Sunday, June 03, 2007

Letting the Other Hit the Target

When eyes focus on a target it not only a function of vision but also of eye movement -- a vestibular problem.

When the ears focus on a target, it is not only a function of audition but also of what Alfred Tomatis/Paul Madaule have called "the listening posture" -- again, a vestibular problem. (For more on this, follow the listening link on my webpage at

Hitting, or not hitting, a target is always a vestibular problem.

In recent posts I have discussed my own past history and persisting strong tendency to miss the target, and have expressed my conclusion that this is primarily a vestibular problem.

In response, MT, CB, OB and J&T all have had the guts to manifest the results of their own sincere but, as I see them, incomplete efforts to hit the target.

Wondering how to respond to the comments left on this post, I had the idea just to draw attention to some relevant lines from Master Dogen's rules of sitting-Zen.

Where did that idea come from? It came from my recognition that whereas I am deeply prone to miss the target, Master Dogen himself seems to have had some peculiar ability to hit the target, in his thoughts and in his words.

In Shobogenzo chap. 74, Temborin, Turning of the Dharma Wheel, Master Dogen discusses the comments of several revered teachers of the past on the teaching that "When a person exhibits the truth and returns to the origin, space in the ten directions totally disappears."

For example, he quotes, as a wrecking-ball of romantic thought, the comment of his own teacher, the Old Buddha Tendo:

"When a person exhibits the truth and returns to the origin, a beggar boy breaks his food-bowl."

Then Master Dogen delivers his own comment:

"When a person exhibits the truth and returns to the origin, space in the ten directions exhibits the truth and returns to the origin."

I remember sitting in my teacher Gudo's office more than twenty years ago discussing the translation of this chapter. Gudo explained and praised the comments of the various masters and then said: "But we feel that Master Dogen just hit the target."

Again, in chapter 27, Zazenshin, A Needle for Sitting-Zen, Master Dogen quotes Master Wanshi:

"The water is clean right to the bottom,
Fishes are swimming, slowly, slowly.
The sky is wide beyond limit,
And birds are flying, far, far away."

Master Dogen's own variation, and his conclusion to the chapter, is this:

"The water is clear, right down to the ground,
Fishes are swimming like fishes.
The sky is wide, clear through to the heavens,
And birds are flying like birds.

The needle for sitting-zen of Zen Master Wanshi is never imperfect in expression but I would like to express it further like this. In sum, children and grandchildren of the buddha-ancestors should unfailingly learn in practice that sitting-zen is the one great matter. This is the authentic seal which is received and transmitted one-to-one."

Again, one is left with the strong impression that Wanshi may have hit the target, but Dogen scored a bulls-eye.

In sitting-Zen, hitting of the target means practice/experience of the same state that Gautama Buddha practiced/experienced under the bodhi tree.

That target is unknowable to me; it is not a target that is susceptible to me aiming for it directly -- although the words of past teachers, and the living example of living teachers, are available to point me in the right direction.

It seems to me that Master Dogen's rules of sitting-Zen for everybody are designed to guide me -- a person of poorly integrated vestibular reflexes and faulty vestibular functioning, who is liable by himself to miss every target -- first to allow the vestibular system naturally to quieten down, and then to allow the vestibular system to direct the body naturally to open up (and not only intellectually), so that even I might become a target that is available for Guatama Buddha's enlightenment, partially and temporarily, to hit.

Master Dogen wrote the first edition (Shinpitsu-bon) of his Rules of Sitting-Zen for Everybody, when he was still in his twenties. From where I sit, that edition already hits the target just about as well as any words can. But, evidently not satisfied with his earlier effort, Master Dogen revised this work into another edition (Rufu-bon), which is the one presented on my web-page.

I have been endeavoring above to clarify why, in wanting to hit the target for O|B Pete, Conrad, et al, I am going to fall back on a literal exposition of Master Dogen's own words.

So, after another unduly lengthy pre-amble, here goes:

FU: universally.
"Buddhism is an international religion," someone once said. Mmmm. "The Buddha's teaching is universal" may be more like it. A problem of
Japanese- English translation? Maybe.
Universal means for all, for everybody, for all manner of celestial, human, and infernal beings. For MT, CB, OB, J&T. For all true amateurs -- for all who truly love sitting-zen. Also for non-amateurs, for professional monks who ignorantly believe themselves to belong to a group called "the Soto Sect" founded by Master Dogen. For new recruits, seasoned warriors, and broken veterans of the US marine corps. Also for those guys shooting from the other side. For east-coast Jewish lawyers. For west coast Buddhist punks. For people suffering from any form of vestibular problem, however extreme or mild. Nobody is excluded. Not me, not you, not him or her. Neither us, nor them.
KAN: to recommend
ZAZEN: (one word) sitting-dhyana, sitting-zen.
GI: rule, standard method.
"Rules of Sitting-Zen for Everybody."

