Saturday, April 17, 2010

EUROPE and POSTURE

The German edition of Hardcore Zen is out now. I think. Or at least it's very close to being available. And I have updated my European tour schedule. There are still a lot of dates where the specific location is pending. But at least the cities in which I'll be talking are mostly set. So you can plan your European vacations accordingly. Follow me around like a Deadhead or a Phish-phan.

Down at the bottom of the page is the cover for the Polish edition of Hardcore Zen. It took me a while to figure out what the image was. Gross!

I have yet to see what the Greek version looks like. I'm not sure if that's out yet or not. I haven't heard from those guys for a while. But last I knew they were planning one for Spring 2010.

Meanwhile, the Finns have a version of Zen Wrapped in Karma our already. I don't have a scan of that one. But it's pretty much the same cover as the English version but with Finnish words on it.

So, I've been looking over some of the stuff people have been writing in the comments about how horribly dogmatic I am about zazen posture. Aw.

Lately when I give instructions in zazen I've taken to describing what I do as being like a yoga class in which there is only one asana and you hold it for-fucking-ever.

I think this explanation might help folks understand my so-called dogmatism. If you went to a yoga class and the teacher told you there was only one way to do downward-facing dog and then had the gall to correct you when you did it differently, you probably would not accuse her of dogmatism. In fact, you would expect any decent yoga teacher to be pretty dogmatic about downward-facing dog. I personally wouldn't trust any yoga teacher who wasn't.

Same with zen. Like a decent yoga teacher, a good zen teacher can help you find modifications to the posture if she determines that you really can't do it. But she'll also gently push you into doing it right if she thinks you're just being lazy and actually can do it. Or if she feels you just need a little bit of stretching before you can do it right.

The posture in zazen is not arbitrary. I think this might be the source of much of the confusion. I say this over & over & over, but zazen is not some random pose you take in order to work on your spiritual/mental stuff. It's a physical practice.

As to whether or not other stuff is just as good as zazen... Look. I gotta be honest with you. I really don't think it is. If I did think there was something better, I'd be doing that better thing. If I thought all other practices were equal, I'd be varying my own practice accordingly.

But that doesn't mean I want to run out and set fire to every Vipassana center I see or torture TM practitioners with thumb screws until they switch to Zen. I don't really care what other people do. And I know Zen isn't for everyone, so maybe those other practices do their adherents good. They certainly seem to. So yay meditation! Of all kinds! Yay! Hooray!

Except for damaging garbage like Big Mind®. Oh! You don't like that I said that? Aw. How sad. I'm weeping for you.

But I'm not changing my tune. And, by the way, I'm delighted every time I see a Big Mind® ad on this blog. Yeah, Gempo! Send me your money to have me trash your shitty scam! I bet I've made like twelve and a half cents from you!

Today is Record Store Day, my favorite holiday of all. So I'm gonna go out and see what the record stores around here have on tap for the day.

See ya later!

146 comments:

Wow said...

#2

edit said...

...

Better late then never said...

#1!!!

I mean I was, really.

Harry said...

The Bradster: "...If I thought all other practices were equal, I'd be varying my own practice accordingly."

Yeah, and so the world must revolve around your own values accordingly and everything else is inferior or lacking...

Go Small Mind (TM)!

No big deal but, y'know, you are the one who pisses on small minded religious thinking and all.

Regards,

Harry.

Trevor said...

Hey Brad, can I borrow like twelve and a half cents?

17 minutes said...

;)

or said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=bVp7lkH10Gc.

Anonymous said...

#8

Ran K. said...

To say the truth I believe Christianity is no. 1 Religion in the world. Buddhism is no. 2, but I liked it better.

Nathan said...

I sit seiza about 2/3rds of the time during zazen. Half and full lotus are just brutal on my knees and hips, unless I do an hour or more of yoga poses beforehand. Others at our center sit on seiza benches, or in chairs.

The way I see it, being upright, and paying attention to how you place your hands, tongue, and eyes is most important.

There's a middle ground between dogmatic gotta do full lotus just so, and slouching who gives a damn territory.

Not too tight, not to loose.

Harry said...

17 mins,

... I don't know about my fellow countrymen and women, but if I had to listen to Yuko Ono singing like that every day I'd certainly 'be sorry and wish I was dead'.

Nice bit of history though. ;-)

Regards,

Harry.

Anonymous said...

X!!

Anonymous said...

Those covers are way better.

Lucius said...

The German book is out since about two weeks.

From the short glimpse I had before forwarding it to a fellow practitioner I got the impression that the translation is quite good.

Beginning of April we moved our dojo to a new location. We are now within the basement of our city's major place for punk and hardcore music. It will be interesting to hear the folk's living upstairs comments on your book :)

anon #108 said...

Hi H,

You quoted 'The Bradster: "...If I thought all other practices were equal, I'd be varying my own practice accordingly."'

Then commented:

Yeah, and so the world must revolve around your own values accordingly and everything else is inferior or lacking...

That don't follow. Bradley did go on to say:

But that doesn't mean I want to run out and set fire to every Vipassana center I see or torture TM practitioners with thumb screws until they switch to Zen. I don't really care what other people do. And I know Zen isn't for everyone, so maybe those other practices do their adherents good. They certainly seem to. So yay meditation! Of all kinds! Yay! Hooray!

Seems fair enough to me, coz I agree with him that "zazen is not some random pose you take in order to work on your spiritual/mental stuff. It's a physical practice.

But I don't think he helps himself with the sarcy, dismissive tone he still uses when answering critics. He thinks it's OK coz it's 'funny' - it's his 'style'. To me it sounds arrogant, defensive and disrespectful, making it a tad ignorant, and more importantly, unhelpful.

But, like he says, he don't care: "You don't like that I said that? Aw. How sad. I'm weeping for you."

That kind of thing is silly. The point get lost, and it makes enemies. I guess it's his being young, 'punk', and yank. Watcha gonna do?

It ain't big, and it ain't clever, Bradley.

Rich said...

If you want to practice Buddhism, don't you have to sit like Buddha did.

Brad, following you around like a Deadhead - that might be a good experience - can I sell T-shirts and souvenirs to your fans?

Anonymous said...

what defines the whole punk thing anyways? I get the impression that it was a youth movement which included a musical style, or is it vice versa? Did it start in England or the US?

Where I'm going is... what defines the "Punk" view and what does it have in common with "Right View" (and what doesn't it have in common?).

anon #108 said...

Hi Rich -

You say, "If you want to practice Buddhism, don't you have to sit like Buddha did."

I don't believe in The Correct Posture® because I worship the Lord Buddha and the way he sat, but I know that the way I sit affects the way I 'feel'.

The cross-legged/lotus yoga asana was considered by Gotama B, meditators before him, and generation after generation of 'Buddhists' after him, to be the most balanced and comfortable way to sit still and quiet for extended periods. I think that's because it is.

Sitting cross-legged with a straight but relaxed back, supported by a cushion, although it took me about a year to stretch into it, feels particularly right to me, so I'm happy to do it.

But if you can't, or don't want to sit in lotus, then you might want to get as close as you can. If you don't want to get close, then don't. Sit in an armchair...or stand up. But the way you chose to arrange your head, torso and limbs is going to have an effect on your 'bodymind' - IS your 'bodymind'.

I find it interesting that the vast majority of Zen/Buddhist sitters, including the ones who insist that lotus is no 'better' than sitting in a chair, also sit upright, cross legged, on a cushion. It's just the most ergonomic way to sit. Isn't it?

Cyril Coombs said...

In the Three Pillars of Zen Philip Kapleau illustrates multiple postures in which zazen can be done. Theres even mention of practicing in bed if necessary. So what if you are ill or you have no legs or you are paralyzed? Are you just shit out of luck? Isn't zazen both mental and physical. I do agree to some point if you take the yoga analogy but is that analogy accurate?

Z. Arnold said...

Yoga analogy is simply making something up that fits the moment. It's a terrible analogy and you're a terrible, terrible person for using it.

anon #108 said...

Hey Rich, I'm a Deadhead :)

Not as much as I used to be - but neither are they :(

Nailed to the floor in London, I couldn't be part of the travelling circus, but I did see them in London in '72 and '74 - the rest of the time I lay stoned and horizontal while I groked. Shavasana stylee.

I dismissed merch-purchasing as nerdy (or whatever we called it back then, in London)...and I was shy. How I regret not buying that American Beauty T-shirt I saw on sale in foyer of The Lyceum! It would be all cool and faded by now, giving me the experienced air of one who had been there and done it. Or at least bought the T-shirt.


Hi Cyril -

I did leave out "if you can't do it..."

If you can't do it, then you can't do it (sit cross-legged). You'll find the best way for you, to do what you want to do. I think zazen IS both mental and physical, yes.


Hi Z Arnold -

I believe you're addressing Brad...but would you care to elaborate?

anon #108 said...

What's got folks so upset about "the Yoga 'analogy'"?

The Padma-asana (lotus posture) that G. Buddha sat in wasn't an "analogy". He sat for long periods at a time in a yoga posture which, we're given to understand, he'd learnt from the Yogins he'd previously sat with for...a long time. Every Zen/Buddhist Master pictured throughout the subsequent history of 'Buddhism' then did the same.

Brad writes "Lately when I give instructions in zazen I've taken to describing what I do as being like a yoga class in which there is only one asana and you hold it for-fucking-ever."

What's the problem?
What am I missing?

Al said...

Brilliant post Brad. I couldn't agree more.

I work with folks with varying levels of physical debilities and I will say this with certainty: Unless you have a fused hip, hip replacement or are currently recovering from a hip/knee injury there is no reason you can't work towards the lotus.

My experience with my patients has shown me that if one sees value in working on something, they will.

There is value in the lotus as opposed to other "meditative postures". It activates the postural reflexes in the spine to a greater degree than any other "pose". This is simple neuro-anatomy.

Will you ever get there? I don't know, but that isn't the point. If you are going to practice zazen according to Dogen's instructions, then you will approximate it to the best of your ability at any given moment.

This isn't religious dogmatism. There is a best way to throw and hit a baseball. There is a best way to put someone in a choke hold. There isn't one way, but there is a best way.

Brad isn't forcing anyone here to do zazen. Why does everyone's panties get in a knot over this? Dogen wrote it in the Fukanzazengi and numerous other texts. If he thought this stuff was arbitrary then he would of said so. He bashed tons of patriarchs over conflicting views and was willing to turn his back on tradition in light of his insight. He obviously valued the lotus for a reason. If you think he's wrong then go follow someone else.

Stevo said...

"I'm delighted every time I see a Big Mind® ad on this blog."

Gotta love modern marketing, where you can make dollars and cents by simultaneously trashing and promoting your competition, lol.

Jinzang said...

Don't know if Zen without lotus != Zen. Sounds like a matter of semantics to me. But I gotta say once again that lotus IS the best position for meditation. And if you aren't putting effort into sitting in lotus, you are cheating yourself. But then people tell me you don't need to sit at all and can practice Zen while washing your vegetables. So what do I know?

Ruairi said...

what do we mean by posture?

do we mean the spine etc. or the position of the legs?

In Hardcore Zen you imply that the position/entanglement of the legs is less important than the rest.

