Zen Training at 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.
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.
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:
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:
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: