Embodied Zen

Course Description

Zen, as a stream of yogic spirituality, is not primarily an intellectual or psychological practice. Rather, it must engage and harness the practitioner’s whole being: the body, breath, subtle energetic system, and mind. Such whole-being practice is in fact, the source of its directness and tremendous power to transform our way of experiencing life. Enlightenment in Zen is not just in the mind: it must penetrate the very fiber of our bodies. To this end, Meido Roshi here instructs more regarding practices of internal energetic cultivation transmitted in the Rinzai Zen lineage. Tanden Soku (the breathing method centered on the navel energy center) is taught in greater detail as a foundation. The Naikan practice of Hakuin – which causes the vital currents of the body to sink downward and gather at the navel center – is instructed. Hara Tanren, practices of forging the energetic center, are introduced, along with the unique Zen way of walking. And to complete the course, suggestions for integrating this crucial energetic dimension of Zen training within daily life are given.

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Course Lessons

1. Embodied Zen: Introduction

Zen, as a stream of yogic spirituality, is not a primarily intellectual or psychological practice. Rather, it is an embodied path and must engage and harness the practitioner’s whole being: the body, breath, subtle energetic system, and mind. In this section, Meido Roshi explains what embodied practice is and the role of internal energetic cultivation. He talks about the commonly prevailed pitfall of the current approach to practices in the West that mainly focuses on the mind and psychological exploration. Meido concludes with the topic of Embodied Zen and its meaning.

2. Embodied Zen: Purpose

In this section, Meido Roshi explains the purpose and function of internal energetic cultivation in the Rinzai Zen path. What does it mean to say that our practice must be embodied? How does an integrated body, in which the vital energetic currents radiate freely, help our practice? How does bodily liberation manifest in the Zen path? These questions and more are answered, as he lays out the Zen understanding of what spiritual practice actually entails, and how we must practice using our whole being in order to attain a complete realization of wisdom.

3. Embodied Zen: Fukushiki Kokyu

In this section, Meido concludes the introduction to Embodied Zen with a review of Fukushiki Kokyu, or belly breathing, which is a necessary foundation for later practices of energetic cultivation. He provides demonstration and instructions for two modes of practicing Fukushiki Kokyu – sitting and lying down. He instructs in detail on the posture for Fukushiki Kokyu which serves as a basic posture for sitting meditation practices. He concludes the lesson with a review of the first three Embodied Zen introduction lessons.

4. Tanden Soku: The Foundation

The crucial breathing method of Zen, and a foundation of the Rinzai path, is called Tanden Soku: breathing to the navel energy center. In this lesson, Meido Roshi instructs in great detail the basics of Tanden Soku. This will serve as a foundation practice for more advanced Tanden Soku exercises of increasing the dynamic quality of the inhalation and exhalation that will be covered in the next lesson. As explained previously, here we will learn basic body usage that causes breath power and energetic currents to gather in the navel center and radiate through the body. The overall psychophysical effect of using the body in this manner (i) causes the energy to radiate through the body, unifying the body, mind, and meditation method, (ii) makes our senses more alive, (iii) causes the mind to settle, and (iv) allows us to experience natural clarity and rest in it.

5. Tanden Soku: Dynamic Inhalation

In this lesson, Meido Roshi continues to build on the previous instructions on the foundations of Tanden Soku and provides exercises to increase the dynamic quality of the inhalation phase. He provides detailed instructions on how to practice the Tanden Soku inhalation phase in a more dynamic way and complements the instructions with a demonstration and guidelines to practice on our own. As a bonus, a method of pressing the solar plexus to release tension – and to experience one’s natural clarity – is taught.

6. Tanden Soku: A-UN Breathing

In this lesson, Meido Roshi teaches the A-UN Breathing method as a way to further set and develop the intensity of the tanden-centered breath. He provides detailed instructions and conducts a guided demonstration of A-UN Breathing to increase the dynamic quality of the Tanden Soku exhalation phase, making it more expansive, deep, and intense.

7. Naikan: Drawing Energy Downward

The great Rinzai Zen master Hakuin instructed a number of practices for the dissolving of psycho-physical obstructions and the attainment of bodily wisdom. One of these is Naikan No Ho, the “introspection method” that powerfully deepens Tanden Soku. Though Hakuin describes this method generally in various texts, the oral instruction necessary to actually practice it is not often taught publicly. Meido Roshi here does so, opening up this dynamic energetic cultivation method for those who are ready to use it.

8. Hara Tanren: Forging the Center

Another class of internal energetic cultivation practices is called Hara Tanren, methods of “forging” the lower abdominal area that is the seat of the navel energy center, of correct breathing, and of the body’s vital power. Meido Roshi will instruct three methods of practicing Hara Tanren over the series of three lessons. In this lesson, he provides instructions and demonstration of the first method of Hara Tanren – a dynamic method using explosive shouts to increase the intensity and strength of that vital power.

9. Hara Tanren: Method 2

In this lesson, Meido Roshi provides instructions and demonstration of the second method of Hara Tanren practice – a static method practiced in a sitting position using pressure to reinforce the “set” of the breath power in the center of one’s body and to integrate the posture with the earth.

10. Hara Tanren: Method 3

In this lesson, Meido Roshi provides instructions and demonstration of the third method of Hara Tanren practice – a static method practiced in standing position using pressure to reinforce the “set” of the breath power in the center of one’s body and to integrate the posture with the earth.

11. Embodied Walking

In Zen training, a specific way of walking is cultivated that is more refined than the common manner. Because it uses gravity to generate movement rather than a twisting of the hips, it enables us to move with the body seamlessly integrated, and so to more easily experience samadhi in movement. Meido Roshi here instructs this fascinating way of walking, which is also the same used in Zen Kinhin, or walking meditation.

12. Integration

How do we bring our practice of Tanden Soku into meditation, as well as all the activities of one’s day? Meido Roshi completes this course by suggesting ways to do so, thereby opening up exciting new dimensions to the practice of one’s Zen in daily life. He finishes by guiding participants through the practice of Nanso No Ho, another method transmitted by Hakuin, that “washes” the body with energy from head to foot.

Meido Moore

Meido Moore

Meido Moore is the abbot of Korinji, a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monastery in Wisconsin, and the guiding teacher of the international Korinji Rinzai Zen Community. Meido Roshi began Zen practice in 1988 and trained under three teachers in the line of the great 20th century Rinzai master Omori Sogen Roshi. He has completed the koan curriculum of this lineage, and in 2008 received inka shomei: recognition as an 86th-generation Zen lineage holder empowered to transmit the full range of Rinzai Zen practices. Aside from Zen, Meido is also ordained in the Mt. Koshikidake tradition of Shugendo.

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