26. Thursday, August 16, 1973
STUDENT: Is it true that meditative techniques can drive you insane?
KOBUN: What do you mean, “technique”? That point is very important. If you understand the action of meditation as “technique,” the answer is “yes.” What do you mean by the word, “insane”?
STUDENT: A kind of fear comes up, “Is this, is this insane?”
KOBUN: Hmm. Someone better speak.
STUDENT: The fear would be the thought of losing contact with what was considered reality.
STUDENT: We meditate with our eyes open so it's okay!
KOBUN: Many people show this kind of open eyes (looks wildly around), unfocused.... If you are afraid of insanity, in a general sense, you cannot do zazen. Our daily, everyday concentration, everyday activity, has a clear reason, purpose and direction. You can say it's various ways of concentration. Zazen is, not to give it up, but to stop that concentration. That is, physically sit and don't move. Naturally what happens is the thing we are speaking of today. Many things come in by stopping moving, like a wheel which spins but doesn't hit the ground. The cycle of mental activity goes on without getting action. Thinking, imagination, very fast so-called insights. You put yourself in an ocean of insights. So it's hard to say zazen is always clear. You spoke of eyes open. That is one way to keep yourself on reality. This is a very important point. Even when you close your eyes, your mind isn't affected by mental, emotional activity when you focus on reality.
Somehow all knowledge which we have gotten in this life becomes unsure by sitting. All becomes a question mark. “Is that true? I thought that was a flower, but is that true?” But this question mark, big question about yourself, about life, about everything, doesn't mean you are confused. It is true, but you don't become crazy.
STUDENT: One thing I notice is that I seem to have to do more physical activity. I started running. I really feel that I need it now, to stop my mind. Every once in a while I just can't stand my mind any more.
KOBUN: Ya. Hard physical work will let your mind stop. Also swimming, running, sports, very hard muscle work will make your mental activity less. The technique of counting breathing is very remarkable. Especially for present humankind, the best technique is counting breathing. It is not meditation, but it is a technique. When there are fast changes, transitory conditions, it naturally causes unsureness of mind, restlessness. For this mind condition, counting breathing is the best way. As one preparation, one entrance into meditation, this has been suggested. Even if you don't count, or you stop counting, breathing goes with meditation. Your breathing goes very smoothly, very slowly. Mumon Roshi said, “Counting breathing reaches to the count of mu , “ mu, mu, mu. ” Mu is zero, “zero, zero, zero.”
When someone becomes very ignorantly possessive and greedy, wanting everything, counting breathing doesn't work. We use another way, another technique. It is so-called “skeleton meditation.” The person sees that he is collecting dust, or ashes.
STUDENT: You meditate on your skeleton?
KOBUN: Um hmm.
STUDENT: You imagine, like an x-ray, your skeleton is sitting there?
KOBUN: It begins with your hand. It's a scary thing. Maybe some drug has some such function. Perception is very fast and, actually, recognition goes very slow. Like a movie, fast movement and slow images.
STUDENT: What do you mean when you say, “technique”?
KOBUN: Method. It's not attitude. It is like boat, vehicle. After you reach to it you leave it behind. You don't carry it always. It is therapeutic, like ways of concentration towards entrance into meditation. In meditation it becomes a hindrance, like carrying ship up mountain. Counting breathing becomes hindrance of shikan taza so you have to drop counting, let the breath go, let thought go.
STUDENT: Sometimes it takes a very long time. Say, if you have three sittings in a sesshin, the first two sittings are a kind of entrance to the third sitting. Then, by letting go, the calmness comes. It's possible to kind of force it by starting counting, to get calm much earlier. But is it beneficial to do it the more natural way?
KOBUN: As I said, for some people, meditation can be done in the first sitting. To count breathing is to bring habit into meditation. For some people it is rather useless to begin with counting breathing. It's like, wearing shoes you jump into bed.
STUDENT: Well, would standing on one leg to meditate be a technique?
KOBUN: Ya. In traditional yoga there are various forms, techniques. Instead of standing on two legs, you stand on one leg. It will increase you sense of standing. It is helpful.
STUDENT: If you stand on two legs to meditate, is that a technique?
KOBUN: Um hmm. When you do kinhin, first pay attention. Your weight is moving, gradually, slowly. That is a technique, to feel that.
STUDENT: Maintaining correct posture feels like a technique. An enormous part of my effort is maintaining correct posture.
KOBUN: Oh, yeah. To keep right posture is a technique of life, not only a technique of meditation. When you keep always like this (bends over) your whole feeling of life is like this. If you open your chest, and straighten, your whole feeling of life becomes like that. It is a technique, to know it and pay attention. Human beings have such a condition of form. If there is no form, everything is chaos, one great energy, and there will be no need to use technique!
