Focus on the breath is vital to those who practise breath control meditation.
Therefore I have had blogged an article on it back in 2006. Since the term, “focus on the breath” is nowadays gaining popularity in Daoist forums and we are continuing the discussion on the Circulation of the Light; I hereby provide an updated version of the article for your reading pleasure.
About ten years ago in a Tao forum, one had advised a fellow traveler to ‘focus on the breath’ while practicing meditation. She was an earnest student of Tao and meditation, reading books on and studying various methods of meditation akin to the Circulation of the Light.
She would travel from the US to India every year to see her guru, a renowned teacher according to her, to improve her meditation and practice. And she would post the various methods of meditation on the forum board for sharing with fellow travelers. She understood Daoist meditations more than most but her practice was not improving. Only when she had indicated that she was not able to concentrate properly while in meditation because of thoughts rushing in, did I recommend her to focus on the breath.
Thereafter, one was shouted down by several members since she was acknowledged as the most knowledgeable person in Daoist meditation on that forum. According to her admirers and followers, how could I know that she does not know about it already? Yes, how would I know?
A few years later, Daoists and Buddhists in the forums started to – and still do - bandy around the term, ‘focus on the breath’ without realizing what it has to do with the backward flow meditation. Apparently some of them have come across this term in one of the books written by an elderly Chan Buddhist master – recently deceased - based in China.
Knowing how to focus on the breath is a primary requirement for the backward flow meditation and the Circulation of the Light.
If you really want to learn the proper way to focus on the breath, let us turn to Lu Yen better known as Lu Dongbin - one of the eight renowned celestial Daoist immortals and a Quanzhen Patriarch to boot - for the answer, shall we?
“In sitting down, after lowering the lids, one uses the eyes to establish a plumb-line and then shifts the light downward. But if the transposition downward is not successful, then the heart is directed towards listening to the breathing. One should not be able to hear with the ear the outgoing and in taking of the breath. What one hears is that it has no tone. As soon as it has tone, the breathing is rough and superficial, and does not penetrate into the open. Then the heart must be made quite light and insignificant. The more it is released, the less it becomes; the less it is, the quieter. All at once it becomes so quiet that it stops. Then the true breathing is manifested and the form of the heart comes to consciousness.”
The Buddha said: ‘When you fix your heart on one point, then nothing is impossible for you.’ The heart easily runs away, so it is necessary to concentrate it by means of breath-energy. Breath-energy easily becomes rough; therefore it has to be refined by the heart. When that is done, can it then happen that it is not fixed?
While sitting, one must therefore always keep the heart quiet and the energy concentrated. How can the heart be made quiet? By the breath. Only the heart must be conscious of the flowing in and out of the breath; it must not be heard with the ears. If it is not heard, then the breathing is light; if light, it is pure. If it can be heard, then the breath-energy is rough; if rough, then it is troubled; if troubled, then indolence and lethargy develop and one wants to sleep. That is self-evident.
[The Secret of the Golden Flower – W/B]
If we focus on the breath during meditation, thoughts do not flood in. Neither will we fall asleep since we concentrate on the breath and are aware of where it is going. In neidan practice, focusing on the breath is elementary but important. Learn it well to go further.
Have fun in focusing on the breath. When fire fills your belly, and thunder roars upon breathing in, while immortals sing, perhaps you may know by then if what Daoist celestial immortal Lu and the Buddha have already indicated is true.
But then again, like what those Tao forum members and Zhuangzi had asked, ‘How would I know?’