Friday, 29 February 2008

Six Samsaric Realms: Preamble

Master Dogen wrote, in Shobogenzo chapter 4, Ikka no Myoju, The One Bright Pearl:

"Do not worry about falling or not falling into the six states of cause and effect. They are the original state of being right from head to tail, which is never unclear, and the bright pearl is its features and the bright pearl is its eyes."

"The six states of cause and effect" is originally ROKUDO NO INGA. INGA means cause and effect. ROKU means six. DO means ways, states, worlds, realms. ROKUDO NO INGA expresses the experience that, our karma being as it is, in our everyday life we seem to transmigrate endlessly through a cyclical succession of states -- traditionally enumerated as hell, followed by the realms of hungry ghosts, animals, asuras, human beings and gods.

When I was discussing my understanding of this teaching recently with an old friend in sitting-zen, he made a remark along the lines of: "Mike, you are not saying anything new. People long ago made the connection between the six realms and psychological states."

Now, maybe I am wrong on this. Maybe I protest too much. Maybe James Cohen, in his wisdom and compassion, is correct in his internet diagnosis of me (never having met me face to face)and his resulting proposal that I should be reconsidered for re-admission into Dogen Sangha only after completing a course of psychological counselling under a qualified professional. Maybe I am wrong, but I do not see the transmigration through the six samsaric realms, which I have been experiencing now for more than 25 years from the vantage point of sitting in lotus four times a day, as primarily a psychological problem. Neither do I sit this transmigration as primarily a problem of imbalance of the autonomic nervous system -- although comparing the insight of psychologists such as Cohen and the like, with Gudo's insight into the primacy in sitting-zen of the physical body, might be like comparing the light of a firefly and the brightness of a full mooon.

What I am proposing is that the six samsaric realms are primarily neither psychological nor autonomic states, but primarily vestibular states. I am talking on the basis of what Master Nagarjuna called pratitya-samutpada, grounded arising -- rising from real grounds. Rising from the ground, in the case of every real human being from Sakyamuni on down and back up again, has invariably been primarily a vestibular problem.

(1) Raw Fear

It has come to this -- confessing in public what it is like being in hell.

Truly being in hell is sitting in full lotus at dawn in Japan, spine held rigidly up, chin forcefully pulling back and down into the neck, your whole system caught in the frozen double-handed grip of the fear paralysis response vs the baby panic reflex, while back in England the woman you love is retiring for the night to the bed of another bloke. And nobody is to blame but your stupid self.

All my clumsy efforts to promote the Buddha's teaching, from doing donkey work for Gudo in Japan to more recent groping in England for the meaning of "vestibular re-education," have been grounded in the fearful fire of hell.

In the final analysis, as Master Dogen truly says, in hell or not is nothing to worry about. Truly being is the thing. And as an easy and joyful gate to truly being there is, according to Master Dogen, no greater Dharma-gate than sitting in full lotus -- even if it is only bodily, with a posture that is rigidly fixed on the horns of a hellish dilemma.

Left to its own devices, fear paralysis would quench the fires of hell, and bring all to a totally peaceful conclusion -- parinirvana. But as long as the deathly pallor of fear paralysis is opposed by the red flush of its dialectic opposite, the most primitive of all vestibular reflexes, the baby panic reflex, the fires of hell continue to burn.

Ah, the fires of hell!

I remember one morning at the end of 1985, sitting opposite Gudo in his office, in a very agitated state. It was shortly after a short holiday in England. "The fire is burning again," observed Gudo, stating the obvious.

Ah, the fires of hell!

It is a principle that, in the heat of a moment, I am always liable to forget, but even the fires of hell are subject to the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

(2) Gravitational Insecurity & General Disorientation

The state of the hungry ghost, as I continue to experience it, when I wake up every morning, and at the beginning of every sitting before I get round to slowly bowing and swaying, is akin to being seasick. There is a perfectionistic yearning to feel secure on solid ground and thence to know: where is the vertical? where is the horizon? where is up and where is down? where am I and where am I going? what do I really want? The hungry ghost yearns to know the answer to questions like these, but he does not know and cannot know, at least not as definitely as he would like. He feels insecure primarily with respect to where he is within the gravitational field, and hence insecure with respect to everything.

