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The Experience of Study with Ryokyu Endo

Ryokyu Endo frequently refers back to Masunaga sensei as his teacher and the inspiration to research what it was that Masunaga was doing and how he got the results he did. It is a relationship he calls the Student State and which describes how it is to study with an Oriental Master by catching the complete image of how the teacher works, by understanding his heart without interpreting in one’s own way and thinking that that is good enough. Endo quotes the passage in Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery, where Herrigel devised a technique for releasing the bowstring smoothly which seemed successful to him. When the Master saw this technique he refused to instruct Herrigel any more and it was only after a lot of pleading that he was allowed to continue. Working from your own ego-capacity, says Endo, will constantly block you from entering the Tao and catching the heart of Tao Shiatsu. Without being in the Tao you can only hit the target (diagnose!) haphazardly. The Student State requires you to do what the teacher does with no expectation of improvement. So trust the method and the teaching but without looking at the teacher in person – look instead at the governing spirit. Your teacher is not someone who is higher or who has a bigger ego. He is someone pouring the stream of the spirit on you, so naturally you have to place yourself under the flow.


The initial challenge for a student of Tao Shiatsu is similar to Endo’s original one:how to understand his insights, followed by the question will I be able to do as much in the end? The teaching does not allow a direct approach to such questions. On the one hand all practice is exclusively for the benefit of the actual and potential receivers. Whatever benefit one gains for oneself is entirely incidental. On the other hand the teaching always starts by being highly detailed and technical (see The 5 New Elements of Tao Shiatsu in Shiatsu Society News No 73) but rapidly merges with the often paradoxical world of the spirit, the Ki world. We are not practising technique but developing heart. Heart comes first, technique is just an adjunct.


Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama (quoted in Unno: River of Fire, River of Water, NewYork, 1998) says one must abandon the calculating mind which supposes that as long as there’s an aim there must be a target. It is not possible to aim directly at the sesshin heart taught by Tao Shiatsu, that heart which desires so much to give that it cuts through the difference between itself and its object so that they feel as one. You cannot aim with the mind because the target only becomes visible after hitting it. It is a tough challenge for the Western mind implicitly brought up on the separation between Mind and Body, between Self and Other and living in an age where the norm is to try to get the greatest benefit from the least expenditure. But for someone like myself, committed to the way of shiatsu as a medical therapy yet still journeying towards the essence of Masunaga’s skills, the sense of the stream that flows from Masunaga through Tao Shiatsu and the phenomenally subtle experiences in the Tao Shiatsu class give great hope.


In shiatsu, simply pressing will not reveal to you the life essence of what you are pressing. The underlying principle . . [is], like Zen, to establish a life echo with the receiver of shiatsu (Zen Shiatsu, pp 5-6). Tao Shiatsu is the way to do Zen Shiatsu as Master Masunaga would have done shiatsu in this age. Endo teaches that before Masunaga there was a separation throughout Oriental medicine between the Ki state and the method as logical understanding. Meridians were taught as physical lines because the way people were looking was physical. Masunaga used the Ki method in his work but he did not formulate it in his teaching. Only synchronization of heart and body, of the giver and the receiver’s Ki bodies allows you to perceive meridians. Shiatsu (and all Oriental medicine) has to be done with Ki and Ki is this unity of heart and body. This is the essential legacy inherited and built on by Tao Shiatsu and this is the whole of shiatsu, start and finish.


Ryokyu Endo describes the stages of following the stream that flows from Zen Shiatsu and deepening his insight over 20 years of clinical research: through the tsubo, which is the entry point to the Ki world, I was able to recognize the main meridians and at the same time to diagnose kyo. But until I saw the kyo stiffness, I had to treat the whole meridian. After this the different levels of the Ki world came into view – sub-meridians, spiral and horizontal meridians – then the Ki body itself followed by Super Vessels and Jaki. Each stage seemed like an absolute until the deeper level came into view. Where did they become visible? Only in the heart.


Now it is the same for his students. At different levels of study of tsubos we think for a moment we’ve got it, even if we lose it again with the next receiver: that’s the feel, look, dimensions, experience of a tsubo. There’s always more. Tao Shiatsu overall and Tao Shiatsu for us is a system in evolution, at times infuriating and frustrating, but then also exhilarating. The structure for teaching Tao Shiatsu has recently been greatly clarified, but Endo hints at the same time that there are still many aspects of the Ki world that the class is only gradually becoming ready to receive. The details are forever changing or being refined, requiring constant adaptation, while the essence remains the same. To perceive that essence requires a deep listening.


During this evolution, Tao Shiatsu has acquired its own language of technicality as is evident in the 5 New Elements. There are abundant 5-stage procedures minutely detailing how to find tsubos, what to do before touching them and what to do after that. At times one is in despair trying to focus on all these details at once, especially when the direction is always towards giving up thinking and knowledge in favour of empathetic imagination. Then again, the system comprises a precise Basic Form and treatment pattern, whereas the practice is based on refined intuition: find the place where the receiver most wants to be pressed. So while the external outline of Tao Shiatsu looks formal, sometimes the purpose of the technicalities seems to be to bewilder the thinking mind, neutralize it and so open the way to imagination as reality. The experience in class with all these details, soul-searching, confusion and desperation always leads towards the depths of the tsubo where everything fits in an inner landscape which only exists because giver and receiver are there together. It’s great to work with a student who, without looking, can tell you when you have got the angle of access to a tsubo right even before you have touched them. The entry-point to the Ki world lies at this level of the tsubo. Through the tsubo you contact the whole body and since that body is an expression of nature, the whole of nature. Each time the fusion in the tsubo is the beginning and the end. It is as if this were your one meeting with the person and your one chance to really contact them.