I do Shambhala-style meditation and from what I can gather, other than the legs/position of hands the rest is identical to zazen. As in, straight spine, chin tucked in, eyes lowered and focus on the breath.

How important is the lotus/half-lotus to all this? In Shambhala we loosely cross our legs.

Allison said...

I think that there is a difference between saying, "there is no better spiritual practice than zazen" (which is a paraphrase, but captures what Brad said) and "there is no better spiritual practice for me. The latter is an honest expression of your own experience, which is all we really have to go on. The former wanders into dangerous "I'm right and everyone else is going to hell, but I don't care about them" territory.

Rick said...

It seems to me that if you go to someone to learn something from them, you ought to do it their way and not presume that you know better (otherwise why would you seek instruction in the first place).

bud said...

Allison,
Here's what Brad actually said:
'As to whether or not other stuff is just as good as zazen... Look. I gotta be honest with you. I really don't think it is. If I did think there was something better, I'd be doing that better thing. If I thought all other practices were equal, I'd be varying my own practice accordingly.

But that doesn't mean I want to run out and set fire to every Vipassana center I see or torture TM practitioners with thumb screws until they switch to Zen. I don't really care what other people do. And I know Zen isn't for everyone, so maybe those other practices do their adherents good. They certainly seem to. So yay meditation! Of all kinds! Yay! Hooray!'

I think your paraphrase didn't quite capture what Brad was saying.

Harry said...

Dogen pointed out a very profound (although, not profound in the way we might think) thing in Zanmai-O-Zanmai:

There are plenty of people who understand sitting as the buddha-dharma (i.e. in terms of their preferred values or whatever), but there aren't so many who understand sitting as sitting...

You can tell they haven't understood it as sitting by the conclusions they draw from it, and the beliefs they ascribe to it.

Here's to understanding effort as effort, and humans as humans.

A teaching that Nishijima Sensei delivered that is not discussed so much is that he said that Buddhism is basically humanism.

Imagine that, understanding humans directly as humans... of course, we have to really meet a human first.

Regards,

Harry.

Backbone said...

The posture in zazen is not arbitrary. I think this might be the source of much of the confusion. I say this over & over & over, but zazen is not some random pose you take in order to work on your spiritual/mental stuff. It's a physical practice.

Where does Dogen ever talk about the spine or the physical benefits of the Lotus Posture in Shobogenzo? He doesn't. It barely gets a mention in a couple of sentences of Fukanzazengi and Zazengi. The closest you find is this one paragraph in Zazengi. He speaks sentence after sentence about what to do mentally, and mentions Lotus with about the same weight as "loosen your pants".

he place for zazen should be bright, not dark, both day and night. It should be warm in winter and cool in summer. Shed all entanglements and stop doing this and that, the ten thousand things. Don’t think of good. Don’t think of bad. It is not a matter of mind, intention, or consciousness; it is not a matter of thoughts, ideas, or perceptions. Zazen is not self-consciousness or self-contemplation. Don’t sit to become a Buddha. Release ideas of sitting and lying down. Eat and drink moderately. Do not waste time but practise zazen as if your hair were on fire. Study the example of the Fifth Ancestor on Huangmei shan, who did nothing other than simply practice zazen.

When you practice zazen wear the kesa and use a round cushion. The cushion does not go under the thighs; it goes under the buttocks. Place the front edge of the cushion under your buttocks so that when you cross your legs they rest on the mat. This is the way that the Buddhas and Awakened Ancestors have all sat in zazen. Sit in either the full or half lotus posture. In the full lotus, the right foot is placed on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. The toes of each foot should be aligned with the thighs, not extending past or slid down. In the half lotus just put the left foot on the right thigh.

Loosen your robe and belt and keep them neat. Place the right hand on the left foot, the left hand over the right hand. Then put your right hand palm up on your left foot and put your left hand in the palm of your right, the tips of the thumbs touching lightly. The top of the thumbs should be level with the navel. Sit up straight, leaning neither to right nor left, forward or back. Your ears should be aligned with your shoulders, and from the front, your nose in a direct line with your navel. Place your tongue against the roof of your mouth keeping mouth and lips closed. Your eyes should be open and you should breathe gently through your nose. Having aligned body and mind, exhale deeply. Sitting in balance and stillness like a mountain, think of "not-thinking." How? Be "Before Thinking."


In the rest of In the rest of Shobogenzo, there is nothing mentioned about posture. He talks about "Zazen" as enlightenment, but there is no mention of sitting, posture, backbones, leg position, chin placement.

One can argue that it was taken for granted in a monastery, but you would also think Dogen would mention it even a little more if it was so important.

Mysterion said...

uhhh...

some airports are closed for perhaps a week or 10 days...

Were you flying into Spain?

Backbone said...

What I wrote had a bad comma. It should say

In the rest of Shobogenzo, there is nothing mentioned about posture. He talks about "Zazen" as enlightenment, but there is no mention of sitting posture, backbones, leg position, chin placement.

He talks about Zazen as enlightenment, he talks about sitting as enlightenment, but never mentions the legs, knees, ankles, tongue, chin, neck, arms, etc. So, how important could it be to him? The rest of Shobogenzo is stories from Koans about people doing things when not sitting. You cannot find many stories in Shobogenzo about people sitting. You find stories about old masters washing their bowls or ringing a bell much more than any stories about people sitting Zazen.

It is just the religious belief of one more religious group and teacher who has a dogma and doesn't care much for any evidence against it.

Mysterion said...

How to sit.

specifically here:

Sit in either the semi-cross-legged or fully cross-legged position. For the fully cross-legged position, place your right foot on your left thigh and your left foot on your right thigh. The toes should be even with the thighs, not out of alignment. For the semi-cross-legged position, simply place your left foot on your right thigh.

Loosen your robe and underwaist, and arrange them properly. Place your right hand on your left foot and your left hand on your right hand. Put the tips of your thumbs together. With your hands in this position, place them against your body, so that the joined thumb tips are aligned with your navel.

Straighten your body and sit erect. Do not lean to the left or right; do not bend forward or back. The ears should always be aligned with the shoulders, and the nose aligned with the navel. The tongue should be placed against the front of the palate. The breath should pass through the nose. The lips and teeth should be closed. The eyes should be open, neither too widely nor too narrowly.

Mysterion said...

BTW, the only difference between the Xtian and Budh is the one you make.
There is no difference between the two.

Well, there are artificial and superfluous inventions of differences...

anon #108 said...

Backbone,

You wrote: but you would also think Dogen would mention it (the lotus posture) even a little more if it was so important.

Here's a little more from Shobogenzo Zanmai 0 Zanmai - The Samadhi that is King of Samadhis - it starts like this:

To transcend the whole universe at once, to live a great and valuable life in the house of the Buddhist patriarchs, is to sit in the full lotus posture. To tread over the heads of non-Buddhists and demons; to become, in the inner
sanctum of the Buddhist patriarchs, a person in the concrete state, is to sit in the full lotus posture. To transcend the supremacy of the Buddhist patriarchs’ supremacy, there is only this one method.


And so on and on...And later -

To sit in the full lotus posture is to set the body straight, to set the mind straight, to set the body-mind straight,to set Buddhist patriarchs straight, to set practice and experience straight, to set the brain straight, and to set the life-blood straight. Now, sitting our human skin, flesh, bones, and marrow in the full lotus posture, we sit the samādhi that is king among samādhis in the full lotus posture.

What did he leave out?

The whole chapter is a eulogy to the lotus posture - the full lotus posture, as it happens.

(By all mean trust G. Buddha and the ancestors, but the best reason for doing it, I think, is because you find it works. The trust - "faith" if you prefer - is useful for making the effort in the first place, but do it coz it works for you, not coz the scriptures told you to).

Al said...

Back bone said,

"He talks about Zazen as enlightenment, he talks about sitting as enlightenment, but never mentions the legs, knees, ankles, tongue, chin, neck, arms, etc. So, how important could it be to him? The rest of Shobogenzo is stories from Koans about people doing things when not sitting. You cannot find many stories in Shobogenzo about people sitting. You find stories about old masters washing their bowls or ringing a bell much more than any stories about people sitting Zazen."

Wrong. Read the Eihei Shingi. Read Bendowa. Shobogenzo is Dogen's Opus, but Bendowa is his FAQ section.

"Sit upright, with the back of your head straight above you spine"

"Your neck should not bend forward from your back."

He says sit upright more than a few times. It doesn't take a genius to understand what sit upright means. It was also a fundamental attitude that Dogen was trying to relay.

The essay entitled "Zazen as Ritual Enactment" by Taigen Leighton from Zen Ritual details this pretty well.

Backbone said...

Blogger Mysterion said...

How to sit.

specifically here:

Sit in either the semi-cross-legged or fully cross-legged position. For the fully cross-legged position,


Mysterion, that is the same section I quoted in a different translation. That little paragraph is the only mention in hundreds of pages of Dogens words in Shobogenzo, Eiheishingi, EIheikoroku where you find mention of posture. In addition, it was probably written as a letter to a beginner, probably a lay person, and is basic instruction in Zazen.

I should also mention Zazenshin, which is about Zazen as sitting. as a spiritual act, but nothing about the buttocks, spine, elbows etc. In other words, it is sitting as a sacred act actualizing how Buddhas sit, not sitting as a mechanical act of the body.

Mysterion said...

I quoted

Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma - Book 11

Principles of Zazen

Shōbōgenzō zazen gi
正法眼藏坐禪儀

Translated by Carl Bielefeldt

at the Soto Zen Text Project (An initiative of the Sotoshu Shumucho International Division) at Stanford.

cheers,

chas

anon #108 said...

So is your point, Bb, that, unlike other people, Dogen Sangha-ists only sit "as a mechanical act of the body"?

Yep. We remove our brains and nervous systems, just leaving the other organs and skeleton arranged on a cushion.

I give up.

Backbone said...

Al said

The essay entitled "Zazen as Ritual Enactment" by Taigen Leighton from Zen Ritual details this pretty well.


Actually, Leighton's article makes my point precisely, as the title of the article says. Zazen is a "ritual enactment" of how Buddha's sit. Taigen talks about the sacred act of sitting. The Lotus Posture is sacred because that is how the Buddha sat, and we should sit that way to enact Buddha. Please find any mention in there of Dogen talking about Zazen as putting the spine this way, the ass that way, the knees this particular way to reach some physiological state of balance. To see it as Gudo does as just some way to straigten the spine and reach some experience of inner balance misses the big picture.

Mysterion said...

sitting is a combination of centering> and grounding...

now I ain't gonna go all Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn here...

but the first two postures we practice in Tai Chi are front-to-back centering and left-to-right centering...

And Miyamoto Musashi (in Go Rin No Sho) talks about centering and grounding, too.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...

and blah.

Backbone said...

Al said

Bendowa is his FAQ section.

"Sit upright, with the back of your head straight above you spine"

"Your neck should not bend forward from your back."


Bendowa is also another very basic "How to" for beginners in Zazen. It was not even originally part of Shobogenzo. He is describing to beginners very basic instructions on how to sit. Later, when he gets into his philosophy, he never mentions the head or back again. If it was so important to Zazen, you would think he would mention the head back and butt more often like "Putting the back in proper alignment with the pelvis is the sacred path of a Buddha". Nothing like that.

