Ki by Taizan Maezumi Roshi


Teisho by Taizan Maezumi Roshi

Generally, when we talk about sitting zazen, we divide it into three
parts: disposition of the body, breathing, and controlling the mind.

And, regarding the disposition of the body, most of our postures could
be improved. One way to do this is for you to sit in front of a mirror
and check how you sit. Then try to sit better.

What I want to emphasize today is the breathing, and also what we call
‘ki’, a sort of spirit or energy which is very important. I want you
to contemplate on this aspect and raise ki.

We say ‘kikai’, lower abdomen, ocean of ‘ki’. Somehow, in the Orient,
this ki, this flow of energy, was found a long time ago. Lao Tzu
talked about it long before Buddhism went to China. In Taoism they
talk about this ki. And they talk about ‘Shi’, aspiration. Mo Tzu, one
of the earliest Taoists said, “Aspiration is the boss of the body. And
the ‘ki’, or energy, is the thing to fill up the body.” Your body
should be filled with this ki.

Those who are working on the koan Muji can especially utilize this
‘ki’. Work on Muji as if Mu itself were ‘ki’. First, concentrate in
the lower abdomen, then let that ‘ki’, Muji, permeate all your body
gradually. Then let that ‘ki’ flow nicely throughout your body.

Harada Roshi (Yasutani Roshi’s teacher) explained about sitting
posture. Sit with this spirit, and even during severe cold in winter,
after sitting a while your body will start getting warm. You can do
that when you start letting ‘ki’ flow smoothly throughout your body
and especially through the lower abdomen. Very soon you start feeling
that warmth. And sit with such energy and strength that if anybody
casually touches you, sparks fly. It is that kind of intensity…Yet
it’s not physical tension…Just let the body really sit well. With
‘ki’, you can have that strength. And in order to do so, we should
have proper breathing. We can almost say breathing is the key.

It fascinates me that the etymological implication of spirit is ‘to
breathe’. Nowadays we have a different implication about spirit. But
the original implication is ‘to breathe.’ There is an energy, or
spirit, which flows along with the breathing. Even in China, over 2000
years ago, this was practiced.

And ‘ki’ is not only that which flows within ourselves, but also that
which flows in the entire universe. Then, we match our ‘ki’ with that
‘ki’ of the universe, and we become as strong as the whole world.

Now Chang Tzu says an interesting thing about this ‘ki’. He says that
when ‘ki’ is disturbed and upset and scatters, it becomes scarce
within the body. Literally he says ‘kinan tatsu’. Tatsu means stand
up, the opposite of sitting. So, let ‘ki’ sit, and don’t let it
scatter outside yourself.

This reminds me of the very primary aspects of sitting. I often talk
of the analogy of spinning the top. When the top is really well spun,
it stands straight. But even standing in one place, it wobbles if it’s
not well spun. It’s not quite stable even though it’s standing. When
it spins well, it stands spinning. And when it really spins well, it
becomes almost as if the top here just standing still; we can see the
shape of the top as if it here motionless. And such a condition is
called ‘to sit.’ It’s kind of an interesting analogy.

In our sitting the same thing happens. When we sit, when we make
ourselves sit, in a way it’s sitting. But in most of our cases, it’s
almost as if… even though the top is standing… it’s wobbling. Even
though sitting, it’s not really sitting. Mind is running around;
sensations; emotions; feelings…..wobbling.

But when we really sit, even the inner organs are well settled down,
and yet, very active.

(Nowadays, both in Japan and this country, this effect of sitting is
being re-examined by scientists, especially the psychologists and
biologists. And they’re finding out all kinds of interesting results
of sitting. So, just for the purpose of making ourselves healthy,
sitting is highly recommended).

Chang Tzu says more about this. He says that when ‘ki’ is standing and
exposed externally, then internally the ‘ki’ becomes scarce. And when
‘ki’ rises to the head, you become easily upset. It’s an interesting
observation. This was said over 2000 years ago by Chang Tzu and it’s
also true today: When we have tension most of the energy is up in the
head. Then we become more sensitive and we’re more easily upset. And
when the ‘ki’ is down and stays there you become forgetful. In other
words, the ki’s not quite well circulated.

Now, when ‘ki’ gets stuck somewhere in the middle, not up and not
down, then you get sick. And that fascinates me: We say sickness. And
in Japanese we say ‘byoki’. I think that word is derived from the
original Chinese: byoki. ‘Byo’ means illness or sickness. So byoki
means sickness of ki’. And I read someplace that over one third of our
illness is caused by sickness of ki. Maybe it’s more than that. That’s
very interesting. In this country, for instance, culture is so complex
and so high pressure that ‘ki’ can’t flow, and most of the time our
‘ki’ really stays up in the head. Then we get very easily frustrated
and become upset. And being in that condition for a long time, we can
easily see what happens: it becomes neurotic. Even further: it becomes
psychotic. Then we lose the balance. So let that ‘ki’ flow.

Then how to let that ‘ki’ flow? Breathing is a very effective way to
do it. There is a Taoist saying, that the true man, the most healthy
man, breathes with heels, and that the common people breathe with the
throat. In other words, ordinary breathing tends to be very shallow,
but the most healthy people breathe with the heels. By breathing in
that way, that ‘ki’, the spirit, the breath, circulates all over the
body. As a matter of fact, they have two kinds of breathing. One way
is to let the breath circulate from the top of your head to the bottom
of your feet. You can do it even while standing, or while lying down.
And how to do it is simple: Breathe in from the heels; then let that
breath, that inhalation, go up along the back of your legs and spine,
and then let it come up to the top of your head. Then when you exhale,
let that breath go down along the front part of your body, into the
toes. Then breathe into the heels again. Another method is to move the
circulation in smaller circles. That is to say, go through the lower
abdomen to the head and from the head to the lower abdomen. Actually,
this is the kind of breathing that we do in sitting. But since, in
sitting, the heels are very close to the lower abdomen, if you want,
you can breathe through the heels.

We speak of ‘joriki’, the power of stability. This kind of energy is
raised by ‘ki’. So I want you to pay extra attention to how you can
raise this ‘ki’ and make your sitting stronger.

From time to time I hear those who are in charge of the zendo
encouraging you to sit strong. But that doesn’t necessarily mean
physically to tense up. Sitting in a tense way, you can’t really let
the ‘ki’ flow in your body. Then it gets stuck someplace because
you’re straining yourself, even if you’re concentrating. It’s nice to
let the ‘ki’ flow with the breath. But if you ignore it, the ‘ki’
tends to get stuck: in the head, in the chest, in the stomach, and so
forth. That’s not good. Then you physically get sick. I notice a
number of people complain of pain around the stomach… definitely
from strain…The ‘ki’ can’t flow. Or, like a headache: Definitely if
you concentrate just up in the head, blood circulation gets poor and
you start getting headaches. So have good disposition of the body and
let it balance by itself. Then breathe nicely, to circulate. Short
breath is OK. Long breath is OK. Try to let it circulate nicely, and
when you concentrate well you can lengthen your breathing. And then
let it really settle down. Actually, when you really do that, mind,
the conscious mind, is also very well controlled. That’s why counting
the breath is very highly recommended: It is effective. But it should
be practiced properly, otherwise the result is less than it could be.

So, sit well, breathe well, and raise this ‘ki’. It will make your
sitting stronger, and make your practice better.


~ by James Myoe on December 13, 2007.

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