Here’s an excerpt from “Two Shores of Zen”, by Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler:
“Shikantaza not here,” he insisted in elementary English, pointing to his head. “Not here,” he continued, pointing to his heart. “Only point here!” He drove his fist into his lower belly, the energy center that the Japanese call hara.
I have spent the last several years in an American Zen temple that by our standards is strict and intense, but my training, I am finding, seems moot here. I have labored for years to open out my meditation—which is, after all “just sitting”—away from reliance on heavy-handed internal or external concentration objects, and toward a more subtle, broad, open awareness. Roshi-sama is said to be a master of this wide practice of shikantaza, the objectless meditation characteristic of the Soto school. But he insists, again and again, weeping at my deafness, shouting at my stubbornness, that hara focus is precisely shikantaza. That it makes no sense makes it no less inspiring; it is his presence, not his words, that I believe.
“No grasping—only point here.” He rested his fist on his belly. I had nothing to say.
… “Here,” he said, pointing to his chin and thrusting it out to show me that doing so made his back slump in bad Zen posture. He looked up at me with wide, soft brown eyes, and a kind smile that exposed his crooked teeth. In a warm, encouraging voice, like a boy addressing his puppy, he pointed to his back and said, “Like this no good. Keep try!”
My posture is quite good; I’ve been told so by peers and teachers alike in the U.S…. (1)
The “hara” (or “tanden”) was also mentioned by Dogen’s teacher, Rujing:
Breath enters and reaches the tanden, and yet there is no place from which it comes. Therefore it is neither long nor short. Breath emerges from the tanden, and yet there is nowhere it goes. Therefore it is neither short nor long. (2)
Rujing mentions the tanden, but the focus of his statement is really the rejection of the comprehension of the long or short in inhalation or exhalation. Rujing appears to be taking issue with the second component of the “setting up of mindfulness” in the teaching of Gautama the Buddha:
Whether [one] is breathing in a long (breath), breathing out a long (breath), breathing in a short (breath), breathing out a short (breath), one comprehends ‘I am breathing in a long (breath), I am breathing out a long (breath), I am breathing in a short (breath), I am breathing out a short (breath).’ (3)
At the same time, Rujing doesn’t abandon the distinction of inhalation and exhalation nor some particulars in the movement of each: he says that inhalation “enters”, then “reaches” the tanden (“yet there is no place from which it comes”); likewise, he says that exhalation “emerges” from the tanden (“yet there is nowhere it goes”). To comprehend “enters” as distinct from “reaches” and to comprehend “emerges” may amount to a comprehension of inhalation or exhalation very similar to that offered by “long” or “short”.
The comprehension of the long or short of inhalation or exhalation was only one element in Gautama’s “setting up of mindfulness”; here is a particular version of the “setting up of mindfulness” that Gautama declared to be his own way of living, and that he called “the concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing”:
Mindful [one] breathes in. Mindful [one] breathes out.
Whether [one] is breathing in a long (breath), breathing out a long (breath), breathing in a short (breath), breathing out a short (breath), one comprehends ‘I am breathing in a long (breath), I am breathing out a long (breath), I am breathing in a short (breath), I am breathing out a short (breath).’
Thus [one] trains [oneself] thinking, ‘I will breathe in experiencing the whole body; I will breathe out experiencing the whole body.’
[One] trains [oneself], thinking ‘ I will breathe in tranquillizing the activity of body; I will breathe out tranquillizing the activity of body.’
[One] trains [oneself], thinking: ‘I will breathe in… breathe out experiencing zest… experiencing ease… experiencing the activity of thought… tranquillising the activity of thought.’
[One] trains [oneself], thinking: ‘I will breathe in… breathe out experiencing thought… rejoicing in thought… concentrating thought… freeing thought.’
