Reply to a Reader: On Mudras, Zenman, and the “Third Eye”

Question:

Dear Sunim,
Thank you for your support to our practice… where ever we are.

I have some douts about sitting posture:

1º: Why do we put, in Zen practice, the left hand on the right hand? Buddha figures show always the vice versa position.

2º: Why is your “question body”s head figure slightly pointing to the ground? Shouldn’t we straighten the head and draw the chin back slightly?

3º: Eyes and the “Third Eye”: Can we, while having the eyes slightly open, focus inward to our “Third Eye” or pineal gland area? That is how it comes to me to do, but I don’t know if it is right to do.

Thank you for your help.

With JOY!

X.

Reply:

Dear X.,

Thank you very much for your message. I will get straight to the point on each one of them:

1. About the positioning of hands in the mahamudra:
When I was a student in Catholic elementary schools, the Catholic nuns sometimes used a wooden ruler to whack the hands of the children who wrote things with their left hand. They tried to “train“ them to use their right hands! It was considered sinful or somehow wrong to be left-handed. We were taught to make the sign of the cross only with our right hands, and to receive the Eucharist only with our right hands. In Ashtanga yoga, every Asana of the body is done with both sides of the body, but the right limb is flexed first, a Vinyasa is then done to “equalize” matters, and then the left limb is flexed second -– arm or leg or knee or movement. (If you ask a traditionalist teacher why this is so, they will come up with some ancient Vedic teaching about “massaging the liver first” or some “energy flow” which nobody sees or hears or can be proven.) This “right-thing-first” movement is taught without variation. In most countries of the world, we drive cars on the right side of the road, and all traffic flows are “prejudiced“ for this right-side driving, which comes from this right-hand domination that I have been showing you functioning across so many cultures and traditions. And there are countless examples of this, all influenced by the cultural prejudice of right-dominant habit. Perhaps some neurologist can give you an explanation why this is so across so many cultures, but that is not our point here.

So, this right-dominant “bias“ is just something that I learned when I first started doing Zen meditation. The same bias as “traffic flows” in most countries is perhaps what guides the way I was taught to hold the mahamudra! There is no “absolute“ truth for this. As you know, while most countries drive on the right side of the road, in some countries people drive very well on the left side of the road. The same is true of the mahamudra. Whatever works for you, just do it. Don’t switch back-and-forth – – choose one thing, and just do it. Make the practice your own!

2. The graphic symbol that you ask about (we call it “Zenman”, above, but it has no gender) is just a caricature. It is not meant to be instructional or to represent some orthodox teaching-truths. Actually, one of the problems with the way that Zen is taught, is that some teachers overly emphasize a tight, rigid, bolt-upright posture. Such a thing is also not desirable. The “Zenman” just represents my teaching-movement, and just points to a less rigid attitude, a naturalness that you usually don’t see being emphasized in the “usual” photos. It is a freewheeling expression of sitting under “the Great Question”, hwadu Zen, Great Doubt, looking inside into “What is this?”

3. “Focusing” on a “third eye” is not how you open your “third eye”. Any kind of focus or direction towards “something“ already produces a little tension, and tension/focus cannot be maintained over time. Some people can even get a headache from this! Just stay close to the natural flowing movement of breath, the gentle rising and falling of your diaphragm. When you get carried away with thinking, return to soft awareness of breath – – don’t even “focus“ there! Returning to soft awareness of breath, gently turn the view towards “What sees the breath?”, “What witness is this”? Don’t “look“ for something, and certainly don’t “focus on “on something. Then, naturally, over time, your natural innate awareness – – what some people call “third eye“ – – becomes more and more softly apparent to you. The moment you “look for it“ or reach for it or focus for it, you totally lose it! “Third eye” is just a word. There is no such place or identifiable “thing“ there. In actual fact, there is also no “third eye“-thing there. Your natural, soft awareness, emerging into view in all directions, before thinking arises, this is the quality people are trying to describe when they use the word “third eye“. Soft awareness of breath, and gently turning the gaze inward towards “What witnesses this?“ —- this is your work.

Good luck!

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