Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Racism, Political Correctness, and Non-Racism

Several close friends of mine are of Jewish descent. If any of them have been following this blog and have been offended by my racist insult of James Cohen, I offer my apologies to them, and to anybody else I have unintentionally offended. It was not my intention to offend anybody other than James Cohen.

For years in Japan I suffered from being seen through the prism of Japanese stereotypes. One or two individuals in particular seemed to see me as a representative of HAKUJIN NO BUNKA (“white-man’s civilization”) against which Japanese soldiers in WWII were told they were defending Asia. I found it very irritating and frustrating that some Japanese didn’t seem able to relate to me as an individual human being.

As a general rule, I subscribe to the view that racism is wrong. But my attitude to rules is often ambivalent. And I struggle to understand the principle that development often hinges on our preparedness to be wrong, to feel insecure, uncomfortable, unsure of our moral grounding. Marjory Barlow took pains to teach me: "We are all going around trying to be right. It is death and destruction. Being wrong is the best friend we have in this work."

I am not actually sure what my own racial heritage is -- although I am obviously not black, at least on the outside. Whatever half mine is, my sons have inherited my half, together with another half from their Japanese mother.

If one of my sons was subject to a racist insult along the lines of that which I directed at Cohen, i.e. “Fuck off, Jap,” how might I react or respond to that?

I think it would depend very much upon the context.

If my sons, who are enthusiastic members of the local cricket club, vehemently insisted not only (a) that they be allowed to bow to the batsman before bowling each delivery, (b) that the batsman must always bow back; in that case, a response like “Fuck off, Jap” might have meaning other than simply being a racist insult. It might represent a strong refusal to be coerced into conforming to the norms of somebody else’s culture.

The context in which I wrote to Cohen was, as I see it, as follows:

A few years ago, James Cohen began to make his presence known, imposingly, via the internet, to me and other of Gudo Nishijima Roshi’s Dharma-heirs. He has never met me in person. He was not involved in any way with the Shobogenzo translation and publication process -- although he became involved, as Gudo Nishijima’s legal representative, in Gudo Nishijima’s effort to reclaim sole control of the publication process from the original publishers, Windbell Publications. In the course of that process I heard that Cohen severely antagonized one or two people who had worked unselfishly for Windbell over the years.

In the course of this email correspondence between Cohen and other Dharma-heirs, Cohen assiduously ended every missive with some flowery expression of his desire for world peace, or other empty bullshit, interspersed with copious use of punctuation marks to show smiley faces; he then always ended with “Gassho.”

To British tastes, that kind of correspondence smacks of insincerity. It may be essentially just a cultural difference. Many Brits don’t like to hear waiters tell us “Enjoy!”; or to hear “Have a nice day!” parrotted at us as a polite formula -- especially if we sense that the person who says it doesn’t really mean it.

The problem was that, not content to recognize a cultural difference as such, Cohen began an email campaign to coerce other Dharma-heirs to conform to his criteria for politeness. If anybody is interested, I will post up one of Cohen’s emails as evidence.

My instinctive response to such pressure to conform, especially coming from somebody who is many years my junior in Gudo Nishijima’s order, has been to go out of my way not to conform -- for example, by being extremely rude.

This is the historical background going back a number of years.

The more recent background is a controversy in Britain surrounding a fly-on-the-wall TV show called “Big Brother.” It seems to me that millions of gullible Brits, guided dually by the media and their own herd instinct, have been falling over themselves in recent weeks to manifest their anti-racist credentials. We pride ourselves on being a society that respects individual rights -- but just look at us. What a bunch of mindless morons we are.

Where does the pressure to conform to the anti-racist viewpoint come from? It seems to me that it comes largely from the media. I really do not know whether it is fair to talk of “the Jewish media” or not. I have no real evidence to go on, inductively.

From a deductive viewpoint, however, the mirror principle would lead me to think that those who are most commited to the anti-racist viewpoint are like that because they are projecting onto others a tendency which they fear in themselves. And who could defend Old Testament Judaism against the accusation that it a seminal racist ideology.

