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Buddhadharma : Spring 2018
JOSH BARTOK 25 We don’t try to control the breath. We’re not trying to force ourselves to have slow breaths or long breaths. Rather, we simply release some of the tension from the upper chest and let our breath fall down into the diaphragm. As we allow the breath to come and go, the belly naturally rises and falls. Ordinarily, we locate our consciousness in the center of our head, behind the eyes, and we attend to our breath from there. But in zazen, we breathe from the hara—a spot about three fingers below the navel—and hold our center of attention in that place. It can be helpful to imagine pulling the single point of awareness that seems to be located in the center of the head down into the hara, and attend ing from there. When the mind moves, the attending tends to pop right back up to the head. When we notice this has happened, we can imagine taking hold of it inwardly, bringing it back down, and commencing to breathe from the hara. It might be helpful to imagine a plunger descending on the head, a piston pushing gently down. It’s important to understand all of these images are simply tools, useful contrivances, scaffolding for the practice of just following the breath, being the breath. Moreover, in all forms of breath practice, whether counting the breath or following the breath, we engage in a preference for breath as the object of mind. Whenever we notice the object of mind is not the breath, we replace it with the breath. This is a powerful, liberating practice. All of these scaffolding elements—preferring the breath, count ing, following, holding the hara, depressing the piston, replacing the object of mind—are effortful strivings and, as such, at some point they may start to feel contrived, like too much doing. When we start to notice that dissonance, there’s another practice we can move into called shikantaza, or “just sitting.” Ultimately, shikantaza is absolute, radically nondual nondoing. It’s relying on no contrivance. Unlike breath practice, shikantaza does not prefer one object of mind over another. Like breath prac tice, it is still done with this one thing that is bodybreathmind universe. We might say, “The entire universe of the true human breath, the entire universe, is the dharma body of the self.” In begin ning shikantaza, we may find ourselves relying on the scaffolding