Tuesday, November 20, 2007


"Why expend effort?"

Master Dogen is denying a particular kind of effort; namely, the effort of wrong doing which stems from an endgaining idea.

Alexander Technique teacher Patrick Macdonald wrote:

"In learning the Technique considerable effort on the part of the pupil is required. A first step is to learn what sort of effort is necessary. The first essay nearly always produces more muscular tension, particularly in the neck, and this is exactly the opposite of what is required. 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)."

Macdonald also wrote, probably as a result of reading Herrigel's book Zen in the Art of Archery:

"It is noteworthy that the Alexander Technique, like Zen, tries to unlock the power of the unknown force in man. Compare the Zen 'Let it do it' to Alexander's 'allow your body to work as Nature wishes.' The techniques for bringing this about are, no doubt, different."

It is interesting that Macdonald saw this parallel. But the Zen of Archery, the Zen of which Herrigel wrote, is Soto Zen, or Rinzai Zen. It is the Zen of Zen Masters, it is the Zen of Zen Mind, Beginners' Mind, it is the Zen of Zen gardening and Zen temples. It is the Zen of the Zen koan. It is the Zen of Zen meditation. It is not the sitting-zen of Master Dogen.

If there are two different techniques, a Zen technique and an Alexander technique, I am not aware of either of them. What I am aware of, both in my sitting-zen practice and in giving or receiving hands-on Alexander work, is the choice of going in one of two directions.

The first direction, my habitual one, is forward. Forward where the knocks are hardest, Some to failure some to fame, Never mind the cheers or hooting, Lower your head and, with grim determination and enormous effort, play the game.

The alternative direction, the opposite one, is backward. This latter direction also requires effort, but it is not effort to realize an endgaining idea; it is rather effort in exactly the opposite direction. It is effort not of doing but of learning, but not the kind of learning that goes on in school. EKOHENSHO NO TAIHO O GAKU SUBESHI. "Learn the backward step of turning light and luminescing." It is an effort not to achieve but to allow: to allow a spontaneuos flow of energy which can begin to happen when an endgaining idea is given up, or inhibited.

When my wife and I met, in our late 20s, we were both into gym work. We met in the gym of a sports club which she was managing. So were both quite muscly and at the same time quite stretchy, as a result of lifting weights, stretching, running, swimming, et cetera.

Despite all this athletic effort, I had notoriously cold feet. On one winter evening my then karate teacher Sensei Morio Higaonna pointed at my purple toes and said with a greatly amused chuckle: MIKE! CHI NO MEGURI GA WARUI NE? -- literally, "Mike, your blood circulation is poor, isn't it?" I wondered why my teacher had found this observation so amusing. Later I understood that to have poor circulation means, metaphorically, to be slow on the uptake.

But last night as I lay in bed watching my favourite Newsnight presenter, the master of intolerant grouchiness Jeremy Paxman, my wife interrpupted my viewing by saying, "Mike, your feet are so warm!"

Ha! Ha! Ha! The race is not always to the swift.


Blogger Michael Kendo Tait said...

Surely Master Dogen's 'Why expend effort?' was referring to his own great question that, if the accounts are to be believed, packed him off to China. Namely and paraphrasing someone:

'If the truth is all around, why expend effort to attain it?'

What use is persistent zazen and study in pursuing the truth that already exists and in which this consciousness itself is already included?

What one becomes painfully aware of in the process of practising zazen over some time is that we are already making efforts, of all kinds, strenuous ones, to achieve, to be happy, to satisfy all kinds of urges, those with names and those that shall remain nameless.

How do we cease from preventing the truth from expressing itself?

As you put it some time ago: 'How do we do an undoing?'

We cannot do an undoing. We cannot do it while practising zazen. We cannot do it. 'Leaving ourselves in the hands of the teacher' might mean trusting ourselves to the posture of zazen. We can only be undone.

Being undone we can only be.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Hi MT,

Yes, we cannot do undoing. And neither can we know undoing. But we can learn to glimpse our own doing.

In using the word "zazen" in an English sentence there might be just a tincy bit of doing. And to write of "the posture of zazen" might be to add a wee bit of an insult to a tincy bit of an injury.

The words "zazen" and "posture" appear frequently in the Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo, in sentences where they have no need to appear. To that extent, I may be responsible for having helped to mystify the practice and experience of sitting-zen. In some sense, I must be partly responsible for you writing about "the posture of zazen."

I have contributed to the process of mystification. As far as possible, I would like to contribute to the process of de-mystification.

Michael of One Foot in the Other writes, to an English audience, of JUKAI. JU means to receive or accept. And KAI means the precepts. JUKAI means receiving the bodhisattva precepts. So what on earth is the point of using the Japanese words? Why not write of receiving the bodhisattva precepts?

Why do we write of zazen, as if the Japanese word ZA was more meaningful than the English word to sit?

It is a little bit of doing, a little bit of mystification, a little bit of pretense, a little bit of fake elephantery. But we are all, all too easily, guilty of it.

To hell with the posture of zazen. To hell with all things Japanese.

The practice and experience that penetrates bodhi is sitting-dhyana.

If we are going to use foreign words, let us use those that go back to the origin, like bodhi and dhyana. Let us dispense with the fake elephantery that the Japanese revere so much.

As for "posture," Master Dogen writes of KEKKAFUZA, full lotus sitting. Responsibility for translating KEKKAFUZA as "sitting in the full lotus posture" rest with me.

So I have helped not only to mystify sitting-zen, i.e., sitting-dhyana, but also to foster a misconception about putting our trust in a posture.

I am like the GI in vietnam who sent in the coordinates for a napalm attack on his own position. If you want to glimpse your own doing, understand how a wanker like me ended up devoting himself to serving the bastard son of the king of masturbation.

3:57 PM  

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