The Mind Straight As a Bowstring

Q: Roshi, I am confused. You occasionally seem to speak of attaining something. But others insist that Zen is just a matter of dropping all worries about attaining or not-attaining! Would you clarify this issue for me?

A: Let's not make it a conceptual, metaphysical problem. You have a body & senses & you are breathing right now. There is food for you to eat, water for you to drink. Are you content with all that?

Q: ____?

A: In fact, if you look at Huang-Po's dialogues, as an example of the ancient Zen I like to transmit, he absolutely does speak of a sort of attainment, and he urges his students to strive with all energy to attain it. What is it? Just this: the attainment of no-mind, of "intuitive, tacit understanding," of "a deeply mysterious wordless understanding." (Of what? I leave you to ponder it.)

He could see when students attained this just by the way they walked into his Dharma Hall. He saw instantly deep into them without needing to hear any words.

That said, what his students (sometimes) attained was not a "thing," but liberation from the bondage of conceptual thought. I don't mean that they lost the ability to speak or to have thoughts when necessary. I mean that they were no longer bound by speech or by thoughts. They knew the secret Shakyamuni transmitted to Mahakasyapa, merely by raising a flower while smiling & blinking his eyes, on Eagle Mountain in the long ago past.

According to most ways of thinking, your nostrils constantly move around in space & time. They travel every day, every minute, from point A to point B. But is that really the case? Look into it deeply & singlemindedly & you may find out something that shocks you!

It is delightful & awe-inspiring to behold a person who has attained no-mind. Such a person shines with an incredible light. Every motion is crisp, decisive & brilliant. But don't ignore the fact that life is also confusing & dirty. A copper tea kettle can accumulate deep layers of grime, yet the underlying shine is still visible.

As I sometimes say, "Be the Maitreya you want to see."


One day, Baofu was cutting a melon when Taiyuan came up to him. Baofu said, "If you say the right thing I'll give you a piece of melon." Taiyuan said, "Give me a piece of melon." Baofu gave him a piece of melon. Taiyuan took it and went away.

That's the mind straight as a bowstring for you.


Generally, all breathing methods come down to "Exhale as if sending breath to the ends of the universe; inhale as if concentrating breath into an infinitely small point in your Kikai Tanden." (Masao Inoue). Interestingly, this can be reversed so that when you inhale you are sending your Ki to the ends of the universe, and when you exhale you are concentrating the energy into an infinitely small point.

Mokuso is about dropping all thoughts and so even visualizations or any other methods are abandoned.

As soon as thoughts are dropped, abandoned, left behind, breathing settles naturally and there is nothing more to be done with it.

One breathes without effort, for as long as one breathes; there is no "one" besides the breathing, whether inside or outside or in-between.

The strong Seiza sitting posture allows you to breathe in a natural way. The body is breathing -- why interfere? There's no mind to even want to interfere.

Sometimes it even seems that you have stopped breathing completely, yet the energy of the breath is there and you are aware of everything in and around your body with a mirror-like awareness. [There is no "you" except for the mirror-like awareness, which has no biography & doesn't experience any problems or get torn between desire & satisfaction.]

This is a state of calm ecstasy in which all problems are solved at once. However, it would be a big mistake to grasp at or cling to such a state. Let it go! Your various human problems are projected by the pristine awareness itself. They are the mysteriousness of its profound self-realization. Why try to "resolve them"?


It is hard to find a single book that covers all the ground of breathing techniques. These techniques were traditionally imparted in a direct dialogue with a living teacher. I am alive now, it seems, but you would have to come to the Pacific Northwest to find me. Even then, who is to say I could help you find your natural state? Isn't that just like riding your ox in search of your ox? Play the bamboo flute. Rest your mind on breathing. Relax. Don't make a concept or a thought such as "just being." A fly on a pile of dung is the Supreme Reality. We human beings are special only because we can appear to our illusory selves to deviate from It. But, really, we can't! That's your cue to laugh out loud.

In the Nesaza-ha school of Zen bamboo flute, there is a style of "panting-breath" called Komibuki. It creates an original deep sound, and leads instantly to shedding mind and body. It also raises "inner heat" so that a player practicing this method can sit naked in the snow and melt the snow under & all around him. This is something you can learn also. There are all sorts of harmless & amusing activities to enjoy in this life.

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