Friday, July 27, 2007

It's in the Without

The kind of spontaneous flow that makes sitting-zen joyful is not something I manufacture on the black cushion. It is a tendency inherent in all the energy in the universe ( In endeavoring to realize it, the major difficulty always seems to be in the without.

To walk into an unlit place full of unknown things is not difficult: the difficult thing is to do so without fear.

To survive a stormy ferry crossing is not difficult: the difficult thing is to do so without getting seasick.

To lengthen the spine is not difficult: the difficult thing is to do so without narrowing and twisting the back.

To extend the neck while sitting in lotus is not difficult: the difficult thing is to do so without stimulating the monkey reflex in the arms.

The difficulty is always in the without:

Confidence without arrogance.

Stillness without fixity.

Lengthening the spine without narrowing the back.

Working towards a definite end, such as the Buddha's enlightenment, without end-gaining.

From translating Shobogenzo I picked up some understanding, mainly intellectual, about Master Dogen's teaching of just polishing a tile, not worrying about making a mirror.

My understanding was not totally intellectual -- before I started the translation in earnest, I spent two years in which I sat in the full lotus posture for a minimum of five hours, every day. And that kind of practice inevitably involves a certain amount of going without -- at least at a very crude level.

But I really only began to wake up to the problem of my own end-gaining tendency when I began working with Alexander teachers.

FM Alexander really was, in my opinion, a truly great human being. What Gautama Buddha discovered starting from one side, with a traditional yoga asana, FM Alexander discovered starting from the opposite side, with only his own conscious reasoning.

People in future will erect Mike Cross statues, because I was the first stupid donkey who really put two and two together. But for the present there is nobody who understands what I am talking about.

Confidence? Or arrogance? I don't know. You decide.

If you are still here reading this blog, you must suspect there is a grain of truth in what I am writing. But in that case, why the hell don't you ask me questions?

We have got this wonderful tool here, through the internet. Why the hell don't you use it? What are you afraid of?

You....! You....! I would like to reach out of the computer screen and hit you with a big stick!


Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...


Here is my expencive question:

Do you revere the Buddha, the dharma, and the Sangha or not?

Please explain your answer in accordance with your actions.
How/why do you or how/why do you not.


Friday, July 27, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Listen soldier, if you are asking me to swear my allegiance to the Buddhist flag, you can take your unconscious Japanese-American, irony-deficient habit, your war-on-terror, good guy vs bad guy, cowboys & indians, be-true-to-your-school habit, and shove... and drop it off.

Saturday, July 28, 2007  
Blogger oxeye said...

"why the hell don't you ask me questions?"

mike - jordan asked you a sincere question.. we all wonder about that.. you can either man-up and give us a sincere answer in return or you can hand us back a sack of your fearful shit.

Saturday, July 28, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

In my daily life, four times a day, the Buddha-Dharma is revered as the Buddha-Dharma, without any Buddhist bells or whistles.

Every morning without fail I wear a formal Buddha-Dharma that was sewn for me by Pierre Turlur without any deviation from the traditional pattern.

I recognize my father as my father, and love my sons as my sons.

I think that at the root of questions like these is an inability to discriminate between the Buddha-Dharma itself and the Buddhist bells, whistles, and flags that Buddhists ordinarily like to ring, blow, and fly.

Heard any good jokes recently?

Saturday, July 28, 2007  
Blogger Warp said...

What did the mirror say to it's reflection?

Saturday, July 28, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

For example, a perfectly Buddhist mirror and its perfectly Buddhist reflection may say to each other, “Buddhism is realism,” making a perfectly virtuous circle that continues eternally, ad infinitum.

But a broken mirror can never be like that.

Saturday, July 28, 2007  
Blogger Warp said...

How can a broken mirror be known?

Saturday, July 28, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

For example, understand how difficult it is to get the body free of Buddhism, realism, and various other things that don’t exist. But “understand” does not mean to know intellectually. It means to have experienced, again and again, total and utter exasperation.

Saturday, July 28, 2007  
Blogger Michael Kendo Tait said...

I think your analogy of a fisherman dangling out a fly is a good one.

A fisherman's intention is to catch a fish but he enjoys the act of fishing and many good days are had on the river when no fish takes the fly. It's this approach, not too overheated, that results in fish being caught. Bringing everything together in the right combination, mind, heart, sinew and going after something in the very real understanding that it may not happen, that there is an element of chance but that the trying is also the very thing, the trying but not too hard.

