Zhao Bichen’s – The Secrets of Cultivation of Essential Nature and Eternal Life – An Appraisal of Taoist Yoga
The Wade-Giles transliterations has been partly retained below, as it serves as the starting point in the study of Taoist Yoga – but Daoist practitioners are advised to familiarise themselves with the pinyin equivalents to aid clarity and understanding in the modern world, whilst remaining free from attachment to words and letters. In the case of the ‘eight psychic channels’, (as Charles Luk refers to the qi-energy meridians), only the pinyin terms have been provided in the main explanation, although Zhao Bichen is sometimes quoted using Luk’s Wade-Giles phonetics. There are many more specialist terms used by Zhao Bichen in Taoist Yoga, but a careful examination of Charles Luk’s text (free of dogma) can draw-out the clear meaning. Below is an examination of the essence of each of the 16 chapters, which is designed to augment the inner journey as guided by the more complete ‘Taoist Yoga’, and modern masters such as Zhao Ming Wang of Beijing (the great grandson of Zhao Bichen), as well as the descendants of Niu Jin Bao. Although Luk’s text of Taoist Yoga is followed throughout, where necessary, I have referenced (and translated anew), certain sections to add clarity or simplify meaning. Zhao Bichen’s manual is separated into two broad categories of multi-disciplined study which sees the first 8 chapters dedicated to the ‘lesser attainment of serenity’ (hsiao ting ching), with the following 8 chapters explaining the ‘greater attainment of serenity’ (da ting ching).The following concise explanation of the 16 chapters of Zhao Bichen’s manual (as represented by Charles Luk’s ‘Taoist Yoga’), presents a logical and systematic approach toward Qianfeng Daoist training that can be used in conjunction with Charles Luk’s full text to give clarity and added purpose. Zhao Bichen states that at the age of 73, (around 1933), he was instructed by his masters – Liao Jen and Liao Kong, to make the Daoist teachings a matter of public record, through the writing of his manual, which is now the subject of this study. Charles Luk visited the West in 1935 (during which he had a meeting with Christmas Humphreys at the headquarters of the Buddhist Society, London), and after returning to China, met and trained with Zhao Bichen in Beijing. At this time, Zhao Bichen suggested that it would be a good idea for his manual to be translated into English, so that Westerners could benefit from genuine Daoist instruction. Due to circumstances and changing times, it was another 30 years before Charles Luk managed to carry out this translation and eventually publish it as ‘Taoist Yoga’ in 1970.Zhao Bichen’s method of Daoist self-cultivation is reliant upon the practice of seated meditation in a quiet and secluded place of study, surrounded by willing supporters who are also fellow aspirants. The goal is ‘immortality’ which has nothing (in this instance) to do with the physical body living forever. This immortality is the realisation of an all-embracing oneness, whereby all things appear to arise and pass away within a great voidness. In and of itself, this is not very different from the state of enlightenment as envisioned within Ch’an Buddhism, although the distinctly ‘Daoist’ path that accompanies its attainment is very different. Despite, however, Zhao Bichen does make use of the Ch’an method of ‘hua tou’ which is designed to turn all sensory stimulus back to the empty mind-essence from which they spring. The realisation of an empty mind is essential if Qianfeng self-cultivation is to be effective. Whereas the Buddhist is encouraged to forget about the body, the Daoist (at least in the early stages of cultivation) travels in exactly the opposite direction, and trains to become hyper-aware of the body and its inner functionings. This awareness understands that all is energy (qi), and that this energy (highly condensed) manifests as generative force (jing), and when highly refined – as empty spirit (shen). It is the flow of qi through the body (and mind) that must be fully realised and understood (as jing and shen), by focusing the mind’s eye on the area just beneath the navel. In the end, however, even this Daoist awareness of the body, (and indeed the body itself), is transcended and there is a meeting at the highest level of ultimate reality as envisioned through the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. Zhao Bichen’s manual represents a gradual unfolding of awareness as the student slowly gathers in the energy (by eating a vegetarian diet, and abstaining from sexuality, alcohol consumption, and other dangerous activities), and refines it through the power of concentrative effort generated by the mind. A number of terms are often used to refer to exactly the same process, and attention must be carefully maintained when studying the text as a cultivation guide.Zhao Bichen’s manual is a logical presentation of Daoist self-cultivation (neidan) techniques. As a text, it has a distinctly ‘modern’ feel to it, despite the fact that it is conveying centuries old wisdom and knowledge. This is not surprising, as Zhao Bichen (and his brother Zhao Kuiyi who is mentioned with respect throughout the text), thoroughly embraced modern science and medical knowledge. This understanding was used to clear away the more ‘superstitious’ (and redundant) elements sometimes associated with certain schools of self-cultivation, and usher a new era of ‘openness’ and a willingness to share instructions that had been previously assumed to be ‘secret’, and unavailable to the general public. Not only was Liao Kong a staunch traditionalist as a Buddhist and a Daoist monastic, but he also agreed that modernity and tradition had to find a way to meaningfully interact and complement one another. This updating of tradition can be clearly seen through the Qianfeng School’s acceptance of women as being equal to men with regards to the search for immortality. Zhao Bichen lived at a time when China was experiencing tumultuous events that included the slow demise of the imperial system, and the highly corrosive presence of Western colonial powers, and yet he adapted and learnt from it all. If the apparent unfamiliar Daoist language (and the concepts such a language represents) can be made familiar to the Western mind through appropriate education, then the true genius of Zhao Bichen becomes evident for all to see. Charles Luk translated what he considered to be the essential ‘core’ content of the manual, omitting a number of poems, conversations, explanatory additions, and some biographical material. This decision was taken due to the length of the original text, and what was considered at the time, the unfamiliar Daoist technical language it contained. As a consequence of this editing, the finished English text of ‘Taoist Yoga’ is designed as a highly condensed version of the manual, designed to introduce the practitioner to Qianfeng Daoism, and provide an authoritative referencing source.The original Chinese language titles of each chapter, (together with an alternative English rendering), has also been added to Charles Luk’s English translations in Taoist Yoga, so as to aid understanding and interpretation. Although I have invariably used the description ‘Zhao Bichen states’ when conveying his direct quotations, the original Chinese text always refers to him as the ‘Thousand Peaks Old Man’ (千峰老人- Qian Feng Lao Ren). Assessment of Zhao Bichen’s manual is as follows:SECTION ONE: Chapters 1-8 – LESSER ATTAINMENT OF SERENITY
1) Fixing Spirit in its Original Cavity
Original Title: 第一法诀-安神祖窍 – (Di Yi Fa Jue – An Shen Zu Qiao)
(Number 1 Law Secret – Securing Spirit in the Ancestral Cavity)
All living under the divine-sky and upon the broad earth, secured peace through the cultivation of the Ancestral Cavity – prenatal energy is gathered from the sun in the west and the moon in the east.
The Mysterious Gate is entered when the cavity is filled with empty spirit – then all is an emptiness that is not empty.
Control and restrain the original source in the lower energy centre – and seek to cultivate the path that transcends dualistic thinking.
Cultivating the bright mind lifts the obscuring curtain (of ignorance) by concentrating (awareness) upon the Ancestral Cavity – in this way the hands and feet grasp the ladder (of liberation).
The divine-sky and the broad earth are united by awakening spirit in the Ancestral Cavity – then everything is an all-embracing, empty reality that is not ‘empty’.
All that is obscured and lost to view – is revealed by the light attained through the recovery of the (centrality) of the empty spirit.
This wonderful and mysterious instruction has no words – through refinement even the smallest or biggest grains of dust contain the (essence of the) divine-sky.
If humanity can realise the essence of the wonderful cavities – then ten thousand years spent in training is not a bad thing, if the golden (light) of immortality is to be realised.
The emphasis is upon ‘stilling’ the mind, and ‘relaxing’ the body – before – seated meditation is attempted. When the breathing (in and out of the nostrils) is controlled, then the body and mind will be forgotten, and attention fixed firmly in the centre of the brain cavity (tsu ch’iao) located between and behind the eyes. Through focusing upon the breath, the mind quiets and tension leaves the body. This is the gathering of qi (energy) and the recovering of the mind’s peaceful and empty natural essence. This natural essence is usually obscured from direct perception by a mind (and body) full of conditioned confused thoughts and feelings that manifest in cycles of inner and outer experience. However, in this preliminary stage, Zhao Bichen discusses both ‘relative’ and ‘ultimate’ enlightenment (or ‘Immortality’) that has much in common with the ‘Prince and Minister’ teaching found in the Cao Dong School of Ch’an Buddhism. Zhao Bichen states:
‘Seeing the void as not empty is right and seeing the void as empty is wrong, for failure to return to the (tsu ch’iao) centre (which is not empty) prevents the light of vitality from manifesting. Under the heart and above the genital organ is an empty space where spiritual vitality manifests to form a cavity. When spirit and vitality return to this cavity, spiritual vitality will soar up to form a circle (of light) which is not void. Voidness which does not radiate is relative but voidness which radiates is absolute. Absolute voidness is not empty like relative voidness. Voidness that is not empty is spiritual light which is spirit-vitality that springs from the yellow hall centre (huang ting or middle tan t’ien, in the solar plexus).’
