There is an instruction for meditation regarding the breath which goes, Let a long breath be long and a short breath be short. But can I find where that is mentioned in the edition of the Eihei Koroku I have! Anyway the gist is that Zen Master Dogen recommends that breathing during formal meditation be allowed to be natural and to not interfere in any way with breath, including counting. He is actually rather strong on the subject of counting the breath during meditation. He simply does not hold with applying methods and practices to help calm the mind. And rather scathing of those schools that do! We very occasionally give instruction on counting the breath with the warning that like any tool it will need to be put down eventually. Sooner rather than later.
Allowing the breath to be natural one sometimes feels that breathing has stopped all together! But it is important to breathe and not hold it which is a habit some people have developed. At other times the breathing seems rough, noticing is all that is needed. Noticing is letting it go, if that is your basic intention.
In daily life situations though, say when emotions such as anger or frustration are in the ascendency, it is helpful to deliberately slow down the breathing which inevitably becomes elevated with such emotions.
4 thoughts on “Let a Long Breath Be Long….”
How to Breath in Zazen
Dharma Hall Discourse
In the zazen of patch-robed monks, first you should sit correctly with upright posture. Then regulate your breath and settle your mind. In the lesser vehicle originally there were two gateways, which were counting breaths and contemplating impurity. In the lesser vehicle, people used counting to regulate their breath. However, the buddha ancestors’ engaging of the way always differed from the lesser vehicle.
A buddha ancestor said, “Even if you arouse the mind of a leprous wild fox, never practice the regulation of the two vehicles”* The two vehicles refer to such as the school of the four-part vinaya, and the [Abhidharma] Kosa school, which have spread in the world these days. In the Mahayana there is also a method for regulating breath, which is knowing that one breath is long, another short. The breath reaches the tanden and comes up from the tanden. Although exhale and inhale differ, both of them occur depending on the tanden. Impermanence is easy to clarify, and regulating the mind is easy to accomplish.
My late teacher Tiantong [Rujing] said, “Breath enters and reaches the tanden, and yet there is no place from which it comes. Therefore it is neither long nor short. Breath emerges from the tanden, and yet there is nowhere it goes. Therefore it is neither short nor long”.
My late teacher said it like that. Suppose someone were to ask Eihei, “Master, how do you regulate your breath?”
I would simply say to him: Although it is not the great vehicle, it differs from the lesser vehicle. Although it is not the lesser vehicle, it differs from the great vehicle.
Suppose the person inquired again, “Ultimately, what is it?”
I would say to him: Exhale and inhale are neither long nor short.
* This quote is from Nagarjuna’s Commentary on the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra …
Dogen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Koroku
translated by Taigen Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura, edited by Taigen Dan Leighton, Wisdom Publications, 2010, p348-349
Dear Walter, Thank you for typing all of that out. I now have the translation you have quoted from. I’ll have to see how I go with talking about the Eihei Koroku since there are so many references I can’t follow up on and a huge amount of ‘code’ which I’m not familiar with.
rev mugo, you have misspelt ‘to’.
I’d thought I was right, but I was wrong! And somebody else pointed out that the following word ‘breath’ needed an ‘e’ on the end of it.
My early formal education was sadly lacking in just about every department. I do appreciate my mistakes being pointed out so thank you and glad you are reading still.