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The Vital Center of Man

Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

The classic text on balance, inner calm, and the cultivation of tranquillity using the age-old techniques of Zen masters

• Reveals the psychosomatic underpinnings of Zen, Taoism, and other Eastern traditions

• Provides an alternative to the “chest out-belly in” postural attitude of the West

• Includes translations of the wisdom teachings of three Japanese masters

• Shows how the theory and practice of Hara helps us find our essential self

When we speak of an individual’s state, we are actually referring to something that transcends the duality of body and soul, something that reflects the entirety of a person’s being. Because each of us is a unity of body and soul, there is no psychic structure or inner tension that is not reflected outwardly in the form and order of the body. When we find the physical center of the body we also find the psychological center of the soul. According to Zen masters, by correcting posture and breathing to balance this center, one can cultivate inner tranquillity and balance: the state called Hara.

In Hara, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim shows the Western world how to overcome the physical and spiritual decay of modern life by adopting the age-old techniques of Japanese Zen masters. By leaving behind the “chest out–belly in” posture and attitude of the West and adopting the belly-centered posture and attitude of Hara, individuals can live a calm, grounded, and more balanced life. Included in this classic text are vital life force practices and translations of the wisdom teachings of three Japanese Zen masters. This book also explores how the practice of Hara emphasizes empirical learning and the cultivation of self-knowledge through the perfection of arts such as painting and archery.


Chapter 1
Eastern and Western Views of Hara

The General Significance of the Centre of the Body
In all that has been said until now Hara has appeared as a phenomenon of Japanese life only. But if Hara were nothing but an aspect of Eastern life it would be of merely ethnological interest and the purpose of studying it would be only to obtain a deeper understanding of Eastern people and their way of life. But the longer one studies Hara as understood by the Japanese the more obvious it becomes that the term expresses not just a specifically Japanese phenomenon but one that is universal and valid for all mankind. It is a prime factor of all human life, the realization and practise of which is of equal concern to ourselves.

The over-all human significance of Hara becomes evident in examples from Japanese life. It becomes a certainty as soon as one begins to practice it for oneself. From experiences gained through Hara one comes to see that it contains a hidden ‘treasure of life’ which is man’s birthright, which was lost in the evolution of his consciousness, and which he must re-discover and practise as a prerequisite for all higher development.

Investigation of the over-all human significance of Hara is, for the European, overshadowed from the outset by the question of how closely the special importance given to the realization and practise of it in Japanese life is connected simply with the general Oriental character and outlook. A decision as to what importance Hara may have for us can of course be made only in relation to a Western scale of values. In exactly the same degree as the whole Western tradition and culture differs from that of the East the meaning and value of Hara will be different.

Because of the very nature of his mentality as well as because of his Christian tradition it seems to a European not only surprising but even odd that the discovery of the right bodily centre should be possible only by a downward shift of the centre of gravity. Is this really indispensable for Western man? A final answer to the question necessitates a deeper penetration into the phenomenon of Hara. For the moment let us say only this much:

From the standpoint of the West, ‘heart’ and ‘head’--the spheres of the individual soul and of the objective intellect respectively--play a completely different and more important role, not only in their secular but also in their spiritual connotation, than they do in the East where neither man’s ego nor his intellectuality has ever been given the importance that they have for us. Similarly in the East ‘mind’ has never gained the significance it has for Western humanity, whether understood in the sense of ‘ratio’, or of ‘objective mind’ as embodied in our system of values and achievements, or of an intuitive perception of a transcendental system of ‘inner images’.

But whatever may be the relation of the basic, vital centre, the ‘earth’ centre, to the higher centres one thing is certain--without awareness of it there can be no progressive opening of the Self to the meaning of the higher centres. (It must not be forgotten that the East also knows about the ‘circulation of the Light’ which indeed flows through the ‘earth’ centre but does not flow out or culminate there.) Where this meaning is sought in a transformation which ultimately lies in the spiritual sphere Eastern and Western Views of Hara and is realized in the unfolding of the soul, there also the importance of that centre which shelters the great, primal Unity cannot be passed over. The realization of the truly spiritual Mind is possible only by a calling back of the limiting and always dualistic I-mind, that is, by merging it with the original Unity of life beyond all dichotomy. In every case where a Western man reached the highest development it was possible only because he had first traversed the ‘deep dark’. The descent into the centre of the earth must always precede the ultimate ascent of the spirit.

About The Author

Karlfried Graf Dürckheim (1896–1988) spent eight years in Japan before World War II and was a professor at the University of Kiel until Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. In Japan he discovered Zen Buddhism in its various expressions and subsequently became a Western authority on the subject.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (October 27, 2004)
  • Length: 216 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781594770241

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Raves and Reviews

Hara is essential reading for all who inquire into the spiritual principles and practices that are fundamental to all wisdom traditions and natural healing professions.”

– Don Stapleton, author of Self-Awakening Yoga

"...the formalism is well worth accommodating in order to gain its gems of wisdom."

– Spirit of Change, May/June 2005

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