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.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book by Karel von Wolferen sounds interesting. I would also recommend this book to you, "The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self" by Alice Miller

Tuesday, July 04, 2006  
Blogger sekishin said...

Dear Master Nishijima and Mike Cross,

I am trying to understand the difference between your interpretations of the koan.

It seems that you are both saying that “It is different from thinking” expresses action, which is different from thinking.

Master Nishijima seems to be saying that action means “just keeping our posture straight vertically” and the point is simply to do this physical action, without thinking anything.

In that case the line “Think what is not thinking” does not seem to have any important meaning, but it is just to remind us of the original koan, which is ,from beginning to end, about action itself.

Mike Cross seems to be saying that action is a spontaneous happening, which does itself, and so we should not do it; but in order to facilitate it, we should make a mental effort not to do anything.

In that case the line “Think what is not thinking” expresses such mental effort not to do anything, as a bridge to action itself.

I would be very grateful if each of you could confirm whether or not I have understood correctly what you are saying.

With thanks.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Sekishin, you are nearly there, but not quite.

Yes, sitting upright in the full lotus posture is action, which is different from thinking.

I also say that we should just do this physical action, without thinking anything, as a starting point. Physically we should do it, for as long as we can.

But mentally we should decisively not do it.

Dropping off body and mind, we should allow it to do itself.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, anonymous, whoever you are, for the pointer.

I checked out Alice Miller's website (http://www.alice-miller.com/index_en.php?page=2), and immediately recognize the truth of what she is saying in her article about the enlightened witness -- cf. Sanskrit: kalyana-mitra, "the good friend," or sometimes called "the spiritual friend.

Further to what I have written here about the 2nd law of thermodynamics, I have begun to see with increased clarity that the holding in of repressed emotions takes up a lot of energy. But inherent in this energy is the tendency to disperse, if we allow it.

When the energy it takes to hold ourselves in, is allowed to disperse, body and mind drop off spontaneously. That is the essence of Zazen practice.

So, intuitively, immediately, I feel that the direction of my work and Alice Miller's work is essentially the same.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006  
Blogger Michael Tait said...

Floating Tait has been drinking again so please forgive spelling mistakes and more familiar idiocy. He truly is a Foolish Thing as ever.

There is a crab apple tree in our garden. My new daughter Georgia is a fractious and colicky baby. This evening I took her into the garden to listen to the little bells and chimes we have hanging from that tree. She became very quiet and happy listening to those sounds. I also became very quiet and happy listening with her to those sounds.

You write that you are alone in your understanding. I could do something here with a quotation of yours to deconstruct, to reassemble it as Dogen does to point us at the real situation but you are already frustrated with my cleverness. I ask you here though; Who is alone in their understanding? You?

What is perhaps not apparent to you is that you are displaying your state in what you write.

To whom are you truly directing your opinions? What am I referring to?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Your questions, MT, are not true questions. They are full of your own opinion, of which you are rather proud, without reason. Your cup is not empty.

What I write is the outcome of 25 years hard work.

When I first read what you wrote, I felt you also were speaking from real experience. But finally I came to see that you are just a very eloquent bluffer.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006  
Blogger Michael Tait said...

Yes, you are quite right, an eloquent bluffer, a pretentious fool, a sod and lickspittle, there have been so many of these now I can hardly remember. But I certainly recognise some truth in them all.

You are also right that my questions are full of my own opinion. My opinion is that the dharma that Gautama discovered is expansive (constantly expanding you might say) and inclusive of everything, not isolated and isolating. It is apparent in everything that actually is and is constantly reflective within and without, microcosm and macrocosm. In such a scintillating hall of mirrors, it's good to sit still, the eye of such a kaleidoscopic storm (sorry, off I go again!)

Your theoretical words are very direct and I've found them fascinating. Your bitterness, competitiveness and anger though points to one whose realisation is theoretical only. That is why I did not visit you ultimately and that is why a sangha has not found you.

The child, the bells and this eloquent bluffer are not seperate in our contentment - truly penetrating this in experience, what on earth could there be to lash out at?

I anticipate a further lashing....

Wednesday, July 05, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

The formal Sangha that I lead is very small -- only 6 members -- but every one of those 6 is a true individual. Apart from my Dharma-heir Pierre Turlur and myself, there are four members, who do not waste their time on blogs like this, but are totally sincere in their anonymous pursuit of the truth in Zazen.

My teaching of the Middle Way and Fukan-Zazengi, and Pierre's teaching of the Kesa, are open to anybody through our blogs.

The face-to-face transmission is a separate matter altogether.

Your words that a sangha has not found me are very presumptious. What do you know about it?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006  

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