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Thread: Zen as Embodiment (9) - Just Breathe!

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  1. #1

    Zen as Embodiment (9) - Just Breathe!

    Zazen is correctly described as a practice of "body, breath and mind." All come to play in 'Just Sitting.' We have already discussed "dropping bodymind," so now let's talk about "dropping the breath."

    Some kinds of meditation practices emphasize doing something unusual with the breath, breathing with special rhythms or with intentional contractions or special depths, in order to bring about unusual mind states. Shikantaza is different, and merely emphasizes breathing during Zazen in a natural, healthful, ordinary way. Oh, we let the diaphragm nicely expand to fill the lungs, but not in some extreme or forced way. Just breathe nice and deep so as to nourish the body ... then forget about the breath. Inhalations reach their natural fullness, perhaps pause for an instant, then exhalation easily and gently begins. Your body will instinctively take care of the doing without your need to do anything.

    Just let the breath settle into its own, natural rhythm. Master Dogen said to allow the breath to settle and become ordered. He taught (Eihei-Koroku 5-390):

    In the lesser vehicle originally there were two gateways, which were counting breaths and contemplating impurity. In the lesser vehicle, people used counting to regulate their breath. However, the buddha ancestors’ engaging of the way always differed from the lesser vehicle.
    If following the breath as a point to place attention during Zazen, one may lightly focus on the breath entering and exiting gently through the nose. However, don't particularly think about the breath. We sometimes say that we sit while subtly feeling that our inhalations are reaching all the way down to the "hara" or "tanden," a traditional "energy" center of the body a little below the navel. Imagining so gives a sense of the breath fully flowing through our whole body. But, of course, the breaths are not reaching there directly except in the flowing blood. (If your inhalations are actually somehow escaping the lungs to reach your navel ... SEE A DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY! ). And as the breath reaches a nice, balanced pace, we forget all about measures of "long or short," as well as "inside and outside." Dogen continued:

    In the Mahayana there is also a method for regulating breath, which is knowing that one breath is long, another breath is short. The breath reaches the tanden and comes up from the tanden. Although exhale and inhale differ, both of them occur depending on the tanden. Impermanence is easy to clarify, and regulating the mind is easy to accomplish. But my late teacher Tiantong [Master Rujing] said, “Breath enters and reaches the tanden, and yet there is no place from which it comes. Therefore it is neither long nor short. Breath emerges from the tanden, and yet there is nowhere it goes. Therefore it is neither short nor long.”

    My late teacher said it like that. Suppose someone were to ask Eihei [Dogen], “Master, how do you regulate your breath?” I would simply say to him: Although it is not the great vehicle, it differs from the lesser vehicle. Although it is not the lesser vehicle, it differs from the great vehicle. Suppose that person inquired again, “Ultimately, what is it?” I would say to him: Exhale and inhale are neither long nor short.
    Ultimately, the most important aspect of breath is to just forget about it. In doing so, the hard borders of "inside" and "outside" the body begin to soften and drop away. We realize that the breath is the outside flowing in, while exhalations are the inside flowing out, such that inside is just outside in and outside is just inside out. All is thus embodied in the body of Zazen. As inside and outside drop away, the sense of "me" vs. "not me" also begins to soften or fully drop away. Shunryu Suzuki described it so [in ZMBM] ...

    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.
    So, breathing during Zazen is as simple as that ... as simple as Just Breathing!

    And one more thing ... DON'T STOP! Not for very long anyway.

    Gassho, J

    STLah

    Last edited by Jundo; 11-26-2020 at 04:51 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    Thanks for the clarification on the relationship with breath in zazen, much appreciated.
    ST Lah,
    Gassho
    Jeff

  3. #3
    Thank you.


    Kotei sat/lah today.

    義道 冴庭 / Gidou Kotei.
    Being a novice priest doesn't mean that my writing about the Dharma is more substantial than yours. Actually, it might well be the other way round.

  4. #4
    May I please ask for clarification on the following :
    We sometimes say that we sit while subtly feeling that our inhalations are reaching all the way down to the "hara" or "tanden," a traditional "energy" center of the body a little below the navel. Imagining so gives a sense of the breath fully flowing through our whole body. But, of course, the breaths are not reaching there directly except in the flowing blood.
    I'm only speaking from personal experience : when I'm breathing (zazen, or any other rested position, even when standing) I actually can feel the breath below and around the navel area. It is natural process, obviously the breath passes through the lungs, but I can feel the contraction and extraction around "tanden" area more than the lungs. I'm pretty sure I'm not imagining it as it is a rather pshisical feeling?

    Gassho
    Sat

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Ania View Post
    May I please ask for clarification on the following :

    I'm only speaking from personal experience : when I'm breathing (zazen, or any other rested position, even when standing) I actually can feel the breath below and around the navel area. It is natural process, obviously the breath passes through the lungs, but I can feel the contraction and extraction around "tanden" area more than the lungs. I'm pretty sure I'm not imagining it as it is a rather pshisical feeling?

    Gassho
    Sat
    Yes, it is, of course, your imagination. It is physically impossible. No air is coming out of your lungs to reach there. You are feeling the muscles around your stomach expand and relax, that is all.

    Gassho, Jundo

    SatTodayLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Yes, it is, of course, your imagination. It is physically impossible. No air is coming out of your lungs to reach there. You are feeling the muscles around your stomach expand and relax, that is all.

