Rinzai Mudra Question

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jundocohen
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Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by jundocohen » Fri Feb 16, 2018 1:59 am

Hi Meido,

I have a Mudra question for you that I was asked by one of the Treeleafers.

I believe that most Rinzai folks sit the same "Cosmic Mudra" as we do (Hokkaijō-in 法界定印) (from the Rinzai-Obaku page) ...

ImageImage

However, I have found some examples of Rinzai priests sitting with hand wrapped around the thumb too (I believe that this is you!).

Image

Are they both traditional? Different Rinzai Lineages?

Thank you.

Gassho, Jundo
Teacher at Treeleaf Zendo, a Soto Zen Sangha, an online practice place for folks who cannot commute to a Zen Center due to health, living in remote areas, work or family needs. The focus is Shikantaza 'Just Sitting' Zazen http://www.treeleaf.org

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Meido
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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Meido » Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:19 am

Greetings sir!

Both are considered acceptable in Rinzai practice...for example, if I'm not mistaken, in Omori Roshi's Sanzen Nyumon he mentions both.

I don't know if the different sodo attached to the various Rinzai -ha in Japan favor one or another. But personally in Rinzai circles I've most often seen the one used that you mention:

Mudra.jpg
Mudra.jpg (38.14 KiB) Viewed 1763 times

I can't speak to origins, but FWIW one observes something similar in various portraits of Rinzai Gigen in Japan, e.g.:

Rinzai.jpg
Rinzai.jpg (57.18 KiB) Viewed 1770 times

...and I've noticed it demonstrated in this photo of the modern Chan master Wei Chuei:

Grandmaster.png
Grandmaster.png (247.51 KiB) Viewed 1770 times

Best,
Meido
The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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jundocohen
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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by jundocohen » Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:44 am

Thank you Meido.

Gassho, Jundo
Teacher at Treeleaf Zendo, a Soto Zen Sangha, an online practice place for folks who cannot commute to a Zen Center due to health, living in remote areas, work or family needs. The focus is Shikantaza 'Just Sitting' Zazen http://www.treeleaf.org

Caodemarte
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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Caodemarte » Fri Feb 16, 2018 5:04 am

Just to chime in from the peanut galleries: I have heard that although both are acceptable, the thumbs clasped mudra is considered the “informal” mudra in at least some Rinzai monasteries in Japan. When sitting in zazen posture, preparing for a “formal” zazen session, or other “non-formal” zazen that mudra is used until the bell signifying the beginning of “formal” zazen is rung. At that point or rather shortly before people switch to the cosmic mudra. Of course, monasteries and Rinzai sub-sects have different traditional usages.

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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Meido » Fri Feb 16, 2018 5:57 am

Caodemarte wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 5:04 am
Just to chime in from the peanut galleries: I have heard that although both are acceptable, the thumbs clasped mudra is considered the “informal” mudra in at least some Rinzai monasteries in Japan. When sitting in zazen posture, preparing for a “formal” zazen session, or other “non-formal” zazen that mudra is used until the bell signifying the beginning of “formal” zazen is rung. At that point or rather shortly before people switch to the cosmic mudra. Of course, monasteries and Rinzai sub-sects have different traditional usages.
Interesting, have never heard of something like that.

The way of doing things we inherited here is from Tenryu-ji. I have seen another Rinzai lineage in the USA that also seems to solely use the clasped mudra, but another where it seems folks can use either. The variation in practice inheritance between different Zen teaching lines that you note can be surprising.

This is a reason I often say that it is better to view Zen as a loosely associated collection or family of lineages, rather than a homogeneous Buddhist "school."

~ Meido
The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by [james] » Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:05 pm

What is the intent of one mudra (Wiki. def. “a symbolic or ritual gesture ...”) or the other? Is one a more recent development and, if known, how did it come to be? They certainly have a different “feeling”, both in appearance and in practice. Some groups seem to attach a lot of importance to what they consider the correct hand position. Is this necessary?

