CHAPTER 21: TAOIST TRAINING METHODS IN ANCIENT CHINA
(This chapter is selected from Ma Qi Ren, Chinese Medical Hospital, Shanghai, undated, published in Chinese)
The cultivation-nourishment school of Taoism in ancient China developed during the Song and Yuan Dynasties (960-1368). Taoist cultivators hoped that they could develop an elixir inside their body. Hence, they regarded their cultivation as “nei dan”, or internal elixir. This cultivation-nourishment school was also known as “golden elixir Taoism”.
The qigong cultivation of this school was classified into three levels. The first level was “lian jing fa qi” or to transform essence to energy, and was called the Small Universe. The second level was “lian qi fa shen”, or to transform energy to spirit, which was known as the Big Universe. The third level was “lian shen wan xu”, or to transform spirit to return to the Great Void. These three levels were collectively known as “Three Flowers on Top”.
This art employed a person’s jing, qi, shen, or essence, energy and spirit, as factors for cultivation. These three factors were considered as the medicine for the training of elixir, as well as the “huo hou” or “fire-session” of the cultivation.
(Editorial Note: “Huo hou” or “fire-session” refers to the length of time for the cultivation to be successful and completed.)
Of course, in the cultivation of elixir, what was emphasized were essence, energy and spirit. It was after decades of cultivation that essence was transformed into energy, energy was transformed into spirit, and spirit was returned to the Great Void.
Transformation of Essence to Energy
Transformation of essence to energy is also known as the Small Universe.
It is believed in the art of internal elixir, as a person reaches maturity, due to constant loss of material, pre-natal essence has become insufficient, and it is necessary for pre-natal original energy to nourish it to enable it to become solid, and to return to its original condition. This is the content and aim of the first level, which is to transform essence to energy.
Because this cultivation requires that internal energy circulates through the ren mai and du mai, or the conceptual meridian and the governing meridian, round the body, it is called the Small Universe. According to the art of internal elixir, those who have successfully competed this first level, will be able to prevent illness and overcome illness.
Short Description of Small Universe
“Zhou tian” or the Universe is a Chinese astronomy term. It was what an observer saw in the sky, which was 360 degrees round that included all the stars. Kong Lai Da in his “Records of Rites: Flowing Chapter on Lunar Calendar” said, “Twenty star systems and stars evolved in the sky. One day and one night constitute one “zhou tian” or “all heaven”.
In the art of internal elixir, “transformation of essence to energy” refers to the flow of internal energy from the lower dan tian along the du mai and the ren mai to return to its original position at the lower dan tian in one circle. This occurrence borrowed the name of “zhou tian” or the Universe
(Editorial Note : ”Essence” refers to the most minute physical substance, too minute to be seen with the naked eyes. In scientific terms, it is sub-atomic particles. “Dan tian” means “energy field”. The lower dan tian is located about 2 or 3 inches below the navel. “Du mei” and “ren mei” are the “governing meridian” and the “conceptual meridian”. The governing meridian runs from the tip of the back bone at the back of the body, up the spine to the top of the head, then down the front of the face to the upper lip. The conceptual meridian, which continues form the governing meridian, runs from underneath the lower lip, down the front part of the body to the lower dan tian, then down to the anus where it joins the governing meridian at the tip of the back bone. The continuous flow of energy along the conceptual meridian and the governing meridian is called the Small Universe.)
In “Righteous Principles of Heavenly Beings”, it is stated that “The term Small Universe is taken from a circle of twelve time-periods which constitutes a day.”
As the transformation of essence to energy involves the conceptual meridian and the governing meridian, whereas the second stage of transformation of energy to spirit involves the eight wondrous meridians, the former is called the Small Universe, and the latter is called the Big Universe.
(Editorial Note: In some versions, the cultivation of the Big Universe involves energy flowing in all the twelve primary meridians instead of the eight wondrous meridians. The twelve primary meridians are the meridians of the lung, the colon, the stomach, the spleen, the heart, the intestines, the urinary bladder, the kidneys, the pericardium, the triple-warmer, the liver and the gall bladder. These twelve meridians are classified into three hand yin meridians, three hand yang meridians, three leg yin meridians and three leg yang meridians. The eight wondrous meridians are the conceptual meridian, the governing meridian, the belt meridian, the rush meridian, and a pair each of the protection meridians and the bridge meridians.)
Conceptual, Governing and the Other Eight Wondrous Meridians
According to traditional Chinese medical philosophy, there are 12 primary meridians and 8 wondrous meridians.
The 8 wondrous meridians are the governing meridian, the conceptual meridian, the rush meridian, the belt meridian, yin bridge meridian, yang bridge meridian, yin protection meridian and yang protection meridian. These 8 wondrous meridians are closely connected with the art of internal elixir.
The great pharmacologist of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Li Shi Zhen, described them in details in his classic, “Study of Eight Wondrous Meridians”. He said, “The eight wondrous meridians found in many books, are not explained in details. Even doctors may not know them, or ask about them. Even those with longevity may not know these eight wondrous meridians, and they may not know where the energy fields are. I may not be sensitive, but those who study these eight wondrous meridians said that the eight wondrous meridians should be studied and the knowledge compiled so that those with longevity and doctors can use it.”
