We usually don’t realize the preciousness of the breath. We breathe in; we breathe out. Nothing special. It is always helpful to remind ourselves that the breath is precious. Try this experiment: Cover your mouth with one hand and plug up your nose with the thumb and index finger of your other hand. Stop your breath for as long as you can. When you feel as though you’re suffocating, release your hands and breathe. How do you feel?
It is so good to be breathing. Why don’t we feel that way most of the time? The breath is so precious. We generally walk around disconnected from the breath because we lack awareness. How much richer our lives would be if we really felt our breath and appreciated it. When we feel the breath, we feel our lives. We feel the goodness of life. We feel that this life is precious and wonderful.
We could think of this appreciation of the breath as the first of the seven great wonders of Chan [Zen]. What were the seven wonders of the ancient world? The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. The Colossus of Rhodes. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Lighthouse of Alexandria. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
Our Chan wonders are infinitely grander! The first wonder of Chan is the breath—to be able to breathe. The second is our sight—we are able to see. The third is our hearing. The fourth is to be able to taste. The fifth is to be able to talk, communicate, and sing. The sixth is our ability to use our bodies: to move, act, walk, dance, run, hug, and touch. And the seventh wonder is that we can think; we have a mental functioning. These are the great wonders of Chan.
When we’re in the midst of hardship and difficulty, we can come back to these wonders. First and foremost, we can come back to the breath. We can focus our awareness on the way that the breath waits for no one. It just keeps coming and going, coming and going. It will not stop for you. Just like the river will not stop—it flows and flows, it doesn’t wait—so it is with our lives. They just keep going. They keep moving forward. Each moment is gone and will never return. And then another new moment will come. When we have this awareness, it inspires us to do everything wholeheartedly. We don’t get caught up in worry or regret. We come back to the breath. To our moment-to-moment experience.
We can always embark on a grand tour of Chan’s seven wonders—first class and all inclusive! We don’t have to go anywhere to experience them. They are completely available. They are always with us. Right here, right now.
Just Let It Be
When we are truly in the present moment, we experience what in English is called equanimity. This English term is associated with a feeling of imperturbability. Whatever happens, happens, and we maintain a feeling of calm composure. There is a sense of detachment, of being peacefully uninvolved, of letting whatever comes come and whatever goes go. Equanimity is associated with being on an even keel, and it is certainly something most people value, but not in quite the same way as it is valued in Buddhism.
In Sanskrit, equanimity is upeksha; it is one of the brahmaviharas, or four immeasurables, along with lovingkindness, compassion, and appreciative joy. Why is equanimity such a big deal? It is because it brings us to a realization of our nondiscriminating mind, into a place of nonattachment and nonduality, where differences are resolved between this and that, here and there, right and wrong, inside and outside, you and me. Everything is equal.
In fact, there is no difference between thoughts. There is only one thought. The thought is the present moment, without past or future. There is no conflict, no opposition, no contradiction, and we have a deep sense of peace, serenity, and tranquility. Everything seems to be very still and very settled. Equanimity means to be totally relaxed, totally and absolutely. There is nothing to worry about. Everything feels easily and comfortably arranged. Each tree in the forest is placed just so. Each leaf on each tree is exactly where it should be. And so it is with the rocks, and the fields and the rivers. Everything is just right as it is. There is no need to add or subtract. Just sit, just stand, just walk, just drink, just eat, just sleep. The wind blows and the thunder roars and the rain falls. Just let it be.
In the Lotus Sutra, we see the verse “All phenomena abide in their position.” In Chinese we render this phrase Fa zu fa wei, se cien xia chang zu. It means everything is nicely set. The right thing appears in the right place at the right time. It’s a little bit Daoist—everything in harmony, a balance in nature of which the human world is also part. Let nature take its course. Everything will fall into place by itself. There is no need to grasp, reject, or repulse, and we have a feeling of liberation. A load of bricks has been lifted from our shoulders that we didn’t even know we were carrying.
The world is perfect as it is. Down to the smallest, most insignificant detail. The ant crawling across the floor. The spider hanging on the tree. The birds flying. Just let it be. Relax. Relax totally and completely. There is no need to do anything. Whatever we have been searching for, whatever we have been striving for—all unnecessary! Equanimity means that we discover something immeasurable that we have never actually lost.
From Falling is Flying: The Dharma of Facing Adversity by Ajahn Brahm and Master Guojun, edited by Kenneth Wapner © 2019. Reprinted with permission of Wisdom Publications (wisdompubs.org).
Start your day with a fresh perspective
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.