What I actually wrote to Cohen was as follows:

“Further to my rude email earlier on, and having reflected on it, I have a question about politeness in Buddhism. As a rude non-Buddhist non-monk, I would like to ask my question to the polite very Buddhist monk Jundo James Cohen:

Venerable Master Cohen! In Buddhism, is to be polite a choice, or is it an obligation, like a commandment?

If you say that it is a choice, then I would like to say to you, Venerable Master Cohen: Fuck you, you poser.

If you say that it is a kind of commandment, then I would like to say to you simply: Fuck off, jewboy.

I feel extreme anger to you, Cohen, because of the mirror principle. You represent everything that is unnatural, pretentious, insincere about the human condition, about my condition.”

That was the context of my racist insult.

In the end, racism is a view, to which people conform en masse. Anti-racism, political correctness, is also a view, to which people conform en masse. But non-racism, as the abandonment of both those views, cannot be a mass movement. It is the effort of one individual, in one chunk of existence-time, to get the whole body free of views.

When I was working closely with Gudo Nishijima in the 1980s, he was of the view that world history was moving inexorably in the direction of Jewish hegemony, and that the realistic Buddhist attitude in these circumstances might be to seek peaceful accommodation.

I don’t know if his view has changed since then, but I suspect that what he wrote in his Dogen Sangha blog last year about the United States being the world’s policeman, may be understood in the above light.

If that is Buddhist realism, Gudo can keep it. If that is Buddhist realism, I’ll strive to follow a different way: the way of non-Buddhist, non-realism.

I bow not to the pressure to conform, but to one real individual.

[To the One] who, as the giving up of all views,
Taught the Straight Truth,
Using compassionate means:
I bow to him: Gautama

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Whiff of Untruth

If everything in the Buddha’s teaching can be reduced to unconscious functioning of the autonomic nervous system, then there isn't necessarily any room in Zazen for conscious awareness (feeling) or for conscious volition (i.e. thinking).

But something about this reductionist proposition has the whiff of not being true.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Mirror Principle (4): Question to Gudo

Dear Being who is Before,

Last night a contributor to my blog compared his lazy original self with a dusty mirror. So this morning I would like to clarify the meaning of the 6th Patriarch's poem, as follows:

Bodhi, at root, is being without -- a tree.
The bright mirror, similarly, is being not -- a base.
From the beginning, being without -- a solitary thing, a unitary thing.
Where is there dust?

I had the idea to put at the end "translated by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross," but if I follow your instruction I am not permitted to use your name. In that case, I wonder: the translator is who?

With best wishes,

Mike Cross
A non-Buddhist non-monk

Dear Mr Mike Cross,

Please don't put my name on such a kind of unreliable translation. My
Buddhist attitude is much more sincere.

Don't slander Gautama Buddha!

With best wishes

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Mirror Principle (3)

A concrete example of man’s supreme inheritance might be Gautama Buddha just sitting in the full lotus posture, being totally without the Buddha-nature.

The great difficulty for a Zen bastard, a non-Buddhist non-monk, might be in the being totally without. Just because it is a Zen bastard’s original state does not make it easy for a Zen bastard to realize.

Gudo Nishijima calls being totally without “balance of the autonomic nervous system.”

Master Dogen called it, amongst other things, “body and mind spontaneously dropping off and our original face emerging” and “the samadhi of the ancestors.”

FM Alexander, having re-discovered it for the modern age, didn’t know what to call it. With the help of the philosopher John Dewey, he called it “freedom in thinking and in action.”

Mater Tendo Nyojo used the metaphor of a beggar boy breaking his begging bowl.

Master Kodo Sawaki used the metaphor of a burglar breaking into an empty house.

Ultimately for a Zen bastard who attaches to Fukan-zazen-gi it might be difficult to beat “the samadhi of the ancestors.” .

I heard it said that Master Kodo Sawaki was quite proud of the fact not only that he never managed a temple but also that he never wrote a book.

In the spring of 2005, however, I in my stupidity, embarked on the project of writing a book. Its provisional title was Zen Smoke & Nine Mirrors.

The Smoke & Mirrors part was an allusion to an increasing recognition of the tendency there is, in me primarily but in all of us, to lie to ourself, to engage in self-deceit while purporting to be pursuing the truth.

