Saturday, September 29, 2007

YOKU-TOKU-INMO: Wanting to Get It

YOKU wanting, desiring
TOKU to get, to attain, to realize
INMO [2 characters] it, the ineffable

“Wanting to get it,”

KYU emergency, urgency
MU duty, task, practice
ZAZEN [2 characters] sitting-zen

“urgently practice sitting-zen.”

In Japanese, these eight characters are read as:

O [object particle]
EN to get
TO [particle]
HOSSEBA if want
KYU NI in haste, urgently, impatiently, promptly, quickly
ZAZEN sitting-zen
O [object particle]
TSUTOME practice, exert oneself, be diligent in, apply oneself
YO [imperative form]

“If you want to get it, urgently apply yourself to sitting-zen.”

Wanting to get the end, be quick in attending to the means.

The first character, YOKU, is smaller than the other seven because it lies at the bottom of a row of characters on the orignal scroll, and I couldn't get the characters in the two photos to match exactly. At the same time, in re-sizing the first photo I deliberately erred on the side of scaling it down, mindful of the final teaching of the Buddha -- SHO-YOKU CHI-SOKU, to have small desire and know satisfaction...

The four characters of the above bit of calligraphy start in the top right corner, so YOKU, desire, is the character in the bottom right.

I dwell on this character YOKU for a reason. The Buddha did not advocate having no desire. He advocated having small desire. Similary, Master Dogen is not telling us in Fukan-zazengi to eliminate our desire to get the ineffable; he is acknowledging that desire, and cautioning us primarily, as I see it, against trying to fulfill that desire through end-gaining Zen. Hence, "Wanting to get the ineffable, be quick to practise sitting-zen!"

In the later version of Fukan-zazengi, Master Dogen changes these eight characters into ten. Instead of INMO [2 characters] in the first clause, he uses INMO NO JI [3 characters]; and instead of ZAZEN [2 characters] in the second clause, he again uses INMO NO JI [3 characters].

JI means matter, thing, fact; used grammatically, preceded by the particle NO, JI turns what precedes NO into a noun phrase.

INMO NO JI that which is it, that which is ineffable, the ineffable

The Buddha’s enlightenment was not only nothing. Even people who have the will to the truth are after something.

Similarly, when an Alexander teacher causes us to fly out of a chair, although the teacher calls it “a bit of nothing,” that is not the whole truth -- we experience it as something. So what is it?

Whatever we say that it is, it is not that. In the effort to understand what it is, an end-gaining buffoon may submit himself to training as an Alexander teacher, and then, understanding that it has a lot to do with vestibular reflexes, the end-gaining buffoon may spend yet more time and money training as a neuro-developmental therapist. And so a view is liable to be formed, again and again, as to what it is. Unfortunately, however, it is always not that.

As an end, it cannot be grasped. But what about the means? Can we grasp the means, can we know the secret, can we possess the subtle method, by which it may be allowed to realize itself?

Again, unfortunately, in our efforts to grasp the secret key that unlocks the treasure house, whatever we have grasped, so far, has always turned out not to be it.

This is one thing, maybe the only thing, that I have learned during the past 13 years struggling to understand what is the secret of the Alexander work: Whatever I have found it to be, it has always turned out not to be that.

The end is something, but it is not that. The means, also, is always not that.

Thus, in the later version of Fukan-zazengi, Master Dogen spelled it out for us even more explicitly:
“Wanting to get that which is it, urgently practice that which is it.”

The meaning is exactly the same as in the earlier version of Fukan-zazengi, but in the later version the recognition is more explicit, that what Master Dogen calls “sitting-zen” is not blind end-gaining Zen, is not regimented, parade-ground Zen, is not the Zen that Mike Cross and the like are prone to think they have mastered already.

Wanting to realize it, urgently attend to sitting-zen -- not to endgaining zen, but to the sitting which is the traditional embodiment of the impossibility of me doing what I want to do, which is to change this into it.

Wanting to realize it, urgently attend to that which is always "not that."

The kind of urgency required may be that of a top batsman batting well against a very fast bowler. His movements appear unhurried, but his mind is working very fast.

Urgency is required, because our unconscious reactions are so quick. We may know intellectually that it is always not that. But fear of being wrong, and the associated tendency of trying to be right, are not only functions of the intellect. Their root goes deeper. The grasping hand and aspiring eye are not susceptible to the weedy power of the intellect alone.

Understanding that our unconscious reactions are so quick, FM Alexander frequently admonished his students: “The conscious mind must be quickened.” He also wrote that “Time is the essence of the contract.” He wasn’t after quick results.

A Japanese proverb says, ISOGABA MAWARE, "When in a hurry, take the indirect route." Thus it may have been that, thanks to ancient individuals like Zen Master Dogen, a bit of the Buddha's wisdom, the wisdom of non-endgaining, seeped even into Japanese culture.

Time is the essence of the contract. And yet, in a learning process that can’t be hurried, the conscious mind must be quickened.

We need plenty of time to forget involvements, to let integration happen spontaenously, naturally -- not trying to get it. And yet, wanting to get it, we are told to practice sitting-zen -- and be quick about it!

If we want to get it, we should urgently practice that which is it -- not learning Zen, not Dogen Zen, not Rinzai Zen, Not Soto Zen, not hardcore Zen, not chin-pulling Zen, not end-gaining Zen.

If we want to get it, quickening the conscious mind, we should deftly practice bowing-zen, exhaling-zen, swaying-zen.

Wanting to get it, we should quickly practice sitting-zen.

Having got it already, Master Dogen instructs us that we should move the body slowly -- but that is material for another post.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Space for Q&A

Black cushion at bottom right is the main place I have been asking questions on Fukan-zazengi every day for the past 12 years, since moving to Aylesbury.

Answers run from right to left along the top.

Are there any questions?

Thursday, September 27, 2007


JI oneself, naturally, of itself, by itself
NEN in such a manner [adverbial suffix]
SHIN body
SHIN mind
DATSU drop off, shed
RAKU fall

In Japanese:


JINNEN NI naturally, spontaneously
SHINJIN body and mind

“Body and mind spontaneously drop off.”

Originally our original face existed. As we sucked on our mother’s breast, we had no conception of body, and no conception of mind. Our original face existed. It didn’t need to emerge.

But as we became educated, as we learnt in biology lessons about the autonomic nervous system and the like, and as we absorbed in english lessons the insights of modern psychology, the conceptions of body and mind became woven into the fabric of our being. Mens sana in corpore sano -- a sound mind in a healthy body. Study Latin and then go to the gym for P.E. After seven years of that, go on to University and from there go on and make your way in the world, progress through a professional career in the law, in business, in education, in government --> FORWARD for the school’s renown ...

“Where the iron heart of England,
Beats beneath its sombre robe,
Stands a school whose sons have made her,
Great and famous round the globe.

Some have born the scars of battle,
Some have worn the scholar’s crown --
Old Edwardians, young Edwardians,
Forward for the school’s renown.

Forward where the knocks are hardest
Some to failure, some to fame.
Never mind the cheers or hooting
Keep your head and play the game.”

FORWARD for the school’s renown. FORWARD where the knocks are hardest. Go to Japan and progress up the karate ranks -- white, yellow, green, blue, brown, and black. Receive the Bodhisattva precepts. Translate Shobogenzo. Train as an Alexander teacher. Receive a certificate of Dharma transmission. Train as a developmental practitioner. Establish a professional practice and grow your business year by year. Keep going forward -- forward and downward, until you are six feet under. That is one direction.

The opposite direction, the direction indicated by Master Dogen in Fukan-zazengi, is BACKWARD. Not forward and down, back and up. Go back and check your basic premises. Which state is happier? Which state is truer? Which state is nearer to buddha? The baby at its mother’s breast? Or the victim of a mens sana in corpore sano education, learning Latin and playing rugger?

FM Alexander wrote:
“I must admit that when I began my investigation, I, in common with most people, conceived of ‘body’ and ‘mind’ as separate parts of the same organism, and consequently believed that human ills, difficulties and shortcomings could be classified as either ‘mental’ or ‘physical’ and dealt with on specifically ‘mental’ or specifically ‘physical’ lines. My practical experiences, however, led me to abandon this point of view.”

That is what FM called it: abandoning a point of view.

I think this quote, from the beginning of Alexander’s book The Use of the Self, is very full of meaning. Alexander never spoke of “Alexander Technique” or “my Technique”; he used to speak of the Work. What he transmitted to his niece Marjory Barlow, and what Marjory endeavoured to transmit to me, in essence, was a truly holistic way of working on the self. To subscribe to something called “Alexander Technique” is to miss the point, just as to subscribe to “Buddhism; the third world view,” is to miss the point. FM, like Gautama before him, was a man who, through practical investigations and practical experiences, working on himself, was led to abandon a point of view.