Mysterion said...

The Posture: The most important part of sitting for meditation is proper centering and balance; if these two elements are not observed first, the body will fatigue more quickly and pain or discomfort in the postural muscles of the back might distract the practitioner from his or her sitting practice.

just that's all... avoiding unnecessary pain.

soup first or noodles first?

anon #108 said...

"you would think he would mention...like putting the back in proper alignment with the pelvis is the sacred path of a Buddha". Nothing like that.", says Bb.

Er...check Zanmai O Zanmai (excerpts above, full translation here). It's full of stuff like that, if that's what you're looking for.

No, he doesn't specify body parts everytime he mentions the full lotus posture, because his audience are well aware what "sitting upright in the full lotus posture" is.

Backbone said...

The Posture: The most important part of sitting for meditation is proper centering and balance; if these two elements are not observed first, the body will fatigue more quickly and pain or discomfort in the postural muscles of the back might distract the practitio

You are right. I don't want to go to the other extreme either and say that posture is not very very important. It is, exactly for the reasons you say. The Lotus Posture is great and that is how I used to sit before I injured by back. My point is that Gudo misses the big picture in overemphasizing the physiological connection of spine and ANS as the Dogen's central message. Dogen was about Zazen as a sacred act, Lotus Posture as what Buddhas do. Also, it is as much about " Shed all entanglements and stop doing this and that, the ten thousand things. Don’t think of good. Don’t think of bad. as loosening the pants or putting the head a certain way. He never mentions ass, ankles, spine, chin, head or what to do with them in any section of his writings except a few for people who have not sat before at all.

Gudo's position is the one sided view, and just more religious belief by someone who thinks that he has an insight into what the dead man meant hidden in his words or hidden in the Four Noble Truths. Kind of a Dogen "Da Vinci Code" that Gudo thinks he sees buried in Dogen's words.

anon #108 said...

(Zanmai O Zanmai is Chapter 72 of that SBGZ link I just gave).

Bb, you grossly simplify what Gudo's on about by getting stuck on just one aspect of what he has said and written about zazen.

But I tell you what, Bb - Fuck Gudo. Let's just get on with doing it.

Way past my bedtime. Time to drop off.
Nite nite all.

Cyril Coombs said...

Thank you for your response anon 108. I have another question if you guys would entertain it. Is there any use in counting or following the breath or is it just better to do Shinkantaza (sp?)

Backbone said...

108 said

No, he doesn't specify body parts everytime he mentions the full lotus posture, because his audience are well aware what "sitting upright in the full lotus posture" is.


I have to write this quick as I am heading to bed.

I think you may be intentionally missing my point. Zanmai O Zanmai is exactly what I have been talking about. He has one line in there, a quote from a Sutra, not his own words, that says among many other things that sitting in the full Lotus Posture "clears away sleep lazy and melancholy" mind. He also has a quote that "if the body is upright, the mind is not weary, the mind is regulated, the intention is right, and the attention is bound to what is immediately present". Nobody is arguing any of that, and like Mysterion pointed out, posture is important. Dogen loved the Lotus Posture. He speaks of keeping the "attention on what is immediately present", but no mention of "keep it focused on keeping the backbone straight".

But are those sections of the Sutras quoted by Dogen that briefly mention "ending melancholy, not feeling sleepy" etc. what Dogen goes on to emphasize in the rest of the essay? No. He talks about Zazen as a sacred meeting with the Buddhas and Ancestors in line after line. He talks about what the Lotus Posture is from a religious viewpoint, not about how it has to be done this one way or that one way to bring a certain effect.

Also your point about "his audience (was) well aware what "sitting upright in the full lotus posture" is" is very important. When he said "Lotus Posture" he also meant Zazen, because the Lotus Posture for Dogen was how they did Zazen and the terms were interchangeable. It is hard to tell if he meant "Lotus Posture" with the emphasis on "Posture" or "Lotus Posture" with the emphasis on any "Upright Sitting".

Looking quickly at the several chapters of Shobogenzo that come before Zanmai (I have not read them in awhile), no mention at all of the Lotus Posture or Zazen as Dogen spells out his religious viewpoint. For example, in the Chapter right before, Nyorai Zenshin, he never mentions Zazen. He talks about the sacred act of "reading and reciting sutras" with the same enthusiasm that he talks about Zazen as actual practice in Zanmai. If you were to judge by that section alone, Dogen was not about Zazen alone, only about sutra copying! If you only read Senjo, you would think that Dogen was only about taking a dump. (In fact, he was about all of it)

Dogen was a person who said many acts should be done a certain way and are sacred. Wipe you ass this one way, wash your hands this one way, and it is a Buddha wiping his ass and washing his hands. He said put your left hand here, turn to the right, put your leg here, put your towel there because you won't splash your neighbor. No instructions like that about the Lotus Posture.

The long and short is that there is an overemphasis on the Lotus Posture while it gets barely a mention in Shobogenzo or anywhere else.

Backbone said...

108 said

Bb, you grossly simplify what Gudo's on about by getting stuck on just one aspect of what he has said and written about zazen.

But I tell you what, Bb - Fuck Gudo. Let's just get on with doing it.


I do not think I simplify or exaggerate much about Gudo at all, at least if your judge from the subject matter of his blog these last few years.

But "Fuck Gudo" and his strange ideas is the attitude it seems of most his students, although they don't put it that way or feel anything less than love for the old dude. Better said, they either ignore his theories completely, try to put a good face on them briefly without going into details, or pay them a moment of respectful lip service before quickly moving on to other subjects. Brad's post today is a perfect example of how that works (not sure about Mike L). That's because many of the ideas are crackpot.

Backbone said...

I want to make this clearer, cause I am really tired and ready for bed. I should have said

Also your point about "his audience (was) well aware what "sitting upright in the full lotus posture" is" is very important. When he said "Lotus Posture" he also meant Zazen, because the Lotus Posture for Dogen was how they did Zazen, Zazen was only the Lotus Posture (no benches or chairs) and the terms were interchangeable. It is hard to tell if he meant "Lotus Posture" with the emphasis on "Posture" or "Lotus Posture" with the emphasis on how one does "Upright Sitting" or "Lotus Posture" as Zazen.

In other words, the emphasis is not on the physiological power and effects of that posture and "keeping the spine straight" as Dogen's Central Message, but on the entire sacred atmosphere surrounding the action of sitting in the Lotus Posture/Zazen of which the physical effects aided by the posture are just one of many aspects.

Gudo and others around him may miss the big picture.

Anonymous said...

"...If I thought all other practices were equal, I'd be varying my own practice accordingly."

Not necessarily. Suppose there are 5 different paths from a valley to a mountain. One path may be very steep so that those not in excellent physical condition would actually take longer if they took it. Another may wind back and forth but offer interesting flora and fauna, thus making more people likely to actually take the trip at all. Perhaps another goes through a dark cave and anyone scared of the dark would avoid it.

In addition, to actually get from the valley to the mountain we would have to travel along a single path, not walk a few feet and then go back and switch to another path. Doing this, we'd never arrive at all. When we choose our path it is important to stay on it long enough to get where we're going.

You can examine the above analogy to see if or where it fits or not. If so, it offers ways that there may be many valid paths or approaches, none necessarily any 'better' than the others. Which we choose would partially depend upon our own individual make-up. Jinzang can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe tibetan buddhism offers this approach. The practice is tailored to the person. The same is true in hindusism. Different forms of yoga are taught depending upon the type of the aspirant...hatha yoga, bhakti yoga, karma yoga, etc.

Brad's yoga analogy only holds true for the narrowest terms. If I come to a zen teacher and say; "Teach me to sit in full-lotus", Brad's analogy fits. You can't sit full-lotus any old way, there's only one proper posture (at least as regards the legs). And if you believe that zen is only about sitting in a particular posture then his view makes sense.

But many zen teachers and students do not share Brad's pov. Namely, that though sitting zazen is of central importance, zen itself is much more than this. As such, other postures and practices may yield the same results just as various paths all take the traveler from the valley to the mountain. Shikantaza may be best for some, koan zazen may be best for others and still others may benefit more from breath awareness.

In addition, what is needed at one point in one person's zen practice may be different than what is needed for another. One may begin with breath counting, move on to koan zazen and then years later to shikantaza. In the same way that a good teacher for a beginner may not be so good for a more advanced zen student.

I do not believe that full-lotus is 'no different' than sitting in a chair...which is why I sit full lotus. But I do believe sitting in a chair or walking or sitting seiza or holding your hands on your knees in a different way or sitting with eyes half-closed or completely closed or sitting using a koan, etc can still be real, true authentic zazen.

I see zen as a skillful means to get us to see what is already here and now. As such, many means may be useful, but none are zen itself, including any posture whatsoever.

Brad is like a man that took one of the 5 paths and successfully arrived at the mountain. He knows his way actually works. But then he assumes that his path is either the only one or certainly the best one...all while having little or no knowledge of these other paths.

The buddha didn't just sit zazen. He taught much, much more than just sitting. You can sit and be a fascist. You can sit and be a murderer or rapist. It isn't denigrating zazen to insist that more than zazen is needed to actualize the buddha way.

Warrior Two said...

Commenters: Pot, meet kettle. Did Brad say there's no cake in heaven? What goddamn difference does it make? He's a zen teacher, it's his job to teach method. He's entitled to his opinion on his own blog, and the comments reveal your insecurity that maybe ya'll's aren't going to "get to the mountain". I'm sure there's other bloggers that are happy to tell you what you want to hear.

Shonin said...

Zazen is not a kind of static yoga. It is not a purely physical posture. And the posture is not the most important thing. It doesn't matter how great your lotus posture is, if you're sitting and daydreaming. And Zen itself is not limited to any particular posture - it doesn't stop when you get off the cushion as if zazen was some sort of therapeutic posture. Gautama Buddha taught practice in four postures: walking, standing, sitting and lying down. Zazen is sitting meditation. Kinhin is walking meditation.

The penniless monks and ascetics of Buddha's time did not have chairs. I don't think they even had cushions. They had a robe and a bowl. They sat in the roots of trees.

This kind of argument that Brad uses often ('This is what I think. If I thought something else I would practice something else. But I don't, so there.') doesn't add any weight to the case he's making. What difference does it make what he thinks unless that thinking is based on solid experience (of the other traditions) or at least on sound reasoning. Otherwise it really is just prejudice and dogmatism. How much experience does Brad have with Vipassana? (or for that matter, Big Mind) If 'none' or 'very little' then it would appear that the reason he thinks as he does is because he has already decided that his way is the best way to practice perhaps because he is already emotionally/ideologically wedded to it.

I've been sitting in primarily full lotus for 8 years, but I've practiced in other postures too. I'm training to be a MBCT teacher and this practice is based primarily on Insight Meditation/Vipassana. They usually do sitting meditation on chairs.

It is possible to be present and aware (the important thing) in almost anything we do in life. However, some postures are easier than others.

With sitting meditation it helps to sit in a stable, upright posture with the spine straight. This posture helps us to manifest alertness. It is more challenging to remain alert while slouching or lying down. However, I can't detect a qualitative difference between sitting upright in lotus posture and sitting upright in a chair.

