Dogen Sangha Blog

  by Gudo NISHIJIMA

Japanese / German

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mindfulness, Perceptivity, & Balanced ANS

In the western Buddhist philosophy, there is an idealistic philosophy that "mindfulness" might be a kind of symbolical word, which suggests Buddhist samadhi.

But I think that this interpretation might be wrong. Because the word "mindful" suggests clearly something, which is related with mind, and so it does never suggests something, which is related with the middle way.

However there is tendency that the western Buddhist philosophy has been utilizing the concept "mindfulness" as if it were subjective word, which suggests the something mental, that has the same meaning of mental idea as the symbolical word of spiritual religions. But in the case of the Buddhist philosophy, it does never suggest any kind of spiritual tendency, but it suggests only the samadhi, or the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system. Therefore I think that it is very misleading for us to utilize the word "mindful" as the meaning of the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system.

Therefore I think that it is necessary for us to utilize the word "mindful" to utilize for the meaning of word, which suggests some kind of idealistic meaning, and in the case of meaning, which suggests "Samadhi", it might be better for us to utilize the word "the balanced ANS."

23 Comments:

Blogger Derek said...

Hello Mr. Nishijima,
I am new to zazen. I have been doing about 20 minutes every morning for 3 months now. I typically set a timer for twenty minutes and have yet to get up before that. What are your thought on the strictness of how long to sit for?

Thank you for all of your writings.

Derek

11:24 PM, June 26, 2009  
Blogger Chris said...

It is very interesting to hear your description of zazen as relating to western medical terms. From your writing, it seems that you're saying that zazen or meditation is much more physical than mental or spiritual? Does this mean that there is a relation of zazen to Ki Breathing or Qigong exercises, and how is it different? Will practicing breathing exercises help with zazen, or are they completely separate? Conversely, does that mean there is no relation of zazen to prayer (like contemplative prayer in the Catholic or Orthodox western monastic traditions), or is there some spiritual dimension to zazen, although very different from Western traditions? Thank you for your teaching...

2:38 AM, June 27, 2009  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Derek San,

Thank you very much for your sincerity to practice Zazen everyday.

The length of your practice should be decided by yourself, because you are the King of the Universe. In my case recently I practice Zazen everyday both in the morning and at night for 30 minutes each cases.

It is not necessary for us to be restrictive in practicing Zazen, but we should enjoy the practice to make our autonomic nervous system balanced at every moment in our daily life.


Dear Chris San,

Thank you very much for your interesting information. And even though you have said that I am saying that Zazen or meditation is much more physical than mental or spiritual, but I think that Gautama Buddha's opinion is neither spiritual nor phsycal, but it is Active.

I think that Gautama Buddha's philosophical system is neither spiritual, nor physical, but it is just Active.

I think that it might be very difficult for us to find the philosophy of Action in Euro-American Civilization, but in Buddhism Gautama Buddha has insisted the philosophy of Action so intentionally.

Therefore even though I do not know about Ki Breathing or Qigong excercises at all, I think that Gautama Buddha's teachings are always Active, and so it might be absolutely different from Euro-American spiritual or physical Civilization.

Therefore I think that Gautama Buddha's teachings might be completely different from the Western Civilization of idealism, or materialism. but it might be the philosphy of Action, which Gautama Buddha has established four or five Centuties B.C. in India.

And so I do never think that practicng breathing exercises works well for Zazen at all.

Therefore I think clearly that there is no relation between the practice of Zazen and complative prayers, and so there is no relations between Zazen and Meditation.

11:51 AM, June 27, 2009  
Blogger Mark Foote said...

Dear Ven. Nishijima,

Thank you for your comments. They recalled to mind my encounters with a young Japanese national judo champion (in Watsonville, California in 1971) and with Kobun Chino Otogawa; your youth and courtesy shining through, thank you!