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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Caodemarte » Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:41 pm

It may be of interest to note what may be a cultural difference. An American who teaches Japanese and Westerners said that, whatever mudra is used and without getting too wrapped up or obsessive about hand placement, the bottom edge of the hands should be in (slight) contact with the abdomen. In his experience, Japanese have no problem getting right in there. Americans tend to hold their hands suspended in mid-air away from the lower body, as if straining to avoid contact with the lower body.

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Great Sage EofH
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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Great Sage EofH » Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:57 pm

Ka Shin Zendo has these two and one other posted on the wall. At home I use the one like Grandmaster jpg, at Japanese Zen group Cosmic Mudra. The two fisted version is listed on Qi Gong web pages as well, but sometimes I simply place the palms over the lower dan tien with thumbs crossed like that
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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Great Sage EofH » Fri Feb 16, 2018 3:10 pm

[james] wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:05 pm
What is the intent of one mudra (Wiki. def. “a symbolic or ritual gesture ...”) or the other? Is one a more recent development and, if known, how did it come to be? They certainly have a different “feeling”, both in appearance and in practice. Some groups seem to attach a lot of importance to what they consider the correct hand position. Is this necessary?
That depends, in Burma there’s a tradition of using hand mudras in conjunction with casting various spells, in Tibet too I think. All these mudras point to the lower dan tien, which is s borrow practice from Taoism. Are you asking if there is an empirical reason? Tradition is an important reason in and of itself. Ritual, especially when done in unison is s powerful practice
"We are magical animals that roam" ~~ Roam

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WoodsyLadyM
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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by WoodsyLadyM » Fri Feb 16, 2018 4:36 pm

Does it matter which hand supports the other? In Soto, I was taught to put the dominant hand on the bottom, which in my case is the right hand. But I see for the Rinzai mudra everyone has the left hand on the bottom. Does it matter either way?

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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Meido » Fri Feb 16, 2018 7:00 pm

[james] wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:05 pm
What is the intent of one mudra (Wiki. def. “a symbolic or ritual gesture ...”) or the other? Is one a more recent development and, if known, how did it come to be? They certainly have a different “feeling”, both in appearance and in practice. Some groups seem to attach a lot of importance to what they consider the correct hand position. Is this necessary?
As far as I know both have been used for a very long time. I couldn't say if one entered the stream of Zen practice later than the other. The feeling is indeed different.

Mastering these physical details is important, I agree, but if some folks say there are not acceptable variations in some physical details of sitting, e.g. that "only one way" of holding the hands is correct, to my mind this simply shows they lack broad experience and exposure to other lineages.

Reasons for choosing one over the other can have to do with the practitioner's particular conditions and obstructions, the manner of breathing, the temperature or seasons, etc. There are oral instructions regarding this.
Caodemarte wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:41 pm
In his experience, Japanese have no problem getting right in there. Americans tend to hold their hands suspended in mid-air away from the lower body, as if straining to avoid contact with the lower body.
I haven't noticed this difference between folks from different places, but have noticed that most modern folks from everywhere have tremendous upper body tension, and really have no idea how to old arms and hands in a relaxed manner period. Discomfort sitting on the floor perhaps also throws things off. It is true, I think, that habitual modern body usage almost defacto includes separation or non-integration of upper and lower body; this can be seen everywhere in the way folks walk. It has ramifications for practice and ability to cultivate meditative absorption.
SunWuKong wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 3:10 pm
That depends, in Burma there’s a tradition of using hand mudras in conjunction with casting various spells, in Tibet too I think.
Sino-Japanese Buddhism has well-developed mudra practice and theory, with various understandings of symbolic and other (psycho-physical) significance. This is a good book for a general overview: https://www.amazon.com/Mudra-Symbolic-G ... 0691018669
WoodsyLadyM wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 4:36 pm
Does it matter which hand supports the other? In Soto, I was taught to put the dominant hand on the bottom, which in my case is the right hand. But I see for the Rinzai mudra everyone has the left hand on the bottom. Does it matter either way?
For this mudra left hand on the bottom is "standard." But they can be switched no problem, just as the top leg in half- or full-lotus can/should be changed occasionally.

