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Dharma Talk – April 2021

Control our stress through breathing

本願力にあいぬれば (Hongwanriki ni Ainureba)

むなしすぐるひとぞなき (Munashikusuguru Hitozonaki)

功徳の宝海みちみちて (Kudoku no Hokai michimichite)

煩悩の濁水へだてなし (Bonno no Jokusui Hedatenashi)

Of those who encounter the power of the Primal Vow, 

Not one passes by in vain,
They are filled with the treasure ocean of virtues;
The defiled waters of their blind passions not separated from it.

(From Hymns of the Pure Land Masters)

Today, people say we have so many kinds of stresses. But we can classify stress into 4 types. The first is physical stress. The second, psychological stress. The third, social and human relationship stress. The fourth is change.

I believe we all must be feeling the fourth stress of change a lot today, because of COVID-19. We used to be able to go hiking or camping without worry. And we didn’t have to lineup outside when we went shopping. So we could do whatever we wanted. But now, some people feel there is no freedom. However, I think if we desire freedom too much, we might lose sight of what it is. What I mean is that freedom is possibly just our selfish ego.

For example, last year there was a demonstration in front of a governor’s house. They were demonstrating to reopen the beaches because they wanted to be able to use the beach freely. However, most of the people who joined the protest didn’t work around the beaches. They just wanted to enjoy surfing or take pictures to satisfy their own desire.

Today, we have to change many things in our lifestyle. But I think just because we cannot do everything we want due to COVID-19, we shouldn’t confuse freedom with our self-centred desire today.

In Buddhism, what do we think about “change”? The teachings of the Buddha tells us our life is impermanent and everything is changing all the time. So, we are also one of those impermanent things. It’s very important to be aware of this in Buddhism. But, it’s difficult to accept all changes.

Shakyamuni Buddha left many teachings and practices to his disciples. And these have been passed down to us for over 2500 years. One of them is breathing control.

Before COVID-19, I visited a shopping mall with my friend and his son to eat lunch. We enjoyed it. But after lunch when we were walking around the mall, his son started to cry. He wanted to buy a new toy, but my friend decided not to buy anything, because he had bought him another toy one week before.

However, his son wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t stop crying. I thought my friend would get angry with him to be quiet. But surprisingly, he just said, “Okay. Take a deep breath in, and then breathe out slowly”. Then his son calmed down and stopped crying. I was so surprised when I saw it.

When I saw it, I remembered Dr. Kobayashi’s report. He is a professor at Juutendo University, and he is researching the autonomic nervous system. This system helps our organs and heart to function smoothly. And it operates 24 hours without our consciousness. So we cannot control it. But, Dr. Kobayashi said that a few top athletes can control their autonomic nervous system through breathing.

He also said breathing out is more important than breathing in. If you want to calm down, you should breathe in for 2 seconds and breathe out for 4 seconds. If you take a breath for 3 seconds, you have to breathe out for 6 seconds. Always breathe out twice as long as you breathe in.

In Buddhism, we are also very aware of our breath. In the Zen Buddhism sect, they say to harmonize body, breath and mind.

First, they sit straight on the floor to harmonize their body. Then they breathe very deeply to be in harmony with their breath. If they can harmonize their body and breathing, finally they can harmonize with their mind. When I was a

university student, I visited Tofuku-ji temple in Kyoto to do Zen meditation “Zazen” at 5 am every Sunday.

When I practised, one monk told me to take a short breath in through my nose and to breathe out through my nose as long as possible. Though I practised this for 3 years, I could not understand what mindfulness was.

But, after that experience, I thought seated meditation is like chanting sutras. When we chant the sutra, we sit straight on the floor or a chair to harmonize our body.

And we take a quick breath in, in order to chant as long as possible. Then our mind, body and breath become harmonized automatically. If we can harmonize our mind, I believe we can acknowledge the Buddha’s benevolence from the bottom of our heart. And we may be able to understand the meaning of Shinran Shonin’s wasan.

Of those who encounter the power of the Primal Vow,

Not one passes by in vain,

They are filled with the treasure ocean of virtues;

The defiled waters of their blind passions not separated from it.

I think a harmonized mind helps us not only to acknowledge the Buddha’s benevolence, but also to consider the situation more deeply to understand what we have to do.

It may help us not to confuse our self-ego with freedom, so we may be able to accept the stress of change. Because as you know, the teachings of the Buddha tells us our life is impermanent and Buddha’s wisdom tells us how deep our egos are.

So, let’s all remember the words from time to time, just “take a deep breath in, and breathe out slowly.” And when you harmonize your body, breath and mind, please place your palms together.

In Gassho
Reverend Yoshimichi Ouchi