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.


Blogger MikeDoe said...

[A genuine question follows!!]

When I sit in Zazen I do not worry at all about my spine or anything else - I let the Zafu and 'nature' take care of alignment.

All I do is sit with awareness of my body/mind without wishing to try to change 'either' of them but instead letting myself become calm 'naturally' and become aware of whatever is going on in body and mind.

In the same way that a cup of coffee stops sloshing around when you stop shaking the cup so my mind seems to calm when I stop stirring it.

How is what I think I do different from what you are saying?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, mikedoe.

To compare a Zazen practitioner sitting in lotus to a china cup holding coffee is a crude approximation of the truth. At a certain level, this conception might help a person understand the principle of being still, not reacting, letting ourselves be.

But if we wish to experience more deeply the stillness of samadhi, we have to let go also of conceptions like this and understanding like this.

When Yakusan said, "I am thinking the state of not-thinking," as I see it, he was expressing his intention to allow that which was utterly beyond him -- beyond all his conceptions, beyond his understanding.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006  
Blogger MikeDoe said...


I don't think I will ever be able to describe it better.

Whilst there is an I that can describe there is no Samadhi. When their is Samadhi there is no I and nothing that can be describe.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006  

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