Being a hungry ghost in search of solid ground, I sailed from Tokyo to the Pacific island of Okinawa in April 1982, and landed at the karate-dojo of Sensei Morio Higaonna, Chief Instructor of the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Federation. Higaonna Sensei was a devotee of traditional karate-do, based on traditional forms called kata. One kata was emphasized as particularly important, and that was sanchin kata. Higaonna Sensei described this practice as kihon no naka no kihon -- basic to that which is basic.

To practice sanchin kata under the watchful eye and incredibly powerful and communicative hands of Higaonna Sensei, which is what I am doing in the above photo, was one of the most grounding and awakening experiences my vestibular/proprioceptive system has ever had.

After one such training session, I got a lift on the back of the motorbike of a fellow trainee to the English language bookshop in Okinawa, where I spotted this:

The title appealed strongly to the hungry ghost in me: it hinted at a promise of certainty, security, as to what the fundamental rules of Zen were.

Then, when I opened the book and saw two photos of Master Kodo Sawaki sitting bolt upright in the full lotus posture, head shaved, clothed immaculately in a traditional kasaya, I did not need to read a single word. I proceeded directly to the till.

Back at the hotel where I was staying, I started to try following the instructions that the book set out, and showed the book to my friend and mentor in karate-do, David Essoyan, and even took a photo of him reading it (note the evidence of recent work on punching board on David's first two knuckles!).

David's eyes in the photo are the eyes of a man who has befriended, has taken under his wing, and is looking directly at, a hungry ghost. I was a hungry ghost then, just beginning its sitting-zen life, and I am a hungry ghost now with 26 years of sitting-zen behind me. The main difference between my state then and my state now is that I am much more clear than I was about what the fundamental basis of the state of the hungry ghost is.

A pioneer in the field of occupational therapy named A.Jean Ayres, in her book Sensory Integration and the Child, coined the phrase "gravitational insecurity." When I met Peter Blythe of INPP Chester in 1998, Peter clarified for me the connection between this state of gravitational insecurity, familiar to hungry ghosts everywhere, and aberrance of the baby balance reflex or, to give it its scientific name, the tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR).

When, during my training at INPP Chester, I tested my father for immaturity of the TLR, by moving his head backward and forward, he coped quite well with his eyes open. But when I asked him to close his eyes and tilted his head backwards, he simply fell over, as if he had drunk 12 pints of beer. Aberrance of this vestibular reflex, the TLR, it seems, is a genetic trait of the Cross family.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

(3) Of Reptiles, Cats, Donkeys, Sheep & Monkeys

Shown below are some illustrations of another vestibular reflex stimulated by extension of the neck. In the pure form of this reflex, called the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR), when the neck is extended forelimbs (or arms) extend while hindlimbs (or hips & knees) flex.

In human development, the STNR enables the baby, at around 6 months old, to get itself up off its tummy for the first time, and point its own spine upward. In evolutionary terms, after our ancestors slithered out of the primeval swamp and practiced crawling on the belly for a few millions years, it must have been the STNR, or some precursor thereof, that enabled us, for the first time, to get up on to all fours.

In an increasing number of sittings as I have got older, my sitting-zen does not seem to get this far up the developmental/evolutionary food chain, in which case I try to find a bit of ease in my pre-STNR, sub-simean slumped condition -- as opposed to the alternative of trying to show a more human form by stiffening my neck into extension.

(4) Half Way to Being Human

The asura is a good old friend of mine, an energetic but contrary old bugger.

He stands in opposition to everybody and everything. Many know him as one who defies gods, but he is much more than a fighter of devas. He opposes beings in hell as well, and not always in a malevolent way; rather, by the example of his own vigorous action, he points and shouts the way out.

Reptiles and amphibians, all beings that crawl around on their bellies, propelled by cross-pattern movements of their limbs: these are both encouraged along and held back by the asura. Sheep and donkeys, creatures that walk and run on all fours: these also are originally directed forward in their development by the asura; but then the asura stands in the way of their futher progress. No further development, no fuller integration of limb movements, is possible until the asura is well and truly defeated. The asura lays the foundation for, and then -- until conquered -- gets in the way of, cross-pattern movements of the limbs, in any of the six realms.

To beings in hell, hungry ghosts, and animals, the asura points the way up to the human realm, yelling "Get a move on!" To James Cohen and the like, to the celestial devas of this world, he points the way back down, yelling: "Reality is not primarily psychological, you pretentious air heads! Pratitya-samutpada means GROUNDED arising."

