Vajra Fist

In praise of Thanissaro Bhikku

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For the past month, I've been working with Thanissaro Bhikku's samatha instructions. It started as a sort of experiment, but I think it might stick.

 

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/breathmed.html

 

I must say, it is an exquisite practice. I'm getting a lot of mileage from it.

 

For those who don't know Ajahn Geoff, he's a student of the Ajahn Lee Thai Forest Lineage. He is responsible for many of the English translations of the Pali suttas we have today, which he hosts on his site:

 

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/

 

His guided meditations are super useful in getting an overview of how the practice works:

 

https://www.dhammatalks.org/mp3_guidedMed_index.html

 

There are also longer 1hr and 90min versions of this on Insight Timer if you have time to sit for longer.

 

His book is free and excellent. 

 

With Each & Every Breath: A Guide to Meditation https://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/Ebooks/WithEachAndEveryBreath_210603.pdf

 

For me it's really been a game changer. Leaving this here in case it's a help to anyone else 

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On 10/24/2022 at 1:13 PM, Vajra Fist said:

 

For the past month, I've been working with Thanissaro Bhikku's samatha instructions. It started as a sort of experiment, but I think it might stick.

 

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/breathmed.html

 

I must say, it is an exquisite practice. I'm getting a lot of mileage from it.

 

 

Thanks for posting the link, and your thoughts.  I see from the short biography on Wikipedia that Thanissaro Bhikku is a Thai forest-tradition monk, and that the forest tradition in Thailand actually only dates from the start of the 20th century--I thought it was older than that, but apparently it was a response at that time to the urbanization of Thai Buddhism.

He's been living the tradition in San Diego since 1993, so almost thirty years now.  My hat is off to him, for his dedication and committment. 

 

There's a monastery in the Thai forest tradition near me, called Abhayagiri, and I know from listening to the abbots of that monastery that they have not had an easy time adapting their tradition to California.  Among other things, begging in the streets is frowned on, in their agriculture-focused Northern California community.

 

I've read some of his translations of the Pali sermons, but I have to say I have some differences with his interpretations .  Also, his approach seems heavy-handed to me.  In some ways, I think he hopes to trick the reader into having certain experiences, and although that might work with the instructions he's provided, he reinforces the notion that the reader is in charge of these experiences.  At least, that's how it reads to me!

 

I'll be specific.  Here's Thanissaro:

 

If you try to base your happiness on things that change — sights, sounds, sensations in general, people and things outside — you're setting yourself up for disappointment...

 

And here's Zen Teacher Kobun Chino Otogawa, from the Jikoji Zen Center site:
 

When you sit, the cushion sits with you. If you wear glasses, the glasses sit with you. Clothing sits with you. House sits with you. People who are moving around outside all sit with you. They don’t take the sitting posture!

 

For me, the concern is equanimity, or what Gautama referred to as "equanimity in the face of (the) multiplicity (of the senses)":
 

... equanimity in the face of multiplicity requires awareness of the influence of contact in the senses on the center of balance, influence alongside that of the placement of the arms, legs, and jaw (or any part of the body). Even things beyond the conscious range of the senses may interact with the center of balance, and what I find necessary for equanimity is an openness to such interaction.


Thanissaro:

 

If your mind wanders off, simply bring it back. Don't get discouraged. If it wanders 100 times, bring it back 100 times. Show it that you mean business, and eventually it will listen to you.

 

Another way, from koun Franz's website "Nyoho Zen":

 

Okay… So, have your hands in the cosmic mudra, palms up, thumbs touching, and there’s this common instruction: place your mind here. Different people interpret this differently. Some people will say this means to place your attention here, meaning to keep your attention on your hands. It’s a way of turning the lens to where you are in space so that you’re not looking out here and out here and out here. It’s the positive version, perhaps, of ‘navel gazing’.

The other way to understand this is to literally place your mind where your hands are–to relocate mind (let’s not say your mind) to your centre of gravity, so that mind is operating from a place other than your brain. Some traditions take this very seriously, this idea of moving your consciousness around the body. I wouldn’t recommend dedicating your life to it, but as an experiment, I recommend trying it, sitting in this posture and trying to feel what it’s like to let your mind, to let the base of your consciousness, move away from your head. One thing you’ll find, or that I have found, at least, is that you can’t will it to happen, because you’re willing it from your head. To the extent that you can do it, it’s an act of letting go–and a fascinating one.

