Saturday, February 17, 2007

(4d) Spontaneity

Spontaneity is realized for example in a true smile (not a stage smile), or in an orgasm, or in a sneeze, or in a release of the respiratory mechanism resulting in a true deep breath. A true deep breath is not done with great muscular effort; it is more akin to a sigh of relief.

Everybody is familiar with the traditional Chinese image of the big-bellied happy Buddha, his vital energy sending his arms up in the air. He, to me, is a symbol of spontaneity -- Yippeee!

A thing I was taught while training in traditional karate-do is that to maintain a good strong fist you only have to be mindful of two things: the little finger and the thumb. If you pay attention to those two points, all the stuff in between takes care of itself. (But if, in the heat of the moment, you lose attention, then something is liable to get broken.)

The same may be true in the performance of a somersault by a gymnast, or in the non-performance of a non-somersault by a non-buddha -- from the raw material of delusion to Yippeee! and back again.

Master Dogen’s Rules of Sitting-Meditation for Everybody actually work in practice. If we keep coming back to them for 5, 10, 20, or 25 years, treating them with the respect they deserve, they take us reliably from here to there and back again.

There again, who am I to make such a pretentious statement, as if I were the one who knew?

A big Zen poser, his heroic ambitions all disappointed, slinks away to the forest, to be ignored even by the birds and squirrels.


(4c) Fearlessly being yourself

Who guided non-buddha to realize himself as non-buddha?

A conniving, treacherous little yellow bastard.

(4b) Not meditation

Non-buddha is not meditating.

Non-buddha is sitting.

(4) Enlightenment

“Enlightenment,” for our purposes, means the awakening to the very bottom of which our great teacher Sakyamuni got, through his practice and experience of sitting-meditation under the bodhi tree.

Metaphorically speaking it was an evolutionary leap, the bridging of a gap, a crossing over, a kind of somersault. But as a historical fact, it was only a human being sitting upright with his feet on opposite thighs while stars shone, worms dug the earth, the sun came up, grass waved in the breeze and birds sang.

Sitting-meditation (even that of a non-buddha) is the practice and experience that gets to the very bottom of Sakyamuni’s enlightenment.

So said Dogen in his Rules of Sitting-Meditation for Everybody. Wasn’t that a truly remarkable statement? Wasn’t Dogen’s writing of his Rules of Sitting-Meditation for Everybody a truly momentous event? I tend to forget just how remarkable and momentous.

(3d) Non-thinking

Who is non-thinking?
What is non-thinking?

Non-buddha is sitting.

(3c) Swaying left and right

The action of swaying can help to retrain the vestibular system, which has to do with regulation of muscle tone.

There are four early reflexes through which, in human development in the womb and in infancy, the vestibular system lays the essential foundations for regulation of muscle tone. The four reflexes are, to give them their scientific names:
1. The Moro reflex.
2. The tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR).
3. The asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR).
4. The symmetrical tonic neck reflex (STNR).

To give them alternative, non-scientific names, they are:
1. The “How Am I?” reflex.
2. The “Where Am I?” reflex.
3. The side-to-side integration reflex.
4. The top-to-bottom bridging reflex.

Number 1 has a lot to do with emotional attachment or detachment, end-gaining or non-end-gaining, grasping or letting go, pushing forward or stepping back.
Number 2 has a lot to do with proprioception.
Number 3 has a lot to do with the integration of our two sides in movement and non-movement.
Number 4 has a lot to do with bridging the evolutionary gap from ape-like to more enlightened human behaviour.

Number 1 has a lot to do with the Alexander direction to “let the neck be free.”
Number 2 has a lot to do with the Alexander direction to “let the head be released out of the body (‘forward and up’)”.
Number 3 has a lot to do with the Alexander direction to “let the back widen.”
Number 4 has a lot to do with the Alexander direction to “send the knees forwards and away (to allow freedom at the hip-joints).”

Anybody for a banana?

(3b) Breathing out

The head is obviously a vital centre in a human being, and so is the heart & lungs. But after a long out-breath, if it has been a good one, I experience something -- maybe oxygen -- passing into a vital centre lower down still.

Once when I asked Gudo about what the Japanese call “ki,” or vital energy, he observed that those Japanese who liked to discuss about “ki” were generally the more spiritual ones.

That observation was doubtless true. At the same time, it may also be true that consciousness of something passing to and from the lower vital centre -- what the ancient Chinese called the dan-tien, and what Japanese martial artists call the tanden -- can be a very practical state.