An all-embracing void that is full of all things (which arise and pass away) is a common Ch’an idiom. Relative void is the incomplete stage of enlightenment (associated with the arhant stage of attainment), and is often described as ‘sitting atop the hundred foot pole’. The mind is empty but non-functionally and not yet all-embracing. The mind is ‘stilled’, but of no developmental use to self and other, although an individual may choose to stay in it as an oasis to the troubles of the world. However, to progress in Daoist cultivation, this stage must be given-up – only then will full Immortality be attained. In this very first stage of ‘gathering qi’, relative and complete Daoist enlightenment are already mentioned. This fact demonstrates how the final stage is present in the first – and the circle is already complete.
2) The Microcosmic Cauldron and Stove
Original Title: 第二法诀-玉鼎金炉 – (Di Er Fa Jue – Yu Ding Jin Lu)
(Number 2 Law Secret – Jade Cauldron Golden Furnace)
Between the navel energy centre and the kidney area – the golden stove exists.
Between and behind the eyes is the jade cauldron – the place of the absorption of spiritual energy.
Master Zhao Bichen states:
‘The precious cauldron (yu ting) is a cavity in the centre of the brain (between and behind the eyes) and is the seat of (essential) nature, that is the original cavity of spirit (yuan shen shih or the ancestral cavity, tsu ch’iao); its left and right sides are linked with the pupils of the eyes by two (psychic) channels; and it is also connected with the heart. Hence it is said that essential nature is (in) the heart which manifests through the eyes.’
Charles Luk adds a footnote commenting that he hopes that this statement puts an end to the argument between Eastern and Western scholars, where the former claim consciousness abides only in the heart, whilst the latter assert that it abides only in the brain. According to the philosophy of the Qianfeng School as imparted by Zhao Bichen, consciousness is in fact to be found in both physiological areas. In the contemporary West there is a healthy debate within philosophy which attempts to define and explain consciousness, with recent findings suggesting that the individual cells of the body are ‘conscious’ of their own existence and their location with regard to other cells. Master Zhao continues:
‘It is also said that essential nature is in the precious cauldron which originally did not exist. It is only when true vitality develops and unites with essential nature to become one whole that the latter is called the precious cauldron.’
The ‘precious cauldron’ only exists during the developmental process, when conscious awareness is combined with a strong will-power during the meditational process. The precious cauldron is an expedient device used to attain the emptiness of Immortality – but is not Immortality itself. It is a ‘cauldron’ in the sense that this is the area where refinement takes place during the self-cultivation process. Zhao is at pains to explain that these allusions are functional, but nevertheless metaphorical. He further explains:
‘It is also said that about 1-3 inches under the navel is the cavity of real vitality (chen ch’i) Hsueh or lower tan t’ien) which lies between the front and back of the lower abdomen in proportion of seven or three and which is also called the golden stove (chin lu), the seat of (eternal) life. Hence it is said that life is the generative force which develops in the genital organs. The golden stove originally did not exist but comes into being when the generative force develops and vitality manifests.’
Saliva (produced by two ducts underneath the tongue), is viewed as a divine fluid that if swallow correctly (with a straight or extended neck), leaves the gross digestive system, and instead enters the qi (energy) circulatory system. It enters the jen mo energy circulatory channel and travels down to the cavity of vitality (or tan t’ien – just below the navel) where it is transformed into negative and positive generative fluid. Saliva that is swallowed the wrong way, simply enters the stomach and is digested to enter the blood, spreading generative fluid to the wrong places of the body, etc. On page 206 of Charles Luk’s ‘The Secrets of Chinese Meditation’, there is a much more detailed and elaborate description of how an advanced Daoist practitioner swallows saliva.
Although lay people practice Qianfeng Daoism, nevertheless, Zhao warns that if there is to be progress, then for at least a certain amount of time, procreational sexual activity should be sublimated toward self-cultivation. It is healthy for a penis to stand erect, but unhealthy for ejaculation to take place during intense periods of self-cultivation. It is the same situation for a woman. Physical arousal may occur, but sexuality must not be indulged in during times of self-cultivation. This is because the generative fluid must be produced but then re-absorbed back into the qi (energy) circulatory system of the mind and body, and not wasted by being emitted into the environment. Zhao Bichen explains this stage:
‘The first step is to fix spirit in its original cavity (tsu ch’iao in the centre of the brain between and behind the eyes) by concentration so that the light of vitality manifests in the ensuing condition of utter stillness. In this absence of thoughts, the positive principle will in time manifest causing the penis to be erect. The practiser should now wipe out the concept of the self so as to free his heart from disturbances, and then concentrate on his spirit to drive it into the centre of vitality (the lower tan t’ien below the navel); this is the immersion of fire in water. The element of water in the lower belly is thus scorched by spirit’s fire and thereby transmuted into true vitality. The practiser should gather immediately the true generative force.’
If the mind is to be effectively and profoundly ‘stilled’, then the energy of the body must be gathered in and ‘stilled’ also. A still mind and innately relaxed body allows for the optimising of qi (energy) presence and flow, and for the eventual development and vibration of the generative fluid. The urge toward procreation is very strong and this can divert the attention away from the energy gathering process – this is why it is discouraged at this stage of the training. Sexuality, however, is not ‘wrong’ but should be viewed as a specific use of qi (energy) that is so powerful that it can not only create new life, but also prevent already existing life from realising its empty essence and true potential in the world. According to the philosophy of the Dao – there is a time and a place for everything. The ‘cauldron’ and ‘stove’ represent psycho-physical areas within the body that are subjectively experienced as ‘rounded cavities’, or areas of three-dimensional space. Saliva is a digestive fluid that produces energy by assisting the break-down of food into its constituent parts, and when swallowed, is propelled through the digestive system (and the body) by means of muscular contractions termed peristalsis. This rhythmic muscular movement merges into that of the blood circulatory system and energy (from digested food) is transferred around and through the body as a consequence. This awareness of the inner processes of the body is gained whilst cultivating a deep and full breath, which saturates the blood circulatory system with enhanced levels of oxygen (or qi). Taking all this into account, Zhao Bichen explains the meditation of seeking psycho-physical unity which is the essence of his school:
‘Concentration consists of unifying the faculty of seeing in each eye to look into the lower tan t’ien cavity (under the navel) where (eternal) life will be held at a fixed spot. This is called the cultivation of both (essential) nature and (eternal) life (hsin ming shuang hsiu) to invigorate spirit and vitality.’
Zhao then explains how disunity (or delusion in the Daoist sense) first came into being for each individual:
‘Your body came from your parents’ thought of procreation but this circle existed before your body came into being since both your (essential) nature and (eternal) life were in it.
When you were a foetus in your mother’s womb, your hands clasped your ears and your eyes were level with your bent knees. You did not breathe through your mouth and nose, and your breathing as well as your nature and life were subordinated to those of your mother. Although you did not eat you grew gradually. You were linked in your mother’s womb by the umbilical cord. After about ten months in the womb, you were born into the world. Your body was soft like cotton but once the umbilical cord was cut, your prenatal foetal breathing stopped and was replaced by postnatal (usual) breath which then entered and left your body through your mouth and nostrils. From then on your faculty of seeing split into two and your tongue ceased to join up the channels of control and function (tu mo and jen mo). Your (essential) nature was carried by your postnatal breath up to the heart which became its seat, and your (eternal) life down to the lower abdomen to stay there. The space between (essential) nature and (eternal) life was a little over eight inches. Since spirit was displaced by consciousness the latter has controlled you from childhood to adulthood and old age, and alas your nature and life will never unite again.’
Zhao Bichen displays his knowledge of modern medicine by conveying the details of the actual length of the average human pregnancy (which is ten months and not nine, as is commonly thought), and is aware of the baby receiving nutrients through the umbilical-cord of the mother. Humans lose sight of essential nature and eternal life because they become subsumed and obscured through the excessive use of the discursive mind – which is in the permanently chaotic state of perpetual movement. It is an essential part of Zhao’s system that the mind is ‘stilled’ (as in Buddhism), so that the Daoist methods can be applied to remedy the situation.
3) Clearing the Eight Psychic Channels
Original Title: 第三法诀-开通八脉 – (Di San Fa Jue – Kai Tong Ba Mai)
(Number 3 Law Secret – Opening Through the Eight Circulatory Channels)
The circulatory channels flow everywhere – their pathways unhindered.
Through the yang gate and on to the heart-mind – and on through the kidneys and testicles.
