Zazen Posture and the Problem of Touch

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Good morning. Well, recently there's been some discussion about Zazen posture, and so I want to talk about that today. But mostly it comes from adjusting people's posture. We used to say correcting, but correcting means that there's some correct way to do something, which is very controversial, the meaning of correct. So we say adjusting When I was a novice, a young novice, now I'm an old novice, and studying with my teacher Suzuki Roshi, he used to go around quite often and adjust everyone's posture.


There are three aspects of zazen. One is posture, the other is breath, and the other is mind. Posture, breath, and mental activity. Or actually, mind doesn't always refer to mental activity in Buddhism, in Buddha Dharma. Mind is, there is an aspect of mind, consciousness, which is mental activity, but mind covers an area that's beyond, that includes mental activity, but is beyond mental activity. So, we say big mind and small mind. So we, in Zazen, we limit as much as possible our attention to small mind and allow big mind to, allow ourselves to enjoy big mind.


which is beyond thinking, but includes thinking. So, posture is the most fundamental. It's important to follow our breathing and be aware of breathing and to be aware of in and out breathing. In Zazen, as Suzuki Roshi said, in Zazen, breathing is like a swinging door. It's just in and out. But it's very important to just let the breath be. Let it swing freely. and to allow our mind to rest, our thinking mind to take a break.


You know, we're thinking all the time, and you realize that when we do zazen, that our mind is actually somewhat uncontrollable. But the basic thing about Zazen is posture, because posture is the fundamental. Posture, everything hangs on the posture. It's a body-mind practice. So When we sit Zazen, we pay attention to posture. That's, it's not, we say, think not thinking. Dogen says, think not thinking. But actually, that's the koan of Zazen. But thinking is mental.


But we think with the body as well as the mind. So, we say body and mind as if they're two things. So, Tsujiki Roshi says that body and mind, if you think body and mind are two things, that's not right. If you think they're one thing, that's also not right. We get caught up in our dualistic thinking. Zazen is to go beyond our dualistic thinking, our discriminative thinking. Body and mind are not two things, and yet they're not one thing. So when we sit in zazen,


body and mind are one thing, and they are two things at the same time. So this is non-dualistic thinking. Unfortunately, it's hard to think in a way that seems to defy our logic. But if you really think about it, you see that it's true. Suzuki Roshi, and of course all of the ancestors, whoever did Zazen, emphasize posture. So there's the ideal posture and the real posture. Actual posture. Ideal is a goal, but actually we're always falling short of the goal, which is not a criticism. But it's how things actually are.


So we don't always know when we're doing something perfectly. Perfect is an interesting word. We don't know if we're doing something perfectly. Perfect doesn't necessarily mean ideal. Oh, not everybody can sit up straight. Some people have to sit in a wheelchair. How do you keep your back straight when you're sitting in a wheelchair? How do you keep your back straight when you have scoliosis? It's very interesting. So these kinds of, it's like, when I give zazen instruction, I talk about the ideal posture, which I'm always working toward the ideal posture, but posture's always changing.


You have ideal posture for a moment, and then it changes. But how do you express ideal posture when you can't sit up straight? So everyone has a back, I think. You know, if you have scoliosis, the back is curved. So, you know what a tokenoma is? It's that little space in the house, Japanese house, where you have some beautiful object for some period of time which you admire. And so the tokonoma is this space. And the post that holds the tokonoma, a beautiful post, always looks like this.


A straight post is practical, but if you're gonna make a tokonoma, you wanna get a piece of wood that has scoliosis. And we say, that's beautiful. But how do you make a straight line with a curved post? That's the trick. So when you put the post there, it actually is supposed to be holding up something. And its strength is part of its beauty. And the post has to have balance and strength at the same time. Balance, strength, and beauty at the same time. And then when you see that, you see those three qualities, and the whole thing works.


So everybody's, not everybody can sit up really straight. So you have to work with whatever it is that you, whatever your ability or compensation. It's called, I think compensation is a good word. Because in the post, you're compensating for all that wiggliness. and finding the straight balance that it actually has. And that's perfection. So perfection doesn't necessarily mean a straight post. It means how you work with what you have to create a straight post or a straight back. So in the past, I've been doing this for over 50 years, adjusting people's posture.


And in the past, I did it all the time, maybe for 20, 30 years. And then after a while, you kind of see who, you know, who needs, who seems to need adjustment to help them to find their balance of posture. But you don't always know what everyone needs. So it's very tricky. And And lately, lately over the past 15 years or something, 10 years, I haven't been doing much posture adjustment. Some, but not so much. Because people seem to sit, I kind of know where everybody's at. And I give suggestions and I go around and adjust posture.