Abandoning a point of view. That sounds easy enough. So how does one go about it?

Body and mind are false conceptions. In the same way as the maintaining of any lie takes energy, it takes energy to maintain those false conceptions. It takes energy to suppress one’s original features through adherence to false conceptions. Now, according to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, there is inherent in that self-suppressing energy a tendency to dissipate. The 2nd law says that the self-suppressing energy will dissipate spontaneously, unless prevented from doing so (

Thus, in principle, we need not do anything to liberate ourselves from the false conceptions of body and mind. The task is simply to stop stopping the liberation process. If we stop making the unnatural effort that is required to maintain the artificial conceptions of body and mind, they will drop off spontaneously.

It all sounds easy enough.

Unfortunately, we have learned -- thanks to sergeant-majors on the parade ground; thanks to chin-pulling P.E. teachers and the like; thanks to all those who built the British Empire on the mens sana in corpore sano model; thanks to those Japanese educators who decided to base Japan's secondary school system on the brutal Prussian model ("what doesn't kill you does you good") -- we have learned to make unnatural self-suppressing effort without even suspecting what we are doing. So what is required is a process of unlearning, a process of learning to stop doing what we don’t even know we are doing.

In the process of learning to stop doing, there are decisions to do and decisions not to do. Doing is the most physical thing there is. And not doing is the most mental thing there is. So, ironically, the spontaneous process of body and mind dropping off may require some artificial physical and mental effort to initiate it --in the same way that spontaneous flow of water may require some non-spontaneous intervention to remove an obstruction.

Physical effort means, for example, bodily to sit in the full lotus posture. Mental effort means, for example, mentally to sit in the full lotus posture. Effort like this can lead to effortlessness, for example, body and mind dropping off while sitting in the full lotus posture.

The effort required is of a different order from the kind of effort required to translate Shobogenzo, or to persist with this blog. But I don’t stop persisting like this on this blog, because somehow, for my sins, I have been cursed with the certain knowledge that the essence of what Marjory taught me, and the essence of what Master Dogen is saying in Fukan-zazengi, is the same.

Somehow I know with my whole being, in spite of being an infantile fool, that the essence of what Marjory taught me, and the essence of what Master Dogen is saying in Fukan-zazengi, is the same.

“Learn the backward step of turning light around. Body and mind will drop off spontaneously.”

BEN: Effort

KON now, the present
JIN people
KA how? how not?
BEN make effort

In Japanese:

KONJIN people today
NANZO how?
BEN ZEZARU not make effort

“How could people today not make effort?”

The kind of effort Master Dogen has in mind can be understood from the context:

Gautama Buddha devoted himself to sitting for six years before his first turning of the Dharma wheel; Master Bodhidharma devoted himself to sitting for nine years after coming to China. The ancient sages were like that. How could people today not make effort? Therefore we should change our direction, turning away from intellectual work in favour of the backward step of turning light around.

Yesterday I devoted a lot of time to responding to comments on this blog. Last night I recited Fukan-zazen-gi in Japanese. Early this morning I woke with one sentence still ringing in my inner ear:

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

RYU-TOKU-SUI: A Dragon Finding Water

NYO like
RYU dragon
TOKU get, find
SUI water

In Japanese:

RYU dragon
NO [joining particle]
MIZU water
O [object particle]
URU get
GA GOTOKU is like
“Like a dragon finding water.”

The essence of water
No dragon knows,
But unless something stops it,
Downward it flows.

The secret of Zazen
No buddha knows,
But an edifice crumbles,
And consciousness grows.

Monday, September 24, 2007

ZAZEN NO YOJUTSU: The Secret of Sitting-Zen

SHI this
ZA sitting
ZEN dhyana, zen, thinking, meditating
ZAZEN [= ZA + ZEN; one word] sitting-zen
NO of
YO main point, essence, secret, key
JUTSU art, technique, skill, means, artifice, trick, strategem.
YA is

In Japanese:


KORE this
ZAZEN sitting-zen
NO of
YOJUTSU vital art, essential technique, secret

“This is the secret of sitting-zen.”

“When a desire arises [to gain some end], just wake up. In the full sensory awareness of this [end-gaining idea], it has instantly ceased to exist. Taking plenty of time, forget involvements -- naturally become one piece. This is the secret of sitting-zen.”

“The secret of sitting-zen.” Mmmmm. Looks and sounds tempting.

If there is a secret of sitting-zen, I would like to know it. If there is a vital art of sitting-zen, I would like to master it. If there is a golden key to unlock the practice of sitting-zen, I would like to keep it in my pocket. If there is an essential strategem for sitting-zen, I would like to work it out, write a book about it, and copyright it, Mike Cross 2007.

Thus, I would like to turn the true teaching of Master Dogen into its exact opposite. Because I can’t stop end-gaining, I would like to take the teaching which points in the direction of freedom from end-gaining, which points towards a bit of nothing, and I would like to turn that teaching into a bit of something, a bit of something around which I can get my dirty paws, a bit of an end that I can go for directly, even if it kills me.

This is what very easily happens. I continue to experience it happening in myself, all the time. With just a little tucking in of the chin, with just a bit of using the Alexander directions to organize myself, with just a hint of grim determination, I turn the truth into fraudulence.

I am such a fraud I should write a book: Teach Yourself Enlightenment in 12 Easy Lessons -- A Proven Method of Allowing the Head Forward and Up, As Endorsed by A-list Celebrities. By the Certified Zen Master and Alexander Teacher, Mike Cross; only £12.99 from all good booksellers. (All Rights Reserved.)

I am not the only fraudulent one. The world of so-called “Dogen Zen,” and the world of so-called “Alexander Technique,” are rife with chin-pulling and other more subtle forms of self-arrangement.

What Master Dogen means by JI-JO-IPPEN, “naturally becoming one piece,” or HI-SHIRYO “non-thinking,” I cannot tell you. I cannot tell you because I don’t know. I do not know. I do not bloody well know.

I don’t know what the secret it. What I know, at least a bit, is what it is not.

“This is the secret of sitting-zen.”

I don’t subscribe to the statement “The secret is that there is no secret.” There is a secret. Master Dogen strove to express, as best he could in words, what the secret is. Old Alexander teachers have exhausted themselves in the effort to reveal to me what the secret is.

The problem I have repeatedly encountered is that, whatever I think it is, whatever bright idea about it I come up with, it is always not that.

Pulling in the chin is not it. Shaving my head, putting on the Buddha’s robe, and arranging myself into a posture that looks good, is not it. My habitual attitude of grim determination to understand it, and to let others know about it, is not it. But a secret there is, in the backward step which, with consciousness, we can learn.

“Taking a long time to forget and naturally becoming one piece,” and “non-thinking,” are both expressions of the backward step which, with consciousness, we can learn.

Like an infant who learns balance primarily by falling over, we learn the backward step primarily by making mistakes; by blundering forward -- onward and downward. As a first step, we learn the backward step by “bodily sitting in the full lotus posture,” which is Master Dogen’s own expression of pure endgaining.

But, to add a word of caution to Master Dogen’s exhortation to bodily sit in the full lotus posture, he also exhorted us, before we start end-gaining like that, to meet a true teacher. Such a teacher may be one who is clear in regard to two fundamental misconceptions -- body and mind; form and emptiness. In seeking such a teacher, beware. Even if he says that “body and mind are one,” beware: he may belong to a school of holistic hairdressing. And even if he preaches that “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” again beware: he may be parroting ancient philosophy without ever having realized, by bodily and mentally sitting in the full lotus posture, form as form, and emptiness as emptiness.

The Alexander teacher Patrick Macdonald, who was held in the highest regard by two teachers who taught me, used to speak of “looking the bugger in the eye.” The bugger in question is our own predilection for endgaining. The path of endgaining is always readily available to us. It is our well-worn wrong path, our known path, the path of our habitual inner patterns of misuse of the self -- pulling in the head, arms and legs, and thereby failing to breathe freely and fully. The alternative path, the right path, the vigorous path of getting the body out, is not readily available to us. It is a path into the unknown and it is in general hidden from us.

In fearing to go down the wrong path, we are already on the wrong path. In trying to find the right path, we are already off the right path.

If we persist in putting ourselves in a hopeless situation like this, how can we win? What strategem can help us be a winner? How can we avoid becoming a total loser?

Are there any answers?

Are there any questions?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

JI-JO-IPPEN: Natural Realization of Integrity

JI self, by iself, naturally, spontaneously
(This character, the big one, is originally the same size as the following three. It appears bigger here because on the original scroll it is at the bottom of one line of text, and I don't know how to make one character in one photo the same size as three characters in one photo.)