It is all very well to preach thinking in Zazen, but as FM Alexander said: “When you think you’re thinking you’re feeling.... None of you knows what thinking is.”

It is all very well to preach action in Zazen. I thought I knew what action was already, but one day in the summer of 1998, having spent my life playing rugby, training in the martial arts, running, et cetera, and after I had known Gudo Nishijima for 16 years already, I was congratulated by the Master that on that day, for the first time in my life, I had acted. Probably he felt that it was the first time he had seen me genuinely do something for the sake of it, without any concern about what the consequences might be.

Feeling, thinking, and action: who am I to preach these things? Do I really know what they are? I don’t know.

What I do know, what I cannot doubt, is that along the way, even if I have totally failed to understand what feeling, thinking, and action are, I have at least been investigating feeling, thinking and action; and along the way I have met some real teachers from whom I have really received something. So I decided to try to record whatever it is that I have received.

The Nine Mirrors are nine teachers from whom I have received something. Or maybe what I have received from them, in the end, is a bit of nothing, a bit of encouragement to be, without. Those nine are:

(1) Bill Haworth, my mother’s grandfather and guardian, a labourer in a Blackburn paint factory.
(2) Eugene Cross, my father’s uncle, a steelworker from Ebbw Vale.
(3) Morio Higaonna, teacher of traditional karate-do.
(4) Gudo Nishijima, teacher of traditional Buddhism.
(5) Ray Evans, Alexander teacher and pioneer in the field of vestibular re-education.
(6) Ron Colyer, Alexander teacher.
(7) Paul Madaule, protoge of Alfred Tomatis
(8) Nelly Ben-Or, Alexander teacher.
(9) Marjory Barlow, Alexander teacher.

Having made a start on the nine chapters in the spring of summer of 2005, I got diverted along two side tracks.

Firstly, in September 2005, after getting back to England from France, I asked Nelly Ben-Or if I could transcribe some words of hers. My idea was to use this as material for my chapter on her. Nelly agreed, and the transcription turned into a project in itself. I began taping our lessons and, between September 2005 and July 2006, I transcribed hundreds of pages.

The central theme of Alexander’s teaching is the incredible power that a thought can have. I am easily prone to forget it. It is a fact so contrary to our habitual way of experiencing ourselves in the world. As I sit here in France, I remind myself of some of the almost incredible experiences I have had in those lessons with Nelly. It is those experiences which provide the fuel for me to continue to oppose Gudo Nishijima on the subject of thinking. What is meant by thinking in Alexander work is not what Gudo Nishijima understands by thinking. As Marjory Barlow suggests in her YouTube video clip (see internet links on my webpage at the-middle-way.org if interested), what Alexander discovered (or re-discovered) about thinking was of truly momentous import for mankind. It’s not something that can be understood by reading about it. But I hope that my writing about it might at least spark somebody’s interest.

In transcribing Nelly’s teaching I didn’t edit anything but transcribed her every cough and sneeze, verbatim. I tend to be quite good at plodding on stubbornly with that kind of mindless donkey work. What to do next with these transcriptions, however, remains undecided. That kind of judgement I am not so good at. We seem to have different agendae, Nelly and I. Nelly’s modest aim is simply to “bear witness.” Whereas I would like something of wider scope. I want to put the Alexander work, of finding out what thinking is, in a wider context -- in a Buddhist context. “He thinks I should save humanity!” Nelly protests, in her ringing concert-pianist’s voice.

Yes, Nelly, I do. By beginning to understand what Alexander meant by thinking, people can begin to understand the following:

Physical effort in Zazen based on feeling is not the same as mental effort based on thinking. Mental effort in Zazen based on thinking is not the same as physical effort based on feeling. And effortless action itself is not the same as physical effort or mental effort.

If people truly understood the above, those who felt the presence of God, and those who wished to entrust their lives to the service of God, might be able to put this feeling and this conscious wish into a philosophical context that freed them from the need to fight to protect their belief in God. Probably a long shot, but worth a try.

The second thing that happened was that, in November 2005, Gudo Nishijima started up Dogen Sangha blog, and in order to contribute to that blog, I started this one.

