Simple Zazen: What is the Hara?

Jon asks in a comment to my last post: “…The hara point always escaped me. They say it is about 3 inches below the navel, but HOW EXACTLY does on concentrate on it? How do you teach it? Is this something that one should try to feel for? What does it feel like?”

For zazen, especially for beginning students, I recommend first sitting upright. Here’s how I put it in Keep Me in Your Heart Awhile: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri:

The legs, either in a full- or half-lotus position (or as close as you can reasonably get), are like the roots of water lily, grounded in the earth, settled in the muck of this life. The spine is relaxed and straight like the stem of the lotus, supported by the water and inclining upward toward the sun, leaning neither forward nor backward, neither left nor right. The head, the flower of the water lily, sits softly on the top of the spine, eyes gazing downward at a forty-five-degree angle. The mouth is gently closed and the tongue rests on the roof, just touching the upper front teeth. The left hand rests in the right palm, thumb-tips lightly touching, forming an elliptic-shaped zero, expressing boundless openness.

Then allow the breath to be natural, not forcing any particular type of breath.

Most Zen teachers recommend that beginners count the breath but I’ve found that for many people counting is quickly co-opted by their inner critic. Therefore, I’ve come to recommend becoming one with the breath at the hara point, about 3 finger-widths below the navel. It is our anatomical center and really helpful for thinking types to come out of the metaphorical head.

Of course, the mind wanders off. That is simply what the mind has been trained to do. Bringing the mind gently and directly back to the hara point is the practice, not attaining any particular state of mind.

One of the virtues of resting in the hara point is that it is a neutral sensation. Especially at first, there are no particular feelings there to reject or crave. Trying to feel it is like trying to ride a bike – the trying is extra and gets in the way. But without trying the wheels don’t go round. What can you do? Simply, gently, directly, bring the mind back to the hara point. After a while, the energy of the hara point becomes palpable and it can become a burning sensation, like a little moxi just below the belly.

Katagiri Roshi told me to “just be one with the breath.” After I could follow the breath for longer periods, especially in sesshin, he told me that shikantaza wasn’t following the breath. “Don’t be attached to anything,” he admonished me.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02354422848590890668 leela

    Hmm…I know where my hara is with the same body-knowledge that tells me where my nose is, my feet, my heart and so forth. I *feel* it, from the inside out. And yes, it feels like the center of my body.I thought *everybody* just knew.

  • Jon

    Dosho,Thank you kindly. I found this very helpful.Regards,Jon K

  • Seigen

    The day I discovered hara was the day I was told to lose it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12712396374023835678 Mike Cross

    Hi Dosho,Nice post, and nice conclusion — whatever my latest understanding is of what "just sitting" means, the real truth of it always turns out to be "No, not that!"The Buddha's exposition of the four dhyaanas of sitting-dhyaana practice, as recorded by Ashvaghosha in Canto 17 of Saundarananda, each seems to me to be a negation of what proceeded it. Four cases of "Not that" leading eventually to a condition of clarity, simplicity, and indifference. Thanks for your invitations to join Twitter and Facebook, by the way. But so far I can't be bothered. I don't seem to have the energy of an old wild fox like yourself. May the force continue to be with you. All the best,Mike

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15170037991394359261 Jason Gosnell

    One weekend, I sat zazen, but never thought about hara. The next day, playing tennis with my dad, it felt as if there was a ball under my belly button. I never really thought too much about hara or location of it, but I realized how balanced I was that day and that sensation. Maybe it was an accident of sitting so much. Mostly, I now place my attention there in zazen, but sometimes, I don't focus on anything in particualr it seems. Yet, I think I am still awake or present.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16799014615525195086 Frederic Lecut

    In traditional Japanese spiritual, therapeutic, martial and creative arts the "HARA" is the equivalent of the Western abdomen : it is the cavity below the diaphragm, which contains all digestive organs. Inside the Hara, roughly midway between the navel and the top of the pubic bone (people often say 2 inches below the navel)is located the "TANDEN" an energy centre. There is Hara (belly) and there is only one tanden – situated within the Hara. Tanden is translated in China as Tan Tien, or Dan Tien, but traditional Chinese Medicine knows 3 Dantiens : the Higher, Middle and Lower Dantiens. The Japanese Tanden is the Chinese Lower Dantien, located in the Hara. This is the one where you should focus your attention

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04878684373898294730 Dosho Port

    Thanks for all the comments. Mike, always good to hear from you. I've been thinking about you and Vasubandu because I've been studying his brother, Asanga. Fredric, thanks for the detail. I imagine that the hara point depends in part on the length of the torso. I just measured and on this body it's 2.5 inches below the navel (although there is some jiggling around from my soft belly so the measurement is questionable1).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07800258273705288582 Dalai Grandma

