Monday, December 17, 2007

Altogether, One after the Other: A Non-Buddhist Sangha Manifesto

What is wrong with the Soto Sect? What have I got against the Soto Sect? There might be a clue in the name.

I was hoping to finish making another sitting-platform tomorrow, before going back to England. I made one last week already, with two oak beams that I drove happily back from a local woodyard, atop my old blue Astra van. Flushed with success, I was looking forward to making one for the opposite wall. I constructed the frame last night -- a job that kept me warm as the thermometer plummetted. So I was looking forward to a trip to the woodyard this morning to pick up another couple of oak beams. I planned to pop in to the bakery on the way there and pick up a nice crusty baguette to scoff when I got back. It was a nice idea, but the van wouldn't start. I have been charging the battery all day and trying again, but it still won't start. Evidently I wasn't meant to get the wood today. So I have lit a fire and brought my laptop here by it, where I sit in lotus, wrapped in a fleece, ready for a good old grumble about sectarianism.

The manipulative little bastard who I call my teacher intends Dogen Sangha to be in the middle way between the Soto Sect and non-Buddhism. I think that means Dogen Sangha is not quite a sect, not quite a cult, but just half way to being a sect or a cult. I was never keen on the idea of Dogen Sangha, except that I found it difficult to give up the expectation of being nominated as the next leader of it. But especially since that expectation was not realized, I begin to see more clearly the virtue that non-Buddhism might have.

In Shobogenzo there are two characters pronounced GEDO, which mean "off the way." In his original translation of Shobogenzo into English, Gudo Nishijima translated these as "non-Buddhist" or "non-Buddhism," and in our joint version I failed to change the translation of GEDO. But I think to use "non-Buddhism" as a translation of GEDO does a grave injustice to non-Buddhism. The fundamental point of Fukan-zazengi might be just non-Buddhism.

I don't belong to the Soto Sect. Never. And I might not belong to Buddhism either. I belong to the teaching of Fukan-zazengi.

The Buddha-Dharma is just to sit. Just to sit is the Buddha-Dharma. And just to sit is the fundamental point of Fukan-zazengi. So Fukan-zazengi evidently embraces two-thirds of the Three Treasures.

On the basis of Fukan-zazengi, then, what is the meaning of Sangha?

The first clue might be in the title -- "Rules of Sitting-Zen Recommended Everywhere." The target Sangha of Fukan-zazengi is.... everybody everywhere. Fukan-zazengi is non-sectarian. So so am I. To me the word FU conveys a sense of a horizontal Sangha, a universal community of individuals, without hierarchical position.

Another clue might be in the exhortation SO-SO NO ZANMAI O TEKISHI SEYO, "succeed authentically to ancestor-ancestor samadhi." The words SO-SO conveys the sense of a vertical Sangha, a lineage via which samadhi, the stillness of just sitting, has been transmitted from Sakyamuni Buddha on down.

Regardless of the views and opinions of self and others about what a Sangha is, what I can say from my own actual experience is that I have been sitting in lotus every day for more than 25 years, and for the vast majority of those days I have not sat in a group but have sat on my own.

The person who transmitted the Dharma to me, Gudo Nishijima, similarly, in his daily life, generally sat on his own, facing a vertical wooden beam in his house. "The beam was my teacher," he once joked. When I met him and started my own daily sitting-zen practice, on my own, there was no such thing as Dogen Sangha. That is why it is difficult for me to see Dogen Sangha as fundamental. Dogen Sangha, to me, is more the afterthought of an old control freak.

In theory I shouldn't be like this! In my dreams, I was destined to be this and that. But in fact here I am on by the forest, with only frozen trees and frosty grass for company, with my right shoulder burning and left side freezing, hoping that an old van will start and not having much of a clue what to do if it won't start.

I have spent most of my life training myself in preparation to be the real McCoy. I expected that Alexander training would make me a true teacher of real Buddhism. I never expected that I would find myself preaching non-Buddhism. But a year or two ago my teacher opined that I was a non-Buddhist, and when I started to think what it meant to be a non-Buddhist, I began to see that, yes, a non-Buddhist is, unexpectedly, just what I have become.