Regarding the importance of the eight wondrous meridians, Li Shi Zhen cited the work of Zhang Qi Yang, “Classic of Eight Meridians”, which said, “The eight wondrous meridians of ordinary people are those of yin gods. The meridians are close and are unable to be open. They need to be opened by the yang energy of yang gods and immortals. Only then can one attain the way.”
(Editorial Note” Yin gods are gods of the underworld. Yang gods are gods of heaven. “Attain the Way” means attain spiritual achievement. In Taoism, it Is attaining the Tao or the Great Void. Attaining the Way can also be interpreted as attaining immortality.)
To break-through the eight wondrous meridians, it is necessary first to break-through the conceptual meridian and the governing meridian. Li Shi Zhen also pointed out that “The conceptual meridian and the governing meridian are the zi meridian and the wu meridian of a person. They are the rising and setting of yang fire and yin water of elixir cultivators, and the village where 'kan' and 'li', water and fire interchange."
(Editorial Note: Zi meridian is the meridian of the world of a particular place which denotes noon when the sun is over it. The wu meridian is on the opposite side of the globe, which denotes midnight. In the passage, by saying that the conceptual meridian and the governing meridian are the zi meridian and the wu meridian of a person, he meant the conceptual meridian and the governing meridian are his most important meridians.)
(Editorial Note: “Yang fire and yin water” are Taoist terms symbolizing “hardness and force” and “softness and flow”. “Xun” and “li” are two of the eight trigrams in a Bagua symbol, “xun” representing “water” and “li” representing “fire”.)
In the famous Taoist classic, “Zheng Dong Chi” or “Cultivation and Symbolism”, it is mentioned that “Energy and blood in a person come and go in circulation, endlessly in days and nights. Medical texts say that when the conceptual meridian and the governing meridian are clear, all the meridians are clear.“
The “Classic of Yellow Pavilion” says that “When one circulates heavenly meridians in his heart day and night, he will naturally have long life. Heavenly meridians are the yellow meridians of a person. Respiration occurs along them. The deer movement can clear the governing meridian. Tortoise breathing through the nose can clear the conceptual meridian. These two qigong methods enhance longevity. The arithmetic describes that experts in the art of elixir employ ‘he’, ‘ce’ marvellously.”
(Editorial Note: The heavenly meridians are the conceptual meridian and the governing meridian. The yellow meridians are the two meridians that determine noon and midnight. The deer movement is one of the movements in Five-Animal Play, a well-known form of qigong devised by a famous Chinese doctor in the early 3rd century, Hua Tuo. Tortoise breathing is a qigong breathing method.)
(Editorial Note: “Arithmetic” here means “explanation”. This idiom arose because in the past sages as well as heavenly immortals, based on available facts, used their fingers to calculate the possibilities of events that would happen. “He” and “ce” were sounds made by some practitioners while performing abdominal breathing. Please note that the Romanized Chinese “he” is pronounced like the English “her”, and not “hi”. “Ce” is pronounced like “cher”.)
As described above, “yellow meridians”, “heavenly meridians” and “he ce” are terms referring to the circulation of energy round the conceptual and the governing meridians. People in post-natal time, i.e. people after their birth, broke off this continuous circulation of energy. Hence they have to break-through the break-off gaps of these two conceptual and governing meridians to attain longevity.
After clearing the conceptual and the governing meridians, the remaining six wondrous meridians, even the twelve primary meridians can be cleared. According to the philosophy of acupuncture, not only the conceptual and the governing meridians are connected to the other meridians, but also that as the governing meridian starts from the “hui yin” energy point, and flows to the back of the body, it is the governor as well as the sea of all yang meridians.
(Editorial Note: The “hui yin” energy point is located between the external sex organs and the anus. “Hui yin” means meeting of yin meridians.)
(Editorial Notes: Meridians may be classified as yin or yang. Yin meridians flow on the ventral part of the body, whereas yang meridians flow on the dorsal part.)
The conceptual meridian also starts from the “hui yin” energy point, and flows in front of the body. It is the source as well as the sea of all yin meridians. Hence, the conceptual and the governing meridians control all meridians in the body.
The Small Universe
The Small Universe is also known as Zi-Wu Universe.
(Editorial Note: “Zi” and “wu” refer to the two meridians of a particular place of the world that determine midnight and noon.)
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Xiao Qi Shu in his “Great Accomplishment of Golden Elixir” said, “Question: What is zi wu? Answer: zi wu is the centre of heaven and earth. In heaven, it is the sun. In man, it is kidneys. In time, it is zi wu. In the Bagua symbol, it is kan and li. In direction, it is north and south.”
(Editorial Note: “Kan” and “li” are two of the eight trigrams in a Bagua symbol. The eight trigrams are “qian” which symbolizes “heaven”, kun” which symbolizes “earth”, “li” which symbolizes “fire”, “kan” which symbolizes “water”, “zhen” which symbolizes “thunder”, “xun” which symbolizes “wind”, “gen” which symbolizes “mountain”, and “dui” which symbolizes “lake”.)
According to the post-natal Bagua symbol, “zi” and “wu” correspond to “kan” and “li”.
The Small Universe employs the interaction of “kan” and “li”, which represent the kidneys and the heart in its training. Thus, the Small Universe is also called the Zi-Wu Universe.
