I am a fan of Daniel Odier’s book Desire, as well as his work with the tantric text the Spanda-karika, but I found his chapter in Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind a bit weak, and I honestly have little to say about it! Frankly, I was a bit turned off by what seems to me a bit of the all too typical Zen sectarianism that I find distasteful and less than accurate.
While it is true that the Japanese Zen tradition tends toward a more choreographed ritualistic practice (even in their koan practice which has been formalized into a fairly strict curriculum not found in any of the other Zen cultural traditions), my limited exposure to Chinese Ch’an tells me that such formalism is not completely absent there either!
There is a rhetoric of immediacy or spontaneity that permeates throughout the Zen traditions, along with a kind of iconoclastic propaganda that has led to many mis-perceptions in those outside the tradition. Odier refers to both the Zen master who used the wooden statue for a fire, and to the old Zen exhortation to “Kill the Buddha!” I heard the Chinese Ch’an Master, Sheng-yen, once speak about the western Buddhist scholar who, upon seeing a Zen Master prostrate before a Buddha statue, proclaim, “I spit upon the Buddha.” The Zen Master simply responded, “You spit, I bow.”
In any event, I think it would have been helpful if Odier had defined – and perhaps offered more instruction in – what he calls “Spatial Breathing.” To my mind, what Odier is writing about is the necessity of relaxing the body in order to free the mind. There is no Buddhist tradition that suggests one sit with rigidity; in fact, the Japanese Zen Masters I know refer to such rigid sitting as “Stone-Buddha Syndrome.”
In Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra, we are told that asana, the seated posture for meditation must be stable and easeful, and that it is done with the relaxation of effort. Then a state of integration or coalescence arises which leads to the over-coming of oppression by the pairs of opposites such as hot and cold; pleasure and pain etc.
Going beyond attachment to concepts and notions about the Path, we enter the limitless space of awareness. What Odier seems to be speaking about, ultimately, we saw already as the subject of Roshi O’Hara’s piece on “dropping the body and mind.”
I would love to hear from any of you reading along with me as to what you make of this chapter. Perhaps some of you got something more from it than I, but overall, I find this the weakest essay of the three we’ve read so far.