Tanden - Spiritual Field

Sunday, February 29, 2004

On my way to discovering Zen, I studied most of the popular religions, even a few that were quite unpopular. I noticed that most religions have two separate teachings. They have an esoteric teaching for disciples and accomplished members of the clergy, and monks perhaps, and another exoteric teaching for everyone else; everyone else being those exterior to, or outside the family of specially initiated. The Lay people are taught to follow rituals without meaning, to have blind faith that the performance of these rituals will cause certain things to happen that will have a beneficial effect upon the spiritual life of the supplicant. Even some denominations of Buddhism appear to be this way. Where there is a secret teaching for monks and disciples, and another Dharma for everyone else. Zen has never been this way. Buddha expounded all the truth to everyone; in fact, though educated, he refused repeated requests to put his teaching in Sanskrit, and spoke always in Pali - the language of the common people. Zen has always maintained that everyone is capable of enlightenment.

I don’t want to become too sidetracked here, but this is the reason I wanted to tell you something that I thought was a secret, for a while. Something I discovered on my own, after I had been told repeatedly for years, but didn’t understand. Sekatenden, spiritual field, from the beginning we’re told about that point just below the navel in the lower abdomen, that we form our hand mudra around for emphasis. The center of gravity, spiritual field, origin of breath. It took years for me to discover the real significance of this point. I performed the ritual in developing my zazen practice, focusing on this point. One must live within this point, the tanden - an infinitesimal point, barely discernable, but an infinite source of knowledge, energy and power. A tiny speck infinitely small with neither width nor height nor depth, but it contains everything we need to know.

Place the mind in tanden. The mind should sit here during zazen; or perhaps stand at attention. From this spot observe the expansion and contraction of this tiny spot, with the inflow and outflow of breath. From this spot push up the spine, raise up the top of the head towards the sky, and with your will keep the body still. With the mind at attention, alert and ready to do battle, stand within tanden. With no intellectual involvement, just observe what comes and goes. The breath comes and goes, thoughts and ideas that come and go, sensations in the body that come and go; and in the world around you observe the changes it goes through, observe the changes everywhere.

In desperate situations draw the energy you need from tanden. There is available more power and energy in this spot than all the rest of your body. It is shelter, refuge, strength, the source of breath, the source of power, a point of infinite wisdom, but one can make use of this information only with a clear mind, Dwell within sekatenden, the spiritual field. Return here in emergencies, or times of trouble. Return here as often as is necessary. Return here, tanden, with a clear mind, and look outwardly from there, to observe, to learn. At the beginning in our instruction we say look inwardly at your state of mind before any thought arises. This is to make us aware of the possibility. Once you discover the state of mind before any thought arises, then bring the mind inward and just look out. Look inward during meditation; during daily activities look outward, but always stand within tanden. Return there when necessary; draw your energy from there, strengthen your will. The Zen-mind functions so much better, when it is seated in sekatenden.

One added note: You know the Samurai would practice zazen to clear his mind of thoughts - and thought - of death, or attachment to life; so that he could go into battle with nothing on his mind, or conscience, that might distract him. As a martial artist, he would stand in the spiritual field to direct the activities of his body with perfect clarity. And perfect strength. It is said that a samurai whose head is severed from his body, should still be able to complete one act with certainty.