Friday, 28 March 2008

In Denial On Denial

The three sentences that, as regular followers of my blogging will know, I regard as central to the whole of Master Dogen's teaching in Shobogenzo are:

Bodily practise full lotus sitting.
Mentally practise full lotus sitting.
As body and mind dropping off, practice full lotus sitting.

I am getting around to writing three posts in which I shall endeavor to pinpoint how I have misunderstood what Master Dogen meant in writing these three sentences.

Meanwhile, perhaps by way of a catharsis that may help to clear my mind in preparation for this task, I would like to write something about denial, inspired by an observation I heard yesterday on Radio 4's In Our Time. The theme was the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, and one of the contributors drew a comparison between (a) the response to Henry's attack, of the Roman catholic church in England, and (b) the response to the Nazi holocaust, of Jews in Europe.

That response, as I understand it from my own experience, has to do with fear paralysis/shock/denial.

When Yoko Luetchford visited Gudo Nishijima at his office in 1997, she made an issue of certain footnote entries in Shobogenzo Book 3. In one footnote, for example, in connection with the sentence "We should sit like coiled dragons," I had included a reference to the discoveries of Professor Raymond Dart, an anatomist who identified two swathes of muscle and fascia forming a double spiral around the torso. In another footnote, I had made a reference to the anti-gravity reflexes.

Those entries could have simply been deleted, without causing me any offence, because I had given the publisher (Windbell) permission to edit the footnotes freely without consulting me -- but this permission most certainly did not extend to the translation text itself, as everybody involved well knew. If Gudo had felt that "the continuing upwardness of buddha" was a duff translation, as with hindsight I agree it was, all he had to do was ask me to change it back. But, no, a decision was taken that I would not be consulted. Why?

The purpose of Mrs Luetchford's visit was to persuade Gudo that I had an agenda to, in his words, "identify Buddhism with AT theory." And Gudo's response to this was, again in his own words, "strong refusal."

What that "strong refusal" meant in practice was something akin to the attitude of Henry VIII or Adolf Hitler to their own perceived enemies within. From 1997 onwards Gudo began to see me as a threat, a danger, a potential enemy of his "real Buddhism."

My response to that situation was, pure and simple, denial. I failed to respond appropriately to what was happening because what was happening was beyond my capacity to take it in. So I took refuge, sometimes totally sometimes only partially, in denial. Taking refuge in denial, I went to Japan in 1998 and received Gudo's Dharma.

After the ceremony, Gudo asked me to promise that I wouldn't adulterate the Dharma with other teachings. He never stopped suspecting, even then, that my agenda was to adulterate the Buddha-Dharma with "AT theory."

Three years ago when Gudo told me his concern that James Cohen was out take control of our Shobogenzo copyright, I asked Gudo simply to entrust his half of the copyright to me, and thereby to show his trust in me. I saw it as an opportunity for Gudo to redeem himself. Gudo's first response was that of course he trusted me. How could I, after all these years, doubt it? I replied that when a man asks a woman to marry him, what he wants to hear is not reassuring words like "I love you" or "I trust you." What he wants to hear is simply "Yes" followed by "I do." In that spirit I was asking for entrustment of the copyright, as an action. So then Gudo agreed that, yes, he would give me the copyright. But then like a bride having second thoughts, he emailed me a day or two later to say that, no, in fact he could not do that. This really deeply challenged my ability to remain in denial. But somehow I was able to cling to the illusion that Gudo might be testing me.

Then came our blog wars. When Gudo called me a "non-Buddhist," I looked for irony in his words. When Gudo announced that I was excluded from Dogen Sangha, when I was barred from posting on his blog, I took those things again as a kind of test. Even when Gudo announced that Brad Warner was his successor, I still somehow retained a trace of hope that Gudo would somehow redeem himself.