My master used to say, “Do not judge by your brain. It's too limited. When you think something, think by your stomach.” I immediately said to him, “It's impossible!” He answered, “You think so, but it's possible. I do it, always. I think by stomach.” To think by stomach is not just to think by logic, by dualism. Like forgiveness doesn't happen by brain. It is more heart, or lower, deeper place, it comes. “I cannot forgive you, but I will forgive you. My brain cannot say this is right, but it is forgiven.” When you see people sitting in zazen posture, no one can tell if they are sane or insane. The category, sane-insane, cannot grasp this form and what's happening in this person. In that sense it is very much beyond sane-insane. And the concept, sane-insane, has a philosophical relation with value, virtue... sense of virtue. When everyone says, “This is the right way to do it. This is valuable.” And someone says, “I don't choose that way,” and goes this way, with no consideration about value, virtue, that is insane. It's a softer, ordinary word, a more sociological term, I believe.
STUDENT: Do you arrive at some sort of virtue, by thinking with your stomach?
KOBUN: Um hmm. The world of race comes up when you don't judge things by your heart or stomach... high is good, low is bad...
KOBUN: Competition appears, and things of low value are left behind. We see many societies with hospitals and jails when there is more and more competition. The “wrong thing,” judged by competition, becomes more and more vague. It's like separating the rice cake into two pieces and deciding one is “good” and one is “bad.” A very dualistic world appears.
One big event is the “cold war.” There is a very strong sense of this competition. If we know it is impossible, it is impossible to compete any more. Even when you compete, height doesn't become two times speed! There is competition in quantity, numbers, and it becomes a very religious concern. A good example is now in international relations. The policy is for an international balance of energy. You remember that in Communism, when they have a big meeting, a big picture appears of one person, two persons. That represents their religious concern. Religious concern is a whole life concern, and that produces a picture of the leader....
STUDENT: The leader, then, is the religious symbol in the communist countries?
KOBUN: Not only in communist countries. This is the main character of the 20 th Century. Only the government can create a balance of energy. That is this age, and people are recognizing it is not enough. Individual nations become more important. Like in Red China. Happiness becomes one color. There is a uniform. Everyone wears the same color. First of all, people say, “Oh, everyone is now equal. We wear the same color of clothes, same price.” It is very materialist; in a material sense it is equal. It is an idea of mass communication. Like making a gun on a machine. It fits everything. But whether peoples' inner world can be equal or not is a very important key.
If everyone becomes insane it must be a very peaceful world! The point is, is there any sureness to produce inner sureness? There is no such thing in this present world. The old religion cannot give a satisfactory result. We were speaking about original sin, which came from the punishment of God, and the self-recognition of humankind. Both. And with the judgement of God and the death of Christ, it was completed. Christian history was completed... and this set-up of life goes on and on.
STUDENT: You mean Christianity begins with Adam and ends with the Crucifixion?
KOBUN: Um hmm. This is a very important point. In the Renaissance time you can see a big self-recognition of history in many ways. Science grew up from the Greeks, in the Christian culture it appeared.
STUDENT: Does this self-recognition tie in with the expulsion from the Garden? Is that the moment of self-recognition in Christianity?
KOBUN: That is a very symbolic expression, very poetic expression of what humankind is. How humans became human. In many ways present humankind knows we are lost. This is one stage of self-recognition. And it is the beginning of the new creation, unless corruption of the earth goes on. Human intellect, especially physics, mathematics, and chemistry, developed in such a pure way that they have both a demonish character and a good character. Humans have discovered that this earth can explode by itself, and are concerned about the energy of it. The problem is more serious than we are thinking, so zazen practice looks like it is working as a tranquilizer for headache! In the social aspect zazen activity and all kinds of meditation are working as a slowing down, stopping, and becoming inactive.
Insanity is like when you get old, the clear feeling of your own death increases. Instead of increasing fear you start to face to it with right posture. This is how people start to face to it, not turn away from it.
STUDENT: Can the relaxation of posture be seen as a kind of surrender to the fear?
KOBUN: No, I don't think so. Relaxation, if it is physical and spiritual, together, is the solution to fear, not the surrendering to it.
STUDENT: What is the solution of fear?
KOBUN: Understanding, very deep understanding, of the sameness of life and death. It means that to live is to die. It doesn't mean death begins after life ends. If zazen causes insanity it is not a production of zazen. If insanity existed before zazen, it will exist in zazen.
STUDENT: Understanding that life and death are the same is one thing, but going on with life, trying to be a virtuous person, can that exist in the realization you just talked about? Will that awareness make you depart from ordinary reality. Isn't that what senility is?
KOBUN: I think that when we become more and more old, about 90 years old, the old body decreases its function. Is that bad, or is that good? For some people, the brain starts to decrease its function. That is a pretty good thing, don't you think? Otherwise winter comes and some flower still lives. In the snow it blooms.
It starts from birth. Growth and development peaks around age 20 and balances around 30. But you have to see the whole thing – what life is. If you just see the line of this graph it means you are concerned with development and extinction. But when you see the whole thing, extinction begins on the first day, and development ends the last day.
STUDENT: In that awareness of extinction happening, it becomes very hard to do anything, sometimes.
KOBUN: Individuality, independence, and helping each other, working together – that is our reality. Independence is one fine part of the present man. It appears when we mutually help each other. When we only develop independence, we become more and more lonely, separated from others. Then there is no way to communicate. That mechanism is causing our loneliness. Independence is standing up alone by yourself. Most animals, when they are born, stand up a few hours later, shaky, but stand up. Human baby is like a bird, in one year they start to stand up. But they have to communicate with food, breathing.
