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 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.


Blogger RepeatDose said...

Please post it.

Thank you.

Saturday, January 27, 2007  
Blogger Pete, an ordinary bloke. said...

In the working class community that I come from “common as muck” was an insult used to describe people who did not follow a decent and respectable way of life, so I was surprised to find you describing your mother, and your family on both your mother and father’s side, as being “common as muck”. Perhaps this is an example of the written word being inadequate to convey the truth. Apart from your lapse into the use of anti-Semitic insults I have valued, if not understood, everything you have written so please let us read about Bill Haworth.

One teacher from whom I received something was Mike Cross. On the zafu he showed me an easier way sit and set me on the course of Alexander work. He was the first and certainly not the last to encourage me to explore being without, but unfortunately for me I have a strong ingrained tendency to be lazy. I don’t know about mirrors but mine is probably covered in a thick layer of dust.


Saturday, January 27, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, repeatdose. Glad to know that this blog has got a reader or two in the military.

I will post it up shortly.

Thank you, OB Pete.

Yes, there is a strong rebellious streak on both sides of my family, a tendency to stand apart from social norms of decency and respectability.

My mother's mother was fond of making a toast at family occasions: "Whose like us? Bloody few!" As a single mother in the 1940s and 50s she doubtless had to endure a certain amount of social stigma.

The Cross family in Wales was of Irish immigrant stock and notorious for getting into fights. My father's mother used to talk about the legendary "Cross temper."

This is the kind of family inheritance, or conditioning, that a non-monk is required to transcend.

I think it is often difficult for a person to recognize his or her own prejudice; I may be prejudiced in ways that I do not recognize. But I sincerely hope and believe that I am not prejudiced against any Jewish person a priori because they are Jewish. Nelly Ben-Or, who is one of my revered teachers, is a survivor of the holocaust in Poland. If I lapsed into the use of an anti-Semitic insult towards James Cohen, it may have been an immature reaction to Cohen's expectations and demands in regard to politeness and political correctness. If people expect me to behave in a certain way, I am prone to behave contrary to their expectations -- but true freedom cannot be like that; it cannot be reactionary.

At the same time, I am not afraid to state my view that Old Testament Judaism is a racist ideology. And so I think it is just in accordance with the mirror principle that a Jewish person should be a virulent anti-racist.

I think the challenge in Zazen is not to be -ist, and not to be anti- -ist, but always to be non- -ist. The same applies whether the -ism is Semitism, racism or Buddhism.

Finally, Pete, the metaphor of the dusty mirror is a very important one to understand. It is alluded to in the 3rd line of Fukan-zazen-gi:

[An ordinary bloke’s] whole body is far beyond dust; who could believe in the means of sweeping and polishing?

See also Master Daikan Eno’s poem in Shobogenzo chap. 20, Kokyo, The Eternal Mirror:

Bodhi was originally without a tree
The clear mirror also transcends a stand
Originally we do not have a single thing
Where could dust exist?

Cf. Marjory Barlow’s words: “You are all quite perfect, except for what you are doing.”

According to Master Dogen’s teaching, you and I, Pete, are not originally lazy at all. But I also feel, with you, that I am prone to be too lazy. Writing this when I could be sitting in Zazen might be a kind of laziness.

Saturday, January 27, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Bill Haworth: The Cheerful Resignation of Mr Nobody

Our Cynthia had a boy today

A thousand pounds I’ll give away

But, on second thoughts, I think it best

To put it back in the old iron chest

In the front parlour of her terraced house in Blackburn Rd, Darwen, overlooking the Anchor Pub, my Grannie Haworth would hold me on her knee and coo “Eee luvvie, you’ve got footballer’s legs.”

“If anyone ever tried to do anything to you, I’d chase ‘em round the gasworks.”

Maggie Haworth was my mother’s mother’s mother. I was born on the Golden Wedding anniversary of her marriage to Bill Haworth. They got married in a hurry (Maggie was already five-months pregnant with my Grandma Ruth) on December 25th, 1909.

At 348 Blackburn Rd, Maggie Haworth obviously wore the trousers. Bill was a quiet, reflective man. When I knew him in the 60s and 70s, he was deaf as a post. But I remember him looking on, a watchful benevolent presence, quietly observing from his seat in the corner.

