Zen Training at Chozen-ji

Lao Tzu said, "If we learn, we gain in knowledge day by day. If we act according to the Way, we lose day by day. We keep losing until we no longer possess anything to do. In non-action we do everything." The same is true of the Way of Zen. Master Joshu said, "I have entered Buddhist life when I was a small boy. I have grown old now. Confronted with people, I now find myself powerless to save them. I used to discipline myself in order to help people some day when I became enlightened. Contrary to my expectation, however, I have become a fool whether you believe it or not." We have Zen if we become aware of nobody in need of saving when we are ready to save them. Zen is indeed without merits and effects. But in compliance with the needs of others, the following effects have been traditionally pointed out:

Calmness of spirit under all circumstances.
Being able to choose to die while sitting zazen.
Realizing that every day is a fine day.
Acting spontaneously and without restraint.
Sitting alone feeling like a high; majestic mountain.
Bringing joy to those around you.
Accepting any hardship.
Acting without concern for public recognition.
Seeing things as they truly are.
Willingness to suffer for the sake of others.

Tekio Sogen Rotaishi
Founder of Daihonzan Chozen-ji

Chozen-ji is a Rinzai Zen temple where the martial and cultural arts are integrated with traditional Zen training. Here, entering Zen through the body is emphasized. The student must refine breath, posture, and awareness to cultivate samadhi, a state of complete concentration and relaxation. In samadhi a person transcends dualism, lives fully moment by moment, and is most effective and creative. To abide in samadhi a person must do shugyo, the deepest spiritual training possible, and live life as a Do, a Way. Zen training and the Ways aim at the maturity of human being. Maturity means being in the state of mind which can see harmony in disharmony, unity in opposition. Human life is full of activity which becomes automatic and can only be performed perfectly through practice, but where do we find training aimed at developing the inner life and not particular accomplishments. Because a person has more or can do more does not mean that he is more. But in any pursuit besides the prospect of developing skill, apart from any specific achievement, there is a chance to broaden one's outlook and attain a greater degree of maturity. Then a person's effectiveness comes out of his essential being. This is not due to the possession of certain abilities but the releasing and cultivating of his personal nature.

Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi
Archbishop of Daihonzan Chozen-ji


Mastery of breathing leads to mastery of emotions. A person who is anxious breathes shallowly and rapidly. A person who is calm breathes deeply and slowly. It is difficult to influence emotions directly, but by training one's breathing, one can maintain stability and perspective even in crises or can let go of distressing emotions.

Normally a person breathes between twelve and eighteen times a minute and uses only a small portion of his or her lung capacity. The respiratory rate must be decreased, and the respiratory volume increased. The focus should be on making the exhalation long and even. The inhalation should be left to occur naturally. If the exhalation is complete, air will fill the lungs just as water fills an eyedropper. Breathing should be done with the hara, the lower part of the body including the abdomen, hips, and lower back.

Physiologically calm, deep breathing synchronizes the functioning of the body so that maximum work is performed with minimum energy. Metaphysically it synchronizes your being with the pulsation of the Universe.


The Japanese word for posture ikioi literally translates as the force in which the breath stands and illustrates the intrinsic relationship between the two. When breathing is centered in the hara, kiai (vital energy) will radiate throughout the body, releasing its natural form. Tekio Sogen Rotaishi describes his experience while practicing the Hojo, a traditional sword form.

The Hojo is to "remove all bad habits and addictions acquired since birth and to restore the original pure and bright permanent body." We might think of this body as one's Primal Face or Mu in Zen. What I am going to relate happened after I had practiced this technique for many years and was finally able to perform it freely. One day as I was practicing, my body filled with energy. All muscular tension left my arms and legs, and I became conscious of the fact that the inward and outward forces in me had balanced each other out to zero. It was just as if I were weightless. Later when I did zazen and entered samadhi, I noticed that I had achieved a balance of the mind, that my spiritual inward and outward forces had likewise balanced each other.

Tekio Sogen Rotaishi
Founder of Daihonzan Chozen-ji

When the tension of the body is collected at the hara, the body feels like an empty circle, whole and transparent. Movements are performed gracefully with clarity and power.

