Zen Ki Ji

This ink painting to the left is by Miyamoto Musashi and expresses his penetrating insight into the essence of Zen. It's just a shrike sitting on a branch. Although the shrike is sitting still, totally relaxed, one feels that it is also ready to move fast in any direction at any instant.

In Master Takuan Soho's terms, the bird's mind is "immovable." But it is also spontaneous and mobile. When the mind moves, the bird moves. This is the "one mind" Zeami spoke of, the mind that instinctively and effortlessly unifies all the body's movements.

When the "immovable mind" moves, it isn't caught by a net. It doesn't fall into forms. It doesn't cognize "the ten thousand things." It is "the true flower" -- mushin, emptiness, clarity, freedom itself.

When the clouds of bewilderment clear away, when the mind is free from all confusion, that is the true Void. -Musashi.

Merge together with all things. Everywhere is just right. - Zen Master Hongzhi.

Begin by doing susokkan (contemplating breath), the best possible way for entering deep samadhi, focusing your Ki in your tanden (Hara). -Hakuin-Zenji

Cast off completely your head and skin. Thoroughly withdraw from distinctions of light and shadow. - Zen Master Hongzhi

One way to attain the state of the shrike sitting on the withered branch is to practice some Hara Zen. What is Hara Zen?

Taking a strong, stable posture sink "mind" into the "one point" in the Hara. Every time mind starts to move toward a thought or an external form, keep "it" fixed resolutely in the Hara.


When the untrained mind moves it becomes "partial." As Takuan Soho told us, it then "sticks" to an object, a movement, a sound. It becomes the "abiding mind," the mind of delusion and ignorance.

This form of mind brims with internal struggles and thought-discriminations. It's the  painful mind of emotional conflicts and regrets, of rigid and proud ideas, of "unease" and "anguish." It's distracted and enslaved by external "events." It causes us unceasing suffering.

When mind doesn't move from the Hara, the grasping-clinging problem that causes "dukkha" and karmic effects can't arise. So, at least while you are doing Hara Zen, you are not creating any more delusions. 

But there is an even stronger reason to do Hara Zen. After all, one can't sit in Zen all the time. What does Hara Zen help one to accomplish?

If you learn to resolutely put your "mind" into the Hara, you will find that you can make your thoughts vanish. When your thoughts vanish, you no longer cognize "forms" as separate things isolated in space. Subject and object disappear. The mind becomes empty and its perceptions clear and vivid. This is samadhi. 

Once you can attain this state at will, you can also relax and let the mind be everywhere and nowhere.

By resolutely keeping mind in the unborn state, as Huang-Po instructed, you will soon experience and realize "the unborn Mind-nature," the "Buddha-Mind," for yourself, "like drinking water and knowing instantly if it is hot or cold." 

Hara Zen is energetic even in stillness. That's because the Hara region is the spring of the whole body's Ki strength. 

So, concentrating on the Hara "one-point" will enable you to drop thoughts at will. 

But it will also liberate your mind to move, unfettered and unobstructed, throughout the whole body in a lightning quick, natural and responsive way, just as Master Takuan Soho recommended in his famous letters to Yagyu Munenori dealing with the Zen sword.

"Stamp quickly and pass through a wall of iron." -Yamamoto Tsunemoto.


Sit in Seiza; become aware of the deepest and lowest point your breath-energy goes to and rises from. This is the tanden in the Hara. Focus on this place with strong one pointed attention as you breathe in and out and you will find that something amazing happens.

The deeply wounded have Olympian laughter -- one has only what one needs to have. -Nietzsche.

Those who need to develop Hara strength, and penetrating direct perception via Ki, will certainly develop it, no matter what I say or don't say. Still, these notes may be of short-term use.

Compared to the "mirror mind" of classical Zen, Ki ability is somewhat "obscure," "dark," "Yin," "awe-inspiring" even.

The "Ki one-point," which one can locate in the Hara, is the definitive no-place where there is nothing. It's the no-point that gives all energy, and all Enlightenment.

In Ki Zen one sinks "mind" into this point, the Kikai Tanden. This leads to clear perception, naturalness in breathing and action, and a lightning-like ability to handle confusing situations.

Likewise, Master Soho instructed people to "let go of thought after thought" as the best way of "striving" (kufu) to attain satori.

Achieving clear direct perception and a natural way of activity is the goal of Haragei.

Sitting up late with my shadow
and the foggy full moon,
drinking cold sake
out of an earthenware bowl.

Mountains and rivers are Ki,
and so is the Starry Sky.
Look with your ears,
listen with your eyes!

It's just as the poets said:
"The wild geese of Luzhou;
the piercing crickets of Shangyen."