 

(“No Struggle [Zazen Yojinki, Part 6]”, by Koun Franz, from the “Nyoho Zen” site)

 

My take:
 

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.

 

(Post:  Common Ground)

 

 

Thanissaro's directions do open a person to different locations of attention in the body in connection with the movement of breath, and that might set up the circumstance I describe above, but he fails to note that the practice is fundamentally about letting go:

 

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.

 

(A Friend's Response)


I also have a bone to pick with Thanissaro's characterization of "one-pointedness of mind" (here), but I'll leave that for another day.  I do admire his scholarship, it's just his interpretations I find myself at odds with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Mark Foote

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Thanks for your thoughtful response. I admit, it is a bit of a diversion from my main practice, but it has proven quite fruitful so far. 

 

For instance, it's taught me the importance of bodily relaxation in going deep. I didn't realise it, but I had been developing a lot of tension in the body during zazen.

 

Although the practice has always been extremely quiescent, at times during the day I would sometimes become quite irritable or uncharitable. 

 

But through relaxing the body through Ajahn Geoff's instructions, ive had the space to step back from conflicts and consider a more skillful approach to handling the situation.

 

Secondly, it's taught me the value of noncontrivance. The common instruction you'll find in rinzai is to expand the belly on the inhale and contract it on the exhale. The mind must rest on the hara. Count the outbreaths etc.

 

I appreciate it gets more refined the longer you practice, but a lot of that is trial and error (aka 'kufu'), and perhaps also direct transmission. 

 

Personally, I've found the instructions to observe the movement of the breath at different parts of the body, more conducive to the emergence of a calm, peaceful state, than perhaps the intimation that the breath should be directed or controlled.

 

To me, I find the lack of specificity and emphasis on exploration to have meant I progressed perhaps slower than I needed to over the past year as a beginner practicing rinzai.

 

I think I'll probably find my way back to zen at some point. I have an excellent teacher and a group that meets online on Zoom every morning for zazen.

 

I know how important a teacher is in the long run and a sangha too. While I don't believe there are any teachers here in the UK from the Ajahn Lee thread of the Thai Forest tradition. As far as I know, the Thai buddhists here are all from Ajahn Chah.

 

I may find my way to Chan, rather than Zen. I know Guo Gu has a group here and they place a lot of emphasis on bodily relaxation and noncontrivance - similar in many ways to the just sitting approach in Soto. 

 

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On 24/11/2022 at 9:59 PM, Mark Foote said:

If your mind wanders off, simply bring it back. Don't get discouraged. If it wanders 100 times, bring it back 100 times. Show it that you mean business, and eventually it will listen to you.

 

Also, just a note on this. In the oral instructions, he has a different emphasis:

 

"Wheneve you bring your mind back reward yourself with a deep, relaxing breath - whatever would feel really good. To let you know that this is where you want to be."

 

So yes, it is still a directed activity. But it is perhaps more carrot than stick.

 

My worry about allowing the mind to settle of its own accord - as a beginner with no experience of kensho - is that you're effectively allowing the mind to stew in its own hindrances. Some effort to bring the mind back to the meditation object would seem to be important, although I agree it should be more gentle than the 'mind crushing mind' approach you often find.

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9 hours ago, Vajra Fist said:

 

Secondly, it's taught me the value of noncontrivance. The common instruction you'll find in rinzai is to expand the belly on the inhale and contract it on the exhale. The mind must rest on the hara. Count the outbreaths etc.

 

I appreciate it gets more refined the longer you practice, but a lot of that is trial and error (aka 'kufu'), and perhaps also direct transmission. 

 

 

Hi Vajra Fist! May I ask who gave you these Rinzai instructions? I have studied under Meido Moore, student of Omori Sogen. That entire line actually teaches the opposite, or at least to keep your abdomen expanded on the exhale (intermediate instruction). This is very similar to what Allan Wallace says about "vase breathing." Its a sort of zen yogic technique that gets much more in depth in Omori Sogen's book in advanced territory very similar to mahamudra kriya and bhandas. 

 

I have practiced in Moore's monastery before, and his teachings are very open, and spacious, almost Tibetan like. Of course, that is almost an insult to Rinzai because Rinzai itself is a complete teaching. Of critical importance was maintaining awareness of peripheral vision throughout the meditation session and even throughout the day.

 

Like Thanissaro, Moore also gives instruction on "breath manipulation," that is, trying to elongate the outbreath such that you don't "count the breaths" but you "breath the count." Oooooonnnnneeeee. Inhale. Twooooooooooo. Inhale. Etc. That is also a critical step. 


Last, the matter of where to place your consciousness. If I remember correctly Thanissaro eventually talks about "whole-body breathing," or even "pore breathing." Rinzai zen also has something similar: embodied zen. We aim to breath with our whole body, to awaken with every fiber of our being and to exude it in all tasks. 

As far as distractions, equanimity, etc, I did not receive much instructions or talk on that other than minor things in dokusan. The effort of susokan (breath counting) and doing our chores with all of our being (embodied zen) did enough to relieve us of our hinderances. 

 

Meido's teachings were a boon, since never before had I heard of zen teachers talk about energetic practices and the details of zazen, the only other teachers who came close were of Chan, like Venerable Sheng Yen (who Meido also mentions as having similarities with him). Meido is also a shugendo lineage holder. Zen seems almost completely dead in Soto lineage now, but I found life in this particular Rinzai tradition. Perhaps it is different in Japan...I have heard of Soto zen priests teaching practices similar to the microcosmic orbit...I cannot verify though. 

Edited by searcher7977
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Thanks, I didn't want to set this up as a zen v thai forest thread, just wanted to share my experience of how the latter helped me overcome some blocks in practice.

 

I know Meido Roshi's teachings well, and have spoken to him several times. He's an inspiring guy! My zen teacher has less of an emphasis on the yogic side of the Rinzai tradition, but nevertheless comes from a Japanese monastic background.

 

But my point was that control of the breath in any form, feels a little bit - to me at least - contrived, and reflective of a subtle craving. You want something to happen in a particular way.

 

I've found passive attention to the breath to perhaps yield deeper states than any intention surrounding the breath. Not controlling, or directing the breath, just observing its gentle movement in the body. Of course - I could be totally wrong in that, it's just what feels right for me for now.

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25 minutes ago, Vajra Fist said:

Thanks, I didn't want to set this up as a zen v thai forest thread, just wanted to share my experience of how the latter helped me overcome some blocks in practice.

 

I know Meido Roshi's teachings well, and have spoken to him several times. He's an inspiring guy! My zen teacher has less of an emphasis on the yogic side of the Rinzai tradition, but nevertheless comes from a Japanese monastic background.

 

But my point was that control of the breath in any form, feels a little bit - to me at least - contrived, and reflective of a subtle craving. You want something to happen in a particular way.

 

I've found passive attention to the breath to perhaps yield deeper states than any intention surrounding the breath. Not controlling, or directing the breath, just observing its gentle movement in the body. Of course - I could be totally wrong in that, it's just what feels right for me for now.

 

Ah got it!

 

Yes. I'm an advanced beginner at best, but I hold Thanissaro in high regard. His book helped confirm some of my practices, and his other works have also been similarly helpful in understanding the suttas. I read somewhere (might have even been here) that awareness of the breath will lead to it lengthening, but it could take time, the number that was mentioned was around 8 years. 

 

I did really like how he said eventually you would be able to feel the breath and its energies throughout the body. I haven't gotten that far, but I managed to touch something like that. Where, you pay attention to the breath for so long, you are so familiar, that, when some other sensations arise, sometimes you say "hey! that feels sort of like the breath!" I think that is the way to start actually feeling the breath energy, and not the breath sensations.

 

Thank you for sharing your experience though! It definitely helps me and likely others stay motivated. I always like reading about people's experiences in deeper states and the techniques they used.  

 

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51 minutes ago, searcher7977 said:

 

Ah got it!

 

Yes. I'm an advanced beginner at best, but I hold Thanissaro in high regard. His book helped confirm some of my practices, and his other works have also been similarly helpful in understanding the suttas. I read somewhere (might have even been here) that awareness of the breath will lead to it lengthening, but it could take time, the number that was mentioned was around 8 years. 

 

I did really like how he said eventually you would be able to feel the breath and its energies throughout the body. I haven't gotten that far, but I managed to touch something like that. Where, you pay attention to the breath for so long, you are so familiar, that, when some other sensations arise, sometimes you say "hey! that feels sort of like the breath!" I think that is the way to start actually feeling the breath energy, and not the breath sensations.

