Monday, January 09, 2006

The Stuff of Endless Practice

In the Muddy Pool, Floating Weed wrote:

Dear Mike,

The land I visit is this one, it looks like a powerbook keyboard as I write this. How could there be a map leading me to this unknowable moment of consciousness? Are you sure your new map is accurate? What 'land' are you visiting?

I practised Iyengar Yoga for a time with an excellent teacher of that discipline. After each practise I felt utterly content, as if every joint in my body had opened and released itself. It reminded me of the pleasant sensation I had after my first sesshin but more profound, more rooted. The sensation of being was dynamic, vibrant, sensitive. Suddenly I wondered if this was not just like zazen. I wondered whether it was a superior method. I wondered whether Yoga teachers who regard zazen as a higher level asana might be right but that the practise of yoga should precede it. I tried a few other things, the obvious ports of call, Qi Gong et al.

After all these supernatural delights, somehow this dusty old practise emerged again - my stiff neck, my cracking spine, my calm and delightful sitting, my torn and ragged clinging to my cushion, my 'broken bowl' as Pierre puts it. I've visited a few lands as you can see but in the end I came home to my cushion.

I believe and practise that the subtle technique of zazen mentioned by Master Dogen is zazen itself. Zazen notices the stiffness in my shoulder and it passes. Zazen finds the natural curvature of my spine and allows it to relax upwards into its repose. Zazen releases this consciousness into its context. I trust zazen completely to order the universe according to its rule. Zazen finds a muddy pool and clarifies it down to the bottom. This foolish thing is a ripple on that pool, not the pool itself.

How could my monkey mind getting involved in this process to consciously 'do' 'undo' or 'inhibit' anything reveal anything to zazen that zazen does not already allow?

You did not notice the subtle method, perhaps as you state you were badly instructed or perhaps it was something in you, the effect of that 'hard-drinking, iron-pumping, just fucking do it' young man? It took an Alexander teacher to remove this obstruction. I contend that the donkey carried the King into your chamber but you crowned the donkey and made the king his subject.I don't know what Alexander Technique is as you point out. As you describe it, it sounds like a reductive analysis of zazen - I'll try it though and get my own hat to talk through.

This reminds me, I must go back to that Yoga teacher....

My reply:

The Technique--the Technique which Master Dogen describes in the opening sentence of Shobogenzo as the Subtle Technique (MYO-JUTSU), and in Fukan-zazengi as the Vital Technique (YO-JUTSU)--is not Zazen itself. It is an art, skill, or means, that buddhas bring to the practice of Zazen.

It has to do with the difference between allowing and doing.

If we take the example of breathing: breath-holding, deliberate abdominal breathing, counting the breaths, et cetera, et cetera, are all variations on the theme of doing the breathing.

Observing the breath, just noticing that a long breath is long and a short breath is short without doing anything to interfere with the natural rhythm of the breath; or forgetting about the breath altogether and letting it take care of itself, are variations on the theme of allowing the breathing.

I think that Iyengar Yoga and Qi Gong are both forms of doing, more or less subtle depending on the teacher and the peculiarities of the individual practitioner. But true Alexander work is a cut above those "doing" approaches: like true Zazen, it is based upon the principle of non-doing.

If you find a good Alexander teacher, together you will discover all sorts of things that you are doing that you didn't realize you were doing. Then you and I will truly be two weeds floating in the same muddy pool.

It is not that Alexander teachers removed the obstruction. Alexander teachers have helped me, and continue to help me, to see how I obstruct myself. How I get in the way of the way, by my unconscious wrong doing. How wonderful it is to be wrong like this! It is the stuff of endless practice.

1 Comments:

Blogger MikeDoe said...

"I think that Iyengar Yoga and Qi Gong are both forms of doing, more or less subtle depending on the teacher and the peculiarities of the individual practitioner. But true Alexander work is a cut above those "doing" approaches: like true Zazen, it is based upon the principle of non-doing."

Qi Gong like Zazen is taught as 'doing' if you like initially, 'do this' is the only way to start to learn.

Qi Gong when 'practiced' just like Zazen is the art of non-doing. The Qi Gong does itself. The difference when watched screams out to you. It would be just as accurate to describe Qi Gong as a type of Zazen.

I am not a master of Qi Gong by any stretch of the imagination but I was taught by a master and can do the basics (feel the Qi, increase and decrease the Qi, store the Qi, direct the Qi internally).

I offer you a challenge if you will. Words cannot resolve this.

Now that you can do Zazen I will offer to show you basic Qi Gong, in return I ask that you show me Alexander. If we both come with open minds then we will both be able to see whether their is any merit in any of theme, whether they have any relation to buddhism and whether they are of any importance whatsoever.

When Hui Neng writes about Buddhas he also talks about others who have supernatural powers but that there is no need for Buddhas to learn these things.

Now in Shaolin mythology (I cannot know if is true, all the witnesses are dead) the Buddha and Qi Gong are intimately linked. When I read Hui Neng what he is describing looks to me very much like how many chinese would describe advanced practice of Qi Gong.

3:23 AM  

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