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[This version: 5 July 1994]
Taizan Maezumi Roshi
An un-dated teisho, most likely delivered in the mid- or late 1970s, made
available to Sydney Zen Center in a xeroxed form.
This text addresses some of the most fundamental and delicate religious
issues. Therefore, it should be read, quoted and analysed in a mindful
All copyrights to this document belong to Taizan Maezumi Roshi, Zen Center
of Los Angeles, 923 South Normandie Ave., Los Angeles, California USA
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
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
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;
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
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
So, sit well, breathe well, and raise this 'ki'. It will make your sitting
stronger, and make your practice better.
[end of file].