Guidance in the time of Corona #16

Dear All,

Are you taking your daily zazen as most important?

In Sogenji there are now 27 people, doing daily zazen and continuing sesshin after sesshin. I wish for everyone that they may experience this kind of taut energy at one point in their life.

Many people are infected by the virus, many have died with the virus. Many countries have put restrictions onto the people of their country, not allowing them to move freely to prevent the spread of the virus.

People being stuck at home, anxiety, uncertainty and frustration must be on a high level. Especially now we need to sit and settle our mind.

In the 5th century in Japan, there was the emperor Tenmu Tenno and a fifth of the population had died. The emperor thought to himself: “This could only be happening because our mind is defiled. We need to purify our mind.” The emperor himself first of all entered the practice of purification, and his people followed along.

We see, hear, smell, taste and touch – these senses stop to function when our mind is not pure. Then many mistakes can follow. Thus we need to purify our mind. By reading the name of the Buddha our mouth is purified. By doing prostrations, our body is purified. Not speaking in an unclear way, not talking gossip about this and that, saying different things to different people. We need to purify our eyes and our ears, and again be open and simple in our mind. And only from there can a new way of life appear.

These days everyone is drowning in the corona virus news, which will come to an end for certain. But how shall we actually life? How shall we continue? That is of great importance to us. If we cannot put our focus onto those central questions, we ill simply be irritated. This experience right now gives us the chance to reflect upon how have we been living until now, it all becomes obvious during challenging times. And how should we continue? This is how challenges help us to bring forth wisdom.

Most people may be worried about their financial situation, but if we only look for a way of how we can be financially comfortable, then for what was this eye opening time all about?
What we have done in the past, we know this best for ourselves. What was right and what was wrong, if we are quiet in mind, we know this clearly for ourselves. This is where we need to purify our mind, our mouth, our body as well. We need to repent, over and over again.

During times of adversity, of sickness and natural disasters, as well as during the last month of the year, repentance is seen as most essential in Japan. During December, we reflect upon our deeds of the year and start again refreshed and purified into the new year. From there something new can start.

Nowadays this tradition has been lost, and the concern is more about one´s personal well being than that of the nation. Whatever happens in the world is not due to a God doing good or bad, but it is humanities creation. Humans have created many problems, and that is why we make efforts and repent. But not just the form of repentance, rather taking the most direct way to purify our mind and practicing zazen.

Zazen is not only about calming the mind, but when our mind is calm what then happens is, that our true wisdom arises. Feelings of greed, hate and delusion bring about confusion and an ego based life. If our mind is quiet, this original wisdom can shine forth. We do zazen and more and more this original mind, Buddha nature, starts to shine forth. Look at this reality in society with calm eyes. Yet do not get scared rather see this is what we have created, see this as your own responsibility, and reflect upon how will you live after corona times. This base is what you can work on now.

Doing zazen, cleaning up all delusions and dust, this is the important point of our practice now. Take this chance now, and practice alive zazen, this is my deepest wish.

Guidance in the time of Corona #15

Dear All,

Are you gathering energy to your tanden?

“This elixir field, located in the sea of vital energy, the lower back and legs, soles of the feet –
it is all my true and original face.
How can that original face have nose holes?
This elixir field, located in the sea of vital energy, the lower back and legs, soles of the feet –
It is all the home and native place of my original being.
What news or tidings could come from that native place?
This elixir field, located in the sea of vital energy, the lower back and legs, soles of the feet –
It is all the pure land of my own mind.
How could the splendours of that pure land exist apart from my mind?
This elixir field, located in the sea of vital energy –
It is all the Amida Buddha of my own self.
How could Amida Buddha preach the Dharma apart from that self? “
(by Hakuin Zenji)

Gathering the energy in the tanden, especially during times like these, to gather the energy is most important.

There was a transmitted to student of Baso Doitsu Zenji called Kiso Jijo Zenji. He would come from his room to the kitchen where the monks were turning the stone mill, Kiso asks them, “what are you doing?” It was obvious to see what they were doing. Still he asked. The monks answere: “We are milling white beans and making bean flour. We are milling rice to make rice flour. We are milling wheat to make wheat flour – and with that we cook.” Kiso Osho responded: “Great work! When you move the milling stones, do not move the central stick.”