JO realize, become
ICHI one
HEN piece
IPPEN [= ICHI + HEN] being in one piece, integrity, unity

In Japanese these four characters are read aloud as:

ONOZUKARA by itself, spontaneously, naturally
IPPEN one piece
TO [particle]
NARAN will become
“will naturally become one piece.”

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.

What FM is talking about, what we are learning to do consciously in the Work, is to accept and use the whole self in the carrying out of some activity.

That is also what Master Dogen is pointing to -- accepting and using the whole self in carrying out the act of sitting in lotus.

Not “mens sana in corpere sano,” but the whole self accepting the whole self, and the whole self using the whole self, for and by itself.

This process of the whole self accepting and using itself is as natural and spontaneous as falling rain, as a flowing stream, as leaves rustling in a breeze -- as natural as a robin singing. But, especially for a person who has been educated -- a mens sana in corpere sano -- the process is not habitual.

Because it is not habitual, Alexander spoke of learning to do it consciously, following the conscious means-whereby principle which is opposed to unconscious end-gaining.

Because it is not habitual, Dogen exhorted us to learn the backward step of turning light around.

When we understand it like this, the essential truth of Alexander’s teaching and the essential truth of Dogen’s teaching is so simple. So simple and yet, because our fear and end-gaining run so deep, because the false conceptions of body and mind are woven so deeply into the fabric of our being, so exasperatingly difficult.

Fearing to go down the wrong path, we are already on it. Eager to uphold the right path, we are already off it.

Thus, the teaching is so exasperatingly difficult that we are always liable to turn the teaching into its exact opposite, to turn nothing into something, and then think “I got it.”

That is precisely what my own Zen Master has been doing for the past 70 years. It is also precisely what I habitually do -- turning Master Dogen’s true teaching into its exact opposite.

I am a fraud, a liar, a thief, and a cheat. Not knowing what it was to be true to myself, I took refuge in end-gaining Zen and became the bastard son of the bastard son of the King of Masturbation. If you are wise, you won’t believe a single word I have written on this blog.

(But the camera doesn't lie.)


Saturday, September 22, 2007

BO-EN: Forgetting the Peripheral

The Chinese-sounding reading of these four characters is:

KYU a long time
KYU a long time
BO forget
EN relation, condition, connection, bond, involvement, border -- peripheral thing

Read aloud in Japanese, this phrase would be:


HISABISA NI after a long time, for a long time, over a long time
EN involvement, peripheral thing
O [object particle]
BOJI forget

“Over a long time, forget peripheral things”

How are we to go about forgetting peripheral things?

If you want to hear a good strategy for dropping off to sleep, ask an insomniac.

Forgetting is one of those negative processes -- like dropping off to sleep, or like losing performance anxiety, or like non-thinking, or like releasing a stiff neck -- on which a person can’t get a direct grip. Whatever clever strategy the person comes up with, it always turns out to be just another case of “It is not that!”

Those negative processes don’t respond to urgent intervention. They take time. They need to be given time -- plenty of time. If we bring a sense of urgency to those processes, It doesn’t happen. When we bring a sense of having plenty of time, then It can happen.

When we take plenty of time, we have more opportunity to benefit from the direction in which, courtesy of the 2nd law of thermodynamics (, time’s arrow is pointing.

I must admit that I feel a terrible fraud preaching to others about taking plenty of time. I have always been one for going straight for the target, cutting to the chase.

Do you remember that scene in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life where, in teaching a class on sex education, John Cleese’s character is giving a practical demonstration with his wife. In a line which caused me to hoot with laughter, because it rang all too true with my own experience, he asks his wife: “OK dear, shall we take the foreplay as read?”

In a sense, that is what I am doing on this blog -- going straight for the target, cutting to the chase.

The last time I visited Marjory Barlow, after she moved to her son’s house in her old age, I asked her if she was happy.

“Oh, Yes!!! I am happier now than I have ever been!”

What is the secret?

“As you get older, you don’t worry any more about the things that used to bother you.”

Like what, for example?

[Long pause]

“I can’t remember!”

That story gives us cause for hope. Still, for those of us who are not yet old, the question remains unanswered: How are we to go about forgetting peripheral things?

Having been back in Aylesbury now for one week, I am conscious of being more bogged down here in the tangled skein of peripheral things than I generally am when living the simple life in France. The phone in France very rarely rings, and even when it does I am generally too far away to answer it, working in the garden or sitting in lotus. When the phone rings in England it is more than likely some end-gaining person who wants to involve me in their needy grasping for the solution to some specific problem -- a bad back, or a so-called “specific learning difficulty.” If I were wiser I would see every such person as a great teacher. But, not being wise, I find myself reacting badly to such people, in perfect accordance with the mirror principle. I wish they would all bugger off and leave me alone. As a philosophy on which to build a successful professional practice, I wouldn’t recommend it.

In his book Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, FM Alexander wrote:

It was a strange lack of reasoning that permitted men to make a false division in an organism that can be satisfactorily developed only as an indivisible psycho-physical unity. I was recently discussing this and other kindred matters with a scientific friend, who put the following query to me: “Why have we overlooked these important points for so long?” In reply I referred to the phrase now in such common use: “Life has become so complex.” In my opinion we have here the crux of the whole matter, and I venture to predict that before we can unravel the horribly tangled skein of our present existence, we must come to a full STOP, and return to conscious, simple living, believing in the unity underlying all things, and acting in a practical way in accordance with the laws and principles involved.

“Taking plenty of time, forget peripheral things.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

KAKU-SHI: Being Fully Aware of This

The four characters in their Chinese-sounding readings are:

KAKU wake up, become conscious, become fully sensorily aware
SHI this, it
SOKU just, immediately, at once
SHITSU be lost, vanish

In Japanese, these four characters are read aloud as:


KORE this
O [object particle]
KAKU SEBA if we wake up, if we are fully aware
SUNAWACHI just, immediately, at once
SHISSU [= SHITSU + SU] be lost, vanish

“If we are fully aware of it, it will vanish at once.”

Marjory Barlow would tell me in the course of an Alexander lesson that I was doing things I didn’t know I was doing -- tightening in my throat, for example, in preparation to make a movement.

“I had no idea I was doing that!” I exclaimed to Marjory, on one occasion.

“Of course not,” Marjory replied, “If you realized what you were doing, you wouldn’t do it.”

That’s the problem with end-gaining -- we don’t realize that we are doing it. We don’t realize that, unconsciously, we are saying to ourselves “I am going to gain this end, even if I lose my integrity in the process -- even if it kills me.” We don’t realize that we are doing it. And more than that, we don’t want to realize that we are doing it.

It is a lot easier to realize that others are doing it -- which is where the mirror principle becomes a handy tool. Because it seems to me more and more recently that when the other’s lack of integrity angers me, one hundred times out of a hundred, the hateful other -- the selfish, money-grubbing, fame-seeking, security-craving, dualistic, hypercritical, opinionated, jumped-up, pretentious, arrogant, head-in-the-clouds, know-it-all, manipulative, chin-tucking other; in short, the endgaining other -- is manifesting a tendency that I fear might just possibly exist in me. Because I fear it, I deny it. The denial is fuelled by fear, and especially the fear of being judged as wrong, inadequate, fraudulent, untrue, not a real man, not the real McCoy.

If I were wiser, I would see (not just say but really see) that there can never be anything wrong with me being truly the man, or non-man, I am. But in general I do not see it. I am too busy trying grimly to be right.

The second of the four characters, SHI, “this,” that which is to be brought into awareness, that which will instantly vanish, is not the unreality I fear, but the root fearfulness itself -- the denial, the self-suppression, the end-gaining -- a wrong innner pattern of reaction that is manifested in my manner of sitting. This wrong inner pattern, whose manifestation FM Alexander described in terms of a dystonic head-neck-back relationship, hinders me from fully accepting and fully using myself.

To strive with grim determination to get rid of the wrong inner pattern, the doing, the noise in the system that arises from fearful and greedy end-gaining, is not wise. That might be to redouble the dis-ease.

Grim determination -- the story of my life -- has nothing to do with what Master Dogen is describing with these four characters. Master Dogen is describing a process of natural and instantaneous evaporation of that which arises out of unconsciousness into consciousness. He is suggesting that unconscious end-gaining is not difficult to get rid of; once brought into consciousness, it has already ceased to exist. The difficulty lies not in the fourth character, being rid, but in the first, being fully aware.

KAKU be fully aware -- not only physically or mentally aware
SHI it
SOKU instantly
SHITSU be rid

“To be fully aware of it, is instantly to be rid of it.”

