Sunday, 16 March 2008

BUTSU-KOJO-[no]-JI: The Matter of Buddha Ascending Beyond

BUTSU means buddha. KO means to turn towards, to go towards, to direct oneself towards. JO means up, upward, above. The parenthetical [no] is a grammatical particle, meaning "of," which is not in the original four Chinese characters but which is added when reading out those four characters in Japanese. JI means thing, fact, matter.

BUTSU-KOJO-[no]-JI means the matter of buddha ascending beyond.

To translate it as "the matter of the ascendant state of buddha," thereby turning the action of going up into something static, was my mistake.

It was a mistake I made before Shobogenzo Book 2 was published in 1996. But then, as I carried on with Alexander teacher training (from 1995 - 1998) I realized "ascendant state of buddha" was a mistake and I tried to correct the mistake. So in preparing Shobogenzo Book 3 for publication in 1997, I used the phrase "the continuing upwardness of buddha" -- a phrase which reflected how my understanding of how to sit was beginning to change as a result of Alexander work.

That was an even more serious mistake, because it gave Michael Luetchford just the opportunity he needed to poison the translation partnership between Gudo Nishijima and me, and that is just what Michael Luetchford proceeded to do.

Having poisoned the translation partnership between Gudo and me, Michael Luetchford then offered his own services to Gudo as co-translator of Master Nagarjuna's Mula-madhyamika-karika (MMK). But that partnership came to grief, and so Michael Luetchford went ahead and published his own translation of MMK.

For more than ten years I hoped that somehow Gudo might somehow wave a magic wand and redeem the situation of the poisoned relationship between him and me. That also was my stupid mistake -- a kind of denial arising out of shock/fear paralysis. Like a man in a hole who never stopped digging, the strategy I pursued was to try to convince Gudo that there was never any contradiction between Master Dogen's "cause the ears and shoulders, and nose and navel, to oppose each other" and Alexander's "let the neck be free to let the head go forward and up to let the back lengthen and widen." These efforts only served to strengthen the suspicion that Leutchford exploited so skillfully back in 1997. My efforts fell on totally closed ears.

The truth is that the translation partnership, and indeed the whole relationship, between Gudo and me was irrevocably poisoned in 1997 just at the moment when Gudo agreed to the proposals that (1) my mistaken translation "the continuing upwardness of buddha" should be returned to the earlier mistaken translation "the ascendant state of buddha" and that (2) this change should be made without consulting me. Gudo thereby broke our fundamental rule of the mutual veto, and, like a true prima donna, I proceeded to throw a big hissy fit about it -- at least internally.

I could not understand why Gudo had not just told me directly to make the change. In the final analysis, as he well knew, although I could argue against him bitterly, I never ever dreamt of trying to override his final decision on any matter pertaining to the original text. The whole point of the project, from my point of view, was to devote myself to it as an act of serving the Dharma, in possession of which Gudo was. If Gudo wanted me to change anything in the translation, all he had to do was tell me.

But no, this was not a practical decision on Gudo's part. It was a kind of act of anger, of violently putting me back in my place, of wielding the big stick. Gudo was outraged at the suggestion that I had the intention to adulterate his translation with "AT theory."

Here is how Gudo recalls what happened in his own words:

At that time one day Yoko Luetchford visited me at my office in Ichigaya suddenly, and she reported me that you are planning to change the content of our translation into a description similar to AT theory totally.

And as you know I do not have any idea to identify Master Dogen's thoughts with AT theory, and so I have strongly refuse such a kind of change at all. Then she came back from my office soon.

The translation partnership between Gudo and me was poisoned as a result of a series of mistakes, involving not only Gudo and me but also Jeremy Pearson, who I had mistakenly believed was on my side, and would therefore step in to let me know about any of Michael Luetchford's attempted interventions. I made a mistake about Jeremy. Jeremy in fact wanted to be on the right side of the Dharma, even if that meant letting me down.

Whether Michael Luethford's intervention was simply a mistake arising out of a fluid situation, as Jeremy has argued, or something more serious as I have suspected, has been a tricky problem. Gudo has never expressed to me a firm conclusion about it. His approach has been "cautious." I have wobbled in extremis, sometimes being friendly towards Michael Luetchford and thinking that we might be moving towards reconciliation, and then going completely the other way seeing him as a modern-day Bodhirucci Sanzo.

But recently, since Gudo nominated Brad Warner as his successor (thereby helping me to spring free from denial), and especially after browsing through the Michael Eido Luetchford translation of MMK, the penny has dropped in me. That translation is a kind of act of theft. For Luetchford to publish that MMK translation in his own name is an immoral act -- just as it would have been an act of theft for me to leave Gudo after a few years and publish our Shobogenzo translation in my own name. In Luetchford's MMK translation, his commentary on the meaning of sunyata is totally and utterly devoid of real meaning. Real sunyata is preached in the state of having no fish to fry, and Luetchford has never realized that state, even in a dream.

BUTSU-KOJO-[no]-JI means the matter of buddha ascending beyond.

Sadly, by the time I found the translation that hit the target, the Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo, though it survives in words, had been irrevocably poisoned as a process. I have no means, I have been robbed of the means, to make any changes to the Nishijima-Cross translation itself. Rater, the koan that Gudo has presented me with is (1) to recommend me, in a private email, cc-d to his legal adviser James Cohen, to follow Luetchford's example and independently publish my own translation, "based on AT theory," (as if the Nishijima-Cross translation were not already my own translation); and (2) to express his fear (on his blog) that I will indeed publish my own translation, and thereby "erase his efforts." A nice double-bind. The whole thing is a big fucking mess -- and it is not one that I have been able to rise above.

Still, BUTSU-KOJO-[no]-JI means the matter of buddha ascending beyond.

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