A stone mill consists of a stone on the bottom, another one on top and through the central whole a stick is placed, so that the top stone can move well on the bottom stone which stays fixed. The top stone can actually only moved because there is this central stick.

Just like the milling stone moving, it is natural for us to be moving along with the happenings in the world. Moving along with our work, with meetings in our neighborhood, with gatherings of family. All different encounters are our daily life. Yet if we get moved around by them and lose our center, that becomes a big problem. In the end we do not know anymore where we are standing neither do we know how to settle our state of mind.

This is our present situation in the world, this coronavirus is putting so many restrictions on us. So we get anxious and confused. That is what Kiso Osho was pointing at. We never know what will happen next, yet if we get moved around by these changes, we lose our center. We cannot lose the serenity of our mind but need to preserve our clear seeing eye or else we end up in huge confusion.

Please in your daily life do not lose your center. A balanced and centered essence is most important.

Guidance in the time of Corona #14

Dear Sangha,

Are you all doing fine?

Unmon Daishi asked his students: “Do not speak about the days before the 15th, but say something about the days after the 15th.” There were different answers, yet Unmon Daishi was not satisfied by them. So he was asked to please let everyone know his answer so that they may learn from his wisdom. Unmon then said those famous words: “Every day is a good day.” You know this story well, you know the essence well. There is no need to explain these words.

In this world now we have the problem with the corona virus, which for sure will come to an end. Then if you simply feel relieved that this difficult time is over and relax, for what then was this experience for?

The economy, politics – all are only going on about this situation affected by the virus. The weight is felt as heavy.

Zen students do not look at that, but how to live after the pandemic is over, how can we support other, how can we guide others? We need to look at this or else this experience is wasted.

During difficult times we take this chance and use it to awaken. To polish our wisdom.

This kind of situation does not come around often. No one has wished for it, yet since it has appeared, how can we give life to it? That is the eye of zen.

Unmon Daishi asked: “ I will not ask you about before the 15th, about that which has passed. But from now, how is your state of mind? How can you face this reality?” We cannot be moved around by this situation, but we need to know how we can change our focus onto something wider. Or else we do zazen and cannot give life to it, as if we are practicing a dead form of zazen. This does not help us.

Please look carefully at the chance we have received, please dig deeper to that place which you have not been able to reach before. Take this time now as being most important. Living with restrictions put on us, this now is the chance to deepen our essence. Having had too many responsibilities and now being freed from them, we have the chance to dive deeper. Now we can awaken, we need to make efforts.

Right now there are 25 people in Sogenji. Day by day the essence is getting sharper, especially those beginners are putting their life on the line. So that they may awaken to their true mind, may you all awaken to that true mind, to realize this, we have been born. This is our value, our true worth, please everyone use your energy and dig deep into that place which you always wanted to reach. This is my great wish.

Guidance in the time of Corona #13

Dear All,

The situation in the world is that 120000 people have died with corona and almost 2 million have been infected with the virus. The world is being confused by the virus situation. We are living in a world of information and are constantly receiving data input. We are not calm in our mind but rather feel anxious.

In the olden days Nangaku Ejo Zenji was at the place of the Sixth Patriarch and was asked by him: “Who is it that came here?” Nangaku Ejo Zenji was a scholar, he could not give a simple answer. He was a man, a person of training, his life history was known to the Sixth Patriarch as well. Knowing all this, still he was asked, so a simple answer would not suffice. Nangaku Ejo Zenji lowered his head and left the room. It took him eight years, asking the question within, who am I, digging into this question. After eight years he met the Sixth Patriarch again and answered: “That which cannot be described in words has come.” Eight years he worked hard on this question. The Sixth Patriarch could see the answer alive in Nangaku Ejo Zenji, and could sense that he had awakened to human´s truth.

We have a physical body, yet we need to awaken to that which expresses itself through this body. If not we will be moved around by the situation in the world. The ancients would align their mind and deepen within, Nishita Kitaro, a philosopher, would practice zazen: “today I was able to sit 3 hours, today there were guests thus I could only sit 1 hour, today it was raining and I could not go outside, thus I was sitting for 12 hours.” He left these notes behind. In the midst of this he awakened to the truth of his own existence. “In my mind there is a place so deep where the waves of joy and sorrow do not reach.”