My mother Cynthia has recorded some of her own memories of life with her grandparents, Maggie and Bill Haworth, as follows:

When I was six, my mother, Ruth, and I moved to 348 Blackburn Road, Darwen to live with my Grandma and Grandpa Haworth, and I started at Hollins Grove School. I remember finding ‘sums’ very difficult and reading and writing very easy. I really wanted to do well at school. Probably I wanted to please the teachers and win their praise. One teacher I liked particularly was Miss Ainsworth (Marion Ainsworth) who encouraged me a lot. I kept in touch with her for 50 years!
Our dog Peggy moved with us from Blackburn to Darwen. Disorientated, she went missing and was found on the doorstep of our old house. She had walked along the tram route about 6 miles (or caught a tram!)
Margaret Alice Haworth, my grandmother, was born in Withnal, near Blackburn, on 6th August 1889. She was the eldest daughter of Tommy and Ruth Haworth, sister of Susie and Maria. Maggie was very close to her father. When she was young she had a lot of time off school to help her mum with the younger ones. I think she was always used to hard work.
When Maggie became pregnant at 20, she married William Haworth (coincidentally with the same surname) and moved to 38 Westwell Street, Darwen and later to 348 Blackburn Road, where she and Grandpa lived all their lives thereafter. They actually married on Christmas Day 1909, being the first couple to be married at Lynwood United Methodist Church.
Working as a weaver in the cotton mill, Maggie was popular with her fellow employees. She had a keen sense of humour herself, and could make other people laugh. Lacking confidence in her weaving skills, she would announce, on seeing the foreman (or tackler) approaching “I bet a bob he’s coming for me.” The weavers worked long hours at repetitive tasks but they shared happy comradeship at work and looked forward to days off and trips to Blackpool. Because of the noise of the looms, they learned to communicate by mouthing the words -- they called it ‘me-mo-ing.’
My mother was my grandparents’ only child (Grandpa Haworth said he’d only had “one gradely do”!)
William Haworth (known as Bill) also lived in Withnal as a boy (I think). He was one of a large family -- Mary, Betty, George, Tom, Jack and Jimmy were his siblings. The family moved to Ewood, Blackburn. I remember visiting his mother, brother and sisters there.
Bill worked at the Walpamur paint manufacturing company in Darwen, as a labourer. He wore clogs for work for much of his life. He was slightly built, thin, quiet, patient, kindly, very hardworking and rather under his wife’s thumb. He had a lovely sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye. Bill was an avid reader and used to learn poems -- ‘recitations’ he called them. The library was a place he visited every Saturday; on a Sunday morning he liked to go for a long country walk round Tockholes. I often accompanied him on both week-end outings. He enjoyed a pint of beer at the Anchor pub across from his house and a pipeful of cheap, strong tobacco.
Grandpa Haworth was always hard of hearing. He told a tale of himself at school: when the teacher sent him to buy a penny cane (with which to punish some unfortunate) he thought she said ‘a penny cake’ and he returned with that. She told him he had better eat it!
I find it unutterably sad that, after a long, hard life lived with sensitivity, understanding, forbearance and good humour, my Grandpa Haworth’s whole existence should be consigned to a couple of sketchy paragraphs, as I am the only person left who remembers much about him.
From the time my mother and I moved in with Grandma and Grandpa Haworth, I remember Grandpa being unfailingly cheerful and gentle and Grandma being often critical, moithered, and rather hard. But now I realize it must have been very difficult for her -- she was working, washing in a ‘dolly’ tub, quite poor and suddenly she had the stigma (as it was then) of a daughter’s failed marriage and, on top of that, a six year old girl to look after. I arrived when she was in her mid-fifties and stayed for 12 years! My mother was working full-time, so Grandma had everything to do in the house. Sometimes she was impatient -- she hated it if I had to stay off school through illness and was a great believer in pulling yourself together and getting on with it -- but she had a great sense of humour, loved a good laugh, enjoyed going to the cinema and out for day trips. If the sun was shining, she thought it was a sin to be in the house! She was always going to look for bargains on Darwen market. The hordes of cheap biscuits she acquired were stored under the stairs. Her cooking was a far cry from Delia Smith’s -- she used to serve up raw tripe and chips or cheese and tomato stew!
Relatives and friends who came to visit probably considered Grandma a great hostess, as she had a sociable streak but, if she had ‘folk coming,’ she was in a flap beforehand. She was not a thorough house-cleaner but her front step was always yellow-stoned. She ironed very quickly and with no attention to detail.
Probably both grandparents were quite intelligent but they never had the chance of a good education. They were proud, in some ways, to be working class but envious of those with a better education, which, in their day, money could buy. They made fun of the people who had enough money to live in Hawkshaw Avenue, calling it “jam-pot row.”
Some of the old Lancashire expressions I heard then suddenly come back to me. They used to say “who” for “she” : “Who’s gone on holiday again.” To show surprise: “I’ll go to me breakfast.” For “Ca ne fait rien” : “San fairy ann.” For “We’ll be in trouble” : “We’ll be in Dickie’s meadow.”
348 Blackburn Road was a terraced house, on the main road from Darwen to Blackburn, with no bathroom, just the kitchen sink to wash in and only one (outside) toilet, which was purgatory on cold winter mornings. There were only two bedrooms, one of which I shared with my mother. Downstairs, we lived in the small back room but sometimes, and especially if anyone was coming to visit, Grandma lit a fire in the ‘parlour.’
Friends of Grandma and Grandpa, Uncle Joe and Auntie Bel Edmondson often came for tea, when the atmosphere was very jovial. Uncle Joe was a large, round, friendly man, who laughed a lot. I later discovered that Grandma Haworth had had a long-lasting affair with Uncle Joe!
Grandpa Haworth was a Blackburn Rovers football team supporter and he used to take me to matches regularly, so I became a sports spectator early on. He filled in the football pools every week. On a Saturday afternoon, just before he listened to the results on “Sports Report,” he would say, “Somebody’s up!” One Saturday it was Grandpa. He won £57-10s-4d and used the money to send Grandma, Mum and I on a holiday to Switzerland to see Grandma’s friend Martha, who had worked in Darwen during the war. We had a wonderful time -- I fell in love with mountains, cherry trees and all things beautiful and came home with a teddy bear that had belonged to Martha’s niece.
When we went on family holidays, usually to Blackpool, Morecambe, Torquay or Teignmouth, Grandpa never came. One holiday I really loved was a holiday in Babbacoombe with Grandma, Mum and Auntie Maria, Grandma’s younger sister. I thought the coast there was magical. At Blackpool, I loved the sands with the donkeys, the pier and the children’s attraction of Fairyland where you rode on a train through tunnels full of lights. Holidays are important! Grandpa should have been with us. Perhaps he needed a bit of peace.
In fact, Grandpa was entitled to ‘convalescent holidays’ as a result of working in the Walpamur factory. Grandma could accompany him on these breaks, usually to a convalescent home near Stockport. The doctor had to confirm he needed to go and give consent. Once the doctor asked him, “Do you have fits?” Grandpa replied, “No, but my wife’ll have a bloody fit if you don’t sign that form.”
I loved my grandpa. He was quiet and unassuming but quite bright. He used to sing “I’ll take you home again, Kathleen” and “The Rose of Tralee,” though I don’t think he had any Irish blood in his veins. His favourite lines to recite were delivered with a smile:

"Today is my daughter’s wedding day
[or any other occasion could be substituted]

A thousand pounds I’ll give away

But, on second thoughts, I think it best

To put it back in the old iron chest.”

I don’t remember demonstrative signs of affection from him but he was gentle and patient and introduced me to poetry and the countryside. He referred to me as “our Cynthia.” I suspect he was very fond of me.

Saturday, January 27, 2007  
Blogger Carlos said...


ME llamo Carlos, y mi ingles es bastante malo.
Te escribo en español, no sabria decirte todo en ingles. Snif.
Me marcho a vivir a Blackpool en breve, y practico ZEN en Madrid (España). Encontre a un grupo de personas bastante seria y que suelen ir a practicar a Francia, al templo que Deshimaru creo en esa ciudad.
¿Tu sabrias si en Blackpool se puede practicar con algun grupo que sea serio y omogenio, por favor?
Te estaria muy agradecido.
Te dejo mi mail, ok?
Gracias por todo.
Un saludo.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Carlos is asking me if there is a group I would recommend him to sit with in Blackpool.

My recommendations to Carlos are threefold:

(1) After arriving in Blackpool, you could visit Dave Scott who runs a group in Liverpool. I haven't met Dave personally, but have a mutual friend who vouches for Dave's integrity.

(2)Come and visit me in Aylesbury if you can.

(3) Find out if your group in Madrid would like me to visit you in Madrid. If I receive your invitation to go I will go. (When I was young I studied Spanish -- it must have been for some reason.)

Carlos: Mi espagnol es tambien bastante malo. Pero si puedo yo quierria clarificar la verdad de Fukan-zazengi en espagnol.

Primeramente, yo quiero clarificar que ZAZEN no es "meditacion sentada"; no es "zen sentado"; es sentarse-meditacion; es sentarse-zen. ZAZEN es una palabra, no es dos palabras.

¿Si hablo espagnol, tu puedes comprender mas bien lo que yo quiero decir?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007  
Blogger Carlos said...

Soy Carlos..... el chico de Madrid, españa.
As these?
Forgive not respond before, but had lost page, and today, seeking millions of internet things, and came back to find dandome a big surprise, since neither remembered that I had put something well.
I live in blakcpool years and 3 months.
A city curious to know ...

I am very grateful for you reply and tell me everything that I accounts.
My English is still as bad as before, but this time using an online traductori that at least helps me enough to understand something ...

If you speak Spanish as you can understand what you say without problems ...... It's very well learned.

I still practised in a very personal this time. Live the present time, every moment, every second of my existence.
Not found meditation group here, in fact I think it is difficult that there is something about Zen.
On the other hand, discovered a group in Preston, but for work I go is difficult. Dare time that things are happening slowly.
I am very happy to return to contact ..
Thank you

Friday, April 18, 2008  

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