The asura exhibits, very strongly and manifestly, what the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex is and what the ATNR does -- splitting everything in half, one-sidedly. When the head turns and the eyes look to the left, messages are sent, and energy is made available, for the left arm and leg (the jaw limbs) to extend, and the right arm and leg to flex.

I cannot claim the credit for identifying the connection between the asura and the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex. The credit for that goes to Tadashi Fukuda.

In a 1965 paper for the Psychological Review, the Alexander teacher Frank Pierce Jones cited Fukuda's paper in a sub-section titled Head-Neck Reflexes in Man:

"In human beings, the influence of the head-neck reflexes is masked by patterns of voluntary activity. The mechanisms are clearly present, however. They have been frequently demonstrated in infants (Gesell, 1954; Peiper 1963), young children (Landau, 1923; Schaltenbrand, 1925), patients with neurological diseases (Simons, 1923: Walshe, 1923), and in normal adults (Hellebrandt, Schade, & Cairns, 1962; Tokizane, 1951; Wells, 1944). A large number of drawings and photographs to illustrate the patterns of head-neck reflexes as they manifest themselves in dancing, sport, and everyday activity were brought together by Fukuda (1957)."

(Frank Pierce Jones, "Method for Changing Stereotyped Response Patterns by the Inhibition of Certain Postural Sets"; Psychological Review Vol. 72, pp. 196-214)

I do not have a copy of Fukuda's 1957 paper, but I have an old photocopy of a later paper by Fukuda which contains the following observations:

"It is rather surprising to find that artists of ancient times perceived the presence of the tonic neck reflex by their extremely sharp observation of their subjects and expressed it in their creations. A. Guttich (1924) carefully inspected many old Greek pieces of sculpture and discovered that the role of the tonic neck reflex underlied the composition of those statues. With the use of the concrete examples he pointed out that the lower extremity, corresponding to the jaw limbs, showed extension in various standing statues expressing static postures and that the other arm, corresponding to the skull limb, tended to be flexed. As for dynamic postures, he took the discus-thrower of Myron as an example and pointed out that the arm holding the discus, which corresponds to the jaw limb, was stretched maximally."

"In seeking similar examples in works of Japanese artists of by gone eras, the author was able to find many in which the tonic neck reflex is typically expressed.
Fig. 36 shows a Buddhist Statue: in the upper extremities the extension of the jaw limb and flexion of the skull limb may be observed clearly and, accordingly, a strong sensation of tension coupled with energy may be felt. Fig. 37 shows the God of thunder drawn by the very famous old-time Japanese painter, Sotatsu Tawaraya. Here, a perfect expression of the tonic neck reflex may be seen: i.e. extension of the two jaw limbs and flection of the two skull limbs. It is worthy of note that in this picture, not only is the head turned to the left but also the eyes are deviated to the left."

("Studies in Dynamic Posture from the Viewpoint of Postural Reflexes"; T. Fukuda,1961)

(5) Being a Human Being, with Faulty Sensory Appreciation

For a normal, healthy human being to assume an upright posture, as every parade-ground instructor and Soto Zen master knows, is simply a matter of making the requisite amount of physical and mental effort.... ATTE...N... SHUN!

Truly, the path to hell is paved with such intentions.

What makes a human truly human? Some would say it is language, in which case the vital thing might be the areas of the brain and body devoted to speech and language. Some have said that the ability to use the hands to make tools was vital to the evolution of our species.

But sitting upright in the lotus posture, with ease and in stillness, does not involve either speech or manufacturing production. No, for this particular sphere of activity the vital thing might be human upright balance, for which evolution has equipped us with eyes, ears, and the sense organs of proprioception (muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs, and joint receptors), input from all of which is integrated, for better or for worse, by our vestibular system.

A vestibular reflex discussed earlier, the symmetrical tonic neck reflex (STNR), is exhibited not only by human beings from the age of about 6 months, but also by animals like cats, dogs and monkeys. The thing that makes human beings different from monkeys, from a postural point of view, is the ability of at least some of us to inhibit the STNR.

Going into a position of standing like a monkey, with the neck extended while hips and knees remain flexed, can help a person's vestibular system get re-acquainted with the STNR. Only when the vestibular system has been thoroughly acquainted with the STNR: only then can a person manifest inhibition of the STNR, by standing and walking truly upright -- neck, hips, and knees all effortlessly extended, without strain.