However, Zen is traditional and conservative. We all practice according to a certain form that has been passed down through our lineage rather than according to preference. Almost everything is prescribed. This doesn't mean it's the best way necessarily or the only way, but it is our way.

My (Rinzai) teacher encourages lotus posture not because it is 'the most comfortable way to sit for long periods' (it isn't, believe me) but specifically because it gives the opportunity to find equinamity/samadhi with physical discomfort/pain.

On the other hand it's important that people with health problems don't make them worse doing things that they are not suited to.

Anonymous said...

i.... don't... think anyone's... contradicted... brad yet? maybe I'm missing something too....

Uku said...

Volcanoes... Whats the difference between an Icelandic volcano and Cheryl Cole?

The volcano is still blowing ash. Buaahhahahahaha

Harry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Al said...

Ok-Enough of this mental masturbation.

I will bet a million bucks to anyone here that the Full Lotus would win the following experiment.

Have someone sit Burmese, align their spine correctly and then place a 45 pound barbell plate on top of their head. Then, have that same person take Full Lotus and do the same thing. The person sitting in Burmese WILL be exerting a ton more effort to keep their spine aligned under the weight than the person sitting full lotus. Fact. I've done this with myself and a few others.

Now, if one has to exert more muscular effort(even just an infinitesimal amount) to keep their spine upright during a sitting period, don't you think that wold translate to more discriminative mental activity?

Not rocket science.

Harry said...

Hi Al,

Because my body is not really currently (or ever) cut out for it, my back rounds at the bottom when I do lotus... I can't let the hips drop properly. I can let them drop more in 'half assed' lotus and so I could probably hold more weight in 'half assed' or burmese.

You know I make efforts in this regards.

Of course, seeing that I cannot hold a 45 pound barbell up in lotus, I could not possibly be practicing like a Buddhist Ancestor (my levitating and walking on water leaves much to be desired also)... be that as it may, can I have my money now?

Regards to imperfect, twisty people everywhere, and good luck with your efforts.

Harry.

Rich said...

I completely understand and agree with Gudo's balanced ANS theory. Depending on my physical condition I sit half lotus, burmese, chair or lying down. I sit driving a car, watching TV, using a computer. I try to keep this sitting mind when walking, playing and working. How you keep your mind, I think is very important.

108 - I'm a big fan of Jerry Garcia and the Dead - saw them once but can't remember where. Just googled them - it was at Woodstock. The internet is also a universal memory bank.

anon #108 said...

Time to clarify "Fuck Gudo" -

I wrote "Fuck Gudo", Bb, not because, as you suggest, "it is the attitude it seems of most his students, although they don't put it that way or feel anything less than love for the old dude", but because you seem to have an obsession with his "strange ideas".

Allow me to quote myself from the previous post:

"I think that if you've spent a considerable amount of time listening to and interacting with a teacher you've grown to respect, year after year, then that teaching is likely to have a profound effect on you - on your understanding and your practice.

That doesn't mean you've surrendered your will, or lost your capacity for independent thought. A good teacher should enable you to find your own way; to realize yourself; to make the teaching your own."



You have your own opinions about Gudo, Gudo-ites and zazen. We've had a nice discussion, but it's my personal opinion that that your "strange ideas" haven't been modified one jot by anything anyone's said. So, I'm suggesting that, having checked out Gudo to your satisfaction and found him wanting, you move on. Hence my suggestion (to you) that you "Fuck Gudo". Drop Gudo off .

In common with his students, I shall continue to respect his lifetime's work and teaching, while resisting any tendency to feel obliged to 'believe in him' or his ideas, most of which, as transmitted by his senior Dharma-heir, Mike Luetchford, I've found to be profound and life-enhancing.

Vive la difference.
Be happy.

(BTW, I've never "intentionally missed a point" in my life - I'm just confused as to what yours is.

17 minutes (a. [occasionally] k.a. "Ran K.") said...

I think Yoko Ono is great.

anon #108 said...

Apologies,Bb - I just told you to drop Gudo off, put him down, didn't I? But I can't help myself ;)

More Bb:

"In other words, the emphasis is not on the physiological power and effects of that posture and "keeping the spine straight" as Dogen's Central Message, but on the entire sacred atmosphere surrounding the action of sitting in the Lotus Posture/Zazen of which the physical effects aided by the posture are just one of many aspects."


Yet More Me:

Yes indeedy, Bb! Gudo teaches a very similar thing, but without using terminology like "entire sacred atmosphere":

There are four views of...everything, postulates Gudo; the ANS/straight spine thing theory is only ONE of them. (He's only started putting emphasis on the physiological explanation, it seems to me, as he's got older, and tired of the religious, metaphysical speculation that informs so much of "Buddhism" - then and now. I hear him trying to redress the balance. I also think it's not working ;) But there is no emphasis, no choice that needs to be made. All four perspectives are simultaneously true.


You referred earlier to the DS booklet "An Introduction to Buddhism and the Practice of Zazen", selecting only the ANS part (the second, 'materialist', or scientific of Gudo's 'four views') to (mis)represent his teaching.

Outlining Gudo's teaching about zazen, Mike L (for he wrote the booklet) says:

"We can describe four aspects in the practice of Zazen. They are: 1) Different from thinking; 2) Making the body right; 3) Oneness of body-and-mind; and 4) Oneness with the Universe", and then goes on to comment on them.

The whole section ends with this, about the fourth view (not a 'view' or philosophy, but an expression of 'reality', Gudo might say):

"When we are sitting in Zazen we are one with the Universe, and the state includes all things and phenomena. In that sense, although we are experiencing the state, we cannot grasp it intellectually. We cannot describe it completely. We call the state “ineffable,” or “dharma,” or “truth,” or “reality.” But even these words are inadequate to describe the simple and original state that we return to in Zazen."

Perhaps you and Gudo are closer than you think?

Al said...

Harry,

My comment wasn't directed at you. I know you make your efforts in that regard and that is actually my only point.

The 45 pound weight plate thing wasn't meant to imply that if you can't do it then you aren't doing zazen. Of course that idea is silly.

My point is that as one moves closer to Full Lotus, the pelvis moves closer to a tight anteversion, which is in fact its strongest position to hold the spine. The farther one moves away from that tightness, the more effort one will have to place in keeping the spine upright.

The idea that each person has a different position where they are strongest is not quite right. We all have the same basic anatomical structure with individual variations. There is an optimal place to align everything in the body. Individual variations will make that appear slightly different, but the efforts made my each person should move in the same same direction.

Harry-if you can't get your pelvis to antevert, stretch your psoas muscle more. Get this muscle to relax and uprightness will be easier.

There are deeper implications here that I won't go into now, but I think Brad's main point is that the zazen he practices has a physical standard and that if one wishes to practice in that vein then they need to work in a general direction.

Harry said...

Hi Al,

I stretch all the time but, yes, 'a general direction'. Effort is a general direction; sometimes the right way and sometimes the wrong way and we can learn from both if we observe the right general direction-ness of effort.

It's good when we give it room like that.

Regards,

Harry.

anon #108 said...

Hi Shonin,

Sometimes I "daydream" a lot in zazen. I don't mean to, y'understand. It just happens. And then - again without my conscious control - it stops, and I'm 'back in the room'...maybe trying not to daydream.

I've learnt a lot from that. Couldn't tell you exactly what it is that I've learnt, but it's something to do with mind/consciouness/will/'me'/the universe/the self/the no-self/the nature of thought/the nature of experience - that kind of stuff.

I like to think that's what shikantaza is - coming and going. Sometimes making effort, sometimes not being there to make an effort - then who or what am I? And does it matter?

anon #108 said...

EDIT

I may have lied.

I'm not sure I've learnt anything at all.

captcha = hyder.

Stephanie said...

I agree with Harry's comment (well, at least #4, I haven't read all the ensuing comments).

Brad, I think your teaching would become 100 times better if you dropped all the ardent "one true way" stuff.

I really used to be into the "one true way" approach to practice. It never worked, because it's all based in ego. Not that ego is evil or doesn't have its place, mind you, just that it's not a really good director of practice. The ego knows how to do a lot of things but it doesn't know how to wake up. And only the ego runs around measuring everything it sees according to its own standards of "total correctness."

I practiced that way for a long time and it didn't wake me up. I have serious doubts that ardent belief in one's position can help anyone wake up.

Sitting full lotus actually hindered my practice, until I dropped it and started sitting in Burmese. Now I can sit for almost any period of time in a posture of stability and ease. Which was the whole idea of asana in Buddhist practice in the first place.

I do think that there is a strong physical component of zazen, and that the posture should be seated, with a straight back (though straight in a soft way, not a rigid one), but I don't think much else matters. I think the physical part of the practice has more to do with becoming aware of the body and the strange, contorted ways we hold the body to protect and maintain our suffering. Sitting in stability and ease, with a base from which awareness can arise, allows us to do that, as well as to see our minds. Which is really what it's about.

The mind is not separate from the body, and it's going to be harder to see the mind if we're dangling upside down off a fire escape, but it's not impossible. It is impossible, however, to see the mind when we're caught up in our own glorious righteousness. So better to have an open mind about posture than to think there's some magic essence in the arrangement of our legs.

Are we really so superstitious that we think the exact manner that we cross our legs will determine the "result" of zazen? Zazen isn't about producing results anyway. Throw all that out the window!

When we tell a dog to sit, it sits. It doesn't fret over whether its butt is at the exact angle to its paws that the AKC manual says is correct. It just gets its butt on the floor in whatever way its physiology allows it to do.

Of course, it also bites the mailman in the nuts, but dogs are wiser about some things than others.

anon #108 said...

OMG!
HARRY!!!

You don't sit in the Full Lotus posture?

Not even half-lotus?

You only do iddy-biddy-bit lotus?


No wonder you're not getting the right answers to them koans.

***********************************

Hi Cyril,

You asked "Is there any use in counting or following the breath or is it just better to do Shinkantaza (sp?)

[The spelling is shikantaza: shikan (only) + ta (hit) + za (sit), I believe. So, Only to do sitting. Some kind passing Japanese understander will hopfully explain it better].

There was an intersting discussion about counting, or concentrating on, the breath here, on gniz's 'Reblogging Brad Warner' blog.

This discussion in Brad's comment section was fun, much of it also set off by "to count or not to count..." It starts with a comment from anon at 8.19pm.

Anonymous said...

Yoko Ono sucks. I went through Army Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training, and they actually used Yoko Ono on us. I was miserable.

As far as the differences in postures. To me, the differences are drawn in the mind. There's no difference in nature. "Proper posture" is simply a spot on the continuum from standing to laying, or kneeling or some other position. Who can say that one person's tucked chin is "better" than someone elses.

I practice in full lotus, but so long as you're alert and paying attention, I wouldn't sweat the small stuff.

anon #108 said...

Hey Steph!

You've not read all the ensuing comments yet?

Be sure to read mine - they're the only ones that are consitently correct from start to finish :)

Nice to see you smiling. Occasionally lurking around Treeleaf leads me to believe you're in a better place. That's a good thing.

anon #108 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anon #108 said...

Missed me?

Steph, you wrote:

"...it's going to be harder to see the mind if we're dangling upside down off a fire escape, but it's not impossible. It is impossible, however, to see the mind when we're caught up in our own glorious righteousness."

