Vajra Fist

Internal alchemy in Zen

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I'm reading a book by Julian Daizan Skinner called Practical Zen. 

 

He was a former monastic student of Shinzan Roshi, and teaches a sort of hybrid Soto and Rinzai zen.

 

After running through the basic methods, he starts describing stuff that sounds a lot like internal alchemy. Building the tanden (dantien), developing conditions for the turning of the wheel of law (microcosmic orbit). 

 

He also teaches a type of traditional 'yoga' they used to practice in the temple, that includes stretching as well as ki practices, as well as a sort of qigong meditation.

 

All of this side of the practice dates back to Hakuin, who learned it from a hermit and revived the Rinzai sect in the 18th century.

 

All this was fairly surprising to me in terms of its presence in Japanese Zen. I've only been exposed to Soto Zen, which is fairly straightforward in its approach.

 

 

 

 

Edited by Vajra Fist
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2 hours ago, Vajra Fist said:

All this was fairly surprising to me in terms of its presence in Japanese Zen. I've only been exposed to Soto Zen, which is fairly straightforward in its approach.


Zen is derived from Chan which is a mixture of Daoism and Buddhism… 

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According to Pregadio, Shitou Xiqian (caodong chan) wrote a short text with the title "cantong qi". Pregadio doesn't spell it out, but imply it might be related to it and thus reflect a Chan interest in Nei Dan going back to the eight century. 

 

Caodong imply Shaolin btw. 

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I’m not particularly privy to the historical aspects - it just seemed quite evident that there’s a lot of Daoism within the type of Chan that I’ve seen practiced behind ‘closed doors’.

 

And there’s certainly a lot of Buddhism in the (at least Northern) alchemical Daoist schools…

 

A pretty incestuous world :blink:^_^

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I would call it the opposite, they both bread in new blood to avoid inbreeding. 

 

As always when one mix stuff, the result varies. 

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Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism and other relevant historical Chinese culture and arts intermixed and resulted in "Chan Buddhism", which then became Zen in Japan

 

From modern/contemporary teachers, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua and Master Nan Huai Chin both have taught an internal/alchemical/esoteric type of Zen, at least in the notion that the path requires some sense of transformation of the body and of course, ultimately the mind.  

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On 11/21/2021 at 3:24 AM, Vajra Fist said:

I'm reading a book by Julian Daizan Skinner called Practical Zen. 

 

He was a former monastic student of Shinzan Roshi, and teaches a sort of hybrid Soto and Rinzai zen.

 

After running through the basic methods, he starts describing stuff that sounds a lot like internal alchemy. Building the tanden (dantien), developing conditions for the turning of the wheel of law (microcosmic orbit). 

 

He also teaches a type of traditional 'yoga' they used to practice in the temple, that includes stretching as well as ki practices, as well as a sort of qigong meditation.

 

All of this side of the practice dates back to Hakuin, who learned it from a hermit and revived the Rinzai sect in the 18th century.

 

All this was fairly surprising to me in terms of its presence in Japanese Zen. I've only been exposed to Soto Zen, which is fairly straightforward in its approach.

You might also be interested in the work of Meido Moore Roshi, who also emphasizes body-based methods in the lineage of Hakuin.  I've never seen him mention the wheel of law though. 

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I heard that proper sitting in zazen induces the microcosmic orbit automatically.

 

From my personal experience, I can say that, many moons ago, when I started practising zazen, I experienced strong and exhilarating energetic effects that I didn't expect. As the few books on Zen I had read at the time emphasized sobriety and basically a 'common state of mind'.

 

Rarely are altered states of consciousness during meditation discussed as such in Zen. But that doesn't mean they don't (or should not) occur. I found learning about them from non-related sources... enlightening. :D

 

Concepts and emphasis may differ from one system to another. The psycho-physical system that individual practitioners are working with ever stays the same regardless.

 

It took me some time to piece together a picture that would explain my internal experience more in depth. Today alchemy is definitely an important part of it, however.

 

Some may object that concepts are not important in cultivation, that only experience matters. But we can't help reflecting on our experiences, and the conclusions we draw will colour our further experiences inevitably. So we better choose our concepts wisely.

