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Dogen Zenji

Dogen relates the words of an old Zen master: “Formerly I used to hit sleeping monks so hard that my fist just about broke. Now I am old and weak, so I can’t hit them hard enough. Therefore it is difficult to produce good monks. In many monasteries today the superiors do not emphazise sitting strongly enough, and so Buddhism is declining. The more you hit them, the better.”

The Kyõsaku

In the Soto and Renzai sects of Buddhism the kyōsaku, the “encouragement stick” is used to sharpen a slacking student’s flagging focus, to snap attention back one-pointedly toward the practice and to do so without words “interjecting mind into the seed of awareness.” This pre-emptive concretization of what Arran elsewhere refers to as the “concussive blunt force trauma of nihilism” becomes the post-nihilist realization that there are no carrots (they’ve gone extinct) yet we still require motivation – that we caused the extinction and such extinction in return must be our ultimate stick.

The essential purpose of the kyōsaku is to arouse the “last vestiges of dormant energy” in someone sitting in zazen, to shake the foundation to test for weaknesses, to push one through the shell of self-delusion and into true Self-understanding. Used to rouse drowsy sitters, to spur on striving ones. When the body slumps and the attention loses tautness, opening the way to invading hordes of anxious computation, Bassui tells us the stick is “unequaled for raising one’s concentrative intensity” and anyone that has faced a physically painful reminder of task knows how this kind of blow has the ability to knock all such computation from the head. The dangers to one that grasps on tightly to the outcome of the task reveal themselves in the anxious spiralling feedback of believing the computation necessary is intrinsically accomplished by the individualized self-conception, and that this loss of awareness of active computation is indicative of lost control and a failing.

In this light I have begun to view socioeconomic/political/climatic currents and futures as the escalating attempts to command our attention, rising beyond dismissable events into a space in which we find ourselves “fundamentally pummeled by the lunatic potency of nature” but a nature in Timothy Morton’s words that is beyond simple ecology. A Nature of physical laws commanding infinite dissolution of all Objects into the darkest (non)matter. It is within the eye of all our future storms that I find myself most completely at a kind of strange brutal peace, at the receiving end of this prolonged, protracted, yet sharp crack of the kyōsaku in which I’m reminded that the only tool is Self and the sharpening of the tool of Self upon the unyielding stone of the Real reveals the ultimate ever-becoming/ever-being-eaten ourobouros of Mu that only appears savage because we are genetically terrified of our one true purpose as biologicals – to disintegrate.

That nature is regarded as ultimately alien by those committed to a technocratic future betrays the inconsistence of any kind of transhuman drive-to-life. When Death is considered the ultimate horizon and not simply one horizon, the inherent fear of uncertainty in the mind of one endoctrinated toward the ideal of Control embodied by Burroughs’ so-called One-God Universe (think monotheism/governmental oversight/language as dominant mode of communication/mathematical formalism pre-Cantor/Gödel/ego-driven default mode self-reflective brain operation) becomes rampant and infects all nodes of calculation with its top-down oscillatory anxiety that vibrates the entire webwork of conceptual thought. Error-correction goes offline, and the mind is evolutionarily trained to retreat to any conception of stability and safety it understands. The modern mind is uniquely mismatched against an “opponent” that is the ultimate perfect exemplar of sitzfleisch.

The kyōsaku attenuates this vibration.

SNAP

The webwork becomes taut.

In the hands of a sensitive, enlightened godo, able to strike when the iron is hot, or for that matter to make the iron hot by striking, the kyōsaku intelligently applied can, without paining the sitter, elicit that superhuman burst of energy which leads to one-pointed mind becoming spontaneously realized. In the temple the heaviest blows are reserved for the earnest and courageous and not wasted on slackers or the timid. It is never administered as chastisement or out of personal punishment. The one struck raises their hands in a reverent gesture of gratitude known as gassho and the godo in turn acknowledges this with a bow in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding. “The adage that a poor horse can’t be made to run fast no matter how hard or how often he is whipped is well understood in the zendo.”