(3) From thinking to action

(2d) Deciding to breathe out

Because feeling is an interference and thinking is an interference; because partial propriopecption of ears vs shoulders, nose vs navel, and the rest is an interference; because total proprioception of the whole sitting posture is also an interference; and because the effort to detachedly observe the breathing without interfering with it is also an interference, non-buddha eventually decides deliberately to interfere, by causing there to be a long, controlled exhalation.

The spirit of this decision, expressed by a saint, might be: “Inshallah,” or “Thy will be done.”

Expressed by non-buddha, it might be: “**** it. Let’s get on with it.”

(2c) Not interfering

Not interfering is the fundamental rule. It might also be a very fundamental interference.

(2b) Active proprioception

Ears and shoulders. Ears and shoulders.

Nose and navel. Nose and navel.

Tongue. Tongue and connections.

Lips and teeth; eyes; nose - breath.

(2) From feeling to thinking

According to the World Book Encylopedia: “The primary colors in light are red, green, and blue. When red and green lights are mixed, the result is yellow light. A mixture of blue and green lights forms blue-green light, and blue and red lights form purple light. Combining all three primary colors in light in the proper proportions results in white light.”

As it is with mixtures of red, green and blue light, so it may also be with feeling, thinking, and action in sitting-meditation -- the reality of practice is likely to involve no clearly defined red, green, and blue, but mostly a lot of murky yellow.

Originally light is pure, like nothing, but when we think about light we call it white and analyze it into red, green, and blue.

There are two kinds of thinking, at least -- thinking, and thinking about. Thinking in sitting-meditation, thinking that concrete state beyond thinking, is not thinking about.

Gudo Nishijima taught me when I was in Japan how to think ABOUT things, in four phases, following Gautama's four noble truths -- the truth of suffering, of origination of suffering, of stopping suffering, and of the way of stopping suffering.

That is why I write now of red, green, blue and white; of feeling, thinking, action and enlightenment; of four Alexander directions; of four vestibular reflexes responsible for regulating postural tone.

There is no red, green, blue and white; no feeling, thinking, action and enlightenment; no four directions; and no four reflexes.

In 1906 Sir Charles Sherrington wrote of the fiction of simple reflex. The four reflexes, then, are a convenient fiction, along with the four categories of feeling, thinking, action and enlightenment.

There is no somersault.

Or is there?

(1d) Ascending beyond buddha

At times, when I am sitting, I deeply experience the three poisons. I am greedy. I am angry. I am lost, worried, confused. A seed of salvation at those times might lie in the middle of each line -- in the am, the are, the is.

If my response to experience of being eaten by three poisons is to try to become free of the three poisons, to aim to make myself into a buddha, then the situation really is hopeless.

There are various kinds of non-Buddhist. I don’t know what kind I am. But I do know that it is very vital for me in my practice as a non-Buddhist not to try to become buddha. Not trying to become buddha is the hallmark of a non-Buddhist -- whether the non-Buddhist is practicing his non-Buddhism in a brothel, on a bar-stool, or on a round black sitting cushion.

So should we conclude that it is in being, not in trying, that non-buddha ascends beyond?

No! That proposition sounds like the empty views of those existentialist philosophers, Alexander teachers, Shakespearean actors and the like, who have never seen Master Dogen’s ultimate teaching in a dream.

When the straight truth of sitting-meditation spontaneously emerges, it might sound more like this:

Ascending beyond trying and being, it is in sitting in the lotus posture -- putting right foot on left thigh and left foot on right thigh, and just sitting upright -- that non-buddha ascends beyond.

When I am sitting, the fact that I am might contain a seed of salvation; but ascending beyond I am, non-buddha is sitting.

Such, as I understand it just now, is the first and most important part of Master Dogen’s rules of sitting-meditation.

The secret is in the preparation.

(1c) A step back

Stepping forward is generally associated with a desire to achieve, to get, to grasp, to hold on. A backward step has more to do with dropping out, dropping off, giving up, letting go.

When I focus single-mindedly on the goal of letting go -- concentrating in the way that I practiced concentration in the classroom, in the examination hall, and on the rugby pitch -- that kind of concentration turns a drop-out into a greedy Zen grabber. It turns “dropping off body and mind” into holding on for dear life. It turns letting go of everything into a kind of grasping for something.

The backward step requires a kind of un-concentration that does not come naturally to me; it requires me to make a decision to go against the habit of a lifetime.

Some time soon I will let go of posting on this blog, at least for long enough to prove to myself that I am not totally fixed in this habit of sitting before the computer screen and pontificating. I will make a decision and bloody well stick to it.

