Koichi Tohei Sensei’s
Four Basic Principles
Rest in One Point
Weight is Underside
Ki Extends Infinitely
Onegaishimasu. Good evening, everyone.
Students: Good evening, Sensei.
Tonight is the third of the Four Basic Principles, “Weight is Underside.”
Five Principles of Calmness (Weight Underside)
1. A posture which is most comfortable.
2. A posture in which your body feels light.
3. A posture in which your Ki is fully extended.
4. A flexible posture in which you can adapt to changing circumstances.
5. A posture in which you can see and feel things clearly.
When my Japanese student, Sayaka Reasoner, and I were working on this, I realized for the first time that it doesn’t actually say “The Five Principles of “Weight Underside.” It says, “The Five Principles of Calmness.” The words “weight underside” are not there. This doesn’t mean that Tohei Sensei never said that, of course. We have heard him use that term, “weight underside,” quite often. However, how this important principle got translated incorrectly, is not known.
I think it’s important to recognize that these five aspects of calmness take effect through our state of mind, and not only through some change we make in our physical posture only.
So, how does this calmness come about in us? Calmness does not just happen by itself, but is, instead, a side effect of an action. The action that always leads to calmness is awareness, paying attention. Calmness comes about through paying attention. Whenever we pay close attention to something, [dove coos outside] like the sound of that bird right there, we become calm. As we listen to that sound of the bird, we get a rich smooth feeling in our lower stomach. It feels calm.
This feeling is a kind of side benefit of awareness. We often think of a side effect as something that comes after. But in this case, calmness doesn’t come about after the action of paying attention, but it happens at the same time, during the event. It accompanies the action. However, interestingly, if we try to be calm, it doesn’t work. But if we simply pay attention to something, then we are calm already. In other words, when we’re paying attention, we are in calmness. We cannot pay attention without being in calmness. If we try to be calm without paying attention, as in, wanting calmness, there is no calmness, since there’s nothing there to pay attention to.
When we practice, we find an infinite number of “things” to pay attention to. For instance, many people teach meditation with a candle flame, which gives us something to pay attention to, and so we become calm. We do Ki Breathing, and by paying attention to this breathing out and breathing in, we have a feeling of deep calmness. We do Ki Meditation, and by paying deep attention to the universal expansion, and then to the universal contraction, we become very calm. I have a scroll on the wall of my meditation room at home, and I often open my eyes and just rest my attention on the scroll, sometimes repeating the words to myself, over and over, and then sometimes just gazing at it:
“Masa Katsu A Gatsu Kachi Haya Bi” = “True victory over self transcends time and space”
These are examples of paying attention. When we really learn to be in awareness at all times, we are learning to be in a state of calmness. Often, when simply resting in this awareness, we have no need to even have an object of that awareness. We call this “objectless awareness” and this produces the deepest level of calmness. Ultimately, we don’t need to have a “thing” to pay attention to. Attention, or awareness, is the original and natural state of mind itself. That’s why it feels so good when we experience calmness, because it always accompanies this natural condition.
Calmness is not a self-conscious thing. If we say, “Oh look, I’m really calm now,” that’s a little bit disturbed already. As soon as we think, “I’m quite calm,” we might be somewhat calm, but there is a little bit of disturbance that we’re putting into it. When it’s not self-conscious, it’s not self-focused, then awareness is just a state of being. It’s not the act of “looking at.” It’s not looking at something, which makes two, me and my calmness. That is not true calmness. True calmness is merely being in it, without standing aside from it. A state of awareness without any object is just the pure, original, natural state of mind, and I understand this experience to be what Tohei Sensei means when he says “true calmness.”
Sometimes, Tohei Sensei taught unraisable arm. That is the third move in our Ki test. Later on in this test, we also have unraisable body. These are tests checking our state of mind. This is why he calls it “weight underside,” because of the experience when someone is trying to lift us. This is not a feeling of heaviness. On the contrary, it’s a feeling of lightness, buoyancy. Tohei Sensei says here, “a posture in which your body feels light.” If you try to make your arm heavy, for instance, and then someone tests you by pushing your arm up from underneath, you are going to react to that by pushing back down, and so failing the test. A natural condition is an unself-conscious condition. In other words, we are not trying to make ourselves heavy. We are not trying to alter any condition. When we are in our natural state, the feeling is a lightness of being. This is what Tohei Sensei calls “weight underside.”