What does it mean to be fully aware? To paraphrase the words of Patrick Macdonald:

The person who sits in lotus must learn to stop doing, to leave himself to It, neither tensing nor relaxing. Further, any emotional involvement in trying to learn what to do, or in what is going on, should be avoided. The best results are gained when the sitter can disassociate himself from what is happening, as if he were sitting on one side watching someone else being sat. If he can do this for a time he will find himself taking his proper part in the process, with an awareness that is quite different and greatly enhanced.

Again, Marjory Barlow used to say to me, “When you think you are wrong, give your directions and go into movement, without a care in the world. Let it come out in the wash!”

What Marjory was telling me was not to try grimly to get rid of the wrong inner pattern. Marjory’s teaching, as I understand it, was to befriend one’s wrongness as a small but essential element of a much bigger and wonderful whole, without trying to get rid of anything.

Marjory’s teaching, in a nutshell, was how not to endgain in moving a leg. I think that what Master Dogen is telling us with these four characters, and with every character in Fukan-zazengi, is how not to endgain in sitting in lotus and allowing our original face to emerge.

Alexander Technique is Alexander Technique. It can be applied to any activity -- robbing a bank, if you like. Sitting-zen is sitting-zen. It can never be any activity other than sitting-zen. But the principle of non-endgaining, as I understand it, is the essential element of both Alexander’s teaching and Master Dogen’s teaching in Fukan-zazengi.

When a desire arises in the mind to go directly for some end, even if gaining that end means destroying myself in the process, “even if it kills me,” the wiser course -- the course I generally fail to follow -- is say No to that desire. To say No to it does not mean to suppress it; it means to let it be, seeing it as a very small part of a much bigger picture.

Let it be and move on -- upward and backward.

Thinking again?
Step back and laugh!
When you enjoy Zazen
You’re on the right path.

The funny thing about that verse is that I wrote it while living at the Ida Zazen Dojo in Ichikawa, 20 years ago, long before I began to see what stepping back might really mean, in terms of accepting and using the whole self -- in terms, primarily, of the head-neck-back relationship.

When I reflect back on those 20 years, I regret that I have wasted far too much time failing to follow my own exhortation to enjoy Zazen, because of being blind to my own endgaining.

My conclusion today is that KAKU-SHI, “being fully aware of this,” does not express grim determination to break the face into a smile. What it might express, at least as I undestand it now, is the kind of awareness associated with stepping back and laughing at one’s own habitual attitude of grim determination.

If I am still around in another 20 years, I hope I will be able to understand it and express it more clearly than this.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

KAKU: Sensory Awareness, But Not of the Endgaining Variety

The Alexander teacher Patrick Macdonald wrote:

‘The pupil must learn to stop doing, “to leave himself” in the hands of the teacher, neither tensing nor relaxing. Further, any emotional involvement in trying to learn what to do, or in what is going on, should be avoided. The best results are gained when a pupil can disassociate himself from what is happening, as if he were standing on one side watching someone else being taught. If he can do this for a time he will find himself taking his proper part in the process, with an awareness that is quite different and greatly enhanced. Alexander named the opposite of this kind of behaviour “endgaining” (i.e., the desire to bring about the end in view, however wrong the means might be).’

FM Alexander’s genius was to find a real, workable way for us, ordinary people of his own time, to begin to free ourselves from the tyranny of our own end-gaining -- without recourse to religion, or to drugs and drink, or to ascetic practice.

Patrick Macdonald, who was taught by FM from the age of 10 onwards, points directly to this way of quite different and greatly enhanced awareness, which is the very oppposite of endgaining.

In the Guardian’s “Great interviews of the 20th century” Francis Bacon tells David Sylvester about his effort to make himself freer in painting the Crucifixion...

FB: I did it under tremendous hangovers and drink; I sometimes hardly knew what I was doing. And it’s one of the only pictures I’ve been able to do under drink. I think perhaps the drink helped me to be a bit freer.

DS: Have you been able to do the same in any picture that you’ve done since?

FB: I haven’t. But I think with great effort I’m making myself freer. I mean, you either have to do it through drugs or drink.

DS: Or extreme tiredness?

FB: Extreme tiredness? Possibly. Or will.

DS: The will to lose one’s will?

FB: Absolutely. The will to make oneself completely free. Will is the wrong word, because in the end you could call it despair. Because it really comes out of an absolute feeling of it’s impossible to do these things, so I might as well just do anything. And out of this anything, one sees what happens.

Francis Bacon was not bullshitting. He was describing a real, genuine struggle to dull the edge of his end-gaining tendency, and thereby to leave himself free to paint. Out of that struggle came an understanding of the freedom that can exist in despair.... “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose. You’re invisible now; you’ve got no secrets to conceal....”

There is truth in that struggle, and in those words. But it is not the whole truth.

If we end-gain for the freedom of despair, relying on drink, drugs, or any other artificial means, then we are turning nothing into something, and tying ourself in knots. In our effort to be free of end-gaining, we are re-doubling the dis-ease. Anybody who looks at a photo of Francis Bacon, with his sunken eyes and depressed posture, can see that his end-gaining efforts to be free to paint, even if they resulted in great art, did not result in him being at ease with himself.

Francis Bacon was not buddha. But he understood something.

That which does itself, I cannot do. But I do try to do it.

So how -- if not through drink, drugs, ascetic practice or other forms of end-gaining -- do I free myself from the desire to do it?

Now, here is the secret: I can learn to see myself trying to do it, I can wake up to my endgaining.

This was where Alexander’s acute skills of observation came in -- the skills of a Tasmanian bushman. Alexander realized that
(1) in trying to do it, I invariably stimulate a universal pattern of misuse of myself, namely, pulling the head back and down onto the shortening spine, and thereby restricting the mechanism of breathing; and
(2) this universal pattern of misuse, associated with end-gaining, can be brought into sensory awareness.

But the sensory awareness involved is, as Patrick Macdonald wrote, “quite different” and “greatly enhanced.”

A few years ago I gave some Alexander lessons to a bloke who had done a lot of sitting-zen practice. He was a strong individual who was very wary of any whiff of authoritarian Zen bullying -- a big strong bloke who I liked a lot. But his big problem from an Alexander point of view was that he would try to feel everything out in an end-gaining way. If I mentioned his head, he would try to feel what was going on in his head. If I put my hand between his shoulder blades, he would try to feel what was going on between his shoulder blades. My job was to pursuade him that feeling like that is not the kind of sensory awareness that frees us; rather , it is just the kind of doing that we are learning to stop.

There is nothing called freedom that I can feel. But there is fixity -- talking in terms of a real person pulling the head down onto the spine and holding everything in -- which I can learn to perceive kinesthetically. I have no sensory register of what freedom is; but I can learn to sense on deeper and deeper levels what it is not.

When I feel centred, strong, fearless, in general it is not that.

What I feel is the wheels getting stuck. When the wheels are running smoothly, there is nothing to feel.

The freer I am, the less there is to feel.

But when something comes up that can be felt, Master Dogen’s instruction here is not to suppress it or to analyse it, but to feel it. Just to feel it. Not to feel it with the body or to sense it with the mind -- that would be end-gaining. To feel it through the acceptance and use of the whole self.

Thus, Master Dogen’s instruction, when some impulse arises, whether it be a thought, a desire, a wish, an emotion, an image, or whatever, is just -- but not in a partial endgaining way -- to wake the whole self up to it.

NEN something in the mind
KI arises
SOKU just
KAKU wake up, perceive, feel, become conscious, become sensorily aware

Rendered into a Japanese sentence, these four characters are read:
NEN something in the mind
OKOREBA if it arises
KAKU SEYO wake up! become sensorily aware!

KO-IN: Light & Shade -- Precious Time

The above five Chinese characters, in their Chinese-sounding readings, are:

(1) MAKU Do not
(2) KO emptily, in vain
(3) DO traverse
(4) KO light
(5) IN shade, yin
KO-IN light & shade, day & night, means precious time.

In English, the natural order of elements would be similar to the Chinese: 1, 3, 4-5, 2 : "Do not pass precious time in vain." Keeping the order of the Chinese wouldn't sound too strange, either: "Do not vainly pass precious time."

But in Japanese the characters are read in a very different order 2, 4-5, 3, 1
(2) MUNASHIKU in vain
(4-5)KO-IN precious time
O [object particle]
(3) WATARU traverse [verb]
KOTO thing [makes WATARU into a noun]
(1) NAKARE Don't do it

"Do not waste precious time."

In Master Dogen's thoughts, a moment spent in genuine enjoyment of sitting-zen is never a wasted moment.

Master Dogen wrote the five characters shown above in classical Chinese style. It would be a bit like an English Christian monk of that time writing monastic rules in Latin. But when those Chinese characters are read out loud, they are read in Japanese, by adding the grammatical inflections KOTO and O, and by changing the order.