Master Dogen wrote that sitting-meditation is not a kind of meditation to be learned. But he also wrote that we should learn the backward step -- that we should learn the backward step of turning light and returning luminance. Then body and mind will drop spontaneously off and our original features will emerge.

(1b) Mind the gap

Mind the gap means don't be a Zen poser.

Don't give yourself the airs of one who knows. I hate this tendency, primarily in myself. "I am the teacher. The one who knows what feeling is, what thinking is, what action is. You are below me. I am above you. I am the special one, to whom people pay their hard-earned money for instruction in how to be. I am the Great Pontificator, above menial tasks like housework."

When I see this tendency in others I feel very angry. Grrrrrr! I go red, and use foul and abusive language.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rules of Sitting-Meditation (1): Preparing for a somersault

Gudo’s answer does not come. But life goes on.

My state this first thing this morning was one of emotional feeling, worry, suffering from imperfect understanding of who I am and what the nature of my vocation is. Translating Shobogenzo was a vocation -- no doubt about that. But since that process was halted 10 years ago, I have remained unsure about what kind of teacher I might be. Except that I am sure that I am not a monk of the Soto Sect -- no doubt about that either.

Sitting-meditation every morning is primarily an opportunity for the sitter to notice how the sitter is. This morning, again, I noticed emotional feeling, energy being wasted on deep-rooted worries about this and that.

The first decision to be made in sitting-meditation is the decision not to act on the desire to do something to make the situation feel better. Not to react. Not to do.

My emotional feeling, my superfluous worrying, is my raw material, my starting point, the weedy patch of ground under my feet. This is how I am.

The first decision, in preparing for a somersault, is not to do but to be. To let the ground be under the feet. To let be.

Monday, February 12, 2007

HI-SHIRYO, Non-thinking (4): One last question

Master Dogen asks: Just in the moment of sitting, what is the sitting itself? Is it a somersault? Is it a state of vigorous activity? Is it thinking? Is it beyond thinking? Is it effort? Is it effortlessness?

Gudo’s conclusion is that, Zazen being ineffable, the answer to all these questions is: No. And especially we should understand that the answer to the question "Is it thinking?" is most definitely, uniequivocally: NO!

I would like to ask Gudo whether he recognizes that, sitting-meditation being ineffable, the answer to all these questions might also be: Yes.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

HI-SHIRYO, Non-thinking (3): Further questions

Questions and answers on HI-SHIRYO, non-thinking, have not yet hit the target. So I would like to ask Gudo as follows:

When you make your effort for your spine to lengthen vertically, following the line of gravity of the earth, is that HI-SHIRYO?

Or when the spine lengthens vertically as if by itself, effortlessly, is that state of effortless ease HI-SHIRYO?

Which is one HI-SHIRYO? And which one is not HI-SHIRYO?

I would like to ask again, using a metaphor:

A concrete path leads to a river, on the other side of which is a grassy meadow. When I somersault across the river, on which side are my feet?

HI-SHIRYO, Non-thinking (2): Realistic consideration

Dear Mr Mike Cross,

I have read your blog HI-SHIRYO, non-thinking, and I also felt that
your consideration was
a kind of very pure idealistic thoughts. Therefore I would like to
recommend you to have a
special training to think all kinds of philosophical problems on the
basis of consideration,
in which you will think about everything on the basis of completely
separated four philosophies.

For example when you will think about a flower, first you will think it
on the basis of idealism.
Therefore you will think a flower that it is a kind of plant, which is a
kind of romantic symbol
suggesting love, beauty, hope, yearn, and so forth.

And in the second phase you think a flower as a materialistic plant on
the scientific knowledge.
Then you will think a flower, which is an object of botanical
viewpoint, that it is a part of plant having
miscellaneous colors, petals, stamens, pistols, calyces, and so forth.

But as a real flowers, which exist in our private room, they are put in
beautiful glass pots sometimes,
and they are soothing our feeling actually at the present moment.

And in conclusion a flower is something real, which really exists in
this world actually.

I think that such a kind of our intentional mental and physical
training is very useful for us to accustomed
to realistic consideration.

Have a good luck!

With best wishes Gudo Wafu Nishijima

Friday, February 09, 2007

HI-SHIRYO, non-thinking

There is emotional feeling, plus and minus, like and dislike. And there is sensory feedback, information integrated primarily by the vestibular system.

There is intellectual thinking, thinking about this and that, worrying. And there is conscious volition, being clear about one’s own intention during some activity.

There is the kind of doing that involves great muscular exertion. And there is action as a spontaneous process, which seems effortless.

In clarifying the fundamental meaning of feeling, thinking, and action in Master Dogen’s rules of sitting-meditation, the most vital question to ask might be in regard to the meaning of HI-SHIRYO, non-thinking.

