Shodo Harada Roshi answers questions about practice
Sometimes, when I need to make a full exhalation, breathing out all the air, I feel that I have no strength, I do not have enough power. Is it possible between the deep exhalations to take several superficial, not deep exhalations in order to gather strength or should I exhale every time fully, with equal depth and strength.
Through breathing comes Samadhi. Briefly the meaning of Samadhi is to forget one’s body, to forget the outside world. This is Samadhi. Samadhi is not unconscious, a dizzy like state. Some believe that this kind of state is Samadhi, but it is a big mistake. Samadhi means to become one with the body, not feel it, become one with the world, not feel the world. To become one, does not mean that “I” disappears, to become one means that “I” becomes the world. While separating: “I”, the world, breathing, we cannot talk about Samadhi. It is important that breathing is something not artificially created.
As a comparison let’s take the example of a well from which water is drawn. Today, only a few people know how the well is designed and how it works. In the past, everybody was using water from a well, and when a new well was excavated, water was often deep in the ground. Therefore, in order to make water to rise from the depth to the surface, through a tube a little water was poured from the top. The water was called “calling”, and, if not used, it would be impossible to raise the water up from the depth.
It is the same with deep breathing. If not deep exhalations done, then breathing remains superficial and deep breathing is impossible. When one performs deep breathing, it is possible to enter Samadhi. Not at the superficial breath Samadhi is possible. Why? Because in this case, “I” constantly appears. Therefore, in order to create deep breathing, at the very beginning of zazen three to ten deep exhalations should be consciously done. It will create the possibility to give birth to what we call “the new breath”.
We breathe out, fully empty ourselves and tension in our body disappears. Without unnecessary force we let tension go completely. When it comes to the very end of exhalation, it continues only thanks to our awareness. By applying the force of will, tension will come back again.
Properly exhaling, the belly goes inwards, and when the belly goes in, it becomes completely empty and inhalation happens in a natural way. The beginner’s exhalation is not very long, but gradually learning to breath, exhalation becomes longer – from 10 to 20 seconds. If breathing has become really deep, then exhalation takes about 30 seconds. However, one shouldn’t strive for such a length. Breathe out to go all the way, without straining in order to exhale to the end. You can apply at the end of exhalation some of a deliberate effort, however, putting in it too much power, you create a strong resistance, and good, proper breathing becomes impossible. Therefore, breathe out until the end, until the belly becomes completely empty and flat, get to the point, when it seems that there is nothing more to exhale, and then do one or two light pushes with the belly. In doing so, the body naturally will inhale the necessary amount of air. Doing like this three to ten times, breathing will definitely become deep. Becoming deep, breathing will happen naturally. This kind of breathing is basis of zazen. Whereas breathing becomes completely natural, then, although we breathe, gradually disappears awareness of breathing and we can enter Samadhi. It is natural, deep breathing. If breathing becomes superficial again, this means that our consciousness makes us to know about itself. When breathing is deep and natural, no need for a deliberate effort is required and there is no need to switch on the consciousness. When breathing becomes superficial, our consciousness, our own awareness of “I” becomes strong, therefore one must know that depth of breathing affects the state of mind.
In order to create deep breathing, initially a deliberate effort and practice is required.
I want to learn how to breathe properly. I have been meditating for years, but I have never really thought about it. Whereas I practice zen of your tradition, I feel that I breathe totally wrong. I cannot breathe from my belly. Breath reaches only the diaphragm. Then it as if closes. Can you give me advice?
We cannot practise only out of habit, because it makes no sense. We live with a fresh mind. Release the tension in the shoulders. Become an empty chimney. Because you are attempting to breathe somehow particularly, your body does not accept it. We are alive and we don’t need to learn how to breathe. We are sitting in zen, to get rid of our internal barriers. That is the only reason why we are sitting. We sit in order to forget weight of the body. We sit to forget even breathing. We also sit, in order to get rid of all the ideas about ourselves. As soon as we are trying to create something, it becomes a barrier. When you can forget about the body, you are also physically healthy. When you can forget about breathing, your breath is healthy and focused. When you can get rid of the ideas of yourself, your mind is also healthy. We cannot practice to become ill.