Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Master Dogen, writing what is necessary to write, wrote:

“Authentically succeed to the samadhi of the ancestors.”

So what is samadhi?

Sensing an atagonistic balance of opposing forces, sensing this in Zazen, non-verbally, intuitively, not only within himself but also in the external world, Gudo Nishijima searched for a scientific explanation that matched his experience. The explanation Nishijima Roshi selected was balance of the autonomic nervous system.

For 25 years that explanation has been both an inspiration and a stumbling block for me. Then, this spring, following the hint of an American scientist who left a comment on my blog, I found a scientific explanation which seems to me to hit the target more completely. The explanation can be found in the writings of the professor of chemistry Frank Lambert. (See for exampe

In 1925 the physicist Arthur Eddington said:
“The second law of thermodynamics is time’s arrow.”

The second law is time’s arrow because, for example, over time, water flows downhill, flowers wilt and fall, kesa-strings break, mirror’s crack, energy tends to dissipate. This is not only a scientific theory; it is the real experience of every one of us. We do never see fallen flowers returning to the branches of trees or cracked mirrors repairing themselves.

So Arthur Eddington said:
“The second law of thermodynamics is time’s arrow.”

It is also the real experience of every one of us that, for short or long periods of time, water may not flow. Instead, in the heat of the summer sun, it may evaporate. Flowers may not wilt and fall but grow. Kesa-strings and mirrors may remain unbroken. Energy may remain concentrated in a tree or (with the input of extra external energy), it may become even more concentrated -- one plum flower, two plum flowers, three, four, five... limitlessly many plum flowers!

To express this, in 1998 Frank Lambert modified Eddington’s statement, as follows:
“Chemical kinetics firmly restrains time’s arrow in the taut bow of thermodynamics for milliseconds to millenia.”

Sitting in the full lotus posture is called in Shobogenzo “the king of samadhis.” Why? I think because it is the supreme way for a Buddhist monk to practice and experience the antagonistic balance between:

the ‘downhill’ tendency of time’s arrow


the opposing ‘uphill’ work done via chemical kinetics.

Each person can verify for themself, inductively and deductively, in their own Zazen, the presence of ‘downhill’ flows such as release of energy from unduly tense muscles, passing of suppressed thoughts, and oxidation of food; and also the presence (inductively) of ‘uphill’ work such as effort to keep sitting upright in spite of tiredness, pain, distractions, et cetera, as well as (deductively) synthesis of essential biological compounds such as calcium and the ingredients of bone marrow.

Speaking from my own experience of sitting in the full lotus posture four times a day for 20 years, sitting in the full lotus posture with the body is a kind of ‘uphill’ work which we should do; sitting in the full lotus posture with the mind has to do with allowing ‘downhill’ flows; and sitting in the full lotus posture as body and mind dropping off is just an expression of spontaneous flow itself.

I think that this explanation accords with what Nishijima Roshi knows already, and what he taught me already -- deeply, intuitively, non-verbally.

I could not care less whether people of scant Zazen experience such as Michael Tait agree with me or not. My hope is that Nishijima Roshi will notice what an extremely powerful weapon the 2nd law of thermodynamics might be for promoting true Buddhism. Nishijima Roshi has been searching for such a powerful weapon for many years. So I guess that his recent silence might represent the process of his coming to a conclusion about it.

Now for a few weeks I am going to a small house in France, where there will be nature in tremendous abundance but no Broadband. So I shall stop posting on this blog for a while.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Since coming back to England 12 years ago I have had lessons in the FM Alexander Technique from many good teachers, but especially from two women whose combined experience in the Work is around 120 years.

The interesting thing to report is that both these women, as of my last lessons with them, were still expressing wonder and amazement at the mystery of this power that Alexander called “thinking.” FM Alexander used to say, “This work is an exercise in finding out what thinking is.”

* * *

When a monk asked Zen Master Yakusan what he was thinking in Zazen, Yakusan replied “Thinking this state beyond thinking.”

The monk asked, “How can we think the state beyond thinking.”

Master Yakusan said, “It is non-thinking.”

* * *

“Non-thinking” is HI-SHIRYO.

When I began to understand the power of what FM Alexander called “thinking” my understanding of the above story inevitably changed. And noticing that change, Gudo Nishijiima decided to call a halt to our Shobogenzo translation partnership.

This is why I say that, despite how things might look, the central disagreement between Gudo Nishijima and myself has not been a personal matter, but a philosophical one. The personal stuff has been an unfortunate distraction -- mainly arising from my own Zidane-like imperfections.

So I have been trying, and I have not given up trying, to solve the problem through philosophical discussion.

The Master and I had a huge correspondence on the true meaning of HI-SHIRYO. During that discussion, one of the things I suggested (and this was something the Master objected to very vehemently) was that the HI of HI-SHIRYO might be like the HI of HI-BUTSU in Shobogenzo chap.28, Butsu-kojo-no-ji [58]. In that context HI-BUTSU means “a non-buddha,” i.e., a real buddha, not what you think of as a buddha.

In the same way, HI-SHIRYO, I suggested could be understood as “non-thinking” -- real thinking, the kind of thining that FM Alexander taught, not what people understand by thinking.

Master Nishijima could not have been clearer in his refutation of this suggestion by me. HI-SHIRYO, he strongly insisted, should never be understood as in any way affirmative of thinking.

But there again, Master Nishijima does not understand what FM Alexander meant by thinking. This point is crystal clear to me from my experience of the Master’s attempts to correct my posture using direct physical manipulation.

Yesterday one of Nishijima Roshi’s Dharma-heirs phoned me up, and our conversation touched on this problem of thinking. He expressed his view that it might just be a problem of words, that if we use the word “noticing” the problem might be solved. He spoke as if he knew what he was talking about. But it seemed clear to me, in my anger, that this arrogant and closed-minded person did not have the first clue what Alexander meant by “thinking.” In contrast to the two veteran Alexander teachers mentioned above, this so-called Zen Master is not interested in investigating deeply what Alexander meant by thinking, or what Yakusan meant by thinking, because he is confident that he already understands.

What it means to sit in the full lotus posture with the body is not in doubt. We can all agree on this, fortunately. It means to sit upright on a cushion, with right foot on left thigh and left foot on right thigh. We can all be grateful for this conspicuous teaching of Gautama Buddha, which is not in doubt.

What it means to sit in the full lotus posture with the mind, in contrast, cannot be decided conclusively. At least, looking at my two old Alexander teachers, I notice that after their combined 120 years, they are still asking the question of what thinking is.

In the end, Gudo Nishijma and I probably will never be able to present a united front on this matter of thinking. It would have been wonderful if we could. But the reality is different. In reality he has not annointed me as his true successor but has dismissed me as a non-Buddhist.

That is the real situation. But out of our disagreement, and out of our personal suffering, some greater good may still come.

Everybody should be able to see, by reading our respective blogs, that Master Nishijima and I are totally as one in seeing that clarification of the true meaning of Fukan-zazen-gi is the most important matter, and that clarification of the true meaning of the above koan is the most important matter within the most important matter.

The Master’s interpretation of the koan, and my interpretation of the koan, are different. The Master does not affirm thinking. I do. In conclusion, who is right and who is wrong? Who is true and who is false? Why not defer that decision, and investigate it for yourself?

Release of the head out of the body (which causes the head to nod forward slightly, as seen in Buddha images through the ages) is a spontaneous undoing. It cannot be done. It is a spontaneous event which has an inherent tendency to happen, unless it is prevented from happening by wrong conceptions, bad habits, emotional reactions, et cetera. It cannot be done -- it is not the same as pulling in the chin.

The matter to be investigated is what role thinking has to play in this process of spontaneous undoing.

If we express it in terms of the second law of thermodynamics, I exhort you to investigate these two propositions:
a) Thinking can be a hindrance to the process of release which the second law predicts.
b) Thinking can facilitate release, by working as a means of overcoming activation energy barriers.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Thinking -- about Anger

A Zazen practitioner with whom I trained in Japan phoned me this morning. What his motivation was I do not clearly know.

What I can say in all honesty is that my perception of everything to do with this individual is clouded by anger.

Reflecting on this matter during a long walk this evening, I practiced what FM Alexander called "the whispered ah." The basic idea is to breathe out in a controlled exhalation, making a non-habitual whispered "ah" sound, and then to let the breath flow back in spontaneously.

