Friday, July 20, 2007

Sitting in Lotus with a Body and a Mind

The tribe of Judah has produced more than its fair share of individuals whom I admire a lot. Old Testament Judaism you can keep, but I have had some good friends of Jewish heritage -- all non-belongers. Perhaps it is the courage of non-belonging individuals like Albert Einstein and Bob Dylan, swimming against the tide of their own strongly tribal heritage, that strikes me as particularly admirable.

Although I never met Master Kodo Sawaki, my impression of him also is that he was a very strong individual -- a man who truly made a difference, who was not just one of the Japanese herd.

There is something very powerful, insistent and real in Bob Dylan's words and voice when he demands to know:

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown....

How does it feel? How does it feel to be on your own? How does it feel not to be a member of a tribe united under the spurious banner of an -ism?

Not only Judaism, but all -isms you can keep -- up to and including Buddhism, realism, and so-called “real Buddhism.” You can keep that which hides itself in the guise of so-called Soto Zen; namely, Japanese corporatism/nationalism. You can even keep individualism. The point of sitting-zen is not to be an individualist but just to be a true individual.

How does it feel, to be on your own?

A mistake I have often repeated in the past, upon being knocked back, is deliberately not to ask how it feels, but instead to throw myself with renewed vigour into doing something. It is a habit I probably first picked up on the rugby field -- when you get a knock, shut out how it feels; just run it off.

There is truth in that approach, but it is not the whole truth. It is only a philosophy of doing.

It is the philosophy of the parade ground: Head up, chin in, spine straight, mind blank. Just blindly obey your sergeant major, dropping off your own body and mind.

It is the philosophy of hardcore Zen, of warmongering Zen -- Sit the fuck down, and shut the fuck up! 1,2,3 jump! Just fucking do it!

I doggedly knocked the Shobogenzo translation into shape using that kind of energy, but in later years, in light of Alexander’s wisdom, the wisdom of non-doing, I have come to see that the doing approach is not the whole truth. It is not the subtle technique of the truly enlightened. It tends not to result in true spontaneity.

As Marjory Barlow observed, when I showed her how I had grown accustomed to holding my head and spine in sitting-zen: “There is no freedom in it.”

Actually there is a certain freedom in just doing, in just robotically sitting in the full lotus posture with the body, pulling in the chin and keeping the spine straight vertically. It is a kind of temporary blocking out of worries and feelings. But it is the exact antithesis of the kind of freedom Marjory was interested in, which is freedom from doing. Freedom from doing means, in other words, freedom from wrong patterns of use of the self, freedom from pulling the head down into the body and all the rest of it.

To work towards this latter kind of freedom is what FM Alexander called "the most mental thing there is." To work towards the condition that Master Bodhidharma called "the body being naturally empty and still," turns out, ironically, to be the most mental thing there is.

This kind of effort, the most mental thing there is, requires us to actively decide not to do, but to see the wrong inner patterns and to actively wish to be free from them.

A real wish for freedom, for a bit of nothing, does not come easily. But the more real is the wish, the more clear is the seeing, and vica versa -- a virtuous circle.

Conversely, if the wish is not real, as I know all too well from experience, what you have is a gap and what you get is a vicious circle leading to separation between heaven and earth, confusion.

On the subject of circles, a Dharma-heir of Gudo who has known me for 25 years recently remarked, from reading some of my emails to him and my internet outpourings, that I seem to be continually going round and round in circles.

He may very well be right, but I prefer to hope that I am going round and round in spirals.

Shortly I shall return to the round cushion, I shall bodily sit in the full lotus posture, and, all being well, my mind will return to the same old questions, observing the ancient fourfold criterion of kaya, vedana, citta, and dhamma:

How am I, really? What is my emotional state?

Where am I, here and now? In particular, where is my head?

What am I really wishing for? What does it mean really to wish to allow the head to spill out, from the entirety of my sitting-in-lotus being, in a forward and up direction, while allowing the back to lengthen and widen, and the limbs to release out of the body?

How does it feel, what is it like, what does it mean, in the end -- whether you are in or out of a particular family, or in or out of a particular Sangha -- to be completely on your own? What does it mean not to be like a monkey in a tribe of monkeys, but really to be an upright individual, free from the influence of all the vestibular reflexes?

9 Comments:

Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...

Mike,

There is someone who once made the comment that Buddhism has become not much more than a personality cult. And that Buddha himself would have never approved of what even early Buddhism became.

There was also some Zen master who said that when he uttered the word Buddha he wanted to rinse his mouth out, but when asked how he would spread the truth he exclaimed “Buddha, Buddha, Buddha!” I had my own mixed feelings about the Term “Zen” in the past but I am going in circles on that as well.


To be on your own is ok I think for a while, I think there is a certain amount of freedom that comes from it, but also I think there is a place for community particularly when it comes to practice. One person described the sangha as a rock tumbler, rough stones bouncing around polishing each other.
I appreciate your use of the term “Subtle” I think that is what is missing in so many works. This may be why I appreciate Ryokan so much.

