Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Fourfold Criterion Revisited (3): Non-Scientific Realities

Since meeting Gudo Nishijima in 1982 I have been endeavoring to get to the bottom of Master Dogen’s rules of sitting-zen, in which may be observed the following four key imperatives:
(1) Don’t waste energy by grasping for what you already have.
(2) Sit upright.
(3) Sit still, non-thinkingly.
(4) Realize what freedom is.

Since starting in the Alexander work in 1994, I have also been endeavoring to get to the bottom of the four directions which, in the matter of sitting upright with maximum freedom and ease and minimum misdirection of energy, FM Alexander considered primary:
(1) Let the neck be free
(2) To let the head release upwards, out from the body
(3) To let the spine lengthen and the back widen
(4) Sending the knees forwards, out from the hips.

Since 1998 I have also trained and worked as a specialist in vestibular re-education of children and adults with balance, coordination and learning problems (e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia, hyperactivity, and attention deficit disorder).
This work has gradually revealed to me the primary importance, in sitting-zen practice, of observing/inhibiting four vestibular reflexes. These four reflexes have been called the four cornerstones of all human behaviour. Equally, they may be called the four cornerstones of all misdirection of human energy. The four reflexes, to give them their scientific names, are:
(1) The Moro Reflex; the baby’s panic/grasping reflex
(2) The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex; the reflex by which the baby responds to changing positions of its head in the gravitational field.
(3) The Asymmetrical Tonic Reflex; the pointing reflex which separates the baby into two sides. As the head turns, the limbs extend on the side to which the face turns, and the limbs flex on the opposite side.
(4) The Symmetrical Tonic Reflex; the reflex which enables the body of the infant, from around 6 months, to defy gravity for the first time, so that the infant rises into the cat-sit position, with arms and neck extended, and hips and knees flexed. This reflex also thus separates the infant into two halves; top and bottom.

The two tonic neck reflexes, ATNR and STNR, in their raw, infantile, uninhibited form, both dis-integrate the self. The corollary of this is that inhibition of these reflexes -- for example by the action of cross-pattern crawling, or by other actions requiring co-ordination of the four quadrants -- works in the direction of re-integrating the self.

In previous posts I have suggested that the four vestibular reflexes may be seen as constituing an underlying a priori basis (“a criterion before knowing and seeing”) not only for Dogen’s rules of sitting-zen and Alexander’s four directions, but also for the four foundations of mindfulness outlined by Gautama Buddha in the Maha-sati-pattana Sutta; namely,
(1) Kaya; body
(2) Vedana; feeling
(3) Citta; intention
(4) Dhamma; realizations

A couple of weeks ago, Joyce Evans, the widow of the late Ray Evans, my former Alexander head of training, gave me some of Ray’s old books, including biographies of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.

Having been deeply impressed by the life stories and words of both Newton and Einstein, men who devoted themselves to seeking out the underlying simplicity and unity of nature, I would like to tentatively propose a further sub-set of four, as follows:

(1) Reality of energy.
(2) Reality of the Earth in spacetime.
(3) Reality of interaction.
(4) Reality of reality.

(1) The reality of energy is beautifully described by the 2nd law of thermodynamics; namely, that energy spontaneously tends to flow only from being concentrated in one place to becoming diffused or dispersed and spread out.

(2) The reality of the Earth in spacetime is brilliantly described by Einstein’s general theory of relativity -- a theory of gravity.

(3) The reality of interaction is elegantly encapsulated by Newton’s 3rd law of motion: To any action there is always an opposite and equal reaction.

In light of Newton’s 3rd law, we can understand that the intention to sit still is, when non-buddha ascends beyond buddha, not only the intention to realize a state of the nervous system. Stillness is not a state of something. Stillness is absence of noise in a dynamic interaction. It is absence of disturbance, absence of dissonance.

In other words, stillness is not a fixed thing in a person; it is a bit of no-thing, and a bit of no-thought, in a mutual relationship between person and world.

A baby extends its neck and arms, and flexes its hips and knees, thereby instinctively pushing itself upright for the first time. A monk consciously performing the same action for the several thousandth time may notice that not only is he pushing himself up against the floor but also that the floor is pushing up against him.

A sitting body is pulled towards the centre of the Earth. And, equally, the surface of the earth pushes a sitting body upwards. Just that.

Equivalence of just sitting and just being sat -- a body thus being naturally empty and still. Isn’t this the point of sitting-zen, as indicated by Master Bodhidharma?

(4) It seems that physicists today are on the scent of a grand unified theory which will combine gravity and quantum theory in a theory of everything.

It is said that quantum physics deals not with certainties like e = mc2, but only with probabilities. This, apparently, was the discovery that led Einstein to object, “I cannot believe that God plays dice.”

Master Dogen was recording the rules of sitting-zen 680 years before Einstein wrote that e = mc2. But one can suppose that if Master Dogen were to express his own theory of everything in mathematical terms, it might contain expressions along the following lines:

Let e = e.
Let mc2 = mc2.

If a physicist followed Master Dogen’s rules of sitting-zen, he might discover that the ultimate reality to which Dogen pointed has to do not only with the e and the mc2, but also with the freedom to let, which is never certain.

In such a case, however, “physicist” might not be an adequate label for the discoverer. Non-physicist might be closer to the mark.

Gautama Buddha was a non-physicist, a non-philosopher, and a non-politician. He did not wish, from above, to force down upon us lesser beings, as a dogma, that “reality is reality” -- still less did he pronounce that “Buddhism is realism.” Instead, Gautama gave us, in the practice of sitting-zen, the means whereby each non-buddha might discover for himself the freedom to let.

The essence of that gift from Gautama Buddha, I believe, is inhibition of all four vestibular reflexes and, ultimately, inhibition of the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex -- because inhibition of the STNR, as manifested in a truly upright sitting posture, is the hallmark of one who has transcended monkey-like behaviour -- a true, autonomous, individual human being; a non-buddha.

In his biography, Einstein is quoted as follows: “Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.”

I bow to Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein as revered ancestors in the original invisible Sangha.


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