by Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi
Zazen-ji, May 18, 1991
Language is a wonderful thing. You know, we can say "hello", we can introduce ourselves and say "What a beautiful day." But, of course, we are not our names and none of the things that we experience are the names that we have for them.
It is wonderful to be able to talk because then we can communicate with each other. However, sometimes we can be so clever with our words that we become confused by our own double-talk. What I mean by double-talk is that we have words that refer mainly only to other words. We have symbols that refer to other symbols. Symbols can be very useful because they can instruct us in something, they can tell us how to do something, in which case the symbol refers to something that we actually experience, but when symbols only lead to other symbols, then it seems to become a closed system. Now, we are so good at talking (and so good at double-talk) that most of you spent a lot of time, this morning, thinking about what was going to happen when you got here. You were rehearsing it in your head despite the fact that you really had no idea what was going to happen. In the same kind of way, whenever we meet anyone we usually rehearse what we are going to say beforehand and when we get there, nothing ever happens the way we thought it was going to happen.
Sometimes we might notice that and feel upset; sometimes we might not notice that because we are already rehearsing the next thing in our head. So we are continually talking to ourselves about what we are doing. We have a kind of monologue or a story-line in which we talk to ourselves about what we have been doing, what we are going to be doing and, from time to time, we even comment on what we are doing right now.
We become so good at language, at words, at names, that we really do begin to confuse our experiences with our names for our experience.
So that is one of things that we want to take a look at this afternoon. We want to find out what happens if we begin to see that our thoughts are not what our experiences really are and that, in fact, the thoughts are just a very small part of our experience. It is not a matter of attempting to get rid of our ability to name things or to think. But because we have invested so much energy into our thoughts, we often do not have any room for what our experience actually is. Everything gets filled up by the separations that we create between things.
We name a thing and we think that because we have named it, we know what it is. We name something and as soon as we name something, we start to think that it is a noun. For example, we say "mind" and many of us think that is a noun, that mind is a kind of a thing, that it is one thing, a kind of a substance, it is always the same.
But what is it that we are calling "mind"? We are calling thoughts and feelings, sights and sounds, experiences which are always coming and going, always shifting and changing radically, "mind". And we act as if that is always one thing. We act towards the mind, then, and towards our experience, as if it should always be one way and when it is not, we become frustrated. And because it never really is one way, we are almost always frustrated. And because we become frustrated, we wind up telling ourselves more and more stories about how things should be.
So, what we want to do, then, is just begin to work with our experience as it really is, because none of our names, none of our words for our experience is what our experience really is.
Of course, that is why we are here. We have some idea that there is a reality which is outside of our thoughts and feelings. But as soon as we say "reality", we might have a little bit of a problem because reality, to us, almost always means something final, something real. But, of course, there are many different realities, each reality based on what you think it is going to be, what parameters you set out for it, what you expect.
So perhaps we could put aside the search for reality and instead work with our experience, because regardless of what we think reality is or is not, regardless of what we have named things, regardless of how confused we might be about things, one thing that we know for sure is that right now we are right here. Right now we are listening to something and we are seeing different colours and we are feeling the temperature of the room. We are aware, right now. We are experiencing right now. We know that to be true. Regardless of anything else, we know that to be true. Now, what does true mean? Just simply that it is going on, that there are these colours and forms and sounds. There is this experience. We know that this is true. It is the only thing that we know is true, for sure. Anything else might be a story. So, what we do here is we work with experience, we play with experience. We experience experience, because experience stands outside of all of our names, all of our thoughts, all of our storylines, all of our categories and yet, at the same time, all of our names and storylines and categories arise within experience.
So what we want to do is actually just put everything in its right place. What I mean by its right place is right here.
Although we might be thinking about what we are going to be doing later, we are right here. Although we might have a memory about what we have been doing, we are right here.
Right here stands outside of our storylines and our storylines only arise within it. Unfortunately, our experience of right here often only happens for us in the context of a storyline. Something has meaning because of our associations with it -- a colour, a form, a sound, a person, an event, a place -- all is meaningful for us because it reminds us of something else, but it is not something else, it is this. Because, of course, that is the thing about names and categories and storylines, is that they are all about the past and the future. But our life does not happen in the past or the future, it only happens right here and now. And our life is not a story, it is the real thing. What do I mean by the real thing? I mean: you are hearing these sounds.
