First is breathing. By focusing and counting each breath, eventually one will completely forget about counting. At this moment, one is truly “empty”. Another technique is posture. In Zen, the way one can sit is highly specific. This is because it is believed that one’s conscience can change depending on the posture. Although this is widely understood by Japanese people, for westerners who often think of the mind and body as separate entities, this is a unique ideal. For example, at Antai-ji located in Hiroshima, there is a German-born monk named Nölke Muho, and when he first started his training he didn’t think one’s posture was related to one’s consciousness. However, after his experience with meditation, he realized that he was mistaken. In his book, he writes:
“’I am the one who is breathing, the one who’s heart is beating. I am every single cell located in my body, and I am connected to the birds singing outside the window.’ By meditating, I achieved the realization that I am every part of my body. ‘By changing my posture, I can completely transform myself!’ This was a revelation.”* Although Zen is difficult to describe in words, it can be portrayed through visuals. These are called Zen paintings. In particular, Ten Bulls (Japanese: Jyugyuzu) is famous all over the world for the way the artist interpreted his progression towards enlightenment over 10 images.
* Quotation from Nölke Muho’s “Japanese Do Not Need ‘Religion” (KK Best Sellers Publishing)
Opening up the entrance to Zen
As we go into depth about Zen, many people may want to think of it as a type of thinking or philosophy instead of a religion, but in reality, Zen is most definitely an aspect of Buddhism. Buddha created Buddhism in India at around the year 500 BC. This spread over Asia, into China, Korea, and then Japan. The patriarch for Zen Buddhism in China was Bodhidharma. It is said that Eisai spread Zen Buddhism to Japan after his trip abroad to China, but the religion was seen in Japan during the Asuka period. Eisai created the Rinzai School of Buddhism, and although its presence faded, Hakuin Ekaku reinvigorated it in the middle of the Edo period. “This man was known to be incredibly avant-garde. In today’s world, he is someone who would have propagandized the religion using cheap CG and rap music. Although he was greatly frowned upon by the Buddhist religion at the time, it is because of him that we have Zen today.”