michael will then have to furnish a letter signed by his doctor that the doctor feels further psychological therapy is not necessary, or that Michael is properly continuing to receive treatment after that 1 year.

(2) Until that time, he needs to be cut off by us completely. His posting should be blocked on your Blog, the link to his Blog removed, and we have to use "tough love." That means that we have to have compassion not to encourage him by feeding his hungry ghosts (the term my friend used is "facilitate his illness."). If he gets help, then we welcome our Brother back. Until that time, he needs to take responsibility for himself.

I am cc'ing the other people on the DogenSangha list, but (after thinking about it) not Michael at this time. I will disclose the letter to Michael if that is the consensus of the group.

By the way, compare the following words of Michael to the test that doctors use for PPD: Gassho, Jundo


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association) describes Paranoid Personality Disorder as a pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

* suspects, without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her;

* is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends or associates;

* is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against him or her;

* reads hidden demeaning or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events;

* persistently bears grudges, i.e., is unforgiving of insults , injuries, or slights perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack;

* has recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding fidelity of spouse or sexual partner.

James Cohen: Nasty Piece of Work (in his own words)

In a message dated 17/01/2006 10:00:37 GMT Standard Time, writes:

Dear Brother Mwc748109, Pressed Palms,

I would like to recommend to you: Just clam up (i.e., be quiet), get up and be gone.

Please go practice the way of SILENT illumination. Leave the teacher alone (although Sensei certainly can take anything you dish out). You have been asked to depart, have been booted out of the monastery with your bowls and tossed after you. Farewell. I hope you find peace.

I do not mean to always stick my nose into these things, but find I must speak up when people try to punch around or otherwise abuse my teacher. Elder abuse! Speaking of Freud, I would love to know just what kind of relationship, or lack thereof, you had with your real papa.

Gassho, Jundo


"But the real situation is that (1) Master Kodo Sawaki never accepted you as a disciple"

Whose eye are you trying to throw mud in with this been of info. Our lineage (for what it matters) derives from one Master Renpo Niwa. I have never heard Nishijima Sensei claim Kodo Sawaki as more than a great influence, and one early in his life to boot. Anyway, what does it matter.

James Cohen: Hypocrite (in his own words)

In a message dated 27/4/05 7:17:33 am, writes:

Dear All,

There has been some talk this week among various Zen teachers in America on the subject of "Right Speech" and "Loving Words," and various teachings of the Vinaya. The Vinaya folk are good at keeping a peaceful atmosphere in the Sangha. I thought they might be helpful to all of us too.

If a balanced, peaceful mind and body within, balanced and peaceful words and action without. If the latter are missing, rather a dead give away the the former is missing too, I think. And the latter help cultivate the former too.

Peace, Jundo

In a message dated 14/7/05 5:56:49 pm, writes:

Dear Mr. Cross who is always cross ...

I have read your recent interchange with Sensei. In fact, I have read many of your interchanges with Sensei going back years. I cannot hold my tongue any longer. I wish to speak to you personally, as your Dharma Brother.

First ... I think most of us practice Buddhism to have balance of life, to be centered in life, to "just be" in life. Ours is the way of peace and the avoidance of anger.

You say you have some other AT way.

However, all I see from you is someone who is most unbalanced in his words, disturbed, and "just being" a complete putz. Does the "Alexander Technique" result in such a lack of peace and flood of anger?

I once was very interested in your words about your "Technique," but if the purpose of the technique is to turn the student into a person like this, then please keep your "Technique." I am quite content to do my Zazen the "wrong" way because it works in my life and I do want to be like you. And while you have many suggestions about where to stick the head and neck, I could also offer you my own suggestion about where you might "stick it"...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Don't Hold Your Breath

Following on from my previous post, I have been thinking about breathing -- always a dangerous thing to do.

The first thing to say about breathing is that I am heartily in favour of it. It helps to keep away from the lips an unsightly bluish tint. Acknowledgements to AT teacher Malcolm Balk for this reflection (

In his original version of his Zazen instructions for everyone, Fukan-zazengi, Master Dogen talks about regulating the breathing (ãCëßñíí≤). What does this mean?