Now, the other really interesting thing about experience and about right here, right now, this time, is that although we can know all kinds of things and name all kinds of things, although we can say that is black and that is blue, this is a candle -- we have all kinds of names for things and we can describe things -- we can say whether we like it or whether we do not like it, what is it, really? What is it?
When we see a colour, what is that, really? Now we could talk about light vibrating, we could talk about waves and particles, but that seems to miss the point. It is much like talking about love.
If we want to know what love is, we have to be in love, right? That is the only way that we can find out what love is, is to be in love. We could talk about glands, we could talk about breeding cycles, we could talk about all kinds of things, but that is not exactly what love is. That might be part of how love happens, but that is not what love is.
If we want to find out what love is, we have to be in love and as we love, we may find that we get confused about love when we are telling ourselves stories about love -- you know, when we are telling ourselves stories about the person that we love -- we tell ourselves stories about what will happen for us because we love this person. We confuse ourselves when our love is a storyline. In the same kind of way, if we want to know what experiencing in itself is, or reality is, or what the mind is, or who we are, we have to experience experience.
Now, experience is colours and forms and sounds, thoughts, feelings, smells, myriad things, numberless things. How many colours are you seeing right now? Now, as you are listening, do you feel your feet, do you feel the hands? Are you aware of the breath? Do you hear the traffic sounds, do you hear the sound of your own breath? You do when I mention it, but perhaps you were not until I did mention it.
Now, that again is very interesting. How is it that we can experience something and not experience it? How is it that we can be noticing something and yet not notice it? When our attention becomes invested in only a part of our experience, whether it is a thought, a name, a story, or whether we are paying more attention to a sound than to a sight, then we are not really experiencing all of our experience.
One way of working with experience can be called the path of meditation. And this recognizes that we get very confused because we identify a lot with our names and stories and words and our attention is always scattering. And so we want to take this scattering and bring it to a kind of settled state so that instead of the mind flipping around to the past, the present, the future, and all of these different things that we are aware of, we want to find one thing that we are aware of and pay attention to it. And so we narrow our attention down and just pay attention to one thing instead of letting our attention scatter.
Now, if we catch any of you doing that here, you will be thrown out because that is not what we do. Zen is not about meditation. You cannot compare it to meditation. The problem is not the scattering. The scattering occurs because of focusing, because our attention contracts on something and then excludes everything else. So, simply focusing our attention on something else, say [counting] the breath or [focusing on] a mantra or a visualized image is exactly the same thing that we have been doing that has been confusing us in the first place, except that we are just going to learn how to do it better so that we can become even more thoroughly confused. Because all that we will have done is focus on one fragment of our experience. We will not understand what our experience in itself is, what our life in itself is, or who we are because the most fundamental question, of course, is what is it that is experiencing experience? What is it that is aware?
There are all kinds of things that we are aware of: Colours and forms and sounds, different ways of being aware, waking, sleeping, dreaming, all kinds of subtle states, yogic states and so on, which are possible. But those are all things that we are aware of. What is the awareness? Regardless of what we are aware of -- a colour, a person, a building, anger, fear -- what do all of those things have in common? They all have in common the fact that we are aware of them. Regardless of what we are experiencing, the basic fact is that there is this experiencing presenting itself as these experiences. And if we want to understand what that is, we have to work with the whole of our experience and we have to work with the process of how experience presents itself.
If we find that we are confused, rather than trying to avoid our confusion, in Zen we want to see how we become confused so that we can learn how we do that, so we can learn how to stop it.
So in Zen, we practise experiencing experience itself. If we want to know what Awareness in itself is, the only way to do that is to be aware, fully, thoroughly and completely. So what we do, is we work with different aspects of our experience and begin to bring them together.
There are different techniques that we use in Zen. There is zazen, sitting practice. We will not call it "meditation", we will call it "sitting practice", sitting. There are many different ways in which we sit. Usually, when we begin our practice, we begin by working with the breath, but if we continue our practice and our practice deepens, then our teacher will give us different techniques to use until we can burn through the techniques, until we do not need any technique at all, which is called shikan taza, just sitting. And that is really what we practise here.
But, there are different things that we might use: Koan, the breath, sometimes a mantra, sometimes feeling the body, all kinds of different things. As well as sitting, we have walking practices called kinhin; we have movement practices called kata; for eating we have something called oryoki practice. There are also sleeping practices, dreaming practices, because in Zen we want to work with each aspect of our experience, completely.