There are two basic guidelines for refining posture:

  1. The ears should be in line with the shoulders, with the spine fully extended as if the top of the head were suspended from above and the spine were a string of pearls hanging freely or alternatively, as if the spine and the top of the head were a spear thrust into the ceiling. In most people the chin protrudes forward and disrupts the natural alignment of the spine and head.
  2. The tension in the neck and upper body must sink into the hara. Generally this is achieved by turning the pelvis upward so that the trunk of the body rests squarely over the legs. When the upward and downward forces are balanced at the hara, a person can move freely in any direction.

Kan (Insight)

Because they are inherently dualistic, words break down in describing the insight cultivated by Zen training. This insight is nondualistic, transcending the dichotomy of conscious and unconscious. At the highest level it is described as bright, mirror wisdom. At this level, thinking, acting, and feeling are one. Zen Master Takuan describes it below:

Put a mirror down somewhere. Everything that is in front of it is reflected in it, exactly as it appears. The mirror has no consciousness, is unable to differentiate, therefore it reflects things exactly as they are. The same is the case with a master in the art of conflict. He is open to the pure mirror of his spirit and is unclouded by any trace of the consciousness which separates and distinguishes one thing from another. ... Yet his mirror-like soul is not blind to "this" and "that," to "good" and "evil"; he sees without being forced to see. If the mirror of the soul is without consciousness, pure and free from the slightest trace of prejudice, then everything on Heaven and Earth is reflected in it, just as it is. A man who possesses such a mirror is absolutely present in perfect command of the moment and the attitude of mind which is called for at that point. ... He and he alone can produce natural action, wonderful in that it can be subjected to every conceivable change, action without action, whether in the art of fencing or any of the arts of life, and containing in itself the wisdom of the Buddha. (From Karlfried von Durckheim, The Japanese Cult of Tranquillity. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1974, pp. 89-90).

The highest level of insight is also described as fudoshin, immovable mind. The mind does not move because it does not stop because there are no attachments. It is the nature of the mind to be fully aware moment to moment, to fully experience all the sensations and meanings in every situation, and to respond naturally and spontaneously. Attachments, however, trap the mind, shrink the field of experience, and impair a person's contact with reality. A person should cultivate fudoshin by continuously bringing awareness back to the present, asking: "Can I see a 180 degrees? Do I hear all the sounds in the environment? What am I smelling, tasting, and feeling?"


Zazen is the basic practice of Zen because it provides the easiest conditions under which to refine breath, posture and awareness. All Zen masters have practiced zazen, yet it should be remembered that Master Nan-yueh mocked Ma-tsu's efforts to become a Buddha by sitting zazen by comparing it to making a stone into a mirror by polishing it with his sleeve. Zazen has no fixed form. Tekio Sogen Rotaishi writes, "Zen is seeing into our own selves, realizing that we have no fixed forms, clearly seeing the no-self, and realizing its imperturbability. If we grasp this point firmly whatever we do becomes zazen, and we are thoroughly one with everything which confronts us. When we read, we only read; when we write, we only write; when we walk, we only walk; and when we sleep, we only sleep."


The Japanese have six words referring to varying degrees of training: keiko, renshu, shunren, tanren, kufu, and shugyo. The first four can be translated respectively as practice, training, discipline, and forging. There are no words for the last two. Shugyo is the deepest spiritual training possible. Refining the self in shugyo is like forging a sword from raw iron ore. Fire, water, and iron are folded upon each other by the pounding of the hammer over and over again to create the cutting edge. Without shugyo, realizations are passing highs. The natural form of the body will not be developed, nor will the structures of mind emerge from the Unconscious; and a person will regress to egotistical patterns under pressure.

If a person trains to attain enlightenment as an end, frustration and despair is inevitable for the Way is endless. But if you accept life as shugyo, see through both good and bad fortune as the effects of karma, and moment by moment refine breath, posture, and awareness, one day you will clearly realize the truth of Master Dogen' s words, "Training is enlightenment, and enlightenment is training." You will fully experience the truth sung by Master Hakuin:

How boundless and free is the sky of samadhi!
How refreshingly bright the moon of the fourfold wisdom!
What is there you lack! Nirvana presents itself before you!
Where you stand is the Lotus Paradise;
Your person, the body of Buddha.


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