The Urban Nun Zendo
Zen as an awareness tool
Originating in India, Buddhism was transmitted to China, giving birth to Chan school. In the thirteenth century, Chan Buddhism was enthusiastically received in Japan, especially by the samurai class, evolving further into Zen, which became the most prominent form of Buddhism between the fourteenth and sixteenth century.
In the context of Zen Buddhism, perfection of nondiscriminatory wisdom is primary based on experience, and only secondarily on theory and intellectual knowledge. Generally speaking, Zen cherishes simplicity and straightforwardness in grasping reality, emphasising living in “here and now”. It is a practical method of correcting the modality of one’s mind by correcting the modality of one’s body. To it, Zen teaches overcoming of discrimination and dualism, concepts, which are source of great suffering but still, strongly imbedded in in the standpoints of the today’s society.
All of these make Zen one of the most valuable and effective tools for practicing awareness and enhancing personal growth. For this reason, Zen concepts are important building blocks on which a foundation of the Three Kernel System is based. System gives particular attention to practice of simplicity and non-attachment. This is extended for advanced practitioners with training for overcoming dualism, understanding time and space and “seeing through” illusions. Practitioners learn to be present and to reside in a state of awareness independent on situation: as during ordinary life activities so when confronted with stress or destructive emotions.
Practice is conducted through Zen meditation, which includes a three adjustment steps: adjusting body, breathing and mind:
The adjustment of the body is necessary for the practitioner in order to experience the practical benefits of doing meditation. Generally speaking, the adjustment of the body means that one has to prepare oneself in such a way that optimal state of body-mind can be achieved. This includes a proper diet, engagement in appropriate physical activity, and avoidance of forming unhealthy habits. However, in a modern Zen context, adjustment of the body has in mind more or less only seated meditation postures.
The benefits of Zen meditation are closely tied to the practice of breathing. Generally speaking, zen breathing is less complicated, than breathing exercises in yoga or breathing required for taoist cultivation. Zen’s breathing exercise recommends abdominal breathing, which is focused on “observation of breath count”. Through the impact of the conscious abdominal breathing on autonomic nervous system, such exercise allows infusion of the fresh life-energy and deletion of a negative toxic energy. This happens through the stimulation of the bundled parasympathetic nerves, which are contained in the upper part of the abdominal cavity. Further on, the center where breathing is regulated and the region where emotions are generated coincide with each other. With this, the conscious breathing affects the pattern of how one generates emotion, and at the same time it also has a neurophysiological effect on how the autonomous activity of the unconscious is regulated. As a result of breathing exercise, mind gets quiet and emotional storms faint.
Mind adjustment is achieved by conscious entering into a meditative state: practitioner learns to disengage from the daily life’s concerns by discontinuing activity of conscious mind. Important is not to forget that mind adjustment can’t be achieved by using one’s mind (the mind which is trying to stop itself is still in a state of action). Instead, this is carried out by the breathing and right posture.
Although Zen emphasises Zazen (Zen meditation) - “just sitting” as the best way to apply these adjustments, Zen students are, as well required to keep an uninterrupted awareness practice (“every moment Zen”). To achieve such advanced level, one has to practice Zen in disciplined manner and during every conducted action (mental, emotional, bodily). Practices such calligraphy (Shodo), tea ceremony (Chado), archery (Kyodo), martial arts (Aikido), flowers arrangement (Ikebana) or creating Bonsai are good examples of such extended Zen practice. Nevertheless, the most advanced practice is the one where high level of awareness is kept during ordinary activities such: brushing teeth, cooking, eating, waiting to the bas, talking to child, listening to the speaker at the conference etc.
In a course of application of the Three Kernel System, this uninterrupted awareness will be practiced with meditation conducted through various body positions (sitting & standing meditation) or actions (walking meditation). In addition, awareness training for ordinary activities (work, life) will be carried out as a part of the specific programs.
Daoist methods as awareness tools
Daoism origins lay back in the 4th century BC and are rooted in a few most relevant teachings: the School of Naturalists or the School of Yin-Yang (陰陽家/阴阳家; Yīnyángjiā), the Book of Changes or I Ching, the Dao De Jing, which contains teachings attributed to Laozi, and the later writings of Zhuangzi.