So then, none of these things are themselves Zen. Sitting is not Zen, kinhin is not Zen, oryoki is not Zen. The entire continuum of the training is Zen.
So what we are going to do this afternoon is introduce you to some basic elements of Zen practice. You are not going to learn Zen this afternoon. You are not going to learn Zen in a week or a year or fifteen years. But what we will do is introduce you to some basic elements of Zen, which I hope you will find useful. I am sure that you will find them useful because they are based on your experience, working with your own experience. And then, if you find that you like working with your own experience, then you might want to take up Zen training as such, but that is not the purpose of this workshop.
The purpose here, is just to introduce you to these elements of practice so that you can use them on your own, so that you can adapt them to whatever your purposes are. But we do want to make sure that you know what the real fundamental purpose of Zen is. The real fundamental purpose of Zen is to be Awareness in itself, to realize who and what you are, to stand free of all states by being the context in which the states arise.
Zen is not about cultivating any particular state of mind. It is not about any particular kind of experience. It is being the nature of experiencing itself. So that whether one is waking, sleeping or dreaming, one is the context in which these states are coming and going.
With that out of the way, now we can get to something that you might find a little more useful and interesting. We will talk about what we are going to do this afternoon more specifically. What we are going to do is to try to bring together body, breath, speech and mind, so that the mind and the body are in the same place and at the same time.
Now, of course, they are always in the same place and at the same time. They are always right here. But unfortunately, we do not always experience it that way. Often, we are so caught in wanting something else to be happening that we do not allow ourselves to experience fully our own experience, as if there is something wrong with our experience, as if there is something wrong with us, as if we need something outside of us to make us happy. And so we are continually running around trying to find something that will make us feel richer, stronger, more open, more loving, more loved, because we are so distanced from our own experience that we do not experience its richness and so we continually act out a sense of poverty.
So the purpose of mindfulness practice, to begin with, is to show you the richness and wealth of your own experience so that you can allow yourself to have fun. You can allow yourself to enjoy tasting an orange, peeling the orange, smelling the skin and the flesh of the fruit, seeing how the juice sprays, seeing the light shining on the juice as it dribbles down your hand, actually tasting it. And driving your car, feeling the steering wheel, feeling where your feet are, being right where you are instead of trying to be where you are going, being right where you are, having enough time for yourself to experience your experience as it really is. To see the sunlight, to feel the rain, to take a step, to breathe a breath and know that you have enough time to breathe this breath, you have enough time to take this step. You have enough time for your own life. That is what we want to begin to work with, mindfulness.
And so the first thing that we are going to do is something called kinhin, which is walking practice. In walking practice, we walk. We are not going anywhere, we are just going to walk around and around in this room for a little while. And in fact, although we call it walking practice, it is not really walking practice because what we are actually going to do, is we are going to pay attention to each step. And so we are not really worried about walking any place and we are not even worried about walking. We are not worried at all. We are just feeling this step, heel, sole and toe and feeling how the posture is, noticing what the breath is like, noticing when we get lost in a thought, bringing ourselves back and just feeling the step. After we do kinhin, then we will do some sitting practice, some zazen, and we will work a little bit with postures, find a posture that will be suitable for you. And then you will continue doing this for a while. And then there will be a little bit of a free period, a little bit of a break, but I hope that during the break, what you will do, is you will actually pay attention to what you were experiencing right then. That is to say, tasting the coffee, feeling the sunlight, noticing whether your knees ache, noticing if your knees ache, whether you can still feel your feet, whether you can feel your shoulders, whether you can feel the whole body. Noticing whether, if something is unpleasant, you focus on it and exclude everything else, right?
So I hope that you use the free period as sort of a free form of practice and then when we come back, we will do some bowing and chanting practices to show you what those things are like. You see, because we can sit, we use that in our practice, we sit. Because we can walk, we use that in our practice. Because we can make sounds, we use that in our practice and so on. So we want to give you a glimpse of basic elements of the continuum of Zen practice and then after the chanting and so on, there will be some more sitting and some more walking.
