Kazuo Ohno

These days, my religion is just walking around.  The sutra I’m chanting is this form in space.  I’m not interested in yes or no or smart or dumb. I’m worshiping the light beneath my feet.

What is it that is stepping?  Walking?  Standing?  Sitting?  Laying down?  What is it that is holding us up? It is not our muscles. To realize the source of our bodies.  Realize this great life energy.

There is so much talk of embodiment these days.  But from my experience, embodiment must include the source of what is embodied. In deep internal work, we discover what is sometimes called the “Source of Seeing”*.  Melding inside and outside, we learn to function from this perspective, rather than on the surface of things.  When we lift our arm, it is from the source.  When we hear the sound, it is from the source of hearing.  In this way, the over used and elusive word embodiment takes on a completely different meaning.  No longer are we talking about merely body-psychology and mindful awareness of the body.  Those can be gateways, but true embodiment means moving from the source of movement, the source of experience.

Movement practices and seated meditation are a physical way to put this practice to life.  Walking around, sitting, laying down, etc, are all experiments in a laboratory of the physical form, which translates to all experience.  Sometimes through this process the mind becomes open through kensho and satori, but one cannot bridge the gap to relating with people, our bodies, the everyday reality around us.  So, this physical alchemy dance involved in embodying this source is just a part of the deal.

Some people arrive at a place of pure light in this process, and awaken to a new connected reality.  But then they must learn to function with this rebirth, a fresh unified childlike innocence, where everything is new, every step is the first step. This is a wild transition.  A delicate one, and learning to put the right foot down and then the left is all part of becoming normal within this process.  Many people talk about embodiment, but have never seen the source.  To realize the source of our experience.  The source of our bodies, the trees, our ears, our eyes, and learn to function within that one source, this is what is meant by embodying Zen, ripening the sacred embryo, true functioning.  Becoming normal again, when all awakening is forgotten, and one is just dancing and walking and eating and sleeping.

Engaging in this process over time can be like walking through the rain and gradually becoming wet, or one can be shot through with an awakening experience and arrive in a unified place. And then this must be matured over decades.

Dealing in a physical orientation to spirituality will provide a medium one is able to explored indefinitely.  Discovering the source, one then can learn to master the instrument forever, and continually realize the source more deeply.

Sitting, standing, walking, what is it that is moving through?  What is it at the source of what is happening?  There is our body, and something animating our body.  What is that? And how can exploring that make it grow?  How can examining it clarify it?

Having our practice be physical in nature allows us to have a medium to transmit and share it with others, through touch or presence, by example.  We’ve all got bodies.  We’ve all got to use them.  A practice which is body-centered is valuable because if and when one does truly realize something, they can share it in a tangible way.

Using a physical practice means that when you’ve transformed through it, what you’ll have realized is the substance of life.  Many people realize something deep, but as their practice is not about embodying that experience, the experience fades, becomes shallow over time.  A memory.

What is it that happens when I lift my arm?  Where do I go when I lift my leg?  What happens to space as I move about, walking through the dirt?  How is the energy around me supporting me, lifting me? Am I floating in it?  Do I move or does the space move?  What is gravity?  Where does my intention play a role?  If I am not moving from source, does my energetic sense become smaller?  If I receive the moment, does my energy expand outward in space?

Can I fill my body like a balloon with my awareness?  Can I bring the space between myself and another person or thing into oneness?  Do I exist in space?  Can I feel the texture of the air around me and manipulate that texture with my awareness?  Does it bend?  Is it permeable?  What’s moving through me when I stop doing anything?  Is everything around me trying to harmonize if I allow it?

We’ve got to be fascinated with his process, willing to explore this all of the time.  It can’t be work or dreadful homework.  It has got to be that we love it and would rather do it than anything else.  It’s what gets us up in the morning and we are excited to keep cultivating at night as we are going to sleep. Of course, it is also like chewing raw iron at times, especially if one is inclined toward practices like ZZ.

We can penetrate the experience of what the patriarchs saw through the physical exploration of our interaction with reality.