One can apply the same principle in reciting out loud, reciting some meaningful phrases out loud, with body and mind, and then letting the air flood back in spontaneously, through open nostrils.

For examle:


The many bad actions that I have committed in the past
All stemmed, from times without beginning, from greed, anger and delusion.
They were done with body, mouth, and mind.
I now confess and repent them all.


In extra time of last night’s World Cup final, before countless watching millions, Zinedine Zidane, a reserved and inoffensive man off the pitch but with unsurpassed creative energy on the pitch, walked resolutely up to Marco Materazzi, one of the Italian defenders who had been cramping his style for the past 100 minutes, and dropped his nut squarely on the Italian’s sternum. WOW!

Namby-pamby football commentators and pundits wrang their hands.

Of course, if playing to the rules is foremost, what Zizu did was bad. If causing your team to win is foremost, what Zizu did was bad. If the principle of non-violence is foremost, what Zizu did was bad.

But as a manifestation of pent-up energy spontaneously releasing... WOW!

Setting aside good and bad, it was certainly the most memorable moment of the match.

Goodbye Zizu. And thank you.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Spontaneous Transmission

Master Dogen taught:
(1) Sit in the full lotus posture with the body.
(2) Sit in the full lotus posture with the mind.
(3) Sit in the full lotus posture dropping off body and mind.

To sit in the full lotus posture with the body requires a physical effort not to think but to do.

To sit in the full lotus posture with the mind requires a mental effort not to do but to think.

To sit in the full lotus posture dropping off body and mind feels as if it is effortless; it is a spontaneous process, like a great body of water moving imperceptibly downstream.

Miscellaneous views are utterly irrelevant to the true meaning of Master Dogen's Zazen teaching, which passes from teacher to student, person to person, spontaneously, like a sound vibration passing from one tuning fork to another. All else is only vanity.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Endless Process; Golden Rules

The Middle Way that the Buddha taught is an endless process.

This morning twice, this afternoon, this evening, I have sat and will sit in the full lotus posture, with body, with mind, and without body and mind. Tomorrow likewise. And the day after. And the day after that. An endless process. No finality. No security.

No security -- except that there are certain rules of the Universe, golden rules, that can be conclusively grasped. For example:

Rule no. 1: Human beings make mistakes.

Rule no. 2: Energy in all its forms tends to spread out, unless hindered from doing so.

Rule no. 3: [Closely related to rule no. 2] We cannot do an undoing.

Rule no. 3 might be called Alexander’s Law. To explain it further: The energy with which we hold in undue muscle tension has an inherent tendency to dissipate, if we STOP hindering it from doing so. So if we want to be liberated from being held in our own grip, we should practice STOPPING. This practice of stopping is primarily mental. Alexander described his work as “the most mental thing there is.”

It is recognized in this work that certain physical positions are more conducive than others to the release of undue muscular tension. Alexander called these “positions of mechanical advantage.” Sitting in the full lotus posture is one such physical position.

But once the practitioner is seated already in the traditional posture -- in Master Dogen’s words SHINSO SUDE NI TOTONOE (“the body-form is already regulated”) -- the essence of the practice is mental. It involves the decision NOT TO DO. It requires us intentionally to turn away from doing, and NOT TO DO but TO THINK.

Thinking does not mean intellectual thinking, not thinking about. It means, for example, when I notice that my legs are holding onto my back, and my back is pulling in my legs, I THINK my legs and my back away from each other. When I THINK like this, without doing anything about it, my breathing improves spontaneously. Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

Do you understand what I am saying here about sitting in lotus and thinking? Unless you have many years experience of both Zazen and Alexander work, I very much doubt it. If you are quick-witted, like Michael Tait, you may think you understand, and you may sound like you understand, but without many years of hard work, you won’t really understand.

When I visit my Alexander teacher, as I did yesterday, I am constantly amazed at the changes she is able to bring about when she contacts me with her hands and thinks. Without doing any kind of physical manipulation at all, she facilitates all kinds of undoing in me -- as if digging my head out from deep within my body, with a great big JCB. It is the power of THINKING alone, an endless mystery.