We are called emotional animals, we cry, we laugh, we smile, we get angry – these are like the waves on top of the water according to what wind is blowing. Yet if you do not know the tranquility of the bottom of the ocean, you believe that all what you are, are those emotions. On the surface of our mind, we have all types of emotions, yet in the depth the tranquility does not get touched by the waves on the surface. The surface of our body, the colour of our eyes, of our hair, the weight of our body – there are all types of expressions, yet in the depth of our mind, we are not affected by these whatsoever, that is our truth of no form. That is the truth, our mind expressing this truth. To know this truth means to know zen.

We can awaken to this immovable state of mind through our zazen. In our life we have all types of encounters, and while we have these encounters to stay immovable is most important.

Bankei Zenji said, there are so many words about others, while we are only alive right here and now. If we look through past experience, we perceive all types of situations, yet only looking at this very moment, we are this truth of mind, immovable, we can grow our roots deep in this place. Not worrying about what will come, but experiencing this very truth of this moment. That is the place we need to look.

In the olden days there was the zen master Tozan Osho, who was asked by a student: “How can we not be moved around by cold and heat?” Tozan Osho replied: “Go to the place free of emotions. Why don´t you go there?” The student continued: “Where is this place free from emotions? Please tell me, where is this wonderful place where there is no cold or heat?” – “When it is cold, it affects the teacher with cold. When it is hot, it affects the teacher with heat. When it is cold, become the cold completely, when it is hot, then become this heat completely. Don´t look away from this moments reality. Take each and every moment. Gather the energy in your tanden and take this essence and see, hear, smell, taste, feel and think about this world as it is. Perceive this very reality. But do not get fooled by it, only reflect it. Experience the importance of your senses.” This is how Tozan Osho was teaching.

The Buddha said, “extinguish the seed of greed, hate and delusion and you are in Nirvana.”
There is nothing we want in this world, there is nothing we are holding onto. It does not mean that there is nothing, but that our essence is full and taught, thus we do not get pulled along by the outside. We see reality, use it and give life to it. Do not get angry but stay calm and perceive the situation with a serene view. Do not let confusion arise but do stay with your focus on your inner truth. Not an idea about Nirvana, but in this sharp focus we can find our truth. If we carefully work on this and realign ourselves, then no matter what happens, we perceive all as our reality without any fear but rather using the situation to share this truth with others. The wisdom to guide and support others arises naturally.

Guidance in the time of Corona #12

Dear All,

Are you deepening in your zazen?

In my monastery there are 22 people from 13 different nations. Doing one sesshin after the next. Of course, I do sit together with everyone in the zendo.

The corona situation is bringing a lot of uncertainty to many people in different countries, it is not allowed to gather in groups, that is how the instructions are. Here in Sogenji we sit In the zendo with the windows open, we keep 1 m distance between everyone in the zendo. That is how far we take it and then gathering each breath in the belly, slowly letting the essence ripen. We are also not allowed to go out, there is actually no need to go out since we are in sesshin, our zazen can develop even further.

Luckily I cannot go abroad right now, thus I am there from morning until night for daily sanzens morning and night, and I can check the essence of everyone. Of course, this training is not only possible in a situation like this. That is how it should be. With so much bad news around, we decide within to sit deeply, that is important. It is as if the outer situation is helping us to deepen even further.

Why do we do zazen? We need to experience it for ourselves.

Seen from the Asian traditional medicine, there is Genki, the source of all energy of the universe. As long as we are alive, we do need to eat. We need to drink water and breathe air. For our body to live we receive food, water and air from the outside and absorb it. Our 6 trillion cells receive the oxygen, this is what supports our body. As long as we have a body we need to give this energy to every single part of the body. This again refreshed us. Food and water is yin energy, while our energy is yang energy. Our belly is the center of this energy. From the time we were walking on four legs until now that we have evolved to walking on two legs, the structure of our body has not changed. Animals kick with their back legs while the front legs grasp and hold, this is life energy. To be able to kick means that our belly is working well.

