About Lower Belly - Hara
I started to watch a video presentation about buddhist meditation given by a well known American teacher. The presentation was introduced by an American lady who as she described felt very fortunate and quite emotional to have the teacher give the talk. She gave the introduction with a voice that I could describe as weak and windy, rather than clear and settled. Also the composure of her spine wavy and her breathing was up in the shoulders. Watching this I was reminded of the lower belly which is known by the names of hara or tanden in Japanese arts.
Hara is all over Japanese arts from meditation to martial and fine arts. In popular language there are many terms that use the word hara which means belly, such as hara guroi, lit. dirty/black belly, which means dishonesty. That one's posture and inner composure is built on the belly is something very important in Japanese culture.
Living in Japan many years ago I saw how Westerners would share something emotional with Japanese but there was this cultural gap between the two and the latter seemed to feel awkward about emotional sharing. It seemed like they just didn't feel it was right. When one's breath is settled on the belly, one simply doesn't go off the rails emotionally. When one is emotional on the other hand, vital energy (prana/ki) is up in the shoulders and head. We all know about the headache after a big argument.
I didn't spend that long in Japan but it seemed to me that Japanese people couldn't trust or take seriously those who had their vital energy up, even if they were sincere in Western terms. When I think about it, it makes sense too because it is difficult to know and trust people who are over-emotional, whose mind flutters like a leaf in the wind.
There are downsides to lower belly cultivation too. It develops inner power so those who have charisma can end up on ego trips as leaders. I've seen this a lot in zen buddhism and martial arts. For meditators, too much emphasis on the belly can be a cause of spiritual bypassing.
Tibetan or Indian systems of yoga and meditation do not talk about the hara, only Chinese and it's derivatives do. The only lama I've heard talk about it is Tsoknyi Rinpoche who said he learned it from his Chinese qigong teacher. Nevertheless, being physically well composed and being settled is very much part of all systematic paths, and this, even without knowing about the theory of the hara, is what hara means.
In Open Heart and dzogchen-teachings in general, groundedness, which is one of the three characteristics of the natural state, is what refers to "hara".