The legend goes that Maya, the mother of the Buddha, gave birth to Gautama standing in one of the gardens of Lumbini Park.
Vertical Chan offers an enlightening way of liberation by using gravity as a universal force to deliver your own Buddha Nature.
The Practice of Vertical Chan
Standing for Compassion
Having recognised the basic truth of life, which is suffering, Buddha taught the 4 Noble Truths. They are:
1) To live is to suffer;
2) The cause of suffering is egoistic craving;
3) The elimination of egoistic craving brings the cessation of suffering;
4) The way to the elimination of egoistic craving is to practise the Noble Eight-Fold Path: optimal view, optimal purpose, optimal speech, optimal action, optimal pursuits, optimal effort, optimal attention and optimal concentration.
At the centre of practising the Noble Eight-Fold Path emphasised by Buddha is the Middle Way, non-extreme in following the above path. By practising the Middle Way as described in the 8-Fold Path, one can optimally relieve the suffering and come to optimally liberate all sentient beings.
Taking the perspective of human evolution, human beings were forced to evolve into a bipedal species. By becoming bipedal or vertical in their activities, the upper limbs became free and the hands became innovative in making tools. Through this evolutionary development, the human brains grew relatively bigger than those of other animals, including their related primates, did. Such evolutionary development may keep human beings fitter in survival, but on the other hand humans may often turn into excessive egoistic craving. This has proven to be very true in human history: the more modernisation is developed, the more craving is created. The magnitude and multitude of human involvement in egoistic craving in the distant past, even in Buddha's time, is pale in comparison with now. Therefore, it is high time to revert to the practice of the Middle Way.
The cultivation of this wisdom and similar ones of following the Middle Way led by many a modest man or sage, has become the main purpose of meaningful living. In Chinese Chan and in Japanese Zen, the formal practice of seated meditation or ZaZen is considered the embodiment of cultivation of this wisdom. As a method, ZaZen aims for great stability by one-pointed concentration on the Hara or lower DanTian, while staying with (or sometimes counting) the breath as a way of dissolving all suffering. Strangely enough, the various ZaZen postures, to start with, add unnecessary physical suffering, pain and stress, to the living system, while the act of sitting is a premature connection to the evolutionary past.
In evolution, human beings preferred using a 2-leg posture to a 4-leg one, a less stable standing to a more stable one. With such a preference the human head eventually became bigger, yet without proportionally gaining extra size in their feet to counter support. With the bigger brain, human beings developed more capacity for craving and more capacity for filling this increased craving. It has become a vicious circle. In other words, the cause of more human suffering is due to the change from a horizontal to a vertical living style, a style still not well adapted and balanced. In this respect, we have to naturally and primarily deal with most of our suffering that is directly caused by our vertical development, through vertical regulating meditation instead.
In Vertical Chan, the Buddhist notion of the Middle Way becomes a dynamic reality, rather than a one-pointed static focus. Defining the Middle Way not as the compromise of two extremes, but rather as the optimal and most balanced position in any given space-time, the ever-changing middle point, corresponding to the centre of gravity and the central point of the lower DanTian, becomes the embodiment of the Middle Way.
The main basic posture of Vertical Chan connects the centre of gravity of the body with the centre of the earth, through both feet, in an inverted rounded V-shape of the lower limbs. The upper limbs arch in an open curve at shoulder height, forming a rounded V or, to be more precise, a shape reminding of the well-known image of the Zen Enso. In this posture, both upper and lower limbs have to connect to the middle point of the lower DanTian, respectively through the upper and lower parts of the body in such a way that the middle point of the lower DanTian coincides with the centre of gravity. With such a connection, the middle point immediately becomes a vital point of balance, as any imbalance due to loss of connection or alignment of any part of the body immediately throws one literally off balance. In this case, the middle point of the lower DanTian can be treated as the Middle Point for practising the Middle Way.
Furthermore, this Middle Point can be employed as a four-dimensional dynamic pointer, which helps define the position of the human posture both in space and time. Since the Middle Point is essentially impermanent and is constantly shifting its stillness around, reflecting the fundamental essence of the True Nature, being form-less, Void, or Empty, it may well be called the Buddha Point. In this way, any positional moment is THE positional moment or space-time. Hence, this space-time point is THE space-time point, and is also the most meaningful space-time point as long as the Middle Point or Buddha Point is present within. In this here-now, all future and past, all form and emptiness, all material and immaterial are set as head and tail of one and the same coin.
The Buddha Point in fact is the centre of gravity of every being, both animate and inanimate. The reality of every being is determined by its involvement in space-time. Space-time is in turn determined by gravity. As a human being, we constantly interact with the gravity of the earth for our existence and should constantly thank the gravity of our planet for our existence. Owing to the gravity of the earth, our planet provides us our basic necessities, such as air, water and a myriad of things for our optimal development and survival.
