Taoist Meditation— A Spiritual Path from China
We offer guided meditation that integrated with Taoist experiences over thousand years. It is a proved practice to enhance body and mind wellness. Meditators need to understand the theory and common respondings from practice at the beginning so that less confusion and negative effects could be avoided.
Below is the handout for our workshop taught ten years ago in Vancouver.
Session 1: Spiritual Path in China — Tao
People from every nation have the similar approach of the Spiritual research, seeking for the ultimate understanding of life and the world. A famous poet who was born in China over 2000 years ago wrote a long poem ” Question the Sky” with hundreds of questions. The following thousands of years saw people devoted themselves to the research and fortunately left tons of records of their experience. Every Chinese dynasty reorganized the asset of knowledge by compiling an imperial library to keep the valuable experiences from the last generation although wars and disasters kept destroy them. In the 1910s’ the cultural exchange between China and Japan brought back many valuable documents which have been lost in China over hundreds of years. A remarkable masterpiece of the Chinese Buddhist Tai Tai School was found and I will introduce in our course of Chi Meditation.
With the existing documents and unbroken lineage of the teaching, the Spiritual Path empowered by long history development in China should help the modern society to share the value which belongs to the global human beings and civilization. In Chinese culture, the core is the “Tao”, a word can only be fully understood with wisdom and practice. Before we start to step on the path, some principles need to be established as the traditional introduction.
We all follow the Tao, instructed in the classics and not the name of the author who might be famous for other respect but not necessary with the real understanding. Here, content is the king and many classics in Chinese history are anonymous, as they were not worried about the copyright and did not think themselves as the owner of the teaching, just a bridge to the real path. In the famous book of Laozi, one name is only a tag, not a precise definition at all. In many Chinese classics and legendary, the Tao was inherited from the previous civilization before the last glacial epoch. Followers of the Tao just practiced according to the different social and historical background then transferred to the next generation. In the Chinese character of the “Tao” (道), there is one component indicating “path to follow”.
Language is limited to describe the Tao and practitioners need to understand the true meaning through practice not just copy the words. As we know, the colloquial language will change nearly every 30 years and the ancient Chinese use the literary language to record their knowledge which can be read even today. People still need to understand the meaning in accordance with the related history, that is why the literature and history are not separated in China. In this course, we will learn the syllables of some ancient Chinese to practice the Chi in meditation. The pronunciation is restored to the way over 800 years ago.
We will follow the wisdom rather than the limited knowledge to practice. Our mind and sense have a physiological limit, which blocks the understanding as we cannot hear and see things that our organ won’t allow us. In China, the practice of Chi, I-Ching (Book of Change), poetic expression etc. all designed to disclose the wisdom of the spiritual upgrade from the barrier of knowledge. Logic and ultra-logic ways are both applied to assist the teaching. An open mind is a pre-requisite for this study.
The Tao is leading to an ultimate summit of the truth but many stopped at the wrong path. A real Tao is applicable to everyone in the world, regardless of the historical and social background. Our pre-occupied knowledge and experiences are very easy to mislead the practice. The phenomenon of the physiology and sensibility could lure us as deeply attached. Of course, any unhealthy body and mind will not be helpful here. When we explore the spiritual path, our body, the carrier demands a stable and reliable status. Body, mind, and spirit are integrated with the Chinese spiritual practice and meditation. Many people just enjoy the energy circulation which inspires joy or weird sensation, like we hope to prolong a wonderful dream. A relative “emptiness” could let us feel relax somehow, but that could only be a by-product of the consciousness not even be close to the Tao. Most practitioners get lost with the LSD or sleeping pill effect of the meditation. People with a full stomach of the appetizers won’t enjoy the main course.
The culture gap between west and east need to be bridged for the course be taught in English. The oriental culture seems to focus more on the rising side of the sun, more study on the origin and resource, while the west culture brings more focus on the development and result driving. Sun shines with its full power at noon or the dramatic sunset is more popular in the west’s vision. Evolution and renovation are the main melodies in a western style life, but in the pastime, eastern vision, the restoring and renewal of life is an asset that could be transferred in the family temple by bloodline, hence a good starting point is far more important than the occasional spark experienced for a short while. That is why elementary foundation takes a long time to set up in Chinese practice which leads to the concept of Kungfu — a practice takes time. This kind of different view could happen to anybody. In an old story of a young Zen master in Tang Dynasty of China, who one day toured with a prince-monk composed a poem in the mountain. “Never tired of the travel among thousands of mountains, only view at the longer distance could we see the origin is high at the peak.” (千山万水不辞劳，远看方知出处高); The prince-monk followed, ” no more little stream could accommodate me, eventually the ocean could be my home to wave” (涧溪那堪留得住，终归大海作波涛）In the history, the prince-monk left the temple and became an emperor while the young zen monk was famous for his enlightenment as a milestone.
