This morning I received the following question on sitting-zen, and I have attempted to answer it in the form of a parable, a kind of non-fairy story. I hope it makes some sense!
A question on sitting-zen!
What is happening during sitting after we think "ears and shoulders apart, nose and navel apart"? Do we observe the result? Do we abandon ourselves to the effect of mental sitting until the effect of the thinking exhausts itself? You told me that this time is fushiryo, beyond thinking! Does it mean the period after thinking of the vital directions in sitting-zen? Is it like riding a bicycle where after a few strokes in the pedals the bike goes by itself until at some point we have to give a few more strokes to in order to keep going? I hope the question makes some sense!
The Parable of the Non-Cyclist
A skinny, skeptical youth, hungover from the previous night's boozing, found himself in a library in a northern English town, searching in vain for meaning, inside a cycling book, when all of a sudden the woman of his dreams, a beautiful young princess ... SNEEZED!!! .... momentously, and the library building shook. His whole being woken up by the princess's sneeze, the skinny non-fairy understood that the real and true meaning he sought was not to be found in the library. And so the dream hero of our story, the non-fairy, travelled east, in search of the true Tao of Cycling.
After negotiating a few dragons and moats, he eventually meets a certified Patriarch of the Tao of Cycling, and his cycling journey begins in earnest. The certified Cycling Patriarch introduces the non-fairy to an ancient text titled "The Eye-Treasury of True Cycling," which in many places is very difficult to fathom. The difficulty of understanding this text, however, is balanced by the simplicity of the practice that the Cycling Patriarch recommends, which is to practise every day, for as long and hard as possible, four sessions every day, just pedalling an exercise bike. From time to time, the Cycling Patriarch leads our hero to a large gym, where dozens of cycling devotees enjoy riding their exercise bikes together.
Our innocent non-fairy throws himself into pedalling practice with great enthusiasm, and realizes that what the Pedalling Patriarch says is true: this kind of exercise is very good for a human being's health. Pedalling like this on an exercise bike brings the practitioner into the middle way, a state which is neither too lazy nor too emotionally heated -- a state in which the autonomic nervous system is balanced. The young dream-hero decides to try to forget about the beautiful sneezing princess and devote himself instead to helping the Cycling Patriarch in his great mission, which is to spread the gospel of pedalling throughout the world. In particular, the Pedalling Patriarch recognizes the dire need that exists in 'white man's civilization,' in 'western intellectual civilization,' for practical, pedalling-based wisdom -- for wisdom that arises out of the balanced state of the autonomic system, which can be maintained through daily pedalling practice.
Guided, encouraged, and supported by the Pedalling Patriarch, our non-fairy attempts a scrupulously literal translation into his own language of "The Eye-Treasury of True Cycling." The ancient text, however, begins to raise some doubts in the non-fairy's mind. It not only advocates the physical practice of pedalling but also seems to be pointing the cyclist in the direction of some kind of mental practice -- something called "steering."
Then our hero comes across a book written by a western expert on balance and movement, which seems to be describing the same kind of phenomena described in the ancient text -- stuff about moving in a certain direction, stuff about the possibility of not remaining fixed in the same place, and specifically cycling-related stuff which mentions not only pedalling but also lays great emphasis on this thing called steering.
Greatly excited, our innocent hero shows the book to the Cycling Patriarch, who laughs loudly, for a while, and says:
"I am afraid that you have fallen back into your old western habit of reliance on intellectual thinking. I hope you will come back to the practice of True Cycling, which is not to steer, but just to pedal."
Then the laughter turns into a kind of anger, and finally the Pedalling Patriarch pronounces:
"True Cycling is just to pedal! Just to pedal is True Cycling! What you are advocating, cycling on the basis of western intellectual thoughts about steering, is just non-cycling. You are a non-cyclist!"
This then, is the tale of the metamorphosis suffered by a callow non-fairy, who dreamed of being a great cycling hero. Instead of turning into what he dreamed of, he turned into a complete and utter non-cyclist.