[One] trains [oneself], thinking: ‘I will breathe in… breathe out beholding impermanence… beholding detachment… beholding stopping (of “voluntary control… concealed from the consciousness by habit”) … beholding casting away (of “latent conceits that ‘I am the doer, mine is the doer’ in regard to this consciousness-informed body”)’. (3b)
With regard to “the concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing”, Gautama said:
… if cultivated and made much of, (the concentration) is something peaceful and choice, something perfect in itself, and a pleasant way of living too. (4)
The notion that Gautama would describe a concentration connected with inhalation and exhalation as “something perfect in itself” may seem incongruous to those who associate Gautama’s teaching primarily with the attainment of enlightenment. However, Gautama offered the phrase “perfect in itself” in a sermon where he addressed the suicide of many of his monks; the monks had taken to heart his praise for meditation on the “unlovely” aspects of the body (a practice designed to lessen the meditator’s attachment to the material), and as a consequence scores of them a day had “taken the knife” (while Gautama was away). In his exposition of the “concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing”, Gautama appears to abandon the kind of “means to an end” approach represented by the meditation on the “unlovely”, providing instead a way of living “perfect in itself”.
Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler understood his teacher’s instruction to be that a focus of attention on the hara is the means by which shikantaza is realized. This is confusing to Rutschman-Byler because the branch of Zen that became Dogen’s Soto school in Japan continues to honor the abandonment of the “means to an end” approach, in favor of “just sitting”.
Rather than a focus of attention on the hara, the T’ai Chi teacher Cheng Man Ching spoke of “maintaining” the mind at the tan-t’ien (tanden):
The T’ai-chi ch’uan classics say that the mind and the ch’i must both be maintained in the tan-t’ien. (5)
The Tai-chi classics also offer the “Song of Substance and Function”, a poem, the last two lines of which read:
…the mind must stay
in the place it should be. (6)
The emphasis on the experience of place is echoed in the writing of Dogen, in the first essay in his “Shobogenzo” collection:
When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. (7)
Could the “place where you are” be in the tanden, some of the time? Recent research in neuroscience sheds some light on the senses involved in the feeling of place associated with the self:
Bodily self-consciousness (BSC) is commonly thought to involve self-identification (the experience of owning ‘my’ body), self-location (the experience of where ‘I’ am in space), and first-person perspective (the experience from where ‘I’ perceive the world).
… BSC stems from the integration of visual, tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular signals. (8)
Left out in the list of senses above is the sense of gravity, but neuroscientist Olaf Blanke mentions the otolithic organs (the organs that detect gravity) in his work on bodily self-consciousness. (9)
Both Blanke and Dogen point to the capacity of the eyes to influence a person’s perception, using essentially the same example: Dogen speaks of how a person in a boat might mistakenly perceive the shore to be moving (7), while Blanke describes how a person in a stationary train might perceive that train to be moving if another train passes by going in the opposite direction (10). Dogen goes on to say that if a person keeps their eyes closely on the boat, they can perceive that it’s the boat that moves.
Keeping one’s eyes on the boat means paying attention to the location of awareness itself, rather than to the location of an object in awareness. Distinguishing the influence of the eyes from the influence of the other senses can allow the location of awareness to register; in particular, separating the influence of the eyes from the influence of equalibrioception, proprioception, and graviception can allow the feeling of location associated with awareness to register.
Although many people identify Gautama’s teaching with the “setting up of mindfulness”, he also taught that seeing and knowing the phenomena of sense as it really is brings the (eight-fold) path and the (seven) factors of enlightenment “to development and fulfillment” (11).
In his lectures, Gautama often followed the “setting up of mindfulness” with an account of the concentrative (or meditative) states. There is a strong correlation between the description Gautama gave for the feeling associated with the initial concentrative state and the description of the tanden:
…(one) steeps and drenches and suffuses this body with a zest and ease, born of solitude, so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded by this lone-born zest and ease. …as a handy bathman or attendant might strew bath-powder in some copper basin and, gradually sprinkling water, knead it together so that the bath-ball gathered up the moisture, became enveloped in moisture and saturated both in and out, but did not ooze moisture; even so (one) steeps, drenches, fills and suffuses this body with zest and ease, born of solitude, so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded by this lone-born zest and ease. (12)
Gautama’s soap-ball analogy for the feeling of the first concentrative state differs from descriptions of the tanden in that the soap-ball moves, but at the same time, there is a strong similarity in the notion of a singularity that collects.