I think some of us are not trying "to see the mind", and therein may lie the rub.

Can a rub lie...therein? Whatever.

It seems a consensus is emerging. The Lotus posture is not magic, but is very nice if you can do it, and it's worth a bit of effort to see for yourself. But if you can't do it, or don't fancy it, then indeed do not sweat it. And, as Steph says, do it "in a soft way, not a rigid one".

After all, all Brad said was:

"Like a decent yoga teacher, a good zen teacher can help you find modifications to the posture if she determines that you really can't do it. But she'll also gently push you into doing it right if she thinks you're just being lazy and actually can do it. Or if she feels you just need a little bit of stretching before you can do it right...zazen is not some random pose you take in order to work on your spiritual/mental stuff."

He did NOT, at any point, say "you must sit in the full lotus posture, or your zazen is just a waste of time". Some people seem to think he did.

Steve said...

Hey Al! Bendowa in front of me so I can see your giant ball!

Cyril Coombs said...

Anon 108 said He did NOT, at any point, say "you must sit in the full lotus posture, or your zazen is just a waste of time". Some people seem to think he did.

Yep I read what I want or see what I want... It's a bad habit which is one of the reas ons I practice. Thanks for posting the links to those previous blog posts 108.

After re-reading Brad's post I get what he's saying and it's not what I read it as the first time. And I agree. Ya know I do things the way I do cuz I think they're the most effectibe too. If I didn't that wouldn't make any sense at all.

Anonymous said...

Dogen was also quite keen on saying that you should practice Zazen doing whatever it is that you are doing in everyday life.

Dogen in the Shobogenzo does not equate Zazen to just sitting in full lotus. He gives it a much broader definition.

So to say Zazen is only a certain posture is to go against what Dogen said. Not that it matters...

belast said...

"Dogen in the Shobogenzo does not equate Zazen to just sitting in full lotus...So to say Zazen is only a certain posture is to go against what Dogen said."

Does he say that, anon?

Can you give any examples?
Not that it matters ;-)

anon #108 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

When y'all pass over Iceland, there's a kiss my ash situation.

Backbone said...

Dogen was also quite keen on saying that you should practice Zazen doing whatever it is that you are doing in everyday life.

Dogen in the Shobogenzo does not equate Zazen to just sitting in full lotus. He gives it a much broader definition.

So to say Zazen is only a certain posture is to go against what Dogen said. Not that it matters...

1:39 PM
Anonymous belast said...

"Dogen in the Shobogenzo does not equate Zazen to just sitting in full lotus...So to say Zazen is only a certain posture is to go against what Dogen said."

Does he say that, anon?

Can you give any examples?


That is easy.

In a very few sentences of Shobogenzo, Dogen discusses Zazen as the Lotus Posture. For Dogen, the posture for sitting on the Zafu was to be the Lotus Posture.

However, in hundreds and hundreds of pages of Shobogenzo, Eiheishingi and Eiheikoroku, Dogen never mentions Zazen on the Zafu. Instead, Dogen is discussing "Practice" through a million and one other sacred actions. Just to give two small example, in Senjo and Senmen (so important that it was included at both the very start and very end of Shobogenzo) he describes defecating and washing the ass as "the dignified practice of Buddhas" and "peaceful and joyful practices of the Tathagata". In Tenzokyokun (Instructions for the Cook) he talks of cooking and serving meals as sacred practice that is "the activity of the buddhadharma". The rest of Dogen's words are about people doing everything from getting dressed to ringing bells to lighting incense to selling rice cakes. This is total Practice.

Zazen on the Zafu is at the heart of Practice and indispensible, that is for sure. Dogen thought, in his opinion, that people sitting on the Zafu should sit in the full or half Lotus Posture, that is for sure. However, if you judge from the total quantity and subject matter of his writings, he considered "Practice" in its true meaning to be everything and the kitchen sink.

He did not recommend cooking or taking a dump while sitting in the Lotus Posture.

Backbone said...

Also worth mentioning that, just because Dogen loved the Lotus Posture, that is not the last word on the Lotus Posture. Trike has a good article on not putting too much weight one what Buddha or the founders said.

LINK

Dogen also recommended many other things we don't do not, like wiping your ass with clay balls (the Practice of the Buddha!) or ceremonies to spirits of the mountain. Gudo and Brad, I notice, pick and choose the parts of Dogen they like and ignore again and again the rest and parts they don't like as no longer important. Good for them.

Lotus Posture is great. No doubt. Dogen liked the Lotus Posture. No Doubt. But, at a certain point, who cares what Dogen thought.

By the way, in his last year when he was all torn up with stomach cancer or Tb or whatever he had, do you think he always sat in the Lotus Posture? Maybe he spent most of his time practicing in bed? Probably.

Backbone said...

Sorry. The link to that article did not work. He is a good link.

GOOD LINK

Steven said...

I think every Zen teacher, Brad or Dogen or whoever, needs to decide what posture they are going to sit in, then what posture(s) they are going to teach and then what postures they are going to allow in their Zendo.

Very few people can sit an entire lifetime in an ideal posture. Many people quit zen when they can no longer sit in an ideal posture.

I sit on a seiza bench, but I completely agree that it may not be the best posture. It is the best I can do. That does not mean that it needs to be taught or defended.

In the end your practice is up to you. Your body and your life right now.

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Anonymous said...

Oldish Newbies

My Wife and I have been sitting Zazen every day since January, except for two days when we caught a virus. We sit for 30 mins in the morning and 20 mins before we go to bed, with 10 fifteen mins of stretching before we start.

It took us a long time to finally commit to this routine. We do not have a teacher and know no one else who practices zazen.

We have been married for over six years and those years have been an immense struggle. My wife was living in a rotten estate as a single parent and had suffered terrible abuse and neglect since she was child.

Surviving into her thirties had lead her develop some seriously self-destructive coping habits, which left her, although crying out for love and care, unable deal with even the most simple aspects of a more healthy relationship.

No matter what she would consciously believe, if the the sun was shining - metaphorically or literally - something would rise up in her to make it dark.

For example, only last Friday, we decided to go for a stroll to the supermarket and enjoy the calm sunny evening. On the way I noticed she was hurrying, and I asked her, quite happily if she was feeling hungry and wanted to get there quickly. I was unaware at that moment that my question had been a cue for her to imagine that I was making some awful accusation which she quietly fumed about, all the while maintaining the pretence of ease. By the time we were shopping her behaviour became edgy and jumpy. Outside the shop, after many of the usual straight denials that anything was wrong, she was able to walk through her feelings from coming home to doing the shopping, shocked and remorseful at the absurdity of the irrational fantasies that had gripped her, or that she had held onto, unexamined, and the effect, past and present, that her old bete noir, had unleashed upon us - notwithstanding the realisation of how this behaviour, unchecked, could have swallowed up another 'sunny' weekend.

Over these last few months of practice, such events have become less frequent, and when they have happened, have been noticed sooner and dealt with more calmly. This is also due to my ability to remain calmer and get less sucked in to the maelstrom.

As guiding lights for our practice, we return to Brad Warners posts and books, Steve Hagen's books and podcasts, Shunryu Suzuki and dip lightly into some of the Dogen which seems appropriate.

Even over the last few months the notion of posture and balance has deepened for us. My wife can just about get herself into the half lotus now for roughly 10 to 15 minutes and I, some approximation to a half decent full lotus for about the same.

We bear the pain in our legs and other places with what I would call soft hands: noticing the pain, but not reacting to to it, until it becomes too much of a distraction, or appears to be the type of pain that might do some damage. Over time we have both noticed how some types of pain disappear while some a warning signs to take a more comfortable posture. On one occasion I started in full, the went to left leg half, then right leg half, then burmese, then just stood up for most the remaining time, before finishing in the burmese! - that seemed to be a good exercise in letting go of the ego that can be involved in trying to 'get there' to quick (where for goddsake!).

My wife, in particular, has noticed how dark or sad thoughts, can be borne and come and go, like that self-same pain that disappears. Also, during the day, and particularly after practice on her own, if I have happened to rise earlier, my wife has noticed how certain things come up and trouble her, which she has found easier to notice and come to me to talk through - something she would rarely do in the past, and if that in a kind of scrambled, covert way that could lead us to spriral into mutual frustration.

Cont...

Anonymous said...

My wife's attitude to the full-lotus is along the lines of: I may never get into it and certainly not for years, but I'm going to keep trying, and when I am sitting whatever my posture happens to be it's neither right nor wrong, just one way or another away from right here, right now in the most stable way.

I notice how, when she is shuffling or moving to put a pillow under her knee or take it away, that my own posture seems stronger: it's like her own efforts remind me to relax into my own while at the same time make me feel like my non-shuffling is some sort of anchor to us both. Recently she had commented on the same thing when I'm shuffling down to another posture or attempting to adjust myself to the 'right' posture.

When I get up each time I go through the same routine for some reason of removing my stretchy zazen trousers slowly and then folding them up. I have noticed how the balance and fluidity of my one-legged trouser removal has become.

We find that we rarely, if at all talk about Buddhism or even think of ourselves as Buddhists: the practice just seems increasingly a essential to the true value of our own lives and to our relationship.

What works for our relationship seems to be at once universal and unique to our personal circumstances and tendencies. It seems that in negotiating ourselves in relation to a universal, non-arbitrary posture in zazen, so too are we negotiating ourselves relation to the non-arbitrary side of living with ourselves, others and the world as as human beings - our individual histories, experiences and tendencies etc having their own 'best fit'/ balance/posture that can be returned to as an expression of our universal and non-arbitrary fitted-ness. This universal aspect to 'best fit' is fixed, only in the sense that it is keeping up with the way it changes.

And there is the growing sense on my part, that there are moments when everything is included in nothing, which just feels like everything is OK, along with that pain - mental/physical. Sometimes it seems quite clear and stable and sometime it seems desperately sad, during or outside of formal practice - that we are going die and so much time has been wasted - but that's okay right now - right here its quite simply a breath of rich, clear life.

Where at work, in her sales job, my wife would normally be motivated by fear, she now reminds herself to enjoy to challenge, take a deep breath and come back to the moment with an it's-good-to-be-alive attitude on days when targets seem unattainable and clients seem particularly nasty. Over the last few weeks her productivity has risen, her boss has complimented her regularly on her efforts, and she has been coming home more often happy to have a marriage and a sense of moving forwards together.

cont...

Anonymous said...

Oldish Newbies fin.

I am aware more aware of the noise I bring to her difficulties, and there is, for both of us s deepening and widening sense of responsiblity: for ourselves and each other that we can kick against, like children, in the same way we can kick against that sometimes interminable quest for right posture - not enlightenment - but getting up in the morning when the alarm goes off - but with just a little bit of giving in to that 'I don't want to'. Reply: Okay then, just a a few minutes more, but you will get up, and when you do, it'll be right now. Who knows, something crappy might come up you never had the chance to let pass or do its work, properly, for once.

I'm very grateful for Brad Warner & et al's reminders about posture in zazen - in particular those nudges towards right efforts in relation to working towards full-Lotus: there are two of us newbies who are finding that attitude indispensible, and the most important aspect of not only our posture in zazen, but our posture throughout the day.
Oldish newbies Cont...