Above are three golden rules that can be conclusively grasped. It is probably remiss of me not to mention others, but, as human being to human being, I refer you back to Rule No. 1.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Direction Inherent in Civilization

From the internet I found that Shobogenzo Book 1, 3, and 4 are now available through Booksurge. Although I hold half the copyright to the Shobogenzo translation I myself was not informed about this move at all. I am not a legal expert, but I think that, in going ahead with the publication without either informing me or making any arrangement with me regarding royalties, Gudo Nishijima must have done something illegal.

Having done that, Gudo then threatened on his blog to take legal action against me. Why should a graduate in law from Tokyo University put himself in such a vulnerable legal position? This is one question I have been asking myself. There must be a reason for it.

I remember in the early 1990s I was on a train on the Seibu-Ikebukuro line, going into work in Tokyo. It was late morning, past the rush hour, and in my carriage there were only a few people. One of them, an elderly scruff, started barking aggressive commands at me in broken English. Whether my intuition was right or wrong I do not know, but I sensed he was playing out some wartime experience, and I reacted. I grasped him by his shirt and drew his face towards mine.

Can you guess the reaction of this weedy old man as a large foreigner with the calloused knuckles of a karate black-belt pulled him onto his toes? His face lit up. It was as if he was saying to me: “Yes, please, go on and strangle me. I deserve it.”

I let go of him and walked through into the next carriage.

I wrote a few days ago that the battle between Gudo Nishijima and myself is not personal; it is philosophical. That was only partly true. It is not only philosophical. It has to do with the direction of culture, or civilization. It has to do with my deep-seated hatred for Japanese cultural arrogance which, for me, is personified by Gudo Nishijima himself. I want to defeat Japanese cultural arrogance.

I don’t hate Gudo Nishijima and I don’t hate Japan. My wife is Japanese. My sons are half Japanese. My sons’ grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins are Japanese. I don’t hate Japanese people. But there is something about the way Japanese society works (again I refer readers to Karel von Wolferen’s brilliant expose of the Japanese System) which sickens me. And Gudo Nishijima, through his life, has been very much a stalwart of that System.

The battleground Gudo invites me onto is a legal one -- like the old man on the train who wanted me to beat him up physically. No thank you. It is not about defeating one old man in the confines of a court. It is about defeating a wrong direction, out in the open.

Today, as it happens, is July 4th, the day when American citizens celebrate the founding of a new republic. It was 230 years ago that the Founding Fathers proclaimed the primacy of individual rights, under the banner of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

It is primarily because of the enormous directive power of this idea, I believe, that individual Americans, protected by their constitution, and guided by reason, are gradually finding their own way to the ultimate pursuit of happiness, which is sitting in the full lotus posture, as taught by Zen Master Dogen -- with body, with mind, and shedding body and mind.

Japanese civilization has progressed in a different direction, not respecting individual rights or human reason. Again, Karel von Wolferen has laid it out much more clearly than I can. Japanese civilization has evolved into a System, enigmatically exercising its power from the top down. Japanese society was like that before the Second World War, and after Japan’s surrender in the Second World War Japanese society became even more like that.

I use the word “surrender” instead of “defeat” because in a real sense the Japanese System, 60 years on, still has not been defeated yet.

So my philosophical battle with Gudo Nishijima over the role of thinking in Zazen can be seen as a small part of a much wider conflict, which has to do with the direction of civilizations. The really big question at the beginning of the 21st century, not least for Japan, is: which way will China go.

The teaching that “just to sit is to drop off body and mind” did not originate with the Japanese Zen Master Dogen. Master Dogen brought the teaching back from his Chinese Zen Master Tendo Nyojo. Let us hope that the Chinese Zen Masters of the 21st century do not pervert the original teaching in the way that Japanese Zen Masters such as Master Kodo Sawaki, Master Taisen Deshimaru and Master Gudo Nishijima have perverted the teaching in the 20th century -- with their irrational exhortation to pull in the chin. The wrong direction of Japanese civilization may be seen as the wrong direction to pull in the chin, writ large.

The teaching of Fukan-zazengi is one that can unite America, China, and Europe -- but never in the way that Gudo Nishijima has imagined (with America acting as the chief of police in a global police state). The true teaching of Fukan-zazengi has to do with samadhi as a spontaneous happening, not as something which is imposed from above.

