March 5, Harada Roshi Guidance #5

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

In the midst of these many changes 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 on 9/11 when the attacks occurred, 52 people were sitting together, on the sixth day of the sesshin we learned of the attack during morning break. We needed to inform everyone about this significant event 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 free from 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 anxiety and panic created by these images shown endlessly. Everyone was 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 unless we use the vehicle of the breath to settle our mind. Then 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, sampai, or 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 compressing and loosening  again and again. When someone who has difficulty practicing the breathing, adds the motion of the body, it become easier to accomplish. This is how we can practice in daily life.

Then there is chanting of the sutras. Opening our throat wide, and in a huge voice we read the sutras. Our abdominal 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 it appears.

We live in a difficult word surrounded with a lot of information. Especially now is the time for us to check our essence and return to the basics of practice,  dealing with that which we have ignored and not put to use.

Even if we are in a small space, we can work creatively on how to practice. 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.