Haragei Q&A with 老虎

Q. What should I do if I lose the Ki point?

A. Don't fret about it. You are not out to create more tension for yourself. Sometimes even masters of Haragei get overwhelmed by some emotional or physical shock. Koichi Tohei describes how someone who was using focus on the Ki point to bathe in a freezing river lost that one-point and immediately began to shiver uncontrollably. If this happens, instead of despairing and becoming even more tense and frantic, learn to return your mind and emotions to the tanden -- the "one point" in the Hara. No doubt it is a challenge but so is every other aspect of life. Only the greatest masters can keep the Ki point all the time.

Q. What is the Ki point or "one point" or tanden you're talking about?

A. It is a theoretical point with practical applications. That is, we speak of it as a "point" in order to provide a focus for visualizing and feeling your bodily source of universal Ki. Koichi Tohei says to visualize this point at first as the size of a golf ball, then reduce it by half and so on and so on until it ceases to have any real physical dimension. Yet he also says that we have to stop reducing it by half at this precise moment in order not to lose it, at which time (if we do lose it) we've got to start all over again. Again, success is a matter of repeated practice. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? As to the question of whether it "exists," we know it exists only because it performs its function when we concentrate our minds on it correctly. Do the practical excercizes -- the "unbendable aikido arm" for instance -- in Tohei's manual Ki in Daily Life and you'll see what I mean.

Q. What is Ki?

A. Similar to the Prana of Indian yoga, it is the energy of the breath conceived as a kind of divinity, or spontaneous and primordial infinite resonance, that gives birth to all matter and energy. In Chinese theory, chi (qi) is somewhat more materialistically imagined than the Japanese sense of Ki, which includes a strong component of "mood" and "open awareness." But this does not mean that Taoist Qi Gong is inferior to Haragei. Only the theory is slightly different -- the practice and results are the same. The same is true of Indian Yoga. We depart from theory at the time that we become able to actually feel the flow of Ki in the body. After this there is no more doubt. We find that we can change our own mood by "extending" Ki as Koichi Tohei-Sensei describes. In fully developed Haragei one also uses Ki to subtly influence other people without verbalization. It goes without saying that this influence should be positive. There may be negative uses of Ki but that is beyond the scope of this book. It could be argued that the samurai use of Ki -- to win in battle -- was negative, in that it entailed killing. But I would maintain that in most cases (where a warrior had actually cultivated Haragei) this use was still positive, in that winning a battle meant saving one's clan, family and lord from slavery or death.

Q. Why the strange word, Haragei?

A. The Hara is the belly region, especially the lower belly. By cultivating this in meditation we gain stability and a sense of well being, as well as dramatically refined senses. "Gei" -- have you heard of "geisha"? Gei means art. A geisha in old Japan was a woman who was artistically accomplished. Hara-gei is the art of Hara.

In Haragei we seek to become harageisha.

Q. What relation does all this have to Buddhism?

A. All and none. None at all, insofar as Buddhism is a collection of rituals, sutras, beliefs, and so on. All, in the sense that Buddha achieved Enlightenment by meditating with a clear "open" focus that dispensed with emotional conflicts and various types of obsessive thinking. In China, many Buddha statues and paintings portray the Enlightened One as having a big belly. This doesn't mean that Buddha let himself get fat. It's a way of symbolizing the power of his Hara.

Zen priests and monks have traditionally used the Hara in meditation (dhyana) practice. One breathes to and from the Hara and eventually the breathing takes over to the point that "I" am not the one breathing, the universe is breathing and "I" am merely a word that is, to be honest, somewhat laughable in its imprecision. Where is this "I"? Try to do Zen without raising Ki from the Hara and you will find yourself merely bored and in pain.

Hara and Zen go together.

Q. Nothing ever goes right for me in life. Nothing I try to do ever turns out the way I forsee it or believe that it should, and I never get what I want. Can Haragei help?

A. Would a clear mind help? If the answer is yes, Haragei can help because it can turn off your obsessive emotional thinking and allow you to consider the situations you enter cooly -- and even, if you like, somewhat ruthlessly. Many of us are in trouble because we've been drawn into negative relationships with family members and so on. By extending positive Ki in a conscious manner, we can change this negativity into positivity, engaging with conflicts as they arise but without selfishness or any other distraction. If you feel "stuck" Ki training can unstick you. What are you most afraid of? Ki training can help you confront it without the sick feeling of fear.

Q. What's your personal investment in this?

A. Naturally, I want to help people realize what I've realized in my Zen and Hara training and make the world more pleasant and entertaining. Negativity is dark and dull. Ki gives us limpid brightness, brightness that doesn't dazzle and blind yet it penetrates everywhere.

Q. What is "dragon samadhi"?

A. This is a Zen term but I use it in relation to the power of Hara which is like a dragon. It is also like an empty sky. It is energetic yet it is the quiescent universal source of all activity. These descriptions may sound poetic but I assure you they are real.

Q. Why do you say Haragei can solve life's problems? Don't we have to use thinking to solve problems, by looking at them rationally?

A. Some, perhaps, yes. But using the head for everything gives you a headache. Would you use your head to pound nails? Tension cannot be resolved by thinking it away. Tension causes one to make mistakes, to lose control of one's behavior, and to do regrettable things. You can resolve most of your tension with Ki training and afterward live a happy life, laughing often. You've driven yourself crazy trying to think yourself into some superior state of being. It won't work. It never has worked. Maybe you feel terrible that you can't succeed in certain ways. Why? Because other people expect it of you? Ask: do they really want you to succeed because they love you, or do they merely push you to succeed because they enjoy seeing you fail and punish yourself with depressions and sadness? Maybe your parents want you to succeed so they can boast about it, or feel better about their own (perceived) failures in life. We are trained in this society to cause each other as much anxiety as possible. I don't know why. There is something sadistic and also masochistic about the whole rigamorole.

Let's drop out of the rat race. We're not rats, and life isn't a maze.

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