At this point in the discussion, I must pause, again, and ask if anybody fancies joining me for a banana? Or how about a peanut?

Inhibition of the STNR, in the natural course of an infant's development, is accomplished basically by movements, the messages for which are hard-wired deep in the infant's brain. Rocking back and forward on hands and knees, for example, facilitates inhibition of the STNR. Or, for another example, performing prostrations facilitates inhibition of the STNR.

These movements performed on hands and knees, whether performed instinctively or consciously, via hard-wiring or enlightened intention, facilitate physiological inhibition of the vestibular reflex.

Ray Evans was a human being with deep insight into the importance of the vestibular system, and the associated problem that FM Alexander identified as "faulty sensory appreciation."

It is because of faulty sensory appreciation that good intentions pave the way to hell.

On the basis of his deep insight, Ray introduced me to the field of work that he sometimes used to call "vestibular re-education." Alexander himself originally called it "Man's Supreme Inheritance." Alexander's first book was titled: Man's Supreme Inheritance -- Conscious Guidance and Control in Relation to Human Evolution in Civilization.

Alexander, you see, from the very beginning, consciously introduced consciousness into the picture. He knew that his work, though it addressed the vestibular-based problem of faulty sensory appreciation, was "the most mental thing there is."

The vestibular system, at brainstem level, is not only at the centre of processing balance-related sensory input from eyes, ears, skin, muscle spindles, et cetera; it is also integrates information coming from other sensory-processing centres, such as the cerebellum.

Detailed discussion of brain anatomy is a minefield I do not wish to enter. But this much I do know, from karate training onward: the cerebellum can be consciously re-trained.

The point I am driving at is this: the vestibular system is susceptible to re-education not only via movement and non-movement but also, within the context of movement and non-movement, via clarity of intention. Human upright balance is not a purely instinctive thing but is also a function of intelligence. The backward step to a condition of greater ease and stillness in upright sitting, CAN BE LEARNED.

Clearly understanding the need for re-education of the vestibular system, through learning how to think, Ray Evans often used to say, "Human beings have not yet learned to think in this way."

By "thinking," Ray meant something other than doing based on feeling, and something other than intellectual thinking.

Alexander work involves what is called in Alexander shorthand "thinking up." Thinking up involves a kind of evolutionary leap from reliance on purely reflex mechanisms of upright balance, which are liable to be faulty. Thinking up doesn't mean thinking about something; it means thinking itself, which is not what people think of as thinking. So maybe this new kind of thinking should not be called "thinking" at all. Maybe it should be called instead "non-thinking."

"Non-thinking." Hmmm. Where have I come across that phrase before?

What "non-thinking" is, I honestly don't know. As the years go by, I hope that I gain, bit by bit, more clarity in regard to what it isn't. That is to say, I hope I understand more clearly that non-thinking is neither doing based on feeling, nor intellectual thinking. Whatever I think "non-thinking" is, it is always not that.

Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

(6) Homage to Odysseus, Adonis, Sigmund, Carl, and other Celestial Stars

Here I pay homage not only to the mythical heroes in whose tracks I have deludedly aspired to follow; I pay homage not only to the likes of Odysseus, Adonis, and Narcissus, but also to real stars, past and present, of modern pscyhology, whose wisdom has gone far beyond earthly concerns like vestibular dysfunction. Homage to Sigmund. Homage to Carl Gustav. Homage to Jundo Jim.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Opening Pandora's Box

In 1998-99, after completing a 3-year Alexander teacher training course, I followed in the footsteps of my Alexander Head of Training, Ray Evans, and trained at INPP Chester ( as a... what? A developmental practitioner. A specialist in developmental re-education. A reflex inhibition therapist. A vestibular re-educator. A teacher of developmental movement. A specialist in the diagnosis and remediation of aberrant primitive reflexes. A neuro-developmental therapist. There is no adequate label. Peter Blythe, who founded INPP more than 30 years ago, once commented that INPP's field of work was in the middle way between medicine and education.