This belly is giving us our life energy and purpose. When we are too involved in the outside, that energy which should gather in our belly is being used up by the outside. This energy slips away and lets our anxiety increase.

The stronger the exhalation the more vibrant the blood circulation in our body. If this low is not vibrant, the energy can get stuck more easily. We keep working on extending our breath which in return gives us more energy. This is what we focus on not only when sitting but also when walking and working, as if a balloon has been blown up. We feel taught and full in our belly. If we can actually feel this, then no matter what influences us from the outside, we do not get pulled along while not ignoring the situation. We are able to stay centered within, that is the important point.

During zazen we gather this energy which keeps slipping away so that we can rise our essence. When we carry a bucket with water, whatever we do, we add pressure on our belly, when walking as well, with each step we can gather even more energy in our center. If we stay with this focus daily, even when there is a corona virus around with so many people infected, a few percentage will get seriously sick from it, yet most people don´t. The infected numbers are high, but an actually healthy person will not be affected by it much. Please do not get fooled by the numbers, do not get fooled by all the many news. Of course, you need to keep to the instructions. And supporting your own health by not going to a place with bad air flow, where many people gather, do not do unnecessary things. Yet those people who will get the virus will get it. Looking at it in this way, we need to have stronger essence. Not getting confused by the information but rather deepening our essence.

Please do not practice a zazen of form but of essence. Everyone will know this for himself, if we are in our center no matter what news reaches us, we can receive it with a clear and calm mind. We do not become anxious. Now is the time we need to be centered within, not getting stopped at anything. To be able to face the present situation we need to be even more centered within. I would like to ask all of you for you continued efforts.

Guidance in the time of Corona #10

Dear All,

Are you taking your daily zazen as most important? I have talked about the important points of the breath and energy flow, yet it does not work only by hearing it. In Sogenji there are now over 20 people who sit deeply while there is so much turmoil going on worldwide about the corona virus. Morning and night they all put everything into their zazen. Of course, I join and sit together with them. Not leaving out daily sanzens as well. This is now a time when deep practice is possible, when it is needed. The Sixth Patriarch taught how to practice zazen:

Let go of all concern about good and bad in the outside
And inside to stay immovable no matter what arises.

You all heard the teaching of the Sixth Patriarch many times, yet you need to experience this during your zazen for yourself. In theory we know this well, yet at this point in time we cannot escape the information which is reaching us. We do need to absorb it but we cannot let our mind get pulled off center. That would be sad. We are alive and because of us being alive, this world exists. If we lose our life essence because of this world, that would be truly sad.

Of course, if we do get the virus and are in a fragile state, we may die with the virus. But if we are filled with energy, we can face even such a terrible virus and have the inner strength and energy to deal with it. Rather than facing the actual situation, we get unsettled within because of the information we hear. If we get confused by the phenomena, we lose track of our original mind.

We do zazen, and it is not the body that is sitting but our mind. No matter what problems may occur in the world, be exhale with each breath into our tanden and let the essence accumulate. If our tanden is filled then then we can see this world as being a reflection in our mind. This is our actual experience in zazen. As soon as outer information moves us around, we lose our inner center.

Each and every breath, each and ever step that is taken brings us to rising our essence. Let go of the tension in the upper part of our body, in the diaphragm, and exhale to the last point of the breath. Not letting go of the efforts needed, but exhale completely, maybe 30 – 40 seconds long. It is not easy to have such a long breath from the beginning, but if we stay with our Kufu – creative work – and do not get stopped by any obstacles. The inhalation can be ignored. The inhalation is what we receive from the heavens. We do not need to think about it in a complicated way. Simply be open to receive the huge energy of the heavens.

Exhale completely and then absorb the heaven´s energy with you inhalation, do not stop your efforts, use every single day to develop this essence further. Then we feel our belly being like a blown up balloon. This is what we need to actually experience with our body, we can use this body, and not stay with our idea about it.