The emphasis in the teachings of Gautama on the concentrative states is as much on the things that will cease as on the induction of the states themselves. Gautama declared that volitive activity (willful or habitual activity) ceases gradually as successive states of concentration unfold: the volitive activity of speech, he said, ceases with the induction of the first of the initial (or “material”) states; the volitive activity associated with inhalation and exhalation ceases in the fourth of the initial states; and the volitive activity of perception and sensation (activity of mind) ceases in the last of the further (or “immaterial”) states (13)
In one of his lectures, Gautama listed additional cessations associated with the initial concentrative states, as follows: in the first, discomfort ceases; in the second, unhappiness; in the third, ease apart from equanimity; and in the fourth, happiness apart from a purified equanimity (14).
The ceasing of discomfort in the first concentrative state is connected with stretch in the fascia and ligaments of the body and reciprocal, involuntary activity in the associated muscles; discomfort ceases as reciprocation becomes established and activity can be relaxed.
Gautama described the induction of states of concentration, first through “the direction of mind” and then through “the non-direction of mind”:
As (one) abides in body contemplating body, either some bodily object arises, or bodily discomfort or drowsiness of mind scatters (one’s) thoughts abroad to externals. Thereupon… (one’s) attention should be directed to some pleasurable object of thought. As (one) thus directs it to some pleasurable object of thought, delight springs up in (one’s being). In (one), thus delighted, arises zest. Full of zest (one’s) body is calmed down. With body so calmed (one) experiences ease. The mind of one at ease is concentrated. (One) thus reflects: The aim on which I set my mind I have attained. Come, let me withdraw my mind [from pleasurable object of thought]. So (one) withdraws (one’s) mind therefrom, and neither starts nor carries on thought-process. Thus (one) is fully conscious: I am without thought initial or sustained. I am inwardly mindful. I am at ease.
(Gautama repeats the above for “As (one) contemplates feelings in feelings…”, “… mind in mind…”, “… mind-states in mind-states, either some mental object arises, or…”)
Such is the practice for the direction of mind.
And what… is the practice for the non-direction of mind? (First,) by not directing (one’s) mind to externals, (one) is fully aware: My mind is not directed to externals. Then (one) is fully aware: My mind is not concentrated either on what is before or on what is behind, but it is set free, it is undirected. Then (one) is fully aware: In body contemplating body I abide, ardent, composed and mindful. I am at ease.
And (one) does the same with regard to feelings… to mind… and mind-states. Thus (one) is fully aware: In mind-states contemplating mind-states I abide, ardent, composed and mindful. I am at ease.
This is the practice for the non-direction of mind. (15)
From the above, “freeing thought” in Gautama’s “concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing” apparently refers to “not directing the mind to externals” and the subsequent awarenesses.
The distinction of the senses I find to be particularly important to the cessation of my own mental unhappiness, perhaps in part because the experience of consciousness from somewhere other than the mind is required; here is Gautama’s description of the second meditative state:
… a (person)… suppressing applied and sustained thought… enters and abides in the second musing; (such a one) likewise steeps this body with zest and ease… imagine a pool with a spring, but no water-inlet on the east side or the west side or on the north or on the south, and suppose the (rain-) deva supply not proper rains from time to time–cool waters would still well up from that pool, and that pool would be steeped, drenched, filled and suffused with the cold water so that not a drop but would be pervaded by the cold water; in just the same way… (one) steeps (their) body with zest and ease…. (16)
D. L. Bartilink described how pressure in the “fluid ball” of the abdomen could provide support to the lower spine. Pressure in the “fluid ball” can be generated autonomically in the movement of breath, as a consequence of the experience of self-location on the balance and activity of the body. To the extent that the necessity for pressure in the “fluid ball” of the abdomen engenders experience of the senses involved in self-location, to that extent some feeling for a posture supported by the distinction of the senses is gained as the pressure is sustained. I believe it is this feeling for the posture that Gautama identified as like a pool filled with cold water.