The basic make-up of each of us, human beings, is cells. Each human cell is subject to gravitational interaction. The centre of gravity of the body is the resultant point for all the gravitational interactions of the body cells with the earth. Physically, whenever the body is in optimal balance by making proper use of the centre of gravity of the body, the body will suffer less. However, when the centre of gravity of the body encounters difficulty in maintaining an optimal position, after a certain period the physical body can suffer and eventually the suffering can translate into emotional and mental stress. By the same token, imbalanced emotional or mental activity can easily disrupt the optimal balance of the physical body by shifting the centre of gravity of the body into an unfavourable position. When this unfavourable position is kept for too long without properly reverting in time, it often breeds suffering. Therefore, it is necessary to often keep the centre of the body, the Lower Dantian, in a more favourable position by regularly practising DanTian Chan.
Traditionally, the Chinese call the energy centres of the body DanTian. The energy centre of the head is the Upper DanTian, the energy centre of the chest is the Middle DanTian and the energy centre of the abdomen is the Lower DanTian. Since the Lower DanTian is regarded as the origin or source of the energy of the whole body, it is often just called DanTian. Currently, many Chan or Zen schools still follow a common traditional practice of sitting meditation. In this practice, there are three optional sitting postures: full lotus, half lotus and sitting on heels. Throughout the whole practice, the mind may attend to breathing but its concentration mainly rests on or resides in the centre of the Lower DanTian.
Today, we are inclined to use more elevated seats than traditionally when just sitting low or directly on the floor. Hence, the above three postures commonly chosen for Sitting Chan or ZaZen often prove to be difficult even for most Easterners, let alone for most Westerners. Should a chosen posture not decently provide a comfortable position for meditation, a practitioner may have less ease to let his mind attend to his breathing well and to let its concentration rest on or reside in his Lower DanTian well during practice.
Actually, such an approach to sitting meditation is not limited to Sitting Chan or ZaZen only; it is widely adopted by many other schools of meditation and Qi Gong, or Energy Work, in China. Although these schools seem to recognise the significant importance of keeping a comfortable position during practice, they tend to assume one of the above three sitting postures to be the most suitable and comfortable ones without even bothering to try out alternatives.
There are many realistic reasons for favouring the adoption of a standing posture to the above three sitting postures for the practice of Chan. The main ones have plenty to do with the Lower DanTian, the centre of the energy or life force of the whole body.
In Standing or Vertical Chan, the position of the Lower DanTian becomes more comfortable, which, in turn, enables the DanTian Qi, the source energy of life or life force, to flow and circulate more freely. When the Lower DanTian is comfortable and when DanTian Qi can flow and circulate more freely, there is less obstruction and more presence of pleasantness in the mind and body. Under this condition, life will become more sufferable and easier to be contented in.
Human beings have had to evolve and develop a vertical body in order to fare better and improve their chance of survival when faced with a sudden and drastic change in their environment, from a forest to a savannah surrounding. So, early on in human history, humans had to constantly search for food and look out for danger in an upright position. Even today, such sense of uncertainty and insecurity still haunts them. Practising Vertical or Standing Chan can keep a practitioner stay still and peaceful. This way, he can cultivate in the Lower DanTian a calmer and more settled, instead of an uncertain and insecure, upright source energy of life or life force. In this respect, such practitioner will crave less for certainty and security.
The practice of Vertical or Sitting Chan in a still and peaceful position is mostly concerned with the Buddha Nurture. Its main purpose is to cultivate calmer and more settled upright DanTian Qi, source energy of life or life force, in order to secure the mind and the body. Next to this cultivation is the practice of Vertical or Standing Chan in a balanced and stable position, which is mostly concerned with the Buddha Nature. Its main purpose is to cultivate more compassion by making good use of the Buddha point, the centre of gravity or the energy centre of the whole body in the Lower DanTian. Once a practitioner can bring his body and mind as well as his DanTian Qi into a more lasting equilibrium, he can begin to cultivate more compassionate DanTian Qi by communicatively connecting his Buddha point with the centre of the earth. This is because by nature, the earth is very generous and forgiving. All living things exist and thrive because of the generous and forgiving nature of the earth. Despite having done so much ecological harm to our mother planet for so long, she still can manage to heal herself by continuously neutralising and transforming harmful ecological energy into potential resources besides providing us abundantly with daily needs. The kind nature of the earth is made possible owing to its continuous revolving around the sun and its own rotating through its centre.
At present, many Sitting Chan or ZaZen practitioners still employ a traditional method of concentrating on the lower DanTian or Hara while attentively following each expiration as a means of dissolving or liberating suffering. The practice of Vertical or Standing Chan, on the other hand, has to involve much more and beyond. This development is deemed necessary in order to effectively dissolve or liberate modern sufferings, which tend to become more and more obstinate and complicated day by day.
