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.

27 Comments:

Blogger oxeye said...

Many of us practice some Buddhist ritual activities outside of zazen. Head shaving, bowing, sewing the kesa, prostrations, etc.

Could zazen be something of a cleansing anti- ritual? Many teachers have called it a stupid or boring practice. It is very difficult to put into words exactly what it is. Does it help us in breaking down habitual behavior and neutralizing half understood archaic rituals?

Thursday, March 02, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Oxeye.

If we follow the four phases, as identified by Gudo in Shobogenzo, in MMK, et cetera, anything "anti-" generally belongs to the second phase, i.e. the anti-thetical phase in the four phases of thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis, and reality.

But Zazen is beyond all that.

I do not think Zazen is a stupid and boring practice, at all. If it is understood as something you just do (unconsciously) then it might get boring -- a mindless, mechanically repetitive act. This is how Japanese are easily prone to practice the way of their choice. I have friends in the Alexander work who tell me about young Japanese students at music colleges in London, just playing a piano score from cover to cover, again and again. Mindless repetition. What Master Dogen called "the subtle method," as I endeavor to practice it, is totally different from that.

It is not very difficult to put into words exactly what Zazen is. It is totally impossible.

I think we profess at our peril that Zazen helps to break down our habitual behaviour. The force of habit is so strong and so insidious. If we give ourselves the airs of one who has broken down and got free of his or her conditioning, our old conditioning is always likely to sneak up and bite us in the backside. But I think we can say with confidence that to liberated from habitual behaviour is the point -- "to drop off body and mind" as it is expressed in Shobogenzo.

It is like a playing a par-3 hole at golf. The point is to aim for a hole in one. But don't expect to get one!

I shave my head once a week, bow before eating meals (but not always), sew intermittently -- the last time was helping a friend with a kesa a couple of weeks ago, and do prostrations from time to time.

But Zazen I practice without fail every day, usually four times a day. And I do not practice it for the sake of cleansing or neutralizing anything. As far as I am able (given the proviso that it is not always possible for us to truly honestly know our own motivation), I sit in Zazen just for the sake of sitting in Zazen. That, as I understand it, is the vital essence of the whole of Shobogenzo. All else is relatively unimportant.

Thursday, March 02, 2006  
Blogger Pierre Turlur said...

Oxeye,

You are raising a very important point. Western Dharma had roughly two options so far, either copying japanese rituals ( monkey business of various sangha) or getting rid of them in the name of "let's make it ours".

Now, if you are talking about sutra chanting,complicated morning rituals, tantric flavoured recitations...you are talking about stuff which is very japanese and, to some extent, why not getting rid of it?

I believe that what you mention in your post: head shaving, kesa sewing, bowing are essential activities that all arise from zazen itself. People like you or me don't have to understand, we have to experience, not in a robot-like fashion or dead brain way, but wholeheartedly.

I don't see Zazen as a cleansing process. I see it as zazen. And when I sit it, sometimes zazen even drops.

Why do you think a bloke like me with such a limited understanding of the kesa spend so much time writing about it on a f.... blog that hardly anybody visits?

My best suggestion, Oxeye, would be for you to sew and bow and shave your head for a few years.

And if people want some kind of reassurance that this is going to work, sorry, I cannot provide any.
In fact, don't expect anything Oxeye, at the same time, get a good glimpse of your-mine endless creeping expectation.

be well

Thursday, March 02, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

Thanks Pierre, We have all developed unwanted habits that we later recognized and stopped. They had to be clearly seen before they could be broken. Breaking habits that you don’t know you have is more of a problem. How can you stop doing what you can’t recognize. Ritual might be considered a good or helpful habit but it also might reinforce certain unhelpful patterns of thinking. Much of it seems to be about just comforting or humbling the practitioner. The kesa fetish is something I do not understand.

Mike said, “As far as I am able (given the proviso that it is not always possible for us to truly honestly know our own motivation), I sit in Zazen just for the sake of sitting in Zazen. That, as I understand it, is the vital essence of the whole of Shobogenzo. All else is relatively unimportant.”

We have been taught that Zazen should be practiced with no intention. That it is enlightenment itself. But it is ultimately just a tool for life and not life in itself. If you sit zazen 24/7 you will soon die. Perilously I risk that Zazen seems to be about unraveling habitual thought and clearing it away. That notion is either one of millions of endless creeping false expectations or the truth. I have no idea which and when sitting do not discriminate.

Thursday, March 02, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Pierre and Oxeye.

"Creeping expectation" is a good phrase, and very relevant to this discussion of MU-I. When I look back at times when I thought I had hit rock bottom, when I felt my state to be utter hopelessness, and called it so, I was only kidding myself. When all else had deserted me, my creeping expectation was always there--a loyal friend indeed.

I revere you, Pierre, not because you are without creeping expectation; but because you are, albeit intermittently, open to acknowledge it. I hope that I am like that too--even if only for odd fleeting moments.

