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.


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