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藤田一照 Fujita Isshō (1954–)
Issho Fujita was born in Ehime Prefecture, Japan in 1954. After completing his studies at Nada High School in Kobe, he went on to study educational psychology at Tokyo University. From there he started graduate work in developmental psychology and during that time became seriously involved with zazen.
At the age of 28 he withdrew from his doctoral course and entered Antaiji, a Zen training monastery. He became a priest the following year. At 33 he left for America and for the next 17 ½ years he provided guidance in zazen at Pioneer Valley Zendo in Western Massachusetts.
He returned to Japan in 2005 and is currently based at the Chizanso Retreat in Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture where he conducts research and offers instruction in zazen.
He is the second head director of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center in San Francisco. He wrote “Modern Lectures on Zazen: The Path to Shikantaza” and is the co-author of “Buddhism 3.0: An Update.” He has also translated numerous works into Japanese including Stephen Batchelor's “Buddhism Without Beliefs,” David Brazier's “The Feeling Buddha,” and Thich Nhat Hanh's “Zen Keys.”
Official website: http://fujitaissho.info/english
PDF: Polishing a Tile
collected essays of Fujita Isshō
My Footnotes on Zazen (1)
Zazen is not Shuzen (1)
Rev. Issho Fujita
Director, Soto Zen Buddhism International Center
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/dharma/pdf/28e.pdf pp. 24-27.
In my Zazen Sankyu Notebook (1)[Dharma Eye Number 2], I wrote, “Zazen as the body of text is always seeking to be freshly re-read with new footnotes under the renewed light of the present age. Those who practice zazen in this modern society are being requested by zazen itself to bring their own unique words to it”. More than ten years have passed since I wrote that impression and I still feel so. I would like to share with Dharma Eye readers some footnotes I have made during these years. I hope my little effort to add new footnotes to zazen will inspire, even a little bit, the readers to creatively make their own footnotes.
Around early 6th century CE a strange Buddhist monk came to China from South India. Unlike other visiting monks, he did not bring any new Buddhist scriptures or commentaries. He did not translate nor give lectures on Buddhist scriptures, either. He did nothing that could be called “missionary work.” What he did was just sit all day long facing the wall in a room at Shaolin temple. So people gave him a nickname, “wall-gazing Brahman” (an Indian monk who indulged in meditation facing the wall). This monk was Bodhidharma who is now revered as the “First Ancestor of Zen”.
Except for his own disciples (small in number), very few could understand the true meaning of what he was doing by facing the wall. For example, a famous Buddhist scholar-monk, Nanzan Dousen (Tang dynasty, a founder of Nanzan Vinaya School), classified Bodhidharma in a shuzen (修禅) section when he complied The Sequel of Biography of Eminent Monks. That implies that Dousen thought of Bodhidharma as a shuzen practitioner, one who engaged in meditation to attain a special state of mind called “dhyana” (Sa. Jhana, Pa). But Dogen criticized Dousen, saying that such an understanding is completely wrong and irrelevant because zazen encompasses the whole Buddha Dharma, not a part of it. In Shobogenzo Gyoji he wrote, “This was the utmost stupidity, which is lamentable.” According to Dogen, the sitting zazen facing the wall that Bodhidharma practiced in silence is totally different from what had been practiced as zazen to train (修 shu) a meditative state of dhyana (禅 zen). What Bodhidharma did was authentic zazen, which had been correctly transmitted through generations of ancestors from Shakyamuni. “The ancestral teacher (Bodhidharma) alone embodied the treasury of the true dharma eye transmitted from buddha to buddha, from heir to heir”. Zazen is not a training of dhyana (shuzen) which is one genre of Buddhist practice, like the Three Studies (sila, samadhi, prajna) or Six Paramitas (dana, sila, kshanti, virya, dhyana, prajna). It is a quite different practice from zazen. In other word shuzen is a personal training to achieve a human ideal (small vehicle, hinayana) and zazen is an expression of something transpersonal or universal (great vehicle, mahayana).
I believe that it is crucially important for us as zazen practitioners to distinguish zazen as the entirety of Buddha Dharma from shuzen as one genre of it, even though these two practices look similar at a glance. We should avoid confusing them. That is why Dogen repeatedly emphasized this point (zazen is not shuzen) in his writings (Fukanzazengi, Shobogenzo, Eihei Koroku, etc.). It could be said that the bulk of his wirings were written to clarify the criteria for discerning authentic zazen.
Then, what is the difference between zazen and shuzen? This is a very important question to consider when we practice zazen. Even if we are sitting with almost the same posture, it does not mean the content is also the same (“If there is a hairsbreadth deviation, it is like the gap between heaven and earth” Fukanzazengi). I am wondering how many zazen practitioners are keenly aware of the importance of this question.
I stayed at a small zendo in western Massachusetts from 1987 until 2005 as a resident teacher and practiced zazen together with a group of people. That was a great experience for me to deepen my understanding of zazen. Luckily in that area many people were interested in Buddhism and many Buddhist centers and groups (large and small, Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan) were full of activities. Moreover, the colleges nearby all offered introductory courses in Buddhism and seminars on Buddhist philosophy. Those classes were very popular and many students attended them.
Because I was living in such a “hot place” of Buddhism, I was often visited by people who had already studied and practiced various traditions of Buddhism such as Theravada, Tibetan Buddhism, or Rinzai koan practice before coming to my zendo. I was, in a sense, forced to distinguish shikantaza (just sitting) from those types of sitting meditations. It is not a matter of showing off the superiority of my practice to the other but I needed to clarify what shikantaza is all about in comparison with other kinds of practice. Otherwise I could not fulfill my responsibility as a teacher of that practice.
In English speaking countries zazen is usually translated as “zen meditation” or “sitting meditation”. But this translation makes it almost inevitable that people think of zazen as an effort to control the mind and attain a certain state of mind by applying a certain method. This is exactly what shuzen means. Therefore I had to explain that zazen was different from meditation. When I talked about zazen, I decided to use Japanese word, zazen, instead of using English translations. Then it was quite natural that people started asking me, “Ok. Then what is zazen? What should we do to do zazen?”
I realized that when people tried to do zazen based on the shuzen-like assumption they first physically sat down with a certain posture and then applied some mental technique (with emphasis on the mental technique). They thought they had to do some psychological work in addition to physically sitting. But zazen should be practiced within a totally different framework. So I had to clarify the difference between zazen and their deeply held assumptions.
Near the zendo where I resided there was a vippassana meditaion center founded by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin. This center, formally called Dhammadhara (land of Dhamma), was the first meditation center in North America (founded in 1982) among about 100 centers worldwide. The center consists of 108 acres of land and many buildings, including a bathhouse, two dining rooms, meditation hall for 200 people, a 60 cell pagoda, separate residences for men and women and a center manager's house. Every year around 2,000 people participate in their 10-day course of vipassana meditation. (for more information, see their website at http://www.dhara.dhamma.org/ns/index.shtml). I attended 10-day courses offered by this center twice.
During the 10-day course, for the first three days they practice anapanasati, focusing the attention to the physical sensations around the nostril and the rest of the period they keep “scanning” the whole body by using the cultivated attention to the sensations (for the details of this technique, see Art of Living by William Hart).
Later I met Larry Rosenberg, a guiding teacher at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and an author of an excellent book, Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation. He kindly invited me as a guest participant to the 10-day course for advanced yogis he led at Insight Meditation Center in Barre, MA. There I experienced another style of vipassana called “labeling” in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw. In this practice practitioners are encouraged to keep noting/labeling every activity all day long.
Before I came to America, I had experienced 5 day or a week long Zen sesshin many times. But I never had a chance to experience 10-day meditation retreat in Japan. Physically it was not so hard for me to sit for many hours for 10 days. But it was the first time I had to apply a certain meditation technique for that long period. These were practices such as exclusively focusing on the sensations around the nostrils, or keeping scanning the whole body for a long time, or labeling whatever is happening in body and mind. Metaphorically speaking, I used “mental muscles” a lot which I seldom use during zazen. And I felt mental “muscular pain” from overusing them. In zazen our mind pervades throughout, resting with the body that is sitting and breathing. It does not engage with any other activity. In zazen we do not intentionally use or actively control our mind, applying a certain method and technique. In those two types of vipassana practice I had a different “taste” of sitting, compare to the one I had in zazen. Where does this difference in taste come from? It was very informative to think about it. Of course this is but my personal impression as a complete beginner of this practice. It is highly likely that the “taste” will change as I deepen the practice further. And also it could be that vipassana is quite different from shuzen.
Another helpful hint for me in clarifying the difference between zazen and shuzen is Uchiyama Roshi’s definition of zazen. He says it is “an effort to continuously aim at a correct sitting posture with flesh and bones and to totally leave everything to that.” In his definition there is no shuzen element which assumes the central role of mind in shuzen practice. In opposition, the somatic element of zazen is strongly emphasized. If we can understand Bodhidharma’s “wall gazing” as an effort “to keep sitting with bodymind being like a wall, whatever happens, let it flow as it is, without clinging to or fighting against it”, it is very similar to Uchiyama roshi’s definition of zazen. In this kind of practice, to do zazen means just to sit solely aiming at a correct posture. There is no other need to reach a certain state of mind as a goal or to attain a special experience. Therefore we are freed from anxiety and frustration which comes from seeking for a special state of mind and experience which we have not yet attained and are able to peacefully rest in the here-and-now as it is, nothing special. There can be no competition or ranking based on what is achieved because there is no fixed attainment target. All those human struggles are totally suspended in zazen. That is why zazen is called the “dharma gate of joyful ease”. We simply make a sincere and straightforward effort to sit zazen with body and mind all together without desiring to get something however lofty it may be. This is the way of zazen and in that sense it is quite different from shuzen.
This is easy to say but very difficult to do for us because we are usually driven by a desire to achieve something which does not exist here and now. When we hear that zazen is about no achievement, we immediately ask, “If zazen is that, how can I do it?” But this is a question exactly stemming from the framework based on “means and end” which is always behind the shuzen approach. It is nothing but an undertaking to grasp zazen using the shuzen concept. This shuzen attitude is deeply rooted in our way of behavior and thinking. That is why we should take a radically different approach to zazen so that we can avoid changing zazen into shuzen, consciously or unconsciously.
How can we clearly understand total difference in quality between zazen and shuzen?
My Footnotes on Zazen (2)
Zazen is not Shuzen (2)
I often use “Magic Eye” to illustrate a difference in quality between zazen and shuzen.
“Magic Eye” is a picture of a two-dimensional pattern generated by a computer graphics. When you continue looking at it in a certain way, a three-dimensional image emerges out of the pattern. In Japan, it has become popular thanks to a sales pitch - “Good for improving your vision.” Some of you might have already had “Magic Eye experience”.
If you look at a Magic Eye picture in an ordinary way, the three-dimensional image hidden in the picture will never come out. If you stop seeing it in the usual way, tensing the muscles around the eyeballs to focus on the object and find out something – if you relax those muscles, giving up the effort to find something and wait patiently with a soft-focused eye (this kind of eye is called “Magic Eye”), a three-dimensional image suddenly emerges from nowhere. When we try to see the image more clearly, thinking “Wow, this is interesting!” and return to the ordinary way of seeing, the image immediately disappears. The attitude, the way of seeing and what is seen are interrelated. There is no way of cheating this relation.
An interesting thing about this “Magic Eye” phenomenon is that, depending on how we see the same picture - with ordinary eyes or with “Magic Eye” – a totally different visual world unfolds. I don’t know how we can see a three-dimensional image in a two-dimensional picture, but I am sure it is not just psychological but a matter of the physical way in which we use our eyes.
I think “Magic Eye” is an interesting and helpful metaphor for the whole different world of experience that unfolds depending on whether we sit zazen, in the shuzen way of using bodymind or in zazen way of “dropped-away bodymind.” In an old commentary to Shobogenzo, there is a phrase, “When sitting zazen, zazen becomes the self. It is not the self at ordinary times.” If we replace “self” with “bodymind,” it would go like this: “When sitting zazen, zazen becomes the bodymind. It is not bodymind at ordinary times”.
By extending the metaphor of the two types of eyes, ordinary eyes and “Magic Eye” and applying it to describe the characteristics and differences between ordinary bodymind and magic-eye-like bodymind, it is possible to say that shuzen is done with the former bodymind and zazen with the latter. With ordinary bodymind, we first set up the goal, control our body and mind in a certain way to accomplish the goal, and make a conscious effort to make result of our action match with the goal through comparing the two. Whatever we do, there is a basic structure of “I (consciously) operate my bodymind to accomplish a purpose.” In the case of shuzen, the purpose is to produce a certain state of mind which can be clearly described as “dhyana” and the practitioner applies a various methods (Dogen Zenji called it “means to brush it clean”), like counting breath, following breath, body-scanning, mental noting, etc.. With these methods, body and mind are consciously and purposely used to make progress toward the goal. It is an act of self-control - “I” control “my body and mind” - and an approach of actively doing something to achieve a goal.