The more we feel this essence, it fills our whole being, our mind as well. The surroundings, the world´s situation, all has been drunk down. We can actually experience this, then facing within we can stay immovable no matter what happens. That place free from any dust, worry, uncertainty, all that has been blown away. We do not need to carry these heave feelings around but rather entrust and see this huge open state of mind. With each and every breath you can purify your own essence. This is my deep inner wish, that you may experience it for yourself.

Guidance in the Time of Corona #9

Dear All,

The situation changes daily, the number of infected people as well. Does this new corona virus actually influence our life or is it only the talk about it?
Today is the birthday of the Buddha, the Buddha was born and awakened to human´s original mind. Teaching us what it is we can believe in, not as some philosophy to believe in, but he was speaking from his own actual experience. We have been guided by these words, embraced by the love of the Buddha, while we are alive in these uncertain times, we can experience a deep serene state of mind.

The Buddha´s birthday is also called the flower celebration. For this ceremony I wrote a poem in which I express my gratitude.

Flowers are laughing, birds are singing
This is the scenery we are perceiving now, Sakura flower blooming, Birds can be heard singing everywhere, becoming more daily. Singing empty minded, blooming empty minded. If we carefully listen to nature,

Completely freed from all doubts.
All those worries of society are being forgotten and let go of.

Leaving the womb taking seven steps
Hearing this does not suffice, my own words are needed

It is said that the Buddha walked 7 steps when born, symbolizing walking the whole earth. This of course did not actually take place. It means that the Buddha was born with this huge expansive mind. The Buddha pointed with his right hand to the heavens and with his left hand to the earth and said: Only I exist in this world. There is no God who scares us, neither is there an evil that can affect us. All is created by humans. Nowadays there is so much uncertainty, so many worries which appear as sickness. We see the news about people dying and of course anyone would become worried hearing this. But we need to see clearly at this point. How could we react in such circumstances? How should we look upon it? Carefully see that we do not let those worries become bigger in our mind, we settle within, and bring forth our wisdom, facing this changing reality straight on. We cannot fall into panic and become worried. This is how we as humans need to take responsibility. All 7, 5 billion people on this planet, we all need to awaken to the truth, and from there face the problems and make efforts on the path to resolving these.

Losing it all through the six senses
Everyone mistakes these words, not taking them as one´s own truth, but only thinking about oneself, about one´s satisfaction, about one´s own peace of mind – a huge misunderstanding. Don´t get stopped by the interpretation of these words.

What can we believe in, each person needs to revise this for himself. In the olden days, Confucius said, “I taught in different ways yet people do not understand me. I will stop teaching now. “His students replied: “You cannot do that. However much you teach, people will not understand. But if you stop teaching, even more so do people not know what to believe in.” Confucius replies: “This world does not speak, spring, summer, autumn and winter come about, all move naturally without a mistake. The leaves grown and fall again. In winter the whole world is quiet. The heavens do not speak a word, yet nature moves along in its own course.”

What makes the flower bloom in spring time? What makes the leaves grow, change color in the autumn? We do not know what moves them, yet without knowing this we can see the changing seasons.

There are disasters when many people lose their life, then again new life is born. When we see how nature moves, how the season change, we get a sense for the law which is at work behind it.

When the Buddha was about to die, he said to his students: I taught you the law of impermanence. How about it?” Since no one else replied, Anurda Sonja spoke and said: “You have taught us the eightfold path. We have received your wisdom and know well that humans were born to suffer, that is because we gather. The only way out is to know this immovable state of mind. We do need to make efforts and polish our wisdom. We all have understood this teaching of yours well.” – “If you have understood, then I can enter Nirvana.” Everyone started to cry and because they are crying so much, the Buddha raised his head once more and said: “Did you not just say that you have understood the truth? All who were born will die. This is a law. If we look at it from a personal small view we make mistakes. But looking at the whole picture, this is a law. I will die. I cannot go against the law, but the truth which I have realized is not the body and will live forever. This is what we call Dharma, it cannot be perceived with our eyes, yet people are born and die, this is the law. If we get stopped by the phenomena, we cannot see the whole picture.

These words of the Buddha are seen by the monks from South east Asia as being the precepts. The daily life of the Buddha is seen as the teaching, thus living according to the precepts is seen as the truth.