Master Dogen wrote Shobogenzo itself in Japanese, although the Japanese includes many quotations in the form of blocks of Chinese characters.

It is ironic that our desire to get to the bottom of Master Dogen's teaching can involve us in troublesome discussion like this -- which Master Dogen himself compared to counting grains of sand on a beach.

At the same time, if you are like me, you will feel a certain satisfaction in the sense of getting it straight from the horse's mouth.

These are Master Dogen's words written, we think in his own hand around 1227. And they are exactly the same words that appear in the later version of Fukan-zazengi as well.

Master Dogen exhorted us, over and over again, not to pass precious time in vain.

Monday, September 17, 2007

GAKU: A Learning Process

The pelvis belongs to the back. The pelvis is not part of the legs, the pelvis is part of the back. The pelvis is the base of the back. Originally, the pelvis is separate from the legs, at the hip joints.

There is nothing that you have to do when sitting in lotus to cause the pelvis to belong to the back. The pelvis belongs to the back already. (This is not “Alexander theory”; this is me, after 25 years investigating Master Dogen’s fundamental rule, telling you straight something that is blindingly obvious to anybody who opens their eyes and investigates honestly what the pelvis is.)

So if you are used to sitting, as I was (having been taught by the carrot and stick method transmitted from one blind end-gaining donkey to another), with the extensor muscles of your back over-working, and your legs and pelvis contracting into each other, so that the pelvis is pulled forward towards the knees, there is no urgency at all for you to do anything about that. There is nothing for you to do.

There may be, however, a lot for you to learn. It may take a very long time, and may involve you making a lot of effort to carry out an activity against the habit of a lifetime, before you really well and truly learn that the pelvis belongs with the rest of the back.

That the pelvis is the base of the back, not part of the legs, is not something anybody can learn, for example, just by reading a book on the Alexander Technique, or just by reading my blog -- although it is possible that reading the words that “the pelvis is part of the back” might spark off or help along a learning process.

The later edition of Fukan-zazengi has nine Chinese characters exhorting us to learn the backward step of turning light around and reflecting light. Those Chinese characters are recited in Japanese as “SUBEKARAKU EKO HENSHO NO TAIHO O GAKU SUBESHI.”

It may be revealing that in the earlier edition of Fukan-zazengi the exhortation is more direct, more urgent, a stronger stimulus to do something, a strong stimulus to end-gaining.

The earlier edition of Fukan-zazengi, the one thought to be written in Master Dogen’s own hand, has only eight Chinese characters, which look like this:

SU should [imperative]
E turn
KO light
HEN turn back, reflect
SHO luminance, light
NO [joining particle]
TAI backward
HO step

“Take the backward step of turning light around and reflecting light.”

Master Dogen decided, when he came to revise his rules of sitting-zen, to add, between the first and second Chinese characters shown above, the extra character read as GAKU, which represents a learning process. So the later version is less an exhortation to do something, less an exhortation to go directly for the end of non-end-gaining, more an exhortation to devote oneself to a learning process that will lead, indirectly, to the dropping off of two deep misconceptions born of end-gaining -- “body” and “mind.”

I rest my case... (temporarily).

Are there any questions?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

HONRAI NO MENMOKU GENZEN : The Original Face Appears

In the run-up to the publication of Shobogenzo Book One in February 1994, I indulged myself in a veritable end-gaining fest. By the end of it I was in a state of great irritability. I had constant pain down the right side of my neck and shoulder. All the stress-busting things I usually did in addition to sitting-zen, such as running, lifting weights, and stretching, didn’t make it better -- if anything they seemed to make it worse.

At that time, clutching at straws, I remembered an encounter I had in the Zen Centre in San Francisco ten years earlier, in 1984, when I had gone to America in dream-hero mode, on a mission to publicize my teacher’s book To Meet the Real Dragon. In the Zendo of the Zen Centre I had been struck by the easy uprightness of a Danish guy practicing there. When I asked him what was his secret he modestly gave the credit to the Alexander Technique. “I am student of the Alexander Technique,” he told me.

Remembering this ten years later, I went to the Maruzen bookshop in Shinbashi and placed an order for two books on the Alexander Technique. The books arrived together on a sunny day in the spring of 1994. I spent the whole afternoon and evening totally absorbed in them. I felt straight away that what I was reading about was going to change my life. In retrospect, I don’t regard either of them as books that I would particularly recommend, but the truth of Alexander’s discoveries shone through them nonetheless. I set about trying in earnest to track down an Alexander teacher in Tokyo.

Eventually, aided by a fellow seeker of the Buddha’s truth, the late Colin Lendrum, I tracked down the Alexander Teacher and improvisational dancer Imre Thormann, and started having lessons with him at his flat near Inokashira Park. I must have been a terribly difficult pupil -- I thought I knew it all already from having read the two introductory books. I remember walking from the station where we had arranged to meet and me excitedly telling Imre that the inhibition and direction Alexander wrote about obviously corresponded to the 3rd and 4th noble truths. Imre stopped me by saying, “OK. Let’s work!”

The big moment in our lessons came when Imre worked on me sitting in lotus. To get an idea of my habitual sitting posture at that time, push your chest forward as far as you can, then vigorously pull your shoulders back and down, and then pull your chin into your neck. Imre used his hands to mould me into a totally different shape, in which my head seemed to be absurdly far forward and my shoulders as if melted into nothing. It felt totally different and yet strangely familiar, like coming home after a very long time. The clincher was when Imre arranged two mirrors so that I could see myself from the side, sitting in the full lotus posture in a totally new way. “That is more your natural posture,” he said, and I knew with my whole being that it was true. Imre had caused my original face to begin to emerge. From that moment on I knew that I was going to throw myself into investigating and propogating the Alexander Technique as deeply and genuinely as I possibly could, without counting the cost.

Within a matter of weeks, having made the decision to return to England to train as an Alexander teacher, I found myself, during a farewell weekend visit to Abe Sensei’s dojo in Ohito, in the Izu peninsular, seeking out the house of a Zazen friend I had made there, Mochizuki San. I wanted to say goodbye before I left. Eventually, after asking around the locality, I found the Mochizukis’ house where I was ushered in for a cup of green tea before the Tokonoma alcove.

From the alcove Mochizuki San pulled out an oblong wooden box containing a treasure he wanted to show me: a facsimile of the original version of Fukan-zazen-gi written by Master Dogen when he returned from China, in his own hand. When he saw my reaction to it, without any hesitation whatsoever, Mochizuki San absolutely insisted that I must have it, that I must take it back to England with me. So here I am, now back in Aylesbury, looking at the scroll hanging on the wall. It reads from right to left and from top to bottom.

If you feel, as I felt, what a wonderful thing it is to see the original characters of the original draft of Fukan-zazen-gi, in Master Dogen’s own hand, don’t thank me -- thank Mr. Mochizuki of Ohito. Light a stick of incense and sit for half an hour in honour of his example of free giving.

The six characters shown above are:
HON root
RAI coming from
MEN face
MOKU eyes
GEN be manifest
ZEN before

HONRAI originally
MENMOKU face, features
GENZEN emerge, appear before one’s eyes

“The original face appears.”

That is what can happen when we quit end-gaining -- body and mind spontaneously drop off, and the original face appears.

That is what an Alexander lesson is for -- to investigate how, when we quit end-gaining, our original face can begin to re-assert itself.

Isn’t that the end we all wish to gain -- to truly come back to ourselves, to regain the state of grace we experienced, before we knew the anxiety of separation, in our mother’s womb or at our mother’s breast?

There is nothing inherently wrong with the desire to gain this end. The wrongness comes in with reliance on wrong means. End-gaining means going for the end directly, without regard to whether one is continuing to accept and use the whole self in the process.

The secret is to gain the end, not by unconscious end-gaining but by attending to the proper means-whereby.

What this means in practice is described with unmatched clarity by Marjory Barlow in her 1965 Memorial Lecture (see, and she demonstrated it to me with unmatched clarity in her teaching room, viz:
• Recognize, as a stimulus to habitual patterns, the desire to gain an end.
• Give up (“inhibit”) this desire.
• Come back to awareness of the new means-whereby the self may be accepted and used as a whole in the gaining of the end in view.
• Allow the action, in which the end is gained, to happen.

Marjory used to say it is like a sticking plaster -- where you apply it, it works. It works if the end in view is to rise from a chair without losing one’s integrity. It works if the end in view is to sit in lotus allowing one’s original face to appear.

It sounds so simple, and it is. But it is not easy.

What actually happens when I have reacted with undue excitement to some little stimulus is that I end-gain for my original features, often calling out in an infantile way something beginning with “Ma.” It usually comes out as “Marion!” but it might just as well be “Master!” or “Mama!” Despite the external features of a big shaven-headed bloke who sits in the full lotus posture, inside I am like a baby exhibiting the full-blown Moro reflex, arms splayed out as if to say “Pick me up, Mummy!”