In contrast, magic-eye-like bodymind is an approach of undoing what we do not need to do or what we should not do. Physically speaking, it is a state of deep relaxation with unnecessary tension totally released. Psychologically speaking, it is a state of resting ease in a relaxed way in which the ordinary way of actively running the mind is put aside (Dogen Zenji called it “give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness”). In Dogen Zenji’s “Birth-Death”, he wrote, “Just letting go of and forgeting body and mind, casting them into the house of Buddha, being activated by the Buddha - when we go along in accord with this, then without applying effort or expending the mind we part from birth and death and become Buddhas”. I think this is a wonderful description of magic-eye-like bodymind. Therefore zazen should not be a “job done by self-power.” Essentially zazen is not what we can ”do” directly by exerting our own power. Keizan Zenji wrote, “Just sit zazen. Do not fabricate anything. This is the essential art of zazen” in Zazen Yojinki (Notes on What to be Aware of in Zazen).
To give zazen instruction, we often say, “straighten your back,” “keep your eyes half-open, half-closed” to regulate the body, “make your out-breath long,” “do abdominal breathing” to regulate breath, and “do not think anything,” “focus your attention on your breath” to regulate the mind. I think there is a big problem here. Zazen should not be something forcefully built up by imposing a ready-made mold onto our body-mind from outside. It should be what is naturally and freely generated from inside as a result of non-fabrication. There is a danger that a rote way of giving instruction is leading us to change zazen into shuzen.
In zazen, the spine should elongate by itself instead of our lengthening it by effort. I would like to briefly touch upon the topic of “outer” and “inner” muscles. When we try to lengthen our spine consciously, we use the “outer muscles” – the volitional muscles. These are designed for purposeful movement. When the spine elongates by itself, the body is using the autonomously-controlled “inner muscles.” These are the muscles of “being” – the non-volitional muscles - designed as a system of supportive movement (Jeremy Chance, “Alexander Technique”).
In many cases the natural function of inner muscles is blocked by unnecessary tensions of outer muscles. We must reactivate and fully develop the intrinsic functions of inner muscles by undoing unnecessary tensions in the outer muscles. The fundamental problem of human beings is that the outer muscles tend to take every chance to intrude where the inner muscles are supposed to play a main role. I think this is closely related to saying that zazen (inner muscle dominant) is not shuzen (outer muscle dominant).
Anyway, the principle of “it is good to spontaneously become so but not good to artificially make it be so” should be applied not only to spine but also head, eyes, hands, arms, legs and the all other parts of zazen posture, breath, and the mind. In zazen, we should not perform a special breathing method to control the breath but leave everything to the natural breathing, which is a life-sustaining activity of the body sitting with a correct posture. Dogen Zenji never tells us to breathe this way or that way. He just says, “breathe softly through your nose” or “your in-breath and out-breath are not long nor short (leave them alone).”
The idea of outer and inner muscles is about the body but I think we can also apply this idea to the mind. When we are absorbed in our thoughts, thinking of this or that - as usual - it is a function of “outer-muscle mind.” In everyday expression, we say “use your head.” In contrast, “inner-muscle mind” functions to support the appearing and disappearing of thoughts at the basic level. It enables intuition, awareness, and mindfulness to arise. Here again in zazen, we can say that we are calming down an excessive activity of outer-muscle mind and activating and manifesting the function of inner-muscle mind which has been suppressed. Therefore as Dogen Zenji said, “stop measuring with thoughts, ideas and views.” We should avoid bringing the “side job” of various meditation techniques like the four foundations of mindfulness, Sun meditation, Ajikan meditation and so on, into zazen. When we engage in these meditation techniques, our mind inevitably becomes active and is dominated by “outer-muscle mind.” In zazen, the mind is dominated by “inner-muscle mind.” It is not focused on any particular spot. It evenly and softly permeates inside and outside the body, calmly receiving sensory inputs (including all kinds of thoughts) with equanimity. It suspends any reaction and control against the inputs whatever they may be.
So far I have been using strange metaphors like “Magic-Eye-like bodymind” and “outer muscle, inner muscle.” I did this to help you become familiar with the zazen approach in which we practice zazen as zazen, not as shuzen. For us the shuzen approach is much easier to grasp than zazen approach and we are much more familiar with it. Because it’s difficult to understand and unfamiliar, we often lose sight of shuzen being totally different from the zazen Dogen Zenji recommended so highly.
As a result, we are actually doing shuzen very hard believing it is zazen or zazen becomes “a dead letter,” a matter of appearance, or just an imitation of the form. I think something has to be done to change such a sad situation. It is the main reason why I started writing this article.
Of course, I do not have an ultimate answer to the problem. As I quoted earlier, “when we sit zazen, zazen becomes bodymind.” I am now exploring one step further to discover what kind of bodymind arises during zazen and what we should do in order to have such a bodymind. Zazen is not just a training or exercise for us to attain some preferable goals but a spiritual practice of “immediately entering into Buddhahood.” I really hope that we can open up the way we, today, can practice such zazen as a template of following what the buddhas and ancestral teachers practiced.
My Footnotes on Zazen (3)
Nothing to attain, Nothing to enlighten
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/dharma/pdf/30e.pdf pp. 28-31.
We, as ordinary human beings, are always seeking for something that will give us selfsatisfaction. In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, this way of being is called “凡夫 bonpu.” It literally means “an ordinary person.” It is so difficult for us as bonpu to become relaxed or restful because we are constantly seeking for something. This pattern of restlessness is so deeply rooted in us that we naturally feel zazen practice as something very unsatisfying, disappointing, and nonresponsive. This might sound strange, but in zazen we as bonpu are satisfied with this unsatisfactoriness, or we rest in deep peace with uneasiness. That is exactly what zazen is all about. It is the most wonderful thing about zazen. It is, of course, very hard for us as bonpu to understand and accept this. But it is, above all, important to sincerely study and wholeheartedly practice this kind of zazen without distorting it. When we start zazen practice, we should clearly understand this point beforehand.
While we are sitting in zazen, we definitely have a feeling of disappointment and unsatisfactoriness, a sense of uncertainty or fruitlessness. We think, “I am working so hard but I'm not experiencing the 'response' or 'effect' that I wish. Maybe I am doing something wrong. Maybe my effort is not enough. Or maybe I am not suited for zazen…” These kinds of doubts and questions arise one after another in our mind. At that time we feel at a complete loss, thinking, “Should I keep doing such an unresponsive thing or not? Is not this a waste of time?” But that is totally all right for zazen. Rather, it is a good sign that we are doing zazen in the right direction.
Buddhism teaches that we human beings cannot be fully satisfied after all, however hard we strive for it. I think that is the true meaning of the word dukkha in Sanskrit which is the first truth of Four Noble Truths. This word is often translated as “suffering” but it should be understood as a description of the fundamental fact in life that it is impossible for us to get ultimate satisfaction in this transient world.
When this feeling of unsatisfactoriness is driving us, we are never able to be settled and rest in peace and relaxation at the bottom of our heart. We need to let go of our deep-rooted tendency to look for exciting experiences to fill up the empty feelings of unsatisfactoriness or to try to distract ourselves from confronting unsatisfactoriness by indulging in all kinds of diversions. And we also need to settle down to unsatisfactoriness itself without trying to change it. To do zazen, we should clearly and deeply admit that there is no other way to authentic peace and just sit down with unsatisfactoriness.
In Shobogenzo Genjokoan, Dogen Zenji said, “When dharma does not fill your whole body-mind, you may assume it is already sufficient. When dharma fills your body-mind, you feel something is missing.” This means that when we are sincerely practicing zazen while feeling somehow unsatisfied, dharma actually fills our mind-body beyond consciousness. So we should sit zazen being completely reassured, trusting zazen, however disappointing it may appear to our consciousness. On the contrary, when we feel zazen satisfying us, we should think, “I have slipped away from zazen” because we have created an unguarded moment by being caught up in pleasant thoughts.
Dogen Zenji says in Shobogenzo Genjokoan, “When Buddhas are truly buddhas, they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas. However, they are actualized buddhas, who go on actualizing Buddha.” So when we are practicing zazen without consciously feeling that we are realizing the Way, we are actually realizing the Way, perfectly and fully receiving all the benefits of zazen apart from what we think or feel about it. Zazen cannot see the result or effect of zazen (the realization of the Way) as an external object. Zazen and the realization of the Way have such an interesting relationship with each other. For example, when we are in deep sleep, we are not thinking we are sleeping. But that is totally fine with sleep. We are, in fact, perfectly sleeping (The fact that we never care about whether we are sleeping or not is a proof that we are truly sleeping. If we care about it, it means we are not really sleeping). We are receiving all the benefits of sleep, for instance, rest for body, brain, and central nervous system, renewal of the cells, etc… We have not yet understood everything about sleep - sleep is far deeper than our current understanding of it. Therefore, what we need to do is just to sleep peacefully. In this sense, zazen very much resembles sleep. Religiously speaking, zazen is to awaken from the sleep of fundamental ignorance. It is very interesting that sleep is a very useful metaphor to understand zazen.
As we cannot see ourselves sleeping while we are sleeping, we cannot see zazen as a whole from outside while doing zazen. Even though we cannot see it as an object, sleep is perfectly happening as sleep and zazen is perfectly happening as zazen. We should understand this fully and clearly.
What we can become consciously aware of is not the totality of zazen. Zazen is much bigger and much deeper than the territory of conscious grasping. Its size and depth is beyond our imagination. Its subtlety is beyond our scope. When we do zazen, we should put a higher priority on what is quietly happening beyond our knowing by perceiving and thinking than on what we can experience consciously. This is very distressing for us who live with the assumption that what we can perceive is all that exists. As humans we deeply desire to know everything, to be satisfied by understanding everything. Therefore, it is unbearable that, however hard we practice zazen, we cannot expect to see the results and effects of the effort ourselves. Usually we can only feel satisfaction, fulfillment, pride and so forth only when we can clearly see the results and effects of our effort. Nevertheless, in the case of zazen we cannot do it. So zazen is exactly “to have all our efforts for nothing.” So we have tremendous difficulty in finding a positive reason to do zazen. Then how can we motivate ourselves to do zazen? Nothing to gain. Nothing to enlighten. Nothing to satisfy us… There is absolutely nothing in zazen. We can never find the meaning or reason to sit zazen when we look at zazen from a bonpu's viewpoint.
We feverishly and busily move around, always figuring out how to manage things so that we can get the maximum profit with the minimum effort and gain what we want with the least labor. But we should ponder on how much happiness we enjoy by gaining those “profits” in that way. Shouldn't we calm down and deeply reflect upon this matter? We cannot help but feel empty and lonesome in living out our whole life restlessly like that. This feeling makes us aspire to do something completely different, without any specific reason, even for a short time. Kodo Sawaki Roshi said, “Stop being restless and have a short break.” We certainly have something within us which encourages us to move in this direction. This kind of encouragement does not come from rational and utilitarian reasoning, an idea of “I will try zazen because it is good for something.” It is a kind of “gut feeling,” a strong call stemming from a deeper part of our existence beyond intellectual explanation. I think we cannot find an answer to the question of “Why do you do useless zazen?” without getting access to the source of this gut feeling.
We are, as a whole, a part of nature. We usually ignore this and overuse our “human mode,” or bonpu, way of acting. That is why we are sometimes called to come back and be a part of nature by taking a break from “human mode” and becoming nature itself. When we are sleeping, we are in that state. (Here is the metaphor of sleep again.) This is true rest for human beings. Zazen is exactly an activity which actualizes this in the purest way.
In his book titled The Prayer, Father Ichiro Okumura, a Japanese Carmelite, quotes Ms. Toshiko Takada's poem titled “Empty Bench”.
Mother and her child
All day long, frequently
They talk to each other
But not so as expected
They are not so often
Engaged in a true talk
Therefore on the way back home from shopping
Or after doing laundry
Even only for ten minutes
Getting out of the house
Let us have a talk
For that, the gentle shade of a tree is waiting
For that, an empty bench is waiting
Father Okumura gives his comments on this poem in the context of prayer and says, “Just ten minutes are enough. Getting out of the house, make a special time to talk to each other. Whatever is said in such a situation, it is a true talk. Here the fact they talk in that way is much more important than the content they talk about.” I think this is a very deep comment. Fr. Okumura is trying to say that a true talk is possible not in the content of the talk but through the concrete action of making a special time, getting out of the house, sitting down together on a bench in a park and talking to each other.
I would like to replace “true talk” in this poem with “zazen.” Zazen is “to study the self” (Shobogenzo Genjo Koan) - that is, to study how the true and original self is made alive by myriad things through engaging ourselves with actual practice with our body-mind. The reality of this true and original self has nothing to do with whether we practice or not. It is always with us. But, in fact, we are living our daily life while totally losing the sight of this reality and never making time to be intimate with the true self. That is why we need to make a time - even for a short time - to get out of the busyness of everyday life and to intimately contact the true self. That is why an empty zafu is waiting for us to sit down. The most important point here is not the content of zazen - what you experience or what happens during zazen - but the fact that you carry your body-mind onto the zafu and sit zazen even when you feel “I am so busy that I cannot leisurely sit down even for a short time.” We do zazen for the sake of zazen, not for any other reason. In that sense, zazen has no other purpose and is totally self-sufficient. Therefore, whatever happens during zazen, even what might be called “defilement,” becomes precious nourishment for zazen and is solemnly decorating zazen.
My Footnotes on Zazen (4)
Sitting Upright With Proper Posture: Sitting Like An Infant
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/dharma/pdf/31e.pdf pp. 30-34.
The poise of an infant's sitting
When we teach zazen we often show a photo of an austere Zen monk sitting zazen with upright posture. We begin by saying, “This is a model for zazen. You should sit like this…” I usually show a photo of an infant sitting on the floor. Here is a photo of an eleven-month-old baby. I think we can learn a lot about zazen posture from this photo. According to Zen master Dogen, sitting upright with proper posture (正身端坐 shōshin tanza) is the A to Z of zazen. Breath and mind will naturally be regulated by establishing proper zazen posture.
Please notice that this baby shows no sign of contrivance or pretentiousness. We do not see any strain or lack of naturalness. The baby does not seem to be thinking, “I should keep my back straight!” “I must not move!” “If I sit nicely, I will be praised.” He is effortlessly sitting comfortably. To borrow Dogen's phrase, he sits “with no need for any expenditure of either physical or mental effort” (Shobogenzo Shoji). Nevertheless he is sitting firmly grounded on the floor so that his upper body stands up beautifully and freely, extending in the direction of gravity. He does this because his posture has spontaneously emerged from within as katadori (form), and not as katachi (shape) forcibly imposed from the outside. Shosui Iwaki, a Japanese traditional martial arts master, says, “Katadori has softness and flexibility. Katachi is stiff and lacks liveliness or principle. It is artificial, like a doll's posture.”
In many cases, zazen instruction consists of a series of “how to's” - how to cross legs, how to place the hands, how to drop the line of sight, how to keep the back straight, how to pull in one's chin, how to settle one's tongue, how to breathe, how to control one's mind, and so on. With these “how to's,” practitioners make a lot of effort to control all the body parts, the breath, and the state of mind by faithfully following those instructions one by one. That kind of effort is usually understood as “regulating body, breath and mind.” In this approach to zazen the shallow layer of the mind, the “conscious I” (the ego-consciousness, which is the product of thought), is trying to unilaterally give orders and force the rest of the mind and body to devotedly obey. It is as if it is telling them, “Because our instructor said so, you should do what I tell you without complaints or questions! That is zazen!”
This approach might work to some extent in the beginning, but eventually there will be many problems - “I can't sit still because of so much pain in my legs!,” “I can't do anything about idle thoughts. My mind is out of control,” “I am not good at zazen…” It is no wonder because “I,” which is only a product of thought, is trying to control everything else without getting any agreement, consent, or cooperation from the layer of the mind and body which is much deeper, wider, and wiser than “I.” It is quite natural that the practitioner will experience many kinds of resistance, rebellion, disagreement, and complaint one after another in the form of sleepiness, chaotic thoughts, uncomfortable sensations and so on. If one tries to win this battle by willpower, one is bound to fail. The practitioner will just end up hurting the body and mind by doing too many unnatural things.
Forcible action and spontaneous action
Zen master Dogen calls this type of action go-i (forcible action). It means to do something intentionally, by force, aiming at certain goal. He sets un-i against go-i. Un-i is spontaneous action that emerges naturally in response to the situation beyond judgment and discretion. There is a common misunderstanding that zazen is done as accumulation of go-i. But Dogen says that zazen should be done by “letting go of both your body and mind, forgetting them both, and throwing yourself into the house of Buddha, with all being done by Buddha” (Shobogenzo Shoji). This means that zazen should be practiced as un-i. I show a photo of an infant's sitting when giving zazen instruction because I hope it will prevent practitioners from practicing zazen as go-i. There is a sentence in the Bible (Matthew 18-3): ”Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Borrowing this famous phrase, I would like to say, “Unless you turn and sit like children, you will never enter the gate of zazen.”
So, how can we sit zazen as un-i? What path should we follow? That is what we need to investigate thoroughly.
Sitting with sit bones (ischium)
Looking at the photo of the infant's sitting, we notice that he is firmly connected with the floor through his pelvis. His spine-neckskull (twelve thoracic, five lumbar and seven cervical vertebrae), like the links of a chain, is freely stretched upward, supported by the solid pelvic structure. The points of contact between the pelvis and the floor are the two sit bones, right and left (see figure 1). In sitting, the most important thing is letting our body weight fall onto the best point of the sit bones. This determines the tilt of the pelvis, which in turn strongly influences the shape of the upper body and the balance of the whole body. Sit bones are literally “zazen bones.”
When doing zazen, we put a round cushion, called a zafu, under the sit bones. If we use a zafu of appropriate thickness - not too thick, not too thin - the outsides of both knees will easily and firmly touch the zabuton (square cushion under the zafu) or the floor (see figure 2).
Now please see figure 3. The line connecting the right and left sit bones (I) and the line connecting the anus (A) and sexual organs (S) meet at C. If we draw a line from C to the top of the head (TS), it defines a central axis of the body. It is crucial to sit so that the line C-TS extends up and down freely and vertically. Of course, this line does not exist as an anatomical entity. It only exists as a felt-sense to the sitter. The isosceles triangle KCK´(K and K´are the knees) is the foundation supporting the central axis.
For this to happen, it is necessary to let the body weight fall vertically straight onto the proper points of the curved surface of the sit bones. When we do this, our body's innate self-regulatory mechanism allows the upper body to naturally elongate upward. It is necessary to have the muscles around pelvic joints, pelvis, spine, neck and shoulders deeply relaxed so that they do not hinder the spontaneous adjusting movement of the whole body.
Slowly rolling the pelvis forward and backward on the curved surface of the sit bones, we carefully look for point 2 in figure 4, the point where our body weight is supported most properly. If our body weight is supported at point 1, the pelvis tilts too far backward. This results in rounding of the lumbar and thoracic area, sliding down of the ribcage, compression in the abdominal area, pulling in of the chin, and closing of the eyelids. If our body weight is supported at point 3, the pelvis tilts too far forward. This results in bending backward at the lumbar and thoracic area, sliding up of the ribcage, protruding of the abdominal area, pushing out of the chin, and opening of the eyelids. These connected changes in various body parts are induced naturally by the movement of the pelvis, as a chain reaction. The body should be flexible enough to allow these changes to happen freely. Through carefully sensing with the whole body (figure 5), we should discover point 2, where our spine naturally elongates, somewhere between points 1 and 3.
When we are sitting on point 2 of the sit bones, our body weight is so firmly and solidly supported with such a good balance that we can reduce muscle tension substantially. We can have a feeling of being in a perfectly “neutral” position and sometimes even feel that we have no sense of weight. Here there is no need to make an extra effort to put our back in position.
Natural regulation of the body
When we sit down on point 2, we can feel the flow of supporting force from the floor along the central axis of the body (in reaction to body weight). We align our neck and head with this upward flow. Then, the back of the neck and the back of the head naturally extend upward and the chin is appropriately tucked in without forcibly pulling it in. If we keep our eyes softly open, with relaxed muscles around them, this upright posture naturally invites our line of sight to drop downward. Zen master Dogen never said, “Drop your line of sight to forty-five degrees.” Trying to align the line of sight with an artificially fixed angle is nothing but a forcible action. We must avoid such unnecessary effort.
With this posture, our mouth is naturally closed (teeth naturally together) and our tongue is naturally placed against the roof of our mouth just behind the teeth (not intentionally pushing against them). In zazen we relax the facial muscles because we do not need them to interact with others. We should particularly release the tension at the forehead.
Natural regulation of the breath
Under these conditions, it becomes possible to naturally breathe with much ease and depth. Through the nose, in-breath and out-breath quietly happen with our body's own rhythm. With in-breath, the whole body expands, the sit bones press on the zafu, the pelvis tilts forward a bit and the spine slightly stands up. With out-breath, the whole body contracts and the pelvis and the spine come back to the original position. In this way the waves of breathing movement spread through all corners of the body. If we feel this spread is blocked, we unwind the blocked part so the wave of breath can go through our whole body. When we are casually (without focusing) sensing this subtle movement created by breath, we gradually become able to notice the intervals between in-breath and out-breath when breathing completely ceases.
Natural regulation of the mind
As the body is arranged, the mind calms down by itself and becomes very sharp and wakeful. Various thoughts still freely appear like clouds, but there is now no more clinging to them. We just observe them freely appearing and disappearing. This state of mind is not produced volitionally or methodically by applying some technique to the mind but as a natural result of sitting with good alignment and deep relaxation.
Zazen is not “self-absorption - sinking deep into the inner world” by shutting oneself off from the outer world. Rather, it is acting to deeply re-connect oneself with outer world by opening oneself and responding to the world. Actually, it is possible for us to sit upright with proper posture only when we fully receive support from the outside world in what we see, what we hear, the supporting force from the floor, the air coming from outside, etc.
How to settle legs, arms and hands
As for our limbs, we just settle them at appropriate places so that they do not disturb the torso's balance. If we can cross our legs without so much difficulty, the traditional full-lotus or half-lotus position is recommended. This cross-legged position gives us a wonderful sense of groundedness and stability of lower body. Because the balance of the torso is most important, we should find the best position for our legs so that they give it maximum support. It would be the counterproductive to sacrifice the torso's balance by forcibly crossing our legs.
As for arms, we naturally let them hang from both sides of the body. We relax the hands (particularly the center of the palm) and place the left hand palm-up on our right palm. The tips of our thumbs lightly touch each other. Consulting with our sensations, we find the most comfortable position for our hands and settle them there. We do not freeze our hands up, but keep them soft so they can freely move together with the whole body's subtle re-adjusting movements.
The practice of sitting upright with a proper posture is a dynamic self-regulatory process powered by the continuous interaction between consciousness (thinking to move the pelvis so that the body weight falls vertically onto point 2) and sensations (sensing the result of this movement in body, breath and mind). So, during zazen the body continually fluctuates in very subtle ways, although they are too subtle to notice. While sitting zazen, we continue minutely adjusting the pelvis so that our body weight falls vertically onto point 2 at the bottom of our sitting posture, and we keep a delicate balance while feeling the verticality of the body's central axis in deep relaxation. This balance is so delicate and fragile that it is easily lost by drowsiness and discursive thinking. When we notice that the balance is lost we just slowly recover it, unhurriedly guided by kinesthetic sensations. Keeping ourselves open to the world, we patiently recover the balance every time it is lost. The practice of sitting upright with proper posture is just such a sober and sensible work, to be done serenely with sharp awareness (覚触 kakusoku).
My Footnotes on Zazen (5)
The Buddha's Sitting Under a Tree (1)
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/dharma/pdf/32e.pdf pp. 22-25.
When we trace back the root of zazen (shikantaza), we find the Buddha's sitting under a tree. That is what I think for now. This is because I take literally what Dogen Zenji wrote in Eiheikoroku vol. 4: “The true Dharma correctly transmitted by buddhas and ancestors is simply just sitting.” The first sitting in the line of that tradition was the Buddha's under a tree right after he gave up self-mortification practice. Here I would like to discuss the significance of the Buddha's sitting under a tree. First of all, we need to know about the process through which he came to sit under a tree. What brought him there? For an answer, I looked in one of the Pali scriptures, the “Maha-Saccaka Sutta” (Majjhima Nikaya 36). This scripture offers us very useful information about this matter.
According to “Maha-Saccaka Sutta,” the Buddha said, “when I was still young, blackhaired, endowed with the blessings of youth in the first stage of life, having shaved off my hair & beard — though my parents wished otherwise and were grieving with tears on their faces — I put on the ochre robe and went forth from the home life into homelessness.” Right after this Great Renunciation, he headed south to Vaisali, a flourishing commercial city. There he studied under a meditation teacher named Alara Kalama, who taught a form of meditation leading to the “attainment of the state of nothingness.” Gautama practiced the method and quickly attained the goal. Kalama then set him up as his equal and co-teacher, but Gautama — concluding that “this Dhamma leads not to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to Awakening, nor to Unbinding, but only to reappearance in the dimension of nothingness” — left his teacher, dissatisfied with that Dhamma.