We may never get to where we want to find ourselves, but in the persistent effort we are continually starting to realise, in spots, that we're kind of already there (and not) and that our suffering and misery might just be a storehouse of nuggets for a richer life, and not just dark poison pellets to hide from, cut out or medicate away.

anon #108 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anon #108 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anon #108 said...

Thanks, oldish newbie for that honest and inspiring insight. But I'd already written this, so with apologies for shattering the mood and lowering the tone...


Backbone,

It's hardly astonishing that Dogen wrote about activities other than zazen; it's no surprise that life outside of the zendo fills much of the Shobogenzo. That doesn't answer the question.

You write:

Just to give two small example...he describes defecating and washing the ass as "the dignified practice of Buddhas" and "peaceful and joyful practices of the Tathagata". In Tenzokyokun (Instructions for the Cook) he talks of cooking and serving meals as sacred practice that is "the activity of the buddhadharma".

So: 'Zazen is practice. Cooking is practice.' Therefore cooking is zazen.' ?

Neither are the "peaceful and joyful practices of the Tathagata" and "the activity of the buddhadharma" merely synonyms for zazen.

Those "two small examples" are comments, observations if you prefer, about the nature of everyday activities. Using a term you're fond of, he's saying the 'profane' is 'sacred'.

Any more examples of "broader definitions of zazen?

Anonymous said...

Oldish Newbie,

It's so inspiring to read of how you and your wife are intent to work with your situations and grow. From the amount of clear insight and they way you wee expressing it, it seems that you both might benefit from participating in a group meditation class. Often times the teacher will open things up for discussion and it can be very helpful, if not a relief to hear how everyone else has been struggling too.

Best Regards,
Anon

proulx michel said...

Cyril Coombs said...

Thank you for your response anon 108. I have another question if you guys would entertain it. Is there any use in counting or following the breath or is it just better to do Shinkantaza (sp?)

For a beginner, or sometimes when you are really distracted, you may count your breaths, or follow your breath. But I think it can only be a pair of crutches to help you gain some ease in the practice. As soon as you may, you have to leave it, because, concentrating on your breath is not "just sitting".

Besides, if you concentrate on what you are doing at the present moment (that is, sitting) you will find out that you are also aware of your breath, since it is a part of your whole sitting...

proulx michel said...

To Oldish Newbies

Don't neglect the yoga exercices that may help you a lot into getting into the posture;

http://zenmontpellier.site.voila.fr/eng/lotus/lotus_intro.html
http://zenmontpellier.site.voila.fr/eng/lotus/suryanameng.html
http://zenmontpellier.site.voila.fr/eng/lotus/lotuseng.html
http://zenmontpellier.site.voila.fr/eng/lotus/zazeng.html

Brad Warner said...

Hmmmm....

It's not really all the leg gymnastics of full lotus I'm on about when I get dogmatic about posture. The 1/2 lotus or Burmese are good substitutes. I'm not the world's biggest fan of seiza benches, but OK.

Doing zazen in chairs is really only for those who absolutely cannot do it any other way but still want to try. I'd recommend those kneeling chairs that computer geeks use over regular chairs any day.

This kind of thing:
http://www.healthyback.com/products/healthyback/healthy-back-natural-fit-wooden-kneeling-chair-w-memory-foam/153

I know nothing of this brand. It's just the first one that came up when I searched. They seem like they just might work for people with leg issues. Actual leg issues, mind you. Not made-up ones.

Those weird "meditation chairs" that put you in a reclining position are no good at all for zazen. Use 'em for watching TV instead!

I'm talking about these kinds of things:
http://www.sagemeditation.com/products/meditation-cushions/specialty-meditation-cushions/backjack-chair.html

Not good for zazen.

My dogmatism is mainly about sitting with the back straight and balanced on the hips (ie not supported by the back of a chair or something). Also not "meditating" by laying on the floor or something (tho I did once talk to a guy who literally had no other option due to MS and told him to just do whatever he could. But that's a drastic situation that you, dear reader, are most likely not in).

I'm not so much on about how well you can twist up your legs.

OK?

anon #108 said...

NOW he tells us!

Still, we all had a lot of fun assuming what you meant ;)

Hokai said...

Hi,
Oldish Newbies

thank you for sharing your way of practice with us.
I found again myself in your description, when I was starting with zazen, the same steps led me deeper into practise.
Hold on through and keep on posting your efforts.
The idea of sharing the way with others in a sitting group is a good idea, because you can face your thoughts maybe with a good teacher. It helped me a lot.
Cheers,
Gerald

Backbone said...

anon #108 said...

So: 'Zazen is practice. Cooking is practice.' Therefore cooking is zazen.' ?


Well, that's just it, is it not? Dogen wrote much much more about Gyoji Continuous Practice than he did about just Zazen in the Lotus Posture. Zazen in the Lotus Posture, according to Dogen, is at the core, but there are very few pages of Dogen's writings that talk about Zazen/Upright Sitting compared to this Total Practice-Enligtenment in all daily activites. So, you cannot neglect any part, from Zazen to taking a shit. "Actual behavior realizes the universe". Daily activites are all the manifestation of Zazen.

Gudo's emphasis is on the heart of Buddha's enlightenment simply being about straightening the spine to get a balanced ANS, which which will then make someone an enlightened shit taker. He thinks this functional, physiological response is what is meant by manifesting in "actual behavior". Very functional view of what Zazen is about because of the effect on the body, instead of Dogen's view of Zazen as a sacred act of Buddhas. That may possibly miss Dogen's point about daily activities as Total Practice.

Daily lives in Dogen Sangha

Anyway, long day. Good night.

Anonymous said...

Oldish Newbies

Thankyou Proulx Michel for the links.
We already do some stretching for 10 - 15 mins before we sit and my be for 30 mins on weekend (a mixture of those in Robert Aitken's book and some others) but the links were still very useful. And I would like to add that I find your posts along with Jinzang's very trustworthy.

We have decided that if we can maintain our regular practice for a year, we would seek out a Teacher/Sangha. We live in Birmingham, UK. Would anyone know of any in or near where we live?

I would also like to add, in response to Brad's recent comment here, that my comment about his nudges towards Full Lotus were a response to what he wrote in Proper Posture Required a good while back, which had an effect on me. In particular:

"It might sound very politically correct to address these kinds of things. But it leads to more problems than it solves because it allows people who really could do zazen properly to make excuses for themselves and do it wrong. How do I know this, you ask? Because I am one of those people. For many years, I fooled myself into believing I was simply incapable of sitting in the lotus position. This in spite of the fact that I knew very well that I could twist my legs up in that position and hold it for several minutes at a time. My teachers were both so tough that when they saw me doing zazen wrong they didn't hit me with a stick or shout. In fact they did not say a word. They'd already explained how zazen was supposed to be done. They knew I understood. And yet I wasn't doing it right. So they just let me keep right on doing it that way.
"

I didn't take this to mean that Full Lotus was the only way and that's that, but that you should make the effort to get there if you can and do what you could do, even if it meant a bit of pain, as long as it wasn't harmful and counter-productive (a nudge towards). I knew I could get into the Lotus for a short while and my wife new she could get into the half for a short while.

I have noticed a distinct difference between the two, but more importantly, we have both found the attitude of working towards a more stable posture the best attitude -- which seems the same attitude as applied to the whole shebang.

What I mean by this is we haven't just taken up zazen -- this is just one very important kind of root routine that has been part of changing our lives through action.

My wife has stopped smoking and we have both stopped drinking and we take regular exercise. But each thing we have changed has been supported by the other things we do, and has also opened up the opportunity for other changes. I have not stopped smoking yet, but I no longer smoke when I get up. Instead I wake up, drink a glass of water, lie in bed for five, the get up and stretch and sit, then have breakfast -- slowly squeezing out a habit that is for me much more part of my routine than my wife. It hurts a bit, like the zazen, but I feel better for it, and that's how I think of right posture: right life attitude.

I have also noticed that pain can be a kind of comfort zone trap too: I have noticed that dealing with pain can be a sort of fixation that distracts me from the other things that come up when I am more comfortable: like a child crying for attention. It seems that this is a warning sign against idealising the 'right posture' and trying to 'get there' rather than 'do here'.

I am increasingly aware of the value of an experienced teacher, but at the moment we are just trying to keep things simple and honest.

Anonymous said...

Oldish Newbies

...Oh and thankyou Hokai for you supportive comments, it is reassuring to think other's have been on some kind of similar track and have kept going.

proulx michel said...

Oldish Newbies

I think you ought to check with Dogen Sangha Bristol for advice.

They might know of someone in the Midlands.

Anonymous said...

Oldish Newbies

Thanks Proulx Michel

anon #108 said...

Hi Backbone,

Again, allow me to repeat some things I've said before -

"Yes, Gudo is now old and what was once "my [Gudo's] supposition" (and only one of his '4 views' of Zazen) has become a kind of mantra."

So I agree that the ANS appears to have become his "central message" (certainly on his blog).

I agree that not life, nor Buddhism, nor the teaching of Dogen can be satisfactorily summarised with the instruction, "keep a straight spine" (mind you, Kodo Sawaki and S Suzuki have, on occassion 'summarised' Buddhism that way - it's not uncommon in Zen - but is that their only message?).

I'm confident that even those taught by Gudo, or by his Dharma-heirs, have other things to think and say about Buddhism than "keep a straight spine". I'm also confident they think and feel. It's simply not possible for anyone to sit zazen, or to do anything as a "mechanical act of the body (as you once suggested)."

But, for most of his life, Gudo's "central message" about zazen was summarised thus:

"We can describe four aspects in the practice of Zazen. They are: 1) Different from thinking; 2) Making the body right [the balance of the ANS, supposes Gudo]; 3) Oneness of body-and-mind; and 4) Oneness with the Universe".

My guess is that that is what he still believes. But I agree that, for whatever reason (age/his perceived need to de-mystify zen?), he increasingly emphasises 2) as the expense of 1), 3) and 4) these days.

We agree that no one is expected (certainly not by Gudo or his students) to blindly accept what Gotama, Dogen, Gudo, Brad Warner, or Uncle Tom Cobley have said or written.

So is there anything we disagree about?

Perhaps we disagree only about this:

I don't think Dogen's view of zazen can be satisfactorily summarised by the expression "the sacred act of Buddhas." It's a very nice expression - and is it so far from this:

"When we are sitting in Zazen we are one with the Universe, and the state includes all things and phenomena. In that sense, although we are experiencing the state, we cannot grasp it intellectually. We cannot describe it completely. We call the state “ineffable,” or “dharma,” or “truth,” or “reality.” But even these words are inadequate to describe the simple and original state that we return to in Zazen." [Gudo/Mike L] ?

- but "Sacred" just doesn't do it for me. I don't practice zazen because the way the Buddhas sat is "sacred". To me, that sounds like a very "strange idea" indeed.

But that's just me. It doesn't really matter, does it, why we think we sit, so much as that we do it. Not worth starting a war over, I feel.

About everything else, I believe we are in total agreement. That may be a nice place from which to move on.

Stephanie said...

Brad,

Thanks for the clarification! I agree completely with everything in your comment, and that "sitting with the back straight and balanced on the hips (ie not supported by the back of a chair or something)" is a significant part of the physical practice of zazen.

