In the Eihei Shingi, Dogen gives exhaustive descriptions of how monastic life should be regulated: how to sit, obviously, but also how to sleep, how to clean your teeth, how to use the toilet, how the teacher should enter the dojo and how he should walk around it: everything. Or almost everything. The glaring exception is that he doesn’t say anything about the breath during zazen.
In fact, all he says about the breath, throughout his writings, is that we should take a deep outbreath when we start zazen, and that we should let a short breath be short and a long breath be long.
How should we understand this? Well, one way would be to acknowledge that an emphasis on the breath in modern practice derives from an unexamined assumption that zazen is an individual practice. If the primary thing is our own state from moment to moment, it is important how we regulate ourselves. And so teachers – including myself – give lots of descriptions about how breathing might be ‘better’
But what if this is an assumption that Dogen didn’t have? And what if we’re wrong? Could we explain Dogen’s apparent lack of interest in the breath as due to him having a different perspective, that zazen wasn’t individual experience and effort, but collective ?
From the perspective of the individual practitioner, practicing within an individualistic assumption, there is a switching back and forth between the individual and the universal, the Dharmakaya, and also the risk of a surreptitious inflation of the Self to cosmic proportions. This happens because both ‘self’ and ‘universe’ are constructions, they don’t arise within actual experience in the way we think they do.
But if the ‘subject’ of practice isn’t the individual but the collective of practitioners and the space between them, isn’t that a more fruitful way to experience the ‘One Piece Zen’ that Fujita talks about? And doesn’t that better accord with our actual experience?
The space where we practice together, and everything within it – the Sangha Body, as it were – is both the reality and metaphor of interdependence. And because it has no boundaries, it seeps out everywhere, like slowly falling water.