Thursday, June 29, 2006

Gudo's Error


Literally: It is vital that the ears vs the shoulders, and the nose vs the navel, should be caused to oppose each other.

In other words, it is vital that the muscular energy which pulls ears and shoulders towards each other, and nose and navel towards each other, should be allowed to dissipate.

This instruction is not, as Master Gudo Nishijima describes, about “fixing the posture regularly.” Master Dogen is describing a spontaneous process, involving dissipation of superfluous energy. Master Nishijima’s conception and Master Dogen’s conception are totally opposed to each other. One is fixity. The other is release from fixity.

Master Dogen’s instruction is based on his clear realization of the direction inherent in all energy. Master Nishijima’s understanding of this instruction is wrong, false, untrue. It is just the Master’s terrible blunder.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Gautama's Law

On experiencing pain, living organisms tend to contract into themselves in a self-protective reaction. Sitting in the lotus posture, we can investigate this reaction as the unconscious tightening of muscles--maybe even including the muscles of the heart.

But holding tightness in muscles requires energy and, whether we like it or not, all energy has its own inherent direction -- a spontaneous tendency to disperse, unless obstructed from doing so.

Two thousand five hundred years ago, a Buddhist monk named Gautama became the first human being not only to see this fundamental law of the Universe, but also to understand its practical implications in liberating human beings from suffering. Therefore I think, as Buddhists, we need not call this most fundamental law of the Universe “the second law of thermodynamics” but should call it instead Gautama’s Law, or the Buddha-Dharma.

To sit upright in the full lotus posture, putting the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right; to sit in the full lotus posture as a conscious act of devotion to Gautama's Law; and thus to sit in the full lotus posture as the practice and experience of spontaneous release, is the supreme true realization of Gautama's Law.

Therefore Zen Master Dogen instructed us:
Sit in the full lotus posture, with body, with mind, dropping off body and mind.

And he taught us:
Sitting is Gautama's Law.
Gautama's Law is sitting.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Four Noble Truths and the Second Law

(1) To suppress ourselves is suffering. This is dukha-satya, the truth of suffering.

(2) This self-suppression, through unduly tightened muscles and held joints, requires physical energy. This is dukha-samdhaya-satya, the truth of suffering as accumulation of physical energy.

(3) This physical energy, according to the second law of thermodynamics, has an inherent tendency to disperse and, unless obstructed from doing so, it will disperse spontaneously. Therefore, if we stop obstructing the second law by doing something to suppress ourselves, the energy required to keep muscles unduly tightened and joints unduly held, will spontaneously disperse. Muscles will release and joints will open up. This is dukha-nirodha-satya, the truth of stopping suffering.

(4) There is a traditional way of stopping suffering, transmitted from the seven ancient Buddhas. It is to sit in the full lotus posture with physical effort, with mental effort, and as the spontaneous shedding of physical and mental effort. This is dukha-nirodha-marga-satya, the truth of the way of stopping suffering.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Zen Dialectic

Master Dogen instructed:
Sit in the full lotus posture, bodily.
Sit in the full lotus posture, mentally.
Sit in the full lotus posture, dropping off body and mind.

The thesis is doing, a physical effort.
The anti-thesis is non-doing, a mental effort.
The synthesis is undoing, a spontaneous happening which, as such, can be investigated as an example of the second law of thermodynamics.

The thesis is intention.
The anti-thesis is intention.
The synthesis can truly be interpreted as “transcending having any kind of intenton.” But in that case, it must be clarified, at all costs, that transcendence and negation are totally different principles -- because, if there is even the slightest gap, heaven and earth are far apart.

Because Gudo Nishijima taught me to think like this, using dialectic, and seeking parallels between East and West, I repay the Master’s benevolence like this.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Think the State of Not Thinking

Think the state of not thinking.

In other words, make a mental effort to initiate a process which -- unless obstructed from doing so by 'activation energies' -- happens effortlessly, spontaenously.

All spontaenous happenings in the material world, according to Dr. Frank Lambert ( are examples of the second law because they involve energy dispersing.

The rolling of a ball downhill is like this. The flow of water downstream is like this.

Release of tight muscles while sitting in the full lotus posture can be like this. Opening of held joints while sitting in the full lotus posture can be like this. The lion’s roar is like this.

This is just the vital secret of Zazen.

Friday, June 23, 2006

What did Master Dogen mean by "a gap"?

“If there is a thousandth or a hundredth of a gap, heaven and earth are far apart.”

This suggests that heaven and earth are originally not separate, but there is something about we tottering bipeds that causes a gap to open, in which case, even if the gap is very slight, we experience heaven and earth as being far apart.

Nishijima Roshi’s new, independent translation says:
“If there were even though a bit of the smallest gap, then the gap would become bigger and bigger as if it were like distance between the heaven and the earth.”

The emphasis is different, and I have asked the Master on his blog to clarify. But in either case, it is not in doubt that Master Dogen is cautioning against the arising of a gap.

I have my own ideas about what Master Dogen meant by a gap. I think the gap is related to Master Dogen's discussion of polishing a tile vs making a mirror, which corresponds to Alexander's principle of means-whereby vs end-gaining. But if there are any different or opposing views out there, they would be welcome.

Reflecting on how this blog has, and hasn't, been useful over the past months, one good thing that did come out of it was when I asked for people's interpretations of MU-I. I found that exercise valuable, not least because of Bubba's hint to check out Frank Lambert's site at

So what did Master Dogen mean by "a gap"? Comments are cordially invited.

Losing the Mind in Confusion

Master Dogen wrote that if a trace of disagreement arises, we lose the mind in confusion. I would like to bear witness from my own experience.