(Editorial Note: In the training of the Small Universe, “zhen qi” or “real energy” is generated. “Real energy” is born from the marriage of “heaven energy” and “earth energy” with the help of fire and water. “Heaven energy” is from the air, “earth energy” is from food and drinks, “fire” is provided by the heart, and “water” is provided by the kidneys.)
Techniques of Transforming Essence to Energy
Transformation of essence to energy is called the Small Universe. The training is considered “laying the foundation in a hundred days”. The training procedure is borrowed from events which are used as symbols. It is like using riddles.
The procedure can be divided into six stages, which are training self, harmonizing medicine, producing medicine, gathering medicine, sealing stove, and training medicine.
Its simple procedure is to adopt a suitable posture, eliminate irrelevant thoughts, let body and spirit be peaceful and still, and focus intention. This is training self.
(Editorial Note: A frequently used posture is the single lotus or the double lotus. In a single lotus posture, a practitioner sits upright on his buttock, sometimes with a soft pad underneath, with his lower legs intertwined and one sole facing up. In a double lotus posture, the requirements are the same, but with two soles facing up.)
Then, focus at “return-centre”, place spirit at energy point, gradually regulate the breathing to be gentle, use post-natal breathing to receive pre-natal energy point. This is harmonizing medicine.
(Editorial Note: “Return-centre” refers to any one point where intention is focused. Usual focal points are “mei zhong”, which means “centre of eye-brows”, “tan zhong”, which means “central platform”, and “dan tian”, which means “energy field”. These points are located respectively between the eyes, at the solar plexus, and about 2 or 3 inches below the navel.)
(Editorial Note: “Place spirit to energy point” means focus the mind at the dan tian. “Use post-natal breathing to receive pre-natal energy point” means regulating the breathing through the nose and mouth, or just through the nose, until gradually the breathing is not at the nose and mouth, but at the dan tian.)
Because the spirit returns to the body, the energy naturally returns, at this time disperse energy that is outside, and return to the energy point. When there is extreme stillness, there is movement. Suddenly, amidst quietude, energy moves in the dan tian. This is producing medicine.
(Editorial Note: As the mind is focused at a focal point, like the dan tian, energy naturally starts to move. The energy movement may be outside, like gentle vibration and swaying, or it may be inside, like at the dan tian.)
When energy moves, it is pre-natal essence. It may be changed into post-natal essence, or sperm, in sexual intercourse. The cultivator may use the formula of four words – gather, submerge, close, absorb. Use fire to force gold to move. This is producing medicine.
(Editorial Note: Pre-natal essence is the essence before birth, i.e. the essence from the father and mother, and nutrients received by the foetus from the mother. The process of applying the formula of four words is to gather the essence, submerge the essence to the dan tian, close the entry of energy from outside by gently holding the breath, and absorbing the essence into the body. The energy gathered at the dan tian forms into golden elixir which is represented as metal. Use the heart, or the mind, which is symbolized as fire to move the elixir of energy round the conceptual and the governing meridians.)
Continue to use martial fire to cook the elixir. This is sealing the stove.
(Editorial Note: “Martial fire” means the breathing now is more forceful than before, but the breathing must not be forced. The breathing is still gentle, but more forceful than before. An effective way is to employ reverse breathing, which is more forceful than abdominal breathing. “To cook the elixir” means to develop the flow of energy round the conceptual and the governing meridians, making the energy flow more vigorous.)
After this, let intention and energy be united. Use intention to direct energy to flow to the tip of the backbone, then from the tip of the backbone up the spine to the “ni wan” energy point.
(Editorial Note: “Ni wan” means “Mud pill”. The author here locates the “ni wan” energy point, or “mud pill,” between the two normal eyes, at a point many other masters call “tian mu” or “heavenly eye”. To these other masters, the “ni wan” energy point is inside the head, corresponding to the pituitary gland.)
At this time, supply yang fire. From “ni wan” let the energy flow to the face and down to the dan tian. Then, use yin water. This is to borrow scholarly fire from the breathing of post-natal heaven to cook and train medicine.
(Editorial Note: “Yang fire” means the breathing is relatively more forceful, but it is still gentle. Reverse breathing is preferred. “Yin water” means the breathing is soft and gentle. “Scholarly fire” is breathing in through the nose, and breathing out through the nose. “Martial fire” is breathing in through the nose, and breathing out through the mouth. “Scholarly fire” is more gentle than “martial fire”. These breathing techniques learnt after birth are post-natal. Natural breathing and breathing techniques that are not systematically learnt, are pre-natal.)
“Laying the foundation” refers to the art and practice described above. It lays the foundation for later arts. “Hundred days” is figurative. It means that compared to the two subsequent arts, this is the shortest. The six-step method is explained below.
Training self. Training self is the most fundamental requirement and the most fundamental practice in the art of internal elixir. It cannot be missed in both the Small Universe and the Big Universe.
The practice is to eliminate all relationships and influences from the outside world. It requires the focus of one heart on the art. “Self” belongs to the “li” trigram in the Bagua symbol, and it represents the heart. This “self” refers to the “heart”., which is the mind in English context.