He moved further south to Rajagriha. He studied under another meditation teacher, Uddaka Ramaputta, who taught the way to a higher state, the “attainment of neither perception nor non-perception.” Gautama again quickly mastered this state and was proclaimed a teacher. But, concluding that “this Dhamma leads not to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to Awakening, nor to Unbinding, but only to reappearance in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception,” he left this teacher, too, dissatisfied with that Dhamma.
Thus the Buddha-to-be was dissatisfied with what he attained under these two famous meditation masters and he rejected it. Why so? Had he been satisfied with what he had mastered — in other words, with what the mainstream religious tradition of Brahamanism offered in those days — Buddhism as a brandnew and revolutionary path would never have been created by him. Therefore, we, as his descendants, should thoroughly investigate this question of why Gautama rejected what he had been taught. This investigation illuminates an important topic — the difference between concentration-oriented meditation and zazen. It is also related to Dogen Zenji's statement, “zazen is not shuzen.”
Following this, the Buddha went further south and arrived at the village of Sena in Uruvela in the suburbs of religious city, Gaya. There he launched a practice of severe selfmortification, which, in addition to meditation, was another mainstream religious practice. According to the “Maha-Saccaka Sutta,” his austerities were extreme. He practiced holding his breath to induce a trance. It was excruciating to his body. He also practiced fasting, taking only a little bean or lentil soup each day. His body became emaciated, his spine became bent like an old man's. He fell forward when trying to stand up, fell backward when trying to sit down. He later recalled what he did at that time, saying, “Whatever brahmans or contemplatives in the past have felt painful, racking, piercing feelings due to their striving, this is the utmost. None have been greater than this. Whatever brahmans or contemplatives in the future will feel painful, racking, piercing feelings due to their striving, this is the utmost. None will be greater than this. Whatever brahmans or contemplatives in the present are feeling painful, racking, piercing feelings due to their striving, this is the utmost. None is greater than this.” But he gave up this practice of self-mortification, concluding, “with this racking practice of austerities I haven't attained any superior human state, any distinction in knowledge or vision worthy of the noble ones.”
We should also investigate the question of why he abandoned self-mortification. We must deeply explore it as a serious question, not being satisfied with a perfunctory answer found in a textbook. Even though we can never attain the degree of severity the Buddha endured, we often tend to fall into the mindset of asceticism and make zazen “the gate of ease and joy” to self-mortification before we know it.
Gautama tried to thoroughly practice the two standard spiritual methods, self-absorption meditation and self-mortification, popular in India in his days, but he could not get what he wanted. This means that he did not attain his goal by applying existing methods. At that moment his spiritual inquiry was a total failure. Facing these setbacks and this impasse, Gautama had two options in front of him. One was to totally give up his inquiry. The other was to open up a truly new path where no one has gone before, which was neither self-absorption meditation nor self-mortification.
He chose the latter. With a faint hope that “there could be another path to awakening,” he recalled an event which happened in his childhood. He said, "I thought: 'I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered and remained in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation.” This recollection pushed him to sit down under a tree near the river bank with the conviction that “that is the path to awakening” after taking a bowl of rice and milk offered by a woman named Sujata to recover his strength and bathing in the Neranjara River to cleanse his body.
Now we have finally come to Gautama's sitting under a tree. Here we need to ask: What kind of sitting was it? I think that his sitting under the tree was completely and fundamentally different in quality from meditative practice and self-mortification he had practiced before. A quite radical and revolutionary kind of sitting emerged under the tree for the first time in human history. Out of that sitting, totally fresh path, later called Buddhism, was born as a path of happiness in this world. When he shifted from meditation/selfmortification to sitting under a tree, what really happened there? How should we understand it? How should we think about the radical and revolutionary nature of his sitting under a tree? Those are questions directly related to how we understand and practice shikantaza.
Every time we do zazen, we should re-enact the qualitative shift the Buddha made and fully embody the revolutionary quality of his sitting under a tree 2,500 years ago. Otherwise our zazen transmitted from the Buddha would be practiced not as it should be but as something else, such as the meditation or self-mortification he gave up before he sat under the tree.
We can discuss the uniqueness of the Buddha's sitting under a tree from various angles. Here, I would like to discuss it based on my own assumption that the uniqueness of his sitting lies in the fact that he deeply and minutely observed the natural workings of his own body-mind, without consciously controlling them.
Before the Buddha sat down under the tree, he experienced two types of being or living. First, he lived a worldly life in his palace. This is a way of living in which one is almost unconsciously performing three karmas of body, speech and mind. One is acting with one's body, speaking with one's mouth, thinking with one's mind according to habits acquired before we were able to understand. We take these actions, thoughts and words for granted, without questioning. We are like a robot which repeatedly performs the same programs installed by others outside ourselves without our understanding. It is “auto pilot,” in which there is no awareness, no mindfulness. In Buddhism it is called a state of “fundamental ignorance.”
The Buddha was dissatisfied with this type of life and decided to renounce it. He chose the second type of life, the practitioner's life. To deny the worldly life (or to live a sacred life), one tries to consciously, one-sidedly manage and control all three karmas of body, speech and mind from outside. Here, from the very beginning an ideal state is already clearly set up as a goal - for instance, extinction of all defilements, or deliverance. There are effective and sophisticated methods to realize the ideal. By strictly following those methods, practitioners seek to control body and mind. It is as if they were taming wild body and mind by dominating them.
Let me use breath as an example to explain these two types of being or living in a tangible way. We are usually not aware of our own breath. We believe we are breathing normally, but for various reasons our “normal” breath is pretty often far away from “natural breath.” From the viewpoint of a person who rediscovers natural breath through training in breathing methods, our “normal” breath is very imperfect, shallow, and irregular. It is a very low-level breath. We do not die immediately due to this imperfect breath but actually we are suffering many minor symptoms caused by “normally” breathing in an “unnatural” way for a long time. Because we are not conscious of this fact, it is unlikely that we improve our breath. This is “fundamental ignorance” in terms of breath.
Some people feel that the way we usually breathe does not bring good health and they try to learn a useful breathing method or technique to improve their breathing. They look for the best, ultimate breathing method which teaches an ideal way of breathing. They do their best to master that method. In their effort, the priority is to precisely follow the method and govern their breath by the method. When they can perfectly breathe in the way described by the method, they feel successful. However, such breathing is not “natural” but “artificial.” The reality is that our breath is maintained by a very complicated and refined mechanism spread through the whole body. Therefore, our consciousness can control only a tiny part of that vast breathing mechanism. It is an arrogant fantasy to think we can change our breath consciously. It is impossible to transform our breath at a deep level in this way. This is an artificial approach to breath.
My Footnotes on Zazen (6)
The Buddha's Sitting Under a Tree (2)
I understand that the Buddha's (first) sitting under a tree was an embodiment of a “middle way,” which avoids two dead ends. The first is living in fundamental ignorance and the second is living by controlling oneself artificially. “Fundamental ignorance” means that we just live driven by the power of habits with no awareness, without noticing how our body-mind is functioning. I use “body-mind” here because I want us to think of body and mind as one. “Artificial control” means that we try to unilaterally force our body-mind to follow some method or technique that we have decided on. The Buddha discovered a third way, in which we deeply experience the natural functioning of our body-mind without consciously manipulating it. For example, if we are watching our breath according to the Buddha's third way, we will carefully notice our spontaneous breathing without interfering in its natural flow. We will neither be unaware of our breath, nor will we try to consciously control it.
Let's consider the relationship between the body-mind and consciousness under these conditions. In the case of fundamental ignorance, consciousness does not pay any attention to the body-mind's functioning. Therefore, there is little possibility for body-mind to improve its function, and it only repeats habitual patterns. In the case of artificial control, consciousness is giving one-sided orders about how the bodymind should function without caring about how it really wants to function. This causes unnecessary difficulty. Because in this approach change cannot reach the deeper layer of body-mind, once we stop our conscious effort at control, we inevitably return to our old habits. In Buddha's sitting under a tree, however, consciousness is sincerely attending to the body-mind's natural functioning. In this situation, body-mind can spontaneously improve its function by receiving feedback from our consciousness. I think this is part of the revolutionary nature of the Buddha's sitting under a tree. I think Buddha pioneered the practice of deeply observing the natural function of the body-mind as it is, without controlling it in accordance with specific procedures based on a ready-made technique.
What the Buddha tried before sitting down under a tree - self-absorption meditation and self-mortification - were intentional efforts using ready-made means to realize a sacred state which cannot be obtained by simply living in ignorance. These involved use of the mind (in the case of meditation) or use of the body (in the case of self-mortification) as a means to an end. In this type of effort, there is no intention to humbly study the true nature of body itself, mind itself and body-mind which transcends the duality of body and mind. The Buddha's sitting under a tree was an effort to study the body-mind just as it is through direct observation. His meditation and ascetic practice were efforts to force something that was not there yet to appear by viewing body and mind as objects and trying to change them. There was such a qualitative difference between meditation and ascetic practice and what the Buddha actually wanted to realize that he eventually abandoned them and went to sit under a tree.
When he sat down under the tree, there was neither a ready-made manual nor a teacher at hand. In his mediation and ascetic practice, he probably followed a very sophisticated, timetested method which described techniques in detail. He probably also had teachers who were recognized masters of those techniques. He practiced very hard to follow these externallyimposed instructions. But when he sat down under a tree, the situation was totally different. He was not following prescribed procedures already existing as established methods. If this is true, we - those who wish to explore how to make our zazen equivalent to the Buddha's sitting under a tree - should not “do” zazen by just following the descriptions in a zazen manual or instructions from a teacher, consciously moving our legs to lotus position, hands to a cosmic mudra, eyes to half-open…. To do this is to do something different from what the Buddha did under the tree. If Buddha's sitting was not simply following a ready-made method, how should we practice zazen?
When Dogen Zenji talks about zazen, he often repeats this phrase, “Zazen is not shuzen” (learning in order to attain the state of dhyana). We find this phrase in Fukanzazengi, Shobogenzo Zazengi, and Shobogenzo Zazenshin. It means that the zazen of shikantaza is not practice so we can be proficient in a particular mediation skill invented to create a special mental state called dhyana in which the mind remains in one place without being distracted. There is an important reason for Dogen Zenji's repeated emphasis on this point. In Dogen Zenji's day people were practicing zazen based on their confusion of zazen with shuzen, or misunderstanding zazen to be shuzen, or just practice for something else. For Dogen Zenji, this was such a crucial mistake that he could not overlook it.
The misunderstanding of zazen has not changed so much even now. People still confuse zazen with shuzen. Zazen is often thought to be a method of mental concentration or a technique for achieving a state of no-thought. Although the founder of our school strongly emphasized that zazen is not shuzen, we have not yet worked effectively enough to correct that conventional misunderstanding of zazen. We are just superficially practicing and teaching zazen without paying attention to this mistake. Thus, we are open to criticism that we are lazy as zazen practitioners and teachers.
The difference between zazen and shuzen is not a matter of good and bad or superiority or inferiority, but of quality. The confusion between them is a problem to be overcome. It is important to clearly distinguish them, to practice zazen as zazen in the proper way, and to teach zazen by definitely showing the appropriate way of doing zazen.
Let us examine again how the Buddha's sitting under a tree went far beyond the practice of shuzen. As I mentioned, when he sat down under this tree he did not refer to any guidebooks or manuals and he had no teacher. He did not regulate his posture, breath and mind by following instructions on how to regulate them. He did not imitate the example of a coach and did not control his body, breath, and mind by following instructions given by someone like a coach.
Then, what was it that guided his sitting? We can find only one hint about this matter in the Buddhist scriptures. In one place, the Buddha recalled that when he was a child he sat down under a tree and thought this must be a path to awakening.
His sitting under a tree when he was a child was also done without suggestion or instruction from others. He spontaneously sat down for the first time in his life. It was a simple, plain, very innocent sitting. He did not have any intention or expectation of getting something out of it. He was not restricted by rules or frameworks about sitting. He was just moved by a strong calling from deep inside to sit alone quietly. He just happened to sit down that way. There was no room for artificial fabrications or manipulations. It was a complete and pure sitting, “just sitting.” The Buddha intuitively thought this must be the path to awakening. I do not think the mental state he attained then (traditionally called the first dhyana) was the key to his later awakening. Rather, this crucially important recollection of his childhood led him to spontaneous sitting. He felt hope for awakening, not in the result of sitting, but in something much larger which makes zazen itself possible. And he decided to leave everything to it.
