Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Club: Zen Body by Eido Shimano Roshi

Chapter Six, the entry from Eido Shimano Roshi, is rather short and, in my opinion, rather slight, so my comments will also be short – and most likely slight as well.

In his opening sentence, it’s rather clear that by joining “Yoga” and “sports” as things the Buddha was trained in, along with the presumption that having studied yoga and sport, the Buddha was “very fit,” that Eido is thinking of Yoga as physical training. If I could, I’d tell Eido that everytime he trains a student in zazen, he is teaching Yoga!

Where I have complete agreement with Eido Roshi, is in his assertion that “the body is indispensable as the mind for finding ultimate liberation.” In fact, I often quote Georg Feuerstein, who said that enlightenment is a full-body experience.

As a long-time student of Zen, I appreciate Eido Roshi’s discussion of soji (cleaning). Since the baby’s arrival, I’ve found that I’ve more opportunity to practice while cleaning (laundry, dishes, diapers etc) and it has been truly a very nourishing practice. When fully immersed in this practice of cleaning, mind becomes still, at one with action. Action seems still, even in movement, as mind has ceased to run commentary.

As I teach in Body of Peace, when body, breath and mind are fully and completely aligned and relaxed into action, the true body is seen to be the 10,000 things. As Eido, quoting Dogen puts it:

"The entire world in the ten directions is nothing but the true human body."

For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving Day, I hope yours is truly a time of reflection on the myriad gifts we receive daily. As the November Daily Practice of Naikan allows us to see, we benefit from countless, innumerable beings constantly.  And to all of you, I wish to take this opportunity to thank you for your practice, for your desire and commitment to awaken for the sake of a more loving and joy-filled world.


  1. A very short chapter indeed. I was grateful for that, but did find questions. About the cleaning, he mentions "not using any appliance, but bamboo brooms and wet rags". I'm assuming from your commentes that he was referring to doing the cleaning by hand and not automating it (like using a dishwasher). I was glad to that you mentioned about cleaning. I find cleaning feels good. I used to only allow myself to feel good when it was done. Thank goodness for the teachings. Now I have learned to enjoy the process of cleaning. I still remember Thich Nhat Hanh's "do the dishes to do the dishes", not to get them done. I have also realized as I enjoy the cleaning, how lucky since there will be always an abundant of cleaning to do. - Sally

  2. Yes, indeed Sally! "After the laundry, the laundry!"

  3. this short chapter made me think a lot about all the little things we take for granted, especially as a teacher of 4 year olds, whom i am teaching things to children that i myself take for granted, like how to wash hands, how to hold a pair of scissors, how to recognize a numeral and sounds out a letter, how to draw and more importantly how to have fun... i also learn from the same children how to be in each moment, with each emotion, with each task, each time to do something with newness... sally i love cleaning, i too used to only love it when it was all 'done' but i love the process, i used to frown at the idea of cleaning being and endless cycle, especially with three cats and a dog, but i love it now...just as the children i teach love it... now onto chapter 5!!

  4. As the author suggests, I think I have forgotten how to breathe in my adult life, my breath is often shallow and short. I think this is a side-effect of focusing my attention on thoughts more than sensations. For most of my adult life I have suffered from sinus congestion. Having experimented endlessly with diet and supplements, I am surprised to find my sinuses clear after just 15 minutes of zazen or asana!

    I find Dogen's quote interesting too ("the entire world in the ten directions is nothing but the true human body"). It seems that the more I sit/practice, the more sensitive I become to my body. A recent development is that sometimes while sitting I will perceive sounds as originating from inside instead of outside, and sometimes I even get some synesthetic visual/physical sensations. What I've realized, which I have heard taught but never experienced, is that I have chosen to limit my "self" by the interface between my ear drums and the air that carries the sound. But that when I perceive the sound, it is not "over there" but in me. However, it seems that "over there" and "in me" are still not quite right.

  5. Matt,

    Your example with sound is true of all sensory phenomena. They are "mental formations." Or as a psychologist I heard talk once way, "psychological phenomena." Vibrations in the air cause little bones in our ears to hit the eardrum, sending nerve impulses to specific areas of the brain and we experience the phenomena of sound. So, where does one point to the origination of sound?