Sunday, December 16, 2012


A rainy day in Georgia (and Tennessee) made for a dreary drive up to Chattanooga, but every day can't be sunny and it's not too terribly long of a drive (less than two hours).

A combination, I suspect, of the rainy weather and family obligations due to the impending holidays kept attendance down, but that merely allowed for more intimate conversation and practice among those of us who did make the effort to attend, including one newcomer to Zen practice. It also made it easier to get home at an earlier hour (fewer people to hang around with and chat afterwards).

The question-and-answer session concerned the hara (Japanese 腹), the "center of being" just below the stomach and in the general vicinity of the diaphragm.   In Japanese martial arts, extension from this center is a common concept, with aikido in particular emphasizing moving from the hara.  There are several breathing exercises in both traditional Japanese martial arts and in Zen training where attention is kept on the hara.  

A Western model of the ego has the "self" living up inside of an individual's head, looking out at the external world through the eyes and listening through the ears, and "engineering" the body like a piece of machinery or some sort of marionette to defend, care for, and transport the head.  The "me," then, become the thoughts. or consciousness, leading up to Pascal's "I think therefore I am."

Zen and the Japanese marital arts identify the "self," if it exists at all, as not residing in the head, but in the center of being, in the hara.  In aikido, one moves one's hara through space, and between sessions of zazen, in walking meditation or kinhin, Zen monks move the hara around the room, or even imagine moving the room through the hara, impaling oneself with the space one moves through. The practical effect of this is to lead one away from identifying with one's ever-changing memories, moods, and consciousness, and to remember that on one level we are all just living, breathing organisms as we fill and expel air from our lungs using the hara like a bellows as it rises and falls, rises and falls.

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