Does HI-SHIRYO express the end -- action which is different from thinking, spontaneous action itself, just sitting itself?

Does HI-SHIRYO express the means whereby the end may be realized -- thinking which is different from thinking, the intention to allow?

Does HI-SHIRYO include both meanings -- both sitting and thinking, sitting/thinking, sitting-meditation, without separation of end and means into two parts?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Rules of Sitting-Meditation for Everybody

The SHO-BO of SHOBOGENZO can be translated, for example, as “right Dharma,” “true law,” “true reality,” et cetera. Recently a translation I like is “straight truth.”

I hate Zen jargon. Following the mirror principle, I should reflect that the tendency to imbue oneself with spurious authority, through recourse to Japanese or other exotic terminology, whose meaning is understood only by those in the know, is a path I am afraid of going down all too easily myself.

A particular red flag to me is when practitioners of so-called Soto Zen use Japanese terms that Master Dogen never used at all. The so-called “sesshin”, i.e. short retreat, is a good example. Recently Jordan used a term “suizen.” I don’t know what the hell he is talking about. I somehow managed to get through the translation of Shobogenzo without ever having to deal with the word “suizen.” If Jordan knows what he means, then why the hell doesn’t he express it in English? Is the use of exotic Japanese terms conduct becoming a US marine? I don’t think so! Put that man on a charge at once!

To talk and write unthinkingly of “Zazen,” and to leave “Zazen” untranslated as such, may be a lesser sin, but recently I see even that as a mistake I have made. ZA means to sit. ZEN means dhyana. So Zazen means sitting-dhyana. But that still leaves the original Sanskrit word dhyana untranslated.

There is a strong argument for leaving Zazen at that: sitting-dhyana. This is the compromise which Gudo Nishijima has favoured. He doesn’t like the translation “sitting-meditation.” He much prefers sitting-dhyana.

But recently I am coming round to sitting-meditation.

Master Dogen says IWAYURU ZAZEN WA SHUZEN NIWA ARAZU. “What is called sitting-dhyana is not learning dhyana.”

Gudo emphasizes that Master Dogen emphasizes that sitting-dhyana is just action itself, just sitting itself, not the kind of meditation that is learned.

I agree that this point is very vital.

To clarify this point in my own words, I would like to say that when sitting-meditation truly becomes sitting-meditation, it is upright sitting as a spontaneous process, which is neither the kind of meditation that is learned, nor the kind of sitting that is done based on blind feeling (i.e. not the rigid holding of a posture that is felt to be right).

The words “Fukan-zazen-gi” trip very easily off my keyboard. I have been talking and writing for a long time about Fukan-zazen-gi. But from now on I am going to make a conscious effort to stop that habit. I think that if we really get the point of the rules of sitting-meditation which Master Dogen set down for everybody, we should be able to express that point in words that everybody can understand, without a Buddhist dictionary.

So, from now on, it is Rules of Sitting-Meditation for Everybody.

In his Rules of Sitting-Meditation for Everybody, Master Dogen wrote:


“Exactly we should know: The straight truth spontaneously emerges, and darkness and distractedness drop off at a stroke.”

Monday, February 05, 2007


Gudo Nishijima never taught me to preach peace and compassion. Never. James Cohen is pursuing his own agenda.

Gudo Nishijima never taught me to preach peace and compassion. Never. He taught me to study the slaughterbench/twirling-flower of world history, and not to be idealistic.

Gudo Nishijima taught me, above all, to study what action is, in Zazen. He taught me, having studied what action is, to stop worrying and act.

In this blog I have been endeavoring to clarify for self and others the fundamental meaning of feeling, thinking, and action. Are there any questions?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Deciding to Breathe Out

The first (possibly the only?) true decision I make every day is to breathe out.

The process of getting out of bed, drinking a glass of water, stumbling to the bathroom, putting on the robe, and sitting on the zafu, seems to operate more or less on automatic pilot.

At the beginning of my sitting on the zafu I am invariably worrying about some problem -- for example, some aspect of Buddhist philosophy, or money, or my relationship with Gudo Nishijima, or who the hell is getting the royalties from my Shobogenzo translation now that Gudo and and some of his students have made my translation available, independently of me, through a new publisher, not Windbell. (The worries in this particular set of worries are not entirely independent of each other.)

Worrying, it seems to me, is a combination of feeling and thinking -- in both cases, of the wrong kind. The feeling associated with worry is not unbiased sensory input but rather emotional like and dislike. The thinking associated with worry is not constructive conscious wishing but rather intellectual worrying, thinking about.

