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Fukan-zazengi
The Standard of Sitting-Zen Recommended for Everyone

A commentary by / Un commentaire de
Mike Chodo Cross


Mike Chodo Cross was born in Birmingham in 1959, and graduated from Sheffield University. With Gudo Nishijima, he is the co-translator into English of Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo in four volumes. He now divides his time between England and France. Together with his wife Chie, who is also an Alexander Technique teacher and Zen practitioner, he runs the Middle Way Re-education Centre in Aylesbury, England. At a small country retreat on the edge of La Foret Des Andaines in northern France, he indulges selfishly in sitting-Zen, amid sounds of a valley stream and abundant singing of birds.

Mike Cross

Diplômé de l'université de Shieffeld, Mike Chôdô Cross est né à Birmingham en 1959. Il a traduit en anglais avec Gudô Nishijima le Shôbôgenzô de Maître Dôgen en quatre volumes. Il partage maintenant son temps entre l'Angleterre et la France. En compagnie de sa femme Chie, qui enseigne également la technique Alexander et pratique le zen, il dirige le Middle Way Re-education Centre à Aylesbury en Angleterre. Dans un petit refuge en lisière de la forêt des Andaines dans le nord de la France, il se contente de s'asseoir en zen entre le murmure de l'eau de la vallée et la voix des oiseaux.

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Eihei Dôgen (1200-1253)

Fukan-zazengi: The Standard of Sitting-Zen Recommended for Everyone

Now, when we research it, the truth originally is all around: why rely upon practice and experience? The vehicle for the fundamental exists naturally: where is the need to expend effort? Furthermore, the whole body far transcends dust and dirt: who could believe in the means of sweeping and polishing? In general, we never depart from the place where we should be: of what use, then, are the tiptoes of training?

However, if there is a thousandth or a hundredth of a gap, heaven and earth are far apart, and if a trace of disagreement arises, we lose the mind in confusion. Even if, proud of our understanding and richly endowed with realizations, we obtain special states of insight, attain the truth, clarify the mind, manifest a zeal that pierces the sky, and ramble through those remote spheres that are entered with the head; we have almost completely lost the vigorous path of getting the body out.

Moreover, remembering the natural sage of Jetavana park, we can [still] see the traces of his six years of upright sitting. We can still hear rumours of the transmitter of the mind-seal at Shaolin, spending nine years facing the wall. The ancient saints were like that already: how could people today fail to practice wholeheartedly?

So cease the intellectual work of studying sayings and chasing words. Learn the backward step of turning light around and reflecting it. Body and mind naturally drop off, and the original face appears. If we want to attain the matter of the ineffable, we should urgently practice the matter of the ineffable.

In general, a quiet room is good for experiencing Zen balance, and food and drink are taken in moderation. Abandon all involvements. Give the myriad things a rest. Do not think of good and bad. Do not care about right and wrong. Stop the driving movement of mind, will, consciousness. Cease intellectual consideration through images, thoughts, and reflections. Do not aim to become a buddha. How could it be connected with sitting or lying down?

Usually on the place where we sit we spread a thick mat, on top of which we use a round cushion. Either sit in the full lotus posture or sit in the half lotus posture. To sit in the full lotus posture, first put the right foot on the left thigh, then put the left foot on the right thigh. To sit in the half lotus posture, just press the left foot onto the right thigh. Let clothing hang loosely and make it neat. Then place the right hand over the left foot, and place the left hand on the right palm. The thumbs meet and support each other.

Just sit upright, not leaning to the left, inclining to the right, slouching forward, or arching backward. It is vital that the ears vis-à-vis the shoulders, and the nose vis-à-vis the navel, are directed away from each other. Let the tongue spread against the roof of the mouth. Let the lips and teeth come together. The eyes should be kept open. Let the breath pass imperceptibly through the nose.

Having readied the posture, make one complete exhalation, and sway left and right. Sitting in balance in the mountain-still state, "Think the concrete state of not thinking." "How can the state of not thinking be thought?" "It is different from thinking." This is the secret of sitting-Zen.

What is called sitting-Zen is not learning Zen meditation. It is just a peaceful and effortless gate to reality. It is practice-and-experience which perfectly realizes the Buddha's enlightenment. The Universe is realized, untouched by restrictions or hindrances. To grasp this meaning is to be like a dragon that has found water, or like a tiger before a mountain stronghold. Remember, true reality is naturally manifesting itself before us, and gloom and distraction vanish at a stroke.

If we rise from sitting, we should move the body slowly. Rise with calm confidence. We should not be hurried or violent.

We see in the past that those who transcended the ordinary and transcended the sacred, and those who died while sitting or died while standing, relied totally on this power. Moreover, changing of the moment through the action of a finger, a pole, a needle, or a wooden clapper; and exact experience of the state through the manifestation of a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout, can never be understood by thinking and discrimination. How could they be known through mystical powers or practice and experience? They may be dignified behaviour beyond sound and form. How could they be anything other than a criterion that precedes knowing and seeing?

Therefore, we do not discuss intelligence as superior and stupidity as inferior. Let us not choose between clever persons and dimwits. If we make effort devotedly, that is just wholehearted pursuit of the truth. Practice-and-experience is naturally untainted. The direction of effort becomes more balanced and constant.

Broadly then, in this world and in other worlds, in India and in China, all similarly maintain the Buddha-posture, and solely indulge in the fundamental custom: we simply devote ourselves to sitting, and are caught by the still state.

Although there are myriad distinctions and thousands of differences, we should just pursue the truth through Zen balance. Why should we abandon our own sitting platform, to come and go without purpose through the dusty borders of foreign lands?

If we misplace one step we pass over the moment of the present. We have already received the essential pivot which is the human body: let us not pass time in vain. We are maintaining and relying upon the pivotal essence which is the Buddha's truth: who could wish idly to enjoy sparks [that fly] from flint? What is more, the body is like a dewdrop on a blade of grass. Life passes like a flash of lightning. Suddenly it is gone. In an instant it is lost.

I beseech you, noble friends in learning through experience, do not grow used to images and doubt the real dragon. Apply yourself to the path which is directly indicated and straightforward. Revere people who are beyond study and free of the intention to achieve. Accord with the enlightened state of the buddhas. Be a rightful heir to the balanced state of the ancestors. If you practice the ineffable for a long time, you will be ineffable. The treasure-house will open naturally, and you will receive and use it as you like.

Master Dogen's Fukan-zazengi rufu-bon (the popular edition)
Trans. Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross. New Year 2003.

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