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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
26 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY getting to the effortless In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Suzuki Roshi described the path to the effortless like this: Strictly speaking, any effort we make is not good for our practice because it creates waves in our mind. It is impossible, however, to attain absolute calmness of our mind without any effort... So it is necessary for us to encourage ourselves and to make an effort up to the last moment, when all effort disappears. This kind of description is common to most styles of Buddhist meditation; they vary in the details, but they share this trajectory from a coarse or heavy-handed effort to a subtle one, and ultimately to no effort at all. An old text that I have been working with recently, The Six Marvelous Dharma Gates, expresses quite beautifully this flow of practice in the context of breath meditation. It is among the works of Master Zhiyi (538–597), the great synthesizer of practice and doctrine in sixth-century China and the founder of the enormously influential Tiantai (Tendai) School. In it, Zhiyi uses the frame of the six gates of breath meditation to wander through and map a trajec- tory from effort to non-effort. the first gate: Counting As for the cultivation of counting, the practitioner regulates and har- monizes the breath so that it is neither too rough nor too subtle. One proceeds in an unhurried fashion, slowly counting, going from “one” on up to “ten.” One focuses the mind on the counting and does not allow it to run off and become scattered. —Zhiyi, The Six Dharma Gates to the Sublime (translated by Bhikshu Dharmamitra) Breath counting is the first gate, the first practice, and it is just what it sounds like. You count the breaths, one to ten. It continues to amaze me that such a basic, contrived, downright gimmicky practice is as ancient as it is, more than two thousand years old. Something about this simple practice of giving a silent number to each breath is such a straightforward and powerful tool of concentration that it opposite | Inhale Hold Exhale, 2016