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Thread: Zazen and Breathing

  1. #1

    Zazen and Breathing

    Hello all,

    I am currently reading 'Zen Training' by Katsuki Sekida and am finding it interesting (and a little confusing) how he speaks about breathing in zazen.

    To quote (p32):

    "In zazen, we breathe almost entirely by means of our abdominal muscles and diaphragm. The muscles of the thorax are scarcely used. If the lower abdomen is allowed to fill out, the diaphragm is lowered, the thoracic cavity is enlarged, and air is taken into the lungs. When the abdominal muscles contract, the contents of the abdomen are pushed up, which in turn forces the diaphragm up, reducing the volume of the thoracic cavity and expelling air from the lungs. The slow, sustained exhalation that we adopt in zazen is produced by keeping the diaphragm contracted so that it opposes the action of the abdominal muscles, and the maintenance of this state of tension is of utmost importance in the practice of zazen. All other parts of the body are motionless, and their muscles are either relaxed or in a state of constant, moderate tension. Only the abdominal muscles are active. I ways that we will explain later, this activity is a vital part of the mechanisms by which concentration and wakefulness of the brain are maintained. Traditionally in the East, the lower part of the abdomen (called the tanden) has been regarded as the seat of spiritual power. Correct zazen posture ensures that the weight of the body is concentrated there, producing a strong tension, and the method of breathing that is adopted reinforces that tension."


    How important is this advice? When I sit, I usually slowly breathe a number of times into my lower belly when I begin to release some degree of tension but then let breathing look after itself. Even if I am tense and breathing relatively shallowly to start off with, the breath rarely fails to deepen as sitting lengthens.

    The question is, do I need to be paying more attention to this aspect of sitting?


    Gassho
    Andy

  2. #2
    Hi Andy,

    I am answering this question, because I also read this book quite a while ago and I used to practice the so-called "bamboo breathing method" described there for some time (that was a period before I was in Treeleaf).

    Zazen is not zazen! There are different ways to do it.
    The method described in this book is not compatible with the methods here at Treeleaf.
    It is more like a Rinzai approach and even for that it is a bit different (the author recommends closing ones eyes for example). A kensho/satori experience is a goal there.
    Treeleaf practice is Soto practice, i.e. shikantaza.
    Just allow your breath to be your breath. Don't influence it in any way. Just sit and drop all things and let yourself be breathed.

    Jundo and Taigu are the ones who can explain that much better to you, but since I am not sure whether they know that book, I thought I might be able to help a bit.
    To put it in short: You cannot practice both ways at once - these are different styles.
    And to avoid any misunderstanding: I don't want to say that any practice is better than the other. You must find out what suits you better.
    Before I came to Treeleaf there was a time in which it became clear to me that I had to decide for one practice. I was somehow drawn between Sekida's style and shikantaza.
    I soon found out that shikantaza is more my style and I sticked with it. Some time later I found Treeleaf and felt reassured that this is my way.

    Gassho,

    Timo
    no thing needs to be added

  3. #3
    Ditto what Timo said.

    I just happened to come across these words from Nishijima Roshi while looking for something else. Of course, when Nishijima Roshi says it is "not authentic", well, Nishijima Roshi was a bit biased to the Soto Way. Let's just say that they are "differently authentic"!

    Some sects of Buddhism teach that we should practice abdominal breathing or deliberately count our breaths. Some also use koans, or Buddhist stories to meditate upon. But these techniques are not part of the authentic practice. With the eyes open naturally and the mouth closed naturally, we do not need to control our breathing, or concentrate on thinking or feeling. Sitting simply in the balanced posture is the beginning and end of Zazen. And it is this simple state, which we call “experiencing reality,” or “experiencing the truth,” that Buddhist masters used as the basis for their teachings.
    For more on Dogen and breathing ... please look here ...

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...-%28Part-XI%29

    I also sometimes write this ...


    Generally, we do not do anything with the breath, except to allow it to find its own, natural , easy rhythm. Master Dogen (the founder of the Soto lineage in Japan) did not really say much about breathing. In fact, I often think that he could have said more (breathing is so important in the martial arts, for example). But, Dogen did not really seem to say much more than "know that long breaths are long, short breaths are short ... and that they are neither long nor short'. And breathe from the tanden [the physical center of gravity located in the abdomen three finger widths below and two finger widths behind the navel], but know that they come and go no where.

    About breathing during zazen, Dogen Zenji said in The collection of Dogen Zenji's formal speeches and poems (Eihei-koroku), vol. 5: ... In Hinayana, there are two elementary ways (of beginner's practice): one is to count the breaths, and the other is to contemplate the impurity (of the body). In other words, a practitioner of Hinayana regulates his breathing by counting the breaths. The practice of the Buddha-ancestors, however, is completely different from the way of Hinayana. An ancestral teacher has said, “It is better to have the mind of a wily fox than to follow the way of Hinayana self-control.” Two of the Hinayana schools (studied) in Japan today are the precept school (Shibunritsu) and the school based on Abhidharma-kosa (Kusha).


    There is also the Mahayana way of regulating breathing. That is, knowing that a long breath is long and that a short one is short. The breath reaches the tanden and leaves from there. Although the exhalation and inhalation are different, they both pass through the tanden. When you breathe abdominally, it is easy to become aware of the transiency (of life), and to harmonize the mind.


    My late teacher Tendo said, “The inhaled breath reaches the tanden; however, it is not that this breath comes from somewhere. For that reason, it is neither short nor long. The exhaled breath leaves from the tanden; however, it is not possible to say where this breath goes. For that reason, it is neither long nor short”. My teacher explained it in that way, and if someone were to ask me how to harmonize one's breathing, I would reply in this way: although it is not Mahayana, it is different from Hinayana; though it is not Hinayana, it is different from Mahayana. And if questioned further regarding what it is ultimately, I would respond that inhaling or exhaling are neither long nor short.

    http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/..._do_zazen.html
    It is, after all, goalless "just sitting".

    We usually just let the breath settle into a natural rhythm. I find that 2 or 3 breaths per minute is a sign of a very balanced Zazen. Let it come and go so naturally that you forget you are breathing.

    Gassho, Jundo
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    Thank you both for your answers. I am much more comfortable with just letting my breathing be as it is but then reading this threw me as I wondered if I had missed something. I am not experienced enough to tell whether a Zen book come from Rinzai or Soto traditions and often you have to look deeply to see. My mistake was to equate Zazen with Shikantaza and your replies have reminded me that Zazen can refer to different things.

    I like what you wrote here Jundo

    Generally, we do not do anything with the breath, except to allow it to find its own, natural , easy rhythm. Master Dogen (the founder of the Soto lineage in Japan) did not really say much about breathing. In fact, I often think that he could have said more (breathing is so important in the martial arts, for example). But, Dogen did not really seem to say much more than "know that long breaths are long, short breaths are short ... and that they are neither long nor short'. And breathe from the tanden [the physical center of gravity located in the abdomen three finger widths below and two finger widths behind the navel], but know that they come and go no where.

    'Breathing in long knowing that you are breathing in long' is exactly as Shayamuni put it in the Anapanasati sutra too.

    Thank you greatly for the clarification. It is so helpful to have experienced teachers and students to reply to basic questions. Now I am wondering if it is worth continuing with this particular text or if it might be more confusing than enlightening?


    Gassho
    Andy

  5. #5
    Hi Karasu,

    It is just a Karate book (also a lovely art), and here we Practice Ai-ki-do.

    This may be a good time to point you and some newer folks to a couple of references on the many flavors of Buddhist and Zen books ...

    Same but sometimes very different. Sometimes quite different, yet precisely the same.

    SPECIAL READING - EIGHT TYPES OF ENLIGHTENMENT
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...-enlightenment

    SPECIAL READING - ONCE BORN TWICE BORN ZEN (Part 1)
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...N-%28Part-1%29

    SPECIAL READING - (MORE) ONCE BORN TWICE BORN ZEN
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...twice-born-zen
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-30-2013 at 03:16 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  6. #6
    Thank you, Jundo. Point taken. At this point it is just hard to tell which books are compatible with the Treeleaf approach and which offer something different.
    I will follow those links.


    Gassho
    Andy

  7. #7
    Senior Member Daijo's Avatar
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    I find I can only really follow my breath when it's extremely cold outside, and even then only for a few inches. Anything beyond that and you could lose your mind trying to follow it.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Karasu View Post
    Thank you, Jundo. Point taken. At this point it is just hard to tell which books are compatible with the Treeleaf approach and which offer something different.
    I will follow those links.
    I promise after reading "Once-Born, Twice-Born Zen" this will be much easier. This is highly recommendable.
    And there is Treeleaf's recommended reading list with loads of great stuff.

    However, IMHO the Beginner's Videos here give you pretty much all you'll really need. I could watch them endless times and always enjoy them...

    Gassho,

    Timo
    no thing needs to be added

  9. #9
    Hi guys,

    I read it too and worked with it for a while. My experience is that the techniques described, induce a certain state of mind. A self hypnosis in a way or a dropping off mind and body sensation. Very pleasant. This can’t be right, because I think dropping off body mind leaves no one or nothing to experience the results of the bamboo technique. The “the eye can’t see itself”. So, if you see or experience something strange, it’s not nothing/everything, but something that can be perseived and that is a telling sign.
    Still think it is educational to read how he describes his methods, but the teachings lead to a path of chasing, trying to grasp something to hold on to with our intellect. The ‘nen’ analysis however I find very interesting. Had not seen that before.

    Gassho

    Enkyo

  10. #10
    Thanks, Enkyo. It seems that there are many methods to achieve short-term peak experiences but these fall away pretty quickly. When I was on (non Zen) retreat last year the teacher who had been sitting for 30+ years told how he initially became obsessed with pushing himself into jhana states but that he couldn't maintain them. After a few years he instead moved into a just sitting practice and has stuck with that ever since. Allowing the body and mind to fall away makes much more sense to me that forcing yourself into a certain state.

    I will keep reading for now as there does seem to be some interesting information in the book but with the knowledge that some of it won't apply to shikantaza.

    Gassho
    Andy

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by chuck13 View Post
    I find I can only really follow my breath when it's extremely cold outside, and even then only for a few inches. Anything beyond that and you could lose your mind trying to follow it.
    Gassho,
    Kaishin

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