Friday, September 22, 2006

Reply to a Mate in Zazen

On the previous post, a noble mate, a mate in Zazen, asked me:

I would like to ask about the Alexander technique in relation to zazen. How do you sit in zazen?
Could you put it down as accurately as you can in words? Possibly with diagrams. I know its impossible since words are ultimately limited, but if you can describe the posture as accurately as you can, that would be better than nothing.

You see, I live many hundreds of miles from England and have no money to visit you. I wish I could understand the FM technique in regard to zazen.

Thanks mate.


My reply:

Good to hear from you, mate.

I’ve been suffering from gastric flu for the past couple of days, but reading your post has given me a lift.

Your question is a very good one. At the same time, it shows you haven’t understood what I wrote in the original post that Alexander work is the most mental thing there is. But how could you understand, only by me writing about what you haven’t experienced?

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

What you are asking me is how to sit bodily. You want to know what to do. Good for you. That is already described for you in Fukan-zazengi: cross the legs, thumbs together, sit upright without inclining, eyes open naturally, tongue against the roof of the mouth, et cetera, et cetera.

How to sit mentally is a more subtle thing. It has to do with “not doing” and, ultimately, “non-doing.”

People think Alexander work is primarily about body posture. It isn’t. It is the most mental thing there is. Alexander work is an exercise, Alexander used to say, in learning what thinking is. Alexander thinking is not intellectual thinking. It is not even necessarily verbal thinking. It is not what people understand by thinking. In that sense, you could call it “non-thinking.”
Even though it is not necessarily verbal thinking, when we put it in words, we express it something like this:
“I wish to allow the neck to be free, to allow a freeing of the head in a forward and upward direction, in such a way as to allow a freeing of the spine in a lengthening direction and a freeing of the back in a widening direction.”
So yes, it is about the neck, the head, the spine, the back. But more than that it is about thinking/non-thinking. It is about intending to allow a freeing.

So, sorry mate, no diagrams. What kind of diagram do you want me to draw to express intending to allow a freeing?

Master Dogen instructed you: Bodily sit in lotus. That is telling you to do it. (Doing.)

Master Dogen instructed you: Mentally sit in lotus. That is telling you NOT to do it. (Not doing.)

Master Dogen instructed you: Dropping off body and mind, sit in lotus. That is telling you to allow IT to do you. (Non-doing.)

For example, take the direction to allow the head to go forward and up. This doesn’t mean to do something to get the head to move or change position. Alexander observed a universal tendency among civilized people to stiffen the back of the neck and pull the head back and down (so that the neck column is pulled forward and the chin is pulled up).

Gudo also is well aware of this as a postural tendency requiring re-education. But Gudo’s approach and Alexander’s approach to postural re-education are totally different.

According to Gudo, we should counter the tendency for the neck to slump forward and the chin to be pulled up, by doing something. We should tuck the chin in and try to keep the neck bones as straight as possible. This is doing.

Alexander’s principle is that the pulling the head back and down is already a doing. In order to be free from that tendency, we should not do it, and not do anything to counter it either. Rather we should NOT DO (i.e. think) the opposite direction (forward and up), to allow the head to be released out of the body’s habitual tendency to pull the head in.

If you are the same as everybody else, you will have the habit to pull the head back and down, and if you try to stop yourself doing that, you will give yourself a headache by doing some variation on the same theme of pulling the head back and down. Gudo’s method of straightening the neck bones and tucking in the chin, from Alexander’s viewpoint, is just another variation on the theme of pulling the head into the body -- the very opposite of the freeing that we really want.

I don’t expect you to understand any of this. But I hope that you sense that I am struggling to express something real, which I am.

It is a hell of a struggle, but it is worth it, because what Alexander discovered is something very very real. True, good, and real.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Non-Blind Obedience

What is supremely valuable in Buddhism is just to sit in the full lotus posture -- like Buddha sitting like Buddha. In other words, bodily to sit; mentally to sit; dropping off body and mind, to sit. Just I know this.

