Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Seed of Integration?

I write this at 4.15 in the morning, having woken up before 3.00 with a very itchy ear and a bad taste in my mouth. I had a partial metal crown but on a back tooth on Tuesday and I seem to be reacting to it badly, unless I am imagining something. Yesterday (Thursday) I phoned the dentist to inquire where the crown had been made (thinking it might have been made on the cheap in some dodgy Chinese laboratory). The dentist invited me to come and see him at his surgery, so there I duly cycled. He confirmed that, yes, the crown had been made in China, but the laboratory was accredited, and dentistry in the UK is very tightly regulated. The dentist assured me that any symptoms I was experiencing were psycho-somatic. In the course of our discussion, I inquired if there might be any mercury (amalgam) in the crown, and he assured me that no, amalgam was not used in crowns, and that anyway many scientific studies had looked into it and the evidence was incontrovertible that amalgam is safe to use in dental fillings. I left the consultation unconvinced, and naturally enough, the dentist seemed offended that I seemed to think he might have done some harm by giving me a poisonous crown.

So as I sat just now, mindful of Dogen's words that the secret of sitting-dhyāna is JI-JO-IPPEN, "naturally/spontaneously to become one piece," and mindful also of how the presence of this metal crown a few inches from my brainstem makes my health and integrity dependent on the honesty and integrity of some person running a dental laboratory somewhere in China, I am more than usually aware of the fact that more than ever before human beings really are in the same big boat, so that we will all sink or we will float.

Who the hell I am, what role there is for me to play in preventing the ship sinking, I do not know. As I cycled back from the dentist, I reflected on the series of famous experiments in which Matthieu Ricard showed himself to be such an extraordinarily excellent person. In one of these experiments a grouchy professor was supposed to antagonize MR in a philosophical discussion, but found it impossible, as MR's metta-soaked brain continued to pump out gamma waves in massive profusion. MR, doubtless, would have handled the consultation with his dentist more skillfully than I had done. Before that, indeed, MR might have had the wisdom not to agree to having a metal crown put in, especially one made in China. An enlightened person might have had the wisdom to leave alone a tooth that was only a bit broken, and not bother going to the dentist at all.

As I cycled back from the dentist, pondering that my life has possibly been shortened by having some alloy of mercury, lead and god knows what else implanted into my head, I felt a surge of desire to do something useful with whatever is left of it.

The business of not really knowing what the Buddha is on about when Aśvaghoṣa quotes him talking about using different nimitta, apparently in the context of extinguishing the faults that start with thirsting by means of the water of bhāvanā, has sharpened my sense of being far behind a monk like Mathieu Ricard, trained in the Tibetan tradition and evidently highly skilled in the use of specific antidotes to specific faults, e.g. compassion as an antidote to hatred, as described in Saundara-nanda.

In one of the experiments Mathieu Ricard was subjected to, he astonished Prof. Paul Ekman by not showing even a slight facial flicker when subjected to a stimulus that triggered a startle response in everybody else that had ever done the experiment. MR rather demonstrated what FM Alexander called "constructive conscious control," and "inhibition of unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions." This is the kind of thing I aspire to. But in so aspiring, I reflected yesterday, as I cycled back from the dentist, I am like one of the guys in wheelchairs that take part in the London marathon, whereas MR is akin to one of the so-called "elite" athletes.

Thinking somewhat positively, I may never be a champion in the field of demonstrating what "constructive conscious control" is, but out of the failure which my life has been so far, I may at least have gleaned some insight into what disables, or shackles, a non-elite athlete, in the marathon whose finishing line is full realization of the buddha-nature. I am thinking primarily here of faults in the vestibular system, centred on an immature Moro reflex. Those of us who have grown up with such faults -- and we may be in the majority -- may forever in this life be up against it.

With this in mind, it occured to me as I cycled back yesterday, that I might at some point post on the internet my voluminous record of years of questions and answers with Gudo Nishijima, in case somebody could find my record useful -- as well, inevitably, as ridiculous. As ridiculous as a guy in a wheelchair dreaming of becoming a champion elite athlete.

So it seems that I did a lot of reflecting in a few hundred yards yesterday. And further to that, as I sat earlier on (it is now 5.05), I reflected that Aśvaghoṣa's writing is truly seminal. For practitioners like me whose starting point was Dogen's teaching, Aśvaghoṣa is a founding Zen patriarch. The same goes for any practitioner in China who reveres Bodhidharma; that is to say, any Chinese dental laboratory entrepreneur who reveres Bodhidharma as a grandfather also has to recognise Aśvaghoṣa as a great grandfather. Again, if any extraordinarily excellent Tibetan monk wishes to highlight the simplistic ignorance of his faulty Zen brother who knows nothing about the Buddha's teaching of using specific antidotes to specific faults, Aśvaghoṣa's writing provides a basis for so doing. And finally, it did not escape my notice that when a few months ago I googled "Aśvaghoṣa, Buddhacarita," I arrived at the website of a certain Ānandajoti Bhikkhu, a monk in the Theravada tradition who described himself to me as a fellow fan of Aśvaghoṣa.

