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.


Blogger gniz said...

Mike, I gotta say, your "new" writing style, unlike the weird flowery shit you were writing before, is quite good. Seriously. You seem sincere. Maybe something has changed for you recently?
Still, why are you guys insisting on airing all of your dirty laundry on a public internet blog?
I just dont get it. It seems absurd and sad to waste your time fighting this way, when you can and do contact one another via email and phone.
I mean, its interesting to me as a kind of soap opera (and eye opening) but for you it must be hellish.
Also, why the need to make Gudo see his failings? Perhaps he cannot. As long as you get to a place where you are seeing things as they are, maybe it wont matter what Gudo does or does not do.
Anyhow, something about your new writings are much more accessible and honest.
Good luck man.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006  
Blogger docretro said...

Couldn't have said it any better.
Anyway, nice to have you back from vacation.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006  

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