Friday, June 23, 2006

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trying understand your message here...

(1) You were initially taught a method by GN.
(2) You began to doubt that method, to disagree with it, and confusion arose in your mind.
(3) You came to finally understand the method pointed to by Dogen.
(4) You now have no confusion, but many concrete problems.
(5) You now understand Dogen's text about the mind of no confusion

This is my interpretation of your writing:

"Once one is firmly set on the path in the correct manner, the immensity of the truth of suffering and the immensity of the challenge to truly overcome suffering becomes apparent."

or in the words of Van Halen:

"I been to the edge
And there I stood and looked down
You know I lost a lot of friends there baby
I got no time to mess around

Mmm, so if you want it, got to bleed for it baby
Yeah! Got to, got to bleed, baby
Mmm, you got to, got to bleed, baby
Hey! Got to, got to bleed baby

Ain't talkin' 'bout love
My love is rotten to the core
Ain't talkin' 'bout love
Just like I told you before! Before! Before!"


Am I close in any way?

Friday, June 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, I just went out on the web and found a translation of the chapter you referred to. I think my contextual interpretation of walls, pebbles, etc. is entirely incorrect and I look forward to your eludication!

now that you understand, what does it mean?

Friday, June 23, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Fukan-zazengi is Master Dogen’s great gift to humanity. I would like to focus on clarifying the true meaning of Master Dogen’s instructions for Zazen, by whatever means I can -- by my own sitting, by meeting people face to face, and even over the internet if possible. As long as I keep to this principle, I won’t lose the mind in confusion.

I am afraid that discussing the words of Van Halen might be a deviation from the principle.

With respect to your points (1) through (5):
Yes, (1) and (2) are accurate. GN’s Zazen teaching is based on a strongly physical conception -- pull the chin in, to keep the spine straight, to balance the autonomic nervous system. FM Alexander’s teaching is based on the opposite conception of conscious control, thinking, mind. The conflict between these two teachings caused me to be confused, until I finally realized clearly that Master Dogen’s teaching embraces both these two opposite approaches to self regulation, through physical effort and through mental effort, as a means to the effortless, spontaneous sitting in which the self is forgotten -- “dropping off body and mind.”
(3) I do not claim to have understood the method which Master Dogen points to. The method is sitting in the full lotus posture itself. It is beyond understanding.
(4) Yes, as long as I work to principle, there is no confusion, only concrete problems. But I do not always work to principle. Despite my intention to work to principle, I make one stupid mistake after another.
(5) I think that I understand Master Dogen’s observation that some walls are very high, and some pebbles are sharp-edged.

For example, Gudo Nishijima’s lofty pride in his view on the autonomic nervous system is a very high wall. James Cohen and 123twist, although they preach compassion, are very sharp-edged pebbles.

Friday, June 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok thanks. what you wrote reminds me of something I heard once:

it does not matter whether
the world is making you, or
you are making the world
truth in action
has no correspondence

Still unclear though: are the high walls and sharp-edged pebbles difficult for you or them or both you and them, or difficult for you and not them or them and not you, or difficult for neither you nor them?

Friday, June 23, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

If I paraphrase Fukan-zazengi:

Sitting-Zen is the practice and experience that perfectly realizes the Buddha’s enlightenment. Fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles are conspicuously realized, and there are no difficulties at all.

Also relevant might be the following instruction, also from Fukan-zazengi:

Do not choose between clever people and dull ones. If we just work out single-mindedly, that truly is pursuit of the the truth.

In other words: Don’t try to be clever. Just be diligent in sitting.

Friday, June 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most excellent. I am grateful for this exchange with you today.

Friday, June 23, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

You are very welcome. If your understanding of Fukan-zazengi has become even a little clearer, then I am grateful to you.

Friday, June 23, 2006  
Blogger MikeDoe said...

"For example, Gudo Nishijima’s lofty pride in his view on the autonomic nervous system is a very high wall. James Cohen and 123twist, although they preach compassion, are very sharp-edged pebbles. "

One could easily say the same thing about yourself and AT...

Friday, June 23, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Let's stick to trying to clarify the meaning of Fukan-zazengi, and not be distracted by the soap opera of the personal stuff. I know it's difficult, for me also, but we can try it as a kind of Buddhist practice.