Zen has a different view, we need to awaken to the Buddha´s state of mind, to his experience. Not getting fooled by the self, by ideas, if we can taste this huge state of mind, that is where we can find the truth of the Buddha. Not searching for our own happiness only, but as it says in the Vimalakirti sutra, the light of a candle is not shining for itself, but by shining it shares its own light onto the surroundings. And this light is what brings brightness into this world. When it is dark we cannot see much. Only in brightness can our wisdom function. From there we are able to resolve problems. While the candle shines it uses up itself. The candle will burn up but it will give light to another candle, where the same flame will continue to burn and shine wisdom onto the surroundings. A light burning brings light upon others and thus will continue to live through others.
That is what the Buddha said, my body will die, but you can take your experiences and show the truth to others. Taking this truth and letting this world become bright. Thus our own light is what we can pass on. We do not live for the happiness of ourselves, but for all beings, and for this to become reality, we cannot stop making efforts. That is what the Buddha taught us.

A student asks Unmon: “What is the Dharma body?” – Unmon replies: “Roppushu”. The words meaning is “it does not settle within six”. If we explain these words, the number 6 stands for our six senses. Seeing Hearing Smelling Tasting Touching Thinking. These six senses connect us to the world outside. We can perceive the seen heard smelled tasted touched thought world. Unmon did not say it that conceptually. He goes beyond concepts and speaks about our own existence, if we look at it from a philosophical point, that would be a big mistake. The seeing life energy, the hearing life energy, the smelling life energy, touching life energy, thinking life energy – roppushu. All day long we encounter many people, many situations, hear many data, our own life energy is this roppushu. From morning until night from night until morning, we become this roppushu. We become it completely, we fill the whole universe with it. There is no need to try and understand our life but simply becoming it. Through this reality we become the seeing and hearing, we become one with our senses. This experience is what matters. Not staying with dualistic ideas, not stopping there, but in society face reality and not getting confused by it, our human value is to be found there. To be able to pass it onto others is our human responsibility.

Please see that is the place where the Buddha and Unmon are alive, letting go of the small perception and facing that which is right in front of us. Our efforts bring forth our wisdom. Shining this wisdom onto others, for this we cannot stop making efforts

Guidance in the Time of Corona #8

Dear All,

Settling you breath, settling your energy, are you protecting your own health? During these days extreme news are circulating and we need to deepen even more within. We are living in coexistence with the environment. The earth has the power of gravitation. Gravitation is protecting our health. All our actions of the day are based on this power of gravitation. When we are tired, we lie down. Still it is difficult to sleep more than 8 hours. That is because we are not absorbing enough gravity power when lying down. When we are sick and have to stay in bed for a long time, we need to have some rehab exercises to again feel well again. When we are in bed, the gravity affect the circulation of our blood flow. We have all types of paths to strengthen our health and support the blood circulation, like chikung, yoga etc.

The place on top of our head is called the fontanelle. We receive the energy of the heavens through this place (Hyakue). Below our feet there is a point (Yusen) from where we receive the energy of the earth, where we can feel gravity. The energy from the heavens and from the earth gathers in our tanden. During zazen we can use this energy and let it circulate freely. When this energy moves naturally through our body, at this point we can easily forget our body, feeling at one with this huge universe.

Hakuin Zenji taught that with each exhalation and with each inhalation we move the ki energy for 10 cm through our body. There are the capillaries in our body and parallel to them we have the meridians, the nervous system along which the energy flows. To say we move the energy for 10 cm means that these meridians are being stimulated. During one day the energy circulates 50 time throughout the whole body. Nowadays we do not count how many times we breathe each day, yet it is known from olden days. That we breathe about 13,500 times a day. This is the wisdom of Asian medicine. This flow of energy is what maintains our health.

Everyone has this energy flow, yet you might no be aware of it. It is expressed in the Chinese letter “Kan” which is part of the word “Kangoshi” – nurse. “Kan” is written as a “hand having eyes” and is read as “seeing”. A nurse can sense the sickness of a person, can feel the pulse – all done with one´s hands. The expression of the hands is happening because of the energy moving through our body. This Ki energy can be found in many Japanese words: Tenki (weather), byoki (sickness), Kuki (air), Genki (health), Kiryoku (willpower). … It is expressed in this way, because from the origin the energy of the heavens and of our body are one. The energy of the heavens being absorbed by our body is Genki, is being healthy. Simply being alive we are at one with the energy around us. Sickness, byoki, means the energy not working well. The heavens in small is our body, and our body in big are the heavens. This is how Asian medicine looks at it.