In a recent comment on this blog, Ordinary Bloke Pete used the phrase “middle-class intellectual.” If it is a label he would like to attach to me, I think it is a very crude approximation of the truth.

It is true that I went to an elitist secondary school, having passed its entrance exam when I was 10. But my family on both my mother and father’s side is as common as muck, and my parents had me when they were only 21 and didn’t have two pennies to rub together.

In response to OB Pete’s comment, it occured to me that I could post up my chapter on Bill Haworth. The chapter is basically my mother’s reminiscences of her fatherless childhood. Despite being as common as muck, she writes very elegantly.

If anybody would be interested to read the chapter, let me know and I will post it up.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Man's Supreme Inheritance

What is it?

On his blog, Gudo Roshi calls it balance of the autonomic nervous system. Master Dogen called it the samadhi of the ancestors. Freedom in action -- a plane to be reached. Being one piece with Nature. Being at ease in the Truth. There is no set of words that can definitively hit the target for everybody.

I don’t consider myself to be any great marvel at swimming or flying in it -- in that matter I defer to Gudo; I defer to Tich Nhat Hahn, and the Dalai Lama, and Ajahn Sumedho, and other Buddhist masters whose practice I suppose is deeper, more balanced, better integrated than mine; and I defer to the fish and birds.

But, as the Japanese proverb says: BAKA NI MO ICHI GE, Even a fool has one virtue.

My particular thing is clarity in regard to Master Dogen’s revised written instructions for how to realize man’s supreme inheritance.

While falling into the trap of showing disrespect to people I perceive as having in some way slighted, insulted, or disrespected me, I have continued, with regard to one thing in this world, to show genuine respect -- in the original sense of re- (again) spectare (to look). There is one thing I have looked into again and again, not just taking it at face value, not just following the conventional wisdom on it, not being content to accept anybody’s interpretation of it, including my own. That one thing I have continued to respect is the original text of Fukan-zazen-gi Rufu-bon -- ever since I memorized it in Japanese over 20 years ago.
My desire to get to the bottom of Fukan-zazen-gi has brought me on a journey. Not an intellectual journey, but a real journey, involving thousands of miles and months and years of separation from loved ones, taking wrong turns and getting lost, long frustrating periods of fruitless waiting, et cetera. I certainly haven’t got anywhere at all by myself. I have been incredibly fortunate to be guided along the way by teachers who seemed to think that I was worth an investment of their precious time -- to some of those teachers I will pay homage in my next post.

What has thus been clarified for me, and what I am now seeking to clarify for others, is how in Fukan-zazen-gi rufu-bon Master Dogen guides us, step by step, somersault following somersault, through the phases of sensory awareness and conscious volition, and thence to the realization of man’s supreme inheritance.

Through the phases of feeling and thinking into action.

Through the phases of effort to sit bodily in the lotus posture, mental effort not to sit bodily in the lotus posture, and thence into the state of effortless sitting in lotus in which body and mind spontaneously drop off.

As Gudo’s words indicate, man’s supreme inheritance is a state, a real state. Clarity in regard to how to realize it is not it. Even the clearest treasure map is not the treasure itself. Except, in the case of Fukan-zazen-gi, the map itself might also be a very rare and precious treasure.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Mirror Principle (2)

A brown rat, to a homeowner, is a kind of pest. But to a bird of prey it is breakfast. And to a laboratory scientist it is a kind of miracle.

That I see Jewish lawyer James Cohen, who I have never actually met, as such an objectionable pest, says something about me. What does it say?

The aim of my life is, by getting the point of Zazen, to be like a dragon returning to water, or like a tiger before its mountain stronghold.

Master Dogen said: the laws of the Universe are manifesting themselves as reality and there is no room for any net or cage to restrict a dragon or tiger.

So what kind of problem is James Cohen to me? What does the pushy, disingenuous Jewish lawyer represent to me?

The simple answer might be that the Jewish lawyer represents the continuing insidious influence on me of Jewish law, of the ten commandments and the rest of it.

On this point, what is Master Dogen’s teaching?

According to Master Dogen’s teaching, as I understand it, the act of Zazen embraces the three worlds of feeling, thinking, and action -- other than which there is nothing.