If somebody teaches us a wrong principle of Zazen -- for example, forcibly pulling in the chin to keep the spine straight vertically to balance the autonomic nervous system -- then as long as we follow that principle blindly, as long as we adhere to that principle obediently, then there is no confusion. There may be severe pain in the neck and shoulders and all manner of psychological disturbances associated with suppressing the natural mechanisms of upright posture and breathing, but there will be no confusion. There will rather be the attitude of “I know the true principle to follow. I am right.”

If one begins to doubt the truth of the wrong principle that one has been following, however, then there inevitably follows a period of confusion in which one’s previous confidence is lost.

But finally if one understand the true principle that Master Dogen points to in Fukan-zazengi -- the principle of not only sitting in lotus with the body, but also of sitting in lotus with the mind, and thereby passing through to the practice and experience of sitting in lotus as the dropping off of body and mind -- then there is no confusion.

There is no confusion, but there are many concrete problems. Thus, the mind of no confusion is described very accurately in Shobogenzo in chapter 44, Kobusshin.

What is the mind of no confusion?

Fences, walls, tiles and pebbles.

Master Dogen adds: “There are walls standing a thousand feet or ten thousand feet high... and there are sharp edges of pebbles, big ones and small ones.”

Ah yes! Now I understand what Master Dogen was talking about.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

First part of Fukan-zazengi Rufu-bon

Now, when we research it, the truth originally is all around: why rely upon practice and experience? The vehicle for the fundamental exists naturally: where is the need to expend effort? Furthermore, the whole body far transcends dust and dirt: who could believe in the means of sweeping and polishing? In general, we never depart from the place where we should be: of what use, then, are the tiptoes of training?

However, if there is a thousandth or a hundredth of a gap, heaven and earth are far apart, and if a trace of disagreement arises, we lose the mind in confusion. Even if, proud of our understanding and richly endowed with realizations, we obtain special states of insight, attain the truth, clarify the mind, manifest a zeal that pierces the sky, and ramble through those remote spheres that are entered with the head; we have almost completely lost the vigorous path of getting the body out.

* * * *

The above is, as far as possible, a literal translation of the opening part of Fukan-zazengi.

What is Master Dogen cautioning us against? According to Gudo Nishijima, Master Dogen is cautioning us against an intellectual attitude. I don’t think so. I think that what Master Dogen is cautioning us against, in essence, is pride in a view. Two examples of such a view are firstly, anti-intellectualism itself, and secondly, closely related to the first, Gudo’s view on the autonomic nervous system.

When I began to understand the importance of what FM Alexander called “thinking,” I tried to convey my understanding to my Master. He took the view that I had departed from Buddhism in favour of the usual attitude of Western people, as he sees it from his Japanese goldfish bowl, which is “Western intellectual thinking.” He belongs to a generation in Japan which went to war against HAKUJIN NO BUNKA -- “white man’s civilization.” And for him, “white man’s civilization” means “intellectual civilization.”

So I think that Master Nishijima’s understanding of this part of Fukan-zazengi is coloured by his anti-intellectual bias. If he truly understood what Master Dogen is saying here, taking off the smoky spectacles of anti-intellectualism, Gudo might have to re-consider his deep emotional attachment to the view which he has on the importance of his discovery on the importance of the autonomic nervous system.

The King of Samadhis & The Second Law

Master Dogen instructed us:

(1) Bodily sit in the full lotus posture.
(2) Mentally sit in the full lotus posture.
(3) Sit in the full lotus posture as dropping off body and mind.

Bodily sitting in the full lotus posture means making a physical effort to put one’s sitting bones on a zafu, to put the right foot on the left thigh, the left foot on the right thigh, and to sit upright.

Mentally sitting in the full lotus posture means making a mental effort to direct one’s energy/attention, not to let it leak/wander in directions which are superfluous to the simple act of sitting UPright. (And in this context of directing one’s energy/attention, the operative word is UP.)

Sitting in the full lotus posture as dropping off body and mind is sitting as the negation of dualistic concepts like good and bad, right and wrong, body and mind; it is to lose oneself in the act of sitting; it is the act of sitting as effortless entry into a spontaneous process. It is, in Master Dogen’s words, the King of Samadhis.

Therefore, if we want to connect our experience of “sitting in lotus as dropping off body and mind” with modern scientific knowledge, which we do, the most relevant theory might be second law of thermodynamics. Because, according to Dr. Frank Lambert, “All spontaneous happenings in the material world are examples of the second law.” (See

(1) and (2) involve physical and mental effort, to overcome barriers (called “activation energies”) to the fulfillment of the second law. (3) describes the fulfillment of the second law itself -- a spontaneous happening in the material world.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Tale of Retribution

In the distant past, an archer, a lay Buddhist practitioner of black and white karma visited a Buddha and confessed. The Buddha told the archer that, in order to pay retribution for his black karma, he should go into the forest, and make a simple bulls-eye target on each of three trees. He should take aim at the first tree from a distance of 100 yards, at the second from 200 yards, and at the third from 400 yards.

The next day the archer returned to the Buddha, prostrated himself, and reported to the Buddha that, incredibly, he had, with three arrows, scored three bulls-eyes.

“Should I think,” the archer inquired “that the three bulls-eyes were a reward for my past white karma, or were they rather reward for the virtue of my believing deeply in cause and effect?”

“Neither,” replied the Buddha. “What happened yesterday was retribution for your past black karma.”

“I don’t understand,” said the archer, bewildered. “How can three bulls-eyes from such distances be retribution?”

“Simple,” concluded the Buddha. “Whenever you try to tell anybody about it, no-one will believe you.”