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Thread: Ānāpānasmṛti Sutra/Full Awareness of Breathing

  1. #1
    Senior Member Seizan's Avatar
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    Ānāpānasmṛti Sutra/Full Awareness of Breathing

    Hi Everyone,

    I've been reading TNH's sutra commentaries. I'm taking it at a slow pace. The first interpretation in the book was on the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. It really has changed how I get through my day!! It's been a great assistance to be aware of my breath on that level and to center myself when things start going in my mind (that nice, murky, crappy mind my Buddha mind likes to point out all the time! Which is Buddha mind also..)

    I wondered if anyone else had read this piece or had any comments? I am aware that the sutras are very open to interpretation and not necessarily completely accurate accounts from the Buddha (since they were recorded so long after the fact.) When works, though, in daily life I think it is worth mentioning.

    http://iamthou.wordpress.com/2010/08...ss-of-breathi/

    The above has a great breakdown of the version I read. There are 16 steps of awareness in the sutra. Of course, zazen is my main practice throughout my day (I sit on my lunch break, and in my vehicle before and after work and before bed) but this has really added a nice element to my day.

    Deep Gassho,
    Seizan

  2. #2
    Hi Seizan,

    Breath is a lovely Practice that may help many folks. TNH has perhaps modified the flavor and intent of the meditation from the old Sutta, which was perhaps more about awareness of the impermanent and impure nature of the body and how our thoughts and feelings arise. However, I like what he has done, and it is a lovely Practice.

    Generally, in Shikantaza, we do not do anything with the breath, except to allow it to find its own, natural , easy rhythm. Master Dogen 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
    More here ...

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

    But I see nothing wrong, Seizan, in sitting Shikantaza then Practicing a bit of what TNH recommends if it seems helpful.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  3. #3
    Haven't read any of that but I'm relearning how to breath. My inhalation is longer and stops at the fullness and my exhalation is slower as my diaphragm moves out and in from my navel area.



    Kind regards. /\
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    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

  4. #4
    Jundo,

    Do you think that direct shikantaza way is much more efficient/quicker to body-mind-dropping off, than first developing concentration through following breath and then doing shikantaza? I assume that is what you and other Shikantaza teachers think so, otherwise you wouldn't be recommending the former.

    Why do some other Soto teachers recommend following the breath route? Why is the disagreement?

    Gassho,
    Sam

  5. #5
    Hi Sam,

    Shikantaza is a "letting go to the bones" (as a friend expressed elsewhere today), dropping goals and demands to the marrow and beyond. We drop need to feel happy, peaceful and any other way. Yet, the "method to the madness" (many thus call it a "non-method") is that one thus finds Peace and Happiness which can only be found in such way of finding by not looking ... a Peace (Big "P") that holds and embraces all of life's broken pieces, a Happy (Big "H") that is Happy right through/beyond/in/precisely as all life's small human judgments of happy or sad, smiles and tears (a Happy so Happy that one need not even feel "happy" all the time, savored right amid even our sometime ordinary human grief at loss and tears!)

    Thus, it is very unique among forms of meditation in which (like most of our goal and attainment driven day-to-day lives) we are trying to get something or get some place, trying to attain some pleasure or treasure. Shikantaza allows on to attain the Treasure (Big "T") right in hand all along by dropping the need to find it over some distant hill. All day, we run after this, and run away from that ... and do not know how to just sit, complete with not feeling a need of running and no place in need of going. Body-Mind Drop Away as the clutching and thirst of body and mind drop away, together with our separation from the surrounding world we are always clutching at or pushing away. The Self-Life-World presents as Whole, without division and friction. Sitting Itself is the only action needed, the only place to be, in that moment and action of sitting ... nothing lacking.

