Insights into Jōshin Kokyū Hō
Within Mikao Usui's teachings we find a meditation technique called jōshin kokyū hō. Jōshin kokyū hō is an essential meditation practice which is practised throughout all levels of the system of Reiki, and therefore can be practised for the rest of our lives.
But what is jōshin kokyū hō all about?
Let’s first look at the kanji of jōshin kokyū hō.
淨 jō means clear, pure, without taint or defilement, lucid
心 shin means heart, mind, essence, the mind as the principle of the universe, the enlightened mind
呼吸 kokyū means to exhale and inhale, breathing
法 hō means method, dharma, principle
We therefore can translate jōshin kokyū hō in this way:
*The principle of pure mind-heart through breathing in and out
*The method realizing our enlightened mind though breathing in and out
Thus when we practice jōshin kokyū hō on a daily basis for many years, we start to realize the principle that our mind-heart is as pure as the universe.
According to a Japanese Aikdo practitioner, kokyū hō also means "work in perfect harmony."
We thus also can say that jōshin kokyū hō translates as "The principle of pure mind-heart through working in perfect harmony with the universe."
1. Sit and gassho.
2. Place your hands in your lap, palms facing upwards.
3. With each in breath, feel a bright energy coming in through the nose and bring it down to the hara/tanden, just below your navel. When you do this, link the visual with the breath and the mind.
4. Feel the bright energy, the breath and the mind expanding through your body.
5. On the out breath, expand the bright energy, the breath and the mind out of the body, through your skin, out into infinity.
6. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until finished.
Most important is that the mind is brought to the hara/tanden and that the mind expands through your body and into infinity. Visualising the bright light and following the breath are an aid for this.
The practice of jōshin kokyū hō also resembles specific visualisation meditation practices within Japanese esoteric Buddhism, such as the expansion visualisations (Jap: kakudai-ho), permeation visualisations (Jap: shinto-ho) and specific moon-disk visualisations (Jap: gachirin-kan).
The in-breath into the nose and bringing the mind to the hara/tanden is the first step of the practice. This is an important step as it helps us to bring our mind back into our body and under control, so that we do not get distracted by past, present and future. And as the hara/tanden is just below the navel it helps us to centre and ground ourselves. But it is just the first step. If our mind stops at the hara/tanden we are missing the point of jōshin kokyū hō as jōshin kokyū hō is so much more! It goes far beyond simply grounding ourselves.
Zen master Takuan Soho describes very clearly in his book "The Unfettered Mind" why it is important not to stop at the hara/tanden:
"You should not place your mind within yourself. Bracing the mind in the body is something done only at the inception of training, when one is a beginner."
"But viewed from the highest standpoint of Buddhism, putting your mind just below the navel and not allowing it to wander is a low level of understanding, not a high one. It is at the level of discipline and training."
From a traditional meditation practice perspective, we can say that breathing into the hara and resting the mind there for a moment is a Shamatha (resting our mind on a single object) meditation practice. And expanding the mind out and leaving it wide open is a Vipashyana (clearly seeing that there is no "I") meditation practice. Combining both practices is a classical way of deeper teachings in Buddhism.
In his book, “Luminous Clarity: A Commentary on Karma Chagme’s Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen,” Khenchen Thrangu writes about some of these teachings and the benefit of combining these practices:
"However, if Vipashyana is cultivated without the accompanying cultivation of Shamatha, then that Vipashyana meditation becomes like a small boat that drifts in the stormy sea of our controlled mind.”
“It is only through cultivating Vipashyana properly endowed with Shamatha meditation that we can conquer the disturbing emotions."
Yes, it is important to rest our mind at the hara/tanden for grounding and centring, especially for a beginner. But within Mikao Usui's style of jōshin kokyū hō, you focus on the hara/tanden and expand the mind out into infinity. Bringing the mind to the hara/tanden is the foundation for expanding our mind into infinity.
In fact by naming it jōshin kokyū hō, Mikao Usui also is pointing why not to stop at the hara/tanden.
Koichi Tohei describes kokyū in his book "Aikido, The Coordination of Mind and Body for Self-Defence" as: "Kokyu is, in plain words, the movement of your Ki or the movement of your body following Ki. If you have strong Kokyu, your body is filled with powerful Ki…"
According to Koichi Tohei, kokyū is the movement of your Ki. And if this movement of Ki is strong, your whole body is filled with powerful Ki. Hence the expansion of the mind through your whole body during jōshin kokyū hō. If we only rest our mind on the hara/tanden then our mind and energy will be stuck in one place. This is good for a beginner but if we want to go deeper, we need to expand it into infinity. The Ki needs to move through your body and not be stuck in one place.
