2nd Life, The Online Sangha, and zazen

Zazen is a peculiar practice. On the one hand, it’s been associated with the cross-legged posture since the Gautamid first described the practice of setting up mindfulness. On the other hand, we have statements like “zazen sits zazen” (Shunryu Suzuki, to Blanche Hartman, as recounted on cuke.com) and “you know, sometimes zazen gets up and walks around” (Kobun Chino Otogawa, in a lecture in the 80’s at S.F. Zen Center). So is zazen something we do, or something that only happens in a cross-legged posture? Not exactly, it would seem.

This opens the door to 2nd Life practice.

In my own experience, I have come to understand practice this way: we not only have a pulmonary respiration (the ins and outs of which formed the basis of the Gautamid’s practice of setting up mindfulness), but also a cranial-sacral respiration (a change in the fluid volume of the cerebral-spinal fluid that causes flexion and extension throughout the body, especially in the bones of the skull and at the sacrum); the two respirations place the occurrence of consciousness to cause the balance of the body to impact the current stretch in our fascial envelope, and thereby generate activity that aligns the body and opens feeling. Attachment, aversion, or ignorance of the particulars of feeling skews the subsequent placement of consciousness, while the spontaneous witness of how attachment, aversion, or ignorance skews the placement of consciousness frees the subsequent placement of consciousness.

What has this to do with virtual reality, or with traditional zazen practice in the cross-legged posture? here it is in the words of Dogen:

“When we let go of our minds and cast aside our views and understandings the Way will be actualized. One sage clarified True Mind (Reality) when he saw peach blossoms and another realized the Way when he heard the sound of tile hitting a bamboo. They attained the way through their bodies. Therefore, when we completely cast aside our thoughts and views and practice shikantaza, we will become intimate with the way… This is why I encourage you to practice zazen wholeheartedly.”

(“Shobogenzo-zuimonki”, sayings recorded by Koun Ejo, translated by Shohaku Okumura, 2-26, pg 107-108, copyright 2004 Sotoshu Shumucho)

“They attained the way through their bodies”; I’m not saying it isn’t important to think, that joy in thinking isn’t a good thing, or that it’s possible to communicate through a computer without some physical activity (even if it’s just a movement of the eyes, as I guess it is in some cases). I am saying that there’s confusion about this point even among some teachers, so it’s important to encourage the exploration of the relationship between the two involuntary respirations necessary to life, consciousness, and the happiness of well-being itself. Can this be done in virtual reality, where the physical activity is so minimal? Yeah, sure; the usual medium is the upright physical posture, though, because it’s much easier to see involuntary reciprocal activity out of stretch.

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