Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Buddha’s Teaching is Not Realism

The teaching of Gautama Buddha is not a view; it is the Law whose realization, in the stillness of sitting-zen, is freedom.

Gudo’s view that “Buddhism is Realism” is not the Buddha’s teaching itself; it is a philosophical view.

The teaching of Gautama Buddha is not a view; it is the Dharma-robe, wrapped in which a shaven-headed sitter is dangled out... and, all being well, bitten.


Blogger Michael Kendo Tait said...

I have been drunk in Italy for two weeks, drunk on all kinds of things, from grappa and wine to art and architecture, from delicious food and beautiful scenes and not least, from simple delight in and love of my children and my wife.

I have not practised zazen. This has been the longest time I haven't practised zazen for a good few years now and it was a kind of experiment as well as expedient laziness.

I became very emotional, irrationally-so, experience charged with these sheets of emotion took on a darker palette. My physical being found new twists to knot itself tightly-in. Fear grabbed me like an old friend, of loss. I tried to hold on to everything I saw and felt. I couldn't sleep or shit. I regretted always the passing of beauty and was insensed by unpleasantness.

A friend in zazen once said to me ' zazen is like a harpoon, you can run with the line but it will inevitably reel you back in.' It's not an appropriate analogy but it's true to say that I didn't fall apart but that I knew roughly where the centre was to stray so far from it.

My old cushion and mat has waited for me and once again I remember what zazen is, no less than the true universe revealed.

Despite seeming grand statements like my last, there is no substitute for true humility in life for 'the body is like a dew drop on a blade of grass.'

Swaying left and right like this, can there be a true centre? I believe the centre is a kind of aggregate of consistent attempts to find it. Each attempt is necessarily new and unburdened. Striving, it finds us. Perfection is a view. Occassionally we may sit calmly in the centre but more aften than not we are left and right. Not perhaps as far left and right as I have been these last weeks.

I don't know why I write this here, it's just a post to bang my head against and not a strong theoretical question based on a Shobogenzo chapter or Fukanzazengi. A shot in the dark you might call it.

Back, once again to the black cotton disc and the silence, with new fuel for the fire.

Sunday, June 24, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Welcome back, MT.

From a religious viewpoint, you have been a very naughty boy not practising sitting-zen.

But sod the religious viewpoint. No. Fuck the religious viewpoint. And sod the idea of a middle way between religion and science. I am on the side of scientific experiment.

Having said that, my own experiment is to see what happens if I carry on like this, sitting in lotus every day, never missing a day. Certainly, the results so far have not been what I expected.

With regard to your question about a centre, I like to distinguish for myself between stillness and fixity. Marjory Barlow (who liked TS Elliot) used to talk of "stillness without fixity."

My efforts to find the centre usually seem to result in some variation or other on the theme of fixity. Whereas when I recognize that, my vestibular system being as it is, I cannot know for sure where the centre is, coming back to this humble recognition seems to help open the possibility of stillness finding me.

Monday, June 25, 2007  
Blogger Drew said...

A few weeks ago, I met an elderly practitioner suffering from Parkinson's disease. Underneath his tremulous limbs, his querulous voice and his rattling tea cup, there was a remarkable core of stillness.

He listened patiently as we asked him questions, almost exclusively of the 'when I sit, I'm too tense/dreamy/emotional’ variety.

At last, he said that, to his mind, the middle way was not a point equidistant between two extremes; it was rather a recognition that one had strayed too far to the left or too far to the right.

It seems that the laws underpinning our practice - stillness, 'non-thinking,' emptiness - can only be defined negatively. Your blog has been awash with such non-definitions, with the perpetual cry of 'it is NOT that.' It bears stark contrast with the tendency of other practitioners to define, to circumscribe and to reduce. Statement such as 'Buddhism is Realism' and 'Samadhi is the just the balance of the automatic nervous system' are prime examples of what the French call idées fixes, rigid, obsessive, unrelinquished ideological views.

How can we join Nagarjuna in bowing down to the Buddha who taught the dharma as the relinquishing of all views? I would suggest your great non-dictum 'it is NOT that' might be a place to start.

Monday, June 25, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

"How can we join Nagarjuna in bowing down to the Buddha who taught the dharma as the relinquishing of all views?"

It is a bloody good question, and although I don't know the answer, I think that your question may contain the answer in it...

namasyami gautamam

I bow to him: Gautama

Monday, June 25, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

As an afterthought this morning to Drew's comment, I would like to add that I also very keenly share your dissatisfaction with statements such as 'Buddhism is Realism' and 'Samadhi is the just the balance of the automatic nervous system.'

But I want to add in Gudo’s defence that, in the background to Gudo’s teaching, the “It is not that” principle has always been working.

Hence, when he states categorically but wrongly that “Buddhism is Realism,” Gudo is trying to point us, in his incredibly frustrating and unskillful way, to seek Gautama Buddha’s teaching in reality itself -- NOT in adherence to religious or philosophical ideas, NOT in adherence to idealistic or materialistic views, NOT in thinking and feeling, but just in the reality of sitting-zen practice.

When he states categorically but wrongly that “Samadhi is the just the balance of the automatic nervous system,” Gudo is trying to point us, in his incredibly frustrating and unskillful way, to the realization that the way to enter Samadhi is NOT through any intellectual/psychological approach such as meditation, psychotherapy, et cetera. Samadhi is NOT primarily a matter of the top two inches. Samadhi primarily has to do with more primitive mechanisms such as the autonomic nervous system and the cerebellar-vestibular system.

When he states categorically but wrongly that the essence of sitting-zen is “to keep the spine straight vertically,” Gudo is trying to point us, in his incredibly frustrating and unskillful way, to the practice of each pointing our own spine upwards, so that we may be caught by true stillness -- which is NOT fixity, which is in fact just freedom from fixity.

It seems to me -- and Drew may be able to look at this problem with more detachment than I am able -- that a tragedy in Gudo’s life has been his inability to respond appropriately to the perceived disobedience of certain students (I am thinking primarily of myself and Michael Luetchford) who, truly out of loyalty to him, have stood up to him and said: “No. On that point, we must say to you: No. It is not that.”

While preaching that “Buddhism is realism,” Gudo has acted on the basis of unreal fears towards a foreigner and on the basis of unreal confidence in his ability as an English translator. In responding to my criticism as if I were his enemy and the enemy of Gautama Buddha, Gudo scuppered our translation partnership, and asked others to “re-write” his English translation of Nagarjuna’s work. Stupid, stupid, stupid Japanese man.

When I read Gudo on his blog directing an American practitioner to practice under Gudo’s Johnny-come-lately Dharma-heir James Cohen, who is a self-promoting “yes” man, a Zen charlatan of the first order, it strikes me as the unfolding of a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions.

How not to care about this; how to assess the situation in level-headed manner; how to keep my own eye on the ball without being distracted by this tragic sideshow; how to respond as an upright human being and not like a chattering monkey -- this is the challenge to which, for reasons I see more and more clearly, I am not up. (I claim the vestibular amendment.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007  

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