So right now, we are going to stand up and we are going to do some kinhin. Now, the thing is that our practice has already started. It does not start when we start walking, it starts when we come in here. So when we stand up, this is part of our practice. So we begin by taking care of our zafu. This round cushion is called a zafu and it is made specifically for sitting practice and so we want to take good care of this because if we take care of the cushion, it will take care of us. It will be more comfortable for us to sit on. Instead of continually cluttering our lives with our thoughts and feelings and cluttering other people's lives, we want to begin to have some quality of actually taking care of things. So we begin with taking care of the cushion. . The other thing is that we never know what is going to happen. As we breathe in and breathe out, each breath might be our last breath. So we might die during kinhin and then we might leave some flat cushion for somebody else to sit on and that would not be very nice. We want to take care of the cushion. If we take care of it, it will take care of us and that helps us to take care of others. Then as we stand, we want to feel what that is like.
So as you can see, I guess we could say that kinhin is the practice of walking with the whole bodymind. And in that practice, one of the first things that we notice is that we are not often experiencing the whole bodymind, but just little bits and pieces of it. And we can notice this because we are slowing it down and paying attention to it. Just how those fragments of experience can begin to gouge into and rip and tear other things, so that when we get lost in thought, we almost feel like we are going to fall over. We do not even know how to walk. It is amazing.
Although you might find that you become lost in thought or sleepy or fall into some kind of feeling tone or state, some memory, some planning, or you might begin to find that all kinds of feelings might begin to well up, buried feelings or feelings that we tend to get into almost out of rote, this is not an obstacle to your practice. Your practice is to pay attention to how your experience is right now and feeling the step in kinhin is the medium that you are using in order to do that. So, the practice is not really feeling the step; the practice is paying attention and using the step as a touchstone so that you know what the quality of your attention is. If you cannot feel the step, it is because you are lost in something. So in the same kind of way, in our sitting practice, the practice is to experience our experience and to bring the thoughts and feelings into the context of the body, the room, this moment right now.
So if you get lost in thought -- and you will get lost in thought, you will get lost in thought a lot -- that is fine. The question is: what is it like when you get lost in thought? What is it actually like? When you bring yourself back, how do you do that? What we want to actually do is to work with the movement of attention. We are not trying to manipulate it, we are simply allowing contraction, allowing moments of fixation to open so that we can begin to attend more and more completely to the whole of our experiencing.
So in our zazen, we sit not just with the mind, but with the bodymind as a whole. So we begin with the body. We begin with the body by finding a posture that will help us to attend. So one of the most important things, then, is a posture of balance. If we are leaning forward or leaning back or anything of this nature, then we can often put stress on some areas of the body and then the whole body begins to become out of balance. So the most important thing, then, is a balanced posture. It is not important to look like you know what you are doing. It is important to do what you are doing fully and completely. So there are many different postures that we could use in our zazen practice. I know that there is one person who has some problems with her back, so in this case she will be sitting leaning against the wall because to do otherwise might involve a lot of unnecessary stress and damage. But if we do not have severe back problems, then we would like to sit without any support for the back so that we can allow the weight of the upper part of the body to be grounded in the lower part of the body so that the upper part of the body is actually supported by the lower part, so that it is in balance, rather than leaning forward from it and being dragged down.
We have several instruments that can be used here. There are some chairs. There is a seiza bench, the low wooden bench there, and then there are the round things, the zafus. When you are sitting on a zafu, you want to sit on the first third of it, basically, so that when you sit, you do not have the zafu digging into the backs of your thigh, otherwise it will cut off the blood flow. If you are sitting in a chair, again, you want to sit so that your feet will be flat on the floor, your back is away from the back of the chair and you are sitting more or less on the edge of the chair, not perched, but balanced, using the chair for support rather than sort of folding yourself into the framework of the chair. With the zafu, you want to sit on the first third of it because we want to balance the posture as much as is possible. One of the most balanced things is a tripod. So in this case, we have knees and we have buttocks, so we want to balance those. There are several ways of doing this using the zafu or the seiza bench. The first way is called seiza, which is a kind of kneeling posture, so that the knees are spread and the buttocks rest on the heels. In this posture, however, you might find that blood flow will be cut off and the heels will begin to hurt and so on, so usually people will use a zafu and place it in between the legs like this (on its side). Or one can use that wooden bench back there, kneeling with the heels underneath the platform of the bench, and again, resting on the seiza bench in such a way that the platform of it is not cutting into the backs of the thighs. So if you cannot sit in a half lotus posture, a full lotus posture or something of this nature, you might find that the seiza posture is the best thing. If you sit in a cross-legged posture without your knees making contact with the ground, or with the mat, then your posture will not be thoroughly balanced. If you are sitting cross legged like this, in tailor fashion, it puts a lot of strain on the thighs and then that starts to create strain in the lower back and in the belly and then your shoulders start to curve forward and so on, and it becomes very complex. You can use cushions to support your knees like that, but again, it does not actually allow the hips to open and that is one of the things that we want. We want to allow the body to actually practise the posture. It is not just a matter of leaving the body in this posture while the mind does its "Zen thing" or its spiritual thing. That is an unfortunate attitude that many of us might have because, say, if we do something like this Zen or something, we simply do that as part of our own storyline - you know, this is some neat thing that I do - and we add it to all of our other experiences and we put it on and take it off like a costume. But to really practise, we cannot practise like that. We have to practise with the whole bodymind, using every element of our experience.