 

Zen practice and alchemy... Yes, they are clearly connected to each other in my book - as well as to many other things. And that's cool with me.

 

 

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On 11/27/2021 at 8:54 PM, Michael Sternbach said:

 

... Rarely are altered states of consciousness during meditation discussed as such in Zen. But that doesn't mean they don't (or should not) occur. I found learning about them from non-related sources... enlightening. :D

 

... Some may object that concepts are not important in cultivation, that only experience matters. But we can't help reflecting on our experiences, and the conclusions we draw will colour our further experiences inevitably. So we better choose our concepts wisely.

 


I would say the history of meditation manuals goes way back, in India, China, and Japan.  By meditation manual, I mean the attempt to provide practical instructions in meditation, as opposed to metaphysical instructions.  Here’s an excerpt from “Two Shores of Zen” by Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler, that illustrates the conflict between the two:
 

“Shikantaza not here,” he insisted in elementary English, pointing to his head. “Not here,” he continued, pointing to his heart. “Only point here!” He drove his fist into his lower belly, the energy center that the Japanese call hara.
 

I have spent the last several years in an American Zen temple that by our standards is strict and intense, but my training, I am finding, seems moot here. I have labored for years to open out my meditation—which is, after all “just sitting”—away from reliance on heavy-handed internal or external concentration objects, and toward a more subtle, broad, open awareness. Roshi-sama is said to be a master of this wide practice of shikantaza, the objectless meditation characteristic of the Soto school. But he insists, again and again, weeping at my deafness, shouting at my stubbornness, that hara focus is precisely shikantaza. That it makes no sense makes it no less inspiring; it is his presence, not his words, that I believe.
 

“No grasping—only point here.” He rested his fist on his belly. I had nothing to say.
 

… “Here,” he said, pointing to his chin and thrusting it out to show me that doing so made his back slump in bad Zen posture. He looked up at me with wide, soft brown eyes, and a kind smile that exposed his crooked teeth. In a warm, encouraging voice, like a boy addressing his puppy, he pointed to his back and said, “Like this no good. Keep try!”
 

My posture is quite good; I’ve been told so by peers and teachers alike in the U.S….
 

In my own practice,  I focus on the mind that moves (Waking Up and Falling Asleep), something like:
 

Let the mind be present without an abode.”

 

(Diamond Sutra, translation Venerable Master Hsing Yun, from “The Rabbit’s Horn: A Commentary on the Platform Sutra”, Buddha’s Light Publishing pg. 60)

 

The location of that mind is often at the dan t’ien, but the aim is to allow for experience like that Gautama described for the fourth of the initial states of concentration:

 

Again, a (person), putting away ease… enters and abides in the fourth musing; seated, (one) suffuses (one’s) body with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind. … just as a (person) might sit with (their) head swathed in a clean cloth; even so (one) sits suffusing (their) body with purity…

(AN III 25-28, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 18-19)

 

Gautama emphasized “one-pointedness of mind” as a characteristic of concentration, and what I experience is a complete freedom of the singular location of self-awareness to move in space, with the coordination of the body following autonomically from the location of “mind” (rather than vice-versa).  Gautama identified the fourth concentration with the cessation of action of the body based on “determinate thought”, and I believe the experience was a regular part of the mindfulness he described as his way of life.

Over the last fifty years, I have written a meditation manual for myself.  The most frequent failing in the meditation manuals that are out there is a failure to address the cessation of action out of “determinate thought”, the cessation of willful or volitive action of speech, body, and mind (action of “perceiving and feeling”).  Cessation is the goal of meditation, according to Gautama, and the correct way to proceed, again according to Gautama, is through “lack of desire”. 

That doesn’t say that it’s easy to experience a purity of mind such that “sometimes zazen gets up and walks around”, as Kobun Chino Otogawa described it.  Maybe it helps to be around someone as accomplished as Kobun was, to pick up on that. 

 

Edited by Mark Foote
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I've been working my way through a course by Daizan, and have arrived at meditation called 'soft ointment' or 'Nanso no ho'.

