Sunday, 23 March 2008

HISHIRYO: Non-Thinking (2)

Fixing in the view that HISHIRYO means "[Action which] is different from thinking," is one hell of a mistake. I know, because I made that mistake, well and truly, and therein believed myself to be firmly on the side of the righteous.

By fixing in the view that HISHIRYO means action itself which is different from thinking, it seems to me now, I turned one face of the truth of HISHIRYO into its dialectical opposite. I turned the pursuit of individual freedom into rigid adherence to a view espoused by a teacher.

If the fixed view is right that HISHRYO means action which is different from thinking, then every irrational act of group violence committed by human beings, every war atrocity, should be praised as HISHIRYO.

If the fixed view is right that HISHRYO means action which is different from thinking, then every animalistic act of group rape and every intellect-transcending baton-charge, should be praised as HISHIRYO: "Come on, man, just do it!" "1,2,3 -- Go!"

FM Alexander was a champion of individual freedom and a despiser of mindless group behaviour -- the latter being exemplified for him by Germany's actions in two world wars. As a man who despised mindless group behaviour based on the herd instinct, FM used to say, "This work is an exercise in finding out what thinking is."

He also used to say to his teacher-trainees, "None of you knows that thinking is."

After I returned to England to train as an Alexander teacher, but before I actually started training, I attended, in the summer of 1995, a lecture given by Marjory Barlow on the subject of Thinking. Marjory, in that lecture and in subsequent one-to-one lessons that she gave me, took pains to impress on me that Alexander work was not, as people commonly misunderstand it to be, a kind of bodywork. It is rather, "the most mental thing there is."

As I began to understand this, from 1995 onward, I initiated a long and vigorous philosophical exchange with Gudo (via email) on the subject of HISHIRYO. I challenged his teaching that HISHIRYO means "[Action which] is different from thinking." In return, he accused me of showing the intellectual attitude which is typical of the caucasian intellectual (as opposed to the practical yellow man). In this accusation I sensed a remnant of the propaganda booklet that was given to all officers of the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II, identifying the enemy as HAKUJIN NO BUNKA, "white man's civilization" -- intellectual civilization.

In retrospect, with the benefit of ten years or so experience struggling to deepen my understanding of what Alexander meant by thinking, I would say that Gudo and I were both wrong; we were both wrongly fixed in our respective views. We were both stuck in a mode of being favoured by the control freak -- "I know; you don't."

When I went to Japan for a few weeks in the summer of 1998, after finishing Alexander teacher training, Gudo told me over breakfast in the Zazen Dojo that he thought I might understand his teaching "in tens of years." In response, in anger, I picked up a piece of crockery and threw it onto the ground, shattering it to smitherines, and said: "There. That is action!"

Afterwards I telephoned him at his office to apologize for my angry behaviour. My rage, I see with hindsight, was just another example of the mirror principle. Gudo, with his "I know; you don't know" attitude, was holding up a mirror to a fellow control-freak. Anyway, when I apologized for my angry behaviour, Gudo said that he affirmed what I had done. "You acted, for the first time in your life," he told me.

Frankly, that interpretation of the event was a load of bollocks. What happened was that, in my frustration at not being able to win an argument with a fellow fixed-viewed know-it-all, I flew into a rage and broke a pot.

Though I had heard Alexander's words that "None of you knows what thinking is," I somehow wasn't open enough, I somehow lacked the humility, to really take on board that those words might apply to me. So I argued with Gudo on the basis that I knew what HISHIRYO was, whereas he didn't. But that was not even half true.

Back in the 1980s, having resigned myself to a life of struggle in Tokyo, I used to read in Shobogenzo of Taiso Eka cutting off his arm in the snow, or Zen masters living in the mountains with only two or three disciples because the conditions were so harsh that not many could endure it. And I used to think to myself: "those lucky bastards."

During one complaining session before Gudo, in his office in Ichigaya, he stopped my grumbling by saying, "Your suffering has meaning for all people in the world."

Mmmmm. Recently Shobogenzo Book 1 has been re-printed by Numata, and a very nice job they seem to have done with it too. I had nothing to do with this re-printing. I left negotiations entirely to Gudo. I suppose it must be him that I have to thank for my biography being abbreviated to three lines, ending with the statement that I returned to England in 1994.

This would be in accordance with the view expressed by Gudo that after returning to England I strayed back into intellectualism and became a non-Buddhist out to identify Master Dogen's teaching with "AT theory." According to that view, my suffering had meaning for all people in the world, insofar as I continued to do Gudo's donkey work for him in Japan, whereas the suffering I have endured through doubting and opposing my master's teaching of HISHIRYO might not have any meaning for all people in the world.

I still seem to be suffering, and I must confess that I miss the reassurance of being told that my suffering has meaning for all people in the world. I can tell it to myself, mentally, but somehow it doesn't seem to resonate so convincingly like that.

Speaking of herd instinct vs HISHIRYO, there are those within the Tibetan exile community, it seems, who argue that violent group action would be an effective means of achieving their political aim of a free Tibet. I think that the Dalai Lama's response to this might be a response that arises out of the practice of HISHIRYO.

The Buddha's teaching of HISHIRYO might not originally be for the purpose of achieving political aims. It might rather be for the purpose of pursuing individual freedom -- and not freedom in the abstract, but freedom of the neck, to let ears and shoulders oppose each other, and let the nose and navel oppose each other.

What then, in the end, is HISHIRYO?

Is it action which is different from thinking, as per the Nishijima-Cross translation?

No, it is not that. That is a view into which I stray as if I were a blind donkey.

Is it thinking, but not what people generally think of as thinking, as discussed by Alexander?

No, it is not that. That is a view into which I stray as if I were a god.

To practice HISHIRYO as action which is different from thinking -- sticking in the view that HISHIRYO means action as opposed to thinking -- is a mistake. It is a mistake like sitting in full lotus with the body.

To practice HISHIRYO as thinking which is opposed to instinctive/habitual/feeling-based doing -- sticking in the view that HISHIRYO means thinking but not what people generally think of as thinking -- is also a mistake. It is a mistake like sitting in full lotus with the mind.

As a result of making mistakes like this, a father loses a son and a son loses a father. Whether Gudo Nishijima comes out of hospital again or not won't make much difference to my grieving process, which began, with fear paralysis/shock/denial, back in 1997.

Finally I shall finish this post by endeavoring to answer some questions somebody asked me offline:

What does Master Dogen mean by "body and mind dropping off"?

For example, he means wholeheartedly pursuing the Buddha's truth of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi through the practice of sitting-zen, not worrying about how many times we fall into hell along the way, not being afraid of making mistakes, not trying to hide the fact that I, like everybody else with an imperfect vestibular system, can't stop being a control freak; Master Dogen means, in short, because of the supreme value of the Buddha's truth, forgetting the small self.

When it happens to us do we know it? Does it come to us? Do we go towards it?

I think that when something along those lines happens to me during sitting-zen, sometimes I experience an enjoyable deep breath that seems to go right down into the sitting-cushion. Or sometimes, outside of sitting-zen itself, I am struck by the perfection of some natural phenomenon, like a birdsong or sunlight on the trees or the yellow moon in the night sky. Or the white moon in the blue sky.

At such times, we are not self-conscious of "body and mind dropping off," because there is no such thing.

Yes, those experiences come to us -- we become as if a target that is hit.

Yes, we tend to go towards those experiences. We sit or stand there with daft, intense expressions on our faces, expecting and trying to recapture them -- which is just the essence of deluded control-freakery.

Passers-by -- people walking through the forest, for example -- when they notice us practising are liable to think that we are somewhat odd.

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