Within Chinese medicine, there are believed to be eight extraordinary channels – or meridians – (amongst many others) that carry qi (energy) around and through the body. These meridians are:
a) Conception Vessel (任脈 – Ren Mai)
Begins at the area between the anus and the genitals and runs up the front of the body (via the tan t’ien and chest) to the crown of the top of the head.
b) Governing Vessel (督脈 – Du Mai)
Begins at the area between the anus and the genitals and runs toward the coccyx and up the backbone and neck, to the crown of the top of the head.
c) Penetrating Vessel (衝脈 – Chong Mai)
Begins at the area between the anus and the genitals and runs up the centre of the inner body between the Ren Mai and Du Mai vessels described above – and terminates at the heart.
d) Girdle Vessel (帶脈 – Dai Mai)
Arises in the navel and circles the body forming a girdle.
e) Yin linking vessel (陰維脈 – Yīn Wei Mai)
Arises in the centre of the palms and travels along the inner arms to the chest.
f) Yang linking vessel (陽維脈 – Yang Wei Mai)
Arises in the centre of the palms and travels (via the middle finger) along outer inner arms to the shoulders.
g) Yin Heel Vessel (陰蹻脈 – Yin Giao Mai)
Arises in the centre of the soles and travels along the inner ankle and leg to the area between the anus and genital organ – where it links with other channels.
h) Yang Heel Vessel (陽蹻脈 – Yang Giao Mai)
Arises in the centre of the soles and travels along the outer ankle and leg to the area between the anus and genital organ – where it links with other channels.
A disciple enquires about why it is that he experiences numbness and muscle cramp in his legs during extended periods of seated meditation. Zhao Bichen expertly explains that there is a lack of blood and qi flow through the legs, due to the posture being unfamiliar to the aspirant, and the fact that the eight channels that carry qi (vital breath) and jing (generative force) are not fully open and free-flowing. Zhao often states that a student must ‘stop breathing’ to activate the jing in the eight meridians – but he does not mean to ‘cease breathing’ altogether. Charles Luk uses the term ‘psychic’ channel, because within Daoism, it is understood that a meridian – or channel of qi-flow – is both a psychological construct (i.e. it is augmented through conscious awareness of both its presence and function), as well as a physical reality. A qi meridian is a combination of the breathing mechanism, blood vessel, oxygenated blood-flow, bio-electrical activity of the neural network, and the nutrients obtained from food and drink, etc. The strength of this qi-flow is decided by the potency of jing – or generative force – bequeathed to the practitioner by their parents. In the case of martial arts practice, the correct use and awareness of ‘body-weight’ may be added as a factor for determining qi (and jing) strength.
Many people go about their lives breathing in and out without being aware of the process, or the associative flow of qi-energy throughout the body. When Zhao Bichen talks of ‘stopping breath’, he is talking about switching the attention away from this limited notion of just breathing in and out of the nose and mouth, and instead cultivating the awareness of mind so that it might ‘follow’ the qi-flow as its moves up and down the body through the blood circulatory system. This ‘awareness’ not only senses the presence and movement of qi-energy, but in so doing, alters the physiology of the associative body tissue by relaxing any and all muscular tension (and poor posture) that previously hindered the transportation. Expanding conscious awareness permanently through the body radically alters the chemistry of the body and its inner processes. By purposely guiding the qi through the eight channels, the body tissue is invigorated and rejuvenated. By cultivating qi in this way, the jing essence stored in the kidney area can be restored. By breathing in and out of the meridians in the manner Zhao describes in Taoist Yoga, qi-energy is enhanced through efficient cultivation of its essence within the body. This movement of the qi around the body is the exercising of the microcosmic orbit, or the guiding of the qi energy through and around the inner structures of the body. Although Zhao does not mention martial arts at this point, the practice of Taijiquan (太極拳) in the morning is an excellent way of opening and balancing the eight channels – providing an expansive awareness is employed throughout the body during training. Whilst visualising the qi energy flowing through the meridians, the practitioner still breaths in and out of the nose and mouth – even if qi energy entering, for example – through the heel area – is experienced. Indeed, Zhao advised that numb legs should be relieved by straightening them and banging the heels on and off the ground – whilst visualising the qi entering through the heels and travelling through the legs. This explains why Charles Luk chose to employ the term ‘psychic’ channels. These channels are cleaned and optimised through concentrating the mind upon them, and on the direction of the energy travelling through them. Buddhists and Daoists suffer leg pain after extensive sitting and Zhao Bichen’s wise advice is suitable for both paths of self-cultivation.
4) Gathering the Microcosmic Outer Alchemical Agent
Original Title: 第四法诀-采外药诀 – (Di Si Fa Jue – Cai Wai Yao Jue)
(Number 4 Law Secret – Collecting Outer Medicine Method)
Gathering external medicine that has form but no structure – the inner circuit is completed by touching the tongue against the palate, and the governing vessel is completed.
The wind fans the flames correctly, and the circuit (of travel) is enclosed – through effective introspection, six phases are observed during one circulation of breath.
Charles Luk adds a footnote to this title which states that the ‘outer alchemical agent’ is produced through deeply breathing fresh air in and out of the body – via a full long capacity breath – which transmutes generative force (jing) into vitality (qi). This is the entire gist of this chapter (i.e. the importance of the deep and full breathing of fresh air on a daily basis), wherein Zhao Bichen states that the practitioner should discipline the mind (and body) here and now, in this very lifetime, or face one uncertain transmigration (i.e. ‘rebirth’) after another without end. Zhao describes the body as a rootless tree that relies on the ‘breath’ to act as its foundation and its branches. The mind (and body) must be trained in a serious manner, so that a singleness of thought is developed that is detached from the five senses. Furthermore, diet must be regulated (and reduced), sleep must be regulated (and reduced); give-up pointless talk, gossip and humorous exchanges; still the mind so that worry and anxiety do not arise; abandon an easy life and do not discriminate between the beautiful and the ugly. Learn to live on the morning dew (like a cicada) – or absorb nutrients direct from the sunlight (like the ancient tortoise). In this way Immortality is assured. Qi should be gathered in the morning, and gathered in the evening – do not waste it on frivolous activities. Inner-cultivation (neidan) begins with controlling the mind (as it does within Buddhism), so that the seven profitless emotions (and experiences) do not arise. These are pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, love, hate, and desire. Do not be disturbed and imbalanced by the five thieves – as this leads to the six sense-organs becoming stagnant which blocks and prevents the arousing of generative force (jing). The five thieves are the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body. When there is attachment to sense-data, the generative force is either prevented from arising, from flowing, or from harmonious manifestation. Attachment to sense-data blocks effective self-cultivation. Zhao states:
‘A practiser should regard his body as a country and the generative force as its population. Unstirred generative force ensures security for the population, and the fullness of spirit and (vital) breath (qi) increases the prosperity of the country. Likewise in his quest for Immortality he should fight hard with the enemy to achieve prenatal vitality.’
This is linked to the laying of a firm foundation for self-cultivation. When the mind wanders outside the body, and is attracted to this or that sensory experience, qi-energy is dissipated as a consequence, and the inner body weakened. Gather-in and control the three treasures – generative force (jing), vital force (qi), and empty spirit (shen). This will regain the original strength of these three attributes which then merge into one all-embracing entity in preparation for the realisation of Immortality. When the level of sagehood is attained, then the spirit is stilled in ten months, and the need for sleep transcended in another nine or ten months. In around ten months the need for food and drink is abandoned, and cold is not felt in the winter, or hot experienced in the summer. Such is the harmonious mind of a sage. When the qi-energy is purified and stilled in essence, then ordinary breathing ceases, as the mind is bright and free from dullness and agitation. Using an obvious Buddhist analogy, Zhao then states that in the realm of desire, generative force (jing), is refined into vitality (qi), which is the yang (positive) extracted from the yin (negative). In the realm of form, vitality (qi) is refined into spirit (shen), which is developing the yang (positive) to eliminate the yin (negative) gradually. In the realm of beyond form, yang (positive) is fully developed so that yin (negative) is completely eradicated so that spirit (shen) is returned to emptiness. The three treasures can only be refined through a calm and serene mind if they are to be united and returned to the void. In this way, generative force (jing) is transformed into vitality (qi), when the mind does not move, and spirit (shen) returns to is empty source because of an empty mind. This ensures that the phases (or ‘elements’) of metal, wood, water, fire and earth, as well as the four components of body, breath, immaterial and material soul, and the four directions of the compass – south, north, east and west – all unite with consciousness which is returned to emptiness.
