MONTPELLIER, January 21, 2006
Descartes said: « I think, therefore I am », but still it would be necessary to define what exactly is “think” for Descartes. When practising zazen, we also discover: « I breathe therefore I live », or « I exist without thoughts ». We tend to freeze our thoughts excessively in this never-ending inner discourse, which is in fact much less essential than the fact of breathing or eating.
Breathing consists of an inspiration where we absorb a certain amount of air, energy, space, time and consciousness, and an exhalation where we exhale a certain amount of air, energy, space, time, and consciousness. So thought, consciousness, permeates our breath, which itself permeates our microcosm during inspiration, and our macrocosm during expiration in the same way that it permeates the food we ingest.
We are not sufficiently aware of the power of thought and consciousness, which is why I finally agree with Descartes. We can say that thought, awareness in our meals is as important as the quality of the food itself. A Zen proverb says: “you become what you eat”. We also become what we breathe and what we think. That's why a lot of Americans have burger heads. Most people don't even realize they're breathing, you're not like: « here I breathe in, now I breathe out ». Most people are not really aware of this process, which is precisely part of divine processes.
It can be said that all body processes are divine when they exist beyond even the control of our human consciousness. And they work perfectly. For example, the beating of the heart, although some yogis can control it, the beating of the heart, which also sustains our existence, is under a control beyond us, and the breathing in general as well. That is to say, breathing works automatically without having to think every time that it is necessary to breathe.
However, whenever you have an emotion, or are disturbed by something, your breathing is affected. So zazen is a great time to observe this breathing process. And understand that breathing is not only food, of course we feed on oxygen, energy substances contained in the air, our body needs it to function, but it is also spiritual nourishment just like tangible food that is absorbed by the digestive system. If you think « I'm fed up » with a sigh, you're soaking up « I'm fed up ».
Often in the practice of zazen we are taught to put the exhalation before the inspiration. When we say « breathe » to an average, normal Westerner: « OK, but where do I start? Inspiration or expiration? » Usually they think about inspiration first. It goes well with the mindset of thinking about accumulating rather than giving. In Zen it is the opposite. First we empty ourselves.
So when the quality of your body spirit is healthy, you breathe out, you give the whole universe your wisdom, your calm, your strength, your love. When you are ill, tired, sick, by exhaling you get rid of the pollution that is in you. This pollution is recycled naturally through the earth.
Master Deshimaru taught us to breathe out, a long expiration by pressing the abdominal mass downwards, a little like when we go to the toilet. We relax the solar plexus completely, relax the stomach and push the intestines downwards; the exhalation is long and deep. And at the end of the exhalation -he said- let the inspiration fill you automatically. At that moment we open up and welcome a new, fresh, pure, thoughtless, uncomplicated inspiration; our lungs fully inflate, so we receive, we don't take. This is the basis of Zen breathing that we teach beginners. Through our breathing we are constantly in relation, in exchange with the cosmos, with the world. It is the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm, the inner world and the outer world. So this relationship must be very harmonious.
I have already told you about the method of cow breathing which is taught in Zen as primordial breathing: moo! its exhalation is long, all pushing. For us it is important. At the end we are empty, without complications. If you breathe out, all the complications go away. An air empty of thought, a fresh energy.
However, this is not the only Zen breathing, this cow method. It is very good to practice it at the beginning of zazen, the first fifteen minutes. Afterwards, Shakyamuni Buddha simply taught to let the breath free and just to be mindful. The moment you pay attention, you put your mind in the breath and at that point you are not trying to have a long or short or fast or slow breath. You are not looking for anything at the level of the breath. You are simply attentive, that is, the point zero of your breathing, the present point, the absolute present of your breathing. You let the body express itself and you accompany it in the gentleness, the harmony that is important, the calm and even possibly love, being aware of this exchange between all that exists and you through your breath.
At this time we can say that breathing prevails over thought, direct emotion and vitality, direct action thought, thought without thought. At this point you can really say « I'm breathing, so I'm in tune with the whole universe ».
Breathe - A calligraphy of Master Ryurin Desmur
MONTPELLIER, January 22, 2006
So I wanted to say that breathing during zazen is not really a specific technique, that is to say, doing this or that with your intestines. It's much more a question of flow, density and rhythm. I just received a question on the Internet dealing with this. The person said to me: « I try to have a natural breathing » but from the moment you try to be natural you are not, it is contradictory. A few years ago, I said in a kusen: « nature in its raw natural state is perfect. For example, if you go into the wilderness, in places that are not touched by humans, you have a feeling of perfection, of harmony. As soon as the human hand mixes with it, there is disharmony, it becomes square ».
But in fact, with a few more years of experience, I realize that this explanation is not sufficient. What makes Zen peculiarity? its posture, its attitude of the mind, its breathing? Anything that revolves around Zen like calligraphy, Japanese gardens, ikebana? When you see Japanese gardens, a harmony emanates, a feeling of virgin nature. In the end, a real successful Zen garden is even more beautiful than nature. There are all kinds of zen gardens, with sand, stones, trees, small ponds. How to prune trees. And it's supernatural, that is, it's natural, but it's created by something in man. This is what makes Zen unique. Calligraphy, for example, is supernatural. That is to say, it is man himself who creates, who generates nature itself.
And breathing in zazen is just that, it is not only natural, it is oneself who must generate it. That's why I say flow, rhythm and density are important. This is what the Buddha was trying to explain in the Anapanasati Sutra, because breathing is not just breathing, it goes much further.
And so the method, the basis for creating nature within the breath itself, is to become aware of the two points between inhale and exhale, and exhale and inhale. These two points, this passage from inspiration to expiration and from expiration to inspiration, that's where the secret lies, there are two empty spaces. We must therefore begin by becoming aware of this tiny moment, this tiny empty space between inhale and exhale. And it is through this empty space that we will find freedom.