 

This is from Hakuin's Yasen Kanna:

 

Quote
"Imagine that a lump of soft butter, pure in color and fragrance and the size and shape of a duck egg, is suddenly placed on the top of your head. As it begins to slowly melt, it imparts an exquisite sensation, moistening and saturating your head within and without. It continues to ooze down, moistening your shoulders, elbows, and chest; permeating lungs, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and bowels; moving down the spine through the hips, pelvis, and buttocks. At that point, all the congestions that have accumulated within the five organs and six viscera, all the aches and pains in the abdomen and other affected parts, will follow the heart as it sinks downward into the lower body. As it does, you will distinctly hear a sound like that of water trickling from a higher to a lower place. It will move lower down through the lower body, suffusing the legs with beneficial warmth, until it reaches the soles of the feet, where it stops.

 

"The student should then repeat the contemplation. As his vital energy flows downward, it gradually fills the lower region of the body, suffusing it with penetrating warmth, making him feel as if he were sitting up to his navel in a hot bath filled with a decoction of rare and fragrant medicinal herbs that have been gathered and infused by a skilled physician.

 

"Inasmuch as all things are created by the mind, when you engage in this contemplation, the nose will actually smell the marvelous scent of pure, soft butter; your body will feel the exquisite sensation of its melting touch. Your body and mind will be in perfect peace and harmony. You will feel better and enjoy greater health than you did as a youth of twenty or thirty. At this time, all the undesirable accumulations in your vital organs and viscera will melt away. Stomach and bowels will function perfectly. Before you know it, your skin will glow with health.

 

"If you continue to practice the contemplation with diligence, there is no illness that cannot be cured, no virtue that cannot be acquired, no level of sage hood that cannot be reached, no religious practice that cannot be mastered. Whether such results appear swiftly or slowly depends only upon how scrupulously you apply yourself."

 

Now this type of meditation is completely new to me. But I'm guessing the benefits of it come less from the visualised 'ointment' but rather from the 'sung' releasing or letting go that arises as a result. Is this an early step in the neigong process too - releasing downwards in sitting meditation?

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On 1/1/2022 at 3:37 PM, Vajra Fist said:


Now this type of meditation is completely new to me. But I'm guessing the benefits of it come less from the visualised 'ointment' but rather from the 'sung' releasing or letting go that arises as a result. Is this an early step in the neigong process too - releasing downwards in sitting meditation?
 

 

Here's Gautama the Buddha's description of the fourth of the initial concentrations, with some explanation I made in The Early Record.  Similar description of sensation on the surface of the body, but he described "suffusing the body" rather than "releasing downward":


Again, a (person), putting away ease… enters and abides in the fourth musing; seated, (one) suffuses (one’s) body with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind. … just as a (person) might sit with (their) head swathed in a clean cloth; even so (one) sits suffusing (their) body with purity… 

(AN III 25-28, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 18-19)
 

Gautama pointed to a feeling as though the head were “swathed in a clean cloth”, but in other expositions of the fourth concentration, he pointed instead to a feeling as though the whole body were “swathed in a clean cloth”.

I would say that the “purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind” of the fourth concentration is the freedom of mind when the location of the base of consciousness becomes the source of the action of posture and carriage, apart from any “determinate thought”.
 

As to the basis of the sensation on the surface of body, my best guess is that it is a heightened ability to feel dermatomes, as a consequence of the relaxed nerve exits from the sacrum and spine provided by an even stretch of ligaments.

But as the Tai Chi Classics say:
 

The internal develops the ch’i; the external develops the sinews, bones, and skin.

 

(“Master Cheng’s Thirteen Chapters on T’ai-Chi Ch’uan”, translated by Wile, 1st ed pg 17)
 

The explanations by Hakuin and by the Gautamid are about the internal, while my speculation about dermatones and the even stretch of ligaments concerns the external.  As far as I can tell, the internal is all about a freedom of the singular location of self-awareness to move in space, and the external concerns relaxation and action generated by the stretch of ligaments. 