(Editorial Note: There are eight trigrams in the Bagua symbol. In the pre-heaven Bagua symbol, the eight trigrams starting at the top and moving in a clockwise direction are “quan”, “xun”, “kan”, “gen”, “kun”, “zhen”, “li” and “dui”. In the post-heaven Bagua symbol, the eight trigrams are “li”. “kun”, “dui”, “qian”, “kan”, “gen”, “zhen” and “xun”. In Chinese, south is placed at the top. Hence, in the pre-heaven Bagua symbol, “qian” is at the south, and in the post-heaven Bagua symbol, “li” is at the south.)
Liu Hua Yang of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in his book, “Righteous Discussion of Golden Immortals”, said, “Self refers to the intention of my heart.” This shows that training “self” concerns how to focus intention and eliminate all irrelevant thoughts. It is spiritual cultivation.
There are three questions regarding training self.
Training self and intention: The requirement of training self is to eliminate thoughts. Focus intention on practicing the art. This is called “righteous intention” or “real meaning”. In the training process, “real meaning” is more peaceful and quieter than “righteous intention”. It is more focused.
Hence, in the art of internal elixir, “real meaning” is regarded as to be focused, “earth’, in the five elemental processes, is also called “yellow woman”. It is symbolic. Those who cannot generate “real meaning”, i.e. cannot be focused, will find it difficult to train the art.
Irrelevant thoughts in training the art are regarded as “dispersing and disordered”. In elixir literature it is often described as “heart of monkeys and intention of horses”. “Heart of monkeys” means the heart is full of irrelevant thoughts, like monkeys jumping and playing about. “Intention of horses” means the intention is not focused, like wild horses running and galloping.
Training self is to control and tame the monkeys and horses, to eliminate irrelevant thoughts, to be focused. Of course, this requires a training procedure and appropriate techniques.
The Bagua, pronounced in English as /p'a kua/, picture taken from http://www.visiontimes.com/2017/09/30/ancient-chinese-secret-the-8-trigrams-of-bagua.html
Techniques of Training Self
Training self is to eliminate irrelevant thoughts to focus the intention. Its importance is much emphasized in the literature of the art of elixir. But how to train self is often not described in most of this literature
To eliminate irrelevant thoughts, there is one thing that can replace these irrelevant thoughts. Otherwise it is impossible. Below are some methods.
Focus spirit at energy point: This is to pay attention to the lower dan tian. This is actually the second step in regulating the breath. Both these two steps can be combined together.
(Editorial Note: The lower dan tian is located about 2 o 3 inches below the navel.)
Focus heart on breathing: This is to pay attention to breathing. A practitioner may count the breaths. He may count the breath at breathing out, or he may count at breathing in. He counts from 1 to 10, from 10 to 100. He counts in a focused manner, without being distracted. When the heart and the breath are one, irrelevant thoughts will not occur.
(Editorial Note: Some masters advise counting from 1 to 4, and repeat counting from 1 to 4. If the number is too big, the practitioner is more easily distracted.)
Or a practitioner may use the technique of hearing the breath. He focuses his heart on hearing his breaths. The entry and going away of a breath should not be listened by ears.
He hears, but he hears no sound. If there is sound, his breath becomes rough and floating, and it cannot be soft and gentle. He uses his heart to listen. The more he listens, the softer his breaths become.
Other methods: Other methods include silently reciting a phrase, looking at outside scenery, and focusing on a simple image.
Impure Training of Self
Failing to train self well is called impure training of self. A main cause of impure training of self is the rise of thoughts beyond control.
Another major cause is to forcedly control thoughts. Not only the thoughts cannot be eliminated, the practitioner may have headache, dizziness and other unpleasant side effects.
The most serious deviation is described in elixir literature as “entry of monsters”. This serious deviation should not be viewed lightly.
What this monster is, is occurrence of illusions. These “monsters” happen in the training of the Big Universe, but may also happen in the Small Universe. There are many variations of these monsters appearing.
Actually, it is not that practitioners really meet monsters. The illusions are what practitioners see in their ordinary life, or hear, or feel or even aspire to, and these visions manifest themselves during their faulty qigong training. These visions are due to the irrelevant thoughts of the practitioners that have not been eliminated, but the practitioners have entered another stage of training.
“Entry of monsters” is due to practitioners thinking that their illusions are real. They have left their proper training procedure, their spirit is disorientated, and they move wildly and crazily.
(Editorial Note: “Entry of monsters” or serious deviation may occur even when practitioners realize their illusions are not real, but their deviation causes them much harm and fear.)
How do practitioners handle the scenery of monsters? It can be said in a phrase: “See crazy things but do not be crazy”. The crazy things will naturally disappear.
Wan Xiang Fu of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in his book, “Questions on Listening to the Heart”, said, “Whenever there are visions, know that they are not real. Your own spirit or consciousness will neutralize them. If your heart is not moved, you may see but not see, and the monsters will naturally be dissolved. There will be no scenery for monsters to appear.”
(Editorial Note: Practicing self-manifested qi movement or induced qi flow are also effective ways to remedy deviation.)
Medicine is jing, qi and shen, or essence, energy and spirit. This stage of the training is to have sufficient amount of the ingredients that make up the medicine.
(Editorial Note: “Jing” or “essence” refers to the finest material of a person, or the countless sub-atomic particles that form his physical body.)