At Ānandajoti's behest I have been dutifully preparing a transcription of the text of Saundara-nanda, painstakingly noting the variants, of which there are more than a hundred in most chapters. At time of writing, I am half-way through Canto 16, so should be finished noting the variants by next week. Then I intend to have several runs through the text and translation.

If Aśvaghoṣa's writing truly is as seminal as it seems to me to be, then planting this seed skillfully might be the most useful thing I could possibly do, notwithstanding my own multifarious faults.

Trying to be skillful, of course, is the very end-gaining that triggers a faulty individual's multifarious faults. So saying, at 5.26, I shall go back to bed.

12 comments:

Jordan said...

Mike,
I would love to see your Q & A with Gudo. Not so much for the answers, but for the questions.

Maybe we could form our own special olympics team?

Happy belated birthday, and may the year of the dragon bring you health and fortune.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for the feedback, Jordan, but be careful what you wish for! If you think Nanda's lament goes on too long, you haven't read anything yet.

With regard to those US Marines who made the news yesterday, I suppose the traumatic experience of war must have made lose touch with their true selves. In that sense they have my sympathies, as one who made the mistake of leaving his other half behind in England with a view to learning the Buddha-Dharma in Japan.

That's mainly the place from where all my questions arose -- trying to make the best, on many levels, of a bad job.

Happy New Year to you too. May the year bring us, by hook or by crook, closer to what might be the true aim of the Buddha's teaching in all its various Tibetan, Theravadan, Zen and other manifestations -- to drop off body and mind, so that our original features spontaneously re-emerge...

May everybody be truly himself or herself and in so being, be as universal as the FU of FUKAN-ZAZENGI!

Dorella Belle said...

When I read something of Dogen here and there... it is always so meaningful to me, I think I'm growing fond of him. :)

Recently I was pondering on the "eyes horizontal, nose vertical": the sentence is reported here and there but the comments are not convincing and I would really like to have your comment on it.


Trying to be skillful.... nimitta... this reminds me something about Godel's proofs of incompleteness and about the practice of labeling and classifying every thought ...

Mike Cross said...

Hi Dorella,

The quote is from Eihei Koroku, which I haven't translated.

A reliable source might be this one:

http://antaiji.dogen-zen.de/eng/kosho-uchiyama-to-you.shtml

"I have not visited many Zen monasteries. I simply, with my master Tendo, quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. I cannot be misled by anyone anymore. I have returned home empty-handed."

Keeping the eyes horizontal and the nose vertical is originally a vestibular function. A person with well-developed vestibular functioning doesn't have to worry about keeping the eyes horizontal and the nose vertical -- for him or her, the right thing does itself.

So if I relate my comment to what i wrote this morning, I might point you in the direction of somebody like Mathieu Ricard, whose ability to consciously inhibit the startle reflex (which is the mature form of the Moro reflex) suggests to me an extraordinarily well integrated vestibular system. You might be better off asking him what it means to be undeludable, i.e. enlightened. Don't ask me! It only takes a vacuum cleaner or the revving engine of a plane or car to unduly excite my fear reflexes, so that I can't tell up from down.

If I express my own experience relative to Dogen's, I also have not visited many Zen monasteries. I endured a very complicated relationship with my teacher, Gudo, giving the little bugger what he wanted, which was a Shobogenzo translation with his name at the top, and becoming myself increasingly bitter and twisted in that process. In the end, after 13 difficult years in Japan, I came back to England 17 years ago with a massive fish to fry!

"People who have no fish to fry; they see it all right," said FM Alexander. Having no fish to fry and being empty-handed might boil down to the same thing.

I looked up Godel on Wikipedia. A confirmed theist, who apparently thought he'd proved the existence of God. Hmmm. A good mate of Albert Einstein. A man with an obsessive fear of being poisoned... now that at least i can relate to.

I think if Dogen were here right now, I would like to yell out something along the lines of "WHOA!!! Look at the size of that fucking spider on your shoulder!!!" And if the great Master turned his head to look, I might ask him, "Hey, big-head! What was that you were saying about not being misled by anyone?"

To imitate the Japanese is to imitate the arch-imitators. Fuck that for a game of cards. The Buddha's teaching, as I see it, is something that each of us has to work out for him or her self, recognizing his or her own strength and weakness. That might have been Dogen's fundamental teaching too, on a good day. But Dogen was Japanese, after all, and when he came back from China he was still only in his mid-20s.

I agree with you about comments on Dogen. The practice of people who comment on Dogen, as a rule, is centred on trying to sit in the right posture, i.e. trying to be right. So reverence of Dogen becomes like a kind of religious cult. Again, I say, fuck that for a game of cards. On a good day, Dogen didn't draw attention to himself. On a good day, Dogen taught "Don't think about good and bad. Don't give a fuck (I paraphrase) about right and wrong."

