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.”


Blogger Aaron said...

Mike, you bring up some good points about speaking the truth, speaking straightforward and plainly as much as possible.

Yet, you did something else. Just a few posts ago, Jordan wrote eloquently of right speech and respect. At that time, you gave thanks and seemed at least for a short time to take his comment seriously.

And then in todays post you write insulting comments toward Jordan. Whether or not you are correct in your assesment that Jordan goes too far into Zen terminology, and although i think its a worthy topic, I think far more worthy is the attempt at right speech.

Or the attempt to be one deserving of respect.

Please refer back to that comment Jordan made and the following conversation.

Thursday, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Aaron.

In my judgement, Jordan is a big enough bloke to cope with a bit of leg-pulling. No disrespect was intended; on the contrary.

My suggestion that he should be put on a charge, leading to possible court-martial, imprisonment, or firing squad, wasn't entirely serious.

In his Rules for Sitting-Meditation for Everybody, Master Dogen makes two references to dragons. Telling the straight truth doesn't necessarily negate the use of a bit of poetic license.

Thursday, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...


Suizen will not be found in the Shobogenzo at all. And I was not implying that it would be.

I am not a good translator at all and my Japanese is mostly rude and sloppy slang spoken with a bad accent. My best guess at a translation would be “blowing meditation” played on a Japanese end blown flute or “Shakuhachi” which I have learned is an old measurement system for 1.8. This “blowing Zen” or Suizen was a form of meditation practiced by the now defunct “Fuke” sect of Buddhism. There is not much history on them and what is available is suspect. However if you follow the links on my blog under “Shakuhachi Links,” there is a wealth of information available. I suspect you don’t really care, that’s fine too.

To be clear “blowing meditation” is, in my opinion, no substitute for Zazen. Although I know others will disagree with me here. I actually had a hard time bending my ego around Blowing Meditation. This because I was so attached to my own views regarding what meditation should be, what Zen is, and is not. I actually caused a bit of a stink on the Shakuhachi forums because of this. Someone on the forum told me I was a fundamentalist, and that fundamentalism is never the middle way. I think at that time I did have some fundamentalist views, and to some point I am sure I still do. But I am constantly learning that there is a lot more out there that I don’t know than that which I do.

To your comment on “practitioners of so-called Soto Zen” I think that when I sit I am practicing just sitting. When I play the flute I am practicing playing the flute. Going about my daily life and routines I am practicing being human. But I think it looses something when we label it. Maybe the label of a practitioner of Jordan’s Buddhism; which borrows teachings from Gautama Buddha, Master Dogen, Fuke, Mike Cross, and limitless other Buddha’s’, Bodhisattvas’, demons, animals, ghosts, humans, plants and minerals without aversion or clinging. Names are just form. They have their uses. But I try not to get too wrapped up in them so much anymore.

And if you don’t like it, well, that’s fine too. But I am happy to see your reading my blog.

I did like your leg pulling post here too and agree with the point made about the use of language to some extent. A lot is sometimes lost in translation too. For example the Order of Buddhist Contemplative’s translation of the Shobogenzo is completely redone in westernized format and I feel that a lot was lost. Just my gut telling me something is missing. But for my part saying Shakuhachi and Suizen is easier than saying Japanese end blown flute and blowing meditation. And no the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives do not practice Suizen that I am aware of.


Thursday, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you for your attempt to clarify, Jordan. But it sounds to me you are talking about playing a kind of Japanese flute called a shakuhachi. In that case, I think it would have been helpful to me and readers of this blog if you had not used the term "suizen" in your comment but instead written of playing the flute. This is, after all, not a blog about playing the flute. How were any of us supposed to know what you meant by “suizen”?

My wider point is that people seem to use not only traditional Buddhist terms like zazen (sitting-meditation), shisho (certificate of transmission), and gassho (joined palms), and not only everyday Japanese terms like mondo (questions and answers) and samu (work), but also non-traditional terms like sesshin, kyosaku, and rakusu, as if those Japanese words conferred some extra authenticity on the activity or thing in question. But to me the unnecessary use of those Japanese terms often carries a whiff of inauthenticity.

One afternoon when I had gone to Nishijima Roshi’s office to ask him questions, I asked him about this thing called “mondo” that I had read about. I remember his laughter as he told me that “mondo” means questions and answers, and then waited for the irony/absurdity of the situation to sink in. Wanting to know about some exotic procedure called “mondo” I had come to my teacher’s office for questions and answers.

It might be interesting to compile a list of such Buddhist and pseudo-Buddhist Japanese terms that are currently in circulation. Any offers?

Thursday, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...


Admittedly, I had to look back to see what you were talking about.
Now that I see what you were driving at, and as I attempt to pull this all into context, when I mentioned “Suizen” I was speaking about aspects of my own life. If I caused someone to think I was any authority on “Suizen” this simply is not so.
For everyone reading definition from wikipedia:
Suizen (吹禅) is a practice consisting of playing the shakuhachi bamboo flute as a means of attaining self-realization. The monks from the Fuke sect of Zen who practiced suizen were called komusō (虚無僧; literally "emptiness monks").

“I remember his laughter as he told me that “mondo” means questions and answers, and then waited for the irony/absurdity of the situation to sink in. Wanting to know about some exotic procedure called “mondo” I had come to my teacher’s office for questions and answers.”

That’s hilarious! Thank you so much for sharing that. I think sometimes we get to serious and forget to find time to enjoy laughter.

As for the list, I think that is a great idea but in the mean time there is google and wikipedia. Not always 100% accurate, but you can usually triangulate the meaning from multiple references, or ask a teacher.

Thursday, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Aaron said...

Mike and Jordan,

Good posts and good clarifications.

Its interesting to make note of the way that Buddhist practitioners can subtly try to elevate themselves or use terminology in order to impress others.

But the only real use, in my opinion, is to make note so that you can catch it when YOU are doing it. Not to judge someone else's behavior.

The ironic thing is that by mocking one person's "faux superiority", you yourself are putting on airs of superiority. It just dont work.

Someone can appear to be an uptight arrogant asshole based on their use of language which is extravagant. But they might not be.

Jordan is very genuine on these internets even though he at times uses that high-falutin' speech.

So which is it and what is the point of compiling a list of absurdities?

Thursday, February 08, 2007  
Blogger MikeDoe said...

"sitting meditation" is no more an accurate description than "zazen" it is however emotionally different in connotation.

"sitting meditation" sounds ordinary - and indeed it is. After all it is 'just' sitting.

Equally, it implies that there are other forms of equal valid meditations that do not involve sitting - which is also true.

I am amazed/surprised/pleased that you have taken this direction - even if it is just a detour.


Thursday, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you for the clarification and the reflection.

The hyphen in sitting-meditation is all important.

Sitting-meditation is not sitting meditation. It is the Dharma-gate of effortless ease.

Friday, February 09, 2007  
Blogger MikeDoe said...

My ommission of the hyphen was unintentional - I was writing in the middle of a very long day!

The description would be more accurate with the hyphen than without - as would my response.

How many gateless gates are there?

What do they look like?

Friday, February 09, 2007  

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