Why do we need to expand our mind out into infinity? Because we need to realize that our mind is pure like the universe. The universe is infinite; there is no beginning or end. Thus through the daily practice of jōshin kokyū hō we start to slowly realize the principle that our mind is infinite like the universe. The universe doesn't stop at one point; it is infinitely open and expanded.
But this direct experience needs to be based on the hara/tanden; it is our starting point. If we do not expand from the hara/tanden, we will have a very hard time realizing this unification. Thus by connecting to the hara/tanden and expanding outwards into infinity, Mikao Usui killed two birds with one stone - grounding- centring and expanding into infinity. Realizing that our mind is always expanded like infinite space, the mind will not stop at one spot, it is just open. Hence the word open-mindedness; when we are open-minded we can accommodate everything and everyone. If our mind is stuck in one spot, we become narrow-minded and therefore have difficulty accommodating everything and everyone.
Zen master Takuan Soho points out in his book "The Unfettered Mind" why it is so important to expand the mind into infinity and not to focus on one point.
"Considering that the Thousand-Armed Kannon has one thousand arms on its one body, if the mind stops at the one holding a bow, the other nine hundred and ninety-nine will be useless. It is because the mind is not detained at one place that all the arms are useful."
"...the mind that does not stop at all is called immovable wisdom."
When our mind is not stopped at the hara/tanden but flows into infinite space, we are in a state of mind of immovable wisdom. This immovable wisdom doesn't mean our mind is focused on one spot, because if we focus on one spot we can get distracted and have to bring our mind back to this one spot again and again. Thus our mind is constantly moving from being distracted to bringing it back to one spot. Immovable wisdom is where our mind is wide open, and there is nothing to grasp in this wide open space. Thus the mind is not moved by anything; hence, immovable wisdom. Thoughts come and go but as there is no grasping in this open space, they will dissolve all by themselves. No need to bring the mind back to anything, no need to do anything...just to be.
Even in other Buddhist teachings, they instruct us to do the same. Orgyen Chowang writes in his book; "The Pristine Mind", "Do not make the scope of your meditation too narrow. Do not try to force your mind or your visual focus to stay in one spot or in one particular place."
Orgyen Chowang explains this further: "If our meditation involves focusing on a single object, as in mindfulness meditation, then noises or other external distractions can take us away from that focus. But when our mind is not focused on any particular thing, then that noise just passes through our awareness without interrupting our meditation at all. When we try to hold our mind on one point by focusing on a particular object in meditation, then our awareness is not expansive but is listed to that one object. But when we are remaining in Pristine Mind and not holding our attention to any particular object, our awareness permeates the entire space we are in. All sound just passes through our awareness. After a certain point, when we are remaining in Pristine mind, sensory inputs from the external world do not affect us."
Mikao Usui also pointed this out by teaching the mantra hon sha ze sho nen in Okuden Reiki Level II. Hon sha ze sho nen literally translates as, "My original nature is a non dual thought" but it also stands for "My original nature is Right Mind"
Zen master Takuan Soho describes what Right Mind is: "The Right Mind is the mind that does not remain in one place. It is the mind that stretches throughout the entire universe."
He also states that "When the Right Mind congeals and settles in one place it becomes what is called the confused mind."
A student of Mikao Usui wrote this: "Human consciousness can go anywhere in the universe in an instant. You must endeavor to develop your consciousness quickly and not to rely on the symbols for too long.” This is very similar to what Takuan Soho is pointing out.
Hon sha ze sho nen and jōshin kokyū hō are two different practices/paths to the same state of mind, a mind which is grounded and centred yet infinitely open and expanded. In this state, our mind can realize its non-dual nature. Or in other words, jōshin kokyū hō is about the realization that I am the universe and the universe is me.
"A calm mind not tied to anything lets authentic wisdom appear" -Taisen Deshimaru
Thus as we can see, jōshin kokyū hō's deeper insight is that by practicing it on a daily basis, we can settle our mind from all our confused thoughts. When we do this, our mind can stretch and realize its oneness with the infinite universe so that authentic wisdom appears.