After I read yesterday on Michael Thaler's blog One Foot in Front of the Other about his practice of a "sesshin," and his intention to receive "Buddhist" precepts, as part of a "Zen Buddhist community," I felt something akin to revulsion. My increasingly clear conviction is that I don't belong to any of that, and that the fundamental point of Fukan-zazengi is pointing me away from all that. "Sesshin" is a disgusting Japanese word, invented by some latter-day sectarian Japanese shitbag, never used by Master Dogen at all. English-speakers use the Japanese word as if it were authentic, but it is totally not authentic. The traditional period for a retreat that Master Dogen advocated is just 90 days. There is no such thing as a sesshin.

Similarly, Michael, if you receive the bodhisattva precepts, you do so as a bodhisattva, working for the salvation of all. If you think you are a "Buddhist" belonging to a "Zen Buddhist community," you are not a bodhisattva, but a species of Buddhist wanker, excited only by your own idea. Mindful of the mirror principle, I speak of course from personal experience.

We are all in it together, side by side. At the same time, there is a transmission that has continued, one ancestor after another, and its criterion is just accepting and using the self in stillness. The self means the whole self.

Thus, to understand the meaning of Sangha, as I see it, on the basis of the teaching of Fukan-zazengi, one has to be at ease with the paradox inherent in the phrase "Altogether, one after the other."

Being at ease means being totally at ease -- head, heart, pelvis; neck, head, back, legs and arms, one after the other. All together, one after the other.

The conclusion I am drawing to, fanciful though it may sound, is this:

To understand the true meaning of Sangha is to forget involvements and spontaneously become one piece -- which is the vital art of sitting-zen.

Again, true preaching of non-Buddhism is realized only by means of non-thinking -- which is the vital art of sitting-zen.

It may be that those who consider themselves as belonging to the Soto Sect, or who consider themselves as Buddhists to be above non-Buddhists, are like that because of never having got the fundamental point of Fukan-zazengi.

10 Comments:

Blogger Michael Kendo Tait said...

'To understand the true meaning of Sangha is to forget involvements and spontaneously become one piece -- which is the vital art of sitting-zen.'

What else could it possibly be? I don't understand why you suggest this may be fanciful. It's what we do, alone and together.

I share your distaste for trappings and exclusive clubs. Setting ourselves apart is just what it sounds like.

But I wonder whether it isn't a good thing to sit together with others, in that hall of mirrors that constantly show us the truth. Also few of us are as disciplined as you Mike, to sit every day for hours. We need encouragement and support from our friends.

Perhaps these things too are the meaning of Sangha.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Mike Doe said...

I think there is a middle way!!

Between Buddhist an Non-Buddhist, there is Buddhish and Buddhishm.

Somewhere between attachment to either extreme...

10:47 PM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, MT. "No trappings" is a nice phrase -- a turning word.

FM Alexander wrote a book that might be relevant to this discussion: "Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual." When someone suggested that the title was a bit of a mouthful, and how about dropping the last three words, FM replied, "Oh no! That's the most important part!"

Nobody is going to get inside my brain and non-think for me. Finding out what non-thinking is, is my own ongoing adventure. It doesn't feel like self-discipline. More like the behaviour of my 16-year old son who seems inexorably drawn to his X-box.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Last night in my dojo by the forest, every out-breath formed two streams of thick cloud in the candlelight. I didn't notice any middle way, but I will tell you this for nothing, MikeDoe: it was bitterly bloomin' cold.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Jeff Hall said...

Monsieur Non-Buddhist Mike,

I think your AT training has given you an ingredient that raises you above the need to belong to any group or sect. I'm talking about personal responsibility.

Am I an AT teacher? Maybe. Do I teach a technique for the improvement of The Self that is true to the way Jeff Hall thinks it ouught to be taught? Of course. How can I advocate something that is outside my personal experience or beyond my current understanding and still consider myself to be sincere and true to my convictions?

Does it matter if the group that wants to own me doesn't approve of the way I have chosen to propagate my version of "their" truth? Of course not!

So too with Zen. You have discovered (with the help of Mr. A and others) a means whereby sitting can be enhanced by less "doing". Why should you be bothered if your peers and mentors are too arrogant to listen. Some people won't be told (I hold up my mirror).