What I hoped to possess was not the Shobogenzo copyright, but the authentic transmission of Shobogenzo itself--which should not be compared to a rock, but should be compared to a jewel. For many years I hoped and secretly expected that Gudo Nishijima would annoint me as his true successor in some kind of crystal-clear affirmation that would make me feel secure in my position. I hoped for that and at the same time feared that.

But now I am adjusting to the realization that this won’t happen. Actually I have been struggling for 10 years to adjust to this realization, ever since Gudo broke our translation partnership because of his suspicions about my enthusiasm for Alexander work.

I have tried long and hard to overcome Gudo’s suspicions about Alexander work and my attitude to it, but ultimately I failed. To be honest, if Gudo couldn’t trust me after the service I performed for him translating Shobogenzo, then, on several levels, I didn’t want to overcome his suspicions.

If people want to know what I am really like, they should make their effort to meet me face-to-face. We can’t know each other from our internet postings.

At the same time, when someone’s writing misrepresents the truth, or denies reality, or subscribes to an illusion, we can know it from what they write. Gudo’s statement on his blog that I wanted to insist that AT is the same as Buddhism, is a misrepresenation of the truth. It helps him to justify to himself and to others his actions, including appropriating our Shobogenzo translation, but it is not true.

Cohen and Warner in their internet postings, by identifying themselves with Gudo’s side, which they perceived to be right, have shown themselves to be in denial. Brad Warner sent an email to all Gudo’s Dharma-heirs insisting that Gudo, not I, was the translator of Shobogenzo. How could he know that? It was a perfect example of taking sides out of blind denial of reality.

Gudo is not on the right side. Gudo is in reality. In reality there is no right side. There is only reality.

It seems to me from some recent blog comments, from people who admittedly I do not know, that something might be changing for the better in people’s perceptions. Old certainties are becoming shaky. It makes us feel insecure. It makes me feel insecure that Gudo has excluded me from Dogen Sangha. But that is how it has to be. There is no other way.

Just to sit dropping off body and mind is a way of liberation. To follow this way requires courage. Above all, we have to overcome the fear which is deeply ingrained in all human beings. This fear makes us grasp for certainty and a secure place in a group. We fear being wrong and excluded. So we try to be right, and live in fear of being wrong. That is the way of the Hinayana, the small vehicle.

As Mahayana Buddhists guided by the teaching of the Middle Way, when people perceive there is a right side and group together on it, we have to dare to be seen as not on the right side. We have to dare to spring free from denial, and live in reality.

What state of senility Gudo is in now, I don’t know. But I tell you that living in reality, not in denial, is the original teaching whose importance he identified in Shobogenzo.

FM Alexander described his work as the most mental thing there is. People think that it is about how to manufacture the right physical posture. In truth it is about how to uncover the right mental direction. Without Alexander work I could not have understood Master Dogen’s statement that there is mental sitting that is different from physical sitting. Gudo has not clearly understood that statement. For the last several hundred years, has anyone other than me understood it?

Still, even having understood this point, just to sit in the full lotus posture dropping off body and mind is difficult. When you are guided by a Buddhist teacher who you trust implictly and who trusts you implicitly, so that you are able to just follow that teacher’s teaching without question, the process is facilitated. So, yes, there is meaning in Gudo’s exhortation on his blog that Buddhist students should exhibit total obedience. In the first instance, if we find a teacher that we trust, we should manifest total, blind obedience to that teacher. But ultimately, it is obedience not to the teacher, who is a temporary bag of bones, but to the teaching.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Four Ejos

How has Gudo Nishijima come to see Michael Luetchford and me as people who should be excluded from Dogen Sangha his Buddhist group?

Some egotistical agenda on our part? Yes, doubtless that. But not only that.

In the early 1980s (before Dogen Sangha was formally established as such) it seemed apparent to me that there was a special chemistry between Gudo and his senior foreign disciple, Jeff Bailey (co-author of To Meet The Real Dragon). I said to Gudo that Jeff was his Ejo -- implying that Jeff was to Gudo as Ko-un Ejo was to Master Dogen. No, Gudo insisted strongly: he had four Ejos.