ZEN: good
AKU: bad, evil
O: object particle
OMAWAZU: don't think
"Don't think of good and bad."
I think Master Dogen might tell us, Pete, along with William Shakespeare, that we are not really inherently bad, but thinking makes us so. But, yes, thinking does make us so. And it is not always so easy to stop such thinking -- because such thinking sometimes has its basis in vestibular dysfunction. As I mentioned before, people with poorly integrated Moro reflexes usually suffer from low self-esteem, which they may disguise in myriad ways. If the cause of low self-esteem is vestibular, there is no way for psychological counselling to get to the root of the problem.

ZE: right, correct, true
HI: wrong, incorrect, false
O: object particle
"Don't care about right and wrong."
The right side of an argument can be a very restricting place to be -- recognition of which is reflected in the old gypsy curse. I think the consciousness that Master Bodhidharma expressed to Emperor Wu as "true wisdom being subtly all-encompassing" was not too unfocused, but not too focused either. Similarly, in connection with Alexander work, Patrick Macdonald said something along the lines of that if you are careful you will never get anywhere; if you are careless you might. Knowing you as I do, Conrad, I think that you might be liable to err on the side of carefulness. There are good teachers I have been fortunate to know who have not always been careful and correct, but who have known a bit about what freedom is. I think that in the vipassana tradition, Ajahn Sumedho, who is reknowned for his good sense of humour, may be one such example -- although I haven't met him in person, but only listened to some tapes of his talks.

ANI .... N YA: How could it be... ?
ZA: sitting
GA: lying down, reclining
KAKAWARU: to have to do with, to be connected with
"How could [this approach to sitting-Zen] have to do with sitting and lying down?"
Both in Buddhist practice and in Alexander work, we are liable to go around all day subtly trying to be right, carefully practicing Buddhist mindfulness or dutifully organizing ourselves by means of our Alexander directions. I think that Master Dogen wants to point us beyond all that, to a condition of greater ease and freedom.

BODAI: bodhi; the Buddha's enlightenment. Short for the Sanskrit phrase anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, supreme, integral, full awakening.
O: object particle
GUJIN SURU: to perfectly realize, to reach the limit of, to get to the bottom of
SHUSHO: practice-experience
NARI: is
"[Sitting-zen] is the practice-experience that gets right to the bottom of the Buddha's enlightenment."
The Buddha's enlightenment is to sitting-Zen as the flag is to golf. If a teacher tells you it is not important to get there, it might be because the teacher is encouraging you to attend to the means rather than the end, to keep your eye on the ball, or it might be because he hasn't yet truly understood the subject he is trying to say something about.

CHI: to know, to recognize intellectually
KEN: to see, to have a view
NO: particle
SAKI: before
KISOKU: criterion
"a criterion before knowing and seeing" -- Master Dogen pointed to something more simple and primitive, and yet more truly powerful in bringing about real change, than intellectual knowledge and the visual sense. Experience in Alexander work leads me to believe, with Conrad, that this something has to do not only with the autonomic nervous system but also, more pivotally, with the way that a person's relates with gravity -- a vestibular problem. My Alexander head of training, Ray Evans, would sometimes describe Alexander work as "vestibular re-education." Ten years later, I am just beginning to glimpse the profundity of what Ray understood.
It is my stupidity to expect people who haven't experienced this work of "vestibular re-education," to get a sense of what it is about, just from what I have been writing about the vestibular system. I am sorry about this stupidity on my part, but I can't help it -- as a teacher I always have this impatient tendency. Once I have understood something, I find it difficult to understand why others can't get it straight away too, as soon as I explain it to them.
Some of the thoughts expressed by MT and J&T, while impressive at a certain level, are more representative of the usual thoughts of intelligent, educated people in our culture -- more based on psychology/philosophy rather than understanding of the centrality of the vestibular system. The comments of Pete and Conrad may be missing of the target, but I think they are missing of the true target. That is why I felt so excited and gratified when I read them on Thursday night.