Through the establishment of profound stillness in the body and mind, true universal emptiness is realised. Inner and outer stillness is the key for this development, couple with the generation and preservation of vitality (qi) through breathing – do not block the generative force, or dissipate the vitality through excessive or pointless sexual activity premised upon desire. Although breathing-in good quality air (qi) augments and supports generative force (jing), this process cannot be used to actually replace previously lost (or damaged) generative force. Living in a reckless manner cannot be corrected through breathing, as the old habits of attachment must be uprooted and destructive choices discarded through the auspices of correct self-cultivation. Generative force can only be replaced through resting the mind and body, and eating and drinking a better quality of strictly regulated diet. This is the basic method. The advanced method involves entering the non-dual state of empty one-ness where the yin (female) and yang (male) aspects are united and integrated into the void. In the meantime, the route of the microcosmic orbit is the pathway comprised of the governing and conception vessels, where the fresh air of the outer world is breathed in (through the nose and mouth), and circulated through. The breath, whilst united with generative force (jing), vitality (qi), and empty spirit (shen), travel up the backbone of the governing vessel (from the point between the anus and genitals) to the top of the head, and then down the conception vessel to the point between the anus and the genitals – making an entire circuit or ‘orbit’ around the inner body. Zhao clearly descries this process in the following manner:
‘When postnatal (fresh) air is breathed in prenatal vital force goes up (in the channel of control); this is the shutting (ho) process which consists of breathing in outside air, thus closing the respiratory mechanism so that the air goes down in the body to push up prenatal vital force thus clearing all psychic channels. It causes life which is below to unite with (essential) nature which is above.
When postnatal fresh air is breathed out prenatal vital force (now released from pressure) goes down (in the channel of function); this is the opening (p’i) process which consists of expelling air by the nostrils to let the prenatal vital force return to its source (under the navel), thus clearing all psychic channels. It causes (essential) nature which is above to unite with life which is below.’
This demonstrates the power associated with ordinary breathing and the importance the Qianfeng School of Daoist cultivation places upon its correct practice. Poor breathing, or breathing carried-out without a disciplined mind and body leads to no attainment whatsoever. This is why the Immortal named Ts’ao Huan Yang said:
‘Even when you are busy relax a little to sublimate the outer agent in order to gather prenatal vitality from nothingness.’
5) Quick and Slow Fires
Original Title: 第五法诀-外文武火法 – (Di Wu Fa Jue – Wai Wen Wu Huo Fa)
(Number 5 Law Secret – Coarse and Refined Force of Fire Law)
Nature is like a pillar of true incense – and the Yellow Court emerges from within its fragrant smoke.
Within the fragrant smoke, is the empty space – and the pillar of life endures for ten thousand years.
Master Zhao Bichen stated:
‘No known immortals on earth suffer from tuberculosis or take medicine to cure ailments or improve health. Now that you are determined to seek immortality you should quickly eradicate all the ailments latent in the body; and it will not be late to practice the Tao after you are free of all of them. The saints and sages of old did not wait for illnesses to manifest and then cured them; they cured them while they were latent.’
This is an attitude typical within Chinese medicine which advocates a preventative approach, rather than the method of only treating symptoms when they arise. Within the Qianfeng School there are two kinds of heat – the prenatal ‘spiritual’ yang (positive) – and the postnatal ‘corrupted’ yin (negative). In this Daoist cultivation, the latter draws out the former so that they are united and transcend duality. From the postnatal heat is generated the ‘quick’ and the ‘slow’ fires which are the product of differing meditation techniques, and which burn impurities out of the body and expel them as tears from the eyes. A slow fire is generated through a mind that with eyes closed, has realised the void but which remains unattached to this state. A quick fire is generated by a mind that has the eyes open, which concentrate upon an object not too far away, or too near – such as a burning incense stick, or a crystal ball, etc. Quick fires shift obstructions, whilst slow fires calm and restore harmony. When the eight psychic channels are opened and fully functioning due to the use of the fires, the pure saliva is generated (which tastes like honey), that flows down into the tan t’ien area and is transformed into yin (negative) force, before descending into the testicles where it becomes spermatozoa. This is the clear exercising of a disciplined mind to generate heat within meridians so that they might be cleansed of any obscuring impurities or potential hindrances. This is the use of a determined will-power to guide and direct qi-energy throughout the body and use that energy for specific and distinct purposes. Zhao Bichen states:
‘When you breath in and out your concentration causes the generative force to rise and fall (in the microcosmic orbit) thus slowly turning the wheel of the law. Count from one to ten and then from ten to a hundred breaths with the heart (mind) following the counting to prevent it from wandering outside. When the heart and breathing are in unison, this is called “locking up the monkey mind” and “tying up the running horse of intellect.”’
This is a complex chapter that needs careful and systematic training – Zhao Bichen says that he called on over thirty old masters whilst studying this subject, and only a handful possessed genuine knowledge of it. The important point to remember that even within this school of Daoism – all is ultimately empty.
6) Gathering the Microcosmic Inner Alchemical Agent
Original Title: 第六法诀-采内药诀 – (Di Liu Fa Jue – Cai Nei Yao Jue)
(Number 6 Law Secret – Collecting Inner Medicine Method)
The correct movement of the sun and moon turns the wheel of the law – and the energy rotates left and right.
Thirty-six turns of the eyes clockwise generates the positive fire – whilst twenty-four turns of the eyes anti-clockwise generates the negative fire.
This is the product of vitality (qi) breath circulating within the body that is used to transmute vitality (qi) into spirit ‘shen’. Zhao Bichen states:
‘The practiser would make a grave mistake if he sat motionless to cultivate (essential) nature while disregarding (eternal) life. For instance, the shell of an egg is likened to the body and the yolk to life. When a young chicken is hatched the shell is broken and abandoned, but if it is broken before incubation you cannot expect a young chicken to emerge from it. Therefore, a practiser of Tao should preserve his physical body with the same care as he would a precious gem. He should know that:
Without the body the Tao cannot be attained
But with the body Truth never can be realised.
…and when his training has been effective then it will be time to leave the body.’
The inner alchemical agent is gathered by rolling the eyes – whilst open – thirty-six times in the clockwise direction, and then twenty-four times in the anti-clockwise direction. This action raises and lowers the inner fire within the body. When performed correctly, a bright light manifests in front of the eyes. This experience is different and distinct from the sparks of splintered light sometimes seen in the mind when the eyes are closed – and the two experiences should not be mistaken for one another. The correct use of the eyes are essential in the understanding of this chapter. Again, the wasting of generative force (jing), through night emissions, or unnecessary sexual activity, is warned against whilst training to acquire the golden elixir of Immortality. All is merged into a single unity and is transmuted in an all-embracing emptiness. This chapter should be carefully studied and its practice not rushed.
7) Holding on to the Centre To Realise the Oneness of Heaven and Earth
Original Title: 第七法诀-翕聚祖气 – (Di Qi Fa Jue – Xi Ju Zu Qi)
(Number 7 Law Secret – Gathering Together and Awaken Ancestral Energy)
The sun and the moon are the dragon and the tiger – the sun and the moon (and the dragon and the tiger) must merge from two into one.
The sun is the heart, whilst the moon is the lower energy centre – the positive and negative lights merge in the Ancestral Cavity.
The ‘lesser self-circulating divine-energy’ (microcosmic orbit) is the efficient and permanent flow of vitality (qi) up the governing vessel and down the conception vessel. This achievement is important because from this flow of qi, all the meridians are cleaned of blockages and vitality flows throughout the entire body (and mind). Within the Qianfeng School, the ‘greater self-circulating divine-energy’ (macrocosmic orbit) has a specific meaning which must be carefully studied and understood. Zhao Bichen explains this term when he says:
‘When oneness of heaven and earth is achieved and the light of the sun and moon mingle in front of the original cavity of spirit (tsu ch’iao in the centre of the brain between and behind the eyes) this is the macrocosmic alchemical agent of One Reality. This is the place (between and behind the eyes) where the generative force, vitality and spirit unite, where heart and intellect are void and where there is neither the self nor others.
In front of the cavity of spirit (between and behind the eyes) true vitality looks like a (radiant) circle which is called the Supreme Ultimate (t’ai chi), the Golden Elixir (chin tan) and the Original Awareness (yuan Chueh).’
The ‘t’ai chi’ (grand ridgepole of unity), represents the complete integration of all negative (yin) and positive (yang) energy centres both within and outside the body, so that the prenatal heaven and earth unites with the postnatal mind and lower tan t’ien areas. The attainment of immortality within the Qianfeng School is two-fold involving the preparation of the body and mind through the cultivation of neidan practice. Like within Buddhist philosophy, Qianfeng Daoism avoid the dual trap of ‘materialism’ and ‘idealism’, insisting instead upon a non-dual reality that is the integration of an enhanced consciousness intimately entwined with physical matter. The body’s energy system is repaired, strengthened and enhanced, so that the generative force (jing) is restored. In this manner the brain as an organ (and the mind as its function), is also strengthened as the seat of Immortality or enlightenment. It is the brain that has the immense task of facility (and realising) the perfected state of the One Reality, and therefore must be suitably strengthened and developed for this task. The brain is the doorway to Qianfeng Immortality. A Mysterious Cavity manifests in the mind and body, and when this space is perceived through a still and empty mind, a bright all-embracing (three-dimensional, spherical) reality termed the Mysterious Gate is produced. This is because inner and outer seamlessly ‘merge’ to form the One Reality. This state is also called the ‘Great Emptiness’, or the ‘Oneness of the Divine Sky’, and its reality is mentioned in many ancient Chinese books. The Tan Ching states:
‘When One is realised nothing remains to be done.’
