Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Xuefeng Yicun called Xuansha Shibei a true ascetic. One day he cornered him and said, "You're a reborn sage. Why don't you go about on pilgrimage to meet enlightened masters?"

Xuan said, "Bodhidharma didn't come to China. The Second Ancestor didn't go to India."

Xuansha is our true teacher. We tend to go over there: to Zen and its many stories, to Vipassana, to all sorts of Hindu faiths, to Meister Eckhart and the various saints. Whatever happened to breath-counting? One…Two…Three…and so on up to Ten. That is our pilgrimage. Xuansha is smiling. Even Bodhidharma cracks his face.


  1. Roshi,

    Excellent post. I know you advocate the counting of breath, but what of Dogen's admonition from the Ehiei Koroku, not to do it?



  2. Dear Aitken Roshi,

    Thank you for your teaching.

    Whenever I lose count, or go past ten, I return to one...

    When I manage to go ten or fifteen minutes without losing count or going past ten, I usually let go of the counting and simply follow my breath.

    Thanks again.

    Three Full Bows.


  3. Dear Aitken Roshi,

    In the very midst of breath-counting I found some encouraging advice from Master Eihei Dogen that I thought might be appropriate with this post:

    In times long past, he breathed It out and breathed It in: at the present time, he breathes It out and breathes It in. This is what we should expect for a flowering of the Dharma that is so marvelously exquisite we cannot even begin to imagine It.
    Shobogenzo, Hokke Ten Hokke, Hubert Nearman

    When there is not the tiniest bit of ground on the Great Earth, then, of necessity, neither ‘touching the ground’ nor ‘not yet touching the ground’ will come about. Thus, “The venerable Han has not let even a heel touch the ground!” is the Venerable Han’s very breathing in and breathing out, the very functioning of His heels....

    Further, some may wonder, “When the Ancient Mirror is polished, can It ever be polished into a tile?” Your state of being—your breathing in and breathing out—when you are engaged in polishing is not something that you can gauge at other times. And Nangaku’s words, to be sure, express what is expressible. As a result, in the final analysis, he was able to polish a tile and make a Mirror.
    Shobogenzo, Kokyo, Hubert Nearman

    Even though her breathing out was an external condition, it was her not conforming herself to external conditions. Innumerable eons have come and gone, but people have not yet understood the ebb and flow of breathing in and breathing out. Be that as it may, the moment has come, right now, when you can understand it for the first time, so pay attention to ‘not taking up residence in the realm of one’s skandhas’ and to ‘not conforming oneself to external conditions’. This is the moment when external conditions, for the first time, permit the exploration of such things as ‘breathing in’. This moment has never been before, and it may never be again: it is just now.
    Shobogenzo, Kankin, Hubert Nearman

    I hope others find this as inspiring (pun intended) as I do.


  4. It's nice to have a friend to count with.


  5. Here's my quandary...In Zen, one counts breaths with small hints that the who which is pursuing this practice may fall away...such subtlety can create a circling in a stagnant zone for years! Why not make the point first and foremost..."Who is counting those breaths?!!"

  6. "Going over there"...debating forms of practice, studying sutras...everything that removes the attention from the razors seems the easier choice to settle back into thinking, it's like slumping in front of the TV. Easy, but really look and you see that's not real Ease. True comfort is found where there is no impingement...the attention is collected and the warmth of actual ease is recognized!

  7. " ... people have not yet understood the ebb and flow of breathing in and breathing out."

    Who tries for understanding asks for what?

    A mirror might question reflection asking, what is this?

    There is no understanding or not understanding.

    There is experience and in this the necessity for questions falls away.

    Just not forever.