There are various kinds of meditation in Buddhism. Well-known is a sitting meditation called Zazen (座禅) in Japanese. Sitting straight, we focus on subtle movements of breathing in and out, noticing our diaphragm.
Traditionally, we call this breathing technique Zuisokukan (随息観). Zui (随) means to follow. Soku (息) for breathing, and Kan (観) for observing or viewing. The name implies that we mindfully witness our breath, slowly in and out. Through this meditation, we are supposed to find something.
What is this something?
Our breathing could be the third eye to behold the universe. Through this third eye, we are supposed to experience the reality that we are part of the cosmic rhythm.
When the world is stormy, it is like fast-breathing. When it is calm, it is like slow-breathing. After inhaling, we have to exhale; after exhaling, we have to inhale. Just like the sea tides and waves, our breathing is a rhythmic repetition, where we could see a subtlety of the cosmic vibrations.
Everything in the universe consists of various waves ranging from the quantum particles to the galaxies, even the entire cosmos from the Big Bang to the Big Crunch, from the Alpha to the Omega. Light is the wave, sound is the wave, and life is the wave. Thus, our breathing is the wave.
Don’t you feel the sense of the Oneness, standing on the seashore, listening to the sounds of waves and winds, seeing their surfaces and movements, together with the sunset and someone with you? Breathing leads us to this Oneness as well.
By thinking alone, we can never experience this subtlety. By thinking, we can never get out of the prison of concepts. The universe is not a concept after all. It is the experiential reality that we are part of it; we are it. We tend to forget this simple, fundamental truth. Once, however, we focus on our breathing to experience the universe, which means we see it through our third eye, the ultimate reality of the cosmic dance could emerge where we are it.
Through Zuisokukan, using our third eye, we can see the very truth that we are part of the universe, and we are the universe. There is no such distinction as an observer/observed. We are the wave of breathing, immersing ourselves into the cosmic dance, experiencing this dance through the stream of our breath.
How should we conduct Zuisokukan?
By counting it, we can focus on our breath. We call this technique Sūsokukan (数息観).
Sū (数) means counting; Soku (息) for breathing. And Kan (観) for observing and viewing. So, in the same manner, the implication is that we see the universe by counting our breath. This approach looks more methodical. Perhaps, people knew that an act of counting could be one of the effective ways to keep ourselves in the state of flow.
It is one of the techniques for us to calm down. Unlike our heartbeat, breathing is a half-controllable and half-uncontrollable. Figuratively and physiologically, it even represents a symbol of our free will. When we make our decision, is it really what we made or something, someone else did? Perhaps it could be both. Or probably we don’t know. Breathing is also the same. We can consciously control it to some extent but can never stop it entirely. It is controllable and uncontrollable.
That is the nature of the cosmic dance.
When we are nervous, anxious, or turbulent emotionally, to calm us down, we usually pay our attention to our breathing in and out, and gently and mindfully count it one by one from 1 to 10 and repeat, or from 1 to 100 and repeat.
We can also count 3 seconds inhaling, 2 seconds stopping, and 15 seconds exhaling. This way, one breathing takes 20 seconds; three breathings in one minute. Such slow-breathing could lead us to the higher, deeper, and calmer consciousness stage, where we can see the truth that we are the part of the universe, and we are the universe.
Breathing is one of the gateways, the third eye, to lead us to the reality of the cosmic dance, and to the realization that we are part of it; we are it. And counting breath is one of the anchors to keep our third eye intact in the meditation.
Image by Sasin Tipchai