Zhao Bichen states:
‘The circle (or Mysterious Gate) is achieved by successful practice of the seventh step (taught in this chapter) which consists of gathering basic vitality in order to hold on to the centre (between and behind the eyes) and realise the oneness (of things).
The macrocosmic alchemical agent is the union of both outer and inner microcosmic agents which emits the light of Reality.
This seventh step is referred to in the Hsin Yin Ching which says:
The method of using the three components of the alchemical agent (the generative force, vitality and spirit) consists of driving the first two into the third to invigorate it.’
This inner qi-energy flow merging with fresh air taken from the physical environment, which then integrates with generative force (jing), and empty spirit (shen). This creates a spherical reality in the body, and a corresponding spherical reality operating through the mind and environment. This is One Reality appearing as ‘two’, just before complete integration. Further practice is required to reap all the psycho-physical rewards of this attained state through the strengthening of generative force, vitality and spirit. It is the power of the mind that creates, guides, adjusts, and finally realises Immortality through this Daoist method.
Master Liu Hua Yang said:
‘A long practice will mature the generative force to transmute it into vitality, for the generative force is only immature vitality.’
8) Plunging Spirit into the Lower Dan Tian Cavity
Original Title: 第八法诀-蛰藏气穴 – (Di Ba Fa Jue – Zhe Cang Qi Jue)
(Number 8 Law Secret – Gathering and Storing Energy at the Centre)
Gather together, and awaken the ancestral energy – true beings cultivate the breath in this manner.
Awakening within by using the double-bellows – breathing in this way develops empty spirit.
This chapter explains the further conditions surrounding the attainment of Immortality, and in so doing, demonstrates the use of the Buddhist concept of the five aggregates (i.e. matter, sensation, perception, thought formations, and consciousness), and the Ch’an Buddhist method known as ‘hua tou’ (word head), which returns all sensory data to its empty mind-essence. These concepts are used in the usual Daoist framework of explanation, and do not, in themselves, mark a deviation from true Daoist thinking.
Zhao Bichen comes to the crux of the matter when he says:
‘He who wants his body of flesh and blood to become immortal is like someone rubbing a brick to make a bright mirror, which is impossible.’
Immortality is the merging (or integration) of the mind with the Dao. When in the womb, the mind of the foetus is already one with the Dao and only enters into the state of deluded separation at birth, when the umbilical cord is cut. This ‘cutting’ separates ‘mind’ from ‘Dao’. To reunite these two attributes, a theoretical foetus must be developed by driving the empty spirit (shen) from the ancestral cavity (tsu ch’iao), down into the lower tan t’ien area, so that it merges with vital energy (qi). This creates a new foetus of the Dao where unity can be eventually re-established – which gives rise to a great serenity as mind and tan t’ien merge. This is both easy and complex and the process must be carefully studied and practiced. When a disciple request a more direct explanation about this method, Zhao Bichen replied:
‘It is the consolidating method which consists of turning back the seeing and hearing to empty the mind of (sense data) so as to freeze spirit and so gather vitality which will then stop draining away. Only by daily practice of holding on to the centre of vitality (under the navel) can the union of mind and lower abdomen be achieved in the state of (mental) stillness. This can never be done by worldly men in their sleep.’
In the outer world, human beings spend their time chasing the opposite sex in an attempt to subconsciously gain inner oneness – but this never works as procreation merely begets physical off-spring in the state of disunity. It is better to look within, and focus vitality (qi) in the tan t’ien in preparation for the realisation of profound emptiness of spirit (shen).
SECTION TWO: Chapters 9-16 – GREATER ATTAINMENT OF SERENITY
9) Immortal Breathing – Self-turning Wheel of the Law
Original Title: 第九法诀-法轮自转 – (Da Jiu Fa Jue – Fa Lun Zi Zhuan)
(Number 9 Law Secret – Law of the Self-turning Wheel)
Uniting the divine-sky with the broad earth establishes the closed circuit of breathing – this is distinct from breathing in and out of the lungs.
Divine-sky (associated with number 9) and the broad earth (associated with number 6), turns the water-wheel – whilst the number 4 is associated with sorting the divining stalks (of the Yijing – or ‘Book of Changes’) and revealing the ‘empty’ nature of ultimate truth.
Although in theory each chapter contains the essence of the other 15 chapters in Zhao’s self-cultivation text, it is in chapter 9 (and through the instruction found in the following 7 chapters) that that the subject of attaining ‘great serenity’ is formally introduced. Zhao Bichen states:
‘Walking, standing, rising and reclining (in the performance of daily work) are all appropriate times for turning the wheel of the law, the purpose of which is to sublimate prenatal vitality in order to nurture eternal life.’
In this stage of developmental being, it is important that all leakage of generative fluid (jing) should cease. Although lay-people follow the Qianfeng path, generally speaking, repeated periods of one hundred days of intense neidan practice are used to gather qi-energy, restore generative fluid (jing), and cultivate empty spirit (shen). Zhao Bichen continuously advises male disciples that during these times, that the loss of generative fluid through spontaneous night-time emissions, should be reduced and permanently eradicated from the body’s patterns of behaviour. As night-time emissions occur during periods of sleep, they are linked in essence to the type of dream experienced by the practitioner. The Tan Ching states that a perfect being has no dreams – Zhao clarifies this statement by explaining that a perfected being no longer experiences bad or lustful dreams that cause the penis to react and the body to emit (and waste) generative fluid.
If vital energy (qi), generative fluid (jing), and empty spirit (shen), are united and returned to the source of their origination, then the state of profound and all-embracing emptiness is realised. When realising ‘stillness’, a practitioner may experience minor serenity (which lasts one day), moderate serenity (which lasts three days), or major serenity (which will last seven days). These experiences should not be taken for the great death associated with transformation, but rather the return of all things to the underlying state of emptiness – which is the gathering of all energy into the ‘bright pearl’. This is an important stage that requires a complete withdrawal from the world so that great serenity can be fully cultivated, and prenatal vitality, (i.e. immaculate qi), can emerge from emptiness. This is where the community of Daoist aspirants are required to selflessly support one another. This is where there is a transition from the gross breathing associated with the mouth and nose, to that of ‘immortal’ – or ‘self-sustaining’ – inner breathing. This is the circulation of energy throughout the meridians of the body which is not dependent upon oxygen entering and leaving the mouth and nose. An ancient immortal said:
‘Men are subject to birth and death because they breathe in and out by the nostrils and mouth; if they (practically) cease breathing they will realise immortality.’
Major serenity is achieved when the ordinary breath recedes into the background and becomes very slight and almost unobservable and is replaced in prominence by immortal breathing, which has nothing to do with ordinary oxygen gathering. The development of immortal breathing does not mean that ordinary breathing ceases completely, but rather that its manifestation is radically transformed. The physical body becomes saturated with energy and is no longer reliant upon the breathing mechanism to gather strength through oxygen. Oxygen is still gathered, however, as this maintains ‘physical’ existence in the world, but even if the body were to exert itself dramatically, there would be no increase in heart-rate, nor any need to breathe more deeply. This is the teaching of the Daoist concept of the conservation of energy, and even if the lower tan t’ien vibrates the presence of prenatal vitality will see this eventually merge with the peace and emptiness of serenity. Prenatal and postnatal (i.e. ‘ordinary’) vitality travels freely up and down the meridians throughout the body. Zhao Bichen states:
‘If postnatal (vital) breath is harnessed to vibrations in the lower tan t’ien centre (under the navel) prenatal vitality will ascend while postnatal (vital) breath will descend, and vice versa; these alternating ascents and descents which make four movements up and down are not caused by breathing through the nostrils and mouth, but by postnatal inner breath which starts from the heels and the mortal gate (the point between the genitalia and anus); this is postnatal (vital) breath which while descending and ascending drives prenatal vitality up the channel of control (the governing vessel of the spine), to the brain and then down through the channel of function (or ‘conception vessel’) to the cavity of mortality, that is ascent and descent of prenatal vitality in these two main channels.’
This surface meaning of this chapter warns against ‘sleepiness’ and the loss of generative fluid – both of which render all Daoist paths ineffective. The deeper meaning of this chapter is the attaining of immortal breathing over that of mortal breathing. Although the two are linked, the latter is not dependent upon the former, but instead emerges from it through the effective self-cultivation of profound awareness.