The cross-legged posture of seated meditation and the bent-knee postures of standing martial arts like T’ai Chi seem particularly to necessitate experience of equalibrioception, graviception, and proprioception, when they are held for any length of time.
The third meditative state is charaterized by the cessation of “ease apart from equanimity”. In my experience, there comes a moment in sustaining any posture when the stretch of ligaments and fascia exceeds my level of comfort, but acuity in the distinction of the senses (and some real-time appreciation of kinesthesiology) allows an equanimity that still permits a kind of ease. Here’s Gautama’s description of the feeling of the third meditative state:
Again, (a person), free from the fervour of zest, …enters and abides in the third musing; (such a one) steeps and drenches and fills and suffuses this body with a zestless ease so that there is not one single particle of the body that is not pervaded by this zestless ease. … just as in a pond of blue, white, and red water lilies, the plants are born in water, grow up water, come not out of the water, but, sunk in the depths, find nourishment, and from tip to root are steeped, drenched, filled and suffused with cold water so that not a part of them is not pervaded by cold water; even so, (one) steeps (one’s) body in zestless ease…. (17)
The notion of “tip to root” that Gautama puts forward here, I find similar to Rujing’s “enters” and “reaches” in connection with the tanden.
If the stretch of ligaments generates the activity of the posture, the resile of ligaments generates the placement. In the third meditative state, the equanimous experience of stretch and resile can result in a “falling into place” or a “falling upright”, given support from the fluid ball of the abdomen.
The activity that sustains pressure in the fluid ball of the abdomen is reciprocal activity engendered by fascia and ligaments throughout the body, including the fascia and ligaments of paired agonist/antagonist muscles like the tensor fascia latae and gluteous in the pelvic region, the left and right transverse muscles of the abdomen and chest, and the left and right muscles of the neck (like the sternocleidomastoid muscles) that rotate the head left and right (and lower the chin, in the case of the sternocleidomastoid). Activity in the tensor fascia latae and gluteous muscles can stretch fascia behind the sacrum; likewise, activity in the transverse muscles can stretch fascia along the rear of the spine, and activity in the muscles that rotate the head can stretch fascia behind the neck and head. The resile of such fascia and the relaxation of muscles helps to place the tailbone, the sacrum, the bones along the spine, the jaw, and the bones of the skull relative to one another.
The fascial sheet behind the sacrum in particular is subject to an additional stretch as the contraction of the extensors behind the sacrum causes the mass of the muscles to press rearward against the fascial sheet there (18). The stretch behind the sacrum can initiate full displacement of the lumbodorsal fascial sheet (behind the lower spine) by pressure from the “fluid ball” of the abdomen (given an appropriate spinal alignment); simultaneously, the stretch of the fascia behind the sacrum can, through activity generated in the gluteous and tensor fascia latae mucles, engender stretch in the ligaments of the abdominal muscles and thereby generate activity in these muscles. Pressure in the “fluid ball” is, for the most part, the result of activity in the abdominals (largely the transverse abdominals) and in the muscles of the pelvic floor (including the muscles from the pubic bones to the tailbone); with regard to the abdominals, the only place where the ligaments of the three abdominal muscle groups are of equal length in their connections to the rectus is at a point approximately two inches below the navel– roughly, in front of the tanden.
Cheng Man-Ching offered the following, curious advice:
…First we isolate the most vital portion of the sexual energy and the mind’s fire, and heat them together with the ch’i in the tan-t’ien. Then we stir it up and set it in motion, causing the sexual energy to be converted into heat which passes through the wei-lu (tailbone) up the spine, reaching the crown of the head and spreading out to the four limbs. (19)
Similarly, in “The Gospel of Thomas”, Jesus is reported to have said:
…when you make the male and the female into a single one,
so that the male will not be male and
the female (not) be female, when you make
eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand
in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place
of a foot, (and) an image in the place of an image,
then shall you enter [the Kingdom]. (20)
It happens that the stretch and resile of ligaments in the lower abdomen (paralleling the stretch and resile of the fascia behind the sacrum) can sometimes focus at or immediately above the pubic region. Gracovetsky, Farfan, and Lamay proposed a mechanism of posture whereby, with the right alignment of the spine and the right flatness of the lumbar curve, the lumbodorsal fascial sheet could be displaced (they did not say by what means); such a displacement, they calculated, would increase the load-bearing role of the fascia of the lower back, and decrease the load on the annuluses of the spine (21). Perhaps in a bent-leg posture, there comes a moment when the initiation of such support through the displacement of the fascia of the lower back is necessary, and the distinction of the senses allows pressure in the fluid ball to complete what the extensors behind the sacrum initiate.
