It seems a crime that this excellent book (Hara) is out of print. The great merit of Durkheim's work is that it makes superb sense of what is often shrouded in exotic obscurities - the psycho-
somatic basis underpinning a multiplicity of disciplnes - Taoist/Zen practice,the Martial arts(Wu shu/Budo) etc.- making the central principle clear, within the bounds of practical discussion - yet never encroaching upon that which defies description. Although it invites materialistic misunderstand- ings to say so, this book offers a 'hands on' approach to quite 'rooted' processes, often glossed over in accounts of 'eastern wisdom' laying almost exclusive stress on 'mind development.' Necessarily, Eastern teachings do stress mind development and from a certain perspective,they eschew body-centered thinking/fixations. But as anyone reasonably proficient in Za-zen (or equivalent disciplines) will find, there is a distinct corre- spondence between mind-states, breathing, and bodily states, making it apparent that the 'brain' is not the primary or real vital centre of man. Za-zen brings the discovery that a balanced awareness finds itself focused - bodily, in the 'hara' - and Durkheim's book attests to the distinct benefits this discovery yields, not in purely bodily terms, but in relation to the life giving force (ki) of the universe. The 'hara (or 'tanden') is a natural reservoir of this energy and therefore, the psychosomatic side of meditation (or martial arts training) is of vital importance.
Much as something like Zen advocates the 'non abiding mind' etc., masters like Dogen and Hakuin both knew the importance of developing the hara. A 'floating' or 'sinking' mind upsets practice, the unstable 'ki' causing bodily and mental illness, exhaustion, or drowsiness. Paradoxically, the best way to bring the mind to rest - predisposing it to return to its natural, 'non-abiding' state - is to first 'fix' it in the hara.
Even if this is thought of 'physically' - at the outset, it will eventually yield its higher, psycho-physical process, merging with the cosmic breath, leaving the mind to mirror events,with-
out sticking to them.
Durkheim writes as one who has found and knows the secrets of the 'hara.' The last thing he advocates, is switching from one bodily fixation - to another, e.g. from the cereberal, brain centered 'west' - to a 'navel gazing' east. On the contrary, Durkheim shows the hara to be a creative and healing centre, linking the 'whole person' with the very life energy of the universe, all other life-forms - and what lies beyond form. Clearly, advocates of the martial arts wouldn't be able to func- tion, if simply fixated on the navel in a pedestrian manner.
Durkheim draws on sources of the Far-eastern tradition to illustrate his point, but numerous anecdotes show that the 'western' consciousness has been aware of hara-power, albeit less consciously developed with us - than in the East. On a very basic level, we talk of someone having 'guts,' of 'gut' feelings etc. - and, needless to say, our sexual feelings are rooted in the hara. Shortsightedly no doubt,some forms of psychology regard the idea sinking to the level of the solar plexus - as a regression to infantilism, the womb - and 'death.' But as this region contains the generative and nurturative powers of life, that is a rather strange deduction. The East knows better. Durkheim doesn't mention it, but the Christian 'Heyschasts' knew of the hara - in their own way, consciously focusing their prayer in the region of solar plexus, the bodily equivalent of the 'omphalos' or cosmic earth-centre. Durkheim links all true creativity with the hara, noting how singers make use it, how old craftsmen seem to have their accumulated 'skills' stored there.
Durkheim skilfully draws on aspects of traditional Japanese culture to show how the energies involved flow from the hara, yet
remain focused there, a deep reservoir and centre of energy, unruffled by the flitting oscillations- of a purely brain centered awareness.The nice thing about this book is that it encourages the attentive reader to develop 'hara' - as a process coterminous with the life process and very cosmic flow, the 'Zendo' of everyday life - if you like. Durkheim respects a plurality of Asian disciplines - which is right and proper, but never loses sight of the fact that - ultimately, they all owe their inspir- ation to the cosmic life-process,that at a basic psychosomatic level, these are all somehow functioning through the hara. The author's fascinating notes and observations are ample testimony to this fact.It is the 'well of life' itself - that we find celebrated in Durkheim's book - at once practical yet intuitive, an invitation to remain in tune with the breath and spirit of life. As such, Durkheim's book will always be a classic, of benefit to a wide range of readers, regardless of background.