Regarding essence, energy and spirit, it is to use spirit to harmonize essence and energy to make the medicine. When essence is plentiful, it is transformed into energy. When energy is plentiful, it generates essence.
Hence, essence and energy are one in two, are two in one. Thus, the details of the training are how to enable essence and energy to be plentiful. If post-natal essence and post-natal energy are deficient, or weak due to age, the period to harmonize medicine will have to be lengthened.
The method of harmonizing medicine is to focus spirit at energy point. Based on the foundation of eliminating irrelevant thoughts during the stage of training self, focus intention at the energy point, which is the lower dan tian.
“Focus spirit” refers to “focus self with a pure heart, and enter its interior”. It can be seen that “focus spirit” is based on the foundation of the spirit being peaceful and quiet. “Entering energy point”, which is the lower dan tian, is its natural progress.
When focusing the spirit, just use intention. Just think of the lower dan tian, resulting in the fact that when intention arrives, energy arrives. The use of intention must not be heavy, as if it is, and it is not.
After the training of focusing spirit to enter energy point, essence and energy will gradually become plentiful. This results in small medicine. (When the Big Universe is accomplished, it is big medicine.) This small medicine is also called “real seed”.
The time when the small medicine is created, is the lively zi-period.
(Editorial Note: The modern 24-hour day is divided into 12 periods in Chinese measurement, namely “zi”, “chou”, “yin”,“mao”, “chen”, “si”,“wu”, “wei”, “shen”,“you”, “xu”, “hai”, The zi-period is at midnight from 11.00 p.m. to 1.00 a.m. The wu-period is at noon, from 11.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m.)
A scene appears in the practitioner’s mind when the small medicine is born. Different books on the art of elixir describe the scene differently. However, it is rare that this scene is clearly described. There are two reason for this rarity. The first reason is that it is difficult to describe this scene. The second reason is that masters do not want people to attempt the training on their own by reading the description.
(Editorial Note: Masters do not want to describe the scene when small medicine is born because it is easy for people to make serious mistakes with adverse effects by learning on their own from the description.)
The scene when small medicine is born is often as follows. Using the “mirror of entry to making medicine”, mixing pre-natal energy with post-natal energy, the practitioner is like being drunk. The environment is nebulous, clear of everything, sometimes radiant with light, silent and joyful, and with a tremendous sense of freedom, often with body like drifting about.
When the small medicine is produced, it must be gathered quickly. But how the small medicine is gathered is not often described in books about the art of elixir, which regard gathering medicine as top secret.
However, some descriptions escape the secrecy. This stage of training is often described as “fire forces gold to circulate”. “Fire” refers to the heart, the spirit, the intention. “Gold” refers to the essence and the energy in the kidneys. “Gather” refers to strengthening the function of consciousness to direct energy to flow down and to the back.
Besides temporarily focusing at the “palace of mud pill”, many practitioners use the four-word formula of “zuo”, “ti”, “bi” and “xi”, and lift up the anus, touch the tip of their tongue at the upper palate, close their eyes and look upwards. In order to gather medicine, they use “warrior fire”, which is deep breathing, to absorb the medicine into the “stove”.
(Editorial Note: The author of this passage refers to the point between the two normal eyes as “the palace of mud pill”. Other masters often refer to this same point as “tian mu” or “heavenly eye”, and the “mud pill” as the pituitary gland inside the head. “Zuo”, “ti”, “bi” and “xi” means “gather”, “defend”, “close” and “absorb”. The “stove” is the body.)
The classic, “Mystical, Marvellous Mirror”, said, “The medicine is already in the stove. It is necessary to seal the stove, so that the medicine does not escape.”
To seal the stove, it is necessary to use the four-word formula mentioned earlier. Continue to use “fire to force the golden elixir” to flow up the du mai.
(Editorial Note: The four words in the formula are “gather”, “defend”, “close” and “absorb”. Gather the essence and energy. Defend against faulty practice. Close the outlets where vital energy may escape. One effective technique is to breathe in through the nose, and hold the breath gently so that essence and energy can be absorbed into the body. The du mei is the governing meridian, which flows up at the back from the anus to the top of the head, then down the front of the face to the upper lip.)
After sealing the stove, use the method of “fire forcing gold to move” to direct the energy to flow up the governing meridian at the back. After going through “three obstacles”, the energy flows down from the “kun lun” energy point in front of the face, and join the conceptual meridian.
Then use “scholarly fire” to bring the energy down to the lower dan tian. This is training medicine.
The “three obstacles” or three hurdles are along the governing meridian at the back of the body where energy is not easy to flow through. In “Great Collections of Golden Elixir”, it is mentioned, “Where are the three obstacles? They are the yu zhen obstacle at the back of the brain, lu lu obstacle at the spine, and where fire and water meet at the wei lu obstacle.”
(Editorial Note: “Obstacles” or “hurdles” are quite different from energy points. An energy point refers to a point where energy is focused. An obstacle refers to a stretch along a meridian where it is not easy for energy to flow through. The “yu zhen” energy point, for example, is a point located at the back of the head between the two ears. The “yu Zhen” obstacle is a short stretch upward and downward from the “yu zhen” energy point.)