There is also a small detail regarding the small finger of the bottom hand that can not be seen in photos (again, oral instruction points this out). It is a subtle but important point. I have photos explaining this, but Shambhala now owns them.

One important thing RE this hand position is that the palms should be facing up, same as with the "cosmic" mudra. But for some reason it is a common error to turn the palms inward toward the belly. Unfortunately, doing so causes tension in the shoulder girdle.

One of my teachers, who had lived in the Tenryu-ji sodo in the 70's, on one occasion happened to see a photo of more recent unsui doing zazen there. He noticed that almost all of them made this particular error. His comment: "The [quality of] training in Japan has gone done."

I've come to believe that threads of transmitted instruction coming out from generations of practice experience, and the crucial thread of physical realization itself which marks genuine fruition of Zen realization, are extremely fragile things, and easily lost.

~ Meido
The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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WoodsyLadyM
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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by WoodsyLadyM » Fri Feb 16, 2018 7:50 pm

Thanks, Meido.

Caodemarte
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Re: Rinzai Mudra Questio

Post by Caodemarte » Sat Feb 17, 2018 1:40 am

An old Japanese Roshi said in a public discussion that right under left was historically often explained by Yin-Yang symbolism. Chinese medical theories of energy circulation (left, female hand on top of the usually dominant male right) and even Tantric symbolism. However, he said, all that was interesting symbolism, but not important, and just put left under right if that was more useful.

One of the great advantages of the cosmic murdra is that the distance between the thumbs (too close, too far apart, at what angle) and other signs reveal the state of your zazen to yourself and others. You can feel or see if your mind is too tight or wandering from your thumbs. This may be one reason a zen center might stress its use, especially for beginners.

A friend of mine at an American monastery tried to find another use. He told me he was frustrated by fallling asleep in morning zazen. He discovered that the cosmic mudra positioned his hands perfectly for a needle he hid in his robes. If his thumbs slipped or hands drifted out of position it would jab him awake. Worked fine for a while until he developed the ability to sleep with a needle gradually working deeper and deeper into his hand. He gave up the needle.

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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Meido » Sat Feb 17, 2018 2:02 am

Caodemarte wrote:
Sat Feb 17, 2018 1:40 am
One of the great advantages of the cosmic murdra is that the distance between the thumbs (too close, too far apart, at what angle) and other signs reveal the state of your zazen to yourself and others. You can feel or see if your mind is too tight or wandering from your thumbs. This may be one reason a zen center might stress its use, especially for beginners.
There is a similar way the other mudra can be used in this manner. The fingers of the top hand fall open when concentration wanders and the form falls apart.

Nice needle story. There is precedent in Zen records for something like that. Incense also works.

Personally I prefer a few methods that don't require additional tools e.g. biting the tip of the tongue.

~ Meido
The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Caodemarte » Sat Feb 17, 2018 3:55 am

A problem with all these little tricks is that they only work briefly before we adapt. A more fundamental flaw is that fighting against fatigue seems to be a bigger problem and far more exhausting than the fatigue itself!

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jundocohen
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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by jundocohen » Sat Feb 17, 2018 4:03 am

Thank you, Meido. It is very helpful.

If I may, I wonder if I can ask you for any comment on the following, itself a comment by Antaiji,'s Abbot Muho Noelke on something the Kodo Sawaki said. Personally, I believe there is just the bias of right handers against left handers, and each person should sit one or both ways, as seems balanced to them:
In the "introduction to Zazen"... Sawaki Roshi [ states that] " ... . First you should know the difference between two ways of sitting: Gômaza, the "posture that subdues demons", and kichijôza, the "auspicious posture". Even in old texts, there is quite some confusion about the two postures. In short, the right side represents the ascending, active (yang) aspect. The left side represents the descending, passive (yin) aspect. When the right foot rests on the left thigh, that represents the ascending activity that subdues the demons (gômaza). When the left foot rests on the right thigh, that is a descending, passive activity which is auspicious (kichijôza).
You might think that this is only true for the half lotus. But that is not the case: In full lotus as well, if you first place your right foot on top of the left thigh, that is called gômaza. Gômaza also means to place the right hand first on the left foot. When the right hand is covered next with the left hand, that settles down the mind. In kichijôza on the other hand, the left foot is placed first on the right thigh (and then the right foot on the left thight) and the left hand is placed on top of the right foot, then the right hand on top of the left hand. That means that we speak of kichijôza in the case of half lotus as Dogen Zenji describes it - left foot placed on right thigh - while we speak of gômaza in the case of the full lotus (with right foot placed on left thigh first, then left foot placed on right thigh)."