    So, it is rather different from the style of meditation that TNH recommends (although lovely) that asks us to practice "Breathing out, I feel joyful. Breathing in, I feel happy" or to attain some special awareness. Shikantaza allows a certain Awareness (Big "A") that reveals Wholeness and Flowing Completeness right as we drop ... right at the heart of dissatisfaction and impermanence ... our dissatisfaction and sense of lack with not feeling always satisfied and whole in the sometimes unsatisfying, always changing world. Thus, Shikantaza manifests as Wholeness (Big "W") that includes all life's holes and wholes. All life's potholes present as sacred and complete ... nothing in need of filling ... even as we grab a shovel and try to fill and repair what we can.

    Why do some teachers recommend following the breath route? I believe that there are two reasons.

    One group of teachers (often those who teach Koan Introspection Zazen and do not really understand Shikantaza as I express above ... many folks in the Harada-Yasutani Line and Sambokyodan come to mind) cannot get past seeing Shikantaza as some kind of instrumentality. perhaps supplementary or as a stepping stone to their Koan Introspection, in which breath must be followed as a tool to obtain deep concentrated mind states. It is a very instrumentalist view of Zazen which, I feel, is unfortunate but has been very influential in North America because so many Harada-Yasutani lineages ... the White Plum/Maezumi Roshi/Zen Mountain Center, Diamond Sangha, Dosho Port and others ... seem to be influenced by this perspective which goes astray on the "non-attaining" aspect of Shikantaza. (So many folks confuse in their minds "non-attaining" with some kind of dull complacency or thumb twiddling). They are entitled to teach what they teach, but I believe they miss the pointless point of Just Sitting. It can be confusing to students who do not realize that different teachers are teaching very different things though calling it by the same names!

    Another group of teachers (I am one) believe that some breath following may be necessary for beginners, or for all of us from time to time, because our usual, day to day minds are so filled with runaway trains of thought, storms of emotions, unbalanced desires and fears, dreams and delusions that, yes, some basic attempt to calm the storms and clear the "junk in the mental attic" is necessary even to practice the "just sitting" in Wholeness and Completeness I describe. One has to calm down a bit even to find that there is a Calm (Big "C") that shines right through life's both chaos and calm. One can be so messed up that one cannot realize that there is nobody and nothing to "mess up" in the first place! HOWEVER, once we do (and this is the real trick!) we realize that the point was ... not the need to reach some temporary state of stillness and silence ... but rather to realize a certain Stillness & Silence (Big "S") that is present in/as/right in the midst of all the trains and storms, a Satisfaction (Big "S") that is present in both our small human satisfactions and balanced, healthy desires and needs.

    Thus Master Dogen spoke of Thinking-Non-Thinking ... a Clarity that one finds on the Zafu, a Silence and Illumination shining through, that fully appears both at times of the absence of thoughts/emotions and EVEN AS the thoughts and human emotions. We sit like a Mirror, in Peace and Clarity, reflecting in Equanimity all the beautiful and ugly, war and peace, presence and absence, loved and feared things of life reflected there.


    Then, rising from the cushion ... though there are no potholes in need of filling, and each pothole is shown to also be a Sacred Holeness ... we nonetheless grab a shovel and set to fixing and filling life's road as we can. Though this Peace holds in Equanimity both peace and war, we then rise from the cushion and try to make peace and end the wars as we can.

    Do you understand?

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-08-2014 at 03:33 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  6. #6
    So, let me say it simply ...

    Sitting as Wholeness is not sitting passively in complacency. Sitting as Wholeness is sitting Wholeness.

    Nor is sitting Wholeness a sitting to realize something or feel some way or for some other ulterior motive. Sitting Wholeness is Sitting Wholeness, and one can often feel such too! (Sometimes not, but Sitting Whole is still Sitting Whole even when felt as anything but whole on a given day).

    ...

    One must sometimes breathe a bit, and quiet the thoughts a bit, to realize such Wholeness which breathes thoughts vs. no thoughts, noise and quiet, peace or war, in and out (beyond and right through "in" and "out").

    Do you understand?

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-08-2014 at 06:12 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  7. #7
    Senior Member Genshin's Avatar
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    Thank you Jundo.