I think the Buddha's two sittings under a tree - one in his childhood and another right after abandoning self-mortification - did not happen because of an external force like a teacher's instruction, or a ready-made method. It was a spontaneous movement initiated by something released deep inside him. When the Buddha was stuck in a dead end in his spiritual quest and pondering what to do, he recalled the “afterglow” of this spontaneous movement which was stored as a very nostalgic, subtle and definite somatic memory. It was very different in “flavor” from what he had experienced since his departure from the palace. In that difference he tangibly felt something very fresh and it made him think “this must be the path to awakening.”
My Footnotes on Zazen (7)
The Difficulty of Zazen (1)
by Rev. Issho Fujita Director, Soto Zen Buddhism International Center
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/dharma/pdf/34e.pdf pp. 37-39.
Let me share an experience I had in America when I taught a group of people who had never sat zazen before how to practice zazen.
After I gave them detailed instruction on how to practice zazen, they tried a period. Then I offered them time to talk about what they experienced during zazen. Many people mentioned the difficulty of doing zazen, each saying it in a different way. I could feel that they already assumed it was difficult to do zazen even before they tried it. So, for them, it was not so surprising that they experienced zazen as something difficult. But how and where did they get such a preoccupation and prejudice about zazen? Pondering on such a question, I said to them something like this;
Well, I guess that many of you already had the impression that zazen is hard and difficult before you tried it. After you tried it, you realized that zazen was really diffi cult, as you expected. However, the person who transmitted the zazen you just tried to Japan said, “Zazen is a dharma gate of ease and joy.” He declared that zazen is a definite entrance to the world of ease and joy (they laughed here). No, no, I am not kidding. He really said so. If we take what he said about zazen literally, what you did in the name of zazen, which was hard, painful, and agonizing, is not zazen (they laughed again). But I think you had a moment when you were sitting with ease and joy. It was a moment when you enjoyed the wonderful sound of the bell as I rang it to begin zazen. At least for ten seconds or so you were just hearing the sound, feeling good, “Wow, beautiful sound…,” forgetting about doing zazen. Another moment was the one when you felt relieved, “Phew, zazen is over…,” hearing the sound of the bell when I rang it as a signal to end zazen (great laughter). It was a time when you unconsciously forgot that you should do zazen exactly as Issho instructed and a time when you were freed from the duty of doing zazen. When you were not thinking, “I have to do zazen,” the dharma gate of ease and joy surely opened, even for a second. What does this mean? Of course I as an instructor wished that gate had stayed open for half an hour, from the beginning to the end of zazen. I would like you to firmly realize that there were moments when even beginners like you could do zazen as a dharma gate of ease and joy. Maybe because you were beginners, those moments were revealed in a clear way. So it is not that you can do zazen because you get used to it or you can't do zazen because you don't get used to it. Zazen has nothing to do with such a matter as getting used to it. I can't explain it very well for now but I think there is something very important which is very different from that matter but is essential to zazen. I really appreciate all of you that gave me a chance to notice it.
When they were not working hard to do zazen, the dharma gate of ease and joy unwittingly (ironically?) opened … This happened a long time ago, more than twenty years ago. At that time this was the best that I could say. But how about now? Now can I speak more clearly about what I expressed as “not a matter of getting used to it”? Then, I could only elaborate by saying, “I think there is something very important which is very different from that matter but is essential to zazen.” My first book on zazen, Modern Lectures on Zazen: The Way to Shikantaza is the result of my effort to describe in my own style my inquiries and experiments around that matter. There are some people who teach zazen believing that zazen is hard. There are some people who learn zazen believing that zazen is difficult. That is why zazen is REALLY hard and difficult. The more effort one makes to overcome the difficulty, the more difficult zazen seems to become. This is the fulfillment of the so-called “self-fulfilling prophecy.” In this way, people automatically have images of zazen as “difficult,” “hard,” “just enduring,” “something special only for special people,”… as soon as they hear the word “zazen.” Isn't this an unhappy situation for zazen?
The difficulty mentioned here is concerned with the fact that body and mind do not follow the instructions imposed by one's self-centered consciousness. In other words, things do not go according to one's intentional effort to artificially shape posture, breath and mind into the ideal states collectively called “zazen.” Therefore, this difficulty only means that it is difficult to master zazen technically. If zazen is the activity of techne (1), this is a reasonable complaint. But if zazen is the activity of poiesis (2), it is an unreasonable accusation. The difficulty is not zazen's fault. A wrong attitude toward zazen in which one tries to do poiesistic zazen in a technistic way makes zazen difficult. This might be a pompous way of saying it, but the true difficulty of zazen lies in the difficulty of radically replacing a wrong view of and a wrong approach to zazen, one that we carry deep inside ourselves. Because of irrelevant misunderstanding, we sometimes make something really easy into something difficult and we sometimes fail to work properly with something really difficult. Is the same thing happening to us in the practice of zazen?
Here is a familiar example. Many people believe that we can't excrete without pushing hard. But in reality we can do it much more easily if we calmly wait until pushing comes naturally by itself. Although our body is designed to be that way, we tend to mix up natural pushing coming spontaneously from inside the body with artificial pushing coming from one's effort. This is a big mistake. We often see parents encouraging babies to push hard, saying, “Push, Yes, good, wooo, wooo ….” Actually this is teaching babies the wrong way of excreting. Babies have an innate ability to excrete. It is not something they learn from someone else, but it is endowed from nature. Unnecessary intervention from parents destroys babies' natural feeling of excretion (it should be a pleasurable one) and changes excretion into a big job, with all sorts of hardship in the worst case. We are supposed to be able to excrete naturally and easily. What is keeping us from doing that? It is unnecessary pushing. We only pay attention to the force that we work hard to add from outside and totally forget about the spontaneous function from within.
The same thing can be said of birthing a baby. If a mother waits until the time comes, a natural pushing comes spontaneously to her. The baby arrives smoothly riding on the wave of this natural pushing. However, it is often the case that both the mother and the people around her are fixed on the idea that a baby cannot come out without hard pushing from the mother's side. Moreover wrong and distorted images of delivery such as “it is dangerous,” “it is painful,” “it cannot be done without a doctor's help,” emphasize this. Because of a lack of understanding about the difference between natural pushing and forceful pushing, we make a delivery (which is originally easy) more difficult than necessary. Haruchika Noguchi, the founder of Noguchi Seitai (a Japaneseborn healing system) said, “To intentionally push oneself is totally different from naturally being filled with power. It is the first step when contacting living creatures to distinguish what spontaneously emerges from within from the force artificially added from without. If a person assumes that it is impossible to have a power without adding it from outside, he/she is handling a dead thing instead of something alive.” These are really words of wisdom, I think.
(1) Techne is a Greek word and a root of “technique” and “technology.” It is the human effort to extract what is hidden in nature by applying specific tools and crafts.
(2) Poiesis is a Greek word and a root of “poem” and “poet.” It is nature's working to spontaneously bring out what nature abundantly hides within herself, as a seed spontaneously germinates and blooms.
My Footnotes on Zazen (8)
The Difficulty of Zazen (2)
Maybe we have a deep-rooted and fundamental misunderstanding about zazen in the same way we have about defecation and baby delivery as I mentioned in the last article. Based on the preoccupation that we cannot do zazen without pushing ourselves hard from outside, we actually push ourselves too much during zazen. That is why zazen becomes something so hard to do, failing to make good use of what spontaneously comes out from inside. When we have a difficult bowel movement, we use a purgative and when we have a difficult delivery, we use medication or an operative technique. Likewise, we can figure out various means to deal with the difficulties of zazen. I don't have any objection to it. However if we try only to delete the difficulties without paying attention to the root cause of those difficulties, the approach, even out of good will, might bring out another difficulty when those means are applied. We should understand this point before we push ourselves, so that we can become convinced of the need to explore a totally different path in which we wait for something to come from inside without pushing rather than changing the patterns of pushing.
Here is an elastic bamboo stick. I hold both ends and push it in. The stick bends around the middle point. The curvature is a result or effect and my push is a cause of it. Now let us assume that three people (A), (B), (C) are told to make this bamboo stick straight because it is not good or not desirable for the stick to be curved like that.
(A) tries to "directly" make it straight by pushing down the curvature with his finger. As a matter of course, it will not succeed. So (A) increases the force to push it down harder and harder. He exerts himself. In the end the poor stick would be broken. (A)'s approach is foolish because he confuses the result for the cause and he tries to change only the result without paying any attention to the cause.
(B) is aware that the curvature of the stick is just a result and the true cause of it is the pushing by my two hands. Based on this understanding, he tries to moves my two hands away, using his own hands. But I don't understand why he is doing it and I have no reason to move my hands. So I, by reflex, resist his action. (B) increases his force to move my hands to win over my resistance. Then I also increase my force. In this way a continuous battle results between his hands and my hands holding the stick. It will end with (B) losing patience and giving up, or he might win the battle and succeed in forcibly straightening the stick. But even in that case, as soon as he releases the force carelessly, the situation returns to where we started. My hands again push the stick inward to make it bend. So (B)'s approach is not wise or effective either.
(C) takes a completely different approach from (A) and (B). Both (A) and (B) try to solve the task by applying their own force － in other words, by pushing themselves and adding force from outside. (C)'s way is a totally different paradigm. How is (C) approaching the task?
In (A)'s approach, without looking at the true cause of the curvature (my hands), he only looks at the curvature which is just a result. He forcefully and directly tries to make the stick straight. That effort only results in a fierce battle between his finger trying to push down and the stick resisting against it. Because the real cause of the curvature is totally untouched, the stick tends to keep bending. Therefore as soon as (A) stops pushing it, it will bounce back to the curvature again. If he forces it to be straight by pushing hard, it could break the stick. It cannot be called a wise approach to the task.
(B) is a bit better than (A) because he is aware of the cause of the curvature, which is the push of my hands. But because he is trying to make the stick straight by one-sidedly moving my hands, I, by reflex, resist his force and increase my force to bend the stick. Then we have a battle between (B)'s hands and my hands. Even if (B) wins, as soon as he releases my hands, I would bend the stick again, so it cannot be called a real solution. If (B) gives up the task and I win the battle, my hands could bend the stick with more force and the degree of the curvature might get bigger, having the opposite effect. So it cannot be called a wise approach, either.
What is the common element between (A)'s and (B)'s approaches, both of which we judge to be unwise? Both of them apply their own force and try to affect the stick one-sidedly from outside. (A) forcibly pushed down the stick itself and (B) forcibly moves my hands holding the stick. That is why they elicit the resisting force from the stick (in the case of (A)) or from my hands (in the case of (B)). In other words, their approaches end up making the situation worse and creating a new conflict. Worse than that, it is likely that due to (A)'s approach the stick breaks and due to (B)'s approach the degree of the curvature increases. If so, that is a disastrous result which causes them both to regret having done anything to the stick. Don't we try to solve our problems in daily life in the same unwise and forcible way as (A) or (B) do? And don't we make the problem much worse, more complicated and aggravated?
(C) has a clear vision of the totality of this situation. Firstly, he understands that the curvature of the stick is just a result and true cause of it is my hands adding force from both ends. He does not confuse the cause and the result like (A), which we often do. (C) has an insight that he should work with my hands instead of the stick itself. (C) also understands that if I release the power acting on the stick through my hands, the stick straightens itself back to the original shape by its own resilience. That means what should be done is only to let my hands relax. In the case of (B), without understanding that the stick has an ability to go back to being straight by its own resilience, he tries to widen the distance between my hands by moving them from outside. So he, in essence, tries to make the stick straight by his own force as (A) does, even though he does it through my hands.
Based on clear understanding that the force added by my hand to the stick is a cause and the curvature is a result of it, and that the stick has its own resilience which allows it to go back to being straight, (C)'s approach focuses on working on me so that I can release the force acting on the stick through my hands. This is a totally different approach in quality from those of (A) and (B) in which they try to physically move the stick or my hands by their own force. In their approaches, they treat the stick or my hands as just a “thing,” assuming that nothing would happen unless they bring strong pressure to it from outside. But in (C)'s approach, he tries to work on me to let me relax my hands. He is expecting that the stick will manifest its own ability and become straight by itself. He treats me and the stick not as a “thing” but as something alive which has its own ability to move by itself.
In (B)'s approach, why do my hands resist against his push? It is because he treats them as if they are just a “thing.” When he touches my hands, there is no understanding, no word, no respect, no kindness. There is only a forcible, violent and one-sided order: “Move this way!” A living human body naturally responds to such a rude touch in a defensive way. It gets tensed up and fights against it. (B) lacks an appropriate attitude to consider the “claim of living beings.”
