Regulating Our Breath
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
Directing Our Thoughts toward Breathing
Although we tend to take breathing for granted,
inhaling and exhaling are essential for human life.
Most people are unable to remain alive if they stop
breathing for even a few minutes. As a matter of
fact, nearly all human beings take their first breath
by letting out a loud squawk as soon as they are
born, and take a last small breath just as they are
dying and depart this world. In other words, breathing is the essence of being alive.
Among the teachings of Shakyamuni is a sutra
called the Discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing.
This sutra teaches us how to cultivate a careful
awareness of breathing by thinking, "I am now
inhaling slowly, I am exhaling slowly," with each
breath in and out.
The sutra continues: The practice of cultivating
mindfulness of breathing in and out is fruitful and
of great benefit, and will quell greed and distress.
This allows us to attain a tranquil, stable state of
mind in which we are not disturbed by passions or
In concrete terms, as I suggested above, while
realizing that one is breathing out, one should
slowly exhale, and while realizing that one is
breathing in, one should inhale the same way. Then
one should breathe with one's thoughts focused on
feeling joy while breathing, quieting the mind
while breathing, and contemplating impermanence
By directing our consciousness toward our
breathing, we will know that our breathing has
become slower and deeper of its own accord. And
while repeating this process of breathing we can
calm down our mind and improve mental function.
Slow, deep exhaling stimulates the parasympathetic nerves that urge one to rest and by bringing
balance to the sympathetic nerves causes the emotions to settle down. This is because by inhaling
slowly, one is able to take in a sufficient amount of
oxygen. The exhaled breath is particularly signifi
cant because it is not unrelated to the fact that life
begins with the first cry one makes as a newborn
Buddhism involves the teaching of realization.
Every person should become aware of the working
of the truth and the importance of self-control. In
this sense, focusing one's consciousness on
breathing—with which human life starts—is a convenient method of controlling the body and the
Becoming Aware of Gratitude
The Chinese philosopher Zuangzi (died c. 286
BCE) left us the following thought about breathing:
"The true man's breathing comes from his heels,
while the ordinary man's breathing comes from his
throat." This means that breathing deeply calms
people, endoawing them with supreme virtue. Certainly, when one's emotions are rising and falling
or when one is agitated because of anger or excitement, one's breathing becomes shallow and fast.
In this sense, breathing deeply is important for
regulating the mind. Indeed, we may sigh from too
much stress, but we do not usually focus our consciousness on breathing or make a habit of breathing deeply. In fact, however, it is important that in
our daily lives we learn to breathe slowly and
To this end, why not take just three to five minutes to have such time, for example, in the morning
and in the evening.
While we are sitting in seiza, the Japanese way
of sitting formally, before the Buddhist altar, we
keep our bent knees spread about the width of two
fists and settle our posture by swaying the body to
the left and to the right. In zazen, one sits crosslegged in the "full lotus" position and sways the
body to the left and the right, but there is also a
method of practicing it in the Japanese formal
Then slowly exhale from the mouth, and when
you have completely exhaled, let air flow in naturally through your nose. Then, as I mentioned at the
beginning, by concentrating on each breath, both
body and mind will relax.
At the same time, as we become aware of the
mystery of life—that while we breathe our hearts
continue to beat without stopping for even a
moment, the development of feelings of gratitude
for being caused to live arises. This realization
protects us from desire and conceit, and brings us
the great gift and benefit that is true self-control.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.