10) The Method of Gathering Vitality
Original Title: 第十法诀-收气法诀 – (Da Shi Fa Jue – Shou Qi Fa Jue)
(Number 10 Law Secret – Gathering Energy Law Method)
Press the dragon and tiger (pressure points) in the palms – and touch the tongue to the palate which connects the centre of the brain with the governing vessel.
Breathe in to lift the energy to the centre of the brain, and breathe out to descend the energy to the base of the genitalia – this will cause the male organ to retract and preserve generative force.
Taoist Yoga was originally published in the 1970’s during the lifetime of Charles Luk who passed away in 1978, however, on the cover of the 1988 edition, the publishers dishonestly claimed that Zhao Bichen’s work was a manual of ancient Chinese sexual teachings. In actuality, Zhao Bichen stated:
‘All this has nothing to do with sexual desires. However, if you give rise to lust while practising alchemy you will make a very, very grave mistake and I shall not accept you as my disciple.’
Time and again, Zhao Bichen makes it clear that lust is the enemy of Daoist self-cultivation – even for a lay-person. Zhao links lustful thought to the unnecessary loss of generative fluid (jing), and the general weakening of the inner and outer processes of the body. Lust also clouds the mind and prevents the clear thought of wisdom from manifesting. In this state, vitality is scattered and the individual is weak in all places. For the male practitioner, lustful thoughts lead to the erection of the penis and consequently to the emission of seminal fluid (or generative force). Should an erection occur, the eyes should be rolled in a clockwise direction (starting from the 6 o’clock position) and the centre of the palms pressed with the middle-fingers. The centre of the palms represent the dragon and tiger cavities which must be pressed as the tongue touches the palate, whilst the vital qi-energy is purposely raised up the governing – to the top of the head – and down the conception vessel and firmly into the lower tan t’ien. This action (and visualisation) prevents the unnecessary loss of generative fluid through night time emission. This chapter should be carefully studied so that sexual desire is permanently eradicated from the mind and body.
11) Guiding the Elixir of Immortality into the Cauldron
Original Title: 第十一法诀-灵丹入鼎 (Da Shi Yi Fa Jue – Ling Dan Ru Ding)
(Number 11 Law Secret – Spirit Medicine Enters the Cauldron)
The foetus is refined because of the ball of fire – the empty chamber of life is illuminated beyond measure.
Through continuous circulation and refinement, the golden light manifests – and with the unification of the circulatory system, the development of the great medicine is accomplished.
The flow of sparkling beads allows for unity through self-examination – as all drops naturally into the energy centre.
The pill once swallowed drops into the abdomen – then it is known that an immortal exists in the world.
Zhao Bichen states:
‘During my meditation under the guidance of my masters Liao Jen and Liao K’ung, I practiced the ten steps to build up the generative and vital forces in sufficient quantities and then to transmute the generative force into its prenatal form of vitality in order to produce the immortal seed. During each daily sitting I drew the pupils of my eyes close together to concentrate on my lower abdomen until I felt something like itching over my face, a spider’s web covering it and a swarm of ants crawling over it; this showed that prenatal vitality pervaded all parts of my body. The dragon’s hum and the tiger’s roar were in my ears, and more saliva gathered than I could swallow (in one gulp). Then suddenly I sank into a state of indistinctiveness wherein my consciousness and awareness of things seemed to vanish. My body seemed to roam on the top of the clouds. This revealed prenatal vitality that nurtured and developed the immortal seed.’
The ten steps Zhao Bichen alludes to are:
i) Do not participate in excessive walking – as this adversely affects the nerves.
ii) Do not participate in excessive standing – as this adversely affects the bones.
iii) Do not participate in excessive sitting – as this adversely affects the blood.
iv) Do not participate in excessive sleeping – as this adversely affects the blood vessels.
v) Do not participate in excessive listening – as this adversely affects the generative force (jing).
vi) Do not participate in excessive looking at things – as this adversely affects the spirit (shen).
vii) Do not participate in excessive speaking – as this adversely affects the breath (qi).
viii) Do not participate in excessive thinking – as this adversely affects the stomach.
ix) Do not participate in excessive sexuality – as this adversely affects the length of life.
x) Do not participate in excessive eating – as this adversely affects the heart.
These ten steps are augmented by a further six:
a) Never give rise to thoughts which cause the (inner) fire to flare up.
b) Never relax the concentration to avoid cooling down the (inner) fire.
c) Never look at external objects, as the spirit (shen) wanders and this harms the incorporeal soul (hun).
d) Never listen to external sounds as this scatters the generative fluid (jing), and harms the corporeal soul (p’o).
e) Never breath quickly, as such breaths disperse quickly and cannot be adequately controlled and regulated.
f) Never break the breathing rhythm abruptly, as sudden stopping renders the breath weak when resumed. This cools the vital breath (qi) upon stopping, and heats the vital breath (qi) upon resuming – this inconsistency damages the immortal seed.
Zhao Bichen continues:
‘When the generative force (jing) has been restored in full and becomes as effective as at puberty, which is revealed when the genital organ draws in, both positive (yang) and negative (yin) vitalities (qi) unite to produce a bright golden light which shines like pure gold. The white light of vitality (qi) reveals the imperfect body containing negative (yin) principle which can produce earthly states while the golden light reveals the fullness of generative force (jing), vitality (qi) and spirit (shen) which unite into a whole.’
The achievement of the objective of chapter 11 – Guiding the Elixir of Immortality into the Cauldron – is the consequence of the correct practicing of the instructions contained within chapters 1-6. Zhao Bichen finishes this chapter with tears in his eyes – as he recalls that he has spent his life searching for true Daoist knowledge (which he has just revealed above), and in the process suffered many great hardships and set-backs. He further explains that he trained with over 30 masters but most did not possess genuine knowledge. He has revealed this knowledge out of compassion for humanity.
12) Refining the Elixir of Immortality
Original Title: 第十二法诀·温养灵丹 – (Da Shi Er Fa Jue – Wen Yang Ling Dan)
(Number 12 Law Secret – Warm Cultivation of the Spirit Energy)
The four cultivations are empty of emptiness – and through this force of fiery cultivation, lead and mercury are produced.
The dragon’s hum and the tiger’s roar are the products of unity through self-examination – this is how the yellow shoot of illumination rises to the clouds.
Zhao Bichen states:
‘My master Liao K’ung said:
“At the first manifestation of positive light, you should immediately provide yourself with the four necessities (for advanced training). When it manifests for the second time, you should at once stop the fire to produce the macrocosmic alchemical agent. When it manifest for the third time, you should immediately gather the macrocosmic agent to achieve the breakthrough in order to transmute vitality into spirit thereby leaping over the worldly to the saintly state, and so leaving the state of serenity to appear in countless transformation bodies.”
The final achievement is made possible by the breakthrough as the main step.’
The ‘four necessities’ for advanced self-cultivation are:
a) A round wooden seat shaped like a small Chinese bun (man t’ou), covered with cotton padding, to sit on to block the (mortal gate) situated near the anus; and a clothes-peg to close the nostrils – these implements prevent the leakage of vitality (qi) from these bodily areas – and were invented by the Immortals Ts’ao and Ch’iu.
b) There should be money to buy food for the practiser and his companions for a three to nine year period.
c) Companions are friends in the Dao who are also practising alchemy, and who are willing to help one another.
d) A quiet hut or temple far away from the negative (qi) effects associated with a town, city, or cemetery.
Through returning all phenomena to its empty root, and unblocking all the psychic (meridian) channels, the light of nature is produced in the spot behind the forehead and between the eyes (the ancestral cavity or upper tan t’ien), and the light of life is produced in the lower tan t’ien. When the light is ‘gathered’, or ‘integrated’, the ‘immortal seed’ is produced. However, the practitioner must dedicate him or herself totally to the goal of generating and merging the two lights into the immortal seed by retiring into solitude where there is support for this kind of practice. This is because the mind (and body) must be distracted or otherwise bothered by the emotions and activities associated with ordinary living. This includes the ignoring of the arising of imagined paradises and hellish landscapes in the mind whilst cultivating ‘stillness’, at the same time clearly hearing the tiger’s roar in the left ear, and the dragon’s hum in the right ear. The tiger’s roar reveals optimum vitality (qi), whilst the dragon’s hum displayed developed generative force (jing).