The body has a great deal of wisdom to show us. It can show us states of mind that we might not otherwise notice, and it can show us subtleties of those states that we might not otherwise notice. And we will mention a couple of those things just briefly.
When you are sitting and a thought comes up, it comes up in the bodymind. A mental state is also a physical state and a physical state is also a mental state. When you become angry, your shoulders raise up, your jaw juts out, the chest becomes tight, the sphincter muscles tighten, the arms tighten, the thoughts begin to rush, the vision narrows, the hearing flattens. All of these are different factors of the mental state, anger. But those are all physical, are they not? When we are thinking, often, we might think that our thoughts are closed to everyone, but all kinds of things are happening in our posture. All kinds of things are happening to our facial muscles and so on. Mental states are also physical states.
Because we often only notice the names and the words and the stories that our states are telling us, we don't notice the state itself and we do not notice how the wholeness of our experience becomes broken up by hiding within the texture of that state. The body can show us that, in that if you get lost in a thought when you are sitting, a good posture will show you that you have lost balance, it will show you that you are slumping forward. If you start to become lax, that is to say, if the mind starts to become dull and you are not actually attending to the details of your experience and you are beginning to drift, then your posture will start to collapse. So we want to have a posture that will allow us to be very sensitive to everything that is going on for us right now and how it is going on for us right now and what it is.
So as we practise, we begin to find that all kinds of things change as our practice deepens. We begin to access all kinds of hidden memories and patterns and different ways of knowing things. The body begins to let go of a lot of things that might have been stored for a long time and the shape of the body begins to change. One of the things that happens is that the hip bones begin to open as the muscles of the thighs and the back and so on, begin to become more limber. It is a funny thing that just sitting with your legs bent like this will actually do that, but that is so because the body itself wants to be free. It does not want to be held prisoner by any of the states that we bring to it; it does not want to be held by anger or by fear or by sadness or by loneliness. The body wants to just be the body.
The posture of zazen gives the body a chance to be just body, instead of acting out our state of apathy or horror or fear, it just sits. That is an amazing thing. Usually, we use our body as a way to represent our states to ourselves and to others. For example, right now, I want you to be interested and so I am moving my hands and engaging in various ways so that you will actually pay attention to what I am saying.
So that is fine, that can be very useful. On the other hand, though, often the body is acting out states and we have no idea that is happening and so states become deepened and propagated and so on and so forth. The sitting posture gives the body a chance to just be body. So if you cannot sit with the knees on the mat, it is best to sit in a seiza posture so that in the long run, as you continue with the practice, the hips will begin to open, the thighs will begin to loosen.
The other thing, too, is that, of course, if one has to prop oneself up on various cushions and so on, that means that you need a lot of equipment to help you to sit and we would like to keep things as simple and clear as is possible. Because one of the very crucial things about this practice is that you should be able to do it any time, anywhere.
A seiza bench or a zafu for seiza is one option. The next posture we can call the agura or the Burmese posture, in which the knees are down on the mat and the legs are simply placed one in front of the other, like this. If you can do this posture, that is fine, because it gives you, again, that quality of balance. If you can, you could also try to bring one of your feet up onto the calf, which is a quarter lotus or onto the thigh, which is a half lotus. Or you could bring up the other foot, as well, which is a full lotus, which is the best posture. This is not because it is the most pretzel-like or anything of this nature, and not because, you know, it looks like this guy here, (the Roshi gestures to the Buddha rupa on the altar) but because it is a very balanced posture, in that this will help the thighs to open. It does ground the knees and allows the lower part of the body to just sit.
