The first practice given to beginning Zen students is counting the breath. Robert Aitken explained how this exercise fulfilled Yamada Roshi’s statement that Zen “is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something.” In focusing on the breath, Aitken wrote, one strives to become one with the breath and the count.
“—if you merely sit with a focus, you tend to close off your potential. You and your object remain two things. Become each point, each number, in the sequence of counting. You and the count and the breath are all of a piece in this moment. Invest yourself in each number. There is only ‘one’ in the whole universe, only ‘two’ in the whole universe, just that single point. Everything else is dark.
“At first, as a beginner, you will be conscious of each step in the procedure, but eventually you will become the procedure itself. The practice will do the practice.”
[Robert Aitken - The Third Step East: 109-12; 38, 47, 127, 135, 138, 147, 151, 152, 154, 156, 157,158,161, 163, 169, 181, 185, 222, 241]