The six signs that indicate that the immortal seed is complete, are as follows:
i) The manifestation of Golden light in the eyes that illuminate and unites the upper, middle, and lower tan t’iens, which is the integration of generative force (jing), vitality (qi), and empty spirit (shen).
ii) The dragon’s hum indicates the presence of vitality (qi) flow in the generative force (jing), which penetrates the nervous and meridian systems – making unusual but distinct noises.
iii) The tiger’s roar indicates a fully activated and optimised vitality (qi) flow,
iv) The back of the skull vibrates revealing the strength of fire in the generative force (jing), vitality (qi), and empty spirit (shen). This is distinct from the wrong kind of fire – which causes a confusing buzzing in the ears.
v) Generative force (jing), and vitality (qi) gives rise to a blazing fire in the lower tan t’ien, which scorches the kidney. Stay alert, as fuel so close to the fire can cause unwanted sexual emissions which weaken the system and regress development.
vi) The genital organ retracts and becomes inactive. Fire should not be stopped until the penis is fully retracted as if it were in the womb – prior to birth into the world.
13) Gathering the Macrocosmic Alchemical Agent for the Final Breakthrough
Original Title: 第十三法诀-采大药过关 – (Di Shi San Fa Jue – Cai Da Yao Guo Guan)
(Number 13 Law Secret – Gathering the Great Medicine to Pass Through the Last Barrier)
The wooden meditation seat allows the energy to gather, increase and rise – the five dragons supporting the sage arrive through excellence in self-cultivation as the three orifices are closed.
The three vehicles guide the energy to the centre of the top of the head – close the nose with a wooden peg to enhance the length of life.
The tail gate is secured for the four roads to pass through – if this is not the case, the three cavities will leak energy and the mind will sink into discrimination.
Beware of the realisation of a false Dao – and use the wooden meditation seat to prevent regression.
With the three orifices closed, the energy can be gathered – the five dragons assist the sage to pass through into the true Dao.
Without true intention, the three vehicles cannot function – and true treasure is lost forever with no one else to blame.
Six vibrations of the organs is the true treasure rising – this is the arrival of the five dragons to assist the sage.
The four phases together normalise the Yellow Dao – three flowers rise to the top and the three vehicles naturally lift the energy without effort.
It is within ‘stillness’ that all progress is made, even though up to this point, all the previous twelve stages can be achieved whilst living within lay-society. From Chapter 13 onward Zhao Bichen now emphasises retiring to a quiet location with the provisions mentioned in Chapter 12. However, Zhao Bichen clearly states a Confucian injunction against leaving society if the circumstances are not correct to do so:
‘When the golden light of this immortal seed manifests for the first time before his eyes, the practiser should immediately provide himself with the four necessities such as the required implements, provisions, companions and a quiet place for advanced training. If he is young and has parents and children to look after, he cannot retire to the mountain to train for the breakthrough and the final leap over the worldly; he is, however, an earthly seer enjoying long life and freedom from all ailments. If his parents have died, his children have grown up and are independent, and he has no dependents to look after, he should provide himself quickly with these four necessities.’
If vitality (qi) successfully unites with empty spirit (shen), then the immortal seed is manifest, with the experience of white light in the heart, and flashing lights in the head, together with the hearing of the tiger’s roar and the dragon’s hum. If the experienced light is not at its full intensity, then a period of further training, under genuine masters is needed. Zhao Bichen advises a profound and ‘still’ meditative practice that returns all sensory stimulus to its empty origin, (or ‘One Reality’) and simultaneously develops and unites the three treasures (i.e. qi, jing, and shen). This practice, if successful, should result in an all-embracing mind. Zhao Bichen states:
‘As to the method of gathering the macrocosmic alchemical agent within seven days for the final breakthrough, it consists of daily (constant) concentration of the two eyes on the lower t’ien centre (under navel) so that, as time passes, the six foretelling states will manifest. The practiser should use the method of shaking the six sense organs to arouse the immortal seed so that it will pass through the three gates (in the backbone).’
The six sense organs are:
b) Genital organs
Through concentrating the mind this creates the vibrations of the organs, which arouses the immortal seed in the testicles, where it is moved into the mortal gate between the anus and the genitalia. The special Daoist seat blocks any energy escaping from this area. Through quiet meditation, and at the right moment, the eyes should be rolled to gently guide the immortal seed (which is synonymous with the macrocosmic alchemical agent) up through the spinal column (or governing vessel). This can be done through a gentle but firm concentration and the self-massaging (downwards) of the lower back area, or through the help of assistants who pinch the various areas of the spine to facilitate an upwards direction of travel. None of this procedure can be forced or rushed as the immortal seed ‘floats’ upwards on its own accord, as and when the inner terrain is made suitable through self-cultivation, for its ascent to the upper tan t’ien – where it should be contemplated with a quiet mind. This is the uniting of life-vitality with nature-spirit in the centre of the cerebrum (ni wan). To successfully achieve this stage, four techniques are required:
i) Sucking; this is the drawing of the breath up the nostrils whilst retaining right thought. This allows for the immortal seed (or ‘true gem’) to ascend the spinal area.
ii) Pressing; this is pressing the tongue up against the palate which completes the energy channel, whilst breathing into the nostrils and rolling the eyes appropriately. The true gem ascends according to the three different types of strength associated with the goat, deer, and ox pulling a cart up a hill. The practitioner should clearly distinguish between these three types of strength and correctly use them accordingly to help the ascending process.
iii) Pinching; this is performed by the practitioner’s companions who pinch specific areas of the spine to assist in the ascending of the true gem. Pinching frees one area by constricting another, and the true gem passes up the spine to the back of the head, where it passes into the centre of the brain.
iv) Shutting; this is the use of the clothes peg on the nose, and the wooden bun-like seat for the area near the anus, which prevents the leakage of energy through these areas. A finger is also used to directly press on (and shut) the mortal gate area.
The immortal seed is the product of the gathering together (and condensing) of the positive (yang) aspect of the generative force (jing), experienced as the realisation of the profound ‘white’ light of vitality (qi), which is distinguished in the text from the mature (or fully established) immortal seed itself, which is described as being a ‘golden’ light that represents the negative (yin) vitality (qi) of the generative force (jing). This is a precise explanation of how the vitality (qi) flow emanating in and from the generative force (jing), is to be correctly distinguished in both its yang and yin forms during self-cultivation.
14) Formation of the Immortal Foetus
Original Title: 第十四法诀-婴儿显形 – (Di Shi Si Fa Jue – Ying Er Xian Xing)
(Number 14 Law Secret – Foetus Manifests its Form)
Jump over the sea of bitterness – wash one’s hands (of delusion) and be happy without a care.
This is the way to make a great (spiritual) merit beyond measure – and to transform the world into an enlightened state.
The immortal seed is transformed into the immortal foetus when the ‘white’ light and ‘golden’ light are integrated into one another through correct meditation and visualisation work. This is the uniting of the ‘positive’ (yang) vitality (qi) – or ‘white’ light, with the negative (yin) vitality (qi) – or ‘golden’ light, that have emerged through self-cultivation from the generative force (jing). Whereas the positive (yang) is taken to represent ‘vitality’ (qi), the negative (yin) energy of the immortal seed is taken to represent empty spirit (shen). The generative force (jing) manifests both vitality (qi) and empty spirit (shen), the latter two of which unite to form the immortal foetus. The immortal foetus is ethereal and is not a material structure, but rather indicative of a profound psycho-physical transformative process that unites the inherent energies found within the mind and body without recourse to sexual congress with an external partner. Sexual congress with an external partner will create a real or material foetus in the womb, which is viewed within certain schools of Daoist philosophy (but not others), as the continuation of ignorance perpetuated through the condition of incompleteness. Within Qianfeng Daoism, however, at least where intensive self-cultivation is concerned, the return to ‘oneness’ has to be achieved through solitary effort and the refining and uniting of inherent energy through the following of a specific set of instructions administered by qualified instructors. The attainment of the immortal foetus is the attainment of ‘emptiness’, which is the product of the correct and permanent re-unification of energy in the mind, body, and universe. This is why Zhao Bichen states:
‘After this successful practice of the thirteen previous steps (Chapters 1 to 13) has achieved the breakthrough, the practiser should unite the two vitalities (of nature and life) to help form the immortal foetus. Forgetfulness of (i.e. not thinking about) the circulation of the two vitalities (in the microcosmic orbit) will produce the foetal spirit which will return to the state of utter serenity which is true foetal breath.’