    Gassho, Jundo

    SatTodayLah

  7. #7
    Hi Ania

    As you doubtless know, the diaphragm moves downwards during inhalation and while it does not reach the navel itself, I am guessing that we feel that lower down. I know I experience what you are saying as well, as expansion around the navel area which feels physical.



    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  8. #8

  9. #9
    Someone asked about Dogen's use of the expression, "Lesser Vehicle." The term was typically used in the past, not to refer to a particular sect of Buddhism or geographical reference (Dogen and others did not have such knowledge), but to refer to a set of teachings by the Buddha which some considered provisional or remedial.

    It is not a term in current favor, and I prefer a "different strokes suited to the needs of different folks" attitude.

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  10. #10
    Just finished reading the chapter about Fukan Zazengi in The Zen Master's Dance today and this was a timely compliment to it.

    Gassho,
    Kendrick
    SAT LAH

  11. #11
    The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that flattens when it contracts on inhalation. In doing so it compresses the abdominal organs in such a way as to extend the abdominal muscles. Twenty-six hundred years ago it was thought that the inhaled breath actually went down to the tanden. It wasn't until Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo performed there investigations into anatomical studies that it was realized the breath only went in and out of the lungs. ref; the history of autopsies
    gassho,Shokai
    stlah
    p.s. As a retired embalmer this is a topic very near and dear to my psyche
    Last edited by Shokai; 11-27-2020 at 02:00 AM.
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Shokai View Post
    The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that flattens when it contracts on inhalation. In doing so it compresses the abdominal organs in such a way as to extend the abdominal muscles. Twenty-six hundred years ago it was thought that the inhaled breath actually went down to the tanden. It wasn't until Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo performed there investigations into anatomical studies that it was realized the breath only went in and out of the lungs. ref; the history of autopsies
    gassho,Shokai
    stlah
    p.s. As a retired embalmer this is a topic very near and dear to my psyche
    Actually, likewise in Asia. Dissections and autopsies were virtually unheard of in China and Japan until the 18th and 19th century, so folks had traditional maps of the inner organs that had little to do with what was actually there.

    Japanese writings that adopt Chinese traditions contain essentially three basic types of visual representation of the human body.[1]
    The first is a flow chart of the ‘tracts and channels’ (Jap. keiraku經絡) below the skin that serve the circulation of the pneuma-like Qi (Jap. ki氣). Representations of this type show the male body from the front, side, and back. The organs are usually missing. In addition to pictures of the entire network, we also find some representations that demonstrate individual tracts. In many of these cases, half-naked figures that remind us of Chinese monks and scholars are depicted. This type of representation invariably displays the human body as alive and pervaded by dynamic flows (fig.1 left).)



    The second type presents the so-called ‘five full organs’ or ‘five viscera’ (i.e., the liver, heart, spleen, lung, kidney) and ‘six hollow organs’ or ‘six bowels’ (i.e., the large intestine, gall bladder, urinary bladder, stomach, small intestine, and ‘triple burner’), and the spine. ... Certain characteristics of the eleven organs mentioned above are described in many texts, but these organs were always seen in terms of their functional relationships with the tracts and channels and the flow of Qi. Thus, when the body was ill, individual organs were never considered as isolated objects for diagnosis or therapy. This also explains in part why little need was felt for more precise anatomical observations and descriptions.

    http://wolfgangmichel.web.fc2.com/pu...9/089index.htm
    ...

    Yamawaki Tōyō was the first one to carry out a government-authorized autopsy in Kyoto in 1754. Sugita Genpaku was inspired by Yamawaki’s findings and decided to study and revise traditional teachings. He attended one of the rare occasions in 1771 when a body was dissected. According to Uematsu, these dissections have led to the introduction of new, more accurate anatomy books in Japan. Even though dissection was still controlled by the government for another 80 years, there was a revolutionary change that was caused by the scientific methods that described facts based on observation instead of Confucian theories (Uematsu, 1990:163)

    Read more about Toyo Yamawaki on page 235 here, and how he had to struggle to have traditional Confucian ideas overturned by simply having people look for themselves ...

    https://books.google.co.jp/books?id=...organs&f=false
    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  13. #13
    That's interesting historical referencing. I was wondering if there's any scientific explanation of "ki" energy in tanden and so called "hara breathing" as used in certain Zen traditions and sports?
    Gassho
    Sat

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Ania View Post
    That's interesting historical referencing. I was wondering if there's any scientific explanation of "ki" energy in tanden and so called "hara breathing" as used in certain Zen traditions and sports?
    Gassho
    Sat
    Some martial artists and others claim they feel something. I don't think that there is an actual physiological explanation for anything there, but there certainly is a psychological explanation which is just as real to their feelings. If you feel some force, then it is a real force for you.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  15. #15
    Thank you Jundo

    When I started practicing Zazen years ago I must have misunderstood something because for the first 1/2 year or so I thought there was some need to breathe deeply each time. I don’t remember how that misunderstanding was corrected but I must have been quite annoying to sit beside during Zazen with all my heavy breathing.

    The image Suzuki uses about a swinging door is one I come back to from time to time.


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  16. #16
    Years ago, I lived in a monastery for a little while where we recited Fukanzazenji every day. Dogen's recommendations are still my "go to" now .
    In Gassho
    Al
    Stlah

  17. #17
    thank you for this explanation

    sattoday
    Hosei
    Mountains are waters and waters are mountains ............

  18. #18
    “Breath enters and reaches the tanden, and yet there is no place from which it comes. Therefore it is neither long nor short. Breath emerges from the tanden, and yet there is nowhere it goes. Therefore it is neither short nor long.”


    Gassho
    Sat

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