Breathing Meditation (II)

By Venerable John Eshin

In the previous article a general view was given on breathing meditation. Posture and breathing are practised to calm the mind. As the mind calms one becomes more stable and one can better investigate the true nature of oneself. Mental energy and thoughts are scattered at first. Focusing on the breath reduces the scatteredness and brings calmness. One must be careful not to just sit quietly. To sit quietly produces a subjective sense of peace but is not deep enough. For example, if a neighbour makes a loud noise or the phone rings the sense of peace can be lost. A feeling of disturbance occurs. Thus it was just a subjective feeling.

Real peace and calmness appears when we keep conscious of the surroundings through the five sense organs. Sense object, sense organ and sense mind come into balance. Inside and outside are in harmony. When inside and outside are in balance there are no disturbances as one is constantly coming into contact with what is arising. This is peace in action. It is keeping with the flow and change of circumstances.

Cultivating peace and calmness comes by not being pulled out of balance on either side. Master Hakujo said 'By paying attention to the events in life without repressing/denying on one hand and not indulging/attaching on the other hand is the path to Liberation'. On one side awareness must be maintained. This is awareness of the outside through the five sense organs and awareness of the inside through the sixth sense organ, the mind. The tendency to space out, get lost in thoughts, and becoming distracted are overcome through practising awareness. On the other side indulging or becoming attached to what appears through the sense organs causes imbalance. The imbalance arises because the flow of events is stopped by holding onto something. As something is noticed one practises not starting thoughts about it. As thoughts arise do not become attached to them. There are natural thoughts. These are the first, direct thoughts. There is a tendency from old habits of then thinking about these first thoughts. Master LinChi called this 'putting a head on top of the one you already have'.

As calmness and peacefulness develop a deeper introspection can occur. Inbreathing and outbreathing is more closely observed. Sometimes a moment of 'nothing', or a gap, occurs at the end of the inbreath and/or the end of the outbreath. This gap is a letting go of the conventional consciousness. The conventional consciousness is a consciousness that sees the world and everything in it as objects. This is the consciousness that works and deals with all the ordinary, everyday events of life. The gaps or breaks in this allow the experience of a consciousness that is not personal. It has been called samadhi, 'zero', 'still-point'. Sometimes this is called stopping the mind. In fact it is stopping the conventional small mind which then allows the appearance of big mind. With further practise of breathing meditation and a careful awareness and investigation in ordinary life these gaps increase in length, frequency and depth. One old Master described them as 'the ten thousand things advancing'. The ten thousand things is an old expression for everything, all things. It is a consciousness that lacks the sense of personal, the sense of 'I am'. This consciousness is of things just as they are. In this consciousness everything appears in its simple clarity and radiance. After experiencing this the conventional, personal consciousness then developes by noticing more things and becoming sensitive of the world it is in. At this time the sense that all beings are inter-related and inter-mingled arises.

In continuing practise there comes times when there are bursts of radiance and illumination. Here the conventional consciousness is starting to be infused with the universal consciousness. It is also the bursting forth of true, unconditioned love. The conventional consciousness gains the wisdom that's it arises from the universal - this is its true ground or source. The arising of this wisdom has as its other side ones selfishness and self-centredness falling away. Breathing becomes fuller, deeper. Mind and body become integrated. In this stage of practise the conventional consciousness, the universal consciousness and illumination occur at times.

Over a long period of practise conventional and universal consciousness merge more and more fully. The wisdom that 'everything is my child', 'all people are my brothers and sisters', 'pregnant with the whole world' are words used by some contemporary Masters to describe this. Self and no-self/other have merged, life and death have merged. This is called the activity of silent illumination, true self, Buddha Nature. Natural goodness and wholesomeness unselfconsciously flows out to all. Breathing becomes the alternation of expansion to embrace all things (the skin having become porous) and contracting all things down to the smallest point in the belly.

It is common these days to be too satisfied with understanding or to stop at understanding. In olden times practitioners would absorb a teaching and contemplate it over a long time, over years in some cases. Gradually the wisdom of these teachings would be internalized, be digested. This is the way to practise to gain deep, enduring results.