So if you can do this, that is fine. If not, do a half lotus, if not, do a quarter lotus; if not, just have your knees on the mat; and if not, use the seiza bench and if not, use a chair. All right? So the main thing is to have a quality of grounding the lower part of the body. Now, there is the upper part of the body. What do we do with that? Well, it just sits on top of the lower part of the body, which means that we want to have the ears over the shoulders and the nose over the navel so that the upper part of the body is straight. By straight, I do not mean rigid and tight, but in balance. This is important because in order for us to attend fully and completely, we need to have a good view of things, we need to have some sense of space. If we are leaning forward or if we are trying to rest and make ourselves comfortable, what we wind up doing is closing ourselves into smaller and smaller spaces.
You know how it is, when you are feeling very crowded, people are bothering you and you say "Go away! Leave me alone! I need some space!" and in your effort to create some space for yourself, you become very claustrophobic and very tight and it just does not work. So instead, what we need to do is to use the space that we have as fully as we can.
As well, you might have noticed that when you are watching a movie or something of this nature, when the interesting part comes, almost everybody straightens up in order to see what is going on. So there is some association between having a straight back and paying attention. So that is what we want to do. We want to sit so that the upper part of the body is straight and balanced.
As our posture deepens, we begin to find that there is a particular point which is called balance point, which is the optimal posture for the body. And that has nothing to do with where the legs are or anything of this nature. This can happen when you are sitting in a chair and it can happen when you are walking and so on. Balance point is when the upper part of the body is so light that it is almost transparent and the lower part of the body is fully and completely grounded without feeling heavy.
A little clue that could help you to find balance point is to sit with the ears over the shoulder, nose over the navel, draw the spine up and the shoulders up and then let the shoulders go and then lean forward in a bow, breathing out like this, bringing the body straight and then bring yourself back, straighten up and just when you feel perfectly straight, let go of the muscles and now lean back just an eighth of an inch. You will usually find that creates a feeling of lightness, almost as if you are sitting on the edge of a cliff. It is a dangerous kind of lightness in that it can be very sensitive, so that if a thought comes up or a feeling comes up and you identify with it or you try to avoid it because it is about something you don't want to think about it, then that registers in the body as a feeling of weight, that quality of transparency becomes closed down by the contraction of the mind.
So that is the optimal posture for zazen, balance point.
Now, we have these hands and these arms, so how do we use those to help us to do the practice? Well, we place the hands in the lap so that we are not touching ourselves, not going around scratching and fiddling and so on, because one thing that we will find, sometimes, is that we are continually trying to reinforce our sense of who and what we are. In fact, most of the time that is what we are doing. We are trying to find out who we are, reinforce our sense of who and what we are by bringing in some kind of memory or something to hold onto. So we might find ourselves wanting to do a lot of this: Touching our head, touching our face, scratching and so on. If you itch when you sit, that is fine. Just feel the itch, don't scratch, please. Just let it come and let it go because one of the things that can happen, sometimes, is we can get really itchy because we want to find something to identify with.
The other thing about that itching that can sometimes happen is that we are starting to feel with the body and it starts to become alive and it starts to become fiery. We hold tension, sometimes, in the muscles, but we also hold tension at an epidermal level, we actually do. And so when we sit, sometimes a lot of itching can come up. We call this "tana", or burning and it is fine. It will come up and it will go if you don't scratch, but you know what happens. When you scratch one place, another place becomes itchy and then another place becomes itchy and then another place, and it just goes on and on and on and on and on. Just like if you get angry with someone, they will get angry and they will get angry back at you and it just goes on and on and on.
So what we want to do is just stop all the propagation and just cultivate what is actually happening. So you put your hands in your lap so they don't go flying around and place the right hand down first. If you are sitting in a full lotus posture, then the back of the hand goes on the heel of the left foot. If you are sitting in a half-lotus posture, then the ball of the wrist rests inside the hollow of the right thigh. If you are sitting in the agura posture, then you want to rest the back of the wrist in the hollow of the thigh and the same is true of the left hand.
Place the hand so that the knuckles of the left hand, the first knuckles of the left hand fit into the fold of the knuckles of the right hand, like this, so that the hands are touching lightly. And then bring the thumbs together over the hands, not up like a mountain and not down like a valley, but just even, so that they are just touching.