Those four Ejos were two Americans, Jeff Bailey and Larry Zacchi, and two Brits, Michael Luetchford and me.

All four of us were engaged in re-writing the English translation of Shobogenzo that Gudo had tried to do by himself. For the first four years, 1982-86, I just did what Gudo expected me to do, what the other three were doing -- i.e. working from Gudo’s English draft, going to his office and asking him to clarify what I didn’t understand, then re-writing the English draft. It didn’t occur to me to look at the original Japanese. I bought the myth that Shobogenzo in Japanese was “too difficult to understand, even for ordinary Japanese.” I thought it must be written in some abstruse indecipherable code.

In the summer of 1986 I shaved my head and quit my job. At that time I started looking at Master Dogen’s original words and found to my amazement that, with Gudo’s help, I could clearly understand every bloody word! In retrospect, it was remarkable that it took me four years to get to that point, since I studied Latin at school (my mother was a Latin teacher) and was already reading Virgil’s Aeneid in the original by the age of 15. Somehow I had bought into the myth that classical Japanese was some kind of separate mystery. Gudo himself was also surprised that I could understand the original. Surprised and genuinely delighted. Our working relationship began to change a lot from that year. I started visiting Gudo in his office several times a week, taking notebooks in which I had copied in pencil the original phrases and sentences of Shobogenzo that I wanted to ask about, marking in red pen my doubts and questions. It felt like a huge adventure.

Anyone who had seen us there in Gudo’s office could not have doubted that our Shobogenzo translation was totally a joint effort. At the same time, when I went home and did the translation, the translation that took place in my head was utterly different from the translation that Gudo had done in the first place.

Nevertheless, Gudo couldn’t really see that the situation had changed. From his viewpoint, he had done the translation already, and I was simply re-writing it. His intransigence on this point used to anger me, but I used to tell myself just to get on with it. “Just fucking do it” was my secret slogan.

On one occasion in the late 1980s we visited together a professor at Sophia University. Suddenly Gudo started talking to the professor about HIS translation, which I was re-writing in my “exact English sentences.” Unable to contain myself, I loudly protested there and then, in the professor’s study. It must have been a pathetic scene from the professor’s point of view.

Gudo’s blindness in this regard used to bother me a lot, partly because it was symptomatic of many other kinds of hurtful blindness. During one sleepless night I rashly vowed that, if that was the way he wanted it, the name Mike Cross would never appear on the translation, and I sent a fax to Gudo’s office to that effect. That is why my name appears on the books as Chodo Cross and not Mike Cross. It was another pathetic episode in the history of the Shobogenzo translation.

I tried to make Gudo see the light by using the metaphor of building a house. I wasn’t rebuilding his house. I was building a totally new house, with his help, on foundations which Gudo had himself laid. But Gudo’s ego wouldn’t permit that. The Shobogenzo translation was his baby, and that was final. My role was subordinate, secondary. In any case, why was I so worried about such a small problem?

I suppressed my frustration. Still, I was aware that when I read Master Dogen’s words in the original, a new translation emerged from somewhere in me and presented itself to me. And this was totally different from Gudo’s original translation.

Psychologically speaking, Gudo could not adjust to the new reality, and so he simply denied it. He held onto the illusion that the Shobogenzo translation was his own property, and subsequently he acted accordingly, uni-laterally, in two acts of betrayal which he did not, could not, recognize as such. First, in 1997, he authorized the publishers to make changes without consulting me, thereby betraying and effectively calling a halt to our translation partnership. Second, last year, he decided to go ahead alone with re-publishing the translation.

In similar ways, one by one, each of the four Ejos became clearly aware of the flaws in Gudo’s character. We responded in different ways. Jeff and Larry slipped away. Observing from a certain distance, MJL stuck around. I started to fight, and vowed to keep fighting till the end -- the bitter end, as it is proving to be.

