Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Zen - Zazen (1) - Breath Counting 1

About Susokukan
(A Breath counting Meditation)

  The foundation of Zen practice lies in samadhi and without it, true attainment of the goal will be unrealizable. This truth is applicable not only Zen, but also to anything in the secular world as well. The important standard to cultivate the samadhi power is just this breath-counting meditation.
  Koun-an Roshi practiced breath-counting meditation for at least one hour every day from his days of High School until his death, fulfilling the advice of a famous leader in Sendai.
  Koun-an Roshi wrote that "this very breath counting meditation is the final destination of Zen practice as well as the first step of it," in his book titled "A Guide to Breath counting meditation."
  Students should masticate exactly the extremely heavy meaning involved in this one phrase.

◆ Procedure of Zen Meditation

(1) After finding an adequate place and time, you need a "Futon" (a Japanese cushion to sit on). You need two ordinary flat, thick cushions. First place one cushion on the floor, double the other cushion in two and put it on the former, then seat you on the folded cushion. In the case of the ordinary cross-legged form of sitting, unless you bend your back and lean forward, you may tumble over backwards. The cushion lying under the buttocks will shift the weight of upper half of your body forwards and you can stabilize your whole body. Therefore the height of the second cushion is to be suitably adjusted to each sitter.
zabuton zabuton
  When you feel most stable, the height is just suitable for you. Do not take this matter lightly as the cushion height is decisively important for the right posture in Zazen. It is shown by the fact that most of those who take training in Zazen have their own cushions. Now prepare yourself to feel as if you were a five-storied pagoda (the Gorin-no-To) rising from the cushion. Then swing the upper halves
(2) There are two methods of cross-legged sitting; one is "Kekkafuza" (full-lotus) and the other "Hankafuza (half-lotus). The former is the method in which you draw your right foot on to the left thigh, and then draw up your left foot on to the right thigh. It is the regular posture, but it sometimes gives pain to those who have fat bodies or short legs. In such cases, Hankafuza is acceptable. The Hankafuza posture is formed when you draw up either foot onto the opposite thigh. In this posture, the upper half of your body is apt to lean sideways and you will have to leave the stabilizing job to the foot lying underneath. In either posture, the important point is to make a regular triangle with the three points, the two kneecaps and coccyx. The triangle has a downward slope to the front and, in this posture, when you straighten your spine, the perpendicular line to the floor from the center of gravity of the upper half of the body naturally falls on the center of the triangle thus gives the sense of stability I referred to before. When you do not feel this sense of stability in the Zazen posture, the perpendicular line I mentioned above falls on at the wrong point. If so, you should not hesitate to adjust the height of the cushion under the buttocks. If you fail in this, you will also fail to do Zazen long enough for its effect to be felt.
Kekkafuza seiza

(3)  One of the worst results could be the uncontrollable swaying of your trunk during Zazen due to an unbalanced state of muscles or something of that nature. There have been many schools of so-called Seizaho (Meditative posture), but the reason why most of them have not become popular is the absence of balance in the form of sitting. The right posture as explained above is justified from both physical and physiological viewpoints. If you follow the method strictly, you can sit for a long time without fatigue, and you can, if you want to, even sleep while you are thus sitting, with a support under your chin.

(4)  After the foundation is thus set, you should deal with your hands. You put one hand upon the other, palms up, and let the tips of both thumbs touch each other, and you will look as if you were forming an oval with both hands, when seen from the front. The hands are then placed on the lap with both elbows kept slightly away from the body and with the shoulders kept free from tension. Then you straighten your spine and pull in your chin a little, when you feel that the end of your nose and your navel are lying on the same line perpendicular to the floor.

(5)  When we gaze at anything for a long time, we are apt to become dull in mind. That is why the word Hangan (half opened eyes) has been in use, to warn people not to be excessively watchful. The core of the thing is that you must not shut your eyes. In the beginning, one is likely to think that the shut eyes will help the concentration of mind, but, in fact, you will fall into blunt stillness and will not be able to practice vivid and effective Susokukan. You should keep your mouth closed and breathe naturally through your nostrils. Probably you have heard of deep breathing or abdominal breathing being recommended as of importance. That is another wrong way of instruction. If it is natural for you to breathe deep, long breaths, of course there is no harm in it. However, you should not force your breathing breath, but just breath. Zazen is called the "Pleasant Path to Truth" because you can thereby follow the unfettered flow of nature.

(6)  There is no need to purposely gathering strength in the abdomen. The worst thing to do would be gathering strength in the region of stomach. In spite of all this, we often find books that tell us "to gather the strength of the whole system and concentrate it in the abdomen. " This often repeated saying is grammatically misleading. If the strength were gathered naturally in the abdomen, and only then, you would be sitting in the right way - following nature. In Zazen you need to pay attention to only two things, the right posture mentioned above and Susoku-sammai in the following passages. In the right posture, stability is always there, as is something central.

(7)  When you have secured stability, the right posture is half done, so, you might, in your daily life, try to learn how to get it, wherever you maybe - sitting in a chair, lying in a sick-bed and so on. In this way, you will eventually be able to meditate as you do in Zazen, regardless of the posture you are in. Some Zen-minded people, who, as they belong to the fair sex, do not feel like sitting cross-legged, they may sit square on their legs. In this posture too, however, they are advised to put the second cushion folded to adequate height under the buttocks (between the feet) and keep both knees a bit away from each other for stability. But this is not a normal Zen posture, and those women will also find more comfort in the normal way of sitting, as is observed by Zen nuns. So much will be about your posture in Zazen, and you are now counting your own breaths.

