Friday, August 31, 2007



E turn
KO light
HEN turn around
SHO luminance, light

NO [particle] of

TAI backward
HO step

O [object particle]

GAKU SUBESHI should learn

“Learn the backward step of turning light around.”

I love this sentence. This sentence has often saved me from myself. It suggests a return to a natural state of being, a more simple, primitive, integrated condition of being, compared with what we are conditioned to accept as normal through education, work, et cetera, in modern industrialized societies. I come to France to investigate the meaning of this sentence. And then I spend too much time tap, tap, tapping away at my laptop, bloody fool that I am. But in this case, I forgive myself. This sentence is worth endeavoring to clarify, in every sense.

“Learn the backward step of turning light around.” It suggests a process of returning to our original state, a simpler state of being, a state of grace. But, and I think this is a vitally important point, it does not suggest a purely unconscious process, it does not suggest a purely autonomic process: it suggests a conscious process, a process that we can and should learn. It suggests a decision to change the direction of our consciousness, to turn our consciousness right around.

FM Alexander said:

“When an investigation comes to be made, it will be found that every single thing we are doing in the work is exactly what is being done in Nature where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously.”

These past 13 years I have not done a very good job of letting people know how totally relevant are the discoveries of FM Alexander to the sitting-zen of Zen Master Dogen. Not to put too fine a point on it, I have made a complete balls-up.

These past few weeks I have been feeling particularly discouraged. But writing the above has cheered me up no end.

Any questions?



IWAYURU what is called
ZA sitting
ZEN dhyana, thinking, zen, meditation
WA [subject particle]
SHU learning
ZEN dhyana, thinking, zen, meditation

TADA just
KORE [emphatic] this, just is
AN ease
RAKU ease
NO [particle] of
HO Dharma
MON gate

“What is called sitting-zen is not learning Zen; it is just a Dharma-gate of being at ease.”

Being at ease is our birthright. Why do we lose it? Why do I feel un-ease, dis-ease?

According to the teaching of FM Alexander, as I understand it, the cause is twofold.

Firstly there is the universal human defect which FM Alexander identified as faulty sensory appreciation, and which he correctly associated with unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions. Secondly there is the desire to gain some end, there is the will to do something. These two in combination with each other, faulty sensory appreciation and end-gaining, cause un-ease.

If I lie in bed all morning snoozing, it doesn’t really matter that my sense is faulty of where my head and pelvis are in relation to each other. Both head and pelvis are safely supported by the bed. But if I get up and enthusiastically endeavor, in my usual grimly determined way, to sit upright and still in the lotus posture, then it does matter -- then my faulty vestibular sense becomes a cause of un-ease.

This summer I had some swimming lessons in the sea from my wife Chie ( I experienced with renewed clarity how wonderful it can be to be liberated from old end-gaining habits. Experience of stillness and movement in water brings into stark contrast the difference between the two approaches that Alexander called end-gaining vs the means-whereby approach.

My wife told me that it can be easier for someone like me, whose ego has never been particularly bound up with being a good swimmer, than for someone like her or my brother whose thing swimming has always been, to drop off old habits and experience a new sense of ease in moving through the water.

I see two implications for anybody wishing to learn Master Dogen’s teaching, that is, for anybody wishing to learn the backward step of turning light around.

(1) The less emotional investment you have in the learning process the better. For God’s sake, don’t follow my example.

(2) A hell of a lot depends on the teacher. Every individual is responsible for himself or herself. The teacher can’t be responsible for the student. Still, a hell of a lot depends on the teacher. Without a good teacher, you are liable to spend a lot of time and energy just practicing your bad habits.

Master Dogen said that the teacher is like a carpenter and the student is like a piece of wood. When you find yourself, under the guidance of a swimming teacher who understands the process, giving up the fearful way of swimming front crawl you have been practicing for 30 or 40 years, and experiencing in its place a new way in which you are much more at ease in the water, the meaning of Master Dogen’s words is refreshed.

Any questions?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Are There Any Questions?

I would like to answer questions on Master Dogen’s rules of sitting-zen, Fukan-zazen-gi, if there are any such questions.

If no questions spring to mind, here are some key words and phrases that might spark your curiosity.

ZAZEN; sitting-dhyana, sitting-zen or sitting-meditation (not “sitting zen”; never “seated meditation”)

GORI NO SA; the slighest gap

SHUSHIN NO KATSURO; the vigorous road of getting the body out

EKO HENSHO NO TAIHO; the backward step of turning light

SHINJIN JINNEN NI DATSURAKU: body and mind spontaneously dropping off

MIMI TO KATA TO TAISURU; ears and shoulders opposing each other

SAIYU YOSHIN SURU; swaying the body left and right

HI-SHIRYO; non-thinking

BODAI O GUJIN SURU NO SHUSHO: practice and experience that gets to the bottom of the Buddha’s enlightenment

KOAN GENJO: laws of the universe are realized

RARO IMADA ITARAZU; no nets and cages

KONSAN; dullness and hyperactivity; passive and active fear

CHIKEN NO SAKI NO KISOKU; a criterion before knowing and seeing

GOTSUCHI NI SAERARU; being caught by stillness