Hollow Bamboo Dharma Practice
Hollow Bamboo sitting meditation practice focuses on the establishment of appropriate posture, the awakening and embracing of the vibratory feeling presence of the entire body, and a surrender to the force of breath that ultimately wants to pass through the entire body.
Establishing an appropriate posture depends on the embodiment of three primary principles: alignment (playing with upright balance), relaxation (surrendering the weight of the body to gravity), and resilience (the understanding that everything moves).
In the earliest texts of Buddhism, the Buddha encourages the preliminary assumption of an upright spine as the foundation for sitting meditation practice. The reason for this is that a body playing with upright balance is able to relax and let go in a way that a body whose structure is not so vertically aligned is simply incapable of doing. Relaxation in the sitting posture, then, is the simple gesture of surrendering the weight of the body to the pull of gravity.
As the body begins truly to relax, subtle movements and transmitted motions can begin to be felt at every joint of the body in resilient response to the force of the breath. If the body remains frozen and unnaturally still, which is an all too common situation in sitting meditation practice, relaxation is lost.
Ultimately, relaxation is the central key to this deeply embodied approach to sitting meditation posture. The alignment of the spine makes relaxation possible, while constant, subtle motion throughout the body in response to the breath allows relaxation to continue over time.
On every part of the body down to the smallest cell, minute pinpricks of sensations can be felt to exist. Even though these sensations are unimaginably small in size and are oscillating and changing at unimaginably rapid rates of vibratory frequency, they can still be distinctly felt. When lost in thought, however, these sensations simply disappear from awareness. The consciousness that passes as normal in the world at large is primarily a disembodied consciousness in which there is a great deal of thought and very little awareness of the feeling presence of the body.
As one explores the posture of meditation, more and more of the body’s sensations naturally emerge and come out of hiding, and we begin to experience the body as a field phenomenon of shimmering, vibratory, tactile sensations. Grounding one’s awareness in the constantly changing feeling presence of the body is a critical component in the establishment of embodied presence.
The Buddha’s culminating instructions on breathing as recorded in the Satipatthana Sutta tell us: as you breathe in, breathe in through the whole body; as you breathe out, breathe out through the whole body.
To breathe in this way, two things are necessary. First, you need to be able to feel the entire body as vibratory presence (for how could you possibly breathe through the whole body if you can’t feel it in its entirety?). Second, you will want to allow the breath to start transmitting its force, joint by joint, through the whole body in a series of wavelike motions and tidal flows that never come to a complete stop.
Exploring the practice of breathing through the whole body reveals all the places in the body where we resist breath’s passage, where we hold and tense the body in resistance. Opening to the possibility that breath can move resiliently through the entire body guides us to the discovery of areas of bodily tension that we then can let go. The goal is not to perfect a breath that breathes through the whole body. The goal is to keep letting go of unnecessary tension and contraction that we hold in the tissues of the body and the thought forms of the mind.
Who are you and who and what do you become when you play with balance, open to sensations, surrender to a breath that wants to breathe through your entire body?
The basic manuals for sitting practice are the following books by Will Johnson:
The Posture of Meditation 2nd Edition: A Practical Manual for Meditators of All Traditions (Shambhala, 2020) and Breathing Through the Whole Body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind, Body, and Breath (Inner Traditions, 2012)
do nothing with the body but relax
let the mind remain in its unformed state
become like a hollow bamboo so that everything flows through
Tilopa, The Song of Mahamudra
"Will, your teaching has lived up to your reputation. Your radical approach to the Satipatthana Sutta has touched both our lives in ways we may not yet fully comprehend. We hope you will continue to share your perspectives with the Dharma halls of the world so that others may be as touched by your wisdom as we have been."
"Dear Will, I honestly don't know how you've done this. I've been a Vajrayana meditator for over twenty years. Your teachings change everything!"