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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
JIRYU RUTSCHMAN-BYLER 29 Zhiyi describes how, as we settle into the counting, the breath will grow smoother and more subtle, as will the effort of attention. As the breath and the mental effort quiet down, there may emerge a sense that the counting is not really helping anymore. It is no longer supporting our deepening concentration—it has actually become rather loud in our head, more a distraction than anything. What’s all that inward shouting about numbers? Can’t we just sit here awhile, alone with the breath? As Zhiyi puts it, at this point “one’s state of mind is such that one does not wish to engage in counting.” It can’t be emphasized enough that this “not wishing to engage in counting” is not the same as just giving up on the practice. It isn’t that we’re bored counting, or that we never really committed to it in the first place and are fishing around for something else to do. Sloughing off one practice and sliding into another (or out of prac- tice entirely) is, as often as not, simple laziness, forgetting or bailing on the practice that we sat down intending to do. Honoring the trajectory is altogether different—we are letting go of the counting in order to follow the path toward further subtlety. There can be some effort here, some hand in letting loose or relin- quishing the heavier effort, but ideally this process is utterly natu- ral, effortless. We just naturally turn away from the counting and toward the quieter practice of following. Counting drops away like an autumn leaf. At this point, we don’t add anything new to our meditation. The counting has fallen away, but the attention on the breath is still there. It’s the same practice, just with no number. In modern Zen, this sec- ond gate, “following,” is understood as the second phase of medita- tion practice: what Zhiyi describes as “relying single-mindedly on following the coming in and going out of the breath.” I sometimes think of this practice as a form of counting, but just counting to one. Our full attention is on this one breath. We don’t Deep, direct, and sincere inquiry dislodges some of the staleness or stickiness or passivity that can occur in breath practice. It invites us into wonder, even awe.