The effort in the third meditative state as the body comes into alignment and the lower-back fascia is displaced could be the source of the advice many teachers give regarding the efficacy of some particular point of posture. Cheng offered an additional instruction that turns out to be very similar to that of Rutschman-Byler’s teacher:
When practicing the form, one should cause the yu-chen point at the base of the skull to stand out, then the spirit and ch’i will effortlessly meet at the top of the head. (22)
Tucking the chin in, as Rutschman-Byler’s teacher advised, has the effect of causing the “yu-chen” (Jade Pillow) to stand out. The emphasis on the chin is also echoed in the teaching of Shunryu Suzuki, founding teacher of the San Francisco Zen Center:
And pull your chin in. This is a very important point. If you sit in this way (head tilted up) you will never gain strength in your posture. (23)
Cheng Man-ching provided some additional postural advice, with two quotes from the T’ai Chi classics that he connected:
“…When the sacrum is straight, the shen (spirit) goes through the top of the head” and then you “suspend the strength to the top of the head”. (24)
The advice given in such instructions can vary: for example, Gautama did not mention the top of the head; he spoke instead of sensation over the entire surface of the head, or of sensation over the entire surface of the body (including the head).
The cessation of “ease apart from equanimity” that marks the third meditative state points to a strenuousness of the posture. Involuntary reciprocal activity in the muscles associated with the major ligaments of the body, such as those that connect the sacrum to the pelvis and the pelvis to the hips, only comes about because the ligaments and fascia are stretched to a point where they themselves generate the impulses necessary to contract the muscles for their resile. The induction of reciprocal, ongoing involuntary activity in the major muscle groups requires stretch that remains on the border of the generation of such impulses in the associated ligaments and fascia. Because of the need for resile that is felt at the level of stretch necessary to the third meditative state, ease does not exist apart from equanimity.
The posture of a standing weight-lifter demonstrates the tucked-in chin recommended by Rutschman-Byler’s teacher, yet the weight-lifter’s chin tuck is (presumably) not initiated consciously, but rather brought about unconsciously as the generation of pressure to induce and sustain a displacement of fascia becomes necessary. D. L. Bartilink’s measurements demonstrated that the greater the weight being lifted, the greater is the pressure generated in the abdomen of the weight lifter, and yet he found that there is pressure in the “fluid ball” even in a relaxed, standing posture.
Bartilink pointed to the separation of the action of the diaphragm from the action of the abdominal muscles, suggesting that the separation might be an advantage that mammals had gained over reptiles through evolution.
The third element of Gautama’s way of living was as follows:
Thus [one] trains [oneself] thinking, ‘I will breathe in experiencing the whole body; I will breathe out experiencing the whole body.’
In a footnote, the translator clarifies that the body referred to here is “the breath-body”. The experience of the whole body of a natural breath while breathing in or out requires that the activity of the diaphragm not be impinged upon by the pressure in the fluid ball of the abdomen, or by the activity that generates and sustains that pressure.
