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.


Plato said...

Is realising ones mistakes part of learning to take the backward step and turning the light around?

Plato said...

Hi Mike!
In my effort to try to understand the meaning of "learning to take the backward step and turning the light around" I would like to ask you, is understanding our mistakes part of it?

Will said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Cross said...

Hi Plato,

Is honesty part of simplicity? Good question.

I don't know exactly but I think honesty and simplicity are closely related, to each other and to the integrative function of the vestibular system.

So perhaps it is true to say that when a person is sitting truly still and truly upright in the full lotus posture, there is both honesty and simplicity in that.

But where stillness turns to fixity, and uprightness turns to uptightness, honesty and simplicity are liable to turn into their opposites -- QED.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Will,

The most brilliant translation and commentary in the world, on their own, would be of no benefit to anybody.

On the other hand, very many might benefit from vestibular re-education, if they did but know it.