We feel separate, yet we are of the same energy which is the source of us being healthy. This is what we sense when we do Chikung, Yoga and Taichi. We absorb the energy and thus sustain our own health. Looking at it in this way, we feel taught and alive. Once we lose this, that is called death.

In our life we do face many different obstacles, and the energy flow does not happen in a healthy way. We cannot see this energy, but can feel it, especially when doing zazen we can let it settle in our lower abdomen. Zazen is a path for us to increase our energy and develop our wisdom. This is not our personal problem only, but we can receive this energy of the heavens, using our breathing, and protect our health, taking this full taught energy as most important. When we are healthy the energy is strong in the lower part of our body. When we get sick, the energy rises in our body, going against the natural flow. The energy gets stuck in our head, worry and fear create further thoughts and unsettledness. It can even get so intense that we cannot manage our daily livelihood, being emotional and not standing firmly on the ground, feeling dizzy with our head being hot. Clear decisions are difficult to make at this time.

Please see how important it is to bring the energy down and gather the energy in the tanden.

Guidance in the time of Corona #7

Dear All,

Even when we sleep at night, the inner organs work. Because of them working, that is why we are alive. Why is that so? It seems that we are one human being. We have the senses to see hear smell and taste – all of them are in the upper part of our body. When we were born, we receive a lot of data input. More and more our inner essence weakens and we desire even more information from the outside. Our thoughts increase and the essence is blocked and finally lost. We base our life upon the information from the outside. If we do not make efforts to replenish our essence, we become even more empty inside. This is our urgent need.

Our head and and arms show the part of our being which is facing towards the world outside. Then we have the belly, and we can perceive it as the head of our lower part of the body, with our legs and feet. The lower part is about our true essence and life force. It is important that we see both of these aspects.

Our organs working even while we are sleeping is due to the lower part of our body which produces the hormone of life energy. When we are born we are in inner harmony. Yet we use the upper part of our body more, receive information and start to think more. The more our essence becomes weak, the more we feel unsettled. This is the important point of our zazen: to place our focus in our tanden.

This is what the Buddha took as central, as well as the ancients before him, thus the teaching of the tanden breathing is over 4000 years old. This has been supporting our life energy all along. Yoga, Chikung, TaiChi – many different path support this inner balance. We bring the life energy back inside and raise our energy level. This is important. Keeping your awareness on your tanden, feeling the pressure there. Inhaling exhaling with the force of the tanden. Depending on our efforts, we stay with our awareness in our tanden, when standing, walking, lifting things, working and sitting. We move our body not from our head and ideas, but from our lower abdomen.

If you have some time, to sit zazen is fine. With each exhalation breathe down into your tanden. Exhale to the last point and the essence becomes stronger. Which again strengthens your tanden in return and reduces the habit to think about everything with your head.

Hakuun Shutan Zenji talks about it, how he would stay centered in his tanden, teaching is many students and doing his work from there. He would pass on this wisdom to others. We can strengthen our inner essence to the degree that our feet become warm. Hakuun Shutan Zenji would say that he felt filled with vibrant energy even at high age and could continue all of his activities.

All we need to do is to gather our energy in the tanden. If we try to do his from our head though, then we get tense in the diaphragm and cannot exhale further, not reaching the tanden. We need to make actual efforts, making our exhalation slowly longer, not getting stopped anywhere. And finally we have raise the energy level of our tanden.
Once the life energy gathers in the tanden, our blood circulation becomes more vibrant as well, the veins moving the blood back to the heart, our energy level rises even more. We can absorb more oxygen to vitalize ourselves.

There is no need for extraneous thoughts, but rather exhale one breath after the next. It is my great wish that you may continue with this inner practice, raising you level of energy so that you can stay settled and immovable within no matter what information and news may reach you from the outside.