The main premise of the Daoism is to provide methods, which allow living in harmony with the Dao (道, "Way") that is considered to be both the source and substance of everything that exists. Daoism recognises the three fundamental levels of existence: Physical, Energetic and Mental, which are known as “The Three Treasures”: Jing (“Essence”), Qi (“Breath”), and Shen (“Spirit”). Further on, the Three Treasures are regarded as precious gifts that we are born with and which determine human heath and longevity. By understanding these three levels practitioner can get aligned with the cosmic energy and reach balance with Dao. Opposite, any action conducted against this harmony would eminently drain out our energy and influence our well-being and health.
Human urge to align with the operation of the Dao and to achieve state of harmony, gave rise to various methods aiming to improve health, increase longevity and most importantly to support body-spirit cultivation. Some of most important methods are:
Internal Martial arts
Internal alchemy (Neidan)
Astrology and numerology
The Three Kernel System is using some of these methods as a tool for: practicing awareness at the different levels (body, mind, spirit); contemplation on tao principles and concepts; energy cultivation, with the goal to:
Improve health and longevity
Enhancing personal development
Developing social competence
Awareness on the body, breath and energy circulation can improve not only better understanding of the interconnections of everything, but will have effect on physical and emotional heath and longevity. This will be practiced by use of some techniques related to Qi Gong, Internal martial arts (Taiji), Daoist meditation and Daoits medicine.
Cultivation on principles and concepts will support development of the healthier relationships with oneself, other living beings, with the nature and with life itself. One would be better equipped for keeping balance independent on environment (work, family, society, nature). This will be trained by transferring martial arts (external and internal) strategies and principles to everyday situations.
Dao and Female cultivation techniques will be transmitted only to advanced students.
Yoga is an ancient discipline with its origins in India as early as 3000 B.C. It is manifested through techniques, which have ultimate goal to breed transformation of the consciousness and help attaining liberation (moksha) from karma and rebirth (samsara). In a plain words, yoga means union of our individual consciousness with the Universal one. Ancient Indian rishis understood that techniques, which lead to liberation of soul from the bondage of maya (Raja Yoga) require as well a healthy body. They recognized physical form as an integral part of the humans, which has its own character specific to each person and closely related to karma.
When un-functional, body can prevent a good operation of the life itself and can take away all aspirations person may have. Body-in-pain can take-over a large part of individuum, causing that life is perceived only through the physical lenses and everything outside of physical form cease to exist. With this, suffering extends to levels beyond the body. Generally speaking, unhealthy bodily conditions are warning signals of internal or external abuse. When aware of it, one can utilise aching body as a playing field for health improvement, spiritual development and awakening. Opposite, if awareness is not there, body can become a barrier for all actions no matter at which level.
With development of the Hatha Yoga, ancient yogis opened the way to discipline and purify body and prepare it at the same time to higher levels of energy. Developed methods included body postures (asanas), hand positions and gestures (mudra), conscious awareness on breath (pranayama), etc.
Hatha Yoga, at its most basic level, requires from practitioners to conduct asanas with full awareness (awareness on body, organs, breath, sensations, vibrations etc.). Such focused approach brings up a good understanding of body mechanics, complexity and interconnections within and outside of ones physical form. In addition, one learns to influence own physical and emotional health, and drive energy in optimal direction. Basically, with properly executed Hatha Yoga, body will cease to be limiting factor for achieving higher possibilities and will help practitioner to elevate consciousness through appropriate postures.
In 19th century Yoga was introduced to Western world. Unfortunately, Western practitioners largely assimilated only physical aspect of the Yoga, loosing perspective of its main goal: to reach union and boundlessness. Without larger perspective, Hatha Yoga is perceived as a simple exercise-form where physical postures (asanas) are mostly performed mechanically, in competition manner and with the goal to achieve an acrobatic level.
The Three Kernel System perceives Yoga as a dynamic meditation and an awareness tool and tries to apply basic principles of the traditional Yoga holistic approach: working with body, breath, mind and spirit at the same time. This way, not only physical and mental health are targeted, through the impact on hormonal and nervous systems, but as well spiritual growth is considered. Attention is put on awareness, focus and full presence, which are particularly strengthened through the aware silence.
Boundaries of each particular person are recognised, resulting in various combinations of used elements, different levels of asana simplicity or different choice of asanas. In general System applies premise that simple postures, which are conducted with the full awareness and focus, bring practitioner to better health and higher developmental level. In other words, mastering a single asana through full awareness will bring practitioner further toward better understanding of the internal and external world, than display of the acrobatic proficiency achieved without full awareness.
As a byproduct of the awareness practice, person would be able to take responsibility over own life and would come closer to awakening into the true existence.