My intention in going to train at Chester was not to get a professional qualification and to work in the field; I just wanted to deepen my understanding of this secret knowledge Ray seemed to have about the vestibular system and these deep and mysterious things called primitive reflexes. The training, however, involved taking some people through reflex inhibition programmes as case studies, and one thing has continued, in a small way, to lead to another. Thus, over the past ten years directing "The Middle Way Re-education Centre," I have been increasingly unable not to see the truth of Ray's contention that "It all comes back to the vestibular."

I wrote an article endeavoring to highlight the importance of the vestibular system and the vestibular reflexes, posted last May to my Middle Way blog:

Nobody has seemed to realize how important that article might be in clarifying the true meaning of the Buddha's teaching for the modern scientific age, just as I was very slow to recognize the very profound relevance to my own situation of what Ray was alluding to.

To be honest, mind you, Ray was never very good at talking about the primitive reflexes. Ray was a wide seeker and connector, and he tended to go off at tangents. My real inspiration to do the training at INPP came from a talk that an INPP-trained developmental practitioner and former schoolteacher, Jane Field, gave to a small group of Alexander teachers. Jane was very good at talking simply and clearly about the primitive reflexes. I also remember Jane arriving late for the talk, hot and very flushed -- demonstrating to us what an aberrant Moro, or baby panic reflex, really meant in practice.

Peter Blythe was even clearer than Jane. I learned more about the reflexes in my first week up in Chester from Peter than I had learned in the previous three years under Ray. Peter Blythe's father, Henry Blythe, had been a stage hypnotist, and Peter in his early years had been a chorister. There was something hypnotic in Peter's use of his voice; he could hold your attention rapt while he lay bare what he called "the building blocks of human living."

In training us as developmental therapists, Peter said our job was to be like car mechanics, fixing the nuts and bolts of the human mechanism. He recommended that, when working with adults, we should point them in the direction of psychological counselling to help them deal with the process of change. I never bought into that recommendation. I have never been drawn to talking therapies. The challenge, to me, has always been to find teachers who could really teach me something. So far I haven't come across any psycho-therapist who seemed to fit the bill. I have met several Alexander teachers, in contrast, who definitely fit the bill.

Peter used to say that it was a devil of a job to test Alexander teachers for residual primitive reflexes, because their compensatory mechanisms tended to be so well honed. But I am sure Peter could sense, as Ray seemed to be able to sense during my Alexander teacher training, the deep underlying weaknesses in my vestibular system. Peter told the class, somewhat disoncertingly, that if I came to him as a prospective client/patient, he would discourage me from undertaking a reflex inhibition programme for fear of "opening Pandora's box."

This came up in the course of some Alexander work yesterday. An Alexander teacher who I was working with, in my bare feet, commented how turned out my little toes are. She said that when people hold in their fear, the little toes also tend to be held in, but my toes show the opposite tendency. That seemed to make a kind of sense.

In Alexander work we talk a lot about "allowing." But Alexander teachers, in our deep human fear of being wrong, are very easily liable to turn allowing into just a tiny bit of its opposite, i.e. controlling, manipulating, organizing, arranging.

In the background, I seem to hear the voice still resonating -- compassionate, feisty, vibrant, alive -- of the late great Marjory Barlow, FM Alexander's niece. "Listen, love. There is no such animal as being right. There really isn't. Being wrong is the best friend we have got in this work. Being prepared to be wrong is the golden key."

To she of the jewel in the lotus, a true bodhisattva of compassion:

Om mani padme hum.

Anatomy of a Human Mistake

A human mistake, in general, has a sensory component and a motor component.

On the sensory side, the problem is that we fail to read correctly the situation in which we are in. To express this problem FM Alexander coined the phrase "faulty sensory appreciation." He thought that the way to improve our sensory appreciation was to learn to use ourselves better, which is primarily a matter of re-training the vestibular system.

On the motor side, the problem is one of making decisions about what to do and what not to do, and executing those decisions as intended. Again, Alexander opined that, in the interests of better decision making and more reasonable actions, our primary task was to learn to use ourselves better, which, again, is primarily a matter of what Ray Evans called "vestibular re-education."

When I left Japan to return to England in December 1994, having enthusiastically devoured Alexander's writings, I was full of hope that Alexander training would enable me to eliminate the kind of stupid mistakes, major and minor, that had littered my everyday life until then.

But those hopes were all totally false.

Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Human Beings -- Make Mistakes

That's Rule Number One:

Human beings make mistakes.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Being in Hell - Hypersensitivity

Yesterday, as part of my work trying to help children with immature vestibular reflexes, I was testing the listening thresholds at different frequencies of an eight year old girl, a very delicate and sensitive little creature. The earphones of my audiometer are a bit heavy and tight, so we kept pausing for a rest. But by the end of the test the little girl was weeping in her mum’s arms -- “Oh mummy, it hurts.”

Strange as it may sound coming from a karate black-belt who used to enjoy playing rugby as a back-row forward, I am a bit like that. No, to tell the truth, I am a lot like that.

For a couple of years around 1993-94, while living on the outskirts of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, I used to go to work in the city for a couple of days a week, staying at my friend’s flat in central Tokyo. I once commented to this friend that for those two days a week, I was living on fear. To go into Tokyo for me at that time was to enter hell. The stimuli I was exposing myself to were not particularly noxious ones -- trains crowded with orderly, self-restrained people, flourescent lights, humming computers, work to be done in an office staffed by thoroughly balanced and reasonable colleagues -- but I was hypersensitive to everything.

After getting back home on a Wednesday night, I would come back towards balance by, in between sitting-zen sessions, devoting myself to what I called my “donkey work” -- which mainly consisted of plodding through the Shobogenzo translation. I clearly remember around this time a conversation with Jeremy Pearson, who by then was living in Tokyo. “You are so sensitive, Mike!” Jeremy had commented, perceptively.

Actually that is how I am -- very, very sensitive. Too sensitive. The stuff that appears not to be so sensitive falls into the category, familiar to all good developmental therapists, of “compensatory mechanisms.”

Sensitivity, in the right proportions, may be a virtue. But too much of it is the essence of suffering, as is well known by all who retain an immature baby panic (or ‘Moro’) reflex, including many children and adults on the autistic spectrum and other beings in hell.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Lying Down Gatha for a Hungry Ghost

Before all else my wish is

To let the neck be free.

For any worse than this is

I do not wish to be.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Two Big Mistakes

What I have come to regard as my biggest mistake I alluded to in the last post but one on this blog: In my early 20s I threw myself recklessly into the service of Gudo Nishijima, feeling thereby to be putting myself literally in a safe pair of hands. In taking that reckless step, I failed to take into due account any possibility that Gudo, a certified Buddhist Patriarch, might have any fundamental shortcomings as a human being. And I failed to give due consideration to my own future happiness.

Gudo Nishijima always seemed to me to be a man of impeccably good intentions -- intentions of the kind, I am afraid, which pave the way to hell.

Gudo's aim has always been to "lead all people in the world" to salvation, by "promoting true Buddhism" aka "realism." In regard to the philosophy of realism, in my estimation, the brilliance of Gudo's mind is unsurpassed. So Gudo's intentions seemed to be good, and his philosophical understanding seemed to be brilliant. What his teaching turned out to lack -- and what, for me, Alexander's teaching explicitly aims to supply -- is clarity in regard to the proper means.

This Wednesday night my wife telephoned me from England (I am in France now) and told me that a cheque from Japan had arrived, together with a letter in which Gudo expresses his hope that I should share his happiness that the Shobogenzo translation has become profitable at last. I think that is like a baby offering an adult his teddy bear. It makes Gudo happy that his Shobogenzo project has finally turned a profit, and I think he sincerely wishes to share that happiness with me. Gudo's wish for me to be happy, I am sure, is real. His intention is good. It is not that Gudo has been greedy for profit. The profit is a sign for him that the project which has been a major part of his lifework, has finally become successful. That makes him very happy, and he wants to share the happiness with me.

What Gudo cannot see is that he is just manifesting to me again the view, which has informed all his actions relating to the translation of Shobogenzo into English, that the Shobogenzo project is his own personal project. When Gudo broke off our translation partnership in 1997, thereby breaking my heart, he did not break my heart deliberately. I think he did so uknowingly, accidentally, because he had not been able to get beyond his old view that the translation of Shobogenzo into English was his own personal job. He cannot drop off that view, because he does not want to drop off that view. Ironically, for a preacher of realism, he cannot spring free from this denial.

