Finding the Spirit of Zen in Shiatsu
The Zen approach to Shiatsu has no religious affiliation and yet is a profound spiritual
The spiritual aspect of Shiatsu can be found in the essence of Zen. Listening to the words
of two Zen Masters helps a seeker to feel the essence. Once felt, it is found and, therefore,
"True knowledge cannot be imparted by words. The Zen mind, enlightened and disciplined, is
able to rise above mere technique and go straight to the core of being...to reach the soul...
the essence." --Japanese Ink-Painting. Ryukyu Saito
"In Zen what you must do is let your thoughts pass by. As soon as a thought arises, let it
go. If money comes, or a young lady, or sex, or food, or Buddha or God or Zen, let it go:
concentrate on your posture and let everything else go by." --Questions to a Zen master: Taisen
How then is the practice of Zen applied to the practice of shiatsu?
In the Zen approach students learn how to enter into the correct posture and thereby connect
with their Receiver and, thereby, the Universal Spirit:
"Perpendicular pressure means meeting the person at the correct angle, bringing pressure
through focus on oneís own hara so that it is a whole-body-coordinated pressure...when focus
is on hara and the feet are grounded, Ki comes from the universal spirit...the body remains
"Supportive pressure means mother hand and ensuring the receiverís stability. It also refers
to the Yin of the mother hand that listens deeply in the receiverís Ki body to the effectiveness
of the other handís Yang pressure....
"Constant or sustained pressure means allowing time for equal pressure to be achieved and
appreciated. Reaching that meeting point is the beginning...after that the Ki starts to shift,
to melt, spread and transform." --Michael Cullingworth, Master of the Zen School of Shiatsu
It can be seen, therefore, how the physical practice of shiatsu, a hands-on therapy to help
others, connects the practitioner with spirit. To quote Zen Master Taisen Deshimaru once more:
"...it is impossible to understand if one does not practice. If you practice you get back to
what is original, to complete purity. That is satori. Not a special state, not a condition of
As in Zazen - seated Zen meditation - the structure or posture of the Shiatsu practitioner is
enough to understand the connection, to feel the essence, to find the spirit.
This illustrates one significant difference between the Zen approach and the religious Buddhist
approach: see 'Zen as a Philosophical Discipline' by Kris Deva North, Master of the Zen
School and reproduced by kind permission of Qi Magazine.
Is there a difference between the spiritual practice of Zen, Zen Buddhism and religious Buddhism?
The Zen philosophy evolved, through assimilation of Taoist concepts, beyond the duality -
cause and effect - of traditional religious Buddhism which, like Judaism and later Christianity
and Islam, clung to the idea of struggle, between ideals of Good and Evil, the Right Way and the
Wrong Way, leading inevitably to division within their belief systems.
Zen, like Taoism, understanding that Right and Wrong depend so much on the view of the observer
or practitioner, embraces Harmony.
"With its clear and simple approach uncluttered by shibboleth, ritual and religious cant, Zen
offered a refuge from the institutionalisation and sectarian divisions of Buddhism and the
increasing tendency of many Buddhists to treat the Buddha as a kind of deity - he who said there
is no God - and from the frustratingly unworkable concept of duality which condemns every Buddhist
to 'innate dissatisfaction with this life'" --HH the Dalai Lama, The Dalai Lama's Book of Wisdom.
Alas, in the course of time politics prevailed and Zen Buddhism itself divided into sects, each
preaching the 'correct' path.
That still leaves the simplicity of the Zen approach, a doctrine of No-Mind: a way of seeing
with a clarity free of preconception, of letting go duality (The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind, D T Suzuki)
allowing for a profound spiritual practice with potential to inform action in this world, whether
meditation, shiatsu, martial arts, or just plain livin'!
I have picked a few randomly relevant sayings attributed to various Zen Masters, and others,
which may interest you, and a few links to web sites should you want to stroll the path at leisure.
"Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as
the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draws it. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what
we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves." --The Buddha
"I'd like to offer something to help you but in the zen school we don't have a single thing!"
"If your eye is pure, there will be sunshine in your soul. But if your eye is clouded with evil
thoughts and desires, you are in deep spiritual darkness. And oh, how deep that darkness can be!"
"Emptiness is in fact form when we forget the self. There's nothing in the universe *other* than
ourself. Nothing to compare, name, or identify. When it's the only thing there is, how can we talk
about it?" --Taizan Maezumi
"When you expect something, when you aim at something, right there you dilute your energy; you
split your energy, you split your attention and it becomes more than the place of yin and yang.
You do not only divide, but you create the problem." --Taizan Maezumi
"The world is like a mirror, you see? Smile, and your friends smile back." --Japanese Zen
"Zen opens a man's eyes to the greatest mystery as it is daily and hourly performed; it enlarges
the heart to embrace eternity of time and infinity of space in its every palpitation; it makes us
live in the world as if walking in the garden of Eden" --D. T. Suzuki
"As I see it, there's no Buddha, no living beings, no long ago, no now. If you want to get it,
you've already got it--it's not something that requires time. There's no religious practice, no
enlightenment, no getting anything, no missing out on anything. At no time is there any other
Dharma than this. If anyone claims there is a Dharma superior to this, I say it must be a dream,
a phantom." --The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi, tr Burton Watson