    I wonder if women feel this the same way men do? I do feel energy, but have not felt it focused in this specific place.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13642593584289555995 senshin mats fredriksson

    Dalai Grandma said… "I wonder if women feel this the same way men do? I do feel energy, but have not felt it focused in this specific place"Yes, That I find interesting.I´ve read somewhere that Women tend to be drawn to the heart chakra, solar plexus area. Compassion, etc Could you please explain your view on that matter?Regards,senshin

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04878684373898294730 Dosho Port

    Senshin, You rascal – drawing me into gender issues! Imv, stereotypically, men (especially those drawn to Buddhism) are focused in their heads … so an argument could be made for men focusing on their heads and women on their heart center … and this might not practice just rehearsal of our predispositions and cultural conditioning. I asked Tetsugan (a woman and former woman-studies major even) if she thought that women were more predisposed to meditate on the heart center than the hara and she said, "No. It's just a continuation of the conditioning we've received to be more relational and therefore heart centered." Now to paint window trim. Dosho

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04088014381677610726 karen

    I am struggling to find my Hara despite carrying out daily meditations (I am currently studying to become a Reiki master) I wonder if the amount of surgery I have had in this area has "disturbed" my Hara – I am a female. What are your thoughts on this?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04878684373898294730 Dosho Port

    Hi Karen,Hara is simply the center point so gender doesn't effect it. "A couple finger widths below the navel" – there are considerable individual variations in this. As a "neutral sensation" your difficult might be the normal one – hard to find something that's neutral. I don't know if surgery would impact this or not. Maybe. You are welcome to contact me individually if you like. Might be best not to worry about it and just rest the mind there or in the up turned palm of the left hand (when in the zazen mudra).Palms together,Dosho

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04088014381677610726 karen

    thank you for your thoughts. I will continue to meditate and try to free my mind more. I am quite new to meditating on the hara so maybe I just need to work with it a lot more.ThanksKaren

  • desiree

    I’ve got proof, and that’s the truth…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ugly_Truth_(film)

    If hara is neutral I’ll eat my words: Seigen was told to lose it when found, if you find it…it’s not that easy to lose, especially at work!!!

  • gene

    just wanted to add… there’s lots of language here about where to find the hara vertically (ie, in relation to the navel, above or below), but not much direct language of where to find it in terms of the back/front direction. people say “X inches below the navel”, but to me that’s misleading in that it implies that the hara is on the surface of the stomach, just like the navel is. as others have said, the hara is the center point. it’s your center of gravity. as such, it’s not on the surface of your belly, it’s “deep within the abdomen, behind the navel”, as i’ve been taught by Master Chunyi Lin. it’s in the very center of your abdomen, not on the surface. when i realized this truth it profoundly changed my ability to “feel” the hara. i hope this can help others do the same!

  • monte

    i have found a technique that is helping me find my hara very sufficiently. previously it was a struggle to “find my hara” but now i realized that my stomach was just to constricted and unrelaxed without me even knowing it. but until i realized that my mind was the same way, i started to use one of the eckart tolle methods which was to observe the stillness of the room and really see how present the room was, and as i came to that stillness in my mind i observed if my stomach matched that stillness. and the second i became aware of how not still or calm my stomache was, the tension drifted away and i came closer to peace.

  • leon

    hola

    como practicante de Aikido el hara específicamente el punto tantien es el origen de la energía que usamos para realizar las técnicas , pues no se usan en Aikido la fuerza muscular sino la energía Ki me tomo cuatro años aprender a conectarme con mi centro para poder liberar o dejar fluir esta energía esto bajo la guía de la maestra que ademas es monja Zen, lo que me gusta del Aikido es que no son palabras ni teorías sino la practica si no estas conectado a tu energía Ki pues sencillamente la técnica no funciona. gracias por sus comentarios me sirvieron para aclarar algunos puntos.

  • Jeanne Desy

    I was drawn back to this post and comments just now and am interested to realize that since this came out, I have often felt my hara or center to be a golden pool, rather than a ball, pretty much where my stomach is. Above my natural navel, which has been changed by major surgery, so who knows? I am short from waist to hips. Bodies are each unique. I’ve never seen identical twins who really looked exactly alike.

    • doshoport

      Hi Jeanne,
      Thanks for this comment. I also dug this old post up for the Vine of Obstacles practitioners – and imv your right about the hara. Our “center” varies.
      Dosho


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