Soto Zen and the Left Knee (Reply from

You may have a problem taking me seriously because I don’t have lineage. So far I don’t feel I’m up to pursuing it; I’m still working on my lotus. Hopefully you won’t dismiss my remarks simply because after 40 years I have found a way to sit the lotus, and you have decided that it has cost you the health of your knees to try and that it’s unnecessary.

Right, I agree it’s unnecessary. However, a posture that requires stretch is necessary. Sitting in a chair works, if you sit forward on the chair with the back unsupported so that part of the weight and balance is still in the feet. At least for me it does.

I’d like to note that it is the left knee for me as well that is particularly tricky. And that Dogen prescribed left leg on top, and I have read that in some zendos the teacher’s permission is required to sit half-lotus with the right leg up instead of the left.

I’ll tell you what is working for me; doesn’t matter if you’re in a chair, or walking around (or sitting lotus). There is a relationship between three senses: the sense of balance or equalibrioception (based in the vestibular organ), proprioception, and the sense of gravity (based in the otoliths and closely associated with the vestibular organ).

What the heck is that, you say. Nisargadatta just “attended to the sense ‘I am'” (Wikipedia) and he arrived at the other shore, so to speak.

I would ask you, then, is “attending to the sense ‘I am'” different from discerning the sense of self that is equalibrioception informed by proprioception and the sense of gravity? If you get up on a tightrope, is “attending to the sense ‘I am'” still different from that discernment?

I’ve quoted Olaf Blanke’s research here before; in particular:

In summary: A conflict between tactil/proprioceptive/kinesthetic and visual information coupled with a conflict between visual and vestibular information can, in some cases, give rise to a feeling that the self is in two places simultaneously, which can result in suicidal tendencies in the individual as they attempt to re-establish a unitary self at all cost.

Now the eyes are open in zazen, as opposed to many other seated meditation traditions; I would suggest that the eyes are open for their influence in resetting the vestibular sense and providing a continuity in the sense of location, yet in zazen the proprioceptive sense must be allowed to influence the sense of location almost as though the eyes are closed. It’s a trick, a lot like falling asleep with your eyes open.

The other trick is that you have to free the mind to move, and then let the action of the posture follow from the location of mind; the mind moves when the exercise of volition ceases to influence the movement of inhalation and exhalation (check Waking up and Falling Asleep). You could say it’s a matter of inhalation and exhalation, informed by all the senses, with relaxation and calm.

The senses are called to mind as necessary to the movement of breath in a given posture, and the senses Blanke describes are for me particularly called to mind in the movement of breath in the cross-legged posture.

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