Nevertheless, the lead is internal, suffusing the body with "purity by the pureness of (one's) mind" (freedom of the singular location of self-awareness to move anywhere in the body).  As the Tibetans describe it, the "clear light dharmakaya experience", that can be had falling asleep, fainting, or on dying.

 

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Posted (edited)

佛陀對第三禪的定義之一是『捨念』

第四禪的定義是『捨念清淨』

捨念就是放掉最後一念

也就是二禪的一心

二禪的一心就是最後一念

如果要從二禪進入三禪

就要把二禪的一心放掉

就能進入三禪

但是放掉一心之後

如果沒有穩固的捨念清淨

就會掉入欲界幻境

如果有穩固的捨念清淨

就會進入四禪定

並且很容易產生涅槃現象

 

One of the Buddha's definitions of the third jhāna is renunciation.

The definition of the fourth jhāna is "purification of equanimity"

Forgiveness is letting go of the last thought

That is, the one mind of the second Zen

The single mind of the second Zen is the last thought

If you want to enter the third jhana from the second jhana

Let go of the mind of the second Zen

to enter the three dhyanas

But after letting go

If there is no stable equanimity

fall into the fantasy realm

If there is a stable equanimity

enter the four meditations

And it is easy to produce Nirvana phenomenon

 

六祖壇經的禪宗是一種扭曲的宗教

披著佛教的外殼

卻沒有佛教的真正內涵

根據的是翻譯錯誤的金剛經

The Zen of the Sixth Patriarch's Altar Sutra is a Twisted Religion

Dressed in Buddhism

without the true meaning of Buddhism

Based on the incorrectly translated Diamond Sutra

Edited by awaken
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Continuing the theme of alchemy in Japanese Zen, here's an interesting quote from Hakuin, who is basically the father of modern Rinzai.

Quote

 

"You should draw what Mencius called the 'vast, expansive energy' down and store it in the elixir field—the reservoir of vital energy located below the navel." Hold it there over the months and years, preserving it single-mindedly, sustaining it without wavering. One morning, you will suddenly overturn the elixir furnace, and then everywhere, within and without the entire universe, will become a single immense piece of pure elixir .
When that happens, you will realize for the first time that you yourself are a genuine sage, as unborn as heaven and earth, as undying as empty space. At that moment, your efforts to refine the elixir will attain fruition.”

 

Hakuin Zenji (Yasenkanna)

 

 

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14 minutes ago, Vajra Fist said:

You should draw what Mencius called the 'vast, expansive energy' down and store it in the elixir field—the reservoir of vital energy located below the navel." Hold it there over the months and years, preserving it single-mindedly, sustaining it without wavering. One morning, you will suddenly overturn the elixir furnace, and then everywhere, within and without the entire universe, will become a single immense piece of pure elixir .
When that happens, you will realize for the first time that you yourself are a genuine sage, as unborn as heaven and earth, as undying as empty space. At that moment, your efforts to refine the elixir will attain fruition.”

 

Hakuin Zenji (Yasenkanna)

 

 

Using single-pointed focus to induce nondual realization.

 

The instruction sounds very much like tummo.

 

🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, steve said:

 

Using single-pointed focus to induce nondual realization.

 

The instruction sounds very much like tummo.

 

🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼

 

That's a fantastic analogy! Very similar to how I gather koan training works too. The koan is held deep in the hara and becomes the object of one-pointed attention for days or weeks or even longer. Then, a sudden shattering of samadhi, and glimpse into one's nature.

Edited by Vajra Fist
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Thodgal practice in dzogchen lineages works in a similar way. Seeing and hearing what appear to be external visions but knowing they are arising internally breaks down the inner-outer boundary. 

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Posted (edited)

Seemingly Zen's way talks not much about  emotions, sex drive , habits  of life..etc , which gives people a misconception  that Zen ignores them .  In fact, Zen's way is an unique , thorough one to attain enlightenment  that people  call it   'Abrupt Enlightenment ' (' 頓悟')   , which implies no steps, forms , attachments .., an  one-stroke act of  entering  the core of what our  deep spirit is .  In that case , it enables  a sudden , concentrated  solution or treatment to most  fundamental problems ( sickness, love , failure , aging, death , ..)  of   our life that similarly Taoist alchemy targets at , yet skipping Taoist tedious steps of accumulating jing,  paying attention to what time /location that qi arises significantly , eating what nutritious food..etc ., a shortcut offered to those geniuses , al least talents , but not ordinary people .