But then the final clincher came, unexpectedly, not from another inimical act but rather from an attempted act of kindness on Gudo's part. Earlier this year he sent me a cheque for $1800, as my half of the royalties for the POD version of Shobogenzo that he and some of his Dharma-heirs (Cohen, Rocca et al) had gone ahead with without my agreement. He expressed his wish that I would share his happiness that the Shobogenzo project, which had cost Gudo so much of his own money over the years, had finally turned a profit. Looking at the cheque, and reading the letter, then I could see, undeniably, that Gudo, in expecting that I might be happy to receive the cheque, had totally and utterly failed to read my mind.

If my master perceives some wrong agenda in me, how can I be sure that I am not, unconsciously, harbouring some such agenda? I cannot be sure. But if my master perceives that my mind is such that I might be happy to receive a cheque for 1800 tainted dollars, then it is beyond even my capacity to deny that the old man, somewhere along the way, totally lost the plot.

Before sending me the cheque Gudo emailed me to let me know that he wanted to send it. My reply concluded with the wish that Gudo might use the cheque to line his coffin and go to hell. Nevertheless, while I was in France in February, the cheque duly arrived in the post. When I got back to England, I put the cheque and letter back in their envelope, wrote on it "PLS RETURN TO SENDER," trudged heavily to the postbox at the end of my road, and sent the letter back.

The truth is that what was poisoned in 1997 was not only the Nishijima-Cross translation partnership but also the mutual trust between father and son. When Gudo reacted to Mrs Luetchford's visit with his "strong refusal," it was not only that a son lost his father but also that a father lost his son.

That is why today, while listening to Desert Islands Discs and eating my breakfast, I found myself cupping my face in my hands and sobbing -- allowing Moro (II) to try to do is job of kick-starting into action a system that has long been stuck in fear paralysis/denial.

That is why, on Saturday morning when I was pointing a wall and Danny Boy came on the radio, my eyes became so blurred that I was in danger of falling off the ladder.


Will said...
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Joseph said...

All these years and all this suffering and yet... I feel a little better after reading your blog.

Seems we have a couple of things in common. Master Dogen, our age and we "lost our fathers".

Oh, we also share the fact that we are outcasts from our sangha's and we didn't inherit the family jewels.

Nobody could give us that jewel anyway.

Thanks for the translations, mine are a bit dog eared and I sometimes weep when I read them.

I must also tell you that you are so fortunate, even now. I don't know which I want to do, get on a plane and come join your pity party or smack you up beside the head.

My edition has a ten line description of Chodo Cross.

peace - Joseph Koudelka

Will said...
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Mike Cross said...

In that case, I would seriously recommend C not to bother going down the path of A/B, but rather to transcend from the beginning all kinds of political power trip, just through the individual practise -- with body, with mind, and as body and mind dropping off -- of full lotus sitting, in accordance with the original teaching of Master D.

Will said...
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Joseph said...

Indeed, nearly ten years on and I am given a second chance to address my deepest(at least I hope it is the deepest)level of fundamental stuckness. I thought I could just go on to D and transcend A, B and C. But no, here I am again. I am grateful for this opportunity.

When in I found myself in this place the first time, I made choices from the top of the hundred foot pole and proceeded to live out 500 lifetimes as a fox.

Since then I have honored my affinity for Master Dogens Zen and left the Rinzai sect. Aimlessly sitting upright, what else can I do now?

Mike Cross said...

A person who writes of "Master Dogen's Zen," still has, to my nostrils, the whiff of sectarian Zen about him.

The aim of upright sitting, as I understand it, is that state which is beyond thinking (KONO FU-SHIRYO-TEI); again, the aim is spontaneous integration (JI-JO-IPPEN); again, it is body and mind dropping off (SHINJIN-DATSURAKU).

Master Dogen's teaching is not what anybody thinks, including me.

To give ourselves the air of one who knows is presumptuous and foolish. It makes us into a target that is hard to be hit. This much I do know, from experience.

Will said...
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