So far, there is not one person who truly understands what I am going on about. But gradually people will understand. It is inevitable. Because I am pointing in the direction which is inherent in all energy.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Minding the Gap

What is spontaneity?

There are two kinds, and Master Dogen cautions us to mind the gap that is prone to open between them.

The first kind is the spontaneity of energy spontaneously spreading out -- as in the flow of water, the growing of grass, and the floating of clouds.

The second kind is the spontaneity of “dropping off body and mind” which we Zen Buddhists are prone to pursue directly, greedily.

The first kind cannot be grasped; but it can be allowed. In the process of allowing, it is truly realized.

The second kind can be pursued, for example, by pulling in the chin and pushing up the spine, but it can never be realized, because it is only a concept.

When Master Dogen wrote, “If there is the slightest gap, heaven and earth are far apart,” he is warning us against greedy end-gaining.

Master Nishijima’s interprets that Master Dogen is warning against a small intellectual worry that is prone to become bigger and bigger. I do not agree. The separation between heaven and earth that Master Dogen describes is not relative; it is absolute.

One cannot do an undoing. This is a fundamental rule of Zazen, an absolute.

Undoing is a spontaneous process, which involves energy being released. One cannot do it by direct means. What causes us to try to do it by direct means is not intellectual worry. What causes us to try to do it by direct means is greedy end-gaining, that is, an emotional desire to grasp something.

A Lion's Roar from 1227

To sit in the full lotus posture with the body requires a physical effort which we should make, four times a day if possible, for as long as we can manage.

To sit in the full lotus posture with the mind requires a mental effort which we should make as is necessary, using thinking as a bridge to go beyond thinking.

To sit in the full lotus posture as dropping off body and mind is a spontaneous process.

Because it is a spontaneous process I have used the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which describes all spontaneous processes, to explain it on this blog. But to practice and experience it for myself, I sit in the full lotus posture, four times a day, with body, with mind, shedding body and mind.

I encourage everyone to emulate my King of Samadhis, and to match my King of Samadhis. There is nothing special about me. The right direction is inherent in all energy -- yours as much as mine.

Therefore, in 1227, when the lion’s roar was heard for the first time in Japan, it sounded like this: DO MOTO EN ZU.
DO means the truth, the way, Bodhi, enlightenment.
MOTO means originally.
EN means roundly, totally, integrally.
ZU means to pervade.

So, literally “The truth originally is all pervasive.”

Or, for a more interpretative translation:
“The fundamental truth pervades throughout the Universe.”

Or, for a still more interpretative rendering:
“The direction inherent in all energy is expansive; energy has an inherent tendency to release out of itself -- both within and without the self.”

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Law Realized

A spontaneous process is always realization of the Law.

Really to experience the Law is to become the realization of a spontaneous process.

Therefore the Buddha taught us to sit in the full lotus posture, using two mirrors -- the conceptions of body and of mind. When those two mirrors are in equilibrium, a third reflection arises, spontaneously.

Thus, in the black black darkness of a moonless night, a lion roars. But bleating sheep hear only their own excited bleating.

Dropping the Atom Bomb

Now I would like to drop the atom bomb, as follows:

What Master Dogen expressed in the 13th century as KOAN (in the line of Fukan-zazengi that Gudo translates as “the rule of the universe has been realized already”) is called in our time the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

What Master Dogen expressed as SHOBO in the line “the true universal rules manifest themselves first,” is called in our time the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Now I have dropped the atom bomb already. I await the announcement of surrender from Japan.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Cruel Truth

The right direction is inherent in all energy, and it manifests itself spontaneously, unless prevented from so doing. This is the fundamental law of the Universe: how could it rely upon our practice and experience of Zazen?

If, however, we misunderstand this law even slightly, then our Zazen is far separate from accordance with this law. If, for example, we are proud of our understanding that it is necessary to pull in the chin to straighten the spine to balance the autonomic nervous system, and even if are able truly to say that “I have sacrificed everything in my life for studying Buddhism,” the cruel fact remains that, if we have misunderstood this law even slightly, we have never realized it at all.

In reality, a happening is either spontaneous or not. If it is not spontaneous even slightly -- even if the principle of pulling in and straightening is very subtle -- then it is not spontaneous at all. As the English proverb says, “A miss is as good as a mile.”