There is no denying, however, that for the Euromerican mind, unable to disabuse themselves of the notion that beatings with a stick are an affront to their dignity, the kyōsaku will always remain a menace rather than a goad. It has been said that love without force is weakness and force without love is brutality, and it cannot be emphasized enough that the administration of the kyōsaku is not a matter of simply striking one with a stick. Indeed, if the stick is to be a spur and not a thorn, the act must be of compassion, force, and wisdom conjoined. The godo in the temple must be one of strong spirit and a compassionate heart, that has undertaken to identify themselves with the deepest spiritual aspirations of those sitting in zazen.

The question of ecological ethics and politics has been raised once again. I occasionally fear that our images of ecology and politics remain stills rather than cinematic motion pictures. This is largely because we still have a tendency to approach bodies as static or exclusively in terms of being bodies-of-inscription, passive passivities, contained, bound and finite in an absolute sense. Against this frozen stillness I want to discuss motion and rhythm, and the ways that bodies of all kinds generate their own spatiotemporal realities.In order to do so I’m going to move quixotically and in fractures through a section of text in EM Cioran’s The Book of Delusions, before moving onto more empirically grounded concerns that open the discussion onto the geological and political physiological consequences of survival in the Anthropocene. I don’t pretend that this post is exhaustive (it leaves questions of ethics underdeveloped) and consider it more of an approach to than a final statement on these problems.

Have you ever felt the beginning of motion, have you ever been tormented by the first departure of the world from itself? (p.59) [0]

‘Have you ever felt the beginning of motion’

The question presents itself as rhetorical: there is only the answer that Cioran knows you have to give; “no”. We are always already in motion. Motion doesn’t begin. A motion is always dependent on a prior motion, and always leads into another motion. Improvisational dance knows this well; so does nursing theory. The assessment of patient mobility is one of the most essential parts of a global assessment, and it is also one of the hardest elements of nursing practice; manual handling requires training and skilled decision making. We’re drifting though. There is no such thing as a singular motion. A hand moves; it moves away from the lap it had been resting on, it moves towards the cup it reaches out for. This same hand, without break, takes the cup and moves it to the mouth, which itself purses in preparation, the head leaning slightly into the cup, the salivary glands doing their work, the tongue rolling, the eyes moving from the hand to the cup to the face of the person seated opposite who is still deep in talking about whatever it is they are saying.

Step back: Can you feel it kicking? The hand is pressed to a swollen abdomen. Inside, a foetus is moving, is stretching out a leg against the membranes of the uterus; its heart is beating, has been beating, and before that, before there was a heart to speak of, when it was a mass of simple undifferentiated cells, it was a flurry of division, accumulation. Step further back: the welcoming of the spermatozoa into the warm membrane of the ovum; the race of the sperm to their target; the growth and release of that ovum; its descent from the ovaries, down the narrow pathway of the oviduct and into the warmth of the blood thickened uterus; the floating there, until that race is concluded. Whose motions are these? Do our first motions belong to us; and then, can we really separate my motion from my mother’s; does it pass on down the generations this way, retracing the evolutionary drift like a cinematic explosion played in reverse on the big screen, until we reach the first life forms, the first inorganic stirring of life; and why even place the limit there? Step backward even further, as far as the imagination permits: does the beginning of a motion, any given motion, not find itself as the ineluctable playing out of the first motions of the celestial gases, of the primal movements of what would eventually become matter?

These aren’t necessarily answerable nor is it necessary that we answer. The point is made: we have never felt the beginnings of a motion; never felt the beginnings of motion itself.

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The present is filled with catastrophe and apocalypticism. A certain phrase has been deployed and redeployed in summarising the condition we find ourselves in: it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalismWhile this phrase is typically used to crystallise capitalist realism, the idea that there is no alternative to capitalism, it also distils another truth: the end of the world has become the very air that we breathe.

As compelling as the discourse on apocalypticism might be it makes one fundamental mistake: it colludes with the very sense of impending catastrophe that it is usually trying to critique or to use as a means to mobilise a political movement. In what follows, I want to discussthe relation between catastrophe and apocalypse, and to look at what it would mean to shift the emphasis on the terms. I don’t mean to restate that catastrophe and apocalypse mean different things for its own sake but rather to emphasise that from the perspective of a postnihilist praxis we are neither catastrophic nor apocalyptic but living within the time of catastrophe as post-apocalyptic survivors. Read More