    Gassho
    Genshin

  8. #8
    Hi all

    I, like many others, first learned to meditate using the breath and love the Anapansati sutta for the instruction in there that (apparently) traces a line right back to Shakyamuni teaching his bhikkhus 2500 years ago. One advantage of using the breath is that it builds up concentration before you open your awareness to everything that is going on. However, it can leave an imprint that the breath is how you meditate and, even now, I often find myself instinctively returning to the breath while sitting shikantaza as I have been conditioned to do so.

    Many Buddhist traditions divide meditation into two primary types - shamatha (focus on or awareness of a particular object) and vipassana (insight or 'seeing how things are'). Breath awareness falls into the shamatha category and is seen as a primer to still the mind before engaging in vipassana. For me, the wonderful thing about shikantaza is that it does away with these ideas and sitting is just sitting. For a beginner there is doubtless a large amount of time spent building up the ability just to be aware without getting swept away by thoughts but shikantaza doesn't make any big deal out of this. As Jundo says, shikantaza is sitting in wholeness. There is nothing else. Making distinctions into awareness and insight gives rise to both categories and aims (the development of awareness or insight).

    One of the people coming to my sitting group teaches mindfulness and he was amazed at how freeing it was just to sit without any primary focus or aim other than sitting just to sit. It was disorientating for him at first but then he felt a dropping away. He continues to sit in mindfulness-based ways as part of his practice but shikantaza has shown him something new.

    At first glance, shikantaza seems like a lazy way to meditate, with no aim or focus, but I am starting to see just how revolutionary that is, in a world in which we are rarely free from aims and goals. Dogen, Hongzhe and other realised this and it is so easily missed, I am grateful that they did. In times of great illness and emotional turmoil I still use breath awareness as an anchor in those stormy seas, but it is now more of a supporting technique rather than my main practice.

    Gassho
    Andy

  9. #9
    Senior Member Myosha's Avatar
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    Dear Jundo,





    Gassho,
    Myosha
    Practice with humility, respect all beings, avoid attachments, give rise to praja from your own awareness, put an end to delusions - Hui-neng

  10. #10
    Thanks for the explanation Jundo.

    From what I understand the rationale from the breath awareness camp is that you need to spend time sharpening your concentration skill before you can effectively sit shikantaza. Attempting to do straight up shikantaza can be less fruitful and spending time with an object meditation will make the whole process much faster

    From the straight shikantaza camp, sitting the shikantaza way right from the go is much faster and there is no need to waste time on breath awareness.

    Am I correct? Do you you agree with the faster/more-effective part?

    Gassho
    Sam

  11. #11
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Why do you still stick to fast versus slow, Sam?

    As Jundo suggested, dropping is dropping.

    In the perspective of breath awareness what you describes apply. In shikantaza, it has no relevance whatsoever .

    In a way, it takes great faith to sit wholeheartedly and give any up any idea of achievement or goal.

    Shikantaza is shikantaza only.

    Gassho

    Taigu
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    Thank you for this teaching, Jundo, and for your post Seizan. For my busy, often out-of-control mind, shikantaza is the perfect meditation. However, it often gives my mind some sort of mental temper tantrum as I start to think even more so when sitting. When this happens, I focus on my breathing for a minute or so, then go back to just sitting. I've also started to do this during the day when getting stressed and it has made such a difference.

    Gassho,
    Joyo

  13. #13
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu View Post
    Why do you still stick to fast versus slow, Sam?

    In a way, it takes great faith to sit wholeheartedly and give any up any idea of achievement or goal.

    Shikantaza is shikantaza only.

    Gassho

    Taigu
    Thank you for this, Taigu.

    Gassho,
    Joyo

  14. #14
    Taigu,

    Thanks for your reply. Yes sitting Shikantaza needs great faith and dropping all questions, all need to attain.

    What I am trying to understand is the reason why breath following is such a popular recommendation by a good number of soto lineages. The conflicting teachings, each condemning the other (they say sitting straight shikantaza doesn't work while we say breath following is a waste of time and not necessary) is confusing at best.

    I understand finally what matters is what the student is drawn to but I am curious which one is the faster approach

    Gassho,
    Sam

  15. #15
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Nothing faster when you drop both time and watcher.