[Muho comments:] Although Sawaki Roshi tries to clear up the confusion with these words, I have doubts that he is successful. It seems strange that Dogen Zenji should recommend kichijôza for half lotus and gômaza for full lotus. Sawaki Roshi does not tell us why we should sit one way in half lotus and the other way in full lotus. It is interesting but even more confusing that Sawaki also speaks about the hands. In the case of the hands, we should have them in the gômaza-posture regardless of half or full lotus - according to Dogen read in the way Sawaki does. I am afraid that Sawaki's way of reading Dogen though is not only confusing, but probably wrong altogether.

http://antaiji.org/archives/eng/adult40.shtml
and
http://antaiji.org/archives/eng/adult41.shtml
I know that the discussion is on the Mudra in Rinzai, but I am assuming that this is a traditional Teacher that may be in common.

Gassho, Jundo
Teacher at Treeleaf Zendo, a Soto Zen Sangha, an online practice place for folks who cannot commute to a Zen Center due to health, living in remote areas, work or family needs. The focus is Shikantaza 'Just Sitting' Zazen http://www.treeleaf.org

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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Meido » Sat Feb 17, 2018 4:57 am

I don't really have much opinion specifically RE those quotes, Jundo, as I'm not really familiar with Dogen's writings on the subject, or with Sawaki Roshi' s teachings.

I could only say that in my own experience the importance of one leg or hand on top was not ever stressed, except that one should periodically switch the topmost leg so as to avoid postural imbalance leading to back issues, etc. We do teach that one places the right hand on top using the Rinzai style mudra, as mentioned, but also that it's alright to sometimes switch that.

Assuming one arranges the legs in a stable manner, I guess much more stressed to us was the importance of correct pelvic alignment, non-foveal use of the eyes, and specific means of cultivating/integrating the breath...and I would consider those things of more core importance than which leg or hand is dominant.

~ Meido
The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by michaeljc » Sat Feb 17, 2018 5:09 am

Personally I prefer a few methods that don't require additional tools e.g. biting the tip of the tongue.

~ Meido
Interesting - I evolved into this position for the tongue without really knowing when and how. It allows the jaw muscles to relax more than is the case with closed teeth. It felt OK so I went with it feeling sure that someone would tell me that it is wrong. There are no someones around here so it was not an issue :-) I would not say bite but rather in gentle contact

m

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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Meido » Sat Feb 17, 2018 5:24 am

michaeljc wrote:
Sat Feb 17, 2018 5:09 am
Interesting - I evolved into this position for the tongue without really knowing when and how. It allows the jaw muscles to relax more than is the case with closed teeth. It felt OK so I went with it feeling sure that someone would tell me that it is wrong. There are no someones around here so it was not an issue I would not say bite but rather in gentle contact
I was not saying one should place the tongue between the teeth as a position during zazen. I would recommend against that for several reasons.

I was referring to sharply (non-injuriously) biting the tip of the tongue for a moment, as one physical technique useful for dispelling drowsiness. It is a small shock to the nervous system, and clears the fog. Pinching the inner thigh sharply is a similar method. Others include activating the eyes in a particular manner, changing the manner of breathing in a specific way, and so on.

Of course there is also the classic gimlet in the thigh anecdote. We do not teach that technique.

~ Meido
The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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Re: Rinzai Mudra Question

Post by Caodemarte » Sat Feb 17, 2018 3:29 pm

Thanks to Meido for not teaching the gimlet technique! Thanks to Meido, Jundo, and everybody else for the discussion.

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