(Editorial Note: “Fire” here represents the governing meridian, and “water” represents the conceptual meridian. The two meridians meet at the “wei lu” energy point, located at the tip of the backbone. The “wei lu” obstacle is a short stretch of the governing meridian from the anus to the waist.)
The energy flows round the conceptual meridian and the governing meridian in an unbroken, complete circuit called in qigong terms as the Small Universe. In Taoist qigong it is called “cultivating essence to transform into energy”.
In the process of cultivation, practitioners often feel a lot of saliva in their mouth. When they swallow the saliva, they may feel it is pure and fragrant. This is known as “jade juice returns to elixir”, and its benefit is much emphasized by elixir cultivators.
Mastering the Techniques of Transforming Essence to Energy
To master the techniques of transforming essence to energy, it is necessary to understand the following points.
In elixir literature, the spirit is regarded as fire, and energy is regarded as wind. For example, in “Entry to the Mirror of Medicine”, it is mentioned, “Start xun wind, circulate kun fire”.
(Editorial Note: “Xun” and “kun” are two of the eight trigrams in the Bagua symbol.)
When using fire to train medicine, it is necessary to borrow the functions of energy of post-heaven breathing. Hence, breathing is described as bellows blowing up fire in a furnace. During the zi-period at mid-night, when yang is born, to enable “fire to force gold to move”, it is necessary to use “warrior fire”, or forceful breathing, which is also called “enter yang fire”. But when essence and energy have passed the mud pill, it becomes necessary to change to “scholarly fire”, which means gentle breathing. This is described as “retreat yin water”.
When transforming essence to energy, attaining the break-through of three obstacles and three dan tians, the breathing is as follows. When breathing in, pause for a short while. Let the energy rise up the governing meridian. When breathing out, energy goes down the conceptual meridian, and returns to the lower dan tian. In this way, there is one circulation of energy for each breath. There are about 300 breaths for each training session.
(Editorial Note: The three obstacles are along the governing meridian at the “wei lu obstacle” at the buttock region at the back, at the “lu lu obstacle” at the back of the body, and at the “yu zhen obstacle” at the back of the head. The three dan tians, located along the conceptual meridian in front, are the upper dan tian at “ni wan”, called “tian mu” by some other masters, between the two normal eyes, the middle dan tian at “jiang gong”, called “tan zhong” by some other masters, at the solar plexus, and the lower dan tian at “qi hai”, about 2 or 3 inches below the navel.)
When using intention, be careful of not using intention excessively and not using intention inadequately. Intention should be used as if you forget or don’t forget, or as if you care or you don’t care. When it becomes appropriate, you may have to strengthen your intention.
In the past, cultivators usually used the single lotus or double lotus sitting position. Now, sitting upright on a chair is permissible. The requirements are similar in all sitting positions.
Pay attention that the body is upright. This will facilitate energy flowing up and down the governing meridian and the conceptual meridian.
Fire escaping is usually due to faulty training, often because of mistakes in training self, like being hasty or progressing wrongly. For example, when yang is born, fire is entered too quickly or forcefully.
Adding fire or reducing fire, or having a shower, must be conducted according to a definite procedure. In this way, practitioners can avoid the occurrence of fire escaping.
(Editorial Note: “When yang is born” means when sensations of energy at the dan tian are felt. “Fire is entered” means breathing techniques are applied. “Having a shower” means experiencing energy flow, especially from top to bottom of he body.)
Training Energy to be Transformed into Spirit – Big Universe
Transforming essence to energy which results in the Small Universe is practiced upon the foundation of training self. When spirit is focused at energy point, one yang is activated at zi-period. Gather the small medicine through the conceptual and the governing meridians, kan and li interact, and cultivators may experience a feeling that the Void is born in extreme silence.
Training energy to be transformed to spirit is based on the foundation of training essence to be transformed to energy. Through the training of transforming energy to spirit, in attaining the Big Universe, cultivators enable spirit and energy to be closely integrated, mutually embraced and not separated, accomplishing the aim of transforming energy to spirit.
When this art is accomplished, according to the literature of elixir, practitioners can attain longevity and return to childhood. Below are some points of difference between transforming essence into energy and transforming energy into spirit.
Zi-Period and Big Medicine (Vibration of Six Roots)
In accomplishing the transformation of essence into energy during the zi-period, practitioners gather small medicine and circulate their energy in the Small Universe. Transformation of energy into spirit during the zi-period, practitioners gather big medicine and accomplish the Big Universe.
When the heart and the breathing are mutually connected, like both are forgotten, energy and breathing are soft and gentle. The whole body is embedded in the Small Universe, and real energy becomes more and more plentiful, become more accumulated and focused, and the energy completely fills the dan tian.
In such a peaceful and quiet condition, extreme stillness generates motion. There arise six scenes. Some people regard this as “vibration of six roots”.
It is described in a classic, “Integrated Knowledge about Immortals and Buddhas”, that “It should be known when big medicine is born, six roots naturally vibrate resulting in six symptoms of internal scenery. The dan tian is hot like fire, energy in the two kidneys is flowing vigorously, the eyes emit golden light, wind is generated behind the ears, sound is heard behind the brain, energy flows smoothly through meridians in the body. This is accomplishing the medicine.”
When these six symptoms of internal scenery appear, it is zi-period. The medicine obtained is called the big medicine.