    As to the other question, why breath awareness in certain Soto lineages, please go and ask the guys.

    All I know is that it is unconditional, cannot be made or fathomed. It sits you, undoes you, kills you, makes you and I disappear on the spot, it is beyond I am getting there or not...

    In zazen, your hands don't hold anything, don't grasp anymore, don't ask or beg... Your hands are not yours anymore.

    Gassho


    Taigu
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post
    Taigu,

    Thanks for your reply. Yes sitting Shikantaza needs great faith and dropping all questions, all need to attain.

    What I am trying to understand is the reason why breath following is such a popular recommendation by a good number of soto lineages. The conflicting teachings, each condemning the other (they say sitting straight shikantaza doesn't work while we say breath following is a waste of time and not necessary) is confusing at best.

    I understand finally what matters is what the student is drawn to but I am curious which one is the faster approach

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Taigu speaks with my tongue!

    The faster approach to ... WHAT? WHAT! Attaining "faster" a realization beyond and right through human judgments of "fast vs. slow"? A "getting there" that is reached by a radical dropping of the need to "get" or "anywhere else"? How, Sam, does one get "faster" to a place beyond and right through "here and there"?

    Different Teachers speak in different ways for the same reason that different chefs disagree on the right way to make tomato soup. The only question in the end is which recipes are tasty and which are not. Teachers who describe Shikantaza as some kind of instrument to get some where do not truly have a handle on Shikantaza in my book, for Shikantaza is a method to "get somewhere" by the radical dropping of the need to "get" (rare in our busy world of get get get) and "somewhere" (rare in our discontented world where we always looking for the answer "over there", the next book on the self-help bookshelf, and are blind to what is here there and everywhere). Only when such is fully realized does on truly "Get Somewhere"!

    I agree that some settling and balance is necessary at the start, because the beginners' head (and all our heads sometimes) can be a mess! A bit of breath following can be helpful. However, this is not about building deep concentration states or experiencing some sudden "Kensho" (although such happens too). Rather, after a time of following breath, when some clarity and balance is present ... we return to just sitting in open, spacious awareness beyond and right through all human judgments of "clarity" vs. "mess". The result is a certain Clear Illumination which shines right through/behind/beyond and precisely as the whole catastrophe of "life's mess".

    In a sense, it is unfortunate that the Harada-Yasutani-Sanbokyodan hybrid of Rinzai-Soto Practice has been so disproportionately influential in America and elsewhere, far beyond the small group it is in Japan, because it meant that their particular interpretations of aspects of Practice were also disproportionately influential as Zen came to America in the 50s, 60s and 70s. You can read more about them in the following scholar's paper. I believe that one reason that folks have become disenchanted with Zen Practice in the West is because a lot of the methods taught by them, and a lot of the "big payoffs" promised, did not pay out as was advertised in so many of the books written by their folks in the 1960's and 70s ... maybe most of the Zen books in English from that time because their group was one of the "only games in town" in those early years. They are generally nice folks (some fallen teachers in there too), but I just do not care for how they cook the soup sometimes.

    As I mention from time to time, the Harada-Yasutani Lineage, and the organization known as "Sanbokyodan" represents a unique hybrid blending of "Just Sitting" Dogen with a form of of Rinzai Koan-centered Zazen pushing hard for Kensho, e.g., by the 'Mu' Koan. The flavor comes through at times as, for example, might be felt in the first few pages here. I mention this from time to time because folks should know that there are very different approaches to Zen and Zazen, and not all "Zen" is of the same flavor (just the same ... but sometimes very different ) . Thus, folks may otherwise go to the book store and pick up a "Zen" book, or listen to a talk, and wonder why the contents seem so different sometimes (same ... but different ). Despite its modest size in Japan (but, then again, the same for my own lineage through Nishijima Roshi!), the Sanbkydan has had a large influence on Zen in the West due to the great number of Zen teachers in America who have direct ties to it, including Robert Aitken, Maezumi Taizan (the "White Plum") and his students such as Daido Loori, Bernie Glassman, Genpo Merzel , Chozen Bays and Joan Halifax, as well as Philip Kapleau (author of Three Pillars of Zen") and Eido Tai Shimano Roshis.