Tao has practiced in China over 5000 years ago when Emperor Yao created the first calendar of China. He transferred the 16 words principle of the Tao to his following emperor Shun as ” Mind is unreliable while Tao is ultimate; only the origin of one could balance the general way”. (人心唯危，道心唯微，惟精惟一，允持厥中）The Confucius who compiled the Book of Change – – I-Ching, recorded this sentence and developed the idea. In the original study of Confucianism, sitting meditation is a must-have practice. The Taoist practitioners lived over 2000 years ago used the Tao as their symbol as they respected Laozi who wrote 5000 words of Tao, known as Tao Te Ching in the west. Taoists practice Chi to achieve the principle and understanding of Tao, they accumulated lots of experience on health, wellness and spiritual practice, which provided a profound foundation for the future acceptance of Buddhist teaching from India. Some of the Taoist principles had a lot of influence in the Traditional Chinese Medicine. The official introduction of Buddhist teaching came in the Han Dynasty of 2000 years ago. The beginning of translation borrowed a lot of words from Taoism, until 580AC, the first Chinese Buddhist school of Tian Tai established in Sui Dynasty. Chi Meditation was introduced in the Tian Tai master’s work of meditation. Later Taoist practitioners learned from Tian Tai school and adapted many different practices, some inspired Taoist yogi exercise known today as “Qigong” which named only around 1950′s.
Breathing is related to the health condition of the body and mind. Wheeziness happens when the lung is overloaded and the diaphragm is jammed with spasm. In traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is coursed mostly by the deficiency of energy in Lung and Kidney system. Fast breathing also happens when the heartbeat is going high, as Chi is driving the blood circulation. When the lung has to work hard to take oxygen, the artery that transport blood to supply the brain will be limited and the brain won’t work well. Brain activity with thinking will consume a lot of demand for oxygen, which burns five times the supply the rest of the body need. Of course, an overacted brain will course hypertension that is why people apply too much visualization or mindfulness focus in the head (like focus on the third eye) will course high blood pressure, ended up with a reddish face. The bright and red face shows the others a healthy outlook, but eventually will be dangerous for a future stroke. Many practitioners died of hypertension and stroke in that way, or suffer lower limb paralysis and vein problem. There are techniques that could help those with asthma or wheeziness. Chi meditation can help improve the lung capacity and kidney energy, therefore correct the imbalance. The 6 mantra practice and hearing meditation techniques can be applied for help. Our ears link with the kidney( shape like the ear), the inner hearing meditation can stimulate the energy of the kidney so that the kidney could retain more inhale and promote the lung. In the first TCM book, Yellow Emperor Neijing, more details were described to explain the network among organs and related performance. Chi and meridian is one important study for a better understanding and practice. With each inhale, the Chi circulates along the meridian with certain speed to fulfill its performance. The oxygen will help cells release energy but too much oxygen intake will course the aging comes early, as oxidization means to end our carbohydrate body earlier. When we look at people live on the highland, the answer is obvious. Slower breathing is helpful for meditation as the moderate volume of oxygen in the brain cell can relax the central nerves system to stay calm. People with acupuncture experience will feel relaxed while the meridian system is tuned with a lower speed of breathing. People with stress will find irregular breathing pattern as the tense could bother the performance of diaphragm and the whole body feels stiff. An infant with no emotional or health disorder enjoys slow, relaxing breathing and softness of the body. Laozi said we should restore the status as an infant. In Buddhist teaching, the rest of breathing will leave a soft body and mind.
When we focus on thinking or performance, we could notice that the breathing is diminished, or even rest for instance when one focus a camera to shoot. Actually, there is a direct link between mind and breathing, the reduced mind activity will slow breathing. The emptiness of mind can only match a rest of breath, just like the infant does. In the ancient classics of Yellow Emperor Yin Fu Jing, the secret to tailor the mind is by switching the Chi. Another key is the eye which will be introduced later.
A healthy body can rest the breathing, and the emptiness of mind can do the same. The slow breathing can enhance wellness and anchor the mind.
When Chi is united as one, it can influence the mind; when the mind is focused as one, it can influence the Chi.(“志壹则动气，气壹则动志也。”) This concept was narrated by Mengzi /Mencius (ca. 371-ca. 289 BC) who was a follower of Confucius. The oneness here refers to the status of Tao, by which can make the sky clear, the ground peaceful and the human is wise. (“天得一以清，地得一以宁，人得一以灵“）In the famous Forbidden City in Beijing, there are three main palaces titled by this principle. Actually, in the meditation practice, the sky refers to the purity and stillness of mind, the ground refers to the central systems of the body ( digestion system), and the human is the spiritual owner of the body. Sky, ground, and human are coded as three treasures (三才） in Chinese culture，which is also the center of meditation. When Laozi said, ” the human learn from the ground, the ground follows the sky, the sky follows the Tao, and the Tao functions as its origin”(人法地，地法天，天法道，道法自然。), he also disclosed the ladder to upgrade our body, mind, and spirit. The ground provides us essence (精） of food, water, and air, which enable the body alive with energy; the sky with climate and time running influence our Chi(炁) circulation and transformation; and the Tao functions the spirit (神）performance. Essence, Chi and spirit are taken as the three treasures of the body（三花）, or three ultimate remedies. The practice of Taoist meditation is to accumulate the essence in order to transform the Chi, then enhance the Chi to transform the spirit and eventually restore the spirit to the original Tao”炼精化炁，炼炁化神，炼神还虚”.