In end-gaining like this for my original features, I progress further than ever away from the original state of grace that I wish to regain.

The Flower of Dharma continues to turn like this, end-gaining begetting end-gaining, until such time as it turns into its opposite -- until the face of grim determination breaks into a smile; until the backward step of turning light around (EKO HENSHO NO TAIHO) is well and truly learned.

Friday, September 14, 2007



HISASHIKU for a long time
KOTO thing
O [object particle]
NASABA if do

SUBEKARAKU should, must, duly, properly
KORE [emphatic] is just
NARU BESHI should be, will be, must be

“If for a long time you do that which is it, you will be just it.”

Whatever I assert that it is, it is not that.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

ZENNA SEZU: Not Tainted by Chin Pulling


SHU practice, training
SHO verification, experience, enlightenment

ONOZUKARA, naturally, by itself, inherently

ZENNA SEZU is not tainted

“Practice-and-experience is naturally untainted.”

Untainted by what?

I, along with many others, habitually tend to answer that question by pulling back the head.

In boxing, for example, this tendency is recognized as dangerous. The tendency to pull back the head, unless checked, causes the chin to raise up. And every boxer knows that it is not wise to lead with the chin. A boxer who leads with the chin is very susceptible to a blow from one side that will cause the skull to spin rapidly towards the opposite side, which is not a happy experience for the brain.

So boxers in England are taught to keep the chin tucked in. The corresponding instruction in Japan is “ago o hiku,” pull in the chin.

The same instruction, “ago o hiku,” pull in the chin, or “sukoshi ago o hiku,” tuck the chin in a bit, is used by modern-day Zen teachers in Japan. It doesn’t appear in Master Dogen’s rules of sitting-zen at all. I was told that it belongs to “ku-den,” an oral transmission. But I think that so-called oral transmission is not the ancient tradition, and is not the authentic rule. To pull in the chin is just to taint the practice and experience of sitting-zen.

In the few months before I left Japan, at the end of 1994, I met a few times with Tsunemasa Abe, an independent Zen teacher with the spirit of a wild fox. Abe Sensei’s father was a good pal of Master Kodo Sawaki, and old Master Kodo would sometimes stay with the Abe family during the New Year holidays, for example. So old Master Kodo was a grandfather figure to the young Tsunemasa, who started joining in at sitting-zen retreats from the age of about 11. Abe Sensei told me for example how Master Kodo had taught him in detail how to make a good job of taking a piss, not to be in a hurry but to shake off every last drop. The point is that Abe Sensei’s connection with old Master Kodo was very close. Abe Sensei told me that at the end of sitting-zen retreats, Master Kodo used to get severe neck pain, which young Tsunemasa would try to relieve with the aid of a wet towel. Abe Sensei said that, towards the end of his life, Master Kodo recognized that he had been making too much physical effort to maintain a good posture in sitting-zen, and so in his old age he changed his way of sitting and eased off a bit. The phrase which Abe Sensei often repeated in Japanese was, Ningen ga kibaru, “Human beings strain themselves.” For a living Abe Sensei worked as a therapist, using a kind of deep massage technique evolved by his father, and also using hot spring therapy. He spoke a lot about the flow of Ki, by which he meant, as far as I understood it, the vital energy of the universe. As far as Zen teachers were concerned, Abe Sensei completely revered Master Kodo and only Master Kodo.

Before meeting Abe Sensei I had assumed, from reading To Meet the Real Dragon et cetera, that my teacher Gudo Nishijima had also been a disciple of Master Kodo. But Abe Sensei told me that no, it wasn’t so. Master Kodo was choosy about who he accepted as a disciple. When I checked this information out with Gudo himself, he confirmed that it was true -- Gudo continued to attend Master Kodo’s lectures, retreats, and so on, but not as Master Kodo’s formal disciple. And when, in his old age, Master Kodo changed his method of sitting, Gudo by that time was busy with his work on Shobogenzo and as head of Japan Securities and so he was no longer in close contact with Master Kodo.

The above is all background to what I want to say about pulling in the chin. At the same time as I was going to visit Abe Sensei, which I did at his therapy centre in Tokyo, at his family’s old house in Shizuoka (where, incidentally, many of Master Kodo’s effects were stored), and at a hot spring resort called Tamagawa Onsen, I had started having Alexander lessons in Tokyo. I had therefore began to understand that the way I had been taught to sit, pulling my chin back into my neck, was a gross form of end-gaining.

Pulling in the chin in sitting-zen is end-gaining because it is to respond to the desire to sit upright by doing something specific, rather than proceeding from the principle of oneness of the whole body-mind, or, to put it another way, the principle of accepting and using the self.

When I discussed with Abe Sensei the business of pulling in the chin, it turned out that, notwithstanding his admonition that “human beings strain themselves,” he also remained an advocate of pulling in the chin. If you don’t pull in the chin, he said, then the neck won’t be stretched out. That, from an Alexandrian point of view, is bullshit. I have no hesitation in saying that it is bullshit. If Master Kodo taught people to sit like that when he was young, he was wrong. If Master Kodo still taught people to sit like that when he was old, he was still wrong.

It is true that the tendency to pull the head back is the original cause of dis-ease in sitting-zen. But to counter that tendency by doing something like tucking in the chin, is just to redouble the disease. This, for me, is the original meaning of the phrase that Master Dogen discusses in Shobogenzo: “redoubling the disease.”

FM Alexander also recognized pulling back of the head as a wrong tendency. It was a wrong tendency that was causing him to go hoarse while trying to project his voice on stage. So FM set about solving this problem, sometimes known as “clergyman’s throat,” as he described in his book The Use of the Self.

Alexander eventually recognized that to pull the head back was to do something. So, rather than countering the tendency to pull the head back by doing something else, Alexander sought a way to stop doing the wrong thing in the first place.

He describes in The Use of the Self (for a summary, see the transcription of Marjory Barlow’s talk on how he traced the source of the wrong tendency deeper and deeper within, until he eventually found that the secret was to inhibit the desire to feel right in the gaining of his end.

Alexander’s original end was to recite well, but, after solving his own problem, he realized the technique he had evolved to solve his own problem had universal application to the gaining of other ends as well.

Recently I spoke on the phone with my wife in England, just after she resumed her job, after a break in August, of teaching Alexander Technique in the water. She told me of her renewed sense of joy and job satisfaction, seeing the face of a nervous man light up after losing, for the first time, his fear of submerging his face in the water.

The way my wife, brother, and sister-in law (“Swimming Without Stress”) teach is first just to get the customer feeling comfortable in the water. For the first several lessons they don’t even raise the question of swimming as an end to be gained. First they ensure that the person is happy in the water. They follow what FM Alexander called “the means-whereby” approach.

As with swimming, so with sitting-zen. The means-whereby approach of Dogen, Nagarjuna, Gautama, is wholesome, subtle, wise. In its wake follow ease and happiness. Its polar opposite is the end-gaining approach which, as I know well from long experience, is dis-integrative, crude, stupid. Its legacy is fear and its hallmark, which I see so often in the mirror, is grim determination.

It is all very well to elucidate the theoretical distinction that Master Dogen draws in Shobogenzo between polishing a tile (means-whereby) and trying to make a mirror (end-gaining). That theoretical distinction, without true practical guidance, is not worth much.

Alexander’s genius was first to observe what his own end-gaining meant in practice, in the non-abstract terms of pulling back the head, and secondly to find a practical means-whereby he could prevent that reaction in “carrying out an activity against the habit of life.” He didn’t proceed from theory to practice. His theory of “end-gaining vs means-whereby” grew out of practical investigation.

This will be my last post this summer from France; it has been a summer full of growth and I am glad to now find myself endeavoring to clarify the real meaning of Fukan-zazen-gi, like this, using this blog, which involves no financial costs and benefits, either to writer or to reader. This feels like what I am here to do. Somebody recommended me recently “to do more to market yourself as a teacher of Zen” by means of “a nice touchy feely website.” like his own.

But no, fuck that. What is the point of promoting a self that is totally tainted by end-gaining? What I am now endeavoring to do is to promote the practice-and-experience that is inherently untainted, primarily by really enjoying it myself, in the context of a simple life. Writing this blog fits into that scheme of things nicely enough.

My friend is concerned that my efforts appear to be wasted judging from the number of comments received. But I am not in the business of producing stuff for a mass market. Two sitting-zen practitioners who have known me for many years have expressed the view to me in private emails that what I am writing now is the dogs bollocks. That for me is a measure of success.

“Do more to market yourself” says my friend. But I am mindful of Marjory Barlow’s advice: “When successful, do less.”

