Sunday, December 19, 2010

Moving Meditation

Meditation amidst activity is a thousand million times superior to meditation in stillness. Hakuin (Zen master, 1685-1768)

There is an amazing exhibit at the Japan Society ( in Manhattan featuring the brush paintings and calligraphy of Hakuin Ekaku. He’s the guy that posed the immortal koan, “What is the sound of one hand?” Many of the images will be instantly recognizable to even the dabblers among us. The moment I entered the gallery I was transported to exquisite state of insubstantiality that only got more rarified as I went on. The exhibit of 78 scrolls is only there until January 9th, and is not to be missed.

The one thing that burned into my memory from my walkthrough was the above quote. Taijiquan is sometimes called a “moving meditation” and I have spilled some ink over the years addressing that aspect. So it was striking to me to see such a major figure as Hakuin say that “meditation amidst activity” is not just another way of doing it, but it was a “thousand million times superior to meditation in stillness”. Pretty unequivocal.
I don’t think Hakuin was belittling the importance of stillness meditation at all. I’m pretty sure he logged his hours of zazen. Sitting is certainly an important part of my practice. I think he was emphasizing how important it is to be able to access an openhearted transrational state regardless of circumstances.

This is one of the core principles of taijiquan. “Seek stillness in motion. Seek motion in stillness.” Taijiquan practice begins in stillness—central equilibrium—and extends from there. Central equilibrium is not just balancing the body’s mass. There is also a shift of consciousness where the nervous system is calmed as the body/mind becomes more coherent. We move into a transrational state of consciousness, which is also characteristic of meditation.

Simply doing a taijiquan form begins the process. To reap the rewards Hakuin talks about though, we must take our gongfu deeper. That requires not just diligent practice but constantly challenging and refining our process. The form does not self-correct. We can make the same mistakes for decades unless we are willing to question our beliefs and submit them to testing.


  1. Hi, Rick, thanks for the birthday post! So happy you are doing this and also posting videos on youtube. Perfect for a hermit like myself. Thanks!
    As for the topic at hand, I would only guess that the "meditation amidst activity" referred to was something more than another form of meditation that involved movement, but the very activities of our lives. I have heard emphasized that the moments following meditation, still or moving I suspect, are the most important, as one transitions back into habitual thought processes. How well we can carry the "coherence" with us might be the true test of our "gonfu". Thanks again for sharing what you are discovering with us.

  2. Great comment, John. Thank you for your insights. And a belated Happy Birthday!
    You get right to the heart of the matter: "the very activities of our lives". It is our ability to shift gears as we encounter the different challenges we face and find the appropriate energy to deal. Meditation allows us to clear and reset; heighten our coherence; integrate our experience. Then we get to mix it up again. "Moving" meditation allows us to find that coherence under more difficult circumstances. Learning requires non-coherence ("break some eggs to make an omelet"). Integration returns to wholeness (coherence). Our gongfu includes both.