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which aspect of breath to focus on

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which aspect of breath to focus on

Postby Rotla on Sat Oct 31, 2015 12:58 am

Hello to you all


This is my first post here, and I would like first of all to express my gratitude for the opportunity to consult with a zen teacher/master.

My question regards the focus on breath. I find myself shifting during a session from focus on the sensation of breath in my nostrils ,to a specific point in my nose, to throat, to whole passage of air in my body, to feeling like pump, to focus (with my imagination i suppose) on the air coming in and out... I can't seem to make up my mind what's best and that insecurity itself disrupts my focus.

I would appreciate your guidance on this issue. Rotla
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Re: which aspect of breath to focus on

Postby Nonin on Sat Oct 31, 2015 6:40 pm

Rotla,

Are you practicing under the guidance of a teacher? Instructions differ depending on which school of Zen Buddhism you're practicing, so please ask your teacher, and if you don't have one, it would be best for you to connect with one.

I teach Soto Zen Buddhism. Some Soto Zen Buddhist teachers instruct beginning students in breath counting, some in breath following, and some do not instruct in any form of breath practice at all but only instruct in body and mind practices. Some of those who teach breath practice start beginners with breath counting in different forms and then move students on to breath following. Some start beginners with breath following. All this depends on how they themselves were trained.

I teach all students to follow the breath, which for me means to concentrate on the breath as it comes in past the nostrils and follow it, or concentrate on it, as it continues to the bottom of the lungs and then follow it as it comes back up and out through the nostrils.

Please follow the instructions given in the form of Zen Buddhist practice that you are doing.

Hands palm-to-palm,

Nonin
Soto Zen Buddhist Priest. Transmitted Dharma Heir of Dainin Katagiri Roshi.
Abbot and Head Teacher, Nebraska Zen Center / Heartland Temple, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
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Re: which aspect of breath to focus on

Postby Rotla on Sat Oct 31, 2015 9:35 pm

Dear Nonin,

Thank you.

No, I don"t have the guidance of a "live" teacher, and I'm afraid I can"t afford it. There is no lack of motivation here.

I do take guidance from the book "Zen mind, Beginner's mind" by Shunryu Suzuki.
I consider him my teacher, since so far it has been beyond me to get a "live" teacher,
and because he is a good teacher for me.

However, I felt that "following" the breathing can be practiced in different ways,
I practiced in the past other methods of meditation what might have added to my confusion,
so I wasn't sure about how to understand it, or if it was important.

Regarding counting breath, I practiced that in the past, but since I manage to suspend the thinking for short segments of time,
I prefer not to engage in counting. Anyway "my teacher" also speaks of following rather than counting, so I have no confusion here.

I didnt realize that different zen schools differ in the practice of zazen, forgive my ignorance.
Since Shunryu Suzuki also was a soto zen buddhist, I assume it wouldn't be inappropriate that I follow your instruction.

Thank you deeply for relieving me from doubt.

Rotla
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Re: which aspect of breath to focus on

Postby Judy Roitman on Sun Nov 01, 2015 4:44 am

Dear Rotla,

Nonin gave you good advice about following the breath. I would only add to his advice that there is no One Right Way. There is no "best." It's okay for your focus to change. No problem. As for suspending thinking, this is not necessarily good. Nor is it necessarily bad. Thinking is also not necessarily good or bad. Just do not be *attached* to thinking. Also, equally important, do not be attached to no-thinking! Shunruyu Suzuki has a great passage where he talks about thoughts coming and going like in a New Orleans style shotgun house (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shotgun_house). They just come and go. No problem.

You say you cannot afford a teacher. But Zen teachers generally do not ask for money. Yes, it costs money to sit a retreat, but I know of very few Zen centers which demand payment in order to sit or in order to talk to a teacher. And in those centers that do charge, the charge tends to be very low --- maybe $5 or less. And even when retreats costs money, scholarships are often available. So I encourage you to look for a teacher near where you live who you can work with.

Where do you live?

Best,

Judy
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Re: which aspect of breath to focus on

Postby Guo Gu on Mon Nov 02, 2015 4:08 am

hello rotla,
you already know the best way how to breath, don't you? breath!
in meditation, just experience it. that's all.
when you discover that you're complicating it, having doubts about it, imagining it, or have strayed off of it, just come back to the tactile, concrete experiencing of breathing. you can only experience your breath where it touches anyway. imagining it is not experiencing it.
when you're ready, you'll seek out a teacher. in the meantime, enjoy your time here.
be simple,
guo gu
Founder and teacher of Tallahassee Chan Center of the Dharma Drum Lineage of Chan Buddhism
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Received inka from Master Sheng Yen (1930-2009) in 1995
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Re: which aspect of breath to focus on

Postby Rotla on Tue Nov 03, 2015 12:40 am

Dear Judy,



I do have attachment to "no-thinking". I'll see how it goes to let go. Thank you.
I should uphold a kind of "motivational equanimity", right?

I live in Israel. I did some re-search to make sure I don't write something that wasn't the truth,
and despite the fact that its mostly retreats and workshops one has to pay for,
its seems that making phone calls and expressing my interest and financial limitations helps.
I found an Israeli zen teacher, soto zen of all, whom I was told I could meet without payment.
So thank you for causing me to "make sure".



With appreciation,
Rotla.

Assuming that teacher will feel "right" for me, would it be alright to still post questions here now and then?
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Re: which aspect of breath to focus on

Postby Rotla on Tue Nov 03, 2015 3:04 am

Dear Guo Gu,

Thank you.

Please forgive me for complicating again in my effort to understand.
I understood that different schools have different ways, and I want to make sure I understand your way.