To me, it has come to mean the following four things:

(1) Pay attention to the breathing

(2) Let the breathing be

(3) Breathe out

(4) Allow undoing

Are they four separate things? Or are they one spontaneous process, expressed by/as Mind, Nature, Action, and The Ineffable?
No, they are not four separate things. They are one reality. There are never four separate things. There is only one real world.
Who taught me to think like this? Do you think I worked it out all by myself? No, however low in my estimation Gudo has sunk, and however low in his estimation I have sunk, he is my father and I am his son. Because, quite simply, he taught me to think the way I do, in four phases. Even if I try not to think in the way he taught me to think, I cannot help but think the way he taught me to think. From my first meeting with Gudo at the age of 22, I learned to practice thinking in this way. And now I can't stop, even if I want to.
That is why it was utterly absurd of Gudo to suggest, as he did last year, that he and I should each publish our own versions of the Shobogenzo translation. The present version is totally my version. And at the same time, it is totally his version.
When I look at Michael Luetchford's translation of the last verse of Nagarjuna's MMK, a part of me can't help feel sorry for him. How could he have been a student of Gudo for so many years and yet fail to maintain the original four-phased structure which, to me, was immediately blindingly apparent in the original Sanskrit -- (1) views, (2) wonderful Dharma, (3) compassionate means, (4) prostration to Gautama?

According to Frank Lambert's explanation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, energy of all kinds in our material world disperses or spreads out if it is not hindered from doing so. Entropy is the quantitative measure of that kind of spontaneous process: how much energy has flowed from being localized to becoming more widely spread out (at a specific temperature).
--Thanks to bubbha for drawing my attention to the above, from an article by Frank Lambert at

It strikes me that back in the 13th century Master Dogen was already onto the principle of entropy: Know a long breath as long and a short breath as short.

Frank Lambert's article states that all spontaneous happenings in the material world (those that continue without outside help, except perhaps for an initial start) are examples of the second law because they involve energy dispersing.

The usefulness of the initial start that Frank Lambert describes, in order to help set the spontaneous process of breathing in motion, is recognized in Alexander work and in Master Dogen's latter version of Fukan-zazengi. In Alexander work we practice what Alexander called the whispere ah, that is, whispering an ah sound in a sustained easy exhalation. In the latter version of Fukan-zazengi, Master Dogen writes not of regulating the breathing, but simply of making one full exhalation (åáãCà Íëß). It is exactly the same principle as Alexander's whispered ah: Deliberately do one out-breath in order to set the spontaneous process of breathing in motion.

Apart from giving it an initial start, it is impossible to do anything directly to improve breathing as a spontaneous process. But one can help the process INDIRECTLY, by allowing. One can help the process INDIRECTLY by, in Alexander jargon, allowing the neck to be free, to allow the head to release forward and up, to allow the back to lengthen and widen.

You will not get any real understanding by reading this blog of what Alexander was struggling to express with these words, which he himself recognized as potentially very misleading. He wrote of these phrases that he used: I think them inadequate, but with a teacher present to demonstrate in person what he means by them, they serve their purposes.

Anyway, for what it is worth, here I am, flesh and blood, tap, tap, tapping away at my keyboard, bearing witness to my experience that, after slaving away for fifteen years at the translation of Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, I only began truly to understand Master Dogen's most fundamental teaching when I entered ten years ago into Alexander work.

Neither Gautama Buddha nor FM Alexander exercise a monopoly on the practice of allowing the deep, innermost connection between the head and the spine to come undone--any more than Frank Lambert owns the second law of thermodynamics. The practice of allowing ourselves to come undone is totally open to anybody.

What does it mean, then, to allow undoing to take place as a spontaneous process which, in turn, through this indirect means, releases breathing as a spontaneous process?

From apple-less spring branches,

Rain drops randomly,

As chirps and ears of birds and me,

Drop off.
Again, lest I deceive myself with my own words, what does it mean to allow? I do not know.
I have to keep reminding myself: Mike, you do not know. You are a searcher, not a knower.
What does it mean to allow? I do not know. When it happens, God only knows how.
Doubtless, before long, I will not be able to inhibit the delusory belief that I have got something else worth writing, and then I will publish another post on this blog. But in the meantime, please, don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

解脱 (GEDATSU): You Cannot Do an Undoing

How great is the clothing of coming undone!