9:57 AM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Many thanks, Jeff.

I think your concluding question was intended to be rhetorical, but I am going to try to answer it.

Why should I be bothered if I am not listened to? Why should I be bothered if my expectation of unconditional love is met, not by a loving embrace, but with eyes rolling upward in exasperation?

As it happens, something happened to me 46 years ago that might go part of the way to explaining why I tend to seek out situations where I am sincerely screaming out some truth in such a way that nobody listens to me.

So, if you are sitting comfortably, here goes -- the story of (to use a phrase coined by our AT cohort Maggie Lamb) "the strangled bollock":

At the age of around 10, I became very anxiously aware that other boys all seemed to have two bollocks. I had assumed that the standard was one bollock, as in my own case. For the next three or four years, I was terribly worried about my dark secret of only having one ball. From reading old medical textbooks, I began to suspect that I must have picked up some kind of venereal disease -- probably syphilis, I deduced. This was not a very reasonable assumption given that the only sexual contact I had experienced to date was with my own right hand. Anyway, I eventually mustered the courage to go and see my local GP, Dr. Porteus, who reassured me not to worry, that I was just as good as the next man who was firing off two barrels. I was greatly relieved, but nevertheless still did not advertise the fact of being mono-testicular at school -- after rugby matches, I maintained the habit of going into the showers with my swimming trunks on.

By the time I was 17, I still hadn't been rumbled, as far as I knew. Then one night at a party, after a few pints, a good friend of mine at school, a fellow supporter of Birmingham City Football Club, asked me, "Mike, can you keep a secret?" Of course, I promised. Then my mate confided: "I have only got one pill!"

"You bastard! You fucking bastard!" I replied, believing that my mate had rumbled me and was taking the piss.

"No really, Mike! I have only got one bollock! You are the first person I have told."

So we repaired to the bathroom, and my friend dropped his jeans, confirming that he had been telling the truth, at which point, much to his astonishment, I reciprocated.

The next milestone in the story of the strangled bollock came when I was at Sheffield University and did in fact have some kind of venereal disease -- so called "non-specific urethritis." The doctor at the Student Health Centre, Dr Burton, was something of an expert on uro-genital problems. He seemed to be very fond of a particular procedure, involving giving me a prostrate examination, and then massaging any resulting discharge out of my dick. But that is another story. The point was that Dr Burton, as luck would have it, was a national expert on the phenomenon of testicular torsion. He had written a paper on it, a copy of which he gave me. By checking my early medical records, Dr Burton confirmed that I had evidently suffered testicular torsion as an infant, at around 18 months I think it was, but it had been misdiagnosed by a locum as mumps and I had been prescribed antibiotics. The notes said that I had not stopped screaming for a day or two, but then eventually the symptoms -- including swollen scrotum -- subsided and I stopped screaming. Dr Burton explained that the testicle had got twisted, cutting off its blood supply, causing agony until eventually the testicle atrophied.

It turned out, for the record, that my friend's missing bollock was of a different aetiology. He had an undescended testicle, which he had removed by surgery in the autumn of 1985, just at the time when I came back from Japan to England on holiday, and so I was able to visit him in hospital -- wherein, again, lies another story.

All this has surely got something to do with my predilection for investigating what suffering is in a situation where I am screaming some truth into deaf ears. It is a situation to which I have grown well accustomed. It might be much more of a problem for me if lots of people all suddenly started listening to what I was saying!

11:53 AM  
Blogger HezB said...

Jesus, Mike.

I almost burst a ball laughing in the office here (sorrounded by meek and oblivious co-workers).

That tale is terrible, and your telling of it is equal parts terrifying and hilarious.

I feel I should commend you on it, but, as so many times before on this blog, I'm not sure if that's wholly appropriate. Its like 'Adrian Mole' with attitude, darkness... and one ball.

(BTW, my mate had a friend who was born with 5 balls... maybe he was wrongly assigned someone elses?... at any rate they could only remove 2 of the surplus marbles safely. He was known all over town only by his nickname: "Bingo".)

There's been plenty of occasions when I've wished I've had no balls... but that too is another story.

