Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coming Back to the Middle Way

To sit upright and still in the full lotus posture, as Gautama taught, with head shaved and body enfolded by a traditionally-sewn robe, is a very physical thing.

To do this physical thing WITHOUT stiffening the neck, WITHOUT pulling in the head, WITHOUT arching and narrowing the back, and WITHOUT fixing the jaw, shoulders, hips, et cetera, is, in the words of FM Alexander, “the most mental thing there is.”

So, inherent in sitting-zen as I have come to practice it, as my 25-year journey has led me to practice it, and as I have endeavored to clarify it on this blog, are two opposing viewpoints of what the practice is -- physical and mental.

Did Eihei Dogen understand sitting in the full lotus posture as the dropping off of both viewpoints?

Yes, he did. Therefore he wrote:

“Practice physical sitting in the full lotus posture.
Practice mental sitting in the full lotus posture.
Practice body-and-mind-dropping-off sitting in the full lotus posture.”

Did Gautama Buddha understand sitting in the full lotus posture as the dropping off of both viewpoints?

Yes, of course he did. His teaching of a middle way between irreconcilable opposites might have been intended not only as a touchstone for philosophers of the third world view, politicians of the third way, and other would-be leaders of mass movements, but also as a kind of solace, through the ages, to the odd lonesome beggar or broken-hearted loser who sat in the full lotus posture.

This blog does not seem to have attracted any kind of a mass following, much to the disappointment of me with my stupid expectations, but one non-blogger wrote to me in a private email that he thought some of the recent posts and comments on this blog were “the dogs bollocks.” Coming from somebody who is content just to get on quietly with enjoying his own sitting-zen and living his own life, this feedback really meant something to me. Maybe my unskilled efforts to clarify the fundamental meaning of the middle way haven’t been completely in vain.


Blogger oxeye said...

"This blog, which was instigated as a response to Gudo’s opening of Dogen Sangha blog, has been part of my effort to teach Gudo. I have tried to clarify what the wrong unconscious tendency is that I know from bitter experience exists in Gudo’s sitting-zen teaching -- the tendency to fix. I expected that, if I could succeed in this, although I may never forgive Gudo for killing our translation partnership, reconciliation between us might be possible. Gudo’s decision might then naturally follow, like day following night, to make me his successor, in accordance with his intention all those years ago."

You have the balls to say publicly what many others would only think. And you have the courage to allow criticism on top of it.

On the other hand, these are only throw-away thoughts.. to be followed by others different and similar tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Oxeye, but the truth may be that I have never taken one courageous decision in my life. I am, to coin a phrase of yours, full of fearful shit.

But, very falteringly and gradually, I am coming to terms with a deeply ingrained fear of being wrong.

My perception, which is admittedly faulty, is that Gudo’s style of teaching entrenched that fear, whereas Marjory Barlow and other skillful Alexander teachers have guided me in the direction of liberating myself from fear.

Even though my perception is unreliable, I have been guided by another standard: my constant criterion for judging everything that has happened to me has been daily practice of sitting in the full lotus posture. I sincerely recommend it.

Ask yourself why, on Dogen Sangha Blog, Michael Luetchord and myself, have been demoted from “Ven” to “Mr.” Have we suddenly become inherently less venerable than James Cohen and the like -- Dharma-heirs of Gudo who have served him for many less years than we have? Or is it a manifestation of the carrot-and-stick method habitually used by members of Japan’s ruling classes, and in former days by officers in Japan’s Imperial Army, in order to control the behaviour of blind donkeys?

When Gautama Buddha spoke of the “skillful means” by which buddhas guide others to disclose true wisdom, was he describing the carrot-and-stick method of controlling donkeys? Or was he describing a “means-whereby” approach, as used by FM Alexander and as contrasted by him with usual bad teaching methods -- i.e.
unconscious “end-gaining” methods such as trial and error, and carrot and stick.

Is there a middle way between the two approaches? Or is one approach simply false and the other just too true?

If we ask the right questions, and gather enough reliable information, there is no courageous decision to make. The decision makes itself, and the truth expresses itself.

Thursday, August 30, 2007  

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