Friday, August 6, 2010

The Soft Butter Method

Here is a transcript of the Soft Butter Method to cure Zen Sickness. This Vizualization exercise is  described by Zen Master Hakuin in "Idle Talk on a Night Boat".

Because he had long been suffering from an unusual sickness, Hakuin requested the help of Master Hakuyū - a recluse monk living in the mountains. Master Hakuyū - sort of an archetype of the wise old man - could be a Taoist Master or a Yamabushi, and he even reminds me of our Western Merlin. He was in any case very well versed in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as in Buddhism history and classics.

The Soft Butter Method is part of a corpus of "Introspective Meditation" practices developed on one hand  to help people afflicted by Zen Sickness.  On an other hand, they can also be used to prolong life. The emphasis is about the "Concentration of Chi in the lower abdomen". Chi (Ki in Japanese) is a primordial concept of Chinese Medicine, difficult to convey to Western minds. We will get back to Chi in future posts. 

Why should we be interested in a method to cure Zen Sickness ? As we do not sit in Zazen for days in a row as Master Hakuin used to, it is unlikely that we wil
Well, let's remember : Hakuin was practicing Rinzai Zen in which the mind focuses on a Koan and the disciple's full energy (Chi) is devoted to solving this Koan

In Chinese Medicine :

"Too much thinking or obsessing about a topic can deplete the spleen, causing a stagnation of its qi. A person with this condition may exhibit such symptoms as poor appetite, forgetting to eat, and bloating after eating. In time, the person may develop a pale complexion from a deficiency of spleen qi. This can eventually affect the heart, causing the person to dream about the same subjects at night. Students are often affected by this imbalance; the standard treatment is use of herbs that tonify heart blood and spleen qi."

The above by the way seems to accurately describe some of the symptoms affecting Hakuin (More on this also in future posts)
Too much intellectual thinking or worrying is not the exclusive problem of Hakuin. It  obviously is one of today's main cause of imbalance in our North American Society.

If the practice described by Hakuyū was able to totally cure Hakuin in the 18th Century, or Chih-i's older brother in the 6th century China, it may be wise for us to try it.


THE SOFT BUTTER PRACTICE

When Hakuin enquired about the Soft Butter Meditation practice he had previously mentionned, Master Hakuyū replied : 

"When a student engaged in meditation finds that he is exhausted in body and mind because the four constituent elements of his body are in a state of disharmony, he should gird up his spirit and perform the following visualization:
"Imagine that a lump of soft butter, pure in color and fragrance and the size and shape of a duck egg, is suddenly placed on the top of your head. As it begins to slowly melt, it imparts an exquisite sensation, moistening and saturating your head within and without. It continues to ooze down, moistening your shoulders, elbows, and chest; permeating lungs, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and bowels; moving down the spine through the hips, pelvis, and buttocks.

"At that point, all the congestions that have accumulated within the five organs and six viscera, all the aches and pains in the abdomen and other affected parts, will follow the heart as it sinks downward into the lower body. As it does, you will distinctly hear a sound like that of water trickling from a higher to a lower place. It will move lower down through the lower body, suffusing the legs with beneficial warmth, until it reaches the soles of the feet, where it stops.
"The student should then repeat the contemplation. As his vital energy flows downward, it gradually fills the lower region of the body, suffusing it with penetrating warmth, making him feel as if he were sitting up to his navel in a hot bath filled with a decoction of rare and fragrant medicinal herbs that have been gathered and infused by a skilled physician."


Master Hakuyu did not specify in which position the student should practice, Standing up, in Zazen, lying down... If you have any input, please contact me.