Living is suffering, yet to live is to breathe. Hence being able to breathe well may lead to suffering less. Very often, to breathe well, not only the lungs have to take a good part but also the abdomen, the Lower DanTian. This may explain why so many Sitting Chan or ZaZen practitioners still employ the aforementioned traditional method of concentrating on the Lower DanTian or Hara while attentively following each expiration as a means of dissolving or liberating suffering during practice. This may also explain why in the development of Vertical or Standing Chan, a relatively more unified way of breathing is adopted. In this way of breathing, the abdomen, or the Lower Dantian, has to play an active role. During this practice, the mind has to compassionately rest within the Buddha point to oversee the gradual dissolving or liberating of suffering through gentle tides of breathing.
In the practice of Vertical or Standing Chan, engaging the mind to compassionately oversee the DanTian Qi, source energy of life or life force, carrying out gentle tides of breathing, can be called DanTian Chan Breathing or simply DanTian Chan. DanTian Chan Breathing comprises Postnatal and Prenatal DanTian Chan Breathing, or simply, Postnatal and Prenatal Chan.
Gentle tides of DanTian Chan Breathing can only be carried out at a higher level of proficiency, when a Vertical or Standing Chan practitioner is also proficient in practising Ecological or Green Chan, at least at a fundamental level. The practise of Ecological or Green Chan requires a practitioner to save as much energy as possible in daily activity so as to compassionately protect the environment by living in a more modest and gentle way. Hence, during the practice of Vertical or Standing Chan, even it is a working Chan, a practitioner has to try to save as much energy as possible in a calm and relaxed position in order to exhale less waste of air and water into the environment.
Postnatal DanTian Chan
Postnatal DanTian Chan is also called Postnatal DanTian Chan Breathing, Pulmonary Chan Breathing and After Heaven Chan Breathing.
The practice of Postnatal Chan requires the abdomen to play an active yet reverse role. During inhalation, the belly flattens, the pelvic rotates slightly towards the front and its floor elevates slightly. As a result, more DanTian Qi, the source energy of life or life force, can be gathered and packed towards the Buddha point. During exhalation, the belly relaxes, recoils, and returns to it normal size.
Comparatively, practising Reverse Abdominal Breathing can save and generate more energy and, at the same, produce less exhaling waste than Normal Abdominal Breathing. This is because during Normal Abdominal Inhalation, the belly expands and during Normal Abdominal Exhalation, the belly recoils and returns to its normal size. Such a way of abdominal breathing is less effective in saving and generating more energy and it tends to produce more exhaling waste.
Practising Postnatal DanTian Chan also can facilitate the return of more blood and fluid from the lower limbs back to the belly. This makes the lower body lighter and less tired, and the body suffers less discomfort, which in turn can enable the practice of Vertical or Standing Chan to become a more pleasant and lasting exercise.
Part of the water vapour carried out during each Postnatal Chan Exhalation is the waste product of Prenatal Chan. Practising well Postnatal Chan can also assist the practice of Prenatal Chan to better metabolise and conserve water as the practice of Prenatal Chan is a practice of breathing of water.
Prenatal DanTian Chan
Prenatal DanTian Chan is also called Prenatal DanTian Chan Breathing, CranioSacral Chan Breathing and Before Heaven Chan Breathing.
There are so many methods of Traditional Prenatal Breathing in China, yet Prenatal Dantian Chan belongs to none of them. Prenatal Dantian Breathing is based on an anatomicophysiological system known as the CranioSacral System. This system was only recently discovered by an osteopath, William G. Sutherland, and very recently, yet independently, by Liu Wai Sang, the writer. The CranioSacral System is a true prenatal breathing system. It respires fluid and starts to operate before birth, it even outlasts the pulmonary system after the last breath of air. Hence, very often the CranioSacral System is also called the Primary Respiratory System and the Pulmonary System, the Secondary Respiratory System.
The CranioSacral System is a very quiet and hidden system. Evidentially, it is not easy to observe this system at work. However, this is a much gentler and deeper breathing system than the Pulmonary one. Practising this system well can often bring more lasting serenity in place of suffering to the mind and body.
Practising Prenatal DanTian Chan is a more effective way of dissolving or liberating suffering, more due to nature, since the CranioSacral System still operates before birth. While practising Postnatal DanTian Breathing is a more effective way of dissolving or liberating suffering more due to nurture, since the Pulmonary only starts to operate after birth. Nevertheless, it is always more beneficial to practice both so they can mutually assist each other.
After reaching a higher level, the practice of Vertical or Standing Chan can make us realise clearly that we do not need, even on the contrary, to take in more water and air to keep our systems more harmonic and healthy. Instead, we need to purify the air and water as an effective means of dissolving or liberating our suffering through our practice. Also through our progressive practice, we can further make us consciously aware of our ecological responsibility. It is better not to crave and deplete more of our natural resources but rather to keep our limited natural resources clean and pure so to pollute less ourselves. This is truly a matter of more can become qualitatively less and less can become qualitatively more, a compassionate way of dealing with basic sufferings.
By Liu Wai Sang, Founder and Developer of Vertical and Healing Chan
Courses of Basic and Advanced Vertical Chan are available, please contact us if interested.