In Search of Hara – Part 1

When I began my Zen training in 1977, I was given basic instruction in zazen (Zen meditation, literally “seated Zen”). In addition to being taught how to establish my posture and concentration, I was told to breathe with my hara, not with my chest. My teachers explained further that hara is a Japanese word that refers to the lower abdomen and that I should always feel pressure in that area. Try as I might, I could not breathe with my lower abdomen, let alone keep pressure on it whether I was inhaling or exhaling. During formal zazen (seated Zen, “Zen meditation) periods, I was constantly corrected by the jikijitsu (the person in charge of the sitting), being told to “breathe with your hara!” or “set your hara!” But to no avail, my breath remained high in my chest and I had no clue how to lower it. When I asked for guidance, I was told to sit longer, or harder or longer and harder. I eventually came to think that the whole concept of hara was a hoax. In spite of this, I kept sitting zazen and, in spite of my skepticism, trying to find my hara.

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