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October 27, 2010


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If you were referring to me in your comment on understanding through books, what of it? What is Sutra study for that matter? I had a Zen Teacher for eighteen years in the Soto sect. I learned of focal points in that time and with eighteen years in the Martial Arts I understand a different usefulness for breathing techniques of various sorts as well as posture/bone stacking and rooting. That is not the point. Essentially we agree, they are tools. What matters is WHAT is putting them to use and working from there. What leads the breath in the Hara in order to acheive Haragei or Ibuki breath? Then you strengthen it through practice and application of the Buddhas method.

You're all mixing apples and oranges here.

I was a student of John Daido Loori's in the 1980s and 1990s, and he used to recommend a focus on the hara as a way to "get out of your head." It's a means to train yourself to sit with mindfulness of your whole body. I've heard other teachers suggest a focus on one's thumb tips touching, or on the space in one's hands, or some other body part. It's a training to enable one to experience with whole-body-and-mind, instead of perceiving ourselves as living just in our heads. Think of it as a kind of training wheel zazen, which is also true of breath counting or focus. Eventually when one's powers of concentration are stronger, you don't need the hara focus or the breath focus.

My own experience with zazen has taught me these kinds of focusing techniques can be very useful, particularly in the early years, and after long hours of sitting sesshin when one is tired or sleepy.

This hara focus is not done instead of anapanasati; breath focus continues as well. Nor does hara focus contradict what Zen master Ejo said about a treasury of light. The hara focus is a skillful means for building one's powers of absorption, not the end-all and be-all of zazen.

And may I also say that this is the sort of thing a fairly new Zen student would understand without having to have it explained. I can't believe you are actually trying to understand Zen by consulting books, especially books written by western academics. You're wasting your time, not to mention bandwidth.

Mindfulness is the key phrase. Not breathing itself. In the cleary translation on the Secret Teachings of Taoism it states that no one point takes precedence. Understandably I know the usefulness of tanden as well as reverse breathing. They are good techniques but that is not the point. The point is what leads the breath. What is before it. Not the breath itself.

The tradition of breathing with the dantien/tanden (丹田) goes back a long way in China, and is also shared with Taoism.

Hakuin notes that this method was very useful for maintaining his stamina, and although is method for practice was, he said, derived from a Taoist, it'd be hard to not call his practice Zen.

That said, you're correct too, that though I think Soto-shu actually emphasizes 丹田 less than Rinzai, again, due to Hakuin's profound influence. And it's not "realizing the belly," but rather "breathing through your feet;" in order to do that, as Hakuin says, you have to keep the heat "flowing down."

But I think all of this is simply a differing matter of emphasis.

Mindfulness of breathing can be mindfulness of walking, of talking, and of sitting or laying down. Even mindfulness of breathing in tanden, but it is obvious this hara~person has no clue how to be mindful of anything. They are focused on one thing, attached to it, instead of mindful they have grown dependent and mindless.

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