ZEN-AKU O OMAWAZU.
ZEHI O KANSURU KOTO NAKARE.

This is the attitude, it seems to me, that a habitual worrier is required to cultivate.

Many of us in the world of Zen, it seems to me, are required to cultivate carelessness as an antidote to worrying about good and bad and trying to be right.

an3drew said...

mike, whats in the crown ? palladium which is a substitute for gold can also be a problem

if you get what's in the crown, (the dentist will have a spec sheet for what's in it) and reply back i can give you a comment !

my write up on dentistry

http://mueller_ranges.tripod.com/links/compendium/dentistry.html

do you have any amalgam fillings in?

Mike Cross said...

Hi An3drew,

The ingredients I remember the dentist told me included chrome, cobalt, and manganese.

Agreeing to have the truth crowned was definitely a mistake.

I had my amalgam fillings replaced about 15 years ago -- that might have been a mistake too.

Such, full of mistakes, is life, which in any case is short.

For the time being I don't want to be distracted by worrying about what's in the crown, even though something seems to taste bad.

That isn't the area this morning that I wish to cultivate.

Mainly what I wish to do is to clarify what the Buddha taught, as transmitted by Aśvaghoṣa.

If I succeed even a bit in that task then maybe future generations of dentists, after you and I are long gone, will behave in a more enlightened way, to everybody's benefit.

All the best,

Mike

an3drew said...

i know this can be quite stressful to think about but it pays to think ahead and look at options

is that a predominantly nickel crown? apparently there can be issues with them being allergenic !

maybe it will settle down ?

depending on how much of the tooth is there, composite or composite on glass ionomer can last a surprisingly long time and is not expensive

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for the concern and advice.

Something definitely does not feel right -- something like a tingling combined with a bad taste. Is it only the result of my heightened awareness of that area? A psycho-somatic symptom as the dentist suggests? Could be, I suppose. I don't know.

You are right that it pays to consider options -- if one can stop blindly reacting for a while. That is a big part of being free. For the time being, though, my decision is not to decide.

For 10 years, as it happens, between 1998 and 2008, that was my policy: deciding not to decide. It resulted in a 10-year hiatus in translation work, a fallow period in many ways. But at the end of those 10 years, I knew exactly what i wanted to do, which was this translation of Saundara-nanda.

So if this translation does the job that I hope it might do, then the policy of "decide not to decide" may in the end be deemed to have been a good one -- notwithstanding the torrid doubting I have engaged in along the way. Time will tell.

Dorella Belle said...

Keeping the eyes horizontal and the nose vertical is originally a vestibular function. A person with well-developed vestibular functioning doesn't have to worry about keeping the eyes horizontal and the nose vertical -- for him or her, the right thing does itself.

Yes, I was thinking something like that if you are talking about the perception of the lines of the eyes and the nose. I "quietly verify" how they move and change but they are far from being stable! :)

"People who have no fish to fry; they see it all right," said FM Alexander. Having no fish to fry and being empty-handed might boil down to the same thing.

Interesting interpretation, I like it :) .

I looked up Godel on Wikipedia. A confirmed theist, who apparently thought he'd proved the existence of God.
Really? Yes, in a way...
I do not know very much about Godel himself, I was thinking about the structure of the proof, the use of formal reasoning to find the limits of formal reasoning, and also that if one has a skill (a very rational mind) he can use that same skill so skillfully to "fry itself", I had the impression you are doing something like that.

I think if Dogen were here right now, I would like to yell out something along the lines of "WHOA!!! Look at the size of that fucking spider on your shoulder!!!" And if the great Master turned his head to look, I might ask him, "Hey, big-head! What was that you were saying about not being misled by anyone?"

:D
Perhaps he was misled before by some teacher and he is saying that now he cannot be misled since he don't give a fuck anymore about right and wrong, great master or simpleton. (?)

I do not like at all the term "faulty sensory appreciation", sensory appreciation is always precious if you do not consider it right or wrong but a guide.

Mike Cross said...

Dear Dorella,

I apologize for using this piece of Alexander jargon, "faulty sensory appreciation," that offended you. It may be that your feelings are spot on, and would never lead you astray. But macho strivers who tighten and narrow themselves in striving to have a good posture -- those are the guys that FM Alexander described as having "faulty sensory appreciation," or "debauched kinesthesia."

an3drew said...

"Something definitely does not feel right -- something like a tingling combined with a bad taste. Is it only the result of my heightened awareness of that area? A psycho-somatic symptom as the dentist suggests? Could be, I suppose. I don't know."

i greatly prefer women to men dentists because they are both more dexterous and take the customer/patient seriously !

honestly the advice that dentist is giving is driven by his not wanting to redo the crowning at his expense!

even if you just get the brand name of the crowing metal used, we can look it up on the net and see what's exactly in it !

thats not pyscho-somatic, something real is happening and it sounds like allergy at the minimum

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Andrew. I fear you could well be right.