The T’ai Chi teacher Cheng Man-Ching wrote:
In general, what the ancients called, ‘straightening the chest and sitting precariously,’ has to do with the work of self-cultivation. …Holding the spine erect is like stringing pearls on top of each other, without letting them lean or incline. However, if one is tense and stiff, or unnaturally affected, then this too is an error. (25)
“Sitting precariously” emphasizes the role of equalibrioception, proprioception, and graviception in the alignment of the spine. Cheng mentioned that the ch’i must be allowed to overflow the tan-t’ien and pass through the tailbone without the use of force (in fact, he goes so far as to advise his students to seek out a teacher, to avoid any harm that they might do themselves in this regard). I would say Cheng is advising that the displacement of the lumbodorsal fascial sheet must be achieved only by reciprocal activity generated by the stretch of ligaments, and will occur as a matter of course in a bent-knee posture through the experience of equalibrioception, proprioception, and graviception, provided the movement of the diaphragm is free (as is necessary to experience “the whole (breath-)body”, inhaling and exhaling). In order for the movement of the diaphragm to be free, the activity generated by ligaments and fascia throughout the body must be relaxed. Gautama’s “way of living” includes such an emphasis on relaxation, as the fourth element:
[One] trains [oneself], thinking ‘ I will breathe in tranquillizing the activity of body; I will breathe out tranquillizing the activity of body.’
When habitual activity affecting inhalation or exhalation ceases in the induction of the fourth meditative state, the stretch and activity necessary to sustain pressure in the “fluid ball” occurs automatically with the comprehension of the long or short and the experience of the “whole (breath-)body” in inhalation or exhalation. The feeling is much like the reflex Moshe Feldenkrais described in getting up out of a chair:
When the center of gravity has really moved forward over the feet a reflex movement will originate in the old nervous system and straighten the legs; this automatic movement will not be felt as an effort at all. (26)
In the fourth meditative state, activity to pressurize the abdomen from the soles of the feet to the top of the head and from the top of the head to the soles of the feet “will not be felt as an effort at all”.
Gautama’s characterization of the feeling of the fourth meditative state was as follows:
… (a person), putting away ease… enters and abides in the fourth musing; seated, (one) suffuses (one’s) body with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind, so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind. … just as (one) might sit with (one’s) head swathed in a clean cloth so that not a portion of it was not in contact with that clean cloth; even so (one) sits suffusing (one’s) body with purity… (27)
Elsewhere in the Pali Canon, the description of the fourth state reads “Just …as if a (person) were sitting so wrapt from head to foot in a clean white robe, that there were no spot in (their) entire frame not in contact with the clean white robe” (28).
With the phrase “swathed in a clean cloth”, Gautama abandoned the interiors he described in his analogies for the first three meditative states. The exterior he now provided is similar to the feeling conveyed by the last part of a description from the classics of T’ai Chi:
With this method of circulating the ch’i (T’ai Chi), it overflows into the sinews, reaches the bone marrow, fills the diaphragm, and manifests in the skin and hair. (29)
Gautama stipulated that in the induction of the fourth meditative state, “one comes to be sitting down”, or that a person is “seated”, yet the sensation described appears to be the same as in the excerpt above, and T’ai Chi is a standing, moving form.
Sensation at the surface of the skin is connected with the nerve exits between specific vertebrae of the sacrum and spine; for example, the nerves that exit the spine at the lowest vertebrae of the chest allow for feeling along a narrow band of skin running transversely around the lower abdomen, below the navel. Doctors can and do test for the specific location of a nerve impingement in the spine by running a pin along sections of skin and then comparing any lack of feeling with a “dermatone” chart, a chart that reflects the areas of the skin that correspond with specific vertebral exits.
That the fourth meditative state is characterized by sensation at the surface of the skin all over the body (and particularly the head) points to an open alignment of the vertebrae of the neck and spine, supported by the displacement of fascia; that the ch’i is expected to spread to the four limbs (after reaching the headtop) points similarly to a heightened sensation in the dermatones along the arms and legs, and an open alignment of vertebrae in the neck, lower back, and sacrum.
