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Kinhin 経行

“The Zen masters say it is like the tiger slipping into the forest or the dragon sliding into the sea”

Taisen Deshimaru

Stand, with the spine upright but flexible, the back of the neck straight, your head balanced and weightless, the shoulders without tension and your chest open. The tip of your tongue rests gently on your hard palate, just behind your teeth. Be aware of your body being in a dynamic relationship with earth and space and sky. Be aware of your weight dropping down and pushing the earth, and a corresponding upward push from the earth, uncompressing the spine and torso, travelling up the spine and out through the top of the head at the fontanelle (crown chakra). Don’t consciously stretch the back of your neck or intentionally tuck your chin in.

Make a soft fist of the left hand, the thumb inside the fingers, placing it with the lower knuckle of your thumb resting against the sternum and your right hand, palm down, on top of the left. This position of the hands is called isshu 揖手.

Let your gaze be soft and rest on the ground a few yards ahead. Leave space between your elbow and your torso. Lift your elbows so that your forearms are horizontal. Don’t have tension in the arms, so don’t strain your arms to keep horizontal, if this is uncomfortable let your elbows drop. Allow the back to relax and widen.

Breathe in fully and step forward with the right foot, about half the length of the foot, landing first on your heel then rolling the weight gradually forward towards the ball of your foot, feeling a strong connection between the ground and your foot. As you place the heel on the ground, start to breathe out, and in the course of that outbreath, roll the weight from the back of the right foot to the front, so that almost all your weight is on the front of the right foot. All of the back foot remains on the ground, stretching the back leg. Pay attention to the soles of the feet throughout. There is a continual dance and movement of weight: front to back, side to side.

At the end of the outbreath, your weight is on the front of the right foot, largely on your big and second toe and the area immediately below that. You are rolling over and activating an energy point on the sole of the foot, bubbling spring, which is slightly below the junction of the big toe and the second toe. To enhance this, it is helpful to slightly splay your toes as you are bringing your weight forward. At the end of the outbreath, roll the right foot slightly back so you are on this point as you breathe in. The leg is slightly bent. 

Breathe in from the bubbling spring point, and allow the energy of that in breath to travel up the leg to the base chakra at the perineal area, then up the back to the occipital joint ( the jade pillow area) then in a forward curve through the centre of the brain, to the third eye. At that point, start to breathe out, bring the breath back down the front of the torso, back to the base chakra, then back to bubbling spring and back down into the earth.

As you breathe in, the front leg slightly straightens, but doesn’t lock. The body should be soft, enlivened and responsive throughout. In particular, keep the torso soft and don’t stick the chest out. Keep the hands soft. They are next to the heart for a reason.

At the end of the inbreath, step forward with the back foot and repeat the process.

Move at the pace of your breath, but try to inhale and exhale slowly and fully.

When the bell rings, rotate your hands into shashu 叉手 position so your knuckles are pointing forward, bow forward from the waist and return to your place. Gassho to your zafu and sit in zazen posture, alternate leg on top if you are sitting in a cross legged posture.

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Kusen

Master Hongzhi’s Practice Instructions; Number 28

‘All Beings Are Your Ancestors’

‘Fully appreciate the emptiness of all dharmas. Then all minds are free and all dusts vanish, and the original brilliance shining everywhere. Transforming according to circumstances, meet all beings as your ancestors. Subtly illuminate all conditions, magnanimous beyond all duality, clear and desireless the wind in the pines and the moon in the water are content in their elements. Essentially you exist inside emptiness and have the capacity to respond outwardly without being captured, like spring blossoming, like a mirror reflecting forms, So Hongzhi (or Wanshi in Japanese) was an exceptional Soto zen master, active round about 1130 -1150 in Song dynasty China. He expresses himself in these wonderful, rich poetic terms, but they contain a trap for us, that trap is essentially that we imagine he is using symbolic language. So when he refers to moon we might say- he’s meaning enlightenment. When he refers to wind – he might mean delusion, or possibly interdependence. When he is referring to the pines – who knows maybe a practitioner, but it will be something. And the problem with us reading the Chinese masters that way is

that we don’t see what they are trying to do, which is essentially an act of description. Description through evoking a kind of feeling in us.

In his recent book on Hongzhi ‘Cultivating the Empty Field – The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi’

Taigen Dan Leighton does us a wonderful service, both in bringing this teacher to greater attention but also in setting the context and in setting the background of his teaching.

Please investigate this great master.

Finally Dan Leighton’s wonderful website – Ancient Dragon.org- also has a really helpful article which is called ‘Hongzhi, Dogen and the background to Shikantaza’ which really helps to establish the connection between Hongzhi and Dogen and hence illuminates a whole aspect of Dogen who I think all to often is seen as an ahistorical character.

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Kusen

Issho Fujita on posture

Please read a brilliant essay by Issho Fujita on posture from Dharma Eye.

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Kusen

Posture Instructions: The Breath

When we hear an instruction to keep returning our attention to the breath, we need to unpack that instruction.

It is an instruction primarily given to people who keep having random thoughts. For these people, the instruction is quite simple. But many people have different problems. They may experience thoughts with a persistent, distressing theme – thoughts of torture, for example – or they may consistently experience a particular difficult emotion or cluster of emotions, the common ones being fear, anxiety, boredom, dissatisfaction and such like. For these people, the instruction, without further explanation, is likely to feel at best unhelpful, and at worst an attempt to ignore or minimise their experience in favour of a vacuous serenity.

So, to unpack:

It is not regarding the breath as the object of concentration. It is not as if the breath and the distracting/distressing thoughts or emotions are like two irate fat men, ceaselessly competing to sit on the one chair of attention.

It is the breath, not your breath.

It is our actual experience of the breath as a dynamic, non conceptual moving space within us. There is no barrier between that space and the greater ‘external’ space. Thus, the entire body is hanging in space, and both are fluid. In this way, we directly experience both ‘form’ and ’emptiness’, and can thus access a vast compassionate space within which our distressing thoughts – along with everything else – can emerge, express and change.

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Practice Instructions – What part does concentration play?

Q: what part does concentration play in sitting?

A: Often an instruction is given that we should bring our attention back to our breath and body. But that instruction is given in a context, and that context is what to do if we notice the mind wandering off in thought.

It doesn’t mean that the breath or the body is the object of our concentration. Once we have brought our attention back, we don’t keep it on the breath and the body, we open out into a broad expansive awareness, which has no object. If we say “concentration”, that assumes both something that we concentrate on, and something that we can succeed or fail at, and both these assumptions are not helpful.

Obviously, we don’t wish our awareness to be dispersed, and so we sometimes say ‘concentrated’ or ‘focused’, but we should use these words with caution.

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Zazen Instructions

When we talk about zazen, we need to be careful that our instructions do not casually reinforce the habitual dualities of body/mind and self/world. Yet, the most common instruction that newcomers are given does exactly this, the injunction to allow thoughts to come and go freely.

Perhaps we give this instruction because newcomers are always surprised and distressed at the unrelenting cascade of drivel that appears to be surging through them the moment they start sitting. But zazen is the practice of all of us, not just the mind.

After a while, what becomes more apparent is the persistent colouring of experience in a way that is often very disagreeable: agitation, fear, torpor, boredom, despair. How do we advise the student then? If we call these emotions, we somehow allocate them to the mind. If we call them disturbances of the nervous system, we somehow allocate them to the body. Either way, the duality is enforced.

We need to find a way to talk about practice which doesn’t take these familiar dualities for granted, only to try to dissolve them later.

One way is through the actual experience of breathing. If we pay careful attention, it is not that our breath is the movement of air in and out of our lungs, in and out of our mouth and nose. Our actual experience is that our breath goes everywhere. It goes up, into our head, it goes down, into our pelvis. It extends everywhere.

And, experiencing the breath in this way, it is possible to see a different duality: the dynamic movement of this spacious breath, like an expanding and contracting pillar of emptiness at our core. And around this pillar, likewise alive, likewise moving, the fabric of form; a fabric which is sometimes the body, sometimes the mind, sometimes the heart, sometimes the world.

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215. The breath liberated

In our practice, the breath is absolutely essential.

We are scrupulous about posture because when we sit upright and balanced, the breath is liberated.

The breath is central not because it relaxes and settles us; although it does, obviously.

It is essential because it clarifies our nature.

If we pay attention to the actual experience of breathing – not a conceptual one – we realise there is nowhere that our breath doesn’t reach.

It’s as if our breath is this dynamic vast moving space at our centre.

And the body is draped around it.

We are not this body in space. We are space.

There is no clear divide between the space inside and the space outside.

So to actualise this space inside us is to actualise all space; not as something abstract but as

the space between us.

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Posture Instructions: How to breathe in zazen

My first teacher said that we should have a long, deep, complete exhalation, pushing our belly out as we press down, and a short natural inhalation. I am sorry to say that I believe these instructions to be completely mistaken.

Dogen said hardly anything about the breath. He just said to let a short breath be short and a long breath be long. At first glance, these instructions aren’t exactly comprehensive, but I think the import is clear: we shouldn’t try to control our breath.

Sometimes this is rendered as an instruction to just breathe naturally. Note the word. Not breathe normally, as you would when slumped over your computer, or slouching in a chair, but naturally.

Naturally for the zazen posture. When we are balanced, it is as if there is a vast cavern of breath inside us. There is nowhere it doesn’t reach. Sometimes it is breathing the bones of our pelvis. Sometimes our belly. Sometimes our intercostal muscles. Sometimes our clavicle. Sometimes our head. This natural breath breathes us, and as long as it does so, the body is no longer ‘the body’. It is no longer an object in our consciousness. It – everything – is free.

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Practice Instructions: Bringing attention to the body and breath

If our intention is sincere, it doesn’t matter if our mind is busy or quiet. Nonetheless, if we are very distracted, it is often helpful to bring our attention back to our body and breath. But what does this mean?

For myself, I often find it’s helpful to focus initially on the head: the lips, the tongue, the musculature of the eyes, the pressure of the forehead, the muscles of the jaw, and so on. The attention then seems to flow quite naturally to the rest of the body. We use the unspoken equivalence of head/brain/mind/self to re-embody.

Likewise with the breath. We can start by feeling it in the nostrils, then the throat, then flowing down into the chest, the stomach, the pelvis, so that the whole body is breathing.

This feeling-being-body is the ground of practice.

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Kusen

Practice Instruction: what are ‘thoughts’?

There is a general instruction in many meditation schools that we should allow our thoughts to come and go freely, but what is meant by “thoughts”?

We are aware – all too aware – of what we might feel as the noise of our mind, but what we are less aware of is what lies behind this noise. If we reflect carefully, it appears that there is a ‘something’ which – as it were – endeavours to keep us in a familiar state, and usually a negative one : fear, dissatisfaction, boredom, dissociation, dullness.. the list is endless, and different for each of us, but it’s there. There, but difficult to see.

Rather than focus on purifying consciousness, what is essential for us is to be thoroughly grounded in the dynamic, living body, which means to be grounded in the breath, and to experience the breath as permeating the whole body. Everything moves with the breath: the bones of the pelvis, the bones of the head, the face, the legs. That movement from ‘mind’ to body loosens and liberates us, and is “beyond thinking”.