It's very seldom that a fish takes a fly exactly when you think it will. But the fisherman creates the conditions for it to do so. We go equipped, it involves our real efforts, we know where the fish might be and we cast to those eddies, deeper pools, the dark water in the lee of rocks...

But when the fish takes the fly, all of that preparation is gone and everything merges in a rushing moment, everything has converged and takes its course. The fisherman is combined in this flow and there is nothing but a pure commitment until a fish is landed. There is no longer any intention because the spontaneous moment prepared and intended for is happening.

At the risk of an analogy being taken far too far, I think it describes very well the role of intention in fishing and in zazen (not unlike archery.) But then we realise that it is not only when we are caught by the ‘still’ state that existence is like this.

People imagine an esoteric skill of zazen but it’s no more esoteric than that of a fisherman. You've got to get good at dangling yourself out, hoping to get caught, you have to like it and you have to do it or you'll never be caught by it. And what are we caught by? Unimpeded existence, we are no longer reflecting, like mirrors on the flow. Our views no longer divide us to witness only a reflection of the flow across a gap of a billion miles. We are existence itself, expressing itself freely, all obstructions dropped away like the paper tigers they were in the first place.

But there is a tiger trap inherent in this. If a fisherman only goes to the river to catch a fish, he will be driven and often disappointed, exasperated is a good word though that could become a kind of torture. His fishing will be coloured by his incessant desire to catch something, to land the big one maybe.

In my experience of fishing there are usually a few quieter ones who love the sound of the water and the sunshine, regularly catch the big fish and just put them back. I’ve met a few fishermen like that.

I haven’t met you Mike but I wonder what kind of fisherman you are? That may read like a leading question but the truth is that I really don’t know.

What kind of fisherman are you?

Monday, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

“Thy will be done,”
True fishermen say...

Monday, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

(Still yearning for One
That got away).

Monday, July 30, 2007  
Blogger Pete said...

Forget the stick! Instead why not offer a chat over a cup of tea and a biscuit? Nice! But do you do nice? I once had a Jellico Cat who seemed to spend most of his time in stillness which I did not call fixity. Master Tendo Nyojo spoke stern words of warning to priests who had grown their hair long, saying those who did not understand the importance of shaving the head are truly animals. Now I am assuming this was directed at Buddhist priests who had left family life, but because I do not understand the importance of shaving the head can I assume that this ordinary bloke is no “better” than my cat? You, Mike Cross, have not left family life, you are not celibate, you work for a living and it appears that you have been disowned by Gudo, so it seems to me you are neither a monk nor a priest. F.M. Alexander seemed to have sported a well coiffured head of hair so why then do you place such emphasis on shaving the head?
Cheers, but I won't say bottoms up in case you give it a whack with your stick, Pete

Tuesday, July 31, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Hi Pete,

If I have sounded self-righteous/formalistic about shaving the head, it is probably part of an emotional response to recent goings on -- my mistake. Formalism is just another -ism to drop off, just another of those things that don't exist and yet are difficult to get rid of.

Yes, I go out of my way to be nice to my Alexander pupils, but I am firmly expecting them to give me some money at the end of the lesson. If my expectation was disappointed, who knows what kind of terrible vengeance I might wreak with my whacking stick? (Unless, of course, I managed to apply the Alexander principle, inhibit for a moment my eagerness to get my hands on the money, and rationally consider other less violent options.) If you are asking me to be nice to you just for the sake of it, that's a taller order -- which reminds me of a true story:

A famous concert pianist in America used to give individual piano lessons, at a price reflecting his virtuosity -- say $100 an hour. A penniless student asked him if there might be a concessionary fee. "Oh yes. I give lessons at $20 an hour," said the maestro, "but I don't recommend them."

Shaving the head without being formalistic.
Being nice without an ulterior motive.
Serving an offering to Buddha without expectation of something in it for me...

The list of difficult challenges goes on.

Heard any good jokes recently?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007  
Blogger Brad said...

This is the best joke I know:

Two guys are in a bar. One guy says to the other, "You got any hobbies?"

The other guy says, *Yeah. I'm a bee keeper. I keep bees."

The first guy says, "That's pretty interesting. How many bees do you have?"

The other guy says, "I have about 50,000 bees."

The first guy says, "50,000 bees? That's a lot. But don't you live in an apartment in the city? Where do you keep all those bees?"

The other guy says, "In a shoe box in my closet."

The first guy says, "You keep 50,000 bees in a shoe box in your closet?"

The other guy says, "Fuck 'em."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thanks, Brad.

Yes, may all sentient bees be liberated from idealistic expectation... and not only that.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007  

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