Cheng offers a description of how sensitivity at the surface of the skin can translate into involuntary activity in T’ai Chi:
…the addition of a feather will be felt for its weight, and… a fly cannot alight on (the body) without setting it in motion. (30)
The theory of the osteopath John Upledger regarding the cranial-sacral system emphasizes movement in the bones of the head and the importance of the rhythm of change in the cranial-sacral fluid pressure; the nerves that control the cranial-sacral fluid pressure lie between the parietal sutures at the crown of the head, and perhaps this is the basis for sayings such as the following by Yuanwu:
You should realize that on the crown of the heads of the buddhas and enlightened adepts there is a wondrous way of ‘changing the bones’ and transforming your existence. (31)
Habitual activity connected with inhalation and exhalation ceases in the fourth meditative state, yet according to Gautama, happiness apart from equanimity also ceases. Gautama catagorizes the equanimity of the fourth meditative state as “equanimity connected with multiformity”(32); at some point only an acuity in the distinction of sense allows of happiness, yet at such a point there is no experience of sense that does not permit of happiness. As Dogen wrote in “Genjo Koan”:
When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. (7)
On several occasions, Gautama spoke of the first four meditative states as four of five “limbs” of concentration, the fifth limb being the “survey sign”:
Again, the survey-sign is rightly grasped by a (person), rightly held by the attention, rightly reflected upon, rightly penetrated by insight. … just as someone might survey another, standing might survey another sitting, or sitting might survey another lying down; even so the survey-sign is rightly grasped by a person, rightly held by the attention, rightly reflected upon, rightly penetrated by insight. (33)
Gautama described the fourth concentrative state with its cessation of habitual activity in inhalation or exhalation as particularly connected with a seated posture, yet his description of “the concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing” as his “way of living” and his characterization of concentration as consisting of “five limbs” implies that the cessations of the fourth meditative state were regularly accessible to him in the course of his day, seated or not.
Gautama also spoke about what he termed the “immaterial” meditative states, the first three of which were induced through the suffusion of the “whole world everywhere” with a particular “mind” or state of mind:
[One] dwells, having suffused the first quarter [of the world] with friendliness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; just so above, below, across; [one] dwells having suffused the whole world everywhere, in every way, with a mind of friendliness that is far-reaching, wide-spread, immeasurable, without enmity, without malevolence. [One] dwells having suffused the first quarter with a mind of compassion… sympathetic joy… equanimity that is far-reaching, wide-spread, immeasurable, without enmity, without malevolence.” (34)
“The excellence of the heart’s release” through the mind of compassion, said Gautama, constituted the first of the immaterial concentrative states; “the excellence of the heart’s release” through the mind of sympathetic joy, the second; and “the excellence of the heart’s release” through the mind of equanimity, the third. (35)
Left out was any correspondence for the excellence of the heart’s release through the mind of friendliness, the first of the four “minds” described in the passage above. I can say that I find my action at times to be particularly prone to initiation from what lies outside the boundaries of my senses, as though Cheng’s fly were alighting on me invisibly, and for me the suffusion of the entire world with a mind of “friendliness” opens the door to such action.
The Zen teacher Kobun Chino Otogawa spoke of the involvement of things unseen in sitting shikantaza:
Sitting shikantaza is the place itself, and things. …When you sit, the cushion sits with you. If you wear glasses, the glasses sit with you. Clothing sits with you. House sits with you. People who are moving around outside all sit with you. They don’t take the sitting posture! (36)
I believe it is the invisible fly that Dogen referred to when he wrote:
Although actualized immediately, the inconceivable may not be apparent. (7)
Gautama’s description of the first and third concentrative states in some ways resembles the descriptions of the tanden (or tan-t’ien), while his description of the second and fourth concentrative states suggests something somewhat different. I would say that concentrative experience tends to follow from the distinction of the senses in a bent-legged posture, and the experience of the mind at the tanden is one such concentrative experience; as essential as such an experience might be when a bent-knee posture is held for any length of time, the rhythm of things in a natural way of living must also include experience that returns a person to just breathing in or out, and therein lies “something peaceful and choice, something perfect in itself, and a pleasant way of living too.”
1 http://shoresofzen.com/index_htm_files/TwoShoresofZenExcerpts.pdf, pg 4-5
2 “Eihei Koroku”, Dogen, vol. 5, #390, trans. Okumura
3 MN III 82-83, Pali Text Society III pg 124
3b MN III 82-83, Pali Text Society III pg 124; parentheticals added: “voluntary control… concealed from the consciousness by habit” borrowed from Feldenkrais’s “Awareness and Movement”, “latent conceits that ‘I am the doer, mine is the doer’ in regard to this consciousness-informed body” from MN III 18-19, Pali Text Society III pg 68; “zest” and “ease” from SN V 310-312, Pali Text Society V pg 275-276, in place of “rapture” and “joy”.