The first Ejo, Jeff Bailey, decided in the late 1980s to leave Gudo and return to the US. Believing then as I am still prone to now (although to a lesser extent now, I hope) that the Universe revolved around me, I phoned Jeff to express my concern that something I had said or done may have prompted his decision. Jeff laughed. No, he said, it was nothing to do with me; he was going because Gudo was “a closed system.”

The loss of Jeff is another fact with which Gudo’s ego has struggled to deal. Like any human being suffering a bereavement, he has gone through a process of shock and denial -- the latter having continued until the present, manifesting itself in some truly absurd notions.

Larry Zacchi also quietly left, exactly when or why I do not know.

In 1994, when I started Alexander work, I clearly realized that Gudo’s approach to postural re-education (basically taking people’s chins with his hand and pushing back and down, in order to force the whole neck column backwards) was utterly misguided. Lacking Jeff’s realistic outlook, I continued with renewed vigour my own effort to get inside the closed system and re-educate it. At Tokei-in temple in the summer of 1994, a chink appeared. Gudo said he was sorry if he had misled me with teaching that was a little wrong. At that time I fell at his feet and wept tears. (This was in the days before I had evolved into a foul-mouthed Zen bastard.) But subsequently, by the end of 1994, when I left for England intending to train as an Alexander teacher, the chink that had very temporarily opened was closed again.

As Alexander work helped me to understand with greater clarity the wrongness of Gudo’s approach to postural re-education, I redoubled my efforts to explain to him his wrongness. But his small man’s ego couldn’t cope. Having already identified his own teaching with true Buddhism, he came to see me, who criticized his teaching, as a threat to true Buddhism.

Thus, Gudo has now written on his blog that I wanted to identify AT and Buddhism. This is a nasty misrepresentation of the real situation, and I have responded to it as such on Gudo’s blog. That my advocacy of Alexander’s teaching represents a threat to true Buddhism is an illusion that Gudo has created and propogated. AT represents no more of a threat to true Buddhism than science represents. The threat I have presented has been only to Gudo’s ego. Again, he has responded not by taking in and adapting the new information, but through denial of reality.

Michael J. Luetchford (MJL) and I have had serious differences over the years. He was instrumental in the aforementioned betrayal which took place in 1997. However, unlike Gudo, he has at least had the decency to apologize to me for it. Both MJL and I have our own strongly stubborn and egotistical tendencies -- though probably mine tends to be more overt. It is not for me to tell the story of MJL’s difficulties with Gudo. I hope that MJL will decide to tell it himself, either here or on a blog of his own. Suffice to say that this story also has been one of Gudo’s ego denying reality and fabricating illusions. I sincerely hope that MJL will decide to tell the story from the standpoint of the one who has experienced it first hand.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Email from Gudo, 30 March 2005

> Dear Ven. Mike Cross,

Recently I received a letter from James Cohen, who is also my Dharma
Heir, to send me the following letter, intending to get our copyright
of Shobogenzo too.
Because when I solved the problem of Windbell Publications, I relied
upon his help enormously. Therefore after solving the problems I wanted
to reward his enormous efforts for solving the problem, I presented my
copyright of my two books, that is, "To meet the real Dragon" and "The
conversation between Gudo and Sekishin.' Then he published them on the name of
Windbell Publications already.

In such situations recently I felt necessity to publish our Shobogenzo
by ourselves, and so ask the preparation of the publications to my
students called Ven. Peter Rocca and Ven. Eli Kravez utilizing a new name of
Publisher, for example Doge Sangha Publications. But I received James
Cohen's letter on 30th March, and I think that he has idea that he want to publish our Shobogenzo by himself by the name of Windbell Publications. In such situations there is possibility that even our copyright has also possibility to belong to himself eventually utilizing the name of Windbell Publication. It was
impossible for me to guess such situations before, and so I would like to tell you such facts first, and I think that it is necessary for us discuss the solution further. I am very sorry that bother you in such a secular job,
but we will have talks together to find a good solution.

Therefore fast of all I would like to tell you such a very bad
situation first and I would like to solve the problem with you and
Peter and Eli too.

With best wishes Gudo Wafu Nishijima