The Mudra of Zen

Pink clouds over KonoctiKoun Franz said:

… as an experiment, I recommend trying it, sitting in this posture and trying to feel what it’s like to let your mind, to let the base of your consciousness, move away from your head.

(“No Struggle (Zazen Yojinki, Part 6)”, by koun Franz, from koun’s “Nyoho Zen” site:

In my last post (and a comment on his site), I agreed with him, and I closed my post with something from my recent experience:

As to the implications for zazen, I find that what I feel in my senses and beyond my senses bears against my location of mind like the left hand bears against the right, and yet it’s all about letting go.

Days later, I found I could say a little more, and I continued the conversation on koun’s thread:

“The left hand bears against the right” best when the two are barely touching–at least, that’s been my experience since I wrote my last comment. I wonder if the “cosmic mudra” is taught that way, anywhere in the Zen world?

I got a reply from koun (thank you, koun):

Mark, do you mean the thumbs are barely touching, or the hands are barely touching (so one is kind of floating over the other)? If the former, I’d say the “barely touching” aspect is common instruction. If the latter, then no, that’s something I’ve never encountered.

I wrote a reply to koun that somehow never appeared in his comment thread. Here’s that reply, and then some.

Thanks for the benefit of your experience, koun. Yes, I’m talking about the latter.

I’m put in mind of a teaching passed down to the Tai Chi teacher Cheng Man-Ching from his teacher:

I am not a meathook. Why are you hanging on me?

Cheng Man-Ching comments:

Tai-chi chuan emphasizes relaxation and sensitivity, and abhors stiffness and tension. If you hang your meat on meathooks, this is dead meat.

(“Master Cheng’s Thirteen Chapters on Tai-Chi Chuan, trans. Doug Wile, pg 68)

Of course, Tai Chi is a standing martial art, and Tai Chi includes a practice called “sticky hands” where two players keep contact between their hands and arms as they move in a prescribed manner. The advice of Cheng’s teacher may have been intended for “sticky hands” practice, but I’d like to think it has wider application; in particular, not hanging one hand on the other is oddly helpful to me in sitting the lotus right now.

Koun talks about a possible shift in the location of mind to the center of gravity. In my experience, the mind does seem to find location with the center of gravity, at least some of the time. With the mind at or near the center of gravity, the weight of the body sets stretch and activity in motion that returns to the location of mind, to counterbalance the effect of gravity.

For me, I get a feeling of rotation at the location of mind, as though a ball of some kind were rotating in place around an axis, and the stretch and activity throughout the body becomes a part of a counterbalance to that rotation.

When I hold tension in my hands, or my legs, or my jaw, I draw the balance and counterbalance away from the location of mind. When I relax and barely make contact, with my hands for example, then my hands reflect and become part of the balance and counterbalance at the location of mind.

For those who haven’t tried the experiment of letting the “base of consciousness” move away from the head, I would say the best time to experience such movement is either while trying to get back to sleep (after waking up during the night), or while trying to take a nap in the afternoon. That’s because it’s still possible to focus on the location of awareness before dropping off to sleep, at these times.

A friend of mine recently read my Waking Up and Falling Asleep to another friend, whom I’ll call Judy, and reported:

Judy says she tried your wake location thing for her nap. She was aware of her location and her body and then she drifted away into sleep.

Last I heard, Judy was still finding success in falling asleep in the same way.

There was one other person who reported that my description was helpful, in his case in falling back asleep. “Humbleone” acknowledged that even after a couple of weeks of experiencing the mind “outside the head” in falling asleep, he still had not experienced the mind “outside the head” in the daytime.

The same relaxation and calm that apply in falling asleep can be applied while awake to realize the movement of the mind “outside the head” (as “humbleone” discovered), yet as koun Franz said, “to the extent that you can do it, it’s an act of letting go”.

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