    You can read more in this the Robert Sharf article on the Sanbo Kyodan [PDF}

    Sanbkydan Zen and the Way of the New Religions
    by Robert H. Sharf
    Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (1995) 22 3-4


    http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/...odan%20zen.pdf
    Shikakantaza is cooking-non-cooking.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-09-2014 at 04:23 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  17. #17
    Thank you both.

    Gassho,
    Sam

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu View Post
    it takes great faith to sit wholeheartedly and give any up any idea of achievement or goal.
    Thank you Taigu, a wonderful reminder. =)

    Gassho
    Shingen
    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  19. #19
    By the way, I want my comments on the Harada-Yasutani folks to be mostly about how Shikantaza is presented generally in the Line, and not about the many excellent and powerful Teachers in that Line (like Daido Loori and Robert Aitken to name a few) nor the power of the Koan Introspection Zazen they teach for folks drawn that way. That is just the delicious soup they serve to those who may benefit. I am merely speaking about the presentation of Skikantaza there, and perhaps the emphasis on Kensho.

    Maybe the most striking example of Shikantaza there is this famous talk by Yasutani Roshi himself in which he speaks of Shikantaza as a means of intense concentration leading to an explosive Kensho ...

    When you thoroughly practice shikantaza you will sweat-even in the winter. Such intensely heightened alertness of mind cannot be maintained for long periods of time. ... Sit with such intensely heightened concentration, patience, and alertness that if someone were to touch you while you are sitting, there would be an electrical spark! Sitting thus, you return naturally to the original Buddha, the very nature of your being.

    Then, almost anything can plunge you into the sudden realization that all beings are originally buddhas and all existence is perfect from the beginning. Experiencing this is called enlightenment. Personally experiencing this is as vivid as an explosion; regardless of how well you know the theory of explosions, only an actual explosion will do anything. In the same manner, no matter how much you know about enlightenment, until you actually experience it, you will not be intimately aware of yourself as Buddha.

    In short, shikantaza is the actual practice of buddhahood itself from the very beginning-and, in diligently practicing shikantaza, when the time comes, one will realize that very fact.

    However, to practice in this manner can require a long time to attain enlightenment, and such practice should never be discontinued until one fully realizes enlightenment. Even after attaining great enlightenment and even if one becomes a roshi, one must continue to do shikantaza forever, simply because shikantaza is the actualization of enlightenment itself.
    http://www.dailyzen.com/zen/zen_reading0903.asp

    It is a very instrumental and goal oriented view of Shikantaza. In fact, many or most of the Western Teachers in that Lineages seem to have softened a bit in their approach from Yasutani's fire and brimstone, but they still tend to present Shikantaza in a rather instrumental way, or as some second fiddle or stepping stone to Koan Introspection. That is a shame and a misunderstanding, in my book.

    I am sorry that we have wondered a bit away from Seizan original question on breath.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  20. #20
    Senior Member Seizan's Avatar
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    Wow, thanks everyone! This is a great conversation. A lot to learn about here. When I first began just sitting, it was difficult for me to understand the non-attaining and simplicity of it. But the longer I do it, the more I just let it be! Most of the time.. Didn't mean to suggest that this should be merged with shikantaza or replace it or anything like that, I just have an interest in sutra study.

    Thank you, Jundo & Taigu.

    Deep Gassho,
    Seizan

  21. #21
    Senior Member Nengyo's Avatar
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    I'm still unclear...what's the fastest way to get enlightened?

    This is an excellent thread. A great reminder of our practice.
    Try not to be a jerk-- one of the Buddhas

  22. #22
    One of my favorite, simple images to explain the madness to the non-method of Zazen. What is the fastest way for the dog to catch the tail?



    Run faster? Follow the breath? Resolve a Koan?

    Or is it to fulling stop the chase to the marrow and realize what was present all along ... just wag wag wag.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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