Cosmic Breath

Saturday, May 25, 2002

Good morning. Welcome to the Zen Buddhist Temple. It is Sunday, May 25th. We always stress during instruction, focusing on the breath. In fact the various teisho, talks and sermons, Dharma talks and other lectures, go into great detail about how to focus on the breath. It is an important aspect of zazen, but it is also sometimes a bit confusing, or ambiguous. The breath is actually a link between the mind and body, and for this reason it is important to be conscious always of every aspect of breathing.

Roshi said in one of his talks, "Observe the inhalations and exhalations as they occur without interfering, without guiding." Sounds simple enough, but when you are conscious of the beginning and end of each inhalation and each exhalation, especially if you’re counting in order to focus your mind, it can be almost impossible to pay close attention to the breath without manipulating it, without controlling...

Huh, (amused chuckle) especially when in our instructions at the beginning of each period of meditation, we ask that you just push all the air out of your lungs, and allow it to flow back in a couple of times, just to give the body the feel of long deep breaths. And then continue to just watch the breath, without any more control. How do you do this? Well, it takes a while to learn. But it is something necessary... It’s a very, very fine point, but it's something that we have to discover. It is actually, I guess, beyond breathing.

This is not your breath. You are not drawing breath into the body, and then expelling it, in order to sustain the body. It is not your breath that is flowing -- it is just a flow; a rise and fall, which we need to be aware of. It may be breath of the cosmos, the universe inhaling and expanding to an infinite size. And soon it slows to a stop, and begins to collapse, to exhale, and go back down to nothing, then starts over again. Every aspect of every life is a cycle like this. It goes in, it goes out, it rises, and it falls. Every year Nature does the same thing.

Try not to think of this as your breath, but just as a flow, a point of focus. It is actually beyond breathing, it takes some time to learn -- to watch carefully, to focus intently on the breath without controlling it -- but it is important to learn, because from here, from this practice we also learn to watch the rise and the fall of thoughts in the mind (small mind). And here, as with going beyond breathing, here we are going beyond thought. The mind may be thinking, but we are detached and uninvolved with the thoughts. We are just observing the thought processes.

This is not an aloof observation though; we’re very much involved, but just in watching. We are not so detached that we cannot step in when necessary and give a hand. We are just watching all of life, and all of life’s expression; and every now and then we are needed to come to life, and to act. With compassion we move in the world, helping where we can. But it is the detached mind that allows us to operate with this compassion. When you have a personal reason for getting involved, or if you are attached somehow to people or things in the situation where you are bound to help, it is not acting with true compassion and detachment; it is a personal involvement. So once we learn to observe the mind, our own mind, without being involved, we an also observe the mind of other beings without becoming involved personally, except when other beings need our assistance.

The Yogis call this state beyond thought Samadhi; The Buddhists call it Dhyana, or Zen. Zen mind, this is No Mind, allowing the Great mind, the Buddha Mind, to operate through us. We manifest the Buddha Mind by relinquishing our own small mind, and it all begins with simply watching the breath -- without involvement -- with detachment -- with No Mind. Observe the rise and fall of breath. And don’t push that air out, don’t slow it down, just breathe naturally and observe. Likewise, observe the rise and fall of thoughts. Don’t link one to another, don’t be chasing them, and don’t be rejecting them. Just observe with No Mind. Beyond breath, beyond thought, we are expressions of Buddha Mind; always watching. Never personally involved.