When I was in college, a professor of religion said that we are in religion like fish are in water.  In a way he meant that we can’t separate ourselves culturally from religion.  But something clicked in me, and I knew I had to realize unity with my experience.  I had to find a way to experience how my interactions with reality were true to being one with all things.

People think that being spiritual is thinking about emptiness. Or having big thoughts coming from a mental idea.  But to experience and move about directly in the source of who and what we are, to deal in real currency, this is most profound.

When walking around, the world divides and comes together.  Who can experience this?  Mountains walk, one two three four…

What I am interested in is more of a radical and integrated way of being, in which discovering truths about life is a physical lived experiment.  People say that we are not our physical body.  This is true, but we don’t really exist without relating to everything around us. Everything is relationship.  And we need to relate to everything around us to be helpful in this everyday life.  Walking, lying, sitting, running, the physical relating to space and other, discovering how these can be the currency of transformation is what I am trying to share with others.  And seeing that what it is that is actually alive, igniting that spark in others, is deeply rewarding. Helping others to penetrate this physical experience.

So spirituality is really about how the rubber hits the road, how our feet hit the ground. How one brings everything to life.  In this way, life becomes more and more an artistic act within that process of actualizing this awareness of source through our everyday physical body.

In order to deepen, one has to rebelliously move beyond the general consensus, and go to experiential vistas no one goes to or no one conceives of.  This involves the internal world of the practitioner to break down fixed ideas, and realize a new freedom.  Part of this process involves coming up to what one believes to be true about reality and exploring it for one’s self.  Not relying on anyone else to say how life is. Not imitating someone else’s writing or ideas.

When I walk down the sidewalk, what am I assuming will happen?  Because of what I’ve been told?  Discovering for ourselves what is real. For instance, gravity is real.  But how much of my assumption of how gravity works is real, and how much is an idea?  What happens with my experience if I let go of assumptions of how gravity works?  I may find that it is not quite as I expect it to be.  Perhaps gravity pulls me down, but it also lifts my body. If I use gravity well, I can push off of the ground just as I’d push off of a wall. Maybe I’ve never really felt gravity. Perhaps it is not my muscles that are holding me up, but something else.

What is it that creates buoyancy in my system if I allow it? What is rising through me if I get out of the way?  We think that up and down are real. We think that distance is real, and yet we’ve seen no separation between the moon and our own bodies.

Take a step and the whole world moves with us.  A flower blooms, and the whole world is spring.

What animates you?  Finding that through this physical letting go, letting through. Feeling alive, aliveness come through.  What is living you?

As we walk around, maybe we assume we cannot feel the environment around us.  We feel isolated.  In the midst of this process, especially in the beginning, you may feel half dead as you let go of your way of being in your body and allow the source of your body to come through.  It may be a very foreign, lonely time, seemingly going in the opposite direction as everyone around us.

And yet, as we allow the environment to seep into our awareness, we can hear with our eyes, see with our ears.  We can experience that source of seeing.  We can touch the trees around us and allow them to touch us, without ever laying a hand on them.  Everything is alive.  Everything speaks.

True embodiment is not a bunch of psychological techniques but to realize what it is that is walking across the floor.  Become like a child discovering movement for the first time.  Let go of controlled movements.  Realize what it is that unifies our arm moving and hearing the bird sing. Directly experience this great life energy walking around, moving around a room.  Taking a walk.  People fall in love with this process, and come to a great abyss within themselves.  Leaping into the unknown, they are reborn and must integrate everything from this.  Realize oneness through diving into this process.  Moving my arms around, this is the marvelous activity of the patriarchs.  This body is the sutra I am chanting.


*The phrase “To see at the Source of Seeing” is from a talk by Meido Moore Roshi.  His use of this phrase is inspired by Shido Bunan:  “There is no special principle in the study of the way; it’s only necessary to see and hear directly. Directly seeing, there is no seeing; directly hearing, there is no hearing. You must fuse inside and outside into one solid thoroughly peaceful state before you can do this.”