Top and Bottom Bird Bridges to Prevent Leakage (Non-Leakage of Six Roots)
When the scenes of six roots vibrating occur, when practitioners start to practice the transformation of energy into spirit, they must prevent the possibility of leakage of the top and bottom “que qiao” meridians.
(Editorial Note: “Que qiao” means “magpie bridge”. According to a popular Chinese legend, a fairy from heaven came down to earth, fell in love with a cowherd and they happily married. The fairy’s secret sojourn on earth was known in heaven, and she had to return to the heavenly palace. Magpies took pity on them and formed a bridge linking heaven and earth for the fairy and the cowherd to meet once a year on the 7th night of the 7th month in the Chinese lunar calendar.)
(Editorial Note: It is said in elixir literature that when babes are born there are two gaps in the conceptual meridian, one on top at the forehead, and the other below near the anus. These gaps are bridged by the top and bottom que quao meridians, or the magpie-bridge meridians.)
If leakage occurs at the top que-qiao meridian, or the top magpie-bridge meridian, two threads of mucus-like liquid flow down the nostrils. In elixir literature, this occurrence is described as “jade plant doubly flowing down”. This is an escape and loss of essence and energy. If leakage occurs at the bottom magpie-bridge meridian, a practitioner would pass out gas from his anus.
There are methods to prevent such leakages in elixir literature., as follows.
Use a small suitable pad to stop the opening at the anus to prevent passing out of gas. This will prevent leakage from the body. Use two suitable pads to stop the openings of the nostrils. This will prevent leakage from the nose. Close the two eyes to prevent leakage from the eyes. Stop sound from the ears. This will prevent leakage from the ears. Close the lips, bite the teeth together and touch the tip of the tongue at the upper palate. This will prevent leakage from the tongue. Eliminate all thoughts and prevent irrelevant thoughts arising. This prevents leakage of mind.
(Editorial Note: Six roots refer to the roots of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.)
Using padding, like in the cases of preventing leakages from the anus, nose and ears, is borrowing from external help. The effect may not be great.
A main technique to prevent leakage from the top magpie meridian is to abstain from anger. Especially before training, feel free and happy. During training, when energy flow is at the forehead, place the tip of the tongue at the upper palate, and use intention to lead the energy to flow down. This will prevent the energy to stop at the nose.
To prevent leakage at the bottom magpie meridian, when the energy is at the anus, lift up the anus like holding the bowel in an unexpected situation, then use intention to lead energy to flow across.
During the training of transforming energy into spirit, a lot of saliva may gather in the mouth. This is the result of stomach energy rising up. Gold is the mother of water. There is gold in the stomach. So this is known as “golden juice returns to elixir”. It is more valuable than “jade juice returns to elixir”. Gently swallow the saliva to the lower dan tian. Gently close the eyes, like internally seeing the internal organs.
In the training of the Small Universe to transform essence to energy, the post-heaven Bagua symbol is used.
(Editorial Note: In the post-heaven Bagua symbol, the “li” trigram which represents fire, is on top, and the “kan” trigram which represents water, is below. A main method is to “use fire to drive water” round the Small Universe. “Fire” symbolizes the heart, and “water” symbolizes energy flow. It is to use the intention of the heart to lead the flow of energy round the Small Universe.)
In the training of the Big Universe to transform energy to spirit, the pre-heaven Bagua symbol is used. According to the pre-heaven Bagua symbol “qian” which represents “heaven” is on top, and “kun” which represents ‘earth” is below. Hence, the Big Universe is known as the interaction of “Qian” and “kun”. However, in the Taoist art of elixir, much importance is placed on the “li” and “kan” trigrams.
(Editorial Note: In the pre-heaven Bagua symbol, the “qian” trigram which represents heaven, is on top, and the “kun” trigram which represents earth, is below. In Chinese, heaven and earth, or everything there is, represent the Big Universe.)
According to the Taoist art of elixir, the eight wondrous meridians are blocked or broken. Hence, firstly in transforming essence to energy, the first two of the eight wondrous meridians, the conceptual meridian and the governing meridian, are cleared, thus attaining the Small Universe. Then, in transforming energy to spirit, the other meridians are cleared.
However, as people are different in their constitution, some cultivators may succeed in clearing just one or two other meridians, though some clear all the other six wondrous meridians. Some cultivators, however, clear the twelve primary meridians. Nevertheless, all these cultivators are regarded as having attained the Big Universe.
According to elixir literature, cultivators of the Big Universe focus their intention at the middle dan tian. Actually they focus on the lower dan tian.
(Editorial Note: The lower dan tian, or energy field, is located about 2 or 3 inches below the navel. Some masters, however, referred to this same energy field as the middle dan tian. On the other hand, some Taoist cultivators focused at the middle dan tian at the “jiang feng” energy point at the solar plexus. This is also called the “tan zhong” energy point.)
(Editorial Note: There are two types of Big Universe, the medical or phenomenal Big Universe, and the spiritual or transcendental Big Universe. In the medical Big Universe, energy flows through all the twelve primary meridians. In the spiritual Big Universe, energy diffuses throughout the body and merge the spirit with the Great Void. The Big Universe mentioned by the author of the passage is the spiritual Big Universe.)