"Zazen seems to be about unraveling habitual thought and clearing it away." Well yes, it does seem to be about that to me, too. But I have learnt to be aware of a constant tendency in me to want to grasp what Zazen is.

Is Zazen a tool for life? No, it is not that.

Is Zazen a _________ for _______? No, it is not that.

Fill in the blanks with any words you like; the formula still holds true.

Master Dogen said, "If you want to get the ineffable, practice the ineffable without delay."

Thursday, March 02, 2006  
Blogger Michael Tait said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Friday, March 03, 2006  
Blogger axel said...

Mike,

Bodhi-chispa it is.

Gracias

Friday, March 03, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Floating Weed, as always, for holding up such a clear mirror. A clear mirror to me, at least.

Your interpretations are always beautiful, but they are always interpretations (except possibly when some glasses of red wine almost opened up a chink?). You do not reveal yourself as a man or a woman, where you live, how old you are, who taught you, what struggles you have had. I want to know. I am sorry, but I can't help wanting to know.

Behind the interpretation about relinquishing all views and opinions, I sense, there is still the pretense of having a view that might be true, a valuable opinion, a beautiful thought to express, a poem that deserves to be written. This is why I call you a clear mirror, to me.

But, thank God, I have got a very experienced Alexander teacher to demonstrate to me what a fraud I am. Do you have someone like that?

If you look on the Dogen Samgha blog you will see that the link to here has been removed. It means nothing, except symbolically. Symbolically it is the final nail in the coffin of my relationship with my Zen Master -- I didn't make it with him, as I always assumed I would, to the finishing line.

Regrettable though it has all been, it has probably given me more genuine insight into the meaning of MU-I than any other teaching I have received from him. Because there have been times over the past 12 months or so where I have really felt, not so much "self-less" as utterly deflated, left in the gutter by Gudo and kicked in the backside by his so-called Dharma-heirs like Brad Warner and the "compassionate" James Cohen.

Suddenly bereft of my previous pretension to be Gudo's one and only true son and heir, what have I got? A load of my own views and opinions, for one thing. But is that all?

No, that is not all. In a moment when I am truly bereft of all pretension, the subtle method exists in me. That is a moment of true allowing. But it is a very rare moment. It cannot be produced by trying.

And it does not arise from a view, not even the most lucid view expressed in the most beautiful poetry Floating Weed can muster, not even the most authentic view of Master Dogen expressed in the most literal, bulls-eye hitting translation of 無為MU-I that I can muster.

It seems to me that a moment of allowing arises spontaneously. There is nothing I can do to bring it into being.

I have been privileged to gain a lot of knowledge of Master Dogen's teaching in Shobogenzo. Not only that, I have received a lot of Alexander work from maybe two of the greatest Alexander teachers that have ever lived. But what kind of power does all that learning give me -- let's say in the matter of causing my breathing to flow deeply and spontaneously? No power at all.


My Maserati does one-eighty-five...

Saturday, March 04, 2006  
Blogger MikeDoe said...

"It seems to me that a moment of allowing arises spontaneously. There is nothing I can do to bring it into being. "

Yes and No. Marjory has/can teach you how.

Saturday, March 04, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Marjory teaches her pupils how to wish for freedom, how to aspire to Awakening, without doing anything to bring it about.

Truly to wish for a free condition of being, without trying to force anything into being.

Thinking, wishing, without doing.

But TRULY wishing for it. TRULY means with no airs and graces, sincerely, wholeheartedly, without contrivance, without intellectual pretense, with naked mind, with willingness to give up everything.... praying "Thy will be done," but not praying it out loud like a Christian hypocrite, praying it with every cell of your being.

To sit in the full lotus posture as the expression of that wish, without doing. This, as I see it, is the most fundamental meaning of the middle way.

On one side, Maserati wishing. On the other side, no pretense to be a driver.

Saturday, March 04, 2006  
Blogger Chris said...

"with no airs and graces, sincerely, wholeheartedly, without contrivance, without intellectual pretense, with naked mind, with willingness to give up everything...."

Thanks, mike.

To allow ourselves to be reborn into the moment over and over and over....taking nothing
This is so overwhelming at times. The urge to hold on is so strong.

a single leaf
on its beloved branch
holding dear
through spring breezes

Saturday, March 04, 2006  
Blogger Michael Tait said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Saturday, March 04, 2006  
Blogger 123456789 said...

Hi Mike,

I came across your other blog (it's not that). As a fellow AT student, I'm very interested in your experiences with Alexander Technique. Do you intend to write some more at your other blog?

All the best,

Maaike (with an AT blog at www.forwardandup.com)

Saturday, March 04, 2006  
Blogger Michael Tait said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sunday, March 05, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Chris.