Master Dogen says in Fukan-zazengi, "Body and mind spontaneously drop off." Maybe that means, in one sense, that when we devote ourselves sincerely to Zazen, "all the personal stuff is naturally forgotten."

Friday, June 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Despite my intention to work to principle, I make one stupid mistake after another.

fellow monk, please do not judge yourself so harshly. it will only slow your progress. remember this is samsara until it is not. no rush, but don't delay. calm. patient. persistence. judgement is a luxury we can afford to live without. i am writing this to me too. i'm sure you already know all this.

i am educated Theravedan and am now learning of Dogen by way of you and your Teacher. in terms of language comprehension it feels like going from geometry to calculus. does Dogen have any passages that comment on 'Right Effort'?

Saturday, June 24, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Venerable monk, the passage you ask after is contained in Shobogenzo chap. 73 Sanjushi-bon-bodai-bunpo, and I shall paste it in separately after this comment.

In that chapter of Shobogenzo Master Dogen very strongly affirms the importance of becoming a monk (“transcending family life”) in a very long passage on “Right Action.” And in the light of that passage I wonder with some anxiety whether I am worthy to be called “fellow monk” by a Theravaden monk such as yourself.

Probably this is a reason why I am more comfortable preaching the message of Fukan-zazengi, which is for everybody, without distinctions between monks and lay people, than I am in preaching the message of Shobogenzo, which contains many teachings that I haven’t realized properly yet -- for example, the traditional 90-day rains retreat, or 30 years as a castrated water buffalo. Recently I was away from my family in France on solitary retreat, for less than 3 weeks, and I found this difficult enough.

Saturday, June 24, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Right effort as a branch of the path is action that gouges out a whole body, and it is the fashioning of a human face in the gouging out of the whole body. It is to ride upside down around the Buddha Hall, doing one lap, two laps, three, four, and five laps, so that nine times nine comes to eighty-two. It is repeatedly to repay [the benevolence of] others, thousands and tens of thousands of times; it is to turn the head in any direction of the cross, vertically or horizontally; it is to change the face vertically or horizontally, in any direction of the cross; it is to enter the [master's] room and to go to the Dharma Hall. It expresses having met at Boshu-tei pavillion, having met on Useki-rei peak, having met in front of the Monks' Hall; and having met inside the Buddha Hall—there being two mirrors and three kinds of reflection.

-- From Shobogenzo chap. 73, Sanjushichibon-bodai-bunbo (37 Elements of Bodhi).

Saturday, June 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for that quote! i will chew on it for awhile.

i'm not a monk with vows. i'm a monk in the sense that a buddha called anyone who makes the teachings the purpose of their life experience a monk. i live in an apartment with roommates and work at a job, but these are just the locations and activities within which i study myself internally and practice right speech/action externally. it's already some years ago that samsara was seen for itself the entire world appeared as the monestary. i lost that distinction and many others. it's like knowing there's not a Santa Claus. when someone asks me what i do i say I follow the instructions of the Buddha. Marcel Duchamp used to answer 'i breathe'. clever chap.

I refer to you as a monk because your dedication to path appears to be very sincere for one immersed in society as i am. it helps my confidence to see another being being this way.

Your translation skill is obviously a major strength in this incarnation for you. It's also a major benefit for anyone who passes by. Here I am in my room on a rainy morning, and already my mind has been turned towards truth. Have you considered teaching or lecturing, perhaps at the university or pre-university level?

Saturday, June 24, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

If your conception of a monk is like that, then I think that Master Dogen wrote Fukan-zazengi just for a monk like you, and just for a monk like me.

Thank you for the compliment about translation skill. When I set off for Japan in 1982, aged 22, I had no intention to be a translator -- I set out looking for enlightenment. A few months after I met GN, he asked me to join his translation effort and so I did, until 1997, when he decided that my interpretation had diverged from his. That marked the end of our translation partnership. It was important to me to see my work not primarily as a work of scholarship but primarily as Buddhist practice, or service. So since 1997 my translation skills have been more or less redundant.

So far no-one asked me to talk in an academic setting, but I am very open to offers.

Maybe if and when I am ready a request will come.

Saturday, June 24, 2006  

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