First blooming in the Western Paradise,
The lotus has delighted us for ages.
Its white petals are covered with dew,
its jade green leaves spread out over the pond,
And its pure fragrance perfumes the wind.
Cool and majestic, it raises from the murky water.
The sun sets behind the mountains
But I remain in the darkness, too captivated to leave.


We go around in circles until we stop, that is not a profound statement but just an observation.

Rather than spiral I hope to vector, not towards freedom but away from non-freedom.

Thank you for providing the glimpses, please let us know what you come up with.
Jordan

Friday, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

I lay before you Dogen's glimmering jewels and my own rough diamonds, but you want to discuss Ryokan's shiny plastic baubles.

That is the way it is.

I might get angry, except that I sense you are a decent bloke.

Heard any good jokes recently?

Mike

Friday, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...

The Truth

At school, a boy is told by a classmate that most adults are hiding at least one dark secret, and that this makes it very easy to blackmail them by saying, “I know the whole truth” -- even when you don't know anything.
The boy decides to go home and try it out. As he is greeted by his mother at the front door he says, “I know the whole truth.” His mother quickly hands him $20 and says, “Just don't tell your father.”

Quite pleased, the boy waits for his father to get home from work, and greets him with, “I know the whole truth.” The father promptly hands him $40 and says, “Please don't say a word to your mother.”

Very pleased, the boy is on his way to school the next day, when he sees the mailman at his front door. The boy greets him by saying, “I know the whole truth.” The mailman drops the mail, opens his arms and says, “Then come give your FATHER a big hug.”

Low blow to Ryokan, but I was not comparing.

Take care,
Jordan

Friday, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...

The Firing Squad

A man was scheduled to go before a firing squad for his crimes. The evening before his execution, he was asked what he wanted for his last meal. He refused the meal completely.
The next morning the man was brought before the firing squad. When asked for his last request, the man said he had none. The General in charge of his execution asked him, ''Sir, you refused your last meal and your last request. Isn't there anything you want before you die?''

The man thought for a moment, then said, ''Music has always been an important part of my life. If I could do but one thing before I die, would you allow me to sing my favorite song from beginning to end, without interruption?''

The General thought this was a reasonable request, and ordered his men to lower their weapons and to not interrupt for the duration of the song.

''Ten million bottles of beer on the wall...''

I should ask you how you define a "good" joke.

I have decided to shave my head so others won't have too.

Jordan

Friday, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...

More appropriately I should have said on the behalf of others, not a joke really, but my wife thought it was hilarious.

Jordan

Friday, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...

Some military humor,

How to Prepare for a Deployment to Iraq

1. Sleep on a cot in the garage.

2. Replace the garage door with a curtain.

3. Six hours after you go to sleep, have your wife or girlfriend whip open the curtain, shine a flashlight in your eyes and mumble, "Sorry, wrong cot."

4. Renovate your bathroom. Hang a green plastic sheet down from the middle of your bathtub and move the showerhead down to chest level. Keep four inches of soapy cold water on the floor. Stop cleaning the toilet and pee everywhere but in the toilet itself. Leave two to three sheets of toilet paper. Or for best effect, remove it altogether. For a more realistic deployed bathroom experience, stop using your bathroom and use a neighbor's. Choose a neighbor who lives at least a quarter mile away.

5. When you take showers, wear flip-flops and keep the lights off.

6. Every time there is a thunderstorm, go sit in a wobbly rocking chair and dump dirt on your head.

7. Put lube oil in your humidifier instead of water and set it on "HIGH" for that tactical generator smell.

8. Don't watch TV except for movies in the middle of the night. Have your family vote on which movie to watch and then show a different one.

9. Leave a lawnmower running in your living room 24 hours a day for proper noise level.

10. Have the paperboy give you a haircut.

11. Once a week, blow compressed air up through your chimney making sure the wind carries the soot across and on to your neighbor's house. Laugh at him when he curses you.

12. Buy a trash compactor and only use it once a week. Store up garbage in the other side of your bathtub.

13. Wake up every night at midnight and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a saltine cracker.

14. Make up your family menu a week ahead of time without looking in your food cabinets or refrigerator. Then serve some kind of meat in an unidentifiable sauce poured over noodles. Do this for every meal.

15. Set your alarm clock to go off at random times during the night. When it goes off, jump out of bed and get to the shower as fast as you can. Simulate there is no hot water by running out into your yard and breaking out the garden hose.

16. Once a month, take every major appliance completely apart and put it back together again.

17. Use 18 scoops of coffee per pot and allow it to sit for five or six hours before drinking.

18. Invite at least 185 people you don't really like because of their strange hygiene habits to come and visit for a couple of months. Exchange clothes with them.

