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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
24 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY motionless recluse, the stark and clear mountaintop. Whatever the image, though, we picture the enlightened ones as free from the bag- gage of striving and effort. Striving always comes from delusion— “there’s a problem here and I’m going to fix it”—and it invariably causes anxiety and agitation. We celebrate Ryokan because he repre- sents freedom from all of this. And what about my napping? The young monk’s nap represents something else entirely—a lack of sincerity and intention, a failing of the very effort that will paradoxically be needed to realize Ryokan’s effortlessness. To pretend to just “go with the flow”—I just nap when I’m tired!—before having “gone against the stream” of my own deep and destructive habits of body and mind is simply abdicat- ing my vows of practice. Yes, selflessness and effortlessness mean just going with the flow, but we must go against the stream of our deep selfishness to fully enter it. How then do we hold and harmonize both of these poles in our practice? What is the interplay between the discipline that keeps exhausted young monks awake and the effortlessness that invites the sages to the shade of pine trees? A perfect way to explore this dynamic, to study how effort and non-effort intertwine, is by engaging with breath meditation. the effort of Breathing naturally There are some Buddhist practices of breath manipulation, but the baseline Buddhist teaching with respect to breath meditation is non- manipulation, or “natural breathing.” The reason is obvious and profound: if we want to see how things truly are, why don’t we just look at how they truly are right now? Why would we think that we need to first change them? Accordingly, the Buddha did not teach that one should extend the out-breath, or hold the in-breath, or rest in the space between out- breath and in-breath, or still the breath completely, or deepen the breath, or ripple or pause or suspend the in- or out-breath. He didn’t teach any of these delicious breath-control practices well known and much practiced by meditators throughout history and the world