Sunday, October 15, 2006

BOOM BANG tumble tumble tumble THUMP

KON SAN MAZU BOKURAKU SURU KOTO O. KON means dark or dull. SAN means scattered, dissipated. MAZU means from the beginning. BOKURAKU SURU means to be struck and to fall, to be knocked down. KOTO means thing but KOTO O is a phrase that marks the end of a sentence.

In the dojo where I practiced karate-do in Japan, after training we would recite the dojo moto, in which each separate precept ended with the words KOTO O. KOTO O is like a bullet point, but at the end of the sentence.

SHOBO ONOZUKARA GENZEN SHI TE, KON SAN MAZU BOKURAKU SURU KOTO O. Literally: “The true Dharma naturally manifests itself, and dullness and dissipation from the beginning are knocked down.”

The interpretation of KON and SAN is vitally important in Gudo’s teaching. Gudo teaches that KON and SAN represents opposite states of the autonomic nervous system. For Gudo, KON or darkness, is a kind of gloom which is characterestic, say, of the spirituality of the dark ages. It corresponds to the function of the sympathetic nervous system. SAN is a kind of sensual gaiety which is characteristic, say, of modern materialistic life. It corresponds to the function of the parasympathetic nervous system.

My response, on one level, to Gudo’s teaching, has been to investigate the importance of primitive reflexes in early training of the autonomic nervous system. The fear paralysis response (FPR) is related especially with the parasympathetic nervous system. Its effect is seen in the animal world when e.g. a frog or a rabbit plays dead. True, the FPR is associated with heightened mental alertness, but also with physical shutting down and conservation of energy, including withdrawal of blood supply from external muscles. So for me KON, dullness, is related with the FPR. The Moro reflex is the baby’s panic mechanism, which breaks and opposes the more primitive FPR. The Moro reflex is associated with the fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system, which mobilizes muscular energy for rapid dissipation. A characteristic of school children in whom the Moro reflex is retained in immature form is hyperactivity, or so-called ADHD, “attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.” The energy of these children tends to rapidly dissipated here and there, and so they cannot concentrate well in the classrooom. So I think SAN, dissipation, is related with the Moro reflex.

Setting aside this problem of interpretation, KON SAN MAZU BOKURAKU SURU KOTO O, when I recite Fukan-zazen-gi out loud, speaks to me on another level. I heard on BBC Radio 4 (which I listen to a lot when I am in France) that TS Elliot said that great poetry communicates something to us before we understand it. So it is with Fukan-zazen-gi.

KON SAN MAZU BOKURAKU SURU KOTO O has a very definite rhythm to it. It sounds like two massive obstacles each receiving a decisive blow, and then shattering and tumbling down after each other in rapid succession, before landing on the ground with great finality...

Boom Bang tumble tumble tumble thump.

KON SAN MAZU BOKURAKU SURU KOTO O marks the end of the first half of Fukan-zazen-gi. After this point, Master Dogen tells of getting up slowly and manifesting the virtue of Zazen in a Zazen life. So in context also, there is a decisive, conclusive sense to the words:

KON SAN MAZU BOKURAKU SURU KOTO O

Yin Yang; struck down, fall down, drop down on the ground.

This that; knocked down, fall down, drop down on the ground.

Do you see what I am getting at? No translation I can come up with can do Fukan-zazen-gi justice. That is why I would like to encourage everybody to study it in the original Japanese, and think about its meaning deeply for themselves. Don’t take Gudo’s word for it. And don’t take mine.

Twenty years ago, when I started looking at Master Dogen’s original words in Japanese, it was like taking off a veil. I realized I couldn’t just rely on Gudo’s English translation--just as people today shouldn’t rely on what I am writing. Contrary to what I had thought previously, Gudo’s word was not infallible. No, even a Buddhist patriarch is a human being like the rest of us, with unreliable feelings and thoughts. That will be the subject of my next post.

9 Comments:

Blogger Pierre Turlur said...

In order to do what you describe, you have to get your rythm right. I have great doubt that you are able to do it (everytime I heard you singing the Fukanzazengi, it was off). You might have learned, who knows?...

Great poetry? What is it? Do you have any idea? I have doubt that you can actually hear and see what it is.

Yin yang down? So why are you so rude and unpleasant to people? Oxeye has got a good point that you won't even listen to, too busy to tell everybody off to prove yourself right.

Does anything tumble down? I doubt it. You arrogance of guruji is as bright as ever.

Boom Bang tumble tumble tumble thump.

I prefer gentleness to your manners. You are just behaving like the wild kids I desperatly tried to help.

Gave up.I give up with you too. For you never listen, Mister Right.

Be ten times over more racist (your unfortunate habit), curse me, accuse me of being whatever, whoever. From now on I don't care. That is the best teaching I received from you.


Your sweetest fake of a Dharma heir.

Sunday, October 15, 2006  
Blogger Pete, an ordinary bloke. said...