Edited by exorcist_1699

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, exorcist_1699 said:

Seemingly Zen's way talks not much about  emotions, sex drive , habits  of life..etc , which gives people an misconception  that Zen ignores them .  In fact, Zen's way is an unique , thorough one , that people  call it   'Abrupt Enlightenment ' (' 頓悟')   , which implies no steps, forms , attachments .., an  one-stroke act of  entering  the core of what our  deep spirit is .  In that case , it enables  a sudden , concentrated  solution or treatment to most  fundamental problems ( sickness, love , failure , aging, death , ..)  of   our life that similarly Taoist alchemy targets at , yet skipping Taoist tedious steps of accumulating jing,  paying attention to what time /location that qi arises significantly , eating what nutritious food..etc ., a shortcut offered to those geniuses , al least talents , but not ordinary people .

 

The solutions offered by Zen's "instant enlightenment" and Taoist Alchemy respectively are different though. The former approach negates that the conditions you mentioned are actually problems, whereas the latter aims at avoiding or improving them.

 

"Love" as such should not be seen as a problem anyway, though.

Edited by Michael Sternbach

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Took me a lot longer to focus on "one-pointedness of mind" than Corey Hess (in that article you linked, Vajra Fist), because I didn't see where cultivation fit in, in the larger picture.  Nor did I have an interpretation of Gautama's descriptions of cultivation that I could apply.  Here's my larger picture, now:
 

A central theme of Gautama’s teaching was the cessation of “determinate thought” (AN III 414) in action, meaning the cessation of the exercise of will or volition in action.  A cessation of the exercise of will could be attained, said Gautama, through the induction of various successive states of concentration. As to the initial induction of concentration, Gautama declared that “making self-surrender the object of thought, one lays hold of concentration, one lays hold of one-pointedness of mind”.

 

I begin with making the surrender of volition in activity related to the movement of breath the object of thought.  For me, that necessitates thought applied and sustained with regard to relaxation of the activity of the body, with regard to the exercise of calm in the stretch of ligaments, with regard to the detachment of mind, and with regard to the presence of mind.  I find that a presence of mind from one breath to the next can precipitate “one-pointedness of mind”, but laying hold of “one-pointedness of mind” requires a surrender of willful activity in the body much like falling asleep.

 

It’s possible to experience “one-pointedness of mind” and the movement of “one-pointed” mind in the body without experiencing a freedom of that movement in full.  I’ve written about the analogies Gautama provided for the cultivation of “one-pointedness of mind” (The Early Record), and I would say that it’s only in the concentration where the body is suffused with “purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind” that the mind really moves freely. Gautama pointed out that with that concentration, “determinate thought” in action of the body ceases, in particular volition that affects the movement of inhalation or exhalation ceases.

 

That doesn’t mean that action of the body can’t take place, only that the exercise of will or volition is not involved.  I have many times quoted a remark I heard Zen teacher Kobun Chino Otogawa make at the end of one of his lectures at the San Francisco Zen Center:

 

You know, sometimes zazen gets up and walks around.

 

If a person “takes the attitude of someone who… lets go of both hands and feet” (as Dogen instructed), then perhaps there will come a moment when the hands and feet walk around.  At that moment, there will be new meaning to be had in cleaning cat boxes, cooking, shopping, driving, and bathing, though these experiences might not involve the attitude that advances from the top of a 100-foot pole throughout.

 

Having said that, I have to add that it’s my belief that not every Zen teacher has experienced the zazen that gets up and walks around.  That doesn’t say that they haven’t experienced the cessation of volition in action of the body, or that they are not qualified to teach Zen, but I think they must have a different perspective on the relationship of practice to the actions of everyday life.

 

To be clear, the cessation of volition in the action of the body is not the experience Gautama associated with his enlightenment–that would be the cessation of volition in the action of the mind, in “feeling and perceiving”.  Having attained to the “cessation of feeling and perceiving”, Gautama saw for himself that suffering is the last link in a chain of cause and effect, and his insight into the nature of suffering was his enlightenment.