Comfortable, light, fully extended, flexible, ready to adapt to any circumstances, and seeing all things clearly are natural states of mind, which appear when we are in a deep sense of calmness. We like the words “weight underside,” because the feeling is as if every atom in our body is resting in its natural condition. If you try to lift me, and I “keep weight underside,” you will not be able to lift me. I will feel very, very heavy to you. But to me, I don’t feel heavy. I feel very light and buoyant. We can only understand this by experiencing it.
Okay, I think that’s everything I have to say about weight underside or calmness as an introduction, so please, add to the discussion.
Student: Sensei, when you experience weight underside, can you say that you feel “grounded?”
Hmmm. What I feel, my personal experience, is when I am standing with weight underside, it feels like I’m completely a part of the mats under my feet and the surrounding air. Maybe we can’t describe this in a relative way, because there’s nothing like this in the relative condition. It feels like the whole earth is my feet. But then the air around me also feels the same way, so it’s not a feeling of just down-ness that has to do with the floor, so maybe not so much “grounded” as you say, but a feeling of complete connection with the air and the walls and you, the people around me, everything. When I am completely relaxed and connected, that’s how it feels. In this state, what you experience everywhere is “you.”
Student: Does that mean like knowing we are the center of the Universe?
Yes, of course, it’s that way for all of us in our natural condition. We don’t always get to feel that or have that experience. If, for instance, we have become distracted by thinking about this, then we are simply speculating, and not truly in attention. Paying attention means, again, noticing in the present moment, being presently attentive, not paying attention to something that takes us away from the present. This is the complete absence of speculation. Although I will say that it is possible to contemplate an action that we have had in the past, or the nature of something that may happen in the future, without it becoming a distraction. We can contemplate that deeply, allowing it to have its way with us, and not trying to make it into a story ABOUT us, or someone else. In this way, we remain noticing, which is always in the present.
A good example is, you may be sitting at the computer and writing, and you write something that might be hurtful to another, or that might be misunderstood to be so, at some point in the future. Of course, you don’t want to be hurtful, so then immediately, the feeling in your body that is connected experiences a disturbance. You feel this as a kind of alarm going off in your body as soon as that happens. Well, I would say, you had better feel it in your body, because if you don’t, you may send that email off to someone, and you may mislead them, and someone may get hurt unnecessarily. Sometimes students are quite rude to me, even though they probably don’t mean to be, because they are writing to me without that alarm system being activated. So, in my case, I need to respond to them, and I want to be supportive and helpful to them. I’m very often answering someone’s question about something, and if you read that, you might call it being “politic.” But this that I am talking about is often much deeper than that. You must be in a state that you are aware, just as soon as you begin to say something negative. This is extremely important natural state of mind, and I would say that it is very difficult to lead others without this.
Student: Thank you, Sensei.
Student: So, Sensei, when was the first time you experienced weight underside? Was it with Suzuki Sensei in a class, or was it previously, or was it when you were with Tohei Sensei some time or other?
Actually, it was previous to meeting either Tohei Sensei or Suzuki Sensei, though at the time, I had no idea that it was “weight underside.” I was in New York City when I was about 25 years old. I had had no teaching about true calmness, but I had been sitting a lot, just getting used to meditation. One day I happened to be cooking dinner for myself, chopping vegetables in the kitchen, and someone unexpected knocked on my door very loudly, and everything just went “poof,” and by belly completely relaxed for the first time. It felt like my stomach suddenly opened up all the way down to the bottom of itself, and I experienced a kind of fullness of being for the first time since I was a child. I later realized that I had been holding my stomach from the inside, and that I had been doing that for as long as I could remember. I’d been holding everything in, making sure everything was okay. I had always had a sense of needing to control things, and right then that left me, suddenly, “boom!”
I think that was the first time I really experienced a tiny glimpse of my natural state. It was all very blissful but confusing in the moment. I had no idea what was going on because it was so devoid of any meaning that made sense to me at the time, except that it was a completely wonderful feeling. I felt free, for the first time since being a child. In fact, it felt exactly like being a child again. It lasted just a very short time, just until I started thinking about it, trying to figure out what was going on, and then it all built back up again.