Some people, are easy to adjust, especially women. Women seem to sit with better posture than men. That's no reflection on men, but It's just natural for women to sit more easily. And if I adjust a woman's posture, they respond right away, mostly. But men are very different. Men are more muscular and more resistant, a little more egotistical. That's hard. So sometimes people don't want to be adjusted. And so this has brought up a kind of controversy about how to deal with this kind of problem.


And I think that the problem has come up because of the yoga community. I think the yoga community is having a problem with teachers and students and touch. You know, you can tell people how to sit, but in order to really teach people, you have to do it hands-on. When I adjust someone's posture, If they're slumping, I put one hand on the lower back, one finger actually, or on the lower back and one finger on the chin, and then go like this. And this perfect enlightenment is very simple. Perfect enlightenment is when the chin and the lower back are in sync. If you lift up your sternum, which is right here, I don't mean putting out your chest,


Lifting up here, you can feel that in your lower back. And when you feel that in your lower, it automatically pulls your chin in. Just this, so simple. Not a bunch of, not, you know, wiggling things around, but it's just, that's fundamental. And then you sit up straight. But some people don't like that. They don't want to be touched. So this is the kind of problem. But I think there's been a lot of, in the yoga, I don't know too much about it, but this has been a problem in the yoga community for some time. But it's just starting to come out now as interfering or people just don't like to be touched, I don't know. I always liked it when my posture was adjusted.


Suzuki Goshi always adjusted my posture. Never let me slump. Never let me be unaware of posture. So when I sit, I just put all my energy into posture all the time. And then I fall asleep. But then I wake myself up. So if I want to wake up, I sit up straight. So I was thinking about, this morning it occurred to me, somebody asked me, I was teaching somebody about how to arrange the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and the incense bowls on an altar. And when I go up to the altar, I always see asymmetry. arrange all of the, I don't want to call them objects, but I will, objects on the altar in a symmetrical pattern.


Because the altar, I realized, somebody said, well, the Buddha is an idol. But the Buddha is not an idol. The Buddha figure is expressing Zazen. That's why it's there, to express Zazen. The Buddha sitting Zazen and the altar is part of its body, its extended body. So this is an example of Zazen. That's why it's there. The whole altar is an expression of Zazen. The Buddha's lined up this way. Prajnaparamita, who is sitting in front of the Buddha, the nose of the Buddha is in line with the nose of Prajnaparamita.


And then the incense bowl is in line with those two. And then the Avalokitesvara and Samantabhadra and Manjushri are symmetrical expressions of zazen. They're all expressions of zazen and they're all harmoniously expressing zazen. So when you look at the altar, whether you know it or not, you get that feeling of zazen and its symmetry. But symmetry sometimes doesn't look like symmetry. Sometimes it looks like chaos. Chaos actually is just another kind of symmetry. But when we're sitting Zazen, we make a big effort to be symmetrical given the asymmetrical parts of our body.


How do we include the asymmetrical parts of our body in that symmetry? So the problem has come up, and why I'm talking about this is the problem of don't touch me. And it doesn't apply to so many people, but it's come up as a problem. And it's come up as a problem that people feel we should air out. So if you have any question about that, or if you're a person that doesn't like to be touched, you might want to expose yourself and say why, which would be helpful, or could be helpful.


And if you don't want to, I'll just go on talking about nonsense. I don't mind being touched, but as somebody who's worked in a yoga studio for a long time, as somebody who's worked at a yoga studio male teacher in particular, whose hands are wandering, that didn't happen. In certain places, that was one reason. And the other reason is when it's done unskillfully, when it's too abrupt, or it's just inept.


So those are the two reasons in the yoga studio why that would come up. Yeah. Yeah. Well, John had his end first. I have always appreciated adjustment in Tai Chi, Qigong, and in meditation. And I don't feel criticized at all. But once in a while, if you came up to me, you might find me surprised. That's about it. trying to work with my body and aim towards the ideal, I'm not going to be seeing everything that everybody else is seeing. And that wouldn't be seeing necessarily what you're seeing.


So that is new and more interesting information about how it is that I am in my body. will feel that they're really trying hard to get in your direction. It's not that surprising. And probably sometimes it will create some resistance. I know that I've experienced that in the past myself. But I think it's interesting to think about Yes, well, that's the whole picture, is that we don't, you know, I'll be sitting, somebody will be sitting like this, and so I'll move them this way, and they'll think or say, that's wrong, you know, because they feel that this is right.


And then when you move the person, they think, no, now I'm sitting crooked. That's very common. Since you can't see what you're doing, someone else can. But it's how you do it that makes a difference. We didn't used to ever say anything. We'd just get up and adjust posture. But now I say, I will now adjust posture. So I'm going to come around and adjust posture so the people will not be surprised. I think it's rare, but there are people who have trauma related to physical touch. And I think that's one of the reasons the yoga studios are so careful now about asking before they touch. Because it can trigger a traumatic reaction of stress. There's a little drama going on in the back there with the door.