ZA: sitting
YORI: from
TATSU: to rise, stand up
SOTSU; hurried
BO: violent
NARU BEKARAZU: should not be
"If you rise from sitting.... do not be hurried and violent."
What is the difference between (a) allowing a spontaneous action (which may involve extremely rapid and energetic movement), as an appropriate response to a given situation, and (b) giving way to a violent emotional reaction which is not appropriate?
How is it that some people, even in the heat of combat, or even under the spotlight of a musical performance, can appear to have time and to be very calm? I think of a great martial artist I have watched in training, generating incredible power at the punching board without much apparent effort, and of a virtuoso concert pianist I know.
I think that this man and this woman, have established, through diligent and regular training, clear pathways through which they are able to send energy strongly and with a minimum of fuss, with a minimum of leakage. So their actions, even when a lot of energy is expended in a very short space of time, have an air of unhurried effortless ease.
Gudo would say that such people are able to keep their autonomic nervous system balanced at all times. But I think it may be more accurate to say that the key factor is how well or poorly the Moro reflex is able to be integrated in the given situation. If the Moro reflex is well integrated, the sympathetic nervous system is able to access large reserves of extra energy without too many adverse vestibular side-effects, such as losing the head.
I started trying in earnest to be such a person 30 years ago, when I began training in the Japanese martial art, karate-do. After 30 years of endeavour, I haven't succeeded at all in becoming such a heroic individual. Rather, I am easily liable to be defeated by a trip to the supermarket. But I think that I have begun to understand a little what the major obstacle has been, why I am so prone to losing my head in unfamiliar surroundings.

BUTSU: Buddha, one who is awake
BODAI: bodhi, the enlightenment of a buddha
NI: object particle
GATTO SURU: This is a compound of two characters. If I remember rightly, GATSU means to fit, to bring together (as in GASSHO, joining palms), and TO means to hit the target.
"Accord with the enlightenment of the buddhas."
How to spring the body free is a vestibular question. It is useless to guess at the answer before truly understanding the question. Just to stay with the question is difficult enough.


Blogger gniz said...

Nice post(s).
I remember reading your stuff when you appeared to be trolling Gudo Nishijima's blog a year or more ago and I thought at the time that you must be insane or having a nervous breakdown.

But either you never were, or maybe you've recovered.

Interesting stuff.
I will say that from my point of view, I'm not interested in having a teacher who seems to be grasping in our interactions.
When i read people spouting opinions on the internet and I sense that they NEED to be in this conversation, that they seem to NEED to prove something, to be right, to be listened to...
Well i guess, in your words, these people seem not to be able to find the target.
So they TALK and WRITE about the target.
In life, the ones DOING seem to be talking least about it.
How often do you find that virtuoso pianist sitting around blabbing about playing the piano?
This isnt to say that discussion is never warranted, only that a certain kind of discussion seems to indicate a lack of true knowledge or maybe even true effort.

Yes, I am speaking about this blog.
And I dont mean to imply that this blog isnt incredibly interesting. It might even be very useful as it goes on...but....I dont know.

It has that stink about it--you call yourself a teacher. The greatest teacher I have ever met,my own guru, has NEVER refered to himself as either.

And i think thats very telling.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, gniz, for sharing with us all the transmission of your guru's great humility and wisdom.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007  
Blogger gniz said...


I apologize if my comment came across as judgemental or boastful.
I suppose it was both.

I enjoy your blog, for what its worth.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Apology accepted.

I think the deep fear of being wrong that I have is not primarily a psychological phenomenon. It is primarily a vestibular phenomenon.

My Buddhist teacher, in discussing the difference between human beings and monkeys, used to say that the most conspicuous difference was that human beings have bigger brains. But another difference has to do with our different relationships with gravity, to do with human insecurity in our precarious upright balance.

Being too deeply afraid of the wrongness within to see it as it is in ourselves, we tend to project onto others the wrongness we fear in ourselves and hate/fight/criticize those others.

So criticizing others according to the mirror principle, I think, can also be seen as symptomatic of vestibular dysfunction.

It was 12 years ago that I first heard Ray Evans, my Alexander head of training, talk about "vestibular re-education," but it has taken me 12 years to begin to understand the real centrality of the vestibular system. And for all of those 12 years I have been actively engaged in the process of vestibular re-education, in sitting-zen, in Alexander work, and in neuro-developomental therapy.

Ray died 2 years ago. But what Ray understood was true, and so gradually, eventually, the truth of what Ray understood will come out.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007  
Blogger gniz said...

Mike, I have to admit, i think you may be on to something.
But in the sense that it "works for you," it helps you to conceptualize your practice in a meaningful way.
Gudo does this by conceptualizing the balancing of the nervous system.
My teacher talks about taking in enough oxygen and relaxing, which he claims increases consciousness and awareness.
I suspect proper breathing might also serve to correct "vestibular issues" or promote proper functioning of the "autonomic nervous system."
In other words, I kind of think all of these theories might be true in one way or another. Perhaps sitting properly with correct posture causes the spine and muscles to align so that breathing becomes regulated.
Perhaps regulating your breathing will naturally allow you to be more aware of posture and naturally begin to straighten the spine, etc.
The thing is, it may be more the intensity of approach and ability to really practice long enough that one begins to learn, for oneself, what works.
The why is secondary. If it helps to explain things which in turn motivates the practice then great.
But Gudo's philosophy, your philosophy, my teacher's theories, they are nice to have...but they are just explanations for practices.
It is the practice which creates the change, as you well know.
So the great need to come to definitive conclusions about the vestibular function or autonomic nervous system seem rather beside the point to me, in many ways.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Yes, Gniz, there is a very definite road which is paved with the good intentions of those who believe, with us, that “it is practice that creates change.” I have walked that road for many years, and you are evidently just setting out on it. Perhaps one day we will meet at the destination of that road, in a very warm embrace. So good luck to you my friend. May you be super-diligent in your great practice.