Now notice whether you are pushing them together to prove to yourself that you are feeling them. If so, let go and just let the thumbs touch lightly, so lightly that it is almost as if you could slide a piece of paper in between them. I don't know why you would want to do that, but that is how you would want the pressure of the thumbs to be very light like that, so that again, the mudra becomes very sensitive. This is called the hokkai-in mudra, or the gesture of the display of things as they are. Which means that if you get lost in thought and you start to become angry or something of this nature, you might notice that the hands will press. Or if you start to get judgmental about your practice, that you are not doing right and so on, then again the thumbs will press. If you become very lax, very dozy and spaced out, then the thumbs will drop. And so that will help you to notice how the mind is. And it is good to have the blades of the hands right against the belly. That is why I say that the wrists should be in against the hollows of the thighs, there. Because, again, if the hands start to slide forward, what does that tell you about your practice? Learn from that, bring the hands back. If the shoulders are tense, just let the elbows hang. So ears over the shoulders, nose over the navel, the hands in this mudra. Now we have the posture of body. Next is the posture of the breath.
One of the things that you might have noticed is that you cannot notice very much. You tend to think more than anything else. When you are not thinking, you are feeling. Now, feelings and thoughts are related to each other and you could say that feelings are more of an environmental quality and then the thoughts are the statements of those feelings, and that the feelings and the thoughts both happen, as we were saying, in the context of the bodymind as a whole.
So although they are part of our experience, they are merely part of our experience and yet they tend to occupy almost the whole of our attention. So what we want to do is simply see how that happens, notice how that happens and feel what it is like.
Now, one of the things that you will have noticed is that when you are not noticing things, there is a claustrophobic quality. There is a smallness to one's experience. When you get lost in a thought, sometimes the room is gone and you are someplace else. And then you wake up and you come back and the room is so big, you wonder where it could have gone while you were lost in that thought. Of course, it was right here; everybody else was right here. All the colours were here, all the sounds were here. So habitually, our attention is disposed in patterns of contraction in which we become abstracted and isolated from our life as a whole, and yet our life as a whole is always available to us. That means that no matter how contracted we might become, no matter how angry we might become, no matter how fearful we might become, still, primordially present, always present is the possibility of openness and clarity because in this moment, there is just this moment.
One of the things we will have noticed is that we make things very, very complex. The practice that we have been doing is very, very simple. Just sitting, following the breath. It sounds easy and yet, it becomes so complex for us.
So we want to see how our experience becomes complexified. We want to see how it becomes knotted up and tied up, begin to understand how that knot is tied and untie it.
The simplest and most straightforward thing for us to do if we want to untie the knots that have contracted body, breath, speech and mind is to bring that complexity together with that simplicity. That is to say, when we notice that we are contracted about something, that we are puzzled about something, that we are wondering about something, that there is some sense of problem, what is going on right now? Are you aware of seeing, are you aware of hearing? What is the breath like? What is this moment, as a whole, actually like?
In this moment, the colours are as they are, the sounds are as they are. When you stand up, you stand up. When you sit down, you sit down. And so there is a simplicity and a clarity that is present in this moment which is not based on simplifying things, in terms of trying to get rid of complexity. Instead, the complexity happens when we are not aware of the richness of our experience of this moment. The simplicity of this moment consists of richness which has many different facets and many different capabilities. In this moment, we are able to see, we are able to hear, we are able to move, we are able to think, we are able to feel and if we can allow the energy of our attention to express itself as the whole of our experience, rather than fragments, that means that we will have all of our energy available to us right now. We will be able to do whatever needs to be done without hesitation, without fear, without rehearsing, but just simply doing it.
So no matter how complex our experience might be, at the same time there is a simplicity which is available to us. There is a clarity which is available to us. This is not something outside of us; this is not something that we need to gain. This is not something that we need to fabricate or acquire or manufacture in any kind of way. It is simply something that we need to wake up to. And so this is called "Zen", which is a form of Buddhist practice.
Buddhist practice was started by the Buddha, which means "One who has Woken up". Waking up is sometimes translated as "Enlightenment", but what waking up means is uncovering and realizing the basic clarity and sanity of our experience, itself, stepping past the dreams and the contractions and the fabrications and the double-talk that are mere interpretations of and fragments of our experience, waking up to the wholeness of body, breath, speech and mind, and of that which is experiencing body, breath, speech and mind, that which experiences the waking state, the sleeping state, the dreaming state.