All the best,

Harry.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thanks Harry. If you laughed you must have sensed some truth in my tale of the strangled bollock -- and it is indeed all too true.

For the purposes of this post, the salient point might be that the target Sangha of Fukan-zazengi includes every kind of oddball everywhere -- one, three, five or more makes no difference.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Michael Kendo Tait said...

This was Master Dogen's original thinking in Fukanzazengi, Bendowa and alluded to in the other early fascicles. Much has now been written about what appears to be a re-focus on karma and on monastic life over lay practise in his later years at Eihei-ji.

Some commentators suggest that there are partisan hierarchies imposed on his teachings by Western academics and Buddhists with their own various agendas.

Perhaps it’s difficult after all to struggle for establishment, to be listened to then to find those things. It appears to me that there was in Dogen, a descent into orthodoxy, into a bolstering of authority and position. Perhaps it’s better to remain the odd-ball, the man who is free to speak the truth.

Some have said that Master Dogen had a mental decline, some have said he was just getting old but surely not at 53. As his translator, I wonder what you think about Master Dogen's supposed intellectual trajectory.

Also, responding to your assertion:

'Finding out what non-thinking is, is my own ongoing adventure. It doesn't feel like self-discipline. More like the behaviour of my 16-year old son who seems inexorably drawn to his X-box.'

When you write ‘Altogether, one after the other’ I sense something right. We sit alone, we use what is at hand but ultimately we are a part of the main, a little bit of nothing. Proceeding this way we practise with ourselves for all of existence.

The unimpeded moment is clear, without intention for gratification, for adventure or pleasure but only this existing.

Two streams of thick cloud in the candlelight
bitterly-blooming,
cold!

11:18 AM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Hi MT -- by the way, nice photo; love the hairstyle.

I think that what many commentators discuss is just trappings. And when we commentators discuss trappings, it might be as a result of failing to renew our establishment of the bodhi-mind.

The one great purpose of Master Dogen’s lifework, as I see it, was only to clarify the vital art of sitting-zen. That purpose was manifest in the original version of Fukan-zazengi and in the revised version; it was conspicuously manifest, with no dimunition of brilliance, in Shobogenzo Bendowa (1231) in Zazengi (1243) and in Zanmai-o-zanmai (1244). In the final chapter of Shobogenzo, Hachi-dainingaku (1253, the year of Master Dogen’s death), he quoted the Buddha’s words: “You constantly should endeavor, with undivided mind, to pursue the truth of liberation.”

Something as simple as that, is no basis for a Ph. D. in Buddhist Studies.

I think that when we have the will to the truth we are not so interested in Master Dogen himself, and still less in scholarly textual analysis; we are more interested in clarifying what Master Dogen himself was interested in clarifying, which is, above all, the vital art of sitting-zen.

“A little bit of nothing,” as I use the term, is not an expression of our existence within a much bigger whole. It is an expression of absence, of being without, of freedom from -- freedom from habit, freedom from what ordinarily governs us, freedom from faulty sensory appreciation and endgaining.

My freedom in acting as an individual human being is my original nature, my Buddha-nature of being without. This is what Master Dogen, from the beginning to the end of his teaching career, exhorted us to pursue, by learning the backward step of turning light and shining, by bodily sitting in the full lotus posture, by mentally sitting in the full lotus posture, and by dropping off body and mind sitting in the full lotus posture.

In this pursuit, there is a secret, a vital art of sitting-zen, called HI-SHIRYO, "non-thinking."

When I came across Alexander’s work, I began to understand that what Master Dogen meant in Fukan-zazengi by HI-SHIRYO, non-thinking, was not only physical doing, as I had previously understood it. Alexander work is essentially an exercise in finding out what non-thinking is, and it is definitely not something that we can do.

“A little bit of nothing” requires a hell of a lot of work, but it is work in the opposite direction to the intellectual work of textual analysis, and it is not only physical doing either.

Alexander, as was said by a pupil of Marjory Barlow’s as long ago as the 1960s, rediscovered the secret of Zen for our time. Following Alexander’s lead, each one of us, as individuals, has the opportunity to re-discover the secret for ourself.


Here I sit, a twisted mess:

I don’t get rid of me.

But in holistic helplessness

My hips become more free.

3:04 PM  

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