Transformation of Spirit to Return to the Great Void
In the two earlier stages of transforming essence to energy, and transforming energy to spirit, it is spirit that directs the operation. In the third stage, after long years of training in the earlier two stages, it is not necessary to use intention, i.e. spirit. As soon as a cultivator starts his training in a sitting position, without using any intention, the universal energy will flow. Hence, it is called “huan xu” or “return to the Great Void”.
Another meaning is as follows. After focusing at the upper dan tian, the “divine baby” is nourished, trained and developed until the spirit emerges from the body.
(Editorial Note: the upper dan tian is located at the top of the head called the “bai hui” vital point. The “divine baby” is the spirit of the cultivator. After being nurtured, trained and developed, the “divine baby” as the spirit of the cultivator leaves the physical body and roams the heaven.)
It is mentioned in elixir literature that when this attainment is accomplished, there will be no life and death, and the cultivator becomes an immortal.
(Editorial Note: An immortal is still in the phenomenal realm. When the personal spirit of a cultivator merges with the Universal Spirit, it is transcendental where there is no differentiation.)
However, the nature and details of this supreme stage are not recorded in any Taoist literature. There are no records as to how to become an immortal. Without the personal teaching of a master, such training is mystical and mysterious.
(Editorial Note: There are actually classics that recorded how immortality as well as transcendentally merging with the Great Void could be accomplished, but these classics were written in arcane language that the uninitiated would not understand. Indeed, such knowledge is mystical and mysterious.)
Understanding Taoist Arts of Ancient Times
It is necessary to view Taoist arts of ancient time with a proper perspective, otherwise irrespective of whether in philosophy or methodology, people are easily led to confusion. Below are some perspectives.
Firstly, the aims of the Taoist art of elixir of ancient times belong to a methodology of immortality in religious context. The aim is to renounce society to be transform into an immortal. This aim is forever unattainable, the aim cannot be realized. If one believes that the attainment is real, not only it will benumb our revolution aspirations, but also harm our health and bring serious deviation.
(Editorial Note: It is worthy of note that the author of the passage lived at a time and in an environment where materialism, not spirituality, was the norm.)
Secondly, the methodology of Taoist cultivation to attain immortality in heaven had close relationship with the illusions that resulted from the practice. Because in the past practitioners could not explain illusions scientifically, they developed a mystical concept of their practice. For example, they had illusions that during their training their body became light, and they drifted about in the sky. This created for them illusions that they rose to heaven to become immortals.
When they closed their eyes they felt their body radiating light, they thought this was a symptom they had developed an elixir. Much importance was placed on the flow of energy along the conceptual and the governing meridians. This was due to practitioners not focusing their observation externally, but internally, including focusing at only a small part of their body. Thus, their body mechanism reduced their attention to the exterior, and increased their attention to their interior.
Moreover, as their training was conducted under conscious conditions, they could consciously experience that their reactions were natural, and there was nothing supernatural. They could view their reactions during training as physical mechanism, and should be studied under physical conditions.
Thirdly, from the perspective of the methods to train Small Universe and Big Universe in the past, their attainments could not be denied. This is because their art and results were from practical experience. As long as the results were from actual experience, they had benefits for research and study. This is to abolish the mystical and mysterious, and ascertain the real and practical.
There might by exaggeration, but there were real situations for our reaction. Even for things that were false, they could serve as lessons for us. Hence, we should conduct experiments with the methods, study them and decide how to obtain their benefits.
Fourthly, when training this art, practitioners must not chase after beautiful scenery, so as to avoid situations where it could be difficult to handle. For example, when energy flows along the “yu zhen” obstacle behind the head, the energy might not go up or down for a long time, causing unpleasantness to practitioners, or like energy flowing to the head, constantly going round, like the practitioners wearing a heavy hat. This was caused by “energy rushing to the head”.
Or practitioners may feel that their conceptual and governing meridians are easily cleared. Whenever they remain quiet, this sensation re-occurred, causing puzzlement among the practitioners (because clearing the conceptual and governing meridians usually take a long time).
Or some practitioners feel that their energy moved away from their conceptual and governing meridians, flowing everywhere in their body, causing them much pain. Sometimes their body moved on their own, from small movement to big movement. For a long time the movement does not stop, and they feel very painful. These sensations remain for many months. They are signs of deviation.
Thus, we must approach this Taoist training methods of ancient times with reality and seriousness, and not deny their results, over-promote their methodology and train blindly.
On the other hand, we must not straightaway reject their benefits. We should approach the topic with a correct perspective and practice the art under the supervision of experienced teachers., select suitable techniques, and derive beneficial experience to contribute to the service of good health.
(Editorial Note: Here in this chapter, the three stages of Taoist cultivation are figurative, though the author mentions that at the third stage it may be literal with the “divine baby” going out of the physical body and roaming heaven as an immortal. The first stage is the Small Universe, the second stage is the Big Universe, and the third stage is the Small Universal or the Big Universe flowing spontaneously without the use of intention. There is another interpretation of the three stages of Taoist cultivation that are literal. At the first stage a cultivator literally transforms “jing” to “qi”, or the physical to energy, like converting the food and drinks he takes into vitality. At the second stage, the cultivator literally transforms energy into spirit, when he is mentally fresh and spiritually alert. At the highest level, he literally returns his spirit to the Great Void when he merges with Tao.)