I am embarassed to have to tell you that I am not a member of Kobun Chino's lineage, not a lineage holder at all, have never taken the precepts nor even studied seriously at a Zen center. The only thing I have done is taught myself how to sit the lotus. I didn't want to study physiology, and I didn't want to study Buddhism particularly, but for me there was no other way to learn to sit the lotus.

At first I wrote to try to find a way to describe how zazen can get up and walk around; Kobun once said in San Francisco, "you know, sometimes zazen gets up and walks around", but I already knew that at the time. After awhile, I wrote because it was the only way to teach myself, and my belief was that if I taught myself through my writing, others could learn from it as well.
I sit at home, and at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center and Jikoji in Santa Cruz sometimes (a Kobun center). I will certainly help you if I can, although at the moment my enterprise is a lone one.
I read somewhere that the nerves that feel are the same nerves move the body, and that these nerves cannot do both at the same time. I've been unable to verify this in my anatomy books, but I'm pretty sure I saw it some where. My guess is that would be important to your contention that a balance between PNS and SNS is involved; my writing is definitely about activity of the body generated through feeling and the place of occurrence of consciousness only. For zazen to get up and walk, the nerves must continue in the feeling mode only, no nerve signals for movement- something like that.
A pleasure to talk to you; again, thank you very much for your trust, and I am sorry if I misrepresented myself.
yours truly, Mark

11:55 AM, June 27, 2009  
Blogger Al said...

Roshi,

Your answer to Chris is very profound and helpful in explaing the difference between Zazen and meditation.

Thank you.

Al

12:30 PM, June 27, 2009  
Blogger Mysterion said...

"the word "mindful" suggests clearly something, which is related with mind..."

I think "mindful" means "attend" as in 'paying attention' to something, or take notice of something (moment by moment). Thus mindful is an intent of action - a) you run, b) you dance, c) you "pay attention."

In example a), you may be fast or slow, but still you run.

In example b), you may be graceful or clumsy, but still you dance.

In example c), you may be alert or drowsy, but still you take notice of the experience of the moment.

So mindful speaking means only that one is aware that words spoken in haste can inflict unintended harm. Likewise, mindful speaking means that if one intends to correct or guide a student, one should select words that have the most desired effect (e.g. the student will succeed based on the words chosen).

10:16 AM, June 28, 2009  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Ven. Mark Foote,

Thank you very much for your comments. Generally speaking, I think that almost all excellent sportsmen and sportswomen usually have got very excellent personalities already.

Even though I have not met with Ven. Kobun China, I think that he was also so excellent Buddhist Master too.

I think that you have entered into Dogen Sangha International, and so you wre just a member of Dogen Sangha International, therefore there is no doubt for you to belong to the lineage of Buddhist organization already.

We can think that it is all of Buddhism to practice Zazen everyday, and so if we practice Zazen everyday there is nothing to worry about.

Thank you very much for your kind help in future.

Of course the usual nervous system and the authonomic nervous system are perfectly different.

Thank you very much for your comments.


Dear Ven, Al San,

Yes, Zazen is a kind of Action, but in the case of Meditation, it is just a kind of consideration.

12:28 PM, June 28, 2009  
Blogger Brad said...

Dear Mr Nishijima,

I have to commend you for your attention to this blog, and your prompt and heartful responses to virtually every comment. This is very kind of you.

Brad

2:44 PM, June 28, 2009  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Ven. Mysterion,

I think that in the Euro-American Civilization, there is contradiction between mindfulness and perceptiveness.

But in Buddhism, because of the existent three dimensions, there are three kinds of criterea, that is the stronger SNS, the stronger PNS, and the equality betweeen SNS and PNS.

And the state of stronger SNS is called "mindful", and the state of stronger PNS is called "perceptive", and the equality between SNS and PNS is called the balance of ANS, or Samadhi in Sanskrit.

Therefore I am afraid that your opinion seems to have confused "mindful" and "Samadhi."

4:32 PM, June 28, 2009  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Ven. Brad,

Thank you very much for your encouragement for me.

5:11 PM, June 28, 2009  
Blogger Al said...