Guidance in the time of Corona #5

Roshi and Chisan. Photo by Shuho Geit

Dear All,

Deepening your breathing, are you able to live your daily life in an expansive way?

During these many changes happening, it is crucial to use our body, breathing and mind well. I am sending out these messages, yet just reading them does not do the trick. You need to try it out and actually feel the change within. From the origin we do not need to practice breathing. Just like a baby naturally breathes with its whole body. We all still have this breathing in the background, living naturally connected, yet our lives become complicated, being pulled around by the media. Someone who easily feels anxiety, now is the time to take distance from the mass media.

This is what I noticed when we were in the middle of sesshin at 9/11, 52 people were sitting together, the happening was on the 6th day of the sesshin during morning break. We needed to inform everyone about this huge happening so that everyone could make their own decision on how to respond. Some people called home, yet not one person left the sesshin. After the sesshin people were deeply thankful that they could stay calm and settled during this anxiety created by the mass media. This was thanks to Zazen. If they had been at home, everyone would have seen the event over and over again, feeling that anxiety and panic created by these images. Everyone deeply thankful for having been in sesshin at that time. We may need some information, yet we need to stay solid within, only taking the information we really need.

We cannot calm our mind but we can use the medium of the breath to settle our mind. The quickly our mind becomes calm. I believe you can see the importance of the breath. Place awareness on our exhalation and making it long, while we do not place any attention or tension on our inhalation. To bring forth this breathing we sit zazen, we read the sutras.

There is also the practice of bowing. It is called Gotaitochi, or sampai, kyuhai. It means that the forehead, the two elbows and the two knees touch the ground at the same time. There are some traditions that lie flat on the ground as well. We bow in respect and in thankfulness to the Buddha. At the beginning there may be a thought added to this practice, but if we simply continue to bow over and over, we can do the bowing without thinking, the body moving by itself. The bowing does the bowing. To enter this state is important. Then the breathing can become wide and expansive. Try it out for yourself, then the mind becomes calm and soft. All extraneous thoughts beautifully disappear.

Anyone can practice this anywhere. It supports our breathing. When exhaling it is like squeezing a sponge and the water is being pressed out, letting go it again will absorb water by itself. It is said that the diaphragm moving the lungs is the second heart and the skeletal muscles are the third heart of the body. When we practice bowing, by moving our body up and down we can invigorate these three hearts, using a good rhythm of compression and letting lose again. Even someone who has difficulty practicing the breathing, when adding the motion of the body to it, it become easier to grasp. This is how we can practice in daily life.

Then there the reading of the sutras. Opening our throat wide, and in a huge voice we read the sutras. Our abs and spinal muscles need to work or else a huge voice does not come out. Matching the rest of the group, reading the sutras in a loud voice, we more and more become used to the expansive way of breathing.

When sweeping, when wiping the floor, when splitting wood, when digging in the garden use your whole body and the diaphragm becomes invigorated. Our concentration becomes stronger and our physical body refreshed.

When walking, with each step take a short breath putting some pressure on your lower abdomen. This is also how the Buddha practiced. We do not need to think about how a good breath would be, yet by moving the body, it naturally is being appears.

We live in a difficult word with a lot of information around. Especially in times like these, that which we have ignored and not applied, now is the time for us to check our essence and return to the basics of practice.

Even if we are in a small space, we can work creatively on how to practice with this. For example, if we go jogging and sweat, we feel refreshed and alive afterwards. This may not be possible now, so we can sit on a chair and practice marathon. Not moving the legs but only swinging our arms, exalting three short breaths, then taking a short inhalation. The same essence can be brought forth in this way. Doing this for 5-10 minutes a few times daily, since we do not use our legs, there is more tension and energy free to be used for the inner organs. This is how we can work on our inner essence creatively stay settled within.

I am sending you these few suggestions of how you can work on your inner energy. And from there this inner essence is brought forth in tea ceremony, flower arrangement, martial arts. We can thus continue to polish our mind and deepen within while bringing our awareness into each hand and foot motion. Which again in return also strengthens our breathing. Please use this chance now to deepen even further.

-Shodo Harada Roshi