KOAN: The Universal Law

A mother holds you to her naked breast, and you have no reason to believe it won’t last forever.

A young woman tells you you are The Only One, she could never ever get into bed with another.

A certified Buddhist Patriarch in the lineage of Zen Master Dogen tells you that he has not just one Ejo in Jeffrey Bailey, but four Ejos, and you, Mike Cross, are one of them!

Endorphins flow around and you cannot believe how lucky you are to be swimming in this One Love.

If only it were a liquid, you would distill the essence of it and drink it every night.

If only it were a bird, you would catch it in a net, keep it in a gilded cage, and feed it the best birdseed money could buy.


KO public, common, universal
AN law
KOAN the law of the Universe

GEN be manifest, appear
JO become, realize, be realized

“The law of the Universe is realized.”

Among laws of the Universe, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, as I see it, looking up at the starry night sky here by the Foret D’Andaines where there is no light pollution, is The Big One.

After 18 months of seeming to have your mother’s tits all to yourself, a little sister arrives on the scene.

Again, 18 months after telling you that you are the Only One, guess who is back in England climbing into your best mate’s bed?

Twenty-two years on, the Buddhist Patriarch in question has lost his two American Ejos, including his beloved Jeffrey Bailey, for which he blames the two British non-Ejos, who he now suspects are non-Buddhists and demons, out to disturb the Buddha-Dharma.

That is the way energy flows, the way the cookie crumbles, the way time’s arrow points.

Irrespective of how we wish energy to flow, it has its own inherent tendency to spread out, unless temporarily prevented from doing so ( Energy may be prevented from spreading out, but only for a little while.

Totally oblivous to people’s attachments, flowers fall and weeds flourish.

When you open your eyes, it is blindingly fucking obvious. But much of the time I prefer to keep my eyes closed, and my mind’s eye firmly focused on a certain Egyptian waterway.

I don’t think I’ve quite got over yet the arrival 45 years ago of my little sister.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

RARO: Nets & Cages

Living in this reality of spontaneous flow, the biggest sin I can commit is to become strongly attached to particular people, things, and places, and to become fixed in a particular view.

Being attached and being fixed are, in the end, just manifestations of end-gaining.

This has been the story of my life, especially since my world was shaken by a kiss one autumn evening 28 years ago, and even more so after I saw on a late spring day 25 years ago a small Japanese businessman walking towards me with seemingly random footsteps. Those events are in the long distant past, but the sin of attachment/fixity I commit here and now.

It is a glorious September morning here by the forest -- complete solitude except for twittering from the hedgerow and cooing from the forest.

“The jewel-treasury opens by itself,” and jewels flow out, spontaneously.

That is the message not only of Master Dogen but also of the occasional falling leaf and the flowing stream.

And yet, while being here amidst this, I cannot truly compare myself this morning to a dragon that found water, or a tiger before its mountain stronghold.

We end-gain, it seems, on levels deeper than those of which we are aware.

In an Alexander lesson, we investigate the desire to gain clear and explicit ends. The primary goal of the teacher is, or at least should be, to teach the pupil how to work on him or her self, BY THE CONSCIOUS MEANS OF inhibition and direction. To this end, the pupil is guided to investigate the gaining and non-gaining of ends such as rising from a chair into standing, and extending one leg while lying on a table. The principle is understood that we only wish to gain these particular ends IN THE PROCESS of working against bad habits of using the self (i.e. stiffening the neck, pulling the head into the body, arching and narrowing the back, fixing the hips, et cetera).

In two or three weeks of solitary sitting-zen, long and deeply suppressed desires are liable to come up to the surface. The conscious means-whereby principle, as I understand it, is exactly the same, but the challenge is very much greater. One may sense a lack of ease, or lack of peace, in one’s sitting practice, and one may suspect that the cause is the desire to feel right in the gaining of some end, but the end in question is not ncessarily clear and explicit.

Marjory Barlow was not only an Alexander teacher to me, but also a friend in sitting-zen. In her book, “An Examined Life,” she writes as follows:

“You know the two lovely illlustrations FM gave of directing? he said, ‘It’s like laying down railways lines along which the train will eventually go.’ That’s one.
The other is that it’s as if you live in a forest and you always go from point A to point B, and gradually wear away a little grass path. One day you think there must be a better way so you start going around another way. In time you’ve got two pathways. Then you decide the new one is much, much better so the grass grows over the old one.
Isn’t that beautiful? I love the idea of the grass growing over the old pathways, because he talked about pathways the whole time, you’re making new pathways in the nervous system.
How did he know that? He knew that because he’d done it, that’s how. He knew it based on reality.
He said, ‘In time everything we do in this work will be proved to be right, but only in time, not yet. Every single thing we do here will be proved to be right.’
What a man though, to have that confidence. It was because it was all based on his own experience. Absolutely no equivocation.
All his family thought he’d gone mad, spending hour after hour in front of a mirror. They knew that actors do that anyway, but with his mother anything Freddy did was okay. I don’t think she ever understood about it, but he was her first born.
There’s something to being a first born, do you know that? All my best friends are first born... the one who’s pushed aside. That’s a very cruel lesson we had to learn, that we weren’t the only pebble on the beach, and never going to be again.

As I have written before, I had the sense that as soon as I walked into Marjory’s teaching room for lesson one, she had my number, right down to the deepest level of my being. She saw all my terrible end-gaining, all of it, but was not the slightest bit judgemental about it. Her only interest was to give me the means-whereby I might begin to liberate myself from it.

Being awake to the end-gaining tendency in herself, she was totally undisturbed by mine. What an example she set. What a true teacher she was. She did not affect a lovey-dovey earth mother kind of teaching style. It was not that one sensed from her the strong presence of something called love. It was rather that one didn’t sense any trace of blaming the pupil for his inept end-gaining and irrational fear of being wrong. There was no hint of bullying. Just very very clear understanding of the problem of end-gaining, right down to the deepest level of a person’s being -- right down, for example, to a first born’s desire to regain his infantile status of only pebble on the beach.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

ZA-DATSU RYU-BO: Upright Expiration

This post is inspired by Michael Thaler who writes the blog One Foot In Front of the Other, and in particular by his recent post titled Dropping Away of Body (7th September).

ZA sitting
DATSU drop, expire
RYU standing
BO lose one’s life, die

MO [subject particle]

KONO this
NI [particle] on
ICHI, one, a hundred percent, totally
NIN rely on, be left to, be up to
ICHININ SURU be totally reliant

“[Those who] died sitting or died standing were totally reliant on this power.”

When I went to in Japan in January 1982 I was totally enthusiastic about Okinawan Goju [“Hard-Soft”] Ryu Karate-do, which I saw as the path on which I was determined (grimly) to plod, one foot in front of the other. That was very much my philosophy at that time. I expressed this sentiment to two English mates in Tokyo, who responded by giving me the piss-taking nickname “Plodder.”

Maybe this was one reason I was struck, when I read it later in that year, by the exhortation in Fukan-zazengi to “learn the backward step of turning light around” (EKO HENSHO NO TAIHO O GAKU SU BESHI).

Reading Michael’s post in which he describes his gradual loss of freedom in his body, it struck me that one step at a time is an excellent philosophy whatever direction a person is going in -- not necessarily plodding forward and onward but also retreating in backward steps.

Master Dogen indicates that the backward step, i.e. letting go, is a step that we can learn. This strikes me as very hopeful.

I wonder to what extent it is possible really to be there at the moment of one’s final letting go, so that it can be not just the losing of a fight, not just the inability to take another step forward, but rather a final conscious act, an act of letting go, a final backward step.

I heard the Dalai Lama describing on TV how, when he thinks of dying, he feels not fear but rather a bit of excitement. He seems to be looking forward to that final moment as a kind of adventure, the ultimate challenge.

There is no point worrying how we will be at that final moment. But that future possibility that Master Dogen points to can inform our practice here and now.

In a sense, to learn the backward step of turning our light around may be a kind of preparation for that final opportunity to decide to let go. The secret, as always, is in the preparation. The readiness is all.


KATSUTE in the past
MIRU to look into, to see

CHO transcend, surpass
BON ordinary, profane
OTSU transcend
SHO saint, sacred

ZA sit
DATSU drop, die
RYU stand
BO die

MO also [subject particle]

KONO this
CHIKARA power, ability
ICHININ SURU be totally reliant on

KOTO thing, fact [used grammatically]

“We see in the past that those who transcended the profane and transcended the sacred, and who died sitting or died standing, were totally reliant on this power.”

