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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe this 'thinking' is related to the 5th Khanda, Consciousness, which co-arises with each instant of form.

Khandas: Form (5 senses and thought), Feeling (Positive/Negative/Neutral), Perceptions, Mental Objects, Consciousness

These are the divisions the Buddha presented to parse all phenomena in one's experience. Given that significance - where might the 'thinking' or 'noticing' you refer to fall?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

"In the end, Gudo Nishijma and I probably will never be able to present a united front on this matter of thinking."

these matters have a way of sorting themselves out, not so much by doing anything about them, but by not doing anything and letting inertia steadily deteriorate the differences.

"the most divine and highest things seen by the eyes or contemplated by the mind are but the symbolical expressions of those that are immediately beneath it that is above all. Through these, Its incomprehensible Presence is manifested upon those heights of Its Holy Places; that then It breaks forth, even from that which is seen and that which sees, and plunges the practitioner into the Darkness of Unknowing, whence all perfection of understanding is excluded, and he is enwrapped in that which is altogether intangible, wholly absorbed in it that is beyond all, and in none else (whether himself or another); and through the inactivity of all his reasoning powers is united by his highest faculty to it that is wholly unknowable; thus by knowing nothing he knows That which is beyond his knowledge". ~ Dionysius

Tuesday, July 11, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Friday, July 14, 2006  
Anonymous wondering said...

not sure if this worked before so sending it again. for oxeye. check out morita therapy and naikan both japanese and buddhist influenced psycotherapies. and 'constructive living' a western adaptation of these approaches.

Friday, July 14, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

wondering, thanks..

Friday, July 14, 2006  
Anonymous Andrew said...


God Bless the Internet!

I've taken a long string of Web reference points and got to you.

I'd like to correspond in re the Alexander System and 'Thinking' esp in re Zen.

How may I correspond with you 'offline'?

I don't see a way to initiate correspondence on this BLog save through this method.



Wednesday, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Andrew: you can reach me at mwrc748109@aol.com. But am enjoying retreat in France at present, so it might be September before I can correspond in earnest.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006  

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