Nishijima Roshi,

I have made a post on my blog that expresses my understanding of Buddhism. Would you be so kind as to read it and give me some feedback?

Here is the link:http://homelesskodo.blogspot.com/2009/06/audible-buddhism-and-upanishads.html

Regards,

Al

5:57 PM, June 28, 2009  
Blogger Chris said...

Nishijima Roshi, thank you for the clarifications. Would it be correct then to say that Zazen is a philosophy of action at the most basic of levels, action in just sitting or just being? How does one though bring that quality of being from sitting in Zazen into one's daily life?

I think that is where I have made some mistakes in my practice. I have been practicing zazen for the last few years and feel I have made some progess in my quality of sitting. More consistently there is a feeling of stillness or openness, and if I sit longer there is often a feeling of deepness or deep cleanliness. Sometimes there are stranger feelings, but I try not to hold onto any of it, just focus on consistent practice. In my daily life though things are often the opposite. Feelings of anxiety have become more acute over the years, almost phobic at times, and usually are inconsistent or out of proportion to the circumstances I am in; sometimes it is there, sometimes not. I often try to bring “awareness” or “mindfulness” into whatever I am doing, but oftentimes that just increases the anxiety, and I cannot sustain it. As my Zazen practice has become more meaningful, my life seems more anxious (often when it shouldn’t). Is this a normal stage in practicing Zazen, or am I doing something wrong? Thank you again for your teaching…

3:00 AM, June 29, 2009  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Ven. Al San,

When you have your questions to me, would you mind to visit my blog? Because actually speaking I am always rather busy, and so it is almost impossible for me to visit your blog everyday.


Dear Ven. Chris San,

I think that Zazen is never a philosophy of Action, but it is just the practice of Action itself, and so it is just sitting or just doing. Therefore by practice of Zazen everyday, we can keep the balance of ANS at every moment in our daily life, because the balanced situations of ANS is just our natural and common state of ANS.

If someone thinks that by practicing Zazen we can become much more excellent situations than usual, such an understanding must be wrong. Because actually speaking, by practicing Zazen we can come back to our own natural conditions originally.

Therefore by practicing Zazen we can come back to our original and natural conditions, where there is no tention, or no dullness.

9:46 AM, June 29, 2009  
Blogger Mark Foote said...

Ven. Nishijima, sensei,

thank you very much for the induction into Dogen sangha.

Yes of course you are right, feelings and movements belong to the regular nervous system.

I looked up PNS and SNS on Wikipedia, and it said one is connected with nerve ganglia in the chest region, the other with nerve ganglia in the cranium and in the area of the sacrum. I know that you have pointed to mindfulness and perception as functions of these two nervous systems.

I read your article on zazen and pain, and I will also look to read your other articles. I like to think that zazen is the universe stretching, and the action of zazen comes out of the stretch; if the stretch is entirely comfortable, then the stretch is not yet sufficient for the true action of the universe.
hope you like that;
yours truly,
Mark

Mark

1:22 PM, June 29, 2009  
Blogger Harry said...

Dear Roshi,

Thank-you for this interesting message and discussion.

I have just returned from sesshin where I was quite sleepy due to not being able to rest very well at night while there. My sleepiness resulted in uncomfortable zazen (physical discomfort and mental drowsiness).

After a while, although it was still uncomfortable, my discomfort itself seemed to affirm my real situation while my thoughts of a preferred 'real zazen' or 'good zazen' seemed irrelevant. It seems that, in sitting in the midst of our real situation, we can come to see in experience that ideals such as 'real zazen', 'good zazen', 'perfect mindfulness' etc are actually a type of betrayal or denial of our real situation, a betrayal or denial of our self.

Thanks & Regards,

Harry.

6:14 PM, June 29, 2009  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Marke Foote San,

I think that PNS spreads hroughout our body, and SNS also spread throughout our body. And so I do not know the idea that PNS is especially related with nerve gangria in the chest region, and SNS is related with nerve ganglia in the cranium and in the area of sacram.

