I haven't posted anything in a while on zen, and thought this would be a useful thing to record:
To regulate breath is very important in zazen. The ancients knew that any person can understand breathing, so that teaching the control of breathing is extremely important.
Concerning the breath, there are four ways of meditation explained in the Tendai texts. They are fu, zen, ki, soku. Fu implies snorting breath. This is not good. Zen means purring breath which is also not good. Ki means disordered breath, sometimes too fast, sometimes too slow. Lastly, soku means the most perfect breath which is continuous and quiet as if it were faint breath. We have to shape our breathing into such long deep breaths. The ancients made a strenuous effort to practice such breathing. Some of them even placed feathers on their noses while meditating. For correct breathing : exhaling, pull in your abdomen; when you've exhaled all your air completely, you will naturally inhale; air will flow in and your abdomen will expand. While exhaling, include the counting of your breaths. Continue this ring of consciousness, repeating the counting without any pause at all. If a pause occurs at this time, illusions and mirages will come into your zazen at once. If even one illusion is raised, cut it immediately with your concentrated breathing.
With the physical posture and breath controlled, start zazen in a relaxed way by naturally concentrating your strength in your abdomen. We must now control the mind or, as the text states it, "Think not of good and evil." It is, however, unimaginably difficult to control the mind. The Buddha said, "The mind is like a venomous serpent, a wild animal, or a sworn enemy." You might think that while sitting in such quiet circumstances nothing arises to disturb the mind, but it is not so. The quieter the circumstances become, the more disordered the mind may grow. Many things may appear, one after the other. Even the great Hakuin Zenji confessed that while he was doing zazen, he remembered such a small event as the lending of a few bowls of rice and beans many years before to the next door neighbor. It is strange that we remember the things we do not usually even consider. In the meditation hall only the sound of the bell and wooden clappers enter through our senses, but many things arise in the mind to be considered. We come to realize how much man thinks about the unnecessary ; how corrupted man's mind is. Our mind is polluted like a muddy ditch from which marsh gas constantly springs. We cannot imagine what will appear or spring up. Buddhism calls this dirt encrusted mind alaya, which means an accumulation of subconscious images. To cut away this mass of delusion with the sword of prajna-wisdom, so that we may discover the bright mind of the real self, is called the controlling of mind.
As the text says, we should not think good or evil, advantage or disadvantage, love or hate. This no mind state where nothing exists is the correct posture of the mind. Dogen Zenji says, "Don't think anything." He recommends controlling the mind, pointing to the real self which is the mind of nonthinking. Since illusion and delusion, like mist, have no substance, they will disappear if we do not focus on them. In Zen Buddhism we also throw away all illusions by concentrating our mind on the problem the koan suggests. Therefore, the text says, "Be aware of illusions, then they will disappear." Cut all illusions. Concentrate your whole mind on the koan, day and night, without any dualistic consciousness. Then, naturally, the inward and outer worlds, self and universe, subject and object, become one. In due time, the event we have sought is realized, yet it cannot be explained. At that moment we experience the inexpressible comfort of spiritual freedom, and the unique flavor of zazen springs up from the deep.
This experience is not yet satori-awakening ; it is not yet "seeing one's true nature" or "becoming Buddha." In the Mumonkan an old Zen text called the "Gateless Gate," it is said,
Once breaking through [the mass of great doubt] as if with the sword of General Kwan1, one gains the great freedom at the juncture of life and death to kill the Buddha when he meets him, to kill the Patriarch when he meets the Patriarch and so receives the freedom of enjoying the situation wherever he may stand.
We must have such a breakthrough experience where we realize real subjectivity and real freedom. There man becomes the master of the world and there evolves his life of negating and creating freely.
Zazen is, in this way, more than control of posture, breath and mind, but also, on a wider scale, circumstances, family and, fially, society. Therefore, zazen is not easily accomplished.
Indeed, it takes years to do this to the point where such freedom is achieved. But without such freedom, how can anyone live a life that is conciously directed anywhere with any likelihood of going to where one would want to go?
Practice makes perfect; if one does not develop a discipline to have the body and mind do what needs to be done, than quite simply, what needs to be done will only be done in a haphazard, ad hoc, suboptimal way if at all.
1. "Kwan" actually means "barrier" here.