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Commentary on The Method of Sitting Meditation
: : The method of sitting meditation is extremely simple and easy¡¦
3) Keep your breathing smooth, making inhalation a little longer and stronger, and exhalation a little shorter and weaker.
From the somatological point of view, our bodies operate best when absorption and evacuation are in balance; if one absorbs exceedingly and lacks evacuation, the absorbed contents may function poisonously. When one excretes more than one absorbs, one becomes lethargic. This principle applies equally to breathing; the inhaling and exhaling should be balanced. It is said, ¡°Keep your breathing smooth,¡± which means that inhalation and exhalation should be even. This means that we should neither breathe too strongly nor too slowly, but inhale and exhale with the utmost balance.
When breathing with utmost balance, your inhalations are a little longer and stronger and your exhalations a little shorter and weaker. At this point one may have some misunderstanding with the literal meaning; some may think that the longer and stronger one's inhalation is, the better it is; or one may wrongly try to make one¡¯s exhalations as short and weak as possible. But we should be heedful of the phrase ¡°a little.¡± It is not ¡°much¡± but ¡°a little.¡± ¡°Much¡± is not desirable; ¡°a little¡± is good and is the appropriate method.
Some practitioners inhale much longer and more strongly than they exhale. This causes imbalance, producing an unfavorable effect. Eventually one can be put in a position of being unable to practice Zen due to panting, heaviness, and the fire energy rising up, inducing indigestion or blocked energy around the belly. One cannot settle the focus in the Danjeon under the condition of the fire energy rising up. When the focus is not settled, one may feel suffocated. Trying forcibly to practice further arouses the fire energy, and this can separate the practitioner from sitting meditation forever. This is called getting the Zen illness. If one finds oneself in such a condition, one needs to proceed wisely. One should not try to solve this problem by oneself, but put a question to a more experienced predecessor. Depending on the seriousness of this illness, there are many methods for its cure. If it deepens, one had better stop the Zen of resting the energy in the Danjeon and instead recite the name of the Buddha, try walking meditation, or practice koan-observing Zen, until the blocked energy vanishes completely. It is obvious that the wisest and easiest way is to prevent the illness before it starts. Therefore, it is most desirable that one tries to settle the focus on Danjeon as soon as possible, balance the inhaling and exhaling, and make the breathing and the resting of energy in the Danjeon one unity.
Beginners will at first experience disunity, trying to focus on their breathing and at the same time focus on resting the energy in the Danjeon. If one is too mindful of resting in the Danjeon, one may not be mindful of ones¡¯ breathing, and vice versa. It is not easy to do these two things simultaneously. If one pays attention to inhaling and exhaling, the consciousness immediately becomes attached to the nose, and resting in the Danjeon vanishes easily. On the other hand, if one pays attention to the Danjeon, it may lead to unmindful breathing.
Our technique of Zen is the proper method to achieve both, i.e., ¡°breathing and resting in Danjeon¡± and ¡°resting in Danjeon and breathing¡± at the same time. It is a technique which shows us the way to raise the spiritual power of concentration in regard to any complex matter. This spiritual power is an indispensable asset in coping with the many complex matters occurring in life. In some sense, how deeply one can concentrate in complex matters can be the criterion to measure one's ability.
To carry out the regulation of breathing and resting in the Danjeon at the same time, one should apply one¡¯s power of concentration and train oneself to be accustomed to the way one breathes. He or she should inhale and exhale through the Danjeon. One should settle the energy in the Danjeon through breathing. If these two coincide simultaneously, no problem arises; breathing helps gather energy in the Danjeon, and the gathering of energy in the Danjeon helps breathing. Thus one develops one¡¯s power of concentration in regard to this complex matter, and one can be more easily absorbed in the authentic realm of Zen.
Even after one learns how to rest in the Danjeon and breathe well at the same time, maintaining this concentration is not an easy matter. The concentration on exhaling may become loosened when one is inhaling and vice versa. This is a common problem. If one continues in practice and does not give up, one will pass through this crucial point so that, in the process of inhaling and exhaling, one can continue to concentrate on resting in the Danjeon. Finally one will enter the stage in which one does not feel the distinction between inhaling and exhaling, and one is finally absorbed in resting in the Danjeon. This is a very crucial point.