People often start meditating out of a need to connect the world in their head with the reality around them. One way to do that is through use of your senses. This course focuses on a way in which you can use a deeply visceral sense of your breath and the sensation of gravity throughout your body to do the work of meditation.
Feel Your Meditation Come Alive as Your Use of Breath and Gravity Comes Alive
Many traditions teach that your meditation deepens as the length of your exhalations deepen.
Lengthening exhalations comes out of exploration of the connection between your breathing and the ways in which every part of your body experiences gravity.
One way to explore that connection is through practice with a sword.
Another way is to split firewood with a splitting maul.
When done properly both of those practices strongly reinforce the use of breath and gravity when doing Zen meditation.
The work of Zen meditation is to resolve duality – the simplest duality to begin working on is the mind and body duality.
Zen Meditation is Manual Labor
This course began when I met a young Swedish tech entrepreneur last November. He is self-taught in almost all things that interest him. This openness is what led him to Spring Green Dojo, a curiosity to see what he might learn about using his whole body to engage the world instead of just his thoughts.
He spent three days training with us in Zen, with the focus of that training being the physical ways in which we deepen our use of breath. Given the short amount of time to work together, I wanted him to viscerally grasp the two core principles that guide Zen training: the work is to resolve duality, and your body and your senses are your tools to do that. So we trained with a sword and then did Zen meditation. We trained with a splitting maul and then did Zen meditation. With a sword and a maul, the movements are big and obvious. When sitting on a meditation cushion, the movements are far more subtle.
Overview of the Course
This course takes you through the same steps that this young Swede experienced. First, understand that the work of Zen training is physical. Then, find how using a sword and a splitting maul can teach how use of breath and gravity lie at the heart of that work. And finally, take that learning to the meditation cushion. You'll find sixteen lectures, taking up a total of just under 70 minutes.
This lecture introduces why I find it helpful as a teacher to think of Zen meditation as manual labor. If we have a sense of what the "work" of meditation is, then we can look at how to optimize use of our body to accomplish that work. We don't always think of work or manual labor as fun, but once you start to develop a visceral use of breath and posture, your senses wake up and meditation becomes a very different experience.
In this lecture I introduce the place where I teach and how it has influenced how I teach. I also introduce the three Zen students - a senior student, a beginning student, and an in-between student - who help demonstrate the key points of this course.
It is not easy to do Zen training. So this lecture explores what makes that effort worthwhile.
I come out of a particular lineage of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. One unique aspect of the Chozen-ji lineage is that there are three areas of training considered essential for full development of each student: training in Zen, training in a martial art, and training in a fine art. In this course, we focus on the first two areas but the principles are just as applicable to the fine arts as well.
Breath and gravity are the two essential tools for Zen meditation. In this lecture I illustrate how that use of breath and gravity in Zen meditation can be taught and amplified by training with a sword and a log-splitting maul.
This lecture explains the significance of breath and gravity when training with a sword.
Here we illustrate the essential movement of a sword cut and how that movement relates to our form of Zen meditation.
How do we bring alive the movement of a sword so that a student can best feel the two essential forces of breath and gravity?
This lecture introduces the role of breath and gravity when splitting logs for firewood with a maul.
There is an alternative way to use your body when splitting wood that can be just as effective in waking up the use of breath and gravity.
Splitting wood with a maul may seem like hard work. But what is the rhythm in the use of breath and gravity that help it become effortless?
Now we get to the heart of the matter: how to use the forces of breath and gravity to accelerate the work of Zen meditation?
One way to look at the work of Zen meditation is to recognize the way in which neuromuscular habits control our use of breath and posture. If we don't specifically work to change those habits, it is very difficult to ever advance the development of one's practice of Zen meditation.
Our style of meditation is very active even though it looks like no one is moving. That "activity" is the way in which we learn to properly use the forces of breath and gravity.
Here's a chance to summarize what we have been learning and to give final emphasis to the use of breath and gravity in meditation and the ways in which we can use a sword and a splitting maul to accelerate that development.
Greene Roshi has been training in the Chozen-ji lineage of Rinzai Zen since 1978, receiving formal teaching credentials from his teacher - Tenshin Tanouye Roshi - in 1996. He left his work as a faculty member at the School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii in 2006 in order to found Spring Green Dojo, the rural training facility of the Wisconsin Betsuin in south-western Wisconsin. There he conducts formal Zen training as well as helping to develop a number of innovative approaches to bringing Zen methods and principles into the lives of organizations and individuals.