So we need not worry about human rules, whether Buddhist precepts or semitic commandments. We need not revere them. We need not go out of our way to break them. Still less is it nessary for us to show any emotional reaction to them.

Master Dogen taught: “Cut them by sitting.”

I am afraid that I am not such a brilliant advert for Master Dogen’s teaching.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


In the field where I am now, there are three big cider apples trees. The apples are used to make Calvados, a kind of strong brandy. Last night I drank a couple of glasses in front of the fire, and then thought I would attend to my blog. That order of events wasn’t wise, wasn’t skillful, and wasn’t in accordance with my mission to be clear about feeling, thinking, and action.

The bad actions I did before
All stemmed begininglessly from end-gaining, anger, and worry
They were done with body mouth and intention
I now confess them all

And so to work. Last week I had 13 tonnes of gravel delivered. Fortunately there is still some left to be shovelled.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Mirror Principle

Working class hero, middle class intellectual, upper class twit -- those kind of classifications are a peculiarly British pre-occupation. During 13 tough years in Japan I was subject to a much simpler form of discrimination: foreigner, one who doesn’t belong here. I was supposed to carry at all times an “alien registration card.” Even after marrying my Japanese wife, I still had to go once a year to stand in a long line of fellow aliens, to be treated like scum by Japanese immigration officials.

Over the past couple of years one of the things that has become increasingly clear to me is what I have referred to in these blogs as “the mirror principle.”

The spark for this insight came from noticing people’s response to a recent Dharma-heir of Gudo Nishijima’s called James Cohen -- a New York lawyer called Cohen... the mind already begins to put him in a certain class, to reach for the filing cabinet and pull out a stereotype marked “New York Jewish lawyer.”

What I noticed in myself was a hatred of his insincerity, his pushing himself forward as a Zen master when he evidently is nothing of the kind. Where does this hatred arise, for a person who I have never even met? It comes from my own fear. What is my deepest fear? That I am not the real deal, not the genuine article. That not only am I fraud who knows he is a fraud but also that, in all kinds of ways, I am a fraud who does not know he is a fraud -- just like Cohen.

Why did Adolf Hitler manifest such overt hatred for Jews? The answer was provided, to my satisfaction anyway, by a reader of this blog who pointed me to the work of Alice Miller. According to Ms Miller, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Adolf’s father was the illegitimate son of a Jewish merchant, that Adolf’s mother was the Jewish merchant’s housemaid. Thus, the mirror principle may have been working again: what Hitler feared within himself -- his being a dirty Jew -- he saw reflected outside himself, and hated it.

What did Master Dogen fear in himself? He tells us in Shobogenzo that what he feared most was losing the will to the truth. And for whom does Master Dogen reserve his most venemous criticism? For monks who pervert the Buddha’s true teaching in order to get their own fame and profit -- he calls those monks dogs who want to eat and drink the shit and piss of lay people.

What does Gudo Nishijima fear might be wrong in himself? I think he fears his own intellectual tendency, his own idealistic tendency, his own bookish tendency, his own tendency to think too much. Herein lies the cause of his big mistake.

When I began to understand, from 1994 onwards, the key role that thinking plays in Zazen, and began to advocate thinking in Zazen, Gudo reacted to me as if I were his enemy, and the enemy of Buddhism.

Shortly, however, I think that Gudo will recognize his mistake, and declare so publicly. Instead of opposing, he will begin to support my mission to clarify the fundamental meaning in Zazen of feeling, thinking, and action. That will be a big change, with which I will have to cope. There is always something in us, isn’t there?, that doesn’t like change.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The 3rd and 4th Noble Truths: A Non-Buddhist Discourse

If you want to understand the 3rd noble truth, dukha-nirodha-satya, the truth of stopping suffering, simply understand the 4th noble truth, marga-satya, the truth of the pathway.

When I was in Japan, Gudo Nishijima taught me the philosophy of action. That is why I persist as I do in my present task to clarify the fundamental meaning of thinking, as opposed to feeling.

I didn’t get Gudo’s philosophy of action only from reading what he wrote; I got it from joining forces with him in the Shobogenzo translation. I got it from the inside.