◆ Susokukan (Breath counting meditation)

  The mental attitude before you start Susokukan, should not be that here is a being only a few meters high resting on a little cushion. Have pride that there sits a stately master of the universe on this cushion - with the whole of heaven and earth under your buttocks. Now that you are ready to set to Susokukan, you make a Gassho (by pressing your palms together), do not think about the past, put your hands back into a meditative position and start counting your natural breaths in your mind.
  You put an inhalation together with the following exhalation and count "one (Wa---n)", and keep on counting two (Tu ---) in the same way.
  In more detail, count "Wa--" in the first in-halation and "---n" in the first exhalation, a breath in and out making one. The second breath is "Two --- o"/; the third "Three---e" and so on. When you count the thirteenth, you count in the inhalation "Thir---" and finish in the exhalation "---teen", so with the twentieth, you count "Twen --- " in the inhalation and finish "---tie" in the exhalation. Coming to the one hundredth, you start with "Hund---r" in inhalation and finish with "---red" in exhalation. After one hundred, you count one again and enter the second round of one hundred. The whole thing seems to be so easy that you may say you can have it done straight away. You could be right, were it not for the three requisites, which make Susokukan an outstanding art of self-training. The three important points of doing Susokukan are:

1. Do not miscount your breaths, 
2. Do not let anything else in to your thought, 
3. As soon as you fail in the above two, you restart from number one. 
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Copyright(C) 2008 Ningen Zen Meditation Center All rights reserved.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Attention focus- narrow and wide.

Attention focus:

- single-pointedness
- one object
- concentration practice
- shamatha, calming
- attention strengthening
- 'self-observation' in parts
- Access concentration
- Jhana

- open awareness
- Insight / vipassana
- Pro
- Flow of impermanent phenomena
- Selfing / Witnessing the "I" construct
- Shikantaza / Just sitting
- 'Self-remembering'
- Awareness teachings, Awareness watching awareness
- Nonduality

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"Experience your Perfect Soul"- compilation of spiritual authors. (Freedom Religion Press)

Experience Your Perfect Soul is a collection of carefully selected powerful quotes by the following seven authors: 1. Joel S. Goldsmith. 2. Eva Bell Werber. 3. William Samuel. 4. Ruby Nelson. 5. Elise Morgan. 6. W. Norman Cooper. 7. Katharine Pedrick.

Just finished reading this little compilation.

Enjoyed this compilation of quotes and readings from some lesser known American transcendentalists / contemporary mystics. Much of the work reads like A Course in Miracles, and points to nondual awareness and self-realization. However, the readings are more for inspiration, and not practical as such (other works by the publishing company are better for practical purposes). This would appeal to those who enjoy Christian mysticism, poetry, and the writings of early 20th Century spiritualists, new thought, etc.

As for practical advice, the writings mainly point to the need to spend time in silence, alone, and in a state of 'listening' to the soundless voice within. Along with this, there is the advice to stay centred and connected to one's Inner Presence, even when involved in activity (similar to the idea of maintaining mindfulness of one's self throughout the day). There are also some good points on fostering positive attitudes such as 'love', 'praise', and 'gratitude', which can help throughout the day, when not involved in meditative activities.

The parts of the book that I enjoyed the most were Eva Bell Werber, William Samuel, and Ruby Nelson.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mindfulness of posture.

Mindfulness of posture (body, rupa) and the 4 possible postures (standing, walking, sitting, laying), is a very calming and portable practice.

I've been finding it enjoyable even while riding busy and noisy public transport, which makes difficult going for other practices such as using mental objects or even open awareness.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" (book)

Just finished reading "Mastering The Core Teachings of the Buddha" by Daniel Ingram.. man, was I impressed. I had head DI speak on various podcasts, but hadn't found the time to purchase and read his book.

I could write so much, but will just paste a review I wrote on it.

This book has really fired me up to take another serious look at simple Insight meditation practices (such as Mahasi Sayadaw Noting), and also work on the Concentration Jhanas a little more.

It also confirms much of what I had already concluded related to the absolute uselessness of probably 80% of what is found on the nonduality and modern spirituality circuit- even hardcore would-be teaching schools actually aiming at 'self-realization' or 'enlightenment'.

I'm really looking forward to a Second Edition, and with hopefully a few more practical exercises detailed.

Anyhow, here's some review material:

One of the best contemporary dharma/meditation/spiritual practice books and commentary written in modern times. This book really gets at the core of what Buddhism _should_ be about and focus on with its practices- however, this book could easily apply to any of the major religions or practical spiritual paths aiming at self-transformation and 'enlightenment'. I like the direct advice given, and also the conceptual mappings throughout the book detailing possible stopping places along the spiritual developmental route. This book really strikes at some of the core problems inherent in a lot of spiritual paths, and explains exactly why these paths and people following them just aren't effective in attaining what they set out to achieve.

 If I had any criticism with this book, it would probably be that it needs some more time spent on detailing the actual practices involved in both concentration and insight meditation. Yes, the instructions are given, but even these I find are a little too vague (i.e just focus intensely on sensations being perceived right now and see the three characteristics inherent in them etc. etc.; or find an object and focus on it intensely, and then extent the time period). 

I know the author is working on a Second Edition, so I look forward to that! Overall, great work, and in my Top 5 books.