As a compound of two characters, 解脱(GEDATSU), is given in the dictionary a stink of "Buddhist" religiosity: (Buddhist) salvation, deliverance (from sin, passion, attachments).

For me 解脱(GEDATSU) expresses what is allowed to happen in Alexander work: release, undoing, coming undone. Nothing religious, nothing "Buddhist," but an undoing of the innermost connection between a human head and a human spine.

The kesa is not a symbol of celibacy; it is not the uniform of a holy man. It is the uniform of release, of liberation. It is the clothing of coming undone. To wear the kesa is to be embraced by the teaching of Buddha, which is liberation.

Whenever did the Buddha speak of "Buddhism"? The Buddha spoke of liberation.

解脱 (GEDATSU) is said to represent the Sanskrit word vimukti which is given in the dictionary as: disjunction, giving up, release, deliverance, liberation.

Individually, the first character 解 (GE) means undoing, untying, unravelling, loosening, dissolving, releasing; and the second character 脱 (DATSU) means coming off, shedding -- as in the famous phrase 身心脱落 (SHINJIN-DATSURAKU), body and mind dropping off.

The fundamental point of Zazen, speaking for myself, with the limited understanding that I have now, is momentary release, momentary coming undone. If there is any such thing as a final religious deliverance from all my sins, passions, and attachments, I haven't experienced it yet. What I have experienced, in odd moments, in Alexander work and in my own Zazen is moments of allowing, moments of undoing. There is no finality in it, and it is not a celestial experience: it is a momentary liberation from my habitual holding, arranging, grasping tendency. It is greater openness in the joints of my body, especially in the joints of the head and the spine.

This greater openness, this opening tendency, is an openness which brings all kinds of benefits INDIRECTLY. These INDIRECT benefits are most readily observable in ease of breathing. We can all improve the way we breathe, by undoing. But if we try to deepen the breathing DIRECTLY, that is just doing.

The direction in which Zazen and Alexander work seems to be taking me is towards wishing, more and more completely, and more and more of the time, for undoing.

Exhortations by the likes of the little upstart Brad Warner to "fix the posture," it seems to me, are pointing people entirely in the wrong direction. That guy has really put my nose out of joint, declaring his intention to write his interpretation of Shobogenzo, on the basis of his shallow and wrong understanding. He relies on the translation I was slaving away at years before he arrived on the scene, while giving himself airs and slagging me off. Who does he think he is? The little lickspittle. If we were members of the same karate dojo, I would kick and punch the hell out of him. That is my very strong instinctive feeling towards the little lickspittle Brad Warner. He has really offended my sense of proper order.

In working in the direction of undoing, it is not reasonable to adhere to any principle other than the principle of non-doing. However one chooses to translate it, the fundamental meaning of 無為 (MU-I), as I see it, must relate to this principle of non-doing.

Why? Because when you investigate in detail the process of undoing, it becomes more and more apparent that it cannot be done. You cannot do an undoing.

I submit to you for your own verification that this is a universal truth: You cannot do an undoing.

It is not only a principle that adorns the subtle method of the buddhas. It is not only the core principle of Alexander work. I submit to you that it is a universal truth. You cannot do an undoing.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Unravelling the Kesa

I spent the week-end in the embrace of the kesa. To put it more plainly, I went to stay with Pierre.

Was it unravelling the kesa?
Or being unravelled by the kesa?
Just endless entanglement.

In the past Pierre has always come to stay with us in Aylesbury, so it was enlightening to watch him on his home turf in East Grinstead. On Saturday night he took me for a meal in his local pub, where he is well known.

As soon as I enter a pub, my conditioning is called into action, mobilized like an army. Warily I scan around to see if there is anybody who might wish to pick a fight with me. My voice drops and I revert to a strong Birmingham accent(presumably lest anyone should think, despite my battle-scarred appearance,that I am a posh effeminate sissy). The result of this posturing on my part is that Pierre, with his French accent, is readily understood by the barmaid, but she has to ask me twice to repeat what kind of Guiness I would like to drink -- extra cold or normal. And so we proceed to our table, like shaven-headed versions of Laurel and Hardy. The shorter and stouter one sprays gasshos around freely, quite at ease and totally unconcerned how eccentric he might appear to be. How the lankier one appears, I do not know. Judging from the inside,I would guess he appears stiff, self-conscious, worried.