I'm glad to have this clarification because I truly had no idea what the justification was for folding one's legs one particular way over another particular way.

I could force my body into full lotus, but a lot of factors related to my body shape made that a very unstable posture for me (my top leg would always start shifting or sliding down), and it also caused excessive numbness and physical pain at times. Switching to Burmese solved all that. I've literally sat for over an hour while on retreat without any physical pain or excessive numbness while in Burmese posture. (Half-lotus feels "lopsided" to me and is less stable.) As soon as I experienced the shift in my practice when changing from full lotus to Burmese I had no doubts that, at least for me, full lotus was not a superior zazen posture.

I wouldn't want anyone else wasting their time trying to force their body into the "perfect posture" when it actually is a "less perfect" posture for sitting for their body type.

Thanks again for the clarification.

Stephanie

Anonymous said...

Oldies Newbies

In response to Stephanie's post

"I wouldn't want anyone else wasting their time trying to force their body into the "perfect posture" when it actually is a "less perfect" posture for sitting for their body type."...

and in light of this from Brad's Perfect Posture Required...

"Since I discovered what real sitting was I must have encountered a couple dozen other lame-o's just like me who actually could manage the posture if they made a little bit of effort, but who begged out of it with all kinds of half-assed excuses. These guys (who seem to all be American and male, by the way, for what that's worth) all seem to be saying, "Hey, look at me, I'm not one of those cross-legged schmucks. Cuz I have a unique problem with my legs/back/neck, you see..."

(http://homepage.mac.com/doubtboy/posture.html for the full article.)

...I was wondering if I could have some clarification:

What constitutes having the wrong body-type for sitting in half or full Lotus?

Is it better to stay with say Burmese if your legs slip and half/full lotus feels uncomfortable or feels less stable, or is it better practice to do the stretching and cope with the pain and the difficulties?

We both experienced our feet slipping of our thighs at first, as Stephanie mentioned, and I still do sometimes when I get into my best full-lotus, depending on how stiff I am and the time of day etc. Does the yoga stretching and the bearing of light to moderate pain constitute forcing ourselves wrongly for some wrongly idealistic notion of perfect' posture'?

Is full or half lotus really much better postures if you can do it?

Stephanie, if it's not too personal question and I'm not having a go, but is there anything specific that makes your body-type unfit for half and full-lotus that we should be aware of, that an experienced teacher has verified?

As I have already mentioned, we have been doing this for three months, but know nobody we can call on to check this and so are constantly reading and checking other peoples views/experiences so that we can negotiate our way to maintaining the best practice.

anon #108 said...

Hi oldie newbies,

If I may poke my nose in...

Proulx Michel, one of Nishijima's Dharma hiers, suggested contacting Dogen Sangha Bristol. Mike Luetchford, another of Gudo's heirs, (have I mentioned Mike? ;)), leads the group (there are other groups around the country), and I'm sure would be happy to talk to you about this, via email or telephone.

Here are the contact details.

You'll get no dogmatic "my way or the highway" from him. Mike's now in his mid-60s, and I know that he was unable to sit in full lotus for 9 years, then found he could, so did, and now finds he can't. You might find it useful to have a chat with him.

Harry said...

Hi,

James Ford, on his 'Monkey Mind' blog, published a nice quote from Bertrand Russell:

“the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

... It points at extremes to emhpasise its point, but it sure has a point.

Regards,

Harry.

Anonymous said...

Oldish Newbies

Thankyou anon#108

I have already looked up the site on Proulx Michels advice and read the Pdf on good practice by Gudo and Mr Luetchford.

By the way, I don't always mind certain types of my-way-or-the-highway, even if it can make the ego bristle sometimes, as it can also help in allowing one to drop self-centred attitudes. Sometimes the opposite can be covert or unconscious versions of the worst kind. I suppose it rests on how one understands the 'my way' part of the equation and how and when it's expressed.

Hokai said...

Hi
oldish newbies

check this out!

http://www.tisarana.org.sg/Deta%20Base%20html/Europe/england.htm

I think, there will be somewhere the right place for you.
Good luck and a good practice,
Gerald

Anonymous said...

Oldish Newbies

To Harry on fanatics and doubters.

Yes, as Yeats bewailed "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity".

I would add though, that at my best my doubts are skeptical, and at my worst my doubts have stifled action.

Certainty in action, while immersed in doubt, would be my expression of what I learnt as youngster playing sport: before a match would start I'd hardly be able to kick the ball, but once the whistle blew, I did things I didn't think I was able to and I was quite fearless compared to the nervous young lad I was often. And then I was full of passionate intensity of the best kind. Not only that, but we had a great PE teacher who taught us to throw a basketball my making the shape of a swan, yet had the sort of fearsome my-way-or-the-highway grip on us when called for. Shame about the teachers strike back then.

Anonymous said...

Oldish Newbies

Thanks for the link Hokai, most welcome, although I have already looked up the centres on there and they are different traditions. There doesn't seem to be any Soto centre nearer than the Bristol one, unless there are some more informal ones that are unregistered.

I'm sure something will come up or we'll end up getting there at the right time, though.

Cheers

Geezees Custom Canvas Art said...

interesting post...off to read more of what you have to say !

Anonymous said...

Please read and donate here if you can.

Harry said...

"I would add though, that at my best my doubts are skeptical, and at my worst my doubts have stifled action."

Hi Oldish Newbies, and welcome here.

I think there is doubt as skepticism, or intellectual doubt, and then there is a more profound sort of fundemental, existential 'doubt' that many humans may be vaguely familiar with as a formless, gnawing feeling of unknowing in the gut.

The latter sort of thing has long been recognised in Zen Buddhist tradition and other great traditions of sincere enquiry.

Regards,

Harry.

Jinzang said...

Harry, I think you're confusing doubt with dread. The sort of doubt Hakuin talks about is more like you know a problem has an answer, but you can't figure out what the answer is.

Anonymous said...

Anger and pain.

I had an incident . I was out to dinner with friends and one of the friends hit me with a comment that made me so angry and hurt you could boil an egg on my hara. I responded quietly . With out incident , although part of me wanted to tell the person to fuck off.
Moments later I wasn't feeling well I stood up and passed out and fell flat on face.Out cold. a moment later I stood up took a few more steps and fell face down . Out cold again. I regained consciousness and started to get up again. By this time the whole restaurant was yelling stay down!I felt like a prize fighter and the crowd very compassionately telling me to stay down.

I went to the hospital and all things checked out O.K.

Repressed anger? Ego bruised? Darn ego.
Anger is a difficult one to deal with.
If anyone has any constructive input I would greatly appreciate it. How do you deal with anger and feelings of insecurity.

Thanks you

108 the dreadful said...

Jinz: I don't think Harry is confusing the two words. I think a person can dread doubt even as they work to clear away conviction. Zen doubt is more than intellectual doubt but less than dread.. maybe.

Roberto said...

No acabo de entender demasiado bien todas estas discusiones sobre la postura. Desde mi adolescencia, supongo que antes también, aunque no recuerdo si lo intenté, me puedo sentar em loto completo. Lo cual no tiene merito alguno, pues se trata simplemente de una característica congenita, supongo. Me es fácil tambień conseguir de forma más o menos espontanea un cierto grado de tranquilidad mental durante la meditación. Medite solo o acompañado.

Pero no creo que realmente nada de eso sea la meditación es si misma. Considero que tan solo son su preliminares. Sus condiciones. Una buena postura (en la que creo que más que las piernas lo básico es la posición correcta de la espalda) y una cierta tranquilidad mental, que en mis caso se establece, o reestablece, precisamente por la rectitud de la columna.

Pero es a partir de ahí donde en realidad enmpieza realmente la meditación. No cuando hablamos y hablamos de sus condiciones mínimas, sino cuando nos olvidamos de ellas y damos un salto más allá.

anon #108 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anon #108 said...

Hi anon @1.23pm,

Why didn't you tell your good friend to fuck off? No need to slice him with the steak-knife, but a verbal seeing-to might've been appropriate. That energy's got to go somewhere.

When I get angry or frustrated, I say something. If saying it directly to the big guy that just barged me in the street might endanger my safety, I mutter a few curses to myself. That really does dissipate my anger. If I tell myself I should feel compassion for the ignorant sod, and I repress my feelings, the frustration persists - and I still resent him.

Same in zazen. Sometimes there are strong, negative thoughts and feeling that just won't drift by like clouds (do any?). So I think and feel them. Then they're gone.

Just my opinion and my experience. Others will tell you to do more metta practice. But I'm a very poor Buddhist.

Anonymous said...

Thank you #108

When the anger hit me I did notice that I let myself feel it 100% . I dug deep. Maybe too deep. And I just didn't respond to the guy.

Thank you again your dialogue is very much appreciated.

dsla said...

Zazen with Kevin Bortolin, April 24

Kevin Bortolin will give the talk and zazen instruction this Saturday.

Kevin Bortolin’s Website

Stephanie said...

Stephanie, if it's not too personal question and I'm not having a go, but is there anything specific that makes your body-type unfit for half and full-lotus that we should be aware of, that an experienced teacher has verified?

I was writing more in the mode of 'personal reflection,' not scientific analysis ;)

I assume that there is something about my body type--the length, shape, or size of my legs--that causes the top leg to slip down when I put my legs in full lotus. I have open / flexible hips, so I'm pretty sure it's not that. I asked many different yoga teachers over a span of time what causes the 'leg slipping' thing, and none of them had an answer. It struck me as odd as I figured it was a common problem, and that if I learned how to do the posture "correctly" it would stop happening. But no one was ever able to pinpoint what it was. Hell, I think I even asked Brad one of the times I sat with him when I was in SoCal, and he didn't have an answer either.

I noticed it happens more when using a zafu than when not using one. Of course, the problem with this is that the height created by a zafu adds comfort, stability, and a strong 'triangular base' to a sitting pose. I can sit in lotus or other cross legged postures with my butt on the floor, but not for extended periods of time.

I've experienced enough in my practice that it doesn't bother me any more what exact posture I'm sitting in as long as it is comfortable, stable, and promotes alertness. I find sitting in a self supported posture with a soft but strong spine promotes alertness. But I've got no superstitious beliefs that something mystical happens when you contort yourself into a particular posture. I don't study chakras or "winds" or "pressure points" or any of that. I think that whatever there is of use in any such study might be useful for other purposes but not for waking up.

I haven't had any kensho experiences, but I have, over the course of my practice, 'opened to the truth' a little more. And one thing I know now is that there is no magic formula for it. If it isn't here, now, in this particular configuration of variables, where is it then? Can you pin it on a map?

What keeps us at a remove from our experience is our identification with our thinking mind. That's all. That's the simplicity of Zen. All you have to do is see that reality is not your thoughts about how things work, it's how things work. Which, again, is not what you think about how things work.

To me, believing that a certain posture is more likely to put you in contact with truth is no different than believing there's "one true way to Heaven." It's magical thinking. It's the mind trying to find something to grasp onto. If you can be absolutely certain that you are correct, your ego is existentially validated. But that's why we don't wake up--because we'd rather validate our egos than let go of our concepts and our desire to be right and to be validated.