4 SN V 320-322, Pali Text Society SN V pg 285
5 “Master Cheng’s Thirteen Chapters on T’ai-Chi Ch’uan”, Cheng Man-Ch’ing trans. Douglas Wile, pg. 36
6 “Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises on T’ai Chi Ch’uan”, Cheng Man Ch’ing, trans. Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo & Martin Inn, pg 218
7 “Genjo Koan”, Dogen; tr. Robert Aitken and Kazuaki Tanahashi. Revised at San Francisco Zen Center, and later at Berkeley Zen Center; published (2000) in Tanahashi, Enlightenment Unfolds (Boston: Shambhala), 35-9. Earlier version in Tanahashi 1985 (Moon in a Dewdrop), 69-73, also Tanahashi and Schneider 1994 (Essential Zen); see also
8 “Visual consciousness and bodily self-consciousness”, Nathan Faivre, Roy Salomon, and Olaf Blanke:
9 “Neuroscience of Self-Consciousness and Subjectivity”, Olaf Blanke:
10 “Rotating Chair Experiment in Neurobiology”, Olaf Blanke:
11 MN III 287-289, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 336-339
12 AN III 25-28, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 18-19
13 See AN III 415, Pali Text Society III pg 294, SN IV 145 PTS IV pg 85, and SN IV 217, Pali Text Society IV pg 146
14 SN V 215, Pali Text Society V pg 189-190
15 SN V 154-157, Pali Text Society SN V pg 135-136
16 AN III 25-28, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 18-19
18 “Mechanical Disorders of the Low Back” by H. F. Farfan (B. S.C., M. D., C.M., F.R.C.S. (C)), published by Lea & Febiger,© 1973, pg 183 19 “Master Cheng’s Thirteen Chapters on T’ai-Chi Ch’uan”, Cheng Man-Ching trans. Douglas Wile, pg. 6-7
20 “The Gospel According to Thomas”, coptic text established and translated by A. Guillaumont, H.-CH. Puech, G. Quispel, W. Till and Yassah ‘Abd Al Masih, pg 18-19 log. 22, ©1959 E. J. Brill
21 “A mathematical model of the lumbar spine using an optimized system to control muscles and ligaments”, S. Gracovetsky, H.F. Farfan, C.B. Lamay, Orthop. Clin. North Am. 8(1): 135-153
22 “Master Cheng’s Thirteen Chapters on T’ai-Chi Ch’uan”, Cheng Man-Ching trans. Douglas Wile, pg. 67
23 Shunryu Suzuki Lecture, August 12 1965 Los Altos
24 “Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises on T’ai Chi Ch’uan”, Cheng Man Ch’ing, trans. Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo & Martin Inn, pg 96
25 “Master Cheng’s Thirteen Chapters on T’ai-Chi Ch’uan”, Cheng Man-Ching trans. Douglas Wile, pg. 21
26 “Awareness Through Movement”, Moshe Feldenkrais, pg 78
27 AN III 25-28, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 18-19
28 DN I 76, PTS Vol I pg 86; see also MN III 92-93, PTS pg 132-134
29 “Master Cheng’s Thirteen Chapters on T’ai-Chi Ch’uan”, Cheng Man-Ching trans. Douglas Wile, pg. 17; for a further exploration of this saying, see Fuxi’s Poem
30 “Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s T’ai-Chi Ch’uan”, Cheng Man-Ch’ing, © Juliana T. Cheng, North Atlantic Books pg 14
31 “Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu”, translated by Cleary & Cleary, 1st ed pg 61
32 MN III 220, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 268
33 AN III 25-28, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 18-19
34 MN I 38, Pali Text Society volume I pg 48
35 SN V 118-120, Pali Text Society volume V pg 101-102
36 “Aspects of Sitting Meditation”, “Shikantaza”; Kobun Chino Otogawa;
copyright 2016 Mark A. Foote