I will tell you this. That was not the first time that kind of thing happened to me. I spent my early years on a ranch, and I was able to be alone most of the time. There was this beautiful stream than ran through the ranch, with giant old pecan trees and oaks, and there were foxes and raccoons, and fish in the stream, and bamboo groves, and all this incredible natural world, and I got to be by myself in this environment every single day all day long. Once I got my chores done each morning, my parents just let me spend all my time doing that. There was a dirt road that I walked along to get to the stream. And today, just this morning, I was walking down a similar kind of dirt road, up at a job site in Kula, and as I was walking along this dirt road, I realized the feeling I had then, as a child, and was this very freedom, this deep, deep sense of calmness. But I didn’t really know it then, I suppose. I mean, I just thought it was the natural way things are, in those days. I was just having a good time living, and it seemed to me like it would always be like that. Perhaps, if you’re lucky enough to have this kind of experience available to you as a young person, then maybe you have had a similar kind of experience. I didn’t think it was anything special at the time. I didn’t even truly appreciate it because I didn’t have anything to compare it to. Now, I realize it was a great blessing to have this opportunity. There were other times that this kind of experience happened, and so I can’t really say when the first time was that I knew of the profoundness of it.
Student: In the past, you referred to that incident in New York City as “releasing the belt of anxiety.”
Oh yes. I haven’t used that phrase in quite some time. That’s what it felt like to me, releasing a belt made of anxiety. And then afterwards, when that belt returned, I examined it, and I realized that I wasn’t holding my stomach in just because I wanted to look good. It was much more than that. It was to feel like I was powerful and in control. Off course, I was not, no one ever is, but I didn’t know how to deal with not being in control, except to tense up and try harder. It’s such an overwhelming condition for a human being, this need to be in control. It kind be anything from a preoccupation to a kind of desperation. It’s like the small mind’s primary objective 24/7, so that probably, for most, it doesn’t really leave all together. So that is why I always teach just notice. Notice how much you crave control and what it makes you do, how it makes you speak to each other, how it makes you treat yourself and one another.
Student: Thank you
Student: Can you talk a little bit more about the first principle of calmness, and that idea of being comfortable in that state? Because, you were just talking about control, and I think a lot of us try to exert a lot of control over ourselves just in order to be comfortable.
Yeah, that’s very ironic, isn’t it? How does that work for you? Can we really make ourselves feel comfortable, truly comfortable, by trying to control our surroundings? My experience is that we can only become comfortable by letting go of trying to be comfortable in any way. “Trying” always creates tension. In other words, our natural condition in awareness is one of deep calmness, which, of course, provides the inmost sense of comfort. Not only is it comfortable in our physical body, but it is the same in our state of mind. And if and when we are trying to control things, particularly if we’re trying to control our level of comfort, then we’re getting in the way of that capacity. We’re simply betraying our own natural condition. I think many people may not be aware that the opportunity to be free of that even exists.
Most people go through their whole lives and don’t experience this. Meaning, they may not have a single moment of freedom from tension in their abdomen. This “belt of anxiety” is built of the effort towards self-control, not only controlling ourself from not doing something inappropriate, but also being sure that we’re doing things to emphasize the best opportunities for ourself. It might not even be the best for us, but we feel it is the best fit for our comfort level, the most pleasurable for us. It’s all very confused. When we’re obsessed with the goal of gaining only pleasure and avoiding pain, then we’re always going to be standing in our own way, never able to experience just walking down the dirt road in complete freedom from care.
Student: Yes, thank you.
Student: Sensei, there are some situations in life that are uncomfortable, and in Hospice, when we’re teaching volunteers to go in with someone who’s dying and maybe in a lot of pain, we talk about being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I see. That seems like an important point, at least in that situation. It’s as if we can’t avoid desiring pleasure and avoiding pain or discomfort, but we can notice, and when we’re noticing that we’re uncomfortable, we’re in awareness, we’re paying attention, and as soon as we’re paying attention, we’re comfortable even though we’re uncomfortable, yes?
Student: Wow, yes, and I think, the discomfort is added on to by the rejection of their condition. “Oh, I don’t want to feel that because it’s uncomfortable.” But if we can just let ourselves be with the discomfort, then there’s a relaxation that happens. An acceptance that’s more the natural state.
