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Grand Master Xu (Hsu) Yun Chapter 7 - Breathing and Posture- Page 2 of 2

1. In unstructured breathing, we lower our gaze and simply follow the breath, counting ten successive breaths. If we lose count, we simply start again. When we complete ten counts or breath-cycles, we simply start a new ten-count.

We begin by focussing our attention on the inhalation, noticing the air as it enters the nose, descends down the throat and fills the lungs. We mentally watch the chest expand and the shoulders rise.

As we prepare to exhale, we take note of the count; and then we watch the air as it seeps out of our lungs through the nose. We note our shoulders as they relax and fall as our lungs are emptying. As we complete the exhalation, we observe our abdominal muscles contract. With practice, all of the muscles of our abdomen, groin and buttocks will contract to force out the residual air in the lungs.

For some reason, it is easier to count breath cycles when beginning to exhale than when beginning to inhale. But each of us is different. Counting inhalations or counting exhalations is a matter of personal choice.

2. In structured breathing, we inhale, retain the breath, exhale, and either begin a new cycle or else we hold the lungs empty before beginning another breath-cycle. The amount of time we allot to each part of the cycle, depends on the particular formula we follow. Because lung capacity varies from individual to individual, no single formula can suffice. The practitioners may select from several ratios:

a. The ratio, 4:16:8, requires that the inhalation take four counts, the retention take sixteen counts, and the exhalation take eight counts.

The ratio, 4:16:8:4 requires an additional period in which the lungs are left empty for four counts. This is more difficult, but many practitioners find it more conducive to attaining deep meditative states.

Usually, one second per count is the prescribed cadence. However, some people have great difficulty in holding their breath, for example, for sixteen seconds. These individuals should then simply hold their breath for twelve seconds. With practice they will quickly achieve the count of sixteen. If twelve is also too difficult, then they may try eight and work up to twelve and then to sixteen.

b. The ratio, 5:5:5:5 or other similar equalized counts are also very effective. Beginners may find it easier to eliminate the final count of holding the lungs empty.

The aim of all breathing exercises is to establish a rhythmic, controlled breath.

Resisting the Impulse to Flee

For a reason no one has yet been able to determine, we often find that when we sit down to meditate our cushion turns into an ant hill. Chan beginners most frequently experience this mysterious cushion transformation but sooner or later it happens to us all. We begin to squirm and the only thing we can think about is getting away from that itchy place.

When we first sit down, we're full of good intentions. We plan to do a complete program - at least twenty breath-cycles. But then, after four or five cycles, we discover that we're sitting on an ant hill and have to cut our program short.

Sometimes there are no ants there. But all of a sudden we remember many important things that we've forgotten to do: straighten the books on the library shelf; purchase noodles for tomorrow's dinner; read yesterday's newspaper. Clearly, these things must be attended to and so, with great regret, we get up from our cushion.

Dear friends, how do we maintain our good intentions? How do we prevent our resolve from diminishing so drastically?

First we have to recognize how we are deceiving ourselves. You know, there is an old story in Chan about a rich man who contracted a disease and was in great jeopardy of dying. So he made a bargain with the Buddha Amitabha. "Spare my life, Lord" he said, "and I will sell my house and give the poor all the proceeds from the sale." All of his family and friends heard him make this pledge. Then, miraculously, he began to recover. But as his condition improved, his resolve began to diminish; and by the time he was completely cured, he wondered why he had made such a pledge in the first place. But since everyone expected him to sell his house, he put it up for sale. In addition to the house, however, he sold his house-cat. He sold the house and cat for a total of ten thousand and one gold coins. But a promise is a promise, and so he gave one gold coin to the poor. That was what he sold the house for. The cat, you see, was a very valuable cat. When we don't want to do something, trivial things become very important. A house cat is worth ten thousand times as much as a house.

We should all remember this man whenever we get the urge to jump up from our cushion. We should all remember him whenever we suddenly decide to cut short our program. But if we do not excuse ourselves from performing our practice, neither should we remain on our cushion because of sense of duty.

Sometimes people act as if they are making a great sacrifice when they perform their meditation practice. "I'll do it and get it over with," they think. But this is not the proper attitude. The time we spend in meditation should be the most beautiful time of our day. We must cherish this time.

Dear friends, be grateful for the Buddha Dharma. Be grateful for the Three Treasures. Never forget that eternal refuge that exists for us all in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Be thankful for the Lamp that leads us out of darkness and into the light.

[Introduction]  [Chapter 1]  [Chapter 2]  [Chapter 3]  [Chapter 4]  [Chapter 5]  [Chapter 6]
[Chapter 7]  [Chapter 8]  [Chapter 9]  [Chapter 10]  [Chapter 11]  [Chapter 12]  [Chapter 13]
Last modified: July 11, 2004
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