For a concrete example of the philosophy of action, I remember Gudo saying, in a lecture to company employees, words to the effect of: “Your house burns down --> Build a new one.”

For another example: Your Zen master declares you to be a non-Buddhist --> Carry on your Zen practice as a non-Buddhist.

My Alexander teacher here in England taught me “Direction is the truest form of inhibition.”

That’s why I say: If you want to understand the 3rd noble truth, simply understand the 4th noble truth.

When you make a clear decision and form a clear and decisive intention, certain pathways are energized. The longer you wait, and renew your decision, the more those pathways are energized. The more resistance you meet, the more those passways are energized. The more those pathways are energized, the less energy is available to be dispersed on non-essential pathways.

For a more concrete illustration: If I’m £10 million in debt, the problem is too great for me to solve. When I think about it, I am inevitably discouraged. In that situation, to get a job for £5 an hour is one way. It is a way leading in the right direction. And in sincerely following that way.... at least lunch will taste good.

In that spirit, I offer the following teaching, to self and others:

As, when you wish to hear you listen and when you wish to see you look, when you wish to enter and experience samadhi, sit.

Really sit. Don’t just read about and think about and talk about sitting. Really sit -- sitting bones on a cushion, legs crossed.

And really think. Don’t just read about and think about and talk about thinking. Really think. Like wishing for something you really want, but cannot arrange.

When the sitting and the thinking become one, you have the 4th noble truth right there, in which case the 3rd noble truth is legs on a snake.

In a recent email Gudo wrote to me that Zazen is just the method to stop discussions.

Maybe that is true for a devout Buddhist. But as a non-Buddhist, I don’t worry about that. I say that Zazen is the beginning of all non-Buddhist discussion.

I love Zazen, and Iove non-Buddhist discussion. I liked the last comment of Ordinary Bloke Pete. Polite Buddhist discussion? You can keep it. It’s not for me. But if you want to step into the ring with me for a spot of Dharma combat, by all means have a go. You are sure to lose, but you may gain a bit of my respect in the process.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Fearless Back in France.

Originally uploaded by Mike Cross.

Looking and/or listening are not only passive reception of sensory information: they include a component of volition, or thinking. But it is only partial. Thinking in Zazen is not partial.

It is like wishing to get back a lost belonging.

There is no woman on the earth who originally belongs to me. My sons do not originally belong to me.

But, originally, I belong to the forest.

In order to get back this belonging, I come alone to this place by the forest, where I am not susceptible to miscellaneous outside influences, where my senses are nourished by beautiful sights and sounds of nature, and by simple wholesome food, and by simple work; and I sit in the full lotus posture.

Guided by my senses, I sit upright, aware of my ears in relation to my shoulders, my nose in relation to my navel, aware of my tongue, lips and teeth, aware of my eyes, aware of breath passing through my nostrils. This is sensory awareness, feeling.

I exhale fully and the allow the breath to flood back into my lungs and the oxygen to replenish my blood. I sway left and right, remembering as I approach the middle that I do not know where the middle is. My senses do not provide me with an absolutely reliable criterion.

Sitting still, I think. By sitting, I think. I sit-think.

Sit-thinking is Zazen.

What we call “sitting-meditation” (Zazen), is neither the holding of a correct bodily posture nor a kind of meditation to be learned. It is just the Dharma-gate of effortless ease. It is the practice and experience that gets right to the limit, right to the heart, and right to the bottom, of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The laws of the Universe are all realizing themselves, uncaged. A tiger in this state is like a non-thinking non-monk surveying a forest that belongs utterly to him. We should understand exactly, relying on the second law of thermodynamics, how straight Dharma emerges spontaneously, and the fearfulness which manifests itself, through fear paralysis and fight or flight, in opposing states of imbalance of the autonomic nervous system, vanishes at a stroke.

Naturally Becoming One Piece

Originally uploaded by Mike Cross.

"JI-JO-IPPEN means the state of Zazen, when we concentrate our efforts to keep our posture into the perfectly regular posture, and so we can feel our consciousness as if our posture had become only one piece." Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Monday, January 01, 2007

Non-Thinking Non-Monk

Originally uploaded by Mike Cross.