On the Sunday morning, after Zazen, we skip breakfast and get straight into the task of packing Pierre’s books into plastic crates and moving them into the back of my trusty old Toyota Starlet. Soon I have a throbbing headache and have to lie down. Pierre comes to the rescue with several slices of salmon on toast. With these and two cups of coffee inside me I feel OK again almost immediately. As I fondly cradle my second cup, Pierre asks me: ”Mike, this is an intimate question, but do you think your Alexander directions while you are having sex?”

My answer is that, in one sense, no I don’t. In general in my daily life, I don’t verbalize the directions -- “I wish to allow my neck to be free, to allow my head to come unlocked from deep within me, so that it releases in a forward direction and leads the whole spine to release into length, so that the back is also released to widen,while the legs and arms are released out of the torso...” et cetera, et cetera.

But in another sense, after a number of years in the Alexander work,in which verbal directions such as the above have been overheard, repeated, and re-formulated over and over again, that which is expressed by these words becomes part of what one wants, all the time. What one wants, all the time, is to be free, to come undone, to be unlocked, to be liberated from the chains of habit, to be more awake, not to be such a slave to unconsciousness.

Later on Sunday morning I gave Pierre an Alexander lesson in lying down, and as I exhorted him to come undone (in other words to “wish to allow the neck to be free, to allow the head forward and up, to allow the back to lengthen and widen, etc.”), I found myself re-translating for Pierre the first line of the traditional verse (gatha) recited in praise of the Buddha’s robe.

How great is the clothing of coming undone!

I would like to discuss, for what it is worth, my understanding of the meaning of GEDATSU, or coming undone, but since I am having trouble inputting Chinese characters on my Mac, I will leave that for another post.

Saying goodbye to Pierre, I asked him, "Who are you?" I was expecting him to say, "I don't know," but his actual reply was "Nobody." "No," I said, "You are not nobody. But who you are I do not know."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

No Airs & Graces -- 無為(MU-I) Continued

The meaning of MU-I which strikes me this morning as important is being “without pretension,” ordinary...

Ordinary bloke with big nostrils,

Big strong bloke with ordinary nostrils,

Ordinary mind with big-bloke nostrils:

These are the nostrils of Gautama.

Still,in attending to this blog rather than attending to some other more mundanetask, in writing a verse such as the above, am I practicing what I preachor not? Ah, to hell with the question. I'm doing what I want to do.

Talkingnostrils, the great difficulty is to acknowledge that Gautama’s nostrilsare as big and open as they are, and to wish for one’s own nostrils to belike this, but to wish for this without any pretension either to be or tobecome a Buddha by making one's own nostrils like this.

What doesit mean in Zazen practice? It means for example, while sitting in lotus,shaven headed, wearing the kesa, to know a long breath as long and just to know a short breath as short.

The great difficulty is in this word just.If, knowing this short breath as short, I intend next to achieve a long breaththat I may know as long, then inevitably, either consciously or unconsciously,I do something to try to change my breathing for the better. But such doingis a trap. Liberation is an undoing, and an undoing cannot be done. Trueliberation arises out of the principle of non-doing.

Now, wake up and listen. I will tell you a secret: Don’t try to turn the principle of non-doing into a doing!

Butwithout a good teacher, you will. Even with a good teacher, you probablywill. For many years, I did. (Please don’t tell anybody, but sometimes Istill do--Joe Walsh‘s truth again.)

FM Alexander saw very clearlythis truth--this great principle and this great difficulty of "non-doing."As was said back in the 1960s, FM Alexander re-discovered the secret of Zenfor our time. How he did this, almost wholly unaided, without any contactwith any living Buddhist tradition, is almost miraculous.

The factthat bright sparks like you and I are reading and writing this blog, howeverimmature and unworthy we might be, however inept we might be at followingthe principle of non-doing in our actual Zazen practice…. Finally, what canI say about it? I feel hopeful. We are onto something.