What’s the most important thing to remember about ‘breathing‘ during Zazen?
Last time, I spoke about how there is no “bad” Zazen, even on those days when the mind is very cloudy with thoughts and emotions. But in fact, there are a couple of things we can do to settle down when the mind is really, really, really, stirred up with tangled thoughts, wild emotions and confusion.
We can count the breaths, for example, counting from 1 to 10 at each inhalation and exhalation, then coming back to one and starting all over when we reach ten (which we rarely do) or lose track. Or we can simply follow the breath without counting, for example, observing effortlessly as it enters and exits the nose. These are excellent practices, and will calm the mind (itself a form of Shikantaza that some people pursue, even for a lifetime!). HOWEVER, for reasons I will discuss, I recommend such practices only as temporary measures for true beginners with no experience of how to let the mind calm at all, or others on those sometime days when the mind really, really, really is upset and disturbed. AS SOON AS the mind settles a bit, I advise the we return our attention to “the clear, blue, spacious sky that holds all“, letting clouds of thought and emotion drift from mind, focused on what can be called “everything, and nothing at all” or “no place and everyplace at once.” I will explain why in today’s talk.
One we return to sitting focused on “everything, and nothing at all,” letting all things “just be” … we let the breath “just be” and give it no mind, too. We do not try to do anything artificial with the breath, and just let “long breaths be long, and short breaths be short,” the breath finding its natural rhythm. Pay the breath no mind, give it no thought, and even (as Master Dogen advises) drop all thought of “long” or “short”! In doing so, as we calm, the breath will calm as well … finding a natural rhythm.
We may even come to experience that there is really no separate “I” breathing, no separate air being breathed, no separate world to receive our cast out breaths … and we experience breathing as as boundless as that vast, open sky. Thus Dogen’s teacher Master Tendo said, “it is not that this breath comes from somewhere … it is not possible to say where this breath goes. For that reason, it is neither long nor short.”
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi once said this about the breath …
We might say that the breath, too, is “no place and everyplace at once.”If you think, “I breathe,” the “I” is extra. There is no you to say “I.” What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves; that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no “I,” no world, no mind nor body: just a swinging door.
CLICK HERE for today’s Sit-A-Long video.
Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 15 to 35 minutes is recommended.