19. Have a fluorescent lamp installed on the bottom of your coffee table and lie under it to read books.

20. Raise the thresholds and lower the top sills of your front and back doors so that you either trip over the threshold or hit your head on the sill every time you pass through one of them.

21. Keep a roll of toilet paper on your night stand and bring it to the bathroom with you. And bring your gun and a flashlight.

22. Go to the bathroom when you just have to pass gas, "just in case." Every time.

23. Announce to your family that they have mail, have them report to you as you stand outside your open garage door after supper and then say, "Sorry, it's for the other Smith."

24. Wash only 15 items of laundry per week. Roll up the semi-wet clean clothes in a ball. Place them in a cloth sack in the corner of the garage where the cat pees. After a week, unroll them and without ironing or removing the mildew, proudly wear them to professional meetings and family gatherings. Pretend you don't know what you look or smell like. Enthusiastically repeat the process for another week.

25. Go to the worst crime-infested place you can find, go heavily armed, wearing a flak jacket and a Kevlar helmet. Set up shop in a tent in a vacant lot. Announce to the residents that you are there to help them.

26. Eat a single M&M every Sunday and convince yourself it's for Malaria.

27. Demand each family member be limited to 10 minutes per week for a morale phone call. Enforce this with your teenage daughter.

28. Shoot a few bullet holes in the walls of your home for proper ambiance.

29. Sandbag the floor of your car to protect from mine blasts and fragmentation.

30. While traveling down roads in your car, stop at each overpass and culvert and inspect them for remotely detonated explosives before proceeding.

31. Fire off 50 cherry bombs simultaneously in your driveway at 3:00 a.m. When startled neighbors appear, tell them all is well, you are just registering mortars. Tell them plastic will make an acceptable substitute for their shattered windows.

32. Drink your milk and sodas warm.

33. Spread gravel throughout your house and yard.

34. Make your children clear their Super Soakers in a clearing barrel you placed outside the front door before they come in.

35. Make your family dig a survivability position with overhead cover in the backyard. Complain that the 4x4s are not 8 inches on center and make them rebuild it.

36. Continuously ask your spouse to allow you to go buy an M-Gator.

37. When your 5-year-old asks for a stick of gum, have him find the exact stick and flavor he wants on the Internet and print out the web page. Type up a Form 9 and staple the web page to the back. Submit the paperwork to your spouse for processing. After two weeks, give your son the gum.

38. Announce to your family that the dog is a vector for disease and shoot it. Throw the dog in a burn pit you dug in your neighbor's back yard.

39. Wait for the coldest/ hottest day of the year and announce to your family that there will be no heat/air conditioning that day so you can perform much needed maintenance on the heater/ air conditioner. Tell them you are doing this so they won't get cold/ hot.

40. Just when you think you're ready to resume a normal life, order yourself to repeat this process for another six months to simulate the next deployment you've been ordered to support.

Funny but spot on,
Jordan

Friday, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan,

No apologies for the low blow -- I never agreed that I was fighting to Queensbury rules.

I think a good joke causes the listener/reader to chuckle inwardly.

Your "whole truth" joke hit the spot for this reader.

But listen Jordan, it is obvious to me that low self esteem is an issue for you. I am right, aren't I?

Go on, ask me how I know.

Saturday, July 21, 2007  
Blogger Jordan & The Tortoise said...

Mike,
I have never thought of low self esteem as being an issue. Most people would say I was full of myself. But that could be a defenceive ruse.

But since you mentioned it I looked it up, apparently there are three “faces” of low self esteem and I am all three!

I have low self-esteem and multiple personalities to!

The Impostor: acts happy and successful, but is really terrified of failure. Lives with the constant fear that she or he will be "found out." Needs continuous successes to maintain the mask of positive self-esteem, which may lead to problems with perfectionism, procrastination, competition, and burn-out.

The Rebel: acts like the opinions or good will of others - especially people who are important or powerful - don't matter. Lives with constant anger about not feeling "good enough." Continuously needs to prove that others' judgments and criticisms don't hurt, which may lead to problems like blaming others excessively, breaking rules or laws, or fighting authority.

The Loser: acts helpless and unable to cope with the world and waits for someone to come to the rescue. Uses self-pity or indifference as a shield against fear of taking responsibility for changing his or her life. Looks constantly to others for guidance, which can lead to such problems as lacking assertiveness skills, under-achievement, and excessive reliance on others in relationships.

Yeah!

Actually, looking at my life experiences, I really should have low self-esteem. So I would not deny the diagnosis. But I really don’t dwell on it if I do.

I imagine you came up with it using the mirror principal though.

I like me!
Jordan

Saturday, July 21, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan,

It was the same principle as in your joke -- I think that just about everybody suffers from low self-esteem, although some are better at hiding it than others.

I think it is primarily a vestibular problem -- but seeing that doesn't exempt me from the problem.

Take care (but not too careful),

Mike

Saturday, July 21, 2007  

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