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.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike C:

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

I believe you. The descriptions that you have posted up in many ways sound/feel very familiar to me even though I have not studied AT.

But what if there is a lot of overlap. So what! How does that in any way help you?

When you arise and sit on the Zafu do you practice AT in doing it?

If you are grasping at two things instead of one what difference does it make?

I'm just glad that you appear to have had a true teacher even if she is no longer available for you. That's worth a lot.


8:11 PM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

The purpose of this blog is to allow the true meaning of Fukan-zazengi to assert itself.

If through fear of being wrong/trying to be right I get in the way, that is my fault and part of my learning process. It is nobody else’s problem.

In the end it is up to each person to do the work for himself. We should each mind our own business.

Master Dogen wrote Fukan-zazengi not only to guide me in my sitting-zen practice, but to guide every body in his or her own sitting-zen practice.

7:28 AM  

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