If you sit with the goal of making some particular thing happen, you're just cranking the same grinderbox you're cranking the rest of the time, but doing it in a "holier" context. And sitting in "the correct posture" is sitting with the idea of getting something out of sitting in "the correct posture."

As "Oldish Newbies" have beautifully articulated, the practice of sticking to one posture can yield openings as well. Surrendering one's desire to experiment and "do it my own way." That's letting go, and that's what it's about. If what you're doing is working, is waking you up, helping you see your delusions as delusions, bringing you closer to your loved ones, then by all means keep doing it!!

Anonymous said...

the anger post is interesting. I hope Brad chimes in.
How does one know when they are suppressing or when one is dealing with it or is both possible? What does one do when you can't let go? Deal with it I guess. But how?

Anonymous said...

stephanie,
I had a similar problem and solved it with a feldenkrais lesson. Feldenkrais was a black belt in Judo and a physicist and created a great sophisticated body practice. It's very very subtle but it put my feet up on around my ears. The problem was certain part of my glutes and hamstrings were not releasing fully.

Anonymous said...

OLdish Newbies
Birmingham is a centre of Buddhist Practice. It is the Home town of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, who I practiced with in London for years and found very beneficial (They focus more on Anapanasati and Metta Bhavana practices, with some teachers and communities starting to focus more on Just Sitting as well), There is also a teacher called Dave Smith in Birmingham, who studied Rinzai Zen for years then went to Sri Lanka to ordain for three years, and returned to UK, wrote a book on his experience, then sat on it for fifteen years, finally released it and became a Teacher on the back of the interest the book, and its sequel created. He emphasises just sitting. His group Dharmamind.net, sit weekly at The Friends Meeting house in Kings Heath. Although neither of these groups are strictly Soto Zen, both have a wealth of experience in Meditation and should be able to help you along,
Best Wishes
OzMatt

Barry M. said...

A technique is something we can do right or wrong, well or badly. True practice is about being grounded in a place free from these dichotomies. So we need to frame our practice in such a way that we do not get lost in dualisms of right or wrong, progress or the lack of it.

I have found that a good way of maintaining this perspective is to liken sitting to looking in a mirror. When you sit down on your cushion, the state of your mind and body automatically appears to you, the way your face instantly appears in a mirror. The mirror does all the work. You can’t do it right or wrong. Approach your sitting in the same way. You can’t do it wrong. It’s not a technique to master or something you can fail at. It’s just being yourself, being your experience of this moment, over and over. It’s simple, but if we’re honest, not always easy.

Barry M. said...

Why? Because we don’t always like what we see in the mirror. We are tempted to either turn away or try to touch up our image. We want our sitting to make us what we are not; we want to be calm, clear, or enlightened. We’d like to be able to call that rejection of our self just as we are “aspiration,” but all too often it’s just another word for self-hate. Sitting, first and foremost, is sitting with who we are—what we see in the mirror. Our practice is to sit and look and say to ourselves, over and over, “That’s me.”

Cherish your questions, but do not chase after answers. Sit still amid your doubt, restlessness, loneliness, and anxiety. They are not obstacles to your practice—they are your practice.

Practice will expose the roots of our emotional distress. The Buddha taught, and our practice will reaffirm, that our underlying fear of change and our unavoidable physical vulnerability leads us in the futile attempt to hold onto something permanent, to imagine—against all the evidence—that our “self” can somehow be made invulnerable. Though we may start out with the fantasy that practice will be the road to that invulnerability, it turns out to be just the opposite. Practice teaches us to sit with the vulnerability we all try to avoid, and to gradually learn to abide within the ongoing flux of our ever-changing consciousness and ever-shifting physical sensations.

Anger & Pain said...

BarryM, thank you for those words.

Anonymous said...

What keeps us at a remove from our experience is our identification with our thinking mind. That's all. That's the simplicity of Zen. All you have to do is see that reality is not your thoughts about how things work, it's how things work. Which, again, is not what you think about how things work.

To me, believing that a certain posture is more likely to put you in contact with truth is no different than believing there's "one true way to Heaven." It's magical thinking. It's the mind trying to find something to grasp onto.

AMEN, sister steph!

Straw Man said...

.

Straw Man said...

What keeps us at a remove from our experience is our identification with our thinking mind. That's all. That's the simplicity of Zen.

That's only part of it.

Anonymous said...

"When your mind moves, do not follow it and it will detach itself from the movement. And when your mind rests upon something, do not follow it and it will detach itself from that upon which it rests." If you truly want to enter the realm of enlightenment, then it is necessary for you to clear out your mind so that it is as empty as a vacant room. Detach yourselves from your old views and from all grasping. Stop trying to understand reality through the use of conceptual thinking, and your false ideas and suppositions will dissolve of themselves. If you follow these instructions, then you are on the path to enlightenment."
Zen Master Pai Chang

"Covered by seeing, hearing, touching and thinking, one cannot see the brightness of Original Mind. If suddenly one is without mind, Original Mind will appear like the great sun in the sky, illuminating everywhere without obstruction.

Most Dharma students only know seeing, hearing, touching and thinking as movement and function and are, therefore, unable to recognize Original Mind at the moment of seeing, hearing, touching and thinking. However, Original Mind does not belong to seeing, hearing, touching and thinking but also is not distinct or separate from these activities. The view that one is seeing, hearing, touching and thinking does not arise; and yet one is not separate from these activities."

Q: What instructions have the Masters everywhere given for dhyana-practice (zazen) and the study of the Dharma?

A: "Words used to attract the dull of wit are not to be relied on."

Zen Master Huang Po

Jinzang said...

It's magical thinking.

You put the body in a position where you can forget the body, so thoughts about the body don't distract the mind. You sit with an undistracted mind so you can see it as it is. And enlightenment is nothing more than that.

As unlikely as it may seem, when you can sit in full lotus without pain, lotus is the most stable and comfortable position to sit in for long periods of time. For that reason, it is the best position for meditation.

Jinzang said...

All you have to do is see that reality is not your thoughts about how things work, it's how things work. Which, again, is not what you think about how things work.

It's more like there's work, but no things doing the work.

Anon #801 said...

A: "Words used to attract the dull of wit are not to be relied on."


You mean such as "Big Mind" ® (TM)?

asesse said...

Q: What instructions have the Masters everywhere given for dhyana-practice (zazen) and the study of the Dharma?

A: "Words used to attract the dull of wit are not to be relied on."


Zen Master Huang Po.



Yep. It's a well-known fact that Huang-po and his monks didn't practice zazen. They just kinda hung out and discussed avoiding conceptual thinking.

bud said...

Jinzang,
'You put the body in a position where you can forget the body, so thoughts about the body don't distract the mind. You sit with an undistracted mind so you can see it as it is. And enlightenment is nothing more than that.'

Have to disagree with you there. Even before you posted this I was thinking that there was something off about this discussion. It's the false idea that you 'put' the body in a position and then forget about it so the 'real work' of spiritual awakening can happen. Whereas in Soto Zen (and ultimately in Rinzai, although koan training can seem like the above when not properly understood)the posture is an active, moment by moment activity that forms the background for the thoughts and feelings rising and falling. This, I believe, is the reason Brad and Gudo stress posture so much: it IS just sitting, mind and body as one, not some incidental factor.

But this doesn't mean that if one is unable to sit in lotus one can't practise. Even lying down will work if one is too ill to sit up (Hubert Benoit, one of Joko Beck's main influences, practised quite fruitfully while being bed ridden for years after getting caught in a bomb blast during WW 2).

Also, 'when you can sit in full lotus without pain' sets up a caveat that may be imposible to get around. If pain is present (which, at least in the form of discomfort, it will be almost inevitably) it can be experienced as just another sensation in the unfolding of the moment.

anon #108 said...

Bud wrote: [in full lotus] If pain is present (which, at least in the form of discomfort, it will be almost inevitably)...

I've been reading about zen, on and off, since I was a teenager, but I've only been sitting zazen for about 5 years.

After 18 months of sitting and stretching I could sometimes sit in full lotus without pain or discomfort. So I'd swap between full and half - I experienced the difference, and concluded that full lotus is a jolly good thing.

Then, about two years later, on a 3-day sesshin, I found that, suddenly, even half-lotus was painful - I don't know why. So I sat some of the sesshin in (kinda) Burmese and some of it in half lotus. The initial discomfort would subside as I sat and settled.

I've not tried to force myself back to full lotus - I can feel the sensitivity in my right knee (meniscus, I guess), and I don't want to injure myself. I sit comfortably in half lotus (only with left leg on top). I'm working on getting my hips more flexible, again - but I'm 57...we'll see.

The point is that I've decided how much pain/discomfort it's reasonable or sensible for me to handle: very little. If some occurs, fine - I agree that a little discomfort may be a part of sitting; as I sit with tinnitus I'm no stranger to it. But IME it's not inevitable - or, IMO, desirable.

YMMV and you can, of course, do what you like :)

anon #108 said...

...So discomfort at the beginning, which may re-occur, is very likely - perhaps inevitable. But IME/IMO, regular discomfort as part of regular sitting is not inevitable, necessary, or sensible...is what I'm saying.

bud said...

anon 108,
I wasn't careful enough with my choice of words. By pain I was thinking various forms of unpleasantness- tension, stiffness, tiredness, illness- and by inevitable i meant at some point, not as a rule. it is definitely important to know the difference between harmless (maybe even beneficial, in the sense of stretching things out) tension in the knees, for example, and when you're actually doing harm. (After years of sitting with no problems in half-lotus, I got the notion I should do full. After developing permanent pain in my knees after a few weeks I went back to half, and again no problems).

The points I failed to make were: that one should not expect no displeasure when sitting, and that when it arises it should not be seen as something wrong to be gotten rid of in order to get to the real work of practice; it is, like all that arises, practice itself.

proulx michel said...

Jinzang wrote:

As unlikely as it may seem, when you can sit in full lotus without pain, lotus is the most stable and comfortable position to sit in for long periods of time. For that reason, it is the best position for meditation.

Our custom of sitting on chairs makes us stiff to a dreary point. I've wanted for years to be able to sit on my heels like they all do from the Middle East to the Far East, but my ankles are too stiff. I can no longer sit full lotus because my left knee won't allow it. But half lotus is all right. I can sit an hour without moving. I'd never be able to do that sitting on a chair. And yet, I no longer slouch in a chair, because I now find this much too uncomfortable. I sit on a chair with my hips balanced and my spine erect, but nevertheless, that's not a position where you can sit for an hour (nor a mere quarter of an hour) without moving.

anon #108 said...

Hi Bud,

I agree with pretty much everything you wrote - I used your 'pain' point as an excuse to say some stuff, and realised I might be misrepresenting the spirit of your comment. Apologies for that ;)

bud said...

anon 108,
No worries!

Anonymous said...

What's with you and Big Mind? All of this reminds me of the East Coast/West Coast rap rivalry of the 1990's. "Ya'll Big Mind fools are a bunch of trick-ass phonies. Ya'll ain't hard." "Whateva Brad, ya fake ass wangsta, M.C. Genpo will battle you anytime anywhere. So bring it beeatch! I gotcha dharma right here. BIG SKY MOTHAFUCKA!" There's nothing like a good old fashioned zen beef to drive up book sales and increase exposure amirite?

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