Responding to some discussion in a Buddhism gathering, here I want to talk a little of my understanding of these things as these are quite common questions of Buddhism practice.
First is the question of whether we should manipulate our breathing in our meditation.
We human being, do many activities. A lot of them are activities of mind. But in sitting meditation, basically we don’t do any mind activities. (Of course, in Buddhism practice, sometime we do certain mind activities intentionally. If there is a chance, I will talk about those kinds of mind activities. Here I just want to emphasize that it is important to be able to not do mind activities for 20 or 30 mins, since it is our original source. When you don’t need to do anything, are you able to do that? This question can be translated to: are you able to put everything down, even just for these 20 or 30 mins?). So when we sit there and no mind activity, we are just breathing. Without control of mind, we just breath naturally. Of course, we are also doing some other activities. For example, we sit on the earth, and together with the earth, we are moving around the sun. Also together with the solar system, we are expanding with the universe. Without fail, we do these activities perfectly! We don’t even need to be aware of it. It is when we come to mind activities, it becomes difficult and we cannot do very well (because our consciousness is not perfect.) So sitting meditation is to settle down our mind activities.
When you wake up after a dreamless sleep, what do you see?
Use of breathing techniques is fine, if it helps us settle down. But eventually if we really settle down, we should just breath naturally.
In learning, we learn step by step. So in term of learning, sitting meditation would be the most basic activity, which is no activity (of course no mind activity). In sitting meditation, you really don’t need to do anything. In our daily life, on the contrary, we constantly need to “Do Things”. When we Do Things, we often need our minds to guide our eyes, ears, and so on. So we are often confused whether we should calm down our minds or stimulate our minds. So sitting meditation, as the lowest level, can be our start of practice. Through sitting meditation, we experience our original source, which is no thinking, and gain insight into our minds. With that experience and insight, we can gradually practice higher level activities, in which we need to let our minds follow the flow of physical activities.
So I will continue to talk about activity of mind, which is also a response to another topic discussed: what is really our human nature? Is it more individual or collective?
I want to use this as an example to illustrate how the mind activity works. I am not sure I can explain this very clearly. I will make my try.
When we say whether our human nature is individual or collective, we are raising a concept. Any concept will have two sides. We can call the two sides with various terms: binary, dualistic, plus and minus, and so on. They are all referring to the same thing. So individual and collective are two sides of the same concept in our mind. Our consciousness is able to perceive the force acted upon us and tell the difference. By telling the difference, a distance is created. Thus we have “Individual” and “Collective”. Individual is separated from Collective. We have separation.
The meaning of emptiness here is that either side of the view is OK. Many people’s minds start differently stuck with one side of the view. For some people, they tend to be more individual. For some people, they tend to be more collective. In reality, we have experience of both sides billions of times in our daily life. But usually our minds get stuck in only one side of the view, and tend to only recognize one side of the experience. That is OK. So you expand one side of the view, for example, try to expand your individuality. So you keep expanding. But as you are expanding, there is less and less need for you to expand any more. As you have less and less need to expand any more, you recognize more and more need to contract (in this example, it is to be aware of other people, and start helping other people). The same applies to people who start with a strong mind of collective view. As they keep helping other people, they will also come to situations they realize they have to develop their personal individuality.
So no matter which side people start with, emptiness makes sure both people will come to the same reality. After all, they are just two-sided views of the same thing.
Above is just a description of people’s minds when they have an illusionary self in their minds, and their illusionary self is stuck with one side of the view. But how would the perfect mind function? As our physical bodies are subject to many forces. Our consciousness are also subject to many opposing forces. These opposing forces give rise to concepts in our minds. In this sense, Buddhism is a very scientific study of how our minds function subjecting to various forces. Buddhism teaching, can boil down to this: not inside, not outside, not even in the middle. Or often put another way, don’t be stuck with either end, and don’t even be stuck with the middle. I personally put it this way: separation is for better connection, connection is for better separation. It is like fluid. Or like Bruce Lee said, be water. I will not go into the details here and I will leave that to your contemplation. I am not an academic. So to talk above these theoretical stuff is to just for the purpose of practice, to really experience it for yourself. I will give you a hint, however. Many of you have heard that in Buddhism, it is said that we are born and die billions of times every day. What does it mean? How are you born? How do you die?