STUDENT: Okay. What do you mean by independence?
KOBUN: Independence is, how can I say, to be free from God. This is my definition of what independence is. You are freed by God. Maybe this is like when parents let a child stand up, they don't help. “Oh, you have stood up!” So the child has total sense of freedom and independence. We have to welcome the age of independence. But if you don't have any person to communicate with, you don't feel independent. When you have a very, very close friend, you recognize, “I am independent,” feeling the other person's independence. It is very important to check whether I know myself. I live with many people on this earth, but do I really understand one or two of them? If I succeed to understand one of them, I understand myself. Even a little being, like a dog or a little flower, whether we really understand it or not is very important. Aloneness, not loneliness, is another word for independence.
.... The movement of the earth around the sun is quite certain, from ancient times. In the beginning life energy on earth was very slow, and now it is getting very fast. I feel that the speed is increasing toward an icy condition. Human kind is very intellectual, but intuitive ability is very much decreasing, so that people have to move very, very fast. It's like very fast talk to express something. Like when I move like this, my center doesn't move so fast.
STUDENT: I've been listening, and the realization has come to me that all my usual defenses, the exercising, all the activities, and the running – I can't do them any more because I am doing zazen. Then fear began. I realized what you were saying about the running was that I should stop it. I realized that something wasn't right with my breathing. I've been trying to run at somebody else's pace. I haven't found my own rhythm. Actually my own rhythm is more in tune with the earth. It is slow, but it's my own pace. But it's frightening.
KOBUN: It is a worry, “Am I okay?” Soon your very sharp, very clear, sense appears, an intuitive understanding. You don't need to move so fast. You always know what to do today. Instead of doing many things, do a few of them, and the next day, a few more. As a result, the amount of jobs is probably exactly the same. If you run very fast and do many things, fifty years later you can say, “I did that many jobs.” But when you live very intuitively, in a very focused way, you look back and think, “Oh, I did this many jobs.” The fear is when we shift gears down so quickly. When we lose our ego, it can be very frightening. When we lose various bumpy relations with the ego, it is very painful and we feel, “I am going to die.” But fortunately it doesn't happen. Our life is very strong....
I am very much afraid that extreme insanity is death. When humans are under extreme pressure, the pressure is insane. War is a good example. The energy of battle is insane duty, and healthy people become dragged in and become insane too.
STUDENT: There's a very rare person who could build a cold shell of some kind around him and function within that icy shell.
KOBUN: But if it is unconsciously built, it works just for protection. Like when cold water fish are put into warmer water, before they die they scatter elements into the water to protect them. It's sticky material... and when you put the fish back into cold water, this sticky element goes away.... Our inner fear, anger in some particular condition is nothing but that signal. Anger is not always a bad thing, but if you keep it a long time, it makes you very tired. It's no good. If you take the wise way, “I've got this feeling, what shall I do with this?” When you feel something very uncomfortable, unusual, you make sure, “Is this my misunderstanding, or is it actually happening?” You talk with others. “I felt this, did you feel the same way?” If a few people are feeling the same way, you say, “Oh, there is something going on. Let's figure out what it is.”
There was a very famous man, during the Kamakura Period, so a pretty long time ago, who used to go to a shrine when he had to go to war. What he prayed for was not the safety of life, but, “Give me many problems.” When we view a whole matter, there is no useful way to take, both seem equally useful....
Techniques of concentration never lead to meditation. This is a very important point. There is one attitude, one form, of meditation. From an inner recognition it is called, “enlightenment,” and from the outside it will be called “salvation.” It is important whether faith in God and faith in awakening can become one. I don't believe there are two ways. Like by one foot you go this way, and by the other foot you go that way. That cannot be real for an individual person.
How to unite all beings.... That is very complicated. In meditation, to unite all beings is quite easy but to do it with action is very, very difficult. This is because meditation is not concentration. Meditation is life energy directed to the center, and gathering all energy of the world. Concentration is that energy, directed to some certain object. It relates with acceptance, communication, and working together. You don't just insist on what you feel. You listen, you understand, to whom you are insisting on your opinion. To insist, without knowing to whom you insist, is ignorance of what concentration is. To direct our energy in a concentrated way is very important. Not spinning energy around, but in a certain way we concentrate.
There are many dead-end ways of meditation. I mean, it's people misunderstanding, thinking they are meditating. Actually, they are concentrating, and then energy goes in this direction all day. A sign that you are doing good zazen is when your body becomes very light, like after washing. It means you did good meditation. If there is some particular feeling of excitement after sitting, mostly you have done concentration. When you feel light, each step becomes very strong, a joyful strength. You can tell, “I did very good meditation.”
Right meditation also has a very similar feeling to when you wake up from sleep and feel very clear. Exhaustion drops off. When zazen is done you can feel that feeling. Even if your zazen felt very painful, confused, fearful, after standing up you can feel that feeling. Ecstasy is very big excitement. When such thing happens right after zazen, you have to feel, “This wasn't zazen.” You can say it is the same as feeling exhausted. This is a very important point.