The original colour of heartbreak, I think, is white or pale blue. Heartbreak begins with shock, a mechanism closely related to the fear paralysis response, and with shock goes -- quod erat demonstrandum, ad nauseam, by yours truly-- the psychological mechanism of denial. Heartbreak is a kind of bereavement, not necessarily due to the death of a beloved person, but due to the loss of some cherished ideal or deeply held assumption. In Gudo's case, when I tried to explain to him in the 1980s the changed situation of our translation partnership by using the metaphor of building a house, telling him that I was not rebuilding a house that he had built, but rather building a new house from the ground up, he simply could not accept that. It was impossible for him to let go of the view that he was the main translator, and I was "rewriting my words in your beautiful English." Gudo was the translator and I was the rewriter. That was not up for further discussion. Anything other than that would constitute "a violation of my personal job."

Did it matter? I thought maybe not. But in fact it did matter, because out of the denial, out of the wrong view, came wrong action.

Thus, this latest letter, together with Gudo's recent emails along the same lines, proceeding though they might out of the best of intentions, because they are still based on the old wrong view, have only opened up in me all the old wounds. In spite of my vow in 1983 to accomplish an authentic translation, under the Buddhist Patriarch Gudo Nishijima, of Shobogenzo into English, and not to count the personal cost, I was cut off before getting to the end of my revision of Book 4 just by the suspicious mind of the Patriarch himself. The Shobogenzo translation has thus become for me a source of tremendous unhappiness -- a heart broken not once but bloody twice -- and that unhappiness cannot be allayed by any amount of money.

Three years ago, while I was here in France hoping to enjoy a week or two of simple living, I received an email from Gudo expressing his concern that James Cohen was out to take control of our joint copyright of Shobogenzo. In response, I simply begged Gudo to entrust the copyright to me. In so begging, I was not thinking about making the translation profitable. I was not thinking in a businesslike way, and still less in a legalistic way. What I was really doing was seeking a sign of genuine trust from father to broken-hearted son; I was hoping for a gesture of reconciliation.

Gudo initially agreed to my request, but then he changed his mind, and went the other way. He seemed to continue to feel a duty to protect the translation from adulteration from what he calls "Alexander Technique theory." So, instead of entrusting the copyright to me, after consultation with Cohen and others, he unilaterally drew up a contract for the POD publication of Shobogenzo and sent me the contract to sign as a fait accompli. Before the contract even arrived at my address, however, Gudo fell down and damaged his spine. Within a matter of weeks, his Zazen Dojo in Ichikawa was demolished. It was, as I see it, an awesome example of cause and effect working in the very short term.

Now Gudo sincerely hopes that I will share his happiness that the POD publication has turned a profit.

That Master Kodo Sawaki refused to accept young Gudo as a disciple, I think, says something not only about shortcomings on one side, but also about prajna on the other.

What kind of bloody fool was I to leave behind in England a woman I loved and who loved me, in order to return to Japan for years of lonely masturbation, and donkey-like service of Gudo Nishijima? The answer to that question is that I was a selfish an arrogant fool, and a jealous/unforgiving/intolerant fool to boot, who got exactly the teacher he deserved, along with other totally warranted karmic retribution. Cause and effect rules, OK.

A second big mistake related to the Shobogenzo translation, I think, was to entrust its publication to Michael J. Luetchford.

I did it, as far as I am aware at time of writing (ten to five in the morning!) for three reasons.

First, I failed to listen to my own intuition about MJL. The Lotus Sutra says: "This Sutra, even while the Tathagata is alive, [arouses] much hate and envy; how much more after his extinction!" [LS 2.152] Enough said on that.

Second were MJL's good points. These included getting me a job at a professional translation company where he had worked for many years, sewing for me a kesa and teaching me (with his wife Yoko) how to sew a kesa for myself, and generally showing dogged perseverance in his own service of the Dharma generally and Gudo Nishijima in particular. When MJL visited us in 1992 or 1993 at our house in Bushi, on the outskirts of Tokyo, and begged me in all sincerity to entrust the Shobogenzo publication to him, I didn't have the heart to refuse. I was what the Japanese call "amai" -- soft, but not in a good way: a sucker.

Third, by allowing MJL/Windbell to take charge of the publication, I could get my dirty paws on money from the Japan Foundation, and at the time in question, 1992/93, having just brought two sons into the world, I was even more preoccupied than usual with the issue of money.

All the bad/wrong/harmful deeds I have done in the past

All have stemmed, since times without beginning, from greed, anger, delusion.

I have committed them through body, mouth, and mind.

