Thursday, 5 June 2008

Endgaining, Bad Karma, Non-Compassion, & Ox-Thumping

One afternoon/evening in late 1983 or early 1984, on the way back from a visit to Gudo Nishijima's house in the Tokyo suburb of Shin-tokorozawa, a vow formed in my mind. When I got back home to my flat in central Tokyo, I wrote the vow down, setting it, as it were, in stone. In fact I did not write the vow in stone. I scrawled it in pencil on a piece of card cut out from a cereal packet. But the vow was no cheaper for that. It was that I would devote myself totally to helping Gudo accomplish an authentic translation of Shobogenzo into English, come what may. It was another 15 years until the task was accomplished to Gudo's satisfaction -- although not to my satisfaction. As far as I was concerned, my dream that the Zen Patriarch and I would cross the finishing line together, in a blaze of glory, was never realized. Instead, Gudo seemed to make a last-minute dash for the line by himself.

In working towards the realization of my vow, I relentlessly exhibited what Alexander called the endgaining principle -- I am going to do this, even if it kills me, and woe betide anybody who gets in my way.

Despite the fact that I used to translate Virgil from Latin into English for fun when I was 15 years old, it took me too long to work out any kind of reasonable means-whereby for accomplishing anything approaching a literal translation of Shobogenzo from Japanese to English.

Still, the Nishijima-Cross translation, albeit not in a way that brought me personal happiness, but rather in a way that left me completely exasperated, was finally accomplished in 1999, and now it is out there in the world.

The next item on my, shall I say, "agenda," has been to clarify what I see as the teaching of Shobogenzo that Japanese Zen Masters, in their stupidity, in their feudalistic Japanese ways, in their tendency to revere form above content, shadow over substance, have almost completely lost.

I am talking about mental sitting, as opposed to physical sitting. Thumping the ox, as opposed to thumping the cart.

Again, in working towards the accomplishment of this goal, my tendency is to end-gain.

A few nights ago I woke in the early hours from a very disturbing dream -- a kind of vision of extreme suffering, a vision of hell. It reminded me of the stories Master Dogen quoted about Karma in the Three Times. I think the meaning of those kind of visions is to remind us not, albeit in pursuing aims that we believe to be worthy, to pursue our aims in an end-gaining way. In an end-gaining way means in a way that produces all kinds of harmful karmic side effects.

So I am sorry that my attempts to drop off my end-gaining tendency, which seems to jump off people's computer screens and cause them to complain about my lack of compassion, continue to be so weedy and pathetic.

Giving up end-gaining requires us to give up our desire to gain the end in view. Not just intellectually, but really give it up, completely. Forget all about gaining the end. This is what Marjory taught me. That is the key to allowing undoing to happen. What confounds the endgainer in all his efforts is his desire to feel right in the gaining of his end. And the only way out of that prison of habit is to give up the desire to gain the end. So completely give up the desire to gain the end. And then go right ahead and gain it!

So now in my sadly non-compassionate way, I am going to charge ahead and try to clarify something for you:

One of the most important teachings in Shobogenzo, and one that I think has almost completely got lost, is that of mental sitting.

Mental sitting is not mental pyscho-analysis, not mental psycho-therapy, not any of the mental psycho-babble that deluded people today think is so valuable and, in their great humility and compassion, wish to impose on others. Mental sitting is sitting, not on the basis of feeling, but on the basis of thinking -- thinking into the no thinking zone.

Mental sitting, as opposed to physical sitting.

Thumping the ox, as opposed to thumping the cart.

When first I read about mental sitting in Shobogenzo, and about thinking in Fukan-zazen-gi, I sensed there was meaning in what Master Dogen was writing that I did not understand and that Gudo was not able to explain to my satisfaction. So that posed a problem. In endeavoring to solve that problem, I exhibited a strong end-gaining tendency. Having solved the problem to my own satisfaction and then wanting to clarify the problem for others, again I have repeatedlyl fallen foul of the end-gaining tendency.

If I follow what Marjory taught me, the only way for me to be liberated from my end-gaining tendency is to completely give up my compassionate desire to gain the end of clarifying for you the teaching that we should practise mental sitting, as opposed to physical sitting. That we should thump the ox, as opposed to thumping the cart.

It is only when we really and truly inhibit the desire to gain our end that we become free to gain it. This is what Marjory taught me.

Now then, you who for some reason is drawn to my blog. What are you here for? What end do you wish to gain?

5 comments:

Mike H said...

Motivation? Hmmmm.

You and I have been entangled for many years now. Over that time I have learnt a lot from you. I think over that time you sometimes have learnt from me.

I certainly don't enjoy this education but I do gain benefit from it. I doubt if you enjoy having me around either.

However, I'll take a true teaching from whoever gives it to me. Yesterady that included the woman who served me coffee. The day before it was from a squirrel - who was willing to eat pine kernels from the hand of a stranger (not me).

If you stick rocks into a tumbler and shake them long enough they eventually become smooth. I doubt the rocks enjoy the experience.

gniz said...

To be honest Mike, i think i read your blog in hopes to see you break through some of the shit you've been writing about for years, hoping against all odds that you will be able to come to grips with Gudo's faults, with your own...and if not that, then it's still interesting to see what you do next.

It's sad that i view your life as some kind of soap opera, because thats a lack of compassion on my part.

But when you write, its nearly always interesting (although i must say some of the least interesting stuff is the theoretic AT stuff and Buddhist stuff you get into).

I think it's kind of funny that you see me (i assume i am included) as some kind of "therapy advocate." Nothing could be further from the truth.

I think meditation is almost always superior to therapy, unless its not...and i'd say in your case, you would benefit from therapy because it would humble you to submit to another "regular" person, and to get off your Zen AT high horse.

I think your ego is so huge when it comes to zen or AT, that you really think, despite all of your issues, you have something figured out...

But when i read your blog, i read about a guy who is barely holding his shit together. A guy who isnt working, who seems to push sitting-zen on everyone, including his kids (god help them) and his wife.

I've done some of that and boy is that the worst, pushing some nuttiness on my loved ones. My wife got me to knock that shit off...

But first, I had to realize that my wife knew some shit that i didn't. Seems to me, Mike, that you dont credit anyone with knowing something that you dont about life.

I dont have a clue, but i have learned to love my wife, to treat her with kindness, to try and be a nicer person to those around me.

And i've learned to see myself more and more as just like everyone else, no matter how much spiritual attainments i might think i have.

I can still someday end up in the loony bin if i'm not careful...so i try to be thankful for my life, and try to love and get through my day...

But Mike, you will do what you do and i'll read about it, hoping that you can see your way through, and knowing that in all likelihood, in forty years you'll still be bitching about something Gudo did to you when you were twenty-five...

Mike H said...

Gniz:

WIFE!!!!!

Congrats!

Harry said...

"Mental sitting is not mental pyscho-analysis, not mental psycho-therapy, not any of the mental psycho-babble that deluded people today think is so valuable..."

True indeed I think. But what are your blogs often but an exhaustive, and often exhausting, picking apart of the turd of your mental processes?

I think it can be seen that balanced psycho-therapy has its place, its uses and its benefits to the world, and so it has value.

Why it should be considered some sort of nemesis to something fundamentally different, to sitting Zen, I don't know, or rather, I do, because I know your form.

Regards,

Harry.

gniz said...

Mike,

Yeah, thanks for the congrats.

Much appreciated...btw your blog going away left a tiny hole in my life...but i got over it