My Footnotes on Zazen (9)
The Difficulty of Zazen (3)
Well, then, how will (C) work with this? In order to relax the force in my hands, he can use words to get me to do this or he can use the approach of touching my body in order to get me to release the force in my hands. Or he can use both words and touch. In fact, depending on (C)'s ingenuity, we can think of many variations that (C) could use. How about your way of doing it?
First, let's think about the method of using words. There are times when, without touching my body, it would be sufficient simply to speak to me saying, “Please relax the force in your hands that you are now using to bend this bamboo stick.” This is a case where I correctly understand what (C) is trying to say and I am able to correctly carry this out. In order for there be a desirable change occurring simply by speaking, there must be certain conditions in both sides of two people: the one who is speaking as well as the one who is being spoken to. Is the form of expression by the person speaking to the point? Is the person being spoken to clearly understanding with his or her head the meaning of the matter which is being explained? And then, is the person hearing the explanation able to correctly “translate” his or her understanding to the movements of his or her body? If all of these things are not satisfactory, then in many cases words alone don't work.
For example, in the case when (C) plainly says, “Please straighten out the bamboo stick you are holding” it may happen that rather than relaxing the force in my hands, I can't help but try to straighten out the stick using the force in my hands. This would be what I think is straight, only my idea, and not necessarily the authentic, natural “straightness” of the bamboo stick itself. This is one poor example of using words. But even if we think “I would like this to happen” and are able to express this thought in words, it often happens in our everyday lives that it doesn't go the way we think it will.
Also, it could happen that my body doesn't actually know what it means to relax the force in my hands. In that case, to say “Please relax the force in your hands” wouldn't prove to be very effective, would it? Then, it would be a case of “Please relax the force in your hands.” “What?! How should I do that?” It is conceivable that sometimes the result would be that when the person thinks of relaxing the force, instead that effort itself ends up putting even more force into the hands. It often happens that the body manages to “misinterpret” words that are spoken to it. Certainly everyone has had the not infrequent experience where someone has told us, for example, “Relax!” or “Ease up the tension!” and has thereby invited the opposite result. This is because the effort the body-mind makes to try to relax, to try to ease the tension, has the reverse effect of making tension. Another good example is the effort you make when you say to yourself “I've got to go to sleep” and you end up, to the contrary, further away from going to sleep.
To relax or let go of tension is not something to do. Rather, it is a matter of “undoing” the thing you are doing. Evidently, it is much more difficult for us “to stop doing” than it is “to do.” In connection with this, I remember something from quite long ago when I was studying the developmental movements of human infants. Roughly speaking, the development of an infant when it grasps something with the hand can be explained like this. First, when whatever stimulus goes to the hand, there is a reflexive movement such that the baby closes its hand. The next step is one where the baby intentionally tries to control its grip. However, if someone tells the baby “Let go” of the thing which it is gripping, the thought of the baby, that it has to let go, becomes the stimulus which induces a gripping movement of the hand which, to the contrary, ends up being an even stronger grip. The next step beyond this is the development of being able to skillfully let go of the tension in the hands when one has the thought to “let go.” It is very interesting that there is this intermediate stage where contrary to the thought of letting go the baby ends up grasping something even harder. When a mother screams in surprise on seeing that her baby has mistakenly grabbed hold of a knife blade and shouts “Let go of it!” a baby at this stage would grip the blade even more firmly as opposed to letting go of it. So, this is a case where we must all be particularly careful.
We tend to think that our hand movements are only a matter of tensing the hand. But it can be said that we have really mastered the skill of grasping and squeezing only when we are able to relax the hands as well as let go of what we have been holding. If we are at the stage where we are able to grasp things but unable to let go of them as we would like to, then we have a hard time letting go of something once we have grasped hold of it. If we are holding something, we wouldn't be able to take hold of something else with the same hand. For this reason, it can be said that a hand which continues to grasp hold of something loses its freedom because it is limited by what it is holding onto. An open hand is precisely one sufficiently developed that it is able to grasp and let go as occasion may require. For us, letting go is a more advanced skill than grasping something. It can also be said that undoing is more advanced than doing. We can only come to this conclusion if we see that the latter skill is a developmental movement which we acquire after the former one.
Later, I will speak in detail about the matter of all the thoughts that boil up during zazen. However, I would like to write about one more thing that is related to what I've just said above. My grandfather in my Dharma lineage, Uchiyama Kosho Roshi (1912-1998), said something to the effect that “Zazen is, by means of correcting your sitting posture, to let go of thoughts millions of times.” Here, I would like you to take a close look at this expression “letting go (of thought).” This is, of course, a metaphor. This is Uchiyama Roshi's way of speaking about chasing after thoughts during zazen, of holding firmly onto thoughts that float up from nowhere in particular and not releasing them, but grasping onto them even more firmly. This is to say that zazen is to continually make the effort to not grasp onto the thoughts that float up while we are sitting. Isn't the question of how to relax the hands that are gripping the bamboo stick and forcing it to bend exactly the same as the hand which is grasping onto thought? In the same way that as long as you relax the hands, the bamboo stick will straighten out by itself, if you let go of thoughts, they will disappear on their own. Since you try to make the bamboo stick straight and because it isn't necessary to apply force to the stick from the outside in order to make it straight, in the same way, it isn't necessary to chase away thoughts because they will leave on their own. If you do something which is unnecessary, then that thought, to the contrary, will end up remaining. As long as you don't interfere with their disappearance, thoughts will leave on their own. To let go of thoughts isn't a matter of forcibly pushing them away. It isn't a matter of straining to push away thoughts, but simple to let them go.
As I mentioned earlier with regard to the actual movement of the hand, there is a common characteristic here that since it is more difficult to let go than to grasp hold of something, if someone were to shout “Let go!” in a loud voice or even if you were to think forcefully to yourself “Let go!”, the result would be that it would have almost no effect and you would only end up adding more force to the grip. For those of us who find it rather difficult to let go of thoughts, even if we know that we cling to them, we still haven't really developed the ability to let go of them. Regarding this matter of letting go of thoughts, we remain at an in-between level of development. When we are able to grasp thoughts and also let them go in a way where we are able to do it as the occasion demands – where we are flexible and free in this regard – then for the first time we can freely master and make use of thought. As long as it seems difficult to let go of thoughts that we cling to, it must be said that rather than being able to master and make use of thought, we are to the contrary grasped by and dragged around by thoughts, and consequently have lost our freedom.
The wonderful thing about zazen is that it isn't a matter of getting rid of thought with thought – it isn't a method like washing out blood with blood. Rather, the result is letting go thoughts by sitting with the body-mind in the sitting posture, which is designed to not grasp hold of thought physiologically or by chasing after thoughts.
At this point, I would like to conclude this line of argument and return to my original topic which was (C)'s approach. I was discussing the case in which I am holding a bamboo stick with the force of my hands and thinking of various ways that (C) might use words to get me to relax my grip. Wouldn't it be possible for (C) to say the following? “Please sense the way in which the bamboo stick that you are now holding would like to move. And then, try allowing yourself to make that movement.” This would be a different approach than “Please make the bamboo stick straight.” It would also be different from simply saying, “Please relax the force in your hands.” This is a way of speaking which is coming from a completely different standpoint.
Earlier, I said that there is a movement in which the bamboo stick straightens out itself. I can sense the force from the stick with my two hands. This way of speaking is suggesting that I senses the force (energy) and will (inclination) of the stick and indicates me to allow, or permit the stick to move to the direction of that force (the direction of becoming straight) To be precise, (C) is not telling me to do something with the bamboo stick or what I should do. It only says “Feel, sense, and allow that.” (C) doesn't force his or her own preconceived “correct answer” on me, but rather by creating a new relationship between me and the bamboo stick, he tries to bring about a change from inside through that new relationship.
In this manner of speaking, the point is whether or not I am able to sense with my two hands the “intention” of the bamboo stick, and then, whether or not I will be able to allow the manifestation of that intention? Certainly, the doubt is there that this way of speaking would be effective for anyone. However, I think that this way of speaking is appropriate for zazen.
This time, I ended this article by only speaking of the example of the bamboo stick. However, I think this metaphor still contains much more that is related to this very important question. So, I will pick it up again in my next article and proceed with this discussion about another way of relaxing the force by touching my own body.
My Footnotes on Zazen (10)
Entrusting Yourself to the Capability of Self-Regulation
I would like to continue by saying a little more about the bamboo stick, a metaphor I've been using in previous articles. I think those of you reading these articles understand that when giving other people instruction on how to sit in zazen this question of “How to get the other person who is bending the bamboo stick with his or her own force to straighten it out?” is an easy model to understand regarding the matter of what approach to take in getting someone to release excess tension that he or she creates when sitting zazen. My aim at least in simplifying this important problem is to ask what sort of approach should be taken in getting someone to loosen up the unnecessary strain that prevents that person from sitting upright so that they are “…leaning neither to the left nor to the right, neither forward nor backward. Be sure your ears are in line with your shoulders and your nose is in line with your navel.”
For this reason, it is !ne in this case to think of the bamboo stick as being the backbone or the body axis of the person who is being instructed in how to sit zazen. If the bamboo stick is curved this means that the pelvis is falling too far backwards so that the upper and lower back has become rounded. Or conversely, if the pelvis is coming too far forward, the upper and lower back are then arched too much. (In fact, it often happens that in addition to these two conditions, people are also leaning to the left or right or they are sitting zazen in a twisted posture). Be that as it may, this means that the back or body axis has gotten out of alignment with the vertical direction of the force of gravity such that the place of the ears in relation to the shoulders and the place of the nose in relation to the navel are not is the same straight line. I provisionally call this sort of situation “twisted body, tilted sitting.” “Twisted” means distorted, bent, or contorted while “tilted” means slanted or leaning in a direction which is away from the center. Assuming that the main purpose of zazen is sitting upright, then the question of how to correct “twisted body, tilted sitting” becomes a most important problem. "e causes for creating “twisted body, tilted sitting” are complicated and various. However, I would like here to consider these causes using a little extra energy to focus on them. "e bamboo stick which is bent forcefully is the model for “twisted body, tilted sitting.”
So far, I have given two examples of ill-advised approaches, (A) and (B). "ere was absolutely no e#ect in either of these two cases or it could also be said that the e#ect of both methods was extremely tenuous. Furthermore, in some cases, there was the opposite e#ect. In other words, these approaches might have led to making the curve in the back even greater. In the case of (A), this person focused on the curved bamboo stick itself by trying to directly intervene by making the stick straight. Applying this example to instructing a person how to sit, this would correspond to coming behind the person who is sitting with a rounded upper and lower back and using a kyosaku or your hands to forcefully push the back so that the curve becomes straight. !is could also apply to the case of a person sitting with their upper and lower back arched too far inwards by using your hands to push from the front on the spot that is overarched and in that way attempt to eliminate the arch. Another possible example of that same approach would be in the case of a person sitting with his or her chin jutting forwards or conversely if the chin is drawn inwards and the head held down to take your hand and touching either the head or the chin to move them to a desirable position. We often see both of these approaches at zazenkai and other places. !is is a method of instruction which attempts to correct a person's posture by directly or passively focusing on the problem areas.
However, while this method (A) is may seem quite reasonable, the instant you stop pushing again the bamboo stick, it will once again return to the curved condition. !is is because the curve in the stick is "nally only the result, and the cause, which is the force in both hands, has not been addressed at all. If the cause does not change and only the result is tampered with, the change will only stop at being something temporary. When I formerly had the duty of jikido (hall monitor in the zendo), I had the experience that if there was a person sitting with a rounded back, I used the kyosaku to make his back straight. !inking to myself “that did it” after having changed his posture, I noticed after walking a few steps and glancing backwards that his posture had once again returned to where it was before. Disappointed, I got angry, thinking “What's with that guy?!” As a matter of fact, what I had done was not “instruction” at all. If I put myself into the shoes of the person who had been corrected, a situation where my posture had been only been changed forcibly, then I would reluctantly move as I had been pushed, but only as long as the jikido was standing behind me. Once I, as the jikido, had walked past him, he would return to the way he had been sitting and it would end at just that.
In that case, it was necessary for me as the jikido to re#ect on the way I had instructed him and work on changing the way I was instructing in a qualitative way. It must be said to be the height of stupidity to simply continue persistently with the same method and then on top of that to think “You fool, can't you sit like you're told to sit?” hitting him only with the kyosaku. I have a feeling, however, that actually this sort of behavior is quite frequent.