From every direction, Tao Shiatsu becomes an instruction in Spirit. In Zen Shiatsu the inner way of the Spirit is present but not explicit beyond the introduction to Zen Shiatsu. As Masunaga says there, it was Professor Sato who explored the Zen ethos in his shiatsu, not Masunaga himself, whose Japanese title for the book was Meridian Shiatsu. Endo’s comment is that the Ki world at the level of the dissolution of the distinction between self and other is still in the realm of the life and death of the ego in the material world. Shiatsu is a practice in this world, which is the world of the Tao. Buddhism goes further to the levels of karma awareness and the Buddha nature. But even if shiatsu is seen as a Taoist practice, Endo’s awareness as a Pure Land Buddhist priest is intimately connected with his teaching. In workshops he offers a sampling of the Nembutsu (Mindfulness of the Buddha) chanting practice, but in classes he rarely makes the connection explicit and certainly never forces it on anyone.


When I first visited Japan it was to study shiatsu, but I had in mind to sort out my meditation practice as well. So I was receptive to this dimension and realized how much Tao Shiatsu was intertwined with the Nembutsu practice. For instance, in the first class I attended in Japan we were taught that there are 3 ways of learning the Ki method. Firstly, you imagine how the receiver feels and straighten your elbow (follow that feeling to the bottom of the tsubo). Secondly, you imagine how your teacher does the Ki method and you do the same. Thirdly, you use keywords. Then my first real instruction in the Nembutsu practice came on a retreat to a temple on the edge of the hills near Kyoto: visualize the Buddha (imagine the state of Buddhahood), practise for all beings (not for yourself), keep chanting the mantra (Namu-Amida-Bu – I seek refuge in Amida Buddha)


In shiatsu the search for a deeply empathetic connection with your receiver is a practical reflection of great compassion for all beings. To hold that as a general ideal is one thing, but to do it at this very moment with this person is the test of truth. Then to visualize the state of enlightenment, all-embracing, beyond conceivable rationalization is to accept that there is such a state, to accept the authority which states it. To practise this on a more manageable scale we seek out a teacher who knows something we do not, who can do something we cannot, who has been somewhere we have not been. We want to get the map, we want to do it like he does it – not describe his doing (nor even write about it) but actually do it. For this we have to become one with the heart of the teacher. This is how to work with the Oriental Master. It leaves no grounds for argument, no Yes, but . . . of the rational mind, which wants to compartmentalize and keep separate. Thirdly, the invocation of the name also has the effect of releasing us from our small self, part of which is our rational mind, our prior knowledge, especially in the case of what was described earlier as physical looking. So the instruction might be to say the word (Small Intestine, tsubo, or sha point to Supervessel for instance) and at the same time slide your finger. Here you have the chance of bypassing thinking and self-power (I know where it is, or I can’t do it, or any sentence beginning with I) and turning to Other power, that power which contains all coincidences. This in turn offers the chance of adapting to the constantly shifting Ki world where tsubos and meridians do not stay in the same place and do not exist on the surface of the body. This is the way to deep listening.


In Kyoto there are many Zen and Pure Land temples and I thought that may-be Zen would be a path for me to follow. But the more I talked to people who had taken that route and as much as I experienced zazen in the perfect peace of the temple, I realized that it’s way is one of total immersion and cannot sensibly be engaged as a tourist. It is necessary to live the life or, as Rex Lassalle (my first shiatsu teacher) says: walk the talk. At the same time I realized that the talk was shiatsu and the Nembutsu practice behind it, a practice more for people in everyday life than for monks. This was the voice that was calling. As Endo said to me then: You know the connection, so why don’t you just do it?


Often it seems so difficult and it is simpler to worry endlessly indecisively (may-be another path is better, may-be some other grass is greener . . . ), yet the only way is to just leap into the stream exactly where you are, in this case the stream flowing from Zen Shiatsu through Tao Shiatsu. Many times the temptation is to want to hang onto a point of security and personal power and start from the illusion I can do it. At that moment you lose the 100% giving heart that wants only to hear what the receiver most wants, to follow and to adapt to their Ki in their most secret and fragile place. Frequently doubts creep in which block the Ki flow and we are encouraged to give up these personal issues by recognizing and letting them pass. We need to trust that we have absorbed the detail of the teaching like a dancer who,in the end, has to forget all the hours of technical training and just dance. It’s so simple! says Endo, looking at us in a baffled kind of way. It’s much closer than you think. And in truth there are moments when the membrane between consciousness and the subconscious world of the heart is so thin that it seems already to have been passed. Moments of intense focus when everything else has disappeared except the joy of meeting at the bottom of a point where both giver and receiver experience a deep relaxation through their whole body.


* All unattributed quotes and much of the rest of the text are the words of Ryokyu Endo, 1999 and 2000.

* The photos) are from a forthcoming video of the Basic Forms.

* The Buddha is at Hoji-In, Kyoto.

* There is a Tao Shiatsu study group and also a Nembutsu practice group in London.


Tao Shiatsu as a meditative practice Michael Cullingworth


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