As I suffer from ankylosing spondylitis I begin to experience intense pain in my back if I sit in lotus for extensive periods. Does Master Dogen have anything to say about pain in zazen? What do you recommend? Sitting “through it” or breaking off to practice semi supine for instance? Trouble is when I practice semi supine I usually fall asleep. Is pain the true dharma manifesting itself? Your postings sometimes move at such a pace that by the time this dull slow witted individual has formulated a question you have moved on. I recognise in myself what you say about the fear paralysis response. As you said to Mike Tait this ordinary bloke makes great efforts to hide his foolishness.
Cheers, Pete

Sunday, October 15, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Delinquent British youths from broken homes usually say “I am not bothered.”

A French teacher who is drawn before them and who tries, desperately and unsuccessfully to help them, finally comes to the same conclusion as them, saying with emotion: “I don’t care.”

An old Zen drill watches the scene without saying anything, chuckling and nodding. He wonders to himself: Who taught who?

The mirror principle never fails.

Monday, October 16, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

OB Pete:

My sense is that Master Dogen’s attitude was incredibly affirmative of just sitting itself. As we all know, people who haven’t devoted any effort to investigating what true Buddhism is, but only have their own prejudice, think that it is all about compassion, non-violence, monasticism, mindfulness, vegetarianism, sectarian robe-sewing, et cetera, et cetera. And some vestige of these views must remain in me, because I am constantly surprised by what Master Dogen is actually saying in Fukan-zazen-gi and Shobogenzo Zanmai-O-Zanmai. It doesn’t conform with my own habitual view of Buddhism at all.

I think that Master Dogen doesn’t have anything specific to say about pain in Zazen simply because his reverence of just sitting itself is so incredibly great. In other words, our personal pain is not important. Just sitting is important.

Just sitting doesn’t mean sitting on one’s ego, sitting with a problem, or sitting through pain. Just sitting means just sitting.

Therefore I recommend you not to expect or to seek liberation from pain. But expect and seek to become like a dragon that found water, just by a session of just sitting, whether long or short. And then another one. And then another one.

For example, sometimes when I feel (probably unreliably) that I have reached the end of my tether in sitting lotus for an extensive period, I take a break for a few minutes and then start again. Or sometimes take a nap. Or sometimes a nap and then a cup of tea or coffeee. Then practice again. Like a dog on the trail of a bone he buried previously -- he knows that it is there, and so is not deterred.

Ordinary Zen teachers today describe just sitting as if it were something that we just did... 1,2,3 Go! But that isn’t it. It is not that we do just sitting. We don’t just sit. Just sitting does us. Just sitting does itself. That is the true dharma manifesting itself.

After just sitting has thus grabbed me, causing me to become like a dragon finding water, I try not to pop the champagne cork but rather look forward to my next bit of sitting practice -- another chance to experience the law of the universe really manifesting itself, and thereby causing us to forget all problems and have no doubt that it has all been worth it.

Gudo describes the state of zero as two opposing factors cancelling each other out. Understanding of the function in early human development of the fear paralysis response and the Moro reflex helps me to understand this teaching. Even though they work antagonistically, the FPR and Moro are both fear responses. A dragon finding water is not necessarily free of pain, but I think that in meeting the real dragon there is never any fear on either side.

In short, we needn’t discuss foolishness, but should just doggedly seek to meet, and should not doubt, the real dragon.

Monday, October 16, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

“After just sitting has thus grabbed me, causing me to become like a dragon finding water, I try not to pop the champagne cork but rather look forward to my next bit of sitting practice -- another chance to experience the law of the universe really manifesting itself, and thereby causing us to forget all problems and have no doubt that it has all been worth it.”

Mike, Could it be that you are using zazen as a form of escapism rather than a way to directly experience reality? The Dragon cannot find water because of that big ass river in the way. Very soon after sitting you are already looking forward to your next session of grasping at the law of the universe, hoping it will cause you to forget all your problems. The only problem with that scenario is that your problems are you.

Monday, October 16, 2006  
Blogger Pierre Turlur said...

"The mirror principle never fails."

Look at me...indeed.

And at the same time, any principle, would it be the mirror principle, has failed already.

All is impermanent. All is without a self

Thank you for your last post.

Monday, October 16, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Oxeye, your question suggests that, although you might be quite versed in the literature of Zen and psycho-analysis, you have got relatively little experience of sitting for long hours every day in the full lotus posture. Master Dogen’s exhortation in Fukan-zazen-gi is to turn that state of affairs around. EKO HENSHO NO TAIHO O GAKU SUBESHI. “Learn the backward step of turning light and returning illumination.”

Monday, October 16, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

hi mike, thanks for the answer.. but I was mainly wondering about your comments on your own practice.. you wrote; "another chance to experience the law of the universe really manifesting itself, and thereby causing us to forget all problems and have no doubt that it has all been worth it.." Is that an accurate description of your motivation?

Monday, October 16, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

No, Oxeye, that is not it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home