Notwithstanding the fact that worrying is such an evil habit, I am prone to devote long periods to it. Marjory Barlow once said to me: “Mike, you are an inveterate worrier, aren’t you?” Then she added: “I know, because I am too.”

The next stage in my sitting practice -- which in truth is not a clearly defined next stage but tends to alternate and intermingle with the worry mode -- is to be open to sensory feedback regarding how I am. How are the feet and legs in relation to the pelvis? How are the hands and arms? How is my sitting posture? How is the relation between my ears and shoulders, nose and navel? How is the tongue, including its deeper connections inside me, and its connection to my palate? How are the lips, teeth, and eyes? I observe the breath passing through the nostrils.

The great difficulty in this phase, the phase of conscious feeling or sensory awareness, is just to notice, just to pay attention, not to react to what is felt by doing something to try and change it directly. Because such trying is also a kind of worrying. As Alexander said, “When you think you’re feeling you’re doing.”

So I sit there noticing what a terrible mess I am in and resisting the temptation to do anything about it -- “non-interfering” if you like. The decision not to do, not to interfere, is a kind of decision. A negative decision.

Still, it is half past seven already, and I have not yet acted upon any positive decision.

In Fukan-zazen-gi Shinpitsu-bon, which he wrote in his twenties, Master Dogen instructs us, having regulated or stabilized the physical form, also to regulate the breathing. He doesn’t indicate how to regulate the breathing.

In Fukan-zazengi Rufu-bon, the edition which he revised later, and also in Shobogenzo chap. 48, Zazengi, which he wrote in 1243, aged 43, Master Dogen’s instruction is more specific, represented by four Chinese characters: KAN KI ICHI SOKU. KAN means lack. KI means breath or oxygen. ISSOKU (=ICHI + SOKU) means one breath. So literally “lack oxygen for one breath.” In other words, breathe out fully.

FM Alexander, in his early teaching career, was known as “the breathing man.” He was the bloke that actors and reciters went to see if they ran into difficulties with their breathing. Later FM came to regard respiration as a secondary matter -- secondary to the primary matter which he saw as the dynamic interrelation between the head and the rest of the body (his famous “primary control”). But Alexander did strongly advocate one particular procedure to re-train the breathing, which he called the whispered ah. Apparently he said that, if you do it well, there is nothing you can do that does you more good than a whispered ah.

In order to do a whispered ah well (or not quite so badly as the last time you did it), a whole series of preparatory directions are necessary to wake up the respiratory organ. I won’t go into those directions here. Suffice to say two things:

(1) The respiratory organ, now when we investigate it, might include the whole of me and more besides.

(2) The essence of the procedure is to make a definite decision to perform a long, slow, controlled exhalation, and then, subsequently, having observed a time gap (i.e. of milli-seconds, seconds, or minutes) between stimulus and response... to allow the response and deliberately breathe out fully.

If you practice this every day you will find that, even before the long exhalation takes place, just the decision itself makes a difference to the breathing. The breathing is regulated not only by the action of breathing out fully, but also by the prior decision to breathe out fully.

What I am writing now is not, as Gudo seems to fear, “Alexander theory.” This is what I have observed, investigated and experienced in my own daily efforts to get to the bottom of Fukan-zazen-gi.

FM Alexander was never a theorist first; he was a practitioner first. When Gudo perceives a threat to Gautama Buddha's true teaching from so-called “Alexander theory,” I think that Gudo may just be looking into a mirror and manifesting Gudo’s own fear of an overly-theoretical tendency within Gudo himself.

FM Alexander understood 100 years ago, as Zen Master Dogen had understood 650 years before him, not a theory but a very salient and universal human fact: Breathing out is important. And the instruction to breathe out fully once, to make one full exhalation, gives us a concrete opportunity to practice making a decision.

Acting upon this decision, sometimes, seems to act as a bridge from reliance on feeling to reliance on what is different from feeling.

It seems to me that this decision to breathe out, followed by a considered, non-habitual response to this decision, followed by the action of breathing out, can sometimes help to initiate the act of just sitting as a spontaneous process -- like the priming of a pump initiating the flow of water as a spontaneous process, as described by the second law of thermodynamics.

This procedure, it seems to me, offers a concrete way, a compassionate means, whereby sitting-meditation may truly become sitting-meditation.

The wish for freedom in sitting, in this way, may become the act of sitting in freedom.

This kind of wishing is not something that has to be learned. The whole body is thoroughly familiar with it already, and has been so since ancient times. But if you want to study it, study it for example in a two-year old girl asking, from the core of her being, for apple juice.