is a gift of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, from the monks and laymen dedicated to developing spiritual, mental, and physical strength.
Zen Naikan, practiced by Chinese and Japanese zen monks, is a form of yogic ascesis:
- Mental, given that it operates through visualizations and the breath,
- Energetic, encouraging the flow of emotional/nervous/pranic energy and the bioelectric/respiratory power of the qi, and
- Physical, using particular movements and breathing techniques to develop the bioelectric and staminal forces.
To use the current terminology, Zen Naikan integrates the principle of yoga, which works with the five prāṇas, with the essence of qigong, which works with the jing and the qi to realize the shen.
While we have invented technological prostheses external ourselves, thanks to the current materialist mentality, Zen Naikan encourages us to become our own internal source of passion, strength, awareness and freedom.
Historically, Zen Naikan had various sources within the Rinzai school, and even today in China we have examples of this dynamic Zen teaching. The word naikan was used by Master Hakuin Ekaku only three centuries ago to define expressly a method of cultivating energy associated with a new concept of dynamic meditation practice, suited both to laymen leading a life active in society as well as to practicing monks.
The word naikan was used by Master Hakuin Ekaku only three centuries ago to define expressly a method of cultivating energy associated with a new concept of dynamic meditation practice, suited both to laymen leading a life active in society as well as to practicing monks.
In 1977, at the age of 18, I had the honor of being received at sanzen - debate of Zen koan with the Master in the secret room - by Master Luigi Mario Engaku Taino at the Zenshinji temple. Two years later I was welcomed in sanzen also by Master Yamada Mumon. That was when I gained a clear understanding of what the power of the dantien can be in an eighty-year-old man, even one who had been ill since his youth. Everyone remembers Master Mumon for his inexhaustible staminal energy, in spite of possessing only one functioning lung, and the stunning power he commanded with his ki-tentai, externalizing his qi.
By ‘staminal’ we mean the germinative, constitutional principle of living organisms of all kingdoms, from the vegetable to the animal all the way up to human beings. The word’s Greek and Latin roots evoke the concept of something ancestral, structural, tied to the idea of “to stand”, “supporting structure”, “fulcrum”, “thread”. Stem cells may truly be considered a primordial fulcrum, a structure or basic fiber of life. Just as the bioelectrical voltage differential acts as a fulcrum, the flow of electrical current lies at the base of life and our wellbeing as it moves every function at the cell, tissue, and organ levels.
Let us add that the latest scientific discoveries pertaining to the extrapyramidal nervous system and the enteric nervous system, or epigenetics and the development of the concept of resilience only provide contemporary scientific confirmation of the principles guiding the ancient methods of Naikan.
We may certainly state that the practice of Naikan strengthens our immune or adaptive capacity. It is a rapidly-applied technique allowing one to realize those tangible effects commonly termed miracles that I witness every day of my life. These experiences are certainly encouraging, but should not so much distract us from our inner seeking as nourish it, opening us to a sense of wonder at once innocent and responsible.
I came to appreciate Hakuin’s genius through my practice and study of zen methods both of the Rinzai (línjì) and Sōtō (caodong) schools, as well as of vajrayana and dzogchen. Hakuin was able to read the traditional Mahayana sūtras and decipher their densely codified, highly symbolic subliminal teachings.
Note that from what Hakuin says, naikan was taught also to laymen. This encourages us not to be tempted to keep this information secret, as Hakuin himself had no desire to hide it, but as the Dalai Lama advises, to offer the opportunity for self-development to those who are ready.
The better we are, the better a world we create.
The ancient energy alchemy of the Rinzai Zen monks