I wonder whether your words that "zazen is the universe stretching" have any kind of meaning, or not.


Dear Ven. Harry San,

I think that an uncomfortable Sesshin might be a very bad Sesshin, and so in such situations the leader of the Sesshin should be responcible for such an uncomfortable situations of Sesshin.

A good Sesshin always should be done on the basis of a reasonable schedule, which is reasonable and comfortable relying upon good principles.

1:10 PM, June 30, 2009  
Blogger Harry said...

Dear Roshi,

Thank you very much. I think the schedual of the session seemed reasonable but was rendered uncomfortable mostly due to my not being able to sleep very well while there.

The venue was very comforatable, but unfortunately I often have trouble sleeping when I travel from home.

Regards,

Harry.

8:06 PM, June 30, 2009  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Ven. Harry San,

Thank you very much for your honest report of your Sesshin. I think that almost of everyone, who has experience his or her Sesshin for the first time, experiences such a common experience too.

Because almost all people, who have experienced his or her first Sesshin, usually they have their common tention, and so usually it is difficult for them to sleep well.

Therefore it is necessary for us to practivce Zazen everyday for getting our alwayys balanced Autonomic Nervous System without fail.

So don't worry about your first experience, but it is necessary for you to practice Zazen everyday for keeping the ANS balanced at every moment.

If your Autonomic Nervous System has become balanced, the easy sleeping will begin actually.

6:56 PM, July 01, 2009  
Blogger Harry said...

Thank-you, Roshi.

I am very glad that I attended the sesshin and it has informed my daily practice of zazen in many substantial ways even though it was a bit uncomfortable at times.

I will certainly continue to practice the balanced state as best I am able.

Regards,

Harry.

9:26 PM, July 01, 2009  
Blogger Regina said...

Hi Harry,

I do understand your situation at this first sesshin very much. This usually used to happen during almost all sesshin I have attended. I didn't had any kinds of mental problems but I always felt very much awake not to miss anything and my thoughts were spinning around by themselves. Fortunately I always relaxed during free times and therefore I haven't been tired at all.


But there was one exception to this, that was the Tokei-in retreat last year. There everything was fine, sitting was ok and sleepping during the night as well. Everything was balanced. I'm looking forward to attending it this year too. Maybe you can try this too?

Best regards
Regina

9:38 PM, July 01, 2009  
Blogger Sai said...

Dear Master Nishijima,
Thank you for clearly explaining the meaning of Mindfulness. What are your thoughts on posture of Zazen? Should it always be full or half lotus. Are any other postures permitted. Also can we do Zazen in the office while sitting in an office chair in front of a desk?
Thank you very much for your advise
Sai

9:37 AM, July 02, 2009  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Ven. Harry San,

Congratulations for your first Sesshin!

It is always important for us to do something actually.

11:47 AM, July 02, 2009  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Dear Ven. Sai San,

I think that the posture of Zazen must be the Half-Lotus-Posture, or the Full-Lotus-Posture exactly. Because Master Dogen has decided those two kinds of posture in his Fukan-Zazen-Gi clearly.

Therefore I think that it is impossible for us to select another posture of Zazen other than those kinds of two authodox postures, which have been decided by Master Dogen in Fukan=Zazen=Gi."

Of course it is possible for us to practice Zazen even in a Business Office, but even in such a case we sould spread a thick carpets there, and our legs should be also guarded from painful situations.

I think that it is not adequate for us to use a chair for Zazen, because the Half-Lotus-Posture, or the Full-Lotus-Posture should be necessary for us to use in Zazen, and so it is impossible for us to permit using chairs for practicing Zazen.

Because in Zazen it is very important for us to utilize the Half-Lotus-Posture, or the Full-Lotus-Posture, and so it might be impossible for us to get any kind of effect by utilizing different posture other than the Half-Lotus-Posture, or the Full-Lotus-Posture.

1:24 PM, July 02, 2009  

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