Meanwhile, my weary mind seems to drift too lazily from one isolated fragment of Gautama Buddha’s teaching to another, for example:

constancy - view - off - the way

having small ambitions, know contentment

et cetera, et cetera

Thursday, June 07, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Another fragmentary reflection:


There being no obstacles to its spontaneous realization, what then is realized?

Friday, June 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There being no obstacles to its spontaneous realization, what then is realized? "

That answer does not lie at the end of an understanding of the many technical explantions that you offer.

It may lie on the other side of a cushion and it will be beyond intellectual grasping.

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

Thank you, Master, for pointing me to the reality of your sitting-zen which evidently lies beyond the intellectual grasping of a vestibularly-challenged wimp such as myself.

It is tremendously flattering that modern-day masters such as Gniz and yourself should think me worthy of your benevolent guidance.

Friday, June 08, 2007  
Blogger gniz said...


I cant speak for Mike Doe, but i certainly dont consider myself a master. And maybe you should ask yourself, why does it IRK you so that we give our opinions now and again?
Is it only interesting to you if we sit at your feet and grovel as you toss nuggets of wisdom down upon us?
I mean, really, get a grip. You clearly have worked hard and, for all i know, your practice is miles beyond my own.
But i think it shouldnt kill you that others have opinions and might even think their own opinions are somewhat legitimate.
If you have no interest in an exchange of ideas, or even taking advice, well then shit--you sound like you've been taking lessons from Gudo on the art of stubborn dogmatism.

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

Following the stubborn dogma of realism, I see that my own opinion is the utterly worthless view of an emotional cripple with a dodgy vestibular system.

On that basis, I make my effort to let the other hit the target.

Friday, June 08, 2007  
Blogger Saddha said...

(Hi guys!)


I've been a reader of yours for some time. For me, the written or spoken work, the music made, the drawing sketched - it's all evidence of a person's state of mind.

I'm just really happy for you because compared to your writing from the past, your recent output appears to evidence much more opening and less grasping, less suffering. Please don't misunderstand me, I'm no 'authority', I just mean that it strikes this little 'me' this way, intuitively.

As a result, the descriptions you are writing are beginning to speak to me. At the present, I'm not inclined to take up AT practice. Even so, what you are expressing about ears, shoulders and widening - I feel it reaching into my mind and stimulating curiosity. Only Truth can do this, I believe. Less grasping, more truth leaking through. I think you've got it going on.

Not much to say now other than that. Please rock on.

Ok one thing... sometimes when I am sitting, my body awareness does a strange thing where it seems as if it is lengthening. From the base of my neck to the spine/pelvis location feels like a distance of 6 meters or more. I lose awaremess of the chest and trunk. Any thoughts or instruction in relation to this sort of phenomena?

Thank you.

Friday, June 08, 2007  
Blogger Saddha said...


No need to pass this comment really. I am an emotional cripple who is learning to walk again. And I will walk again in this lifetime!

It seems that Gniz and Mike Doe are karmic appearances that co-arise with your own karmic knots. They appear to be 'heavenly messengers' that bring awareness of emotional obstacles to be un-grasped.

I wish you great strength and perseverance in your working with these phenomena as your 'natural walk' increasingly becomes an expression of truth and freedom. From one sincere practicioner to another... please *do* continue to strive despite the painful moments of anger/fear/jealousy/pride/ignorance.

Complete full bow and prostration here - with full respect.

Friday, June 08, 2007  
Blogger gniz said...


I dont know you.
I dont know anything about you or your practice.
All I can say is, I do find your ideas worthy of consideration.
But what I really have taken from your blog is the passion, fire and determination you seem to have for the dharma.
Even if i never try to read Dogen or buy into your theory of vestibular malfunction, I still find your ideas and attitude to be inspirational.
Patricia Walden, one of the foremost Iyengar Yoga instructors in the U.S., once said that the most a good teacher can give is the inspiration of their passion and love for the practice (my paraphrasing).

That is why i said that, for me, the technical reasons behind some of the practices is beside the point.

That doesnt mean the interest others take is beside the point.

So thanks for your inspiration and passion for the dharma.



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

People who I perceive as opinionated upstarts get on my nerves because I fear that I also might be like that. OK, I confess. Now, shall we get on with allowing the other to hit the target?

Friday, June 08, 2007  

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