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Thread: Counting Breaths

  1. #1

    Counting Breaths

    When you count breaths during zazen do you restart everytime a thought arises other than the counting? Or do you restart when you lose your place because you are trapped in rising thoughts?


  2. #2

    Re: Counting Breaths

    I don't do it very often anymore, because it doesn't help me much, but- when I forget what number I'm on, I start over. There are thoughts in parallel to the counting, so sometimes I also picture the numbers. I think I let imagination get too involved maybe, which is why it doesn't work.


  3. #3

    Re: Counting Breaths

    What you said about the thoughts in parallel to the counting is exactly why I asked. Jundo metioned in one of the beginner talks that it was hard for alot of folks to get to 10.

    Just as an experiment I wanted to see how far I could count and found I got 20+ easily, there were parallel thoughts definitely. So I thought to myself I must not be restarting properly because that wasn't difficult at all. At least at that particular attempt. I'm sure there would be days where I could count higher and days where I could count lower just because of varying levels of mental activity.

    Thanks for the input.


  4. #4

    Re: Counting Breaths

    Hi Dave
    I tend to restart only when I loose the count. Otherwhise, I just try to continue counting.
    Not arriving to ten is not really a problem, it's more a way of getting close to the breath in the way I learned to it.
    But I must confess, I don't make it during zazen.
    It's a pitty it "don't work" for you Tobiishi.It could be a very interesting starting practice before zazen. And there are a lot of guided audio meditation on the breath (anapasati) focusing first in the counts, and then in the breath alone,...

    But I don't think it's really good to try counting during all zazen, it could maybe be helpfull at beginning.
    But I can be wrong! Feel free to correct my possible mistakes!

    But even if it's not really popular in Soto, it has been used and teached by some masters.
    I've heard Sawaki admired a big japanese monk Jiun Sonja , who has been a Shingon monk founder of the
    soboritsu (the school of the discipline of the true law). He had very open mind and was a kind of protestant revolutioner in the buddhism of the 18th century in Japan.
    He emphasise on returning to the fundamentals of buddhism (far from the ultra ritualised way it was),
    on the restoration of the vinaya, on taking refuge, on the diffusion of the texts to the mass, on the importance of the kesa, ...etc. With his constant idea of sincerity in the practice he had a profond influence on Sawaki roshi.

    And in the "Jiun sonja hgo sh" he wrote a text called "Susokukan taiy" (the contemplation on the count of breathing - something like that :lol: ). And this text is only about count meditation practice. Here is a traduction but only in French...
    Otherwhise there are some very well done audio meditation by insight meditation center on breath meditation
    and on metta practice ( I found it very helpfull to begin and to give me a chance to practice metta once a day, because I got it on my "ipod"). There is a short and a long version of both meditations on their site.

    Once again I'm a bit out of the subject, be patient with me folks :roll:



  5. #5

    Re: Counting Breaths

    I remember when I was first introduced to zazen I counted breath and it was helpful. I think the important thing is the trying to count and restarting anytime you lose the trying. At some point the just trying to sit, to breath, to do whatever becomes enough. I hope this helps.

  6. #6

    Re: Counting Breaths

    Thanks Luis and Rich. Since I didn't have the anser earlier I tend to just try to follow the breath. I have a tendency to over think and have an active imagination to boot. So in a way not trying to count is relaxing in it's own right.


    P.S. Luis, I have never been one to worry about threads going off on tangents. The original ideas of threads often change into something else inspired by the original idea. But in a way it's all related. So far as I'm concerned, go off on any tangent you like.

  7. #7

    Re: Counting Breaths

    When I was first introduced to sitting I was taught the breath counting method and told counting was to help keep my mind focused on the breathing. When I left off counting it was because I found myself concentrating on the numbers in my mind to the exclusion of all else. I still sometimes count, particularly on days when I am having problems settling down into my practice. I don't restart each time a thought outside of the counting flits across, but often I find that while I think I am having outside thoughts in conjunction with the counting, in actuality the outside thought took several breaths that I did not count but only thought I did.


  8. #8

    Re: Counting Breaths


    There really is quite a bit of variation, even among teachers who are teaching the very same Shikantaza (I wrote about this elsewhere in something I called "All Good Ways to Ride a Bike (no one "right way" Shikantaza)")

    But generally, in Soto Zen, we teach counting the breaths, or observing the breath, merely as a way to settle the mind for beginners. After a few weeks or months, the training wheels come off, and different teachers will recommend different things ... focusing on the posture, on keeping the spine straight, focusing on the Hara or on following the breath ... many ways to skin a cat. At Treeleaf, I recommend open, spacious sitting centered on everything and nothing at all. On the other hand, different teachers, even within the Soto school, will teach somewhat different perspectives on this (even the greatest Dogenologists are not sure exactly what Dogen personally recommended, although we are all happily in the ballpark), and observing/following the breath (not to be confused with "counting the breaths") can even be a lifetime practice for some!

    Now, our way is not to be "without thoughts". Nor is it to be actively thinking, lost in chains of thought during Zazen. It is rather about letting the mind naturally settle down, simplify, and when thoughts arise, allowing them to naturally drift from mind again and again. In between the thought, there are open spaces ... much like open blue sky between drifting clouds. Let the thoughts drift from mind, don't get caught up in them or stir them up, return 10,000 times and 10,000 times again to the blue sky.

    So, for that reason, I recommend that folks only count breaths until the feel that there mind is pretty settled, as if feeling like stirred up water in a jar that has settled down. When you feel rather calm and composed, and the thoughts have slowed to those drifting clouds ... then I recommend sitting then with open, spacious awareness ... focused on everything and nothing in particular, sitting with the whole world but without being lost in trains of thought (which I also sometimes describe as having the mind focused on "no place and everyplace at once"). My reason for that is simply that I believe it makes it a bit easier to take this practice off the Zafu and out into the world. (Also, on aggitated days, when the mind won't settle down, no harm in going back to counting the breaths for a few minutes ... but when calm is restored, we return to open, spacious sitting).

    So, I would not worry about it too much. The breath counting is just training wheels on the bike, and you should take them off as soon as you feel that you can sit with some calm and concentration, the mind pretty settled and focused, not lost in long chains of thought, daydreams and wild emotions.

    Blanche Hartman of SFZC happened to tell a nice Suzuki Roshi story on this which I read today ...

    When I began to practice with Suzuki Roshi... I had become quite concentrated on my breath. I was quite pleased with myself and said, "Roshi, I can count my breath now without missing any. What do I do now?" I think I expected him to say, Good for you, or something like that. Instead, he became very fierce and said, "Don't ever think that you can sit Zazen. That's a big mistake. Zazen sits Zazen!!"

    ... [I could see] how far removed I was from sitting with "no gaining idea," as he so often instructed us.
    Gassho, J

  9. #9

    Re: Counting Breaths

    Just going to chime in.

    You might count the breathes, to ten, for a round or two at the beginning of sitting, to get some concentration, but then just drop it and feel the breath. You don't want it to be a crutch.


  10. #10

    Re: Counting Breaths

    all ready been said but when i count breath... i do not often do it but when i began sitting, i reset when ever i lost what number i was on. And exactly like Tobiishi described, parallel thoughts, sometimes i would see the number sometimes it turned in to lyrics of on of the many kids songs one gets to hear on repeat :P

    Gassho, Shohei

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