In (B)'s approach, the focus is not on the curved bamboo stick, but rather on the hands which are bending the stick. !is method is to straighten out the bamboo stick by moving the hands. However, since there is no change to the fact that this method is passive in nature, it is very probable that once this encouragement to change stops, the stick will return again to its original position. Applying this method to the situation of someone giving zazen instruction, instead of putting your hands on the back itself, you would keep your eyes on the pelvis which is supporting the back. In this case, you would try to move the pelvis forward or backward depending on whether the back is tilted forwards or backwards.
Regarding the sitting posture of a person sitting in zazen, the tilt of the pelvis determines the shape of the backbone. If the pelvis is tilted too far back, then inevitably the lumbar vertebrae, the dorsal vertebrae, and the cervical vertebrae will be rounded, the rib bones will fall downward, the chin will move closer to the chest, and the eyelids will tend to close. !is is not something that happens through volitional control but rather a natural connection of the body. I strongly encourage you the readers to try this yourself by slowly tipping the pelvis backward while you are sitting and noticing how the various parts of the body move along with the pelvis.
On the other hand, if the pelvis is tipped too far forward this will produce the opposite shape. In other words, the lumbar vertebrae, the dorsal vertebrae, and the cervical vertebrae will arch forward in the shape of a bow, the ribs will rise, the chin will rise, and the eyelids will open. Again, I hope you will try this will your own body. I call this condition of the lower back where the pelvis has tipped too far backwards “feeble lower back” and the condition of the lower back when the pelvis is tipped too far forward I call “warped or arched lower back.” !e condition of the lower back which is somewhere between “feeble lower back” and “arched lower back”, a place where the tilt of the pelvis is such that the lumbar vertebrae, the dorsal vertebrae, and the cervical vertebrae can maintain a natural curved that stretches the back upwards, is one that I call “zazen lower back.” It is there that (B) moves the other person's pelvis in order for the pelvis to be settled.
Nevertheless, searching for the position of the pelvis like this is a very subtle task and doing this is extremely di"cult for another person to do from without rather than the person who is sitting. Except for those people with a very #ne and sensitive touch, this sort of approach is usually random guesswork. From the point of view of the person sitting, this sort of approach appears to be nothing more than being pushed from the outside in the direction of another person's standard. !e human body is made such that in opposition to “o$ensive” or “forceful” approaches from other people it tends to tense up in defense and this creates a re%exive movement to counter the other person. For this reason, it is di"cult to say that (B)'s approach is a good method.
Regardless of whether the approach is direct or indirect, there is a similarity between (A)'s and (B)'s approaches to instructing this condition which I have termed “twisted body, tilted sitting.” In both cases, there is the ideal held of “the straightness of the back” and this becomes the standard by which the sitting posture is judged; it is the standard by which the other person is moved unilaterally or passively in an e$ort to get the person nearer to that ideal. !is is the greatest problem, I think, but now at zazenkai and other places where zazen is practiced in Japan, I wonder if there are really any other approaches that are being used or experimented with. From my limited knowledge, I don't know of any such places, so if any of you are aware of such places by all means please let me know.
My Footnotes on Zazen (11)
Entrusting Yourself to the Capability of Self-Regulation (2)
My approach is C, an approach which is
conceived to be neither A nor B. Since it is necessary
to overcome the great problems beset by
approaches A and B, there must be an
approach that helps “e very person who is
sitting and who has a sensory awareness of his
or her own ‘tilted sitting with twisted body.’
and, after having received guidance from that
awareness, is then able to adjust himself or herself
so that it is possible to sit upright.” Nevertheless,
we must take extra care to note that “to
adjust oneself” in this case does not mean “to
adjust oneself self-consciously so that I control
my body as an object.”
This is a tremendously important point, so
allow me to explain this again in what may
seem to be an insistent or nagging manner. e
nerves connecting the brain and the muscles
are the motor nerves and the sensory nerves.
e motor nerves are the nerves running from
the brain toward the muscles and the nerves by
which muscles are caused to contract through
commands from the brain. e sensory nerves
run from the muscles toward the brain and are
the nerves which transmit the condition of the
muscles to the brain. e former has the function
“to control”; the latter has the function “to
For instance, if I were to say to you “Please
be conscious of your posture,” most people
would change the position of their feet or legs;
or they would quickly make a movement such
that they sat up straight in order to correct their
posture. I didn’t say “please move” and yet it is
strange that people end up moving. In other
words, here, to most of us, “to be conscious of ”
means “to control.” is is to say that before
you sense your condition now, you control your
condition by trying to change it so that it will
be in accord with what you believe is “good.” It
seems that we have this deeply-seated habit.
In the case where we will use approach C to
correct “tilted sitting with twisted body” so that
we are sitting upright (this is the approach of
recognizing the initiative of the person sitting
instead of an instructor), it is easy for this habit
to appear. But then what happens? In order to
conform to the image you have on hand of what
you think sitting upright is, you attempt to control
your body and end up “trying to create”
that image. But then the dierence with
approaches A and B in which you do it yourself
disappears. In the case where you take approach
A, you stretch your spine trying to correct your
posture. In the case where you take approach B,
you try by yourself to increase the tilt of the
pelvis, which has fallen backward, so that you
are sitting correctly. In both cases, you have
created an image through thought (the “correctness”
of the shape of your back or “the correct
position” of the pelvis’ tilt). Moreover, in many
cases, the origin of that thought comes from
looking at and imitating another person or
from something you’ve heard someone else say.
is is, in other words, nothing more than
internalizing another person’s standards. Consequently,
it is very doubtful that for you this is
the true meaning of “correct.”
For those of you who practice zazen, I’m sure
that you have had the experience of being astonished
when being shown a photograph taken of
you when you thought you were sitting “correctly”
and saying things like “What! Am I
sitting in a posture where I’m leaning so far
forward?” Or “Is my chin really jutting out that
much!” It is to that extent that the posture
created through conscious control coming from
the brain is unreliable. e regulation of the posture
is not something simple or shallow that can
be covered or managed 100% by consciousness.
If someone thinks that he or she managed to do
this by means of consciousness, that is just selfcomplacency,
being self-approving, or vanity.
In approach C, we must urge the person in
question to fully apply the function of sensing.
at is to say rather than thinking of the
muscles as being a motor apparatus, to think of
them as sensors. is would be “to sense” when
we are “conscious of the body” instead of trying
to “control.” Oftentimes, we confuse these two
functions. As soon as not, we end up trying to
“control”, and for that reason the “sensing”
part is neglected. For that reason, it is necessary
to make it a point to inhibit “control” so that is
not too conspicuous, so that it is possible to
In addressing C’s approach, I earlier gave
the example, “Please sense the way in which
you would like to move the bamboo stick you
are now holding.” is sort of thought comes
from this approach. In order for someone who
is sitting with a rounded back to sense his
stomach or the tightness in his chest, it is possible
to ask questions such as “What do you
sense now on the front surface of your body?”
Or “How is your breathing?” “Don’t you sense
some restriction or tightness in the way you are
sitting?” “In what position does the pelvis support
your body weight?” e important point
is not to use commands such as “you must” or
“you must not.” is is because commands
induce “control.” By using questions, we aim to
keep the “sensor” mode on.
The curious thing is that “to sense” does not
only end with that. By means of the function of
sensing, a condition of “no control”, the information
that is fed back to the brain, is not the
intentionally controlled movements, but one
where the body’s innate automatic adjustment
function is fully used (the function of response
is brought forth). ese are not the crude, controlled
movements thought up with the head
(forced by you). It is a responsive movement
that is spontaneous and rened. It is important
to not intentionally suppress this movement.
is is truly the same as the attitude expressed
by Dogen Zenji in the “Birth and Death” chapter
of e Treasury of the True Dharma Eye
(Shobogenzo). “…functioning begins from the
side of Buddha and you are in accord with it.”
In the world of bodywork, this is expressed with
the words “allow” and “permit.” is means not
restricting movements that arise spontaneously
and freely letting them be exposed.
In a word, approach C is to guide and help
by allowing the person who is sitting in zazen
to sense such that he or she is able to regulate
and harmonize the body through selfadjustment
or self-regulation. As far as specific
methods are concerned, there are various ways
that can be created depending on the person.
ese methods include speaking to the person,
using the hands, or a combination of the two,
and so forth. Since this type of instruction
using approach C is still in the world of zazen
at a stage which is largely undeveloped, my
hope is that all of those people who are interested
will, through trial and error, discover
effective methods. Also, since this approach is
not one coming from the side of the teacher
but one in which to top it o the person sitting
in zazen is the main gure, this person awakens
to the capability of self-regulation which his or
her body is innately endowed with (I call this
“wisdom”). But without the shared awareness
of both the person sitting and the person teaching
in a view of zazen where it is possible to
entrust oneself to this innate capability of
coming closer to sitting upright, it will not be
possible to bring out this eectiveness.
At this point in my series of articles, I had a
friend who practices Noguchi Seitai (a type of
bodywork founded on a therapy developed
through the thought and technique of Haruchika
Noguchi) read through what I’ve written.
Her cheeky comment was “Even if words
are spoken in approach C, there may be a way
to get the hands to relax without saying anything
at all about the bamboo stick at all.” I
think that writing about what she had to say
will be further grist for the mill in your studies.
For example, if the person holding the bamboo
stick is a woman (if it a man holding the stick
this method might not work), then what about
asking “How old are you?” en, quite
certainly, she will be startled, which will further
increase the tension on the stick. But
aiming for the instant just before she reaches
the greatest tension, you say, “Oh, I was asking
about your husband’s age.” en, without
thinking, it could happen that her hands relax
and the bamboo stick straightens out. Well, I
haven’t tried this method yet, so I cannot say
for sure whether it will work, but it is an interesting
idea. According to the special characteristic
of the other person’s response, throwing
out some words that make he or she tense up
for a moment and then when the opportunity
arises saying something that causes the person
to suddenly relax. Without saying one word
about the bamboo stick, it may be possible to
say something that exerts an inuence such
that the hands suddenly relax. ere may be
some people for whom this happens if we were
to speak about pros and cons, or gain and loss;
while there may be others for whom the topic
of winning and losing causes this to happen.
Or there may be people for whom there is this
bodily response if they hear talk of likes and
dislikes or perhaps talk of something in the
future. In Noguchi Seitai, this characteristic
bodily response of each individual person is
called “taiheki” (literally, “body-habit”). [Please
refer to Taiheki by Noguchi Haruchika, published
by Chikumabunko in Chikuma Shobo
Publishing Co.Ltd] If I were to expand on what
the person I mentioned above wants to say, it is
necessary to change the way we teach people to
sit in zazen depending on the other person’s
“body-habits.” But this is beyond the scope
that I am able to do, so at this juncture, I will
simply point this out and leave it at that.
My Footnotes on Zazen (12)
Breathing Softly Through the Nose (1)
Isn’t it the case that many people think of
zazen as some kind of “breathing method”? For
instance, it seems there are many people who
do zazen with the understanding that zazen is
the practice of a method of “breathing with the
tanden (the area of the abdomen below the
navel).” I have actually met person who told
me, “I practice zazen in order to build up my
tanden.” is man seems to be proud of his
bellies which swell out like a raccoon dog due
to his training of the lower abdominal area. He
said things like, “No matter how much zazen
you do, it won’t be any good because you don’t
have a ‘zazen-belly’ like mine. Let me show your
belly. Harrumph…you still have a long ways to
go.” I’ve also received the instruction that when
inhaling and exhaling, breathing should always
be done by putting force into the tanden.
However, my present understanding of
zazen is that it is not possible in any sense to
return it to a sort of breathing method. is is
to say that zazen extends far beyond the
category of “a breathing method” and that
essentially zazen must not be considered within
such a framework. To express this in a more
general way, trying to apprehend zazen within
the “bracket” of a certain xed method or technique
is nothing other than “trivializing zazen.”
If someone says that he or she is sitting in zazen
in order to train the tanden, I have no objection
because that is what this person wishes to do. I
can only say, “Please do so as you wish.” However,
it is necessary to make it clear that it is
absolutely not all right to call what they are
doing “zazen.” If zazen ends up as a way of
breathing, then this ruins zazen.
If we look at Dogen Zenji’s Fukanzazengi
(“Universally Recommended Instructions for
Zazen”), we see there are only a few words dealing
with the breath – “breathe softly through
the nose” – and that’s all. is is indeed terse. It
is so plain it feels anticlimactic. Looking at this
simple wording, we can clearly see that zazen is
fundamentally a dierent act than the complex,
methodical practice of a “breathing method.” It
is instructive to compare what I’ve just said by
looking at a book with complicated description
of what are called “breathing method.” In such
a book, there are detailed descriptions in stepby-step
order of how to breathe. ere are “the
breathing method to rmly ground yourself,”
“the breathing method to be connected with
the center of the earth,” “the breathing method
of being one with the universe,” “the breathing
method of moving the stomach,” “the breathing
method of building up the hara (lower
abdomen),” “the breathing method of purifying
the mind,” and on and on. Since these are
methods, it is desirable for each method to be
clearly formalized so anyone can do it the way
it is written if he or she simply practices the
method faithfully in order that they can
correctly accomplish the objective of any
certain method. You could even go so far as to
say that the best thing about this approach is
that these methods are so clearly dened there
is absolutely no room for one’s personal interpretation.
