Friday, June 08, 2007

Letting the Other (2): Widening and Lengthening


MIMI: ears
TO: (conjunctive particle)
KATA: shoulders
TAI SURU: oppose, align with
HANA: nose
HESO: navel
TAI SESHIMEN: (causitive form of TAI SURU) cause to oppose, cause to be aligned in opposition with
KOTO O YOSU: it is vital that....
"It is vital to cause the ears and shoulders to be opposed, and the nose and navel to be opposed."

In my sitting, the direction for the ears and shoulders to be opposed to each other ("to be aligned with each other" in some interpretations), has less to do with symmetrical alignment than it has to do with preventing a certain kind of reaction.

Marjory Barlow wrote of the force of gravity and the opposing force that is cultivated in Alexander work: the force of levity. At the same time, Marjory often used to tell me in the lessons she gave me, "We all go mad on the lengthening and neglect the widening."

Master Dogen's direction for the nose and navel to be opposed, has to do with a lengthening, anti-gravity direction. But the direction he gives before that, for the ears and shoulders to be opposed, has mainly to do, as I see it, with widening -- or, to be more precise, with preventing the narrowing tendency which sitting-zen practitioners are very liable to exhibit in our eagerness to lengthen.

In muscular terms, to ask ears and shoulders to release away from each other is to ask for a release of the big outer muscle of the upper back, the trapezius. At the same time, this direction has a lot to do with are called in Alexander jargon "the Dart spirals" -- after Professor Raymond Dart, a famous anthropologist, anatomist, and supporter of FM Alexander's work. Dart identified a great swathe of deeper muscle, a broad muscular sheet, that crosses from the left ear, across between the shoulder blades, and round to the right side of the rib-cage, then across the belly to the left side of the pelvis -- and vice versa, from the right ear round the left ribs and over to the right side of the pelvis. If you wish to follow the line in an anatomy book, look up splenius capitus/cervicis >> rhomboids >> serratus anterior >> external oblique >> internal oblique.

On a good day, release in this direction seems to cause the whole of the back to widen, including the pelvis, so that I feel the sacro-iliac joints freeing up. And when this happens it is as if the breath is passing right down into that area.

This kind of talk is liable to put us wrong -- because we are all prone to try to do the widening direction, just as we are prone to try to do the lengthening direction. We are prone to try to create a change.

But we needn't necessarily worry about going wrong. Going wrong is how we learn. Going wrong is fine, as long as the wrong tendency is illuminated by at least a glimmer of detached awareness.

The point to come back to, the point that goes against the grain of our frenetic achievement-oriented culture, is that in the sitting-zen of Master Dogen we are not in the business of creating change. Our primary work is preventing the wrong kind of change, not creating a Buddhist empire like that of Emperor Wu.

Thus, Master Bodhidharma’s expression of ultimate merit is recorded, in Shobogenzo chapter 30, Gyoji, by four lines of four Chinese characters:

JO: pure -- i.e. not defiled by greed, anger, and delusion; free of undue influence of the panic reflex
CHI: wisdom -- ability to reflect what is, as it is
MYO: subtly, delicately -- not a function of gross muscular doing
EN: surrounding
“Pure wisdom being subtly all-encompassing”

TAI: the body -- the body of a sitting-zen practitioner extending maybe to the physical world of nature (aka “the whole body of the Tathagata”)
ONOZUKARA: naturally, spontaneously -- not as a result of our deluded efforts to create change
KU: empty -- plus minus zero; not a physical experience of something; a bit of nothing; no undue excitement of the autonomic nervous system
JAKU: still, quiet -- no undue excitement of the ear
“The body being naturally empty and still.”

NYO-ZE: like this, as it is
KU-DOKU: merit, virtue -- the target to which the Master pointed us
"Merit like this"

FU: not, beyond
I: by
SE: the world -- the community of subconsciously controlled human beings
KYU: sought
"Is beyond what is sought by the world."

Preventing the wrong kind of change, in the context of this post, means not narrowing. The non-wrong kind of change -- widening -- is not something we create: it does itself, following the fundamental law of the Universe.


SHINJIN: body, mind
JINNEN: naturally, spontaneously
DATSURAKU: drop off
HONRAI: original
MENMOKU: face & eyes, features, face
GENZEN: emerge

Body and mind drop off spontaneously, and our original features emerge.


Blogger Saddha said...


In terms of ear/shoulder and nose/navel, is the instruction here simply to "ask" them (mentally) to express their natural relationship (oppositional)?

I'm thinking that I should begin, in sitting, by bringing awareness to nose and navel areas, to ear and shoulder areas, at least to get an idea of what's going on, before asking anything. To look at what's there. Is this useful or misguided?

Any further instruction or comment you have on how to enter this nose/navel ears/shoulders awareness in practice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

Friday, June 08, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Hello Saddha,

Thank you for your question -- good to hear from you.

I am on safer ground in trying to convey to you my understanding of what Master Dogen is NOT instructing us to do.

He is not asking us to make subtle adjustments or otherwise organize ourselves into what we feel to be "the right posture" -- because there is no true freedom in that kind of fiddling about.

Also Master Dogen is not asking us to start, in sitting, by bringing awareness to specific areas -- before mentioning ears, shoulders, nose and navel, he gives us a general instruction: SUNAWACHI SHOSHIN TANZA SHITE... "Just sit upright.")

But before that he cautions us against trying to become buddha.

Before that he cautions us against caring about right and wrong.

Before that he cautions us against thinking good and bad.

Before that he cautions us against being proud of our understanding of how to practice and thereby losing the vigorous road of springing the body free.

So I would like to recommend you, rather than seeking to understand the right way to practice, be awake to pitfalls such as the above pitfalls that Master Dogen went to the trouble to enumerate for us.

Speaking from experience, it is all too easy to take the preparatory admonitions as read. Whereas in fact the secret is always in the preparation.

If you have further questions on these lines, I would like to ask you to frame them with reference to what Master Dogen wrote. As my teacher has repeatedly said, everything that needs to be written about sitting-zen is written in Master Dogen's Rules of Sitting-Zen for Everybody. So let us see if we can get to the bottom of those.

Friday, June 08, 2007  

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