DO MOTO ENZU: All Being Soaked in the Way

Don’t take what I write personally, MT, especially seeing as we have never met. To the increasing annoyance of my missus back in Aylesbury, I am still at play by the forest in France and there is only one person of cheap views around here. On this blog I am only really talking to myself, while working on a totally non-definitive, not copyrighted, no rights reserved translation of Fukan-zazen-gi, which I start again from scratch every day. You are a very welcome eavesdropper, but I am only preaching to myself. Sometimes, afraid of being ridiculed for being too intellectual, and following the mirror principle, I call myself “MT” -- Mike Too-clever-by-half.

What tends to happen when MT has become confused is that we try to clear up the confusion, and in the process of trying to clear up the confusion, we increase the confusion -- thereby almost completely losing the vigorous road of getting the body out (HOTONDO SHUSSHIN NO KATSURO O KIKETSU SU).

At the root of the confusion, as I see it, having had plenty of opportunities to observe the process in myself, are two essential elements: (1) end-gaining, (2) reliance on wrong feeling -- i.e. faulty processing of incoming information relating primarily to where I am in the gravitational field, muscle tone, where body parts are in relation to each other, et cetera.

I have said that I don’t know what HI-SHIRYO, “non-thinking,” is. That is not a rhetorical device. I really don’t. What I have understood, and what Master Dogen is clearly telling us, is that HI-SHIRYO is not a function of the grim determination of habitual MT, the end-gainer who yearns to cut the root of confusion, once and for all, for self and others. HI-SHIRYO is a function of the ease and happiness of one who enjoys modestly and simply attending to the true means-whereby.

“Revere a person who is through with study and free of the intention to achieve.”

Don’t be afraid, MT, of your end-gaining tendency: Master Dogen’s instruction is simply to wake up to it. Even now, as you face the computer screen, you can probably let go of something and allow yourself to breathe a little easier. You might even find the face of grim determination spontaneously breaking into a bit of a smile.

And don’t worry about not knowing what is Gautama’s true means-whereby, as if it were something that was available to the likes of Gatauma, Nagarjuna and Dogen but not already abundantly available to you and me.


DO, the truth/way, bodhi, the Buddha’s enlightenment
MOTO originally, inherently
EN circular, all around, integrally
ZU pervades

“Enlightenment originally is all round.”

We are living in the true means-whereby.
Our life from beginning to end is a treasure lived in treasure. Adhering with grim determination to the principle of end-gaining Zen, Hardcore Zen, we try to buy it by dutifully doing our sitting practice in the right posture. After a number of years like this, what once felt unfamiliar and wrong comes to feel right. Sitting in lotus ceases to be some exotic practice and becomes our own thing. After 10, 30, 50, or 70 years of having a wonderful time like this, doing our thing, we may think to our ourselves, and insinuate to others, that we have finally got the treasure itself:

“Now that I have got the treasure myself, I deeply wish to let others know about it. So I would like to publish a definitive translation of Master Dogen’s writings, and I would like to establish a Buddhist version of Al Qaeda, in order to assert that the true means-whereby is just [action which is] different from thinking.”

Or just realism. Or just balancing the autonomic nervous system. Or just Alexander’s teaching of inhibition and direction. Or just the ordinary mind. Et cetera.

But it is always not that. If the true treasure were that kind of partial treasure, something definitive, subject to copyright, subject to dogmatic assertion, we might fear somebody unfairly stealing our treasure from us when we were not around to guard it.

Meanwhile the sun is out, the birds are singing, and the brook is babbling.

“The jewel-treasury is opening itself.”

Sunday, September 09, 2007

ZAZEN NO YOJUTSU: The Vital Art of Sitting-Zen

ZAZEN sitting-zen
NO [particle] of
YO vital, pivotal
JUTSU art, technique, secret

“The vital art of sitting-zen.”

In the previous post I wrote that Master Yakusan’s phrase HI-SHIRYO “non-thinking,” was Master Dogen’s mature expression of the vital art of sitting-zen. His mature expression, in other words, was not his own expression.

In his original version of Fukan-zazengi written on returning from China, Master Dogen expressed the vital art of sitting-zen in his own way, using four sets of four Chinese characters. As I am in France now, without the original text (a facsimile of which hangs on my wall at home), I am going to quote the 16 characters from memory -- please don’t sue me if I make a mistake in their pronunciation.

NEN thought, wish, desire, emotion, worry, image, impulse -- anything that comes up
KI arise
SOKU just, immediately
KAKU wake up

KAKU wake up
SHI this, it
SOKU just, immediately
SHITSU vanish, be lost, cease to exist

JO long time
JO long time
BO forget
EN connections, involvements, peripheral things -- anything irrelevant to the practice and experience of sitting-zen here and now

JI naturally, spontaneously
JO become, realize
ICHI one
HEN piece

“If anything arises in the mind, just wake up.
Wake up to it, and immediately it will cease to exist.
Forgetting involvements forever,
To spontaneously become one piece:
This is the vital art of sitting-zen.”

Master Tozan Ryokai, an ancestor in Master Dogen’s lineage, had previously coined the phrase TA-JO-IPPEN.
TA means to strike. It is used emphatically to indicate doing something decisively, as in SHIKAN TA-ZA “just sitting”
TA-JO-IPPEN means “Become one piece by action.”

In seeking to understand what Master Dogen meant by “the vital art of sitting-zen,” I have often asked myself
(1) why Master Dogen first changed Master Tozan’s TA-JO-IPPEN into his own JI-JO-IPPEN;
(2) and why Master Dogen later dropped his own expression in favour of the exchange between Yakusan and the monk, to express the same “vital art of sitting-zen.”

Why was TA-JO-IPPEN not it, and why, in the end, was JI-JO-IPPEN not it either?

Why was TA-JO-IPPEN not it?

I think that Master Dogen, even as a young man of 26 or 27, saw the danger of Tozan’s more positive expression, which can easily point the stupid in an end-gaining direction -- on the side of physical doing.

Any approach which aims at body-mind integration, i.e. health, without taking into account acceptance and use of the whole body-mind, is an end-gaining approach. The end-gaining approach can be observed in many supposedly ‘holistic’ disciplines including bodywork and psychotherapy, as well as in Western medicine in which drugs are used without clear appreciation of accompanying side effects and without truly seeing the patient as a dynamic whole. The end-gaining approach can commonly be observed in Alexander work and in Zen practice, when those disciplines are understood and taught wrongly. If you understand what end-gaining is, you doubtless find plenty of manifestations of end-gaining in what I write. My habitual attitude of grim determination is just end-gaining. When I stop end-gaining, what do I have to be grimly determined about?

An approach to body-mind integration that encouraged us just physically to sit in the full lotus posture would be end-gaining if it went no further than that, i.e. if it took into account only unconscious, autonomic functions while negating any role in the process for mental faculties such as volition, intention, reason, conscious awareness, et cetera.

I think this is why Master Dogen preferred JI (spontaneous, natural) to TA (striking, doing, acting) -- because JI conveys no sense of going for the target directly by physically doing something, i.e. no sense of end-gaining. I am not suggesting that Master Tozan’s approach was end-gaining. I am suggesting that Master Dogen was wary of Master Tozan’s words being wrongly interpreted by ignorant people who didn’t understand the problem of end-gaining. I think this is why Master Dogen looked for an expression which more explicitly expressed sitting-zen as a NON-end-gaining practice and experience, as a practice and experience whose original nature -- before we taint it with our clever doing and stupid worrying -- is effortlessness, spontaneity.

Why, then, was JI-JO-IPPEN not it?

The view of practice that Master Dogen expressed with the 16 characters quoted above was a truly excellent view. I think that by the time he entered his 40s, Master Dogen had grown to see it as such: that is, as his own excellent view, as an excellent view that he had continued to uphold. But my holding of my view, any view, is itself a bit of attachment, a bit of fixity, a bit of stiffening the neck, a bit of end-gaining. To keep holding any view of my own, even a brilliant one, is, on some level, a kind of failure to carry out the act of sitting in the full lotus posture, AGAINST the end-gaining habits of one’s lifetime.

I think that somewhere along the line Master Dogen recognized, even in regard to his own brilliant view, insofar as he was continuing to uphold it, “No. It is not that!” So he decided to follow the other, dropping off his own expression, brilliant though it was. He decided to rely instead on the words that a buddha-ancestor had naturally spoken when asked to express what the young Master Dogen had striven to express in his own words, that is, “the vital art of sitting-zen.”

The monk asked the other, and the other spontaneously expressed itself: HI-SHIRYO

HI anti-, against
SHIRYO thinking

What against what?

If I ask the question with my habitual grim determination, that is not it. After I have asked the question, whatever answer comes up, that is not it. Whatever brilliant idea comes up, that is not it. Whatever suppressed emotion comes to the surface, that is not it. Whatever blind instinctive reaction is aroused, that is not it. Whatever confident view emerges, that is not it.

It is always not that.

Are there any questions?