 

Thank you for sharing your experience though! It definitely helps me and likely others stay motivated. I always like reading about people's experiences in deeper states and the techniques they used.  

 

 

I consider myself a beginner as well - at least I'm at the bottom end of the Dunning-Kruger chart these days :lol:

 

It's great to hear your experiences too, especially as someone who has studied directly under a famous teacher. Hope to travel to Wisconsin too one day

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On 11/28/2022 at 2:24 AM, Vajra Fist said:

 

Also, just a note on this. In the oral instructions, he has a different emphasis:

 

"Whenever you bring your mind back reward yourself with a deep, relaxing breath - whatever would feel really good. To let you know that this is where you want to be."

 

So yes, it is still a directed activity. But it is perhaps more carrot than stick.

 

My worry about allowing the mind to settle of its own accord - as a beginner with no experience of kensho - is that you're effectively allowing the mind to stew in its own hindrances. Some effort to bring the mind back to the meditation object would seem to be important, although I agree it should be more gentle than the 'mind crushing mind' approach you often find.

 

 

 

Gautama the Buddha said that he returned to “that first characteristic of concentration in which I ever constantly abide” after he lectured, and that first characteristic is likely to be “one-pointedness of mind”.  “One-pointedness of mind” does seem like something one could strive to take into everyday life. However, although Gautama implied that he returned to “one-pointedness of mind” after he spoke, he nonetheless described the initial concentration as a state wherein thought is “applied and sustained”.

 

Thought “applied and sustained” is seldom mentioned in Buddhist teaching these days. Zen teachers mostly recommend that beginning meditators focus on the breath in or out, and they will sometimes advise counting the breaths as a method to calm the mind.  So far as I know, Zen teachers never recommend that thoughts be “applied and sustained”. Even the Theravadin Buddhist teachers of Southeast Asia, who follow the teachings of Gautama’s sermons more closely, don’t recommend “thought applied and sustained” to their students–instead, they emphasize something along the lines of the “bare attention” now taught in the West as the practice of mindfulness.

 

(Response)

 

 

Let me say first that I like a lot of things about Thanissaro Bhikku's instructions.  

Here are Gautama's instructions for mindfulness of the mind:

 

Aware of mind I shall breathe in. Aware of mind I shall breathe out.

 

(One) makes up one’s mind:

 

“Gladdening my mind I shall breathe in. Gladdening my mind I shall breathe out.

 

Composing my mind I shall breathe in. Composing my mind I shall breathe out.

 

Detaching my mind I shall breathe in. Detaching my mind I shall breathe out.

 

(SN V 312, Pali Text Society Vol V p 275-276; tr. F. L. Woodward; masculine pronouns replaced, re-paragraphed)

 

Now the key is that there are four "applications of thought" and all of them hinge on the cessation of volition in action of the body, specifically in inhalation and exhalation (cessation is a part of mindfulness of mental state).  The experience of that cessation provides the "survey-sign" of the concentration, and that enables a rhythm in the four applications of mindfulness.

Nevertheless, you can see right away that the important thing in mindfulness of the mind is to actually appreciate the action of thought, even if the only thing about the thought that you can appreciate is that you still have mind.

 

In fact, Gautama spoke of the presence of "the disturbance of the six sensory fields" in the cessation of "feeling and perceiving", action of the mind--that's the cessation that is associated with his enlightenment:

 

 …[an individual] comprehends thus, ‘This concentration of mind … is effected and thought out. But whatever is effected and thought out, that is impermanent, it is liable to stopping.’ When [the individual] knows this thus, sees this thus, [their] mind is freed from the canker of sense-pleasures and [their] mind is freed from the canker of becoming and [their] mind is freed from the canker of ignorance. In freedom is the knowledge that [one] is freed and [one] comprehends: “Destroyed is birth, brought to a close the (holy)-faring, done is what was to be done, there is no more of being such or so’. [They] comprehend thus: “The disturbances there might be resulting from the canker of sense-pleasures do not exist here; the disturbances there might be resulting from the canker of becoming do not exist here; the disturbances there might be resulting from the canker of ignorance do not exist here. And there is only this degree of disturbance, that is to say the six sensory fields that, conditioned by life, are grounded on this body itself.”

 

(MN III 108-109, Pali Text Society Vol III p 151-152)

 

The mind being one of the six sensory fields, he's saying that thought continues to take place in the states of concentration all the way through--thought applied and sustained may cease with the second concentration, but thought per se does not.  The trick is to appreciate it, without which arriving at a detachment of mind may not be.

 

The quotes above are taken from my essay, The Early Record.

 

More:
 

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”, 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.
 

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)

 

I haven't experienced the cessation of feeling and perceiving, and I'm only just underway with the four applications of mindfulness as a rhythm.  What happens when everybody is telling you what to do, and not how it works--even Gautama is guilty sometimes, but there is no voice like his in the Pali sermons, in my opinion.

 

Edited by Mark Foote
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23 hours ago, Vajra Fist said:


Thanks, I didn't want to set this up as a zen v thai forest thread, just wanted to share my experience of how the latter helped me overcome some blocks in practice.

 

I know Meido Roshi's teachings well, and have spoken to him several times. He's an inspiring guy! My zen teacher has less of an emphasis on the yogic side of the Rinzai tradition, but nevertheless comes from a Japanese monastic background.

 

But my point was that control of the breath in any form, feels a little bit - to me at least - contrived, and reflective of a subtle craving. You want something to happen in a particular way.

 

I've found passive attention to the breath to perhaps yield deeper states than any intention surrounding the breath. Not controlling, or directing the breath, just observing its gentle movement in the body. Of course - I could be totally wrong in that, it's just what feels right for me for now.
 

 

Fun story, I was a member of the "Rinzai Zen Discussion" Facebook group for awhile, that's Meido Moore's baby, although I think it's moderated by members of the community there at Korinji.  I eventually got the boot, apparently for asking "do you think a Zen teacher could never mislead you?"

Post that comes up right away on that page is Meido's, from Dec. 1st:
 

Suggestions for good "Buddhism 101" books or online resources, modern or otherwise?

(Please note the focus on resources for learning Buddhism fundamentals - e.g. foundational teachings of Shakyamuni, 4 noble truths/8 fold path, dependent origination, rebirth and karma, etc. -that might be useful for beginners who lack that background.

 

If you're a member of that group, maybe you could post a link to A Natural Mindfulness.  That would be full circle.

 

I have read Meido's book of instructions, and that lead me to read "An Introduction to Zen Training", by Omori Sogen.  I discuss what I learned from that book (more correctly, the affirmations I got from that book) in Common Ground.  Meido's definitely the real deal, but what constitutes enlightenment in the modern age is not what it was to Gautama--I think I could make the argument that even Gautama's chief disciples did not share his ability to arrive at the cessation of (determinate thought in) perceiving and feeling from time to time.

I learned some of the things that have been most important to me from hanging out with teachers--I'm convinced of it.  I learned the sweep from my high school judo teacher--everyone in the dojo mastered that throw, which is not so easy to do gently, but so amazing when it is.  I think I picked up something of "sometimes zazen gets up and walks around" from Kobun Chino Otogawa, even though I was only in his presence very occasionally, and I didn't hear him describe it that way until about eight years after I had the experience.  Nevertheless, I was never formally Kobun's student, not even close.

Meido and other Zen teachers insist on the necessity of a formal relationship with a teacher.  I insist on this:
 

Therefore… be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge unto yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the Truth. Look not for refuge to any one besides yourselves. And how… is (one) to be a lamp unto (oneself), a refuge unto (oneself), betaking (oneself) to no external refuge, holding fast to the Truth as a lamp, holding fast as a refuge to the Truth, looking not for refuge to any one besides (oneself)?

 

Herein, … (one) continues, as to the body, so to look upon the body that (one) remains strenuous, self-possessed, and mindful, having overcome both the hankering and the dejection common in the world. [And in the same way] as to feelings… moods… ideas, (one) continues so to look upon each that (one) remains strenuous, self-possessed, and mindful, having overcome both the hankering and the dejection common in the world.

 

(Digha Nikaya ii 100, Pali Text Society DN Vol. II pg 108; Rhys Davids’ “body, feelings, moods, and ideas”, above, rendered by Horner as “body, feelings, mind, and mental states”)

 

Edited by Mark Foote
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On 11/28/2022 at 11:41 AM, searcher7977 said:


Last, the matter of where to place your consciousness. If I remember correctly Thanissaro eventually talks about "whole-body breathing," or even "pore breathing." Rinzai zen also has something similar: embodied zen. We aim to breath with our whole body, to awaken with every fiber of our being and to exude it in all tasks. 

... Zen seems almost completely dead in Soto lineage now, but I found life in this particular Rinzai tradition. Perhaps it is different in Japan.... 

 

 

"We aim to breathe with our whole body, to awaken with every fiber of our being and to exude it in all tasks"--that's the paradox, how to arrive at "whole body", when "whole body' is the natural state (so to speak).  "Exude it in all tasks", interesting choice of words, but I get it.  

 

A friend responded to my writing:

 

I cannot see the connection to life, cleaning cat boxes, cooking, shopping, driving, bathing...
 

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.

(Response; Dogen's instructions, hobogenzo-zuimonki, 5-20, tr. Shohaku Okumura, 2004 Shotoshu Shumucho p 191)

 

 

I think your perception that the Soto tradition is dead is like Twain's quote ("The report of my death was an exaggeration"), but I will grant you that there is a temple being built near me in California that is intended as a finishing school for American Soto Zen teachers who never attended Eiheiji.

Meanwhile--how to arrive at "whole body", when "whole body' is the natural state:

 

Koichi Tohei was a student of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. In his own teaching, Tohei developed four principles to help guide his students:

 

1) Keep one point;
2) Relax completely;
3) Keep weight underside;
4) Extend Ki.

 

(Post: Tohei’s Four Points of Ki Aikido)

 

 

The empty hand grasps the hoe handle
Walking along, I ride the ox
The ox crosses the wooden bridge
The bridge is flowing, the water is still

 

(“Zen’s Chinese Heritage”, translation by Andy Ferguson, pg 2--"For a Friend”, Revisited)

 

 

With this method of circulating ch’i (Tai Chi), it overflows into the sinews, reaches the bone marrow, fills the diaphragm, and manifests in the skin and hair.

 

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

 

 

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

(Ibid, pg 39)

 

 

So [one] abides fully conscious of what is behind and what is in front.
As ([one] is conscious of what is) in front, so behind: as behind, so in front;


as below, so above: as above, so below:


as by day, so by night: as by night, so by day;


Thus with wits alert, with wits unhampered, [one] cultivates [one's] mind to brilliancy.

 

(Sanyutta-Nikaya, text V 263, Pali Text Society volume 5 pg 235; The Gautamid Offers A Practice)

 

 

Add to these Gautama's description of the four initial states of concentration, plus the "survery-sign" of concentration--the four, as well as my take, are here:   Post: Common Ground.  Yes, Virginia, it is possible to sit down and arrive at the whole body breathing, ridiculous as that might sound, but Gautama's emphasis (in his later years?) was on how the return to that experience in a rhythm of mindfulness is a way of living.

 

The key:

 

Sometimes when you think that you are doing zazen with an imperturbable mind, you ignore the body, but it is also necessary to have the opposite understanding at the same time. Your body is practicing zazen in imperturbability while your mind is moving.

 

(“Whole-Body Zazen”, lecture by Shunryu Suzuki at Tassajara, June 28, 1970; edited by Bill Redican, http://www.cuke.com/Cucumber Project/lectures/wholebodyzazen.html)

 

How that plays, in my life:


If you do any seated or even standing meditation in the morning, you may see why I’m referring to the practice as “waking up and falling asleep”. In waking up, I am looking to relinquish my activity, and allow the place of mind to generate activity out of the stretch I find myself in. I have a description of the translations of motion in the lotus, yet in the end I am convinced that everything I need to know I learn by being where I am, as I am. I just have to be open to it.

(Post: “I tried your practice last night”- humbleone, from “The Dao Bums”)

 

 

As koun Franz said in one of his lectures, 


The other way to understand this is to literally place your mind where your hands are–to relocate mind (let’s not say your mind) to your centre of gravity, so that mind is operating from a place other than your brain. Some traditions take this very seriously, this idea of moving your consciousness around the body. I wouldn’t recommend dedicating your life to it, but as an experiment, I recommend trying it, sitting in this posture and trying to feel what it’s like to let your mind, to let the base of your consciousness, move away from your head. One thing you’ll find, or that I have found, at least, is that you can’t will it to happen, because you’re willing it from your head. To the extent that you can do it, it’s an act of letting go–and a fascinating one.

 

(“No Struggle [Zazen Yojinki, Part 6]”, by Koun Franz, from the “Nyoho Zen” site
https://nyoho.com/2018/09/15/no-struggle-zazen-yojinki-part-6/; emphasis added)

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Mark Foote

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