Yes, indeed: Afraid of being an unloved, unknown, nobody, on many levels, I hold on--fearing to becoming nothing.
But up in the spring breezes, starlings freely preach the 2nd law, with their spontaneous song.

Sunday, March 05, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Floating Weed, and thank you again.

Yes, of course you are right. My statement of wanting to know Floating Weed was not so much a request as a confession. The insecurity of not knowing is difficult to endure. But what else can we do?

Sunday, March 05, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Hello Maaike and welcome.

I did intend at one time to keep 3 blogs going in parallel, but no-one left any comments or questions on the Fukan-zazengi blog or AT blog, and so this one (The Middle Way) seems to have evolved as a vehicle to discuss all things related to both Zazen and AT.

To tell the truth, it is the relevance of Alexander's discoveries to Zazen practice which is the thing that really interests me -- moreso than AT for its own sake.

But if you've got any questions specifically on AT, feel free to fire away, either on this blog or on It Is Not That.

All the best,

Sunday, March 05, 2006  
Blogger 123456789 said...

Well, to start off straight away then: what do you mean by AT for its own sake?

All the best,

Maaike

Sunday, March 05, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Maaike.

For example, when someone comes to me for an Alexander lesson, as a general rule we just do Alexander work, applied in the traditional procedures of sitting and standing, lying down, going into monkey, et cetera. I like this kind of work a lot, and find it endlessly fascinating -- just endeavoring as best I can to give an Alexander lesson in a way that FM himself, and his niece Marjory, would approve of.

But I like it even more, and it interests me even more, if someone comes to me for Alexander work who shares my love of Zazen.

Sunday, March 05, 2006  
Blogger 123456789 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sunday, March 05, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Maaike.

You have the air of one who knows a thing or two about the teaching of FM Alexander, Patrick Macdonald, et cetera.

"Lighten up and enjoy"; "lighten up and enjoy"; blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

What do you really know about it?

I hazard to guess: sod all.

Monday, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Pete, an ordinary bloke. said...

2000 odd years ago, so I am told, Lao-tse and Chuang-tse used the term wu-wei. I assume they knew what it meant.
800 years ago, so I am told, Master Dogen’ used the term mu-i. I assume he knew what it meant.
Last night I visited a friend who had recently undergone heart surgery. We talked about this and that and we had a bit of a laugh, but I could see he was worried about what was going on at work.
When I left I said “Take it easy.” I assume he knew what it meant.
In difficult situations I often say to myself “Take it easy!” I think I know what I mean.
Take it easy! Easy enough to say but difficult to realise.
Oh well I will just have to carry on not trying.

Monday, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, artist fka OB.

This work of ours, as I see it, is far too serious to be glib about. Armchair generals who use blogs to air their trivial opinions about Zen & AT annoy the hell out of me. They insult the Dharma/the Work, by believing that it might be something so trivial and easy that it might be quickly understood by any old conceited brat. Brad Warner and James Cohen spring to mind as two obvious examples. But you know the identity of the half-assed git who really ticks me off, who really makes me Cross. I know that you know him, but for the sake of his good name, let us preserve his anonymity.


Patrick Macdonald wrote:

'The F Matthias Alexander Technique is "like unto a treasure hid in a field, the which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field." Note that he selleth all that he hath. He does not merely go without a television set or a holiday in France or, perhaps, a fur coat for his wife. He selleth all that he hath! And, while a proper use of the self is not the Kingdom of Heaven, it is practically an indispensible means of approaching it.'

Yes, ease is our natural state. But it doesn't come easy. Verily, it is like unto a treasure hid in a field.

Monday, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Pete, an ordinary bloke. said...

Sorry if you think I am being glib and that I insult the Dharma.
That’s not my intention.
This half-assed git who really ticks you off aint me mate! It aint me!
I don’t call myself a phoney; I just try not to be one.
Cheers
Pete

Monday, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, P the C.

No the half-assed git that makes me Cross, for failing to apply himself sufficiently to the practice of what he preaches, is not you. I wasn't thinking about you at all, but about someone much closer to home.

If you try not to be a phoney, it must mean that even though you don't call yourself a phoney, you know that you really are a phoney. In that case, in my book, you can't be a true phoney.

If we want to understand the essence of an ordinary bloke, we never will. The essence of an ordinary bloke is a bit of nothing. We might as well try to grasp space.

But if we want to understand the essence of a Zen fraud, then we can understand what makes the likes of Warner and Cohen tick. If we see it in ourselves we can see it in them, and vica versa. We can see it, for example, as:

airs and graces
artificiality
doing
pretense

May all living beings be free of all such hindrances, beginning with me.

Monday, March 06, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

"If you try not to be a phoney, it must mean that even though you don't call yourself a phoney, you know that you really are a phoney. In that case, in my book, you can't be a true phoney."

Deep thoughts by Mike Cross.. :)

Monday, March 06, 2006  
Blogger 123456789 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Monday, March 06, 2006  

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