I now totally confess them all.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Aberrant Reflexes and the Six Samsaric Realms

A written vow I made to myself in 1983 to accomplish the translation of Shobogenzo into English without counting the personal cost -- in combination with some very bad decisions I took along the way -- brought me in its wake, amid a variety of lesser disappointments, two significant episodes of heartbreak. The first was in 1984, the second in 1997. If history repeats itself in a 13-year cycle, 2010 will not be a year for me to relish.

In one respect, I am fortunate to have had my heart twice broken, because this has given me redoubled opportunities to investigate in recurring cycles what the six states of cause and effect, the six samsaric realms, really are. Traditionally they are described as the states of (1) beings in hell (naraka in Sanskrit); (2) hungry ghosts (Skt: preta); (3) angry demons (Skt: asura); (4) animals (Skt: tiryagyoni); (5) humans (Skt: manusya); (6) gods (Skt: deva).

I have continued to experience these six states, cycle after cycle after cycle, in the ten years since I trained at INPP Chester as a developmental practitioner i.e. one who helps people (mainly children) towards better integration of aberrant primitive reflexes. As a result of my own samsaric cycling, although I can be very slow on the uptake when it comes to practical matters, even I have been unable, in the end, not to see a parallel between progression through the six samsaric states and developmental progression through the primitive reflexes.

For a baby to experience the white or blue of fear paralysis is one thing. For a baby to experience the red flush of a full-blown Moro reflex panic, is another thing. But for an adult to be caught in the grip of these two mutually opposing fear responses, as they fight it out with each other for dominance, is hell itself (1).

An aberrant tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR) manifests itself in the disoriented state of the hungry ghost (2), who knows that he badly wants something but, without a properly functioning vestibular system, is unable to discern clearly what it is or to direct himself towards it.

The asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR) , as sometimes manifested in temple statues of guardian deities, is a pattern I know well from a past life as a winner of karate tournaments: The face is turned towards an arm that is outstretched in a long punch, while the opposite fist is brandished triumphantly behind the back of the head, arm flexed, bicep bulging. The mouth is open and emanating from the bowels is a loud yell -- Aaaagh! It is the pose of the asura (3), an angry, god-defying demon. The ATNR is an asymmetrical pattern that opposes the symmetrical pattern of the Moro/TLR. It arises out of fear/imbalance, and at the same time it is a manifestation of strong intention, bordering on anger, that breaks a person out of the frozen grip of fear and into vigorous action.

Inhibition of the symmetrical tonic neck reflex (STNR) is, in postural terms, the difference between monkeys and the like (4) and human beings (5). Infants and monkeys who haven't fully inhibited this reflex still shuffle around on their bottoms, or go on all fours, or walk not quite upright with hips and knees still partially flexed, their knuckles dangling ape-like towards the ground. Only those who have fully inhibited this reflex are able to stand fully upright.

Integration of primitive and postural reflexes brings with it greater possibilities of conscious control, of consciousness of freedom. But this kind of consciousness all-too-easily becomes disconnected from the underlying energetic/reflex substrate in which it is truly grounded, in which case consciousness of human freedom all too easily turns into the ungrounded, precarious, airy-fairy state of a celestial being (6)... and so the cycle continues.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

Master Dogen wrote, in Shobogenzo chapter 4, Ikka no Myoju, The One Bright Pearl:

"Do not worry about falling or not falling into the six states of cause and effect. They are the original state of being right from head to tail, which is never unclear, and the bright pearl is its features and the bright pearl is its eyes."

If it is not too pretentious of me to try to echo Master Dogen's words with some words of my own:

From my own ab-errant broken-hearted path through life, which has led me into sitting-zen, into Alexander work, and into investigation of the vestibular reflexes, I am learning that it is not necessarily at the end of the developmental process that true value lies. Rather, it may be just in the developmental process itself that true value lies.

It may be, in short, that the pearl is in the lotus.


Sunday, 10 February 2008

My Biggest Mistake

Living in reality and preaching denial is one thing.

Living in denial and preaching reality is another.

Nobody knowingly stole my translation work from me and falsely claimed it as their own.

But a person living in denial tends not to know, and tends not to want to know, what they are actually doing.

My biggest mistake in life was, in my early 20s, to gamble all my eggs in the basket of a preacher of reality who was living in denial.