This brief passage, “breathe softly through
the nose,” indicates a standpoint that is exactly
the opposite of pursuing a methodological
approach to breathing. Rather than a way of
articially regulating the breath, it is a straightforward
representation of the nature of the
breath when sitting in zazen. It is, of course,
not a way of using the breath to achieve some
kind of prescribed objective. “Breathe softly
through the nose” is not saying “Make an eort
to breathe in an articial manner.” To the contrary,
we must understand that this is a suggestion
to go in the direction of “Sit in a way that
the breath moves naturally toward that way.”
is is to say that breathing softly through the
nose is the natural way to breathe and so we
must return to that condition. is is not to
concoct a special type of breathing nor is the
breath of “breathing softly through the nose”
one which is utilized to achieve something. It is
“just breathing softly through the nose.”
“Breathing with the nose” is to take the
breath in and out through the nose when
sitting in zazen. Air moves in and out through
the nostrils. In the Fukanzazengi, it says, “Rest
the tip of your tongue against the front of the
mouth, with teeth together and lips shut.” It
only stands to reason that since the mouth is
closed the result is to breathe with the nose. It
must have clear reason when we are sitting in
zazen to breathe with the nose and not with the
mouth. However, until now, I have never heard
any sort of clear explanation for this reason.
Generally speaking, many reasons have been
pointed out for the bad influence on one’s
health of breathing with the mouth such as: a
weakened immune system, have an irregular
teeth and the jaw will bend, an increase in cavities
and periodontal disease, snoring is more
likely to occur, an increase in the possibility of
obstruction of the sense of taste as well as the
sense of smell, and the cheeks will become
flabby In other words, the habit of breathing
with the mouth is not good for your health. So,
it is certainly the case that it is usually better to
breathe with the nose. Nevertheless, isn’t there
a more armative necessity for breathing with
the nose particularly when sitting in zazen?
There have been some times when I could
not avoid breathing with my mouth when
sitting in zazen because my nose was terribly
stued up due to having a cold or to hay fever.
But it has always been the case that compared
to breathing with the nose, it has been very
dicult to sit in zazen when I had to breathe
with my mouth. I found it physically exhausting
and I also felt it was dicult to settle down
mentally. I clearly felt that it is unnatural to
breathe with the mouth when sitting in zazen.
It “doesn’t t” to breathe with the mouth when
sitting in zazen. For those of you who want to
know the reason for “breathing with the nose,”
try sitting in zazen for about 30 minutes
breathing all the time with the mouth. I’m sure
you will be able to experience the dierence.
Breathing with the mouth, when it is natural to
breathe with the nose, is an example of falling
into a stupid mistake without being aware of it.
is is putting up with something that
shouldn’t be used this way instead of doing it
the proper way which would be all together
more comfortable. (And not only this because
it often happens that in fact the side eects are
Before, I practiced aikido, at last after such
a long time, with young people without consider
my age. Surprising myself by how well I
could move, I joyfully continued saying “I can
still keep on doing this.” While I had no particular
external injuries or bruises, from next
day ferocious pain would begin to arise in my
left knee. Since then, this would lead to the
misery to interfered with sit in seiza or zazen
for some years. Recently, I spoke about this
matter with a seitai (Japanese healing method)
teacher . Who said, “Probably what happened
is that an aikido move which usually is done
with the lower back is now, with advancing age,
performed by the knee because the lower back
has become less responsive. e result is that
there is a pain in the knee because the burden is
too great for the knee.” “at explains everything,”
I thought. is is another example
similar to breathing with mouth.
So, I did notice the diculty of sitting in
zazen when breathing with the mouth. is
matter of meeting the requirements of “softly
through” as it is written in Fukanzazengi is
really dicult to do by breathing with the
mouth. ere is an old commentary on this
word “softly” which says that it means “as if
hiding and going away.” is is to say the
breath while sitting in zazen must be so quiet
and delicate to the extent we lose sight of it if
we don’t pay very close attention. Air coming
into the body or air leaving the body, we can
sense it in very subtle way. It is to this degree
that the boundary of in and out the movement
of the inconspicuous breath is quietly arising.
In the case of breathing with the mouth, however,
rather than being soft, the breath is conspicuous
so that it grates on the ears (and eyes).
When breathing with the mouth, the eort
you make to inhale and exhale inevitably gives
the sensation of panting sounds which does not
go away. is is not the quiet, delicate breath
we want in zazen. Breathing with the mouth
gives the impression of breathing as if in “crisis
mode.” Zazen is for us denitely a matter of
studying the nature of “normality” or
“everyday-ness” and so it is natural that normal
breathing is to breathe with the nose.
One other thing is that for some reason or
other breathing with the mouth gives the sensation
of “breathing by lip.” e sensation
around the mouth of air going in and out is too
conspicuous and the rened sensation of air
penetrating deeply into the body is elusive. is
is not even close to “breathing softly” (the way
in which this rened sense is picked up of the
intake of air gradually passing through and
lling the whole body and the condition where
the exhalation of air slowly leaves the body);
and rather the only kind of breath “moves
roughly” (a way where air moving in and out of
the oral cavity is coarsely perceived as a rough
sensation). In the original Japanese language,
the character for “penetrate” as in “penetrate
everywhere” is used in the phrase breathing
“through” the nose. In other words, since the
meaning is “to circulate everywhere,” the breath
can be felt to ow smoothly throughout the
whole body. In this manner, breathing softly
must be breathing with the nose. “Breathing
with the nose” and “softly through” belong
together in an inseparable relationship. It is not
possible to “breathe softly” through the mouth.
(To be continued)
My Footnotes on Zazen (13)
Breathing Softly Through the Nose (2)
To say that zazen is not a breathing method
means that the breath as “breath” is not cut off
or taken away from the whole of zazen and
made into an object by placing it on the opposite
side facing us. Consequently, this means
that there is absolutely no attempt to control,
manage, or dominate the breath according to
our convenience. Nevertheless, having said
that, zazen is also not a matter of neglecting the
breath or simply letting it alone. Indeed, there,
some ingenuity is required. In other words, the
effort to regulate the breath is necessary. Yet, we
must notice that this is not a matter of
manipulating the breath in some form or other by
means of the common-sense meaning of ingenuity.
Here, ingenuity means not interfering
with the breath as well as entrusting the breath
to the breath. is is a “ingenuity of nondoing”;
it is a “passive ingenuity.” In the usual
sense, ingenuity is understood to mean doing
something proactively so that “in the case of A,
B is done.” However, in life, there are times
when a “passive” or “inactive” ingenuity is
necessary. In zazen, it is this inactive ingenuity
which becomes important.
“Negative capability” is a term used to refer
to the “capability” of leaving the course of
events to develop by itself and of not needlessly
interfering. “Negative capability” is an expression
f irst coined by John Keats (1795-1821),
the British Romantic poet. In his letter, Keats
wrote, “At once it struck me, what quality went
to form a Man of Achievement, especially in
Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so
enormously. I mean Negative Capability, that
is, when a (man) is capable of being in
uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts, without any
irritable reaching after fact and reason.”
Not interfering with the breath or on the
other side to not proactively help out with the
breath is to display this meaning of negative
capability in zazen. Here, there is the
understanding that the breath is not “mine” or “my
possession.” Rather, there is the insight that we
must respect the will and wisdom in the breath
which is unique to the breath. And so, rather
than doing as you please and willfully trying to
manipulate the breath, entrust the breath to
the breath. Paraphrasing Dogen Zenji, we
could say “When you let go of both your body
and mind and throw yourself into the house of
the (breath), and when functioning begins
from the side of the (breath), drawing you into
accord with it....” Or borrowing Matsuo
Basho’s expression “Go to the pine if you want
to learn about the pine or go to the bamboo if
you want to learn about bamboo,” we could say
“learn about the breath from the breath.” At
such a time, the breath isn’t a “thing”; it is truly
a “living thing.” Since from a Buddhist manner
of speaking it can even be said that the breath
is “Buddha,” it is necessary for us when using
ingenuity to the breath to have the proper
protocol and etiquette. Regarding the Buddha
called “breath,” we must not be disrespectful or
Venerable ich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese
Zen monk, says the following about the
breath. “The Buddha is in you, and the Buddha
knows how to breathe and walk very beautifully.
When you forget, you can ask the
Buddha to come, and he will come, right away.
You don’t need to wait.” (From Breathe, You
Are Alive, Parallax Press). He wrote the following 5
verses to remind us of this.
Let the Buddha breathe,
Let the Buddha walk.
I don’t have to breathe,
I don’t have to walk.
The Buddha is breathing,
The Buddha is walking.
I enjoy breathing,
I enjoy walking.
Buddha is the breathing,
Buddha is the walking.
I am the breathing,
I am the walking.
Th ere is only the breathing,
There is only the walking.
There is no breather,
There is no walker.
Peace while breathing,
Peace while walking.
Peace is the breathing,
Peace is the walking.
In order that the breath “can draw you into
accord with it” or that we can “learn from the
breath” or when we “ask the Buddha to come,”
it is necessary to have the proper attitude or
proper frame of mind. “Sitting upright” is precisely
that posture where the breath “can draw
you into accord with it” (to make it possible so
that the breath by “breathing softly through
the nose” can deepen by itself ), where it is possible
to “learn from the breath” (that we are
able to listen to the message which the breath is
teaching), and where Buddha can “descend”
(so that rather than “me,” making a space
where the Buddha can appear and work). In
doing the ingenuity of regulating the body, we
must go in this direction.
In that case, what is the specific way to
regulate the body? Whether it is “drawing you
into accord with it” or whether it is “learning
from the breath,” there must f irst of all be an
intimate and friendly relationship between you
and the breath. Here, as is often expressed as
“observing the breath,” there mustn’t be a
remote or stiff attitude in the space between
you and the breath. Rather, by breathing
throughout the whole body and accepting the
breath within you, the breath and you are one.
is is the foundation for “drawing you into
accord with it” and “learning from the breath.”
In the f irst four verses above written by Ven.
Thich Nhat Hanh, this intimacy is beautifully
When a pebble is thrown into a still water
surface, a series of ripples with a radial pattern
spreads from the point where the pebble fell
into the water into a widening circumference.
In the same way, it is possible to feel the air we
inhale into the body such that a radial pattern
caused by a growing internal pressure in the
body moves, while expanding, into the deeper
periphery of the body. It is also possible to
sense when breathing out that the internal
pressure accompanying the air as it leaves
through the nose lessens and by means of the
body’s elasticity, the body contracts towards its
original shape. “Breathing softly” is produced
by means of inhalation and exhalation. I
understand that this whole-body expansion
and contraction, which takes place through all
parts of the body, points to a condition in
which minute, active sensations are continually
sensed in a dynamic way. If that is the case,
then “breathing softly” isn’t simply an abstract
concept. Rather, it is an expression which
points at the subjective reality which is an inner
reality backed by a specic bodily sensation.
However, in the case where a person sitting
in zazen is not breathing softly through the
nose – in other words, we do nd now and
then cases where it is not possible for that part
of the body to sense the subtle, rhythmical
movements of the breath, in such cases, the
sensation is dulled because of excessive tension
and strain, stiffness, or distortion. For this
reason, the wave of sensation of the expansion-
contraction of the body is blocked. there is a
sensation that it isn’t possible to pass through
this blockage. By relaxing the tension in this
particular place and adjusting the body so that
the loosened breath can comfortably pass
through this area, the posture will correct itself
by itself. In this way, by means of guiding the
inner breath and not by trying to correct this
from the outside heteronomously, sitting
upright will bring this forth autonomously.
When the precision of sitting upright continues
to increase, the quality of breathing will
improve. “e Buddha within us who knows
how to breathe,” which ich Nhat Hanh speaks
of, points to this self-regulating capability.
(To be continued)
My Zazen Sankyu Notebook (1 to 18)
(参究 sankyū; 参 san = to participate humbly; 參 kyū = to inquire or explore)
Rev. Issho Fujita, Valley Zendo, Massachusetts
with assistance from Tansetz Shibata and Tesshin Brooks
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/dharma/pdf/17e.pdf pp. 10-13.
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/dharma/pdf/18e.pdf pp. 16-19.
http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/dharma/pdf/19e.pdf pp. 11-12.