You are talking about a tactile experience, which means that it's not following the breath from "point A to point B and back",
(which involves an element of imagination too), but just sensing the breath.
I think it's when I do that I "feel like a pump" because my sensation includes the bodily movement.
So your way is "sensing the breathing", rather than "following the breath".

Correct me if I'm wrong and forgive me. I have a need for clarity, but once I have that I always choose simple.

I do seem to have an option for a "local" teacher, and I am going to see him, but to be honest, being a questioning person as I am,
(that's how a long quest ended up with the zen path which seems to me the "cleanest" from cultural elements and ready-made belief systems)
it's probable I'll get the urge to consult with you again. This place is a treasure.

Begging your forgiveness again

with great respect,
Rotla.
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Re: which aspect of breath to focus on

Postby Guo Gu on Wed Nov 04, 2015 4:24 am

rotla,

i appreciate your wish to clarify the method. raising meaningful questions is useful. that's what we're here for.

a basic meditation method i teach people (ppl) is meditation on the sensation of the breath at the nostrils--not following the breath from here to there, back and forth. just the natural breath, whatever quality it may be at any given moment in the present. uncontrived, yet wakeful to the subtleties of the actual experiencing of breath. i do this for the following reasons:

first, learning to ground yourself to tactile sensations (of the breath) is effective in curing over-intellectualization and discursiveness, which is a common problem with people.

learning to discern what is actually happening with regards to the breath from all the proliferation of thoughts that come and go (e.g., how one wishes the breath to be [mind of rejecting things] or how one anticipates it to happen [the mind of seeking]) is the first step. learning this ability is precious because one cultivates the ability to rest wakefully in the present moment instead of living in the past or future. if you examine wandering thoughts, you'll see that they all have something to do with past or future, grasping or rejecting. it is precisely because of this tendency that we lose touch with how things are and cause all kind of problems.

second, the more complicated the method, the easier it is to do, but the level of concentration is inevitably shallow; the simpler the method, the harder it is to do at first, but once you get the hang of it, the concentration level can become quite deep.

a complicated method involves lots of subtle conceptualization and cognitive processes--hence the level of concentration can never get deep. does this make sense?

also, sensation is not conceptual--it has nothing to do with words and language. it is directly linked to awareness, and awareness is by nature nonconceptual. awareness is the present moment! this is why learning to ground oneself in a method that is nonconceptual, focusing on the actual experiencing of this moment, tend to help those who think too much or cause vexations from conceptualization/imagination. it is also simple. now, it may be harder to do at first, but patiently practicing this method with the right attitude of not grasping or rejecting anything will be effective.

of course concepts have their proper place in our life--they help us navigate our lives--but we have to use concepts and not be used by them. most ppl can't distinguish what is actually happening from their ideas about what is happening. we all have our "colored" glasses/lens through which we see the world. practice allows us distinguish our own colored lens from the world. it's not that we don't need glasses anymore, we may need them, but we should have the ability to take them off when we don't need them. we should also be able to put on others' glasses (i.e., see things from other ppl's perspectives) freely. most ppl can't do this--they live in their own worlds, colored by their ideas and concepts; they mistake the color of their lens with how the world actually is.

third, because sensation of the breath may be difficult, and some ppl just can't do it, beginners can use the next best method: counting the breath. it uses the least amount of abstraction (words and language) as a segue to developing concentration. eventually numbers drop away as one's concentration develops.

these instructions should get you started. i'm sure your local teacher to help you with the specifics. the teachers here are all willing to answer any questions you may have from time to time.

be well,
guo gu
Founder and teacher of Tallahassee Chan Center of the Dharma Drum Lineage of Chan Buddhism
http://www.tallahasseechan.org/
Received inka from Master Sheng Yen (1930-2009) in 1995
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Re: which aspect of breath to focus on

Postby Judy Roitman on Wed Nov 04, 2015 5:09 am

Hi, Rotla. You ask whether you should uphold "motivational equanimity." This is just another idea. Holding any idea will get between you and your actual life. Don't uphold anything. Just do your practice. Nonin, Guo Gu, and I, in our different ways, are saying the same thing. We have each made suggestions about practice. They are not precisely the same suggestions because there are many practice techniques. But their direction is the same. They all involve paying attention to what is actually happening at a level more fundamental than speech or thought. Pick one of these practices and do it. And when your mind slips into its usual stuff, just bring it back to the practice. That's really all there is to it.

You live in Israel. There are four centers in Israel associated with the Kwan Um School of Zen. You can find them at http://www.kwanumzen.org/teachers-cente ... rs/europe/ (yes, I know that Israel is not in Europe, but that is how the web page is organized). There are no resident teachers, but they do host visiting teachers who lead retreats and give talks,
and there are senior students who can help you. They have a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/kwanum.israel?sk=wall which tells people about visiting teachers and retreats. There are also a number of centers under the auspices of Thich Nhat Hanh's Community of Mindful Living organization, http://mindfulness-israel.org/about-2/. As of 2010 there was an active Soto group --- it probably still exists --- led by Danny Waxman. You can find it at http://www.zenki.com/index.php?lang=en&page=intro. I could not find a Rinzai group, but who knows? Maybe there is one or more of them as well.

I wish you luck in finding a sangha you feel at home with and a teacher you feel compatible with. Let us know if you do. And of course feel free to write to ZFI with your questions.

Best,

Judy
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Re: which aspect of breath to focus on

Postby Rotla on Thu Nov 05, 2015 1:00 am

Dear Nonin, Judy and Guo Gu,


I think I got the picture now.

Thank you!

:rbow: :rbow:



Soon I'll go to a meeting of the soto group, hope I'll feel it's a good place for me.


With great respect,
Rotla.
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