Maybe we can see that every state can be experienced in this way? For instance, when I was experiencing pain in my knee just after the replacement operation, the experience of pain was severe, and yet, mysteriously, it was okay, as long as I didn’t complain to myself about it! In the beginning, they gave me some morphine, and that was great. I liked that, but they only let me have that for less than two days, to avoid me becoming addicted. After that, they offered me some other kind of stuff which had strange side effects, so I didn’t take it. It does dull down the pain experience alright, but it dulls down everything else in the process. So, I just practiced being in the pain without resisting, which kept me from suffering, or struggling. This is definitely not normal, this is rare, but once in a while, a person will find themselves in this kind of really intense situation. The best course for all of us is, of course, just to practice continually.
We can never predict what will happen for sure, but one thing we can predict is that if we try to have such and such kind of an experience, we never will. This is not what practice is for. We have these unexpectied experiences in our lives. If we are lucky, we met a teacher and we have a good practice. And then, if we are very lucky, something like this begins to happen regularly in our lives, and so we become experienced enough to be teachers of others, and this whole thing just keeps on going like this, you know, century after century after century.
Student: Don’t you think that many people actually do fall into this briefly in their lives? They may not know what it is, it just happens. But then when they hear someone like you speak about it, there’s a resonance?
Oh yes, I’m sure.
Student: And that’s maybe that speaks to them and that’s how they know to follow a path.
Yes, I think you are right.
Student: I think it does possibly happen more often as a child, or you know just on rare occurrences, but most people don’t have any context to understand it at that point.
Right. So, it is the teacher’s responsibility to show the experience, not just tell about the experience. And “showing” does not necessarily mean physically demonstrating something. It can simply be shown by how the “telling” is done. When I was sitting in my office before beginning class, as I often do, I was remembering that it doesn’t matter what you say, if you are not in the appropriate state of mind when you say it. What I say is largely words that are attempting to describe something that’s indescribable, but if I’m experiencing it when I say it, then you are able to recognize it somehow, and you may think, “Oh, this is something that seems familiar to me in some way!”
Student: It comes through. It’s a resonance.
Yes, I think it is significant to notice this. We spend way too much time worrying about what we say instead of our state of mind/body when we say it. The same thing is true for us when we’re here listening with someone else, you know. If we’re in this state of deep calmness, as much as possible, we will hear this differently and glean much more of the greater meaning.
I have spoken about the times when I used to listen to Suzuki Sensei and compare everything that he said to my philosophy, accepting this, rejecting that, just like I knew what I was doing. Does anyone else ever do that? Yeah, everybody does this at some point.
However, the more attention we can generate, the more we will benefit from being together with each other in this training format, just because that’s how transmission happens. Everybody wants to know what this “transmission” is, and maybe we can see that it can’t quite be said in so many words. Transmission is not necessarily something we learn from another, exactly, but something that is absorbed by being with another.
When we get together like this, there are often long pauses between comments.
These pauses provide an opportunity for us to open in a way that serves our own interests. That’s just the way it is. I think everybody knows that without thinking about it. And again, please remember that it’s not what we’re saying, as much as it’s our state of mind, and then everything that is said sparks something in us if our state of mind is receptive in this way.
[Allow me to add here that this same thing is true even when we are reading this. It is entirely possible to perceive the inmost meaning behind what is being said, if we read with a calm mind.]
Student: You were saying before that calmness is about floating, or lightness. Can you elaborate on that?
The experience of being one with everything makes us unconscious of the weight of our body. One time, we were in Japan practicing standing in san kaku no kamae (the triangular stance), and the person next to me asked Tohei Sensei, “Which foot should my weight be on?” And Tohei Sensei said, “Your weight? What weight?” And I knew from the way he said it that he felt that he had taught us that when you are one with everything, there’s no self-consciousness of your weight, and why were we not remembering that?!
It’s all about self-consciousness (collapsing down on the self) versus universal consciousness (taking in everything at once). It’s either that the object of our awareness is something relative that we’re focused on and trying to deal with, or the object of our awareness is empty and free of what might distract us, so we’re in an open, all-inclusive state. That’s what Tohei Sensei has been teaching us, and so that is why I make these question-and-answer sessions with you, so we can all review these teachings thoroughly and often.
Okay, thank you very much.