(Response to "Not the Wind, Not the Flag")

 

 

Awaken, not sure about your characterization of the "Platform Sutra", although it's my understanding that there's really no historical basis for attributing it to the sixth patriarch.  I do like your characterizations of the jhanas, but maybe they're simpler than you make them sound? 

Do we cultivate the jhanas, or do we just find the ways to let "one-pointedness of mind" continue until a suffusion of the body by “purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind” arrives?  The order of the jhanas can be mixed up, but the happiness is there for me with the freedom of the mind to move. 

I'm not going to make this post any longer by quoting my own characterizations of the rupa jhanas--they're here:  The Early Record.

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On 2021/12/6 at 11:39 AM, Mark Foote said:


I would say the history of meditation manuals goes way back, in India, China, and Japan.  By meditation manual, I mean the attempt to provide practical instructions in meditation, as opposed to metaphysical instructions.  Here’s an excerpt from “Two Shores of Zen” by Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler, that illustrates the conflict between the two:
kantaza, the objectless meditation characteristic of the Soto school. But he insists, again and again, weeping at my deafness, shouting at my stubbornness, that hara focus is precisely shikantaza. That it makes no sense makes it no less inspiring; it is his presence, not his words, that I believe.
- - - - - - - - - -

- - - - - - - - -
That doesn’t say that it’s easy to experience a purity of mind such that “sometimes zazen gets up and walks around”, as Kobun Chino Otogawa described it.  Maybe it helps to be around someone as accomplished as Kobun was, to pick up on that. 

 

 

No-way is the way*  , no-mind is the Mind required ; others further added to it are  all wrong , making it tedious and astray . No-mind is an intuitive effort after people's  having detached themselves from their senses, their minds , emotions and expectations at one stroke  , then  it pop-ups suddenly . In order to grasp it , reading Zen's original texts in  classical Chinese is nearly  a must , or at least a short-cut,  despite such saying makes many people here , on this forum , unhappy .  Just like what you are told in the movie " Arrival " ,  in order to know what meanings the aliens want to transmit   , you start from reading their strange circular symbols ( characters ? ) .

 

*法本法無法, 無法法亦法

 

 

Edited by exorcist_1699

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On 11/14/2022 at 10:30 PM, exorcist_1699 said:

 

No-way is the way*  , no-mind is the Mind required ; others further added to it are  all wrong , making it tedious and astray . No-mind is an intuitive effort after people's  having detached themselves from their senses, their minds , emotions and expectations at one stroke  , then  it pop-ups suddenly . In order to grasp it , reading Zen's original texts in  classical Chinese is nearly  a must , or at least a short-cut,  despite such saying makes many people here , on this forum , unhappy .  Just like what you are told in the movie " Arrival " ,  in order to know what meanings the aliens want to transmit   , you start from reading their strange circular symbols ( characters ? ) .

 

*法本法無法, 無法法亦法

 

 

The presence of mind can utilize the location of attention to maintain the balance of the body and coordinate activity in the movement of breath, without a particularly conscious effort to do so.  There can also come a moment when the movement of breath necessitates the placement of attention at a certain location in the body, or at a series of locations, with the ability to remain awake as the location of attention shifts retained through the exercise of presence.

 

That the location of attention can shift anywhere in the body as a function of the movement of breath, I take to be the suffusion of the body “with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind”.

 

... Gautama often added a “fifth limb” of concentration, after he gave his description of the four initial states:

 

Again, the survey-sign is rightly grasped by (a person), rightly held by the attention, rightly reflected upon, rightly penetrated by insight. … just as someone might survey another, standing might survey another sitting, or sitting might survey another lying down; even so the survey-sign is rightly grasped by (a person), rightly held by the attention, rightly reflected upon, rightly penetrated by insight.  

 

To me, the survey-sign is a way to touch on the presence of mind that allows the movement of breath to place attention anywhere, in the course of daily life.

 

(Post: Common Ground)

 

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