The vitality (qi) of nature is represented by negative (yin) energy – experienced as the cultivated golden light; whilst the vitality of life is positive (yang) energy as experienced through the realisation of the cultivated white light. As is always the case within Daoist terminology, many terms can be used to describe the same process in many different ways – even terms with apparent contradictory meanings. Confusion can be avoided if the essence of Zhao Bichen’s instructions are adhered to. In this stage all is ‘still’ meditation where even the visualisation of qi circulation within the body and mind is abandoned. If the senses (and their sense-objects) have not been successfully returned to their empty mind essence, then Qianfeng Daoist self-cultivation cannot take place to any great or deep extent. This is because the senses have not yet been purified and their distorting influence will sully any efforts to progress in the Dao. Even in chapter 1, Zhao Bichen states clearly that he is emphasising seated mediation as the means to achieve Daoist immortality. Later on he reveals the returning of all sensory stimulus to its empty mind root – a technique very common within Ch’an Buddhism practice referred to as the hua tou (word head) method. Up until the (generation and) penetration into empty spirit (shen), the aspirant is advised to discipline the mind and body by turning the gaze inward, to clearly discern (and differentiate) the qi (presence and) flow throughout the meridians. Through the acquisition of this subjective knowledge, the foundation work of Daoist self-cultivation (neidan) is achieved. The alchemical – or ‘transmutation’ – process ensures the building and strengthening of generative force (jing), and it’s refinement into vitality (qi). Vitality (qi) is then further refined into empty spirit (shen), as the eight major energy channels (meridians) are thoroughly cleansed and opened. Zhao Bichen states:
‘The tan t’ien under the navel is where the generative force (jing) is sublimated into vitality (qi); the middle tan t’ien (solar plexus) is where vitality is sublimated into spirit; and the upper tan t’ien in the brain (ni wan) is where spirit (shen) is sublimated for its flight into space.’
When the great and profound emptiness is realised, the negative (yin) and positive (yang) vitalities (qi) will flow unhindered around and through the body and mind, and there is no need to concentrate on their flow. This is the circulation of the foetal breath that leads to the creation of the immortal foetus. At this stage, no attention is paid to inner circulation or breathing through the nose and mouth – which appears to cease – but in reality continues to function in a very subtle and non-prominent manner. The mind should look intently at the lower tan t’ien, and in around two years, the spiritual breath will start to vibrate in this area. It is important that this process remains free of conscious control, and that the breath remains unregulated. This allows the foetal breath to ascend slowly up from the lower, to the middle, and finally into the upper tan t’ien area (known as the threefold ascension process). Serenity is realised in four distinct stages:
d) Non-mindfulness of worldly existence
The foetal breath enters the middle tan t’ien (in the solar plexus) and is bathed in prenatal vitality (qi) which transforms it into the immortal foetus. Empty spirit (shen) is developed which then produces its own vitality (qi) that manifests as light before the eyes; this generates the following six attributes:
1) Generative force (jing) and vitality (qi) cease to drain away
2) Divine sight
3) Divine hearing
4) Knowledge of past lives
5) Understanding of others minds
6) The divine mirror
An advanced student at this stage also develops the following abilities:
i) Sees all things in heaven
ii) Hears heavenly sounds and voices
iii) Knows all former causes from past lives
iv) Read minds and predict the future
v) Realisation of the divine mirror (all-embracing reflecting mind)
However, if the duality of ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ are not given-up, the divine mirror will remain sullied by its attachment to the outer world and cause all kinds of hellish visions. Ordinary deluded consciousness must die if true essential nature is to reassert itself. Zhao Bichen states:
‘When flowers are seen falling in disorder from the sky, the practiser should use the method of stirring a thought to jump into the great emptiness, and he will emerge from the immortal foetus.’
This is the attainment of rebirth whilst still living in a single lifetime. From the immortal foetus of highly refined energy (in all its constituent components), the true and profound void is realised and entered.
15) The Egress
Original Title: 第十五法诀-出神内院 – (Di Shi Wu Fa Jue – Chu Shen Nei Yuan)
(Number 15 Law Secret – Transcendent Spirit [achieved through] Inner Control)
When the vision looks within, the wonderful spirit is beyond measure – the bright light of wisdom illuminates the universe.
All teachings become as ‘one’ and all negativity is abandoned – as the true teaching creates immortality.
Charles Luk translates this chapter as ‘The egress’ – referring to the fact that at this stage, the mind and body, as well as all the accumulated self-cultivation achieved so far, are thoroughly abandoned so as to initiate the final ‘escape’ from mortality into immortality. For Zhao Bichen, immortality is not simply a matter of physically living forever, but is rather an expression of an optimised mind-body-environmental presence in the world that is thoroughly integrated. Daoist self-cultivation prepares the inner mind and body (through cultivated awareness) for the final breakthrough, or more appropriately ‘breakout’ of the limited perspective associated with an introverted observation of the body and its operating, inner processes. Chapter 15 represents the recovery of an expanded consciousness – that is an awareness unsullied by a dualistic mind-set that separates the world into an arbitrary ‘subject’ and ‘object’ dichotomy – that is believed by Daoists to be the original ‘prenatal’ or ‘pre-birth’ pristine state of mind that is lost through the birthing process and the cutting of the umbilical cord. Breathing through the nose and mouth is considered a lesser form of existing, which can be rectified through Daoist self-cultivation and the refinement of energy. A functioning adult human can regain the ability to breath in a prenatal manner whilst still occupying a physical body that has left the womb. To do this, a ‘new’ foetus has to be developed in the lower tan t’ien that acts as a womb. This foetus is gestated through the condensing and relocation of the body’s inner energies, before allowing the individual to be ‘born again’ out of the theoretical foetus and into the entire universe. When the practitioner sees flying snow and falling flowers, it is time to leave the foetus. Zhao Bichen states:
‘The serenity of the foetus depends solely on the practiser’s unflinching faith; and during the ten months of its formation his mind should be set uniquely on it. (At this stage) neither the mouth nor the heart (i.e. neither words nor thoughts) are directed to the foetus whose serenity results from stopping the thinking process, and regulating the breath which brings about its full development and maturity.
When the practiser sees flying snow and falling flowers, he should, in order to leave the immortal foetus, hasten to give rise to the thought of leaping into the great emptiness, which will open the heavenly gate (miao men) of the sun and the moon (i.e. the two eyes) which he, now free from feelings and passions, and in accord with (essential) nature, should roll so that the two lights meet. This is the method of coming out of the foetus which the ancients did not lightly disclose for it should not be revealed to those who have not received instruction from competent masters.’
Zhao Kuiyi states:
‘When the three essentials (i.e. the generative force, vitality and spirit) gather in the brain, the moonlight shines brighter; when the fire (vital) breaths soar up to the head, the golden light will appear; and when the two (positive and negative) vitalities unite and return to the essential body, the spiritual self will appear in its centre.’
Liao Kong states:
‘When spirit soars up to the top of the head after breaking through its original cavity) between and behind the eyes), do not give rise to fear and awe; be bold and concentrate on the sole thought of getting put through the heavenly gate (in the top of the skull). Then close your eyes, turn them down and lift them gently as if to jump up; you will feel as if coming out of a dream and will see another body beside your own.’
Liao Jen states:
‘When the positive spirit leaves the body for the first time, the student should, after achieving complete serenity, practice the method of directing the five vitalities (to the head) and of giving rise to the single thought of stepping into the great emptiness in order to transform spirit into a golden light the size of a great wheel which should then unite with the light of his spiritual nature into one single light in the centre of which (the form of his) positive spirit sits upright.’
The uniting of the vitalities (or qi energy associated with the five organs), cause the development of positive (yang) and negative (yin), which gives rise to the immortal seed and foetus and eventual escape there from, in the following developmental manner:
Even at this rarefied state, there is a risk that delusional thought may strike in the form of demons that drag the aspirant back into the mortal realm of the six existences. Zhao Bichen states: ‘It is indispensable to hold on to the golden light unflinchingly. When encountering the demon you should practice the seventh step (Chapter 7) to unite the generative force, vitality and spirit in order to transform this demon into positive breath which will sustain the positive spirit and wipe out all demonic states.’After this attainment, the practitioner should continue meditation upon the all-embracing ‘still’ state, so that positive (yang) spirit (shen) can be returned the state of profound emptiness.16) Appearing in SpaceOriginal Title: 第十六法诀-虚空显形 – (Di Shi Liu Fa Jue – Xu Kong Xian Xing)(Number 16 Law Secret – Empty Space Contains All Form)Chapter Poem
The empty void is smashed apart, all breath is extinguished and the Dao is attained – I ascend to the other shore without the use of a boat.
Refining spirit within the void creates a thousand changes – the golden body is produced within the great void.
Refining the (mind and) body eradicates all negativity – and the body naturally appears without hindrance in the ten directions.
This state is happy and carefree – as the emptiness is not empty.
Zhao Bichen states:
‘The training should continue no matter how long it takes until the four elements (that make the body) scatter, and space pulverises leaving no traces behind; this is the golden immortal stage of the indestructible diamond-body. This is the ultimate achievement of the training which now comes to an end.’
The four elements are body, breath, incorporeal spirit, and corporeal spirit (see ‘hun’ and ‘p’o’ above). This is the return to true ‘nothingness’ and the realisation of the pure ‘void’ so that all phenomena are wiped-out. The physical body is neither existent nor non-existent, and there is neither one-sided (i.e. ‘dualistic’) form nor void. Through the aperture at the top of the head, the old existence of dualistic living is permanently transcended and the awareness of the mind spreads to include the whole of creation. This state is likened to numerous bodies emanating from a single person, appearing in any and all places. Liao Kong states: