Guidance in the time of Corona 19

Now slowly in everybody´s mind the settled mind has become most essential.

Many restrictions have been placed upon us. Now is the time to check on our actual essence. I am thankful for 27 people practicing daily in Sogenji, working on deepening, of course, I sit with them daily in the zendo. Everyone is aware of these challenging times, the air in the zendo is crisp, while the essence perceived in sanzen is deepening further. People are learning to live and express from this deep essence.

We start zazen by checking our posture, and this posture can be seen and corrected from the outside. Once the posture is settled, then we need to focus on our breathing. We start by breathing deeply with our lower abdomen. These aspects are just the entrance. If we do not develop our samadhi, we cannot experience the actual essence of zen.

Samadhi is not intoxication, of course. We can practice it even when at work, no extraneous thoughts distract us from what we are doing. We have become completely what we are doing, thus sharp functioning is possible. Samadhi needs to be practiced not only in the zendo, but during our daily life as well. We can then stay immovable during our daily life and work as well. This essence makes us able to sharply see what is right in front of us and be able to act accordingly. This is the meaning of samadhi.

Hakuin Zenji says during his Rohatsu exhortations, from the 1st until the 4th day he teaches breathing and guides the development of samadhi. On the 4th day he talks about the six different ways of breathing during zazen which he himself learned from Tendai Chisha Daishi, yet the base of teaching can be found with the Buddha. Not just sitting zazen with an empty mind, but to use the sussokan breathing, this teaching was also given by the Buddha.

Sussokan – counting the breaths – that is the beginning but the purpose can be found in zuisokkan – in following the breaths. When the samadhi is being developed, we naturally switch from sussokan to zuissokan. We do not need to actually practice zuisokkan, but by the development of breath and concentration, we enter it naturally. Thus there is no need to analyze the breathing.

The breathing changes according to the situation, to how we move our body. Our breathing matches the motion of the body, walking quickly, the breathing becomes faster. Yet during all actions we should feel some tension, some fullness in our tanden. If we center in this way, our breathing can stay deep also when our body is in motion.

It is our diaphragm which is central in strengthening and deepening the breathing, yet once we are used to breathe from our tanden, each motion is like a massage for the inner organs. The exhalation is strong, and the inhalations enters naturally. We do start off practicing with mental awareness, yet over time we do not need this awareness anymore. Simply following the flow since we are in samadhi. This is called zuisokkan.

Hakuin Zenji says that it is good enough to know these two types of breathing. There is nothing else complicated needed. We perceive this world as being real only because we do not see its true essence. We are being moved around by the situation of this world. When the essence is riper, we slowly can see that these are all just passing phenomena, constantly changing circumstances. Thus we are not thrown off center by the outside.

In the Diamond Sutra the Buddha said:
Thus shall ye think of this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream.

This is obvious and this is how we see the world when our Zazen has ripened. This is not to be melancholic about the world, but to clearly see this world from an immovable place. This is the teaching of the Buddha and the actual experience when Zazen has ripened. We can take all back inside to our center.

The Sixth Patriarch taught about zazen, to not add any judgement of good or bad to the outside world, that is called to sit. And looking within to stay immovable, this is zen.
Inside we do not acknowledge the existence of a single shadow. All various emotions which pass through our mind, stop coming up the deeper we sit zazen. This is the important point. It does not mean that we are not aware, but try it out for yourself.

Many people have pain in the legs when they sit Zazen. When our concentration becomes stronger, the pain of the legs does not become overwhelming anymore. The best posture is to sit in full lotus, or even half lotus, so that the line from the tail bone can rise up to the top of the head. The head carries the heavens, the tanden is pulling us through all, being full and taught with energy. This vertical pull from the tail bone to the head is what erases the pain in the legs. It also helps relieve those places where the energy is stuck. When we sit for many hours zazen, easily we can get tense in the shoulders and neck, yet with this inner stretch, this tension disappears, and we can sit for hours. We can sit for 2,3,4 hours because of this inner working. For the beginners who do not know how to refresh from within, the sitting is hell. The more our essence is developed, the more we can feel how we can free ourselves from the inner tension.

In our mind, we do not think, we stay settled and quiet. If practice samadhi, not only when sitting, but also when in action. To actually taste this essence for oneself is most important. There is nothing that we can be more thankful for than zazen because zazen can free and refresh us, we benefit from this essence of samadhi.