So can you say that again, please? I didn't... wave your way or indicate somehow or let you or the director know that they don't want to be touched. Yes. Yeah. Well, basically that's the way it works out. I think in yoga, some yoga studios, there are little chips or something, you put a chip, when you go in, you'll put a little chip by your side, and then they know it don't touch you, but, you know, it's rare that... So, I don't think that'll work here.


I think it's just better to say, no thanks, in some way. Yeah, well, The thing is, you don't know whether you're, some people say, well, just say you don't want to be adjusted, but you don't know that you need to be adjusted, that otherwise you would adjust yourself right. But I agree with what you're saying. PTSD, that's how this came up, actually, because of post-traumatic disorder. I mean, I've had people say, well, we used to carry the stick, you know, to Kiyosaku. A lot of people haven't experienced that, but we'd have two of them right there. And so, Doshi goes around and and wakes people up with the stick.


But you have to ask for it. We don't just hit people. But we don't do that anymore because some people say, well, it reminds me of my father spanking me and stuff like that. So I think in Zen Center, all of Zen Center, we stopped using the stick, except I still use it sometimes. Although it's rare, people like it, except for the few people that don't like it. So this is kind of like, does the tail wag the dog or does the dog wag the tail? Anyway, I don't want to get into that. Back there, I can't see you very well because of the light behind you. Way in the back, the last person in the back. Yeah. uh...


if it's not okay, to then set a downgrade afterwards. I can totally understand people who would rather just not go there. Right. Yep. So, mostly I do the adjustment. Alan Hosan does the adjustment. But we need, we're going to start having women, more women, to adjustment. So, I think that will help a lot. I mean, do you mind having a woman adjust? I don't mind having any person adjust because I'm aware of who is listening to me, verbally or non-verbally. Yeah, I think so. Yeah.


Rough. Yeah. All right. All right. Yes. Yeah.


Right. Yeah. Yes. Yeah. I say that sometimes it doesn't. During Zazen, I'll talk about posture, but nothing changes. But anyway, hands-on really makes a difference. It really does. And this is still evolving. Our basic Zen practice has come from our Japanese culture and mail. so that we didn't have to worry about these things, you know, in the beginning. And there's the feminization of them, which is what's happening now, but it's an ongoing process. It's not finished. It's not like, it does work, but we've been through an awful lot of changes and


integrations that are still going on. What you brought up is actually interesting because women feel this, but men are not always aware. that what their touch actually transfers to, or how it's received. You think it's just a casual touch, but for someone on the other end, it's significant. Yeah. about a specific instance of a posture adjustment, including two people involved, be able to have a further conversation about it for whatever reason. Just to say, you know, this is not a closed subject.


It's only happening in this endo, but it can be Yes, that's very true. Jerry? Yes. I was wondering if, you know, in the dark and low space, quiet space of zazen, somebody creeping up behind me and touching me.


Honestly, I get picked for Kokyo and go on whatever duties, and I'm sitting there waiting and thinking, until I get touched or not touched, and then people either think, that's me, I don't like to be touched behind. That said, it seems to me that there's great opportunity for us to increase zazen. I don't either. But I find it mostly effective hands-on, while you're sitting down. But to make it, to create a trust, that people trust whoever is doing the adjustments, I think that's important.


So I think that's it. Good to have both men and women doing the adjustment. That will help. But, you know, I go around and adjust posture when I do that. And we decided to do that more. People like it. They tell me how helpful it is. Most people. So we try to accommodate everyone. It's true. Yes. Well, you know, Zazen instruction on Saturday is just a fundamental preliminary, right?


And then most people don't come back. Some people do. This is a practice that, although it's open to everyone, it's not for everyone. But I just, I know, yeah. So when you continue after your initial introduction, that's when you need to have... Yes, that's right. I hear what you're saying, yes. Well, that's what I try to do in the afternoon when the newer people are here.


But because I can't do it all the time. But I agree with you. And I think that to say for people who really want to work on their posture, come to this meeting. That's a good idea. Yes. I appreciate everyone, the people who have mentioned talking more about posture. That seems like that can be useful. I, in an afternoon Zazen period, when I was newer to my practice, so did Justin, and it was a very helpful and intimate in a good way experience, and showed a lot of care. And there's something about that, Thank you.


Mary? So I'm wondering if we can shift the conversation to a place of figuring out how to produce an element of choice or lower the surprise element in the adjustment in terms of convenience. Yeah, well, take care of that in the practice committee because I see that our time is up. But yes, thank you. Are you ready? I am ready.