The property of the mind is divided into 8 layers, while here we will discuss 7 of it. Our sensor of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind functions all the time. The mind includes consciousness and sub-consciousness which has more layers than the modern science disclosed. The eye is like a telescope which shows only the scope with a focus. The view is reflected just by the focus. Here, a reflection means we only see the light that comes from an object the eyeball collects. A star in the night sky reflected a beam of light, which traveled many light years till reaching our eyes, the star might already collapse, but we do not know until one day we cannot see it again. And yet we all believe we have seen the star in the distance, which is not really the case at all. Our eyes can reflect only a short range of beams which the nerves can process. With the help of infra-red scope, we can see some objects in the darkness. Recognizing the object our eyes could tell is changed or limited could help us to rewind the attachment with the vision. When the eye is focused on one target, it notices also things around the focus but not working with the distinguish mind. Here, we find two layers of the mind, one is working with the brain to observe the object we focus; the other is linked with the eyeball to collect light. Walking in the street with deep thinking of other things, we naturally turn around objects that block our walk, and yet we will not recognize the people we know passes by until he or she stops you. During sleep, we have the eyes closed, but we sure see things in our dream. Close our eyes in the daytime, we cannot see things but the function of looking is still working, so that we “see” dark shadow in front of us. During meditation, we need to give up the unreliable mind, switch the eye looking forward but not work with the view. This principle works the same with our ear, nose, tongue, and body.
Session 3 Four steps of life
Following the introduction of the breathing and mind property, let us look into the body which experiences four steps in life, namely Birth, Aging, Ailment, and Death.
The study of the infant in womb development was recorded early in Yellow emperor Neijing and Buddhist Sutra of Birth. Both described the 38 weeks development with a seven-day pattern. As we know, the concept of “week” was established with the Bible in the west, while the Chinese and Ancient Indian culture set up the regulation over 3000 years ago. In the I-Ching, Book of Change, the seven days pattern of change was disclosed and formulated to describe the change of life. Chinese zodiac with Indian image of associated animal symbols formulated a wheel of time to show us the regulation of Chi activity. The 12 “Pi Gua”(diagrams used in I-Ching) is a good example to tell the seasonal and hourly change of Chi, related to specific internal organs. Please study more details with the slideshow published.
Session 4 Chi Meditation
Find a good hub for your meditation
A room with fresh air is good for meditation. Make sure the wind is not coming up to you in the front or from your back, as when we sit for meditation all pores of skin will be open. Light in the room should be natural, not too strong or dark. Keep your neck and knees covered with towel or blanket if the room temperature is low. A Too noisy neighborhood is not ideal but when your meditation skill develops, it won’t be a big deal. Do not sit for meditation when you feel hungry or just finish eating your meal. For safety reason, burning candle or incense stick is not good and any strong smell will disturb the nerves. We need a place where all of our sensors will be easily calm down and feel no stress.
Adjust the body for meditation
Circulation and balance of the Chi will guide a successful mediation. We will stretch our body first after we head for a cushion to sit on.
First, stretch the spine up by lift both shoulders while strengthening arms with fists based upon the groin part of the thighs. This helps to open the ribs and raise the collarbone which allows more lung capacity developed. Inhale slowly with the stretch and then exhale a bit fast while putting the shoulder down. Repeat 3-4 times to fill the lung and release any tension held by the shoulders.
Second, lift the shoulders as above, then use the tip of the chin to cycle clock wisely three times first, then counter-clock wisely three times in the vertical direction; then rotate the head around with the support of the lifted shoulders.
Third, swing the spine along clockwise and counter-clockwise three times.
Now we could arrange the body to start the meditation. There are seven important points to follow:
1. Find a seat with comfort support which allows our feet crossed by sitting on a cushion about 2 inches high; or a chair enable our feet lay on the floor with good support;
2. Keep the spine erect so that the discs are free with extra pressure which will cause tension along the spine; Do not force the spine to be straight if people have scoliosis problems or too weak;
3. Rest the right hand on the left palm and connect slightly the tip of both thumbs. The hands should be put on the thighs and be stable during meditation.
4.Opening the joint case of shoulders by visualizing an egg size ball fill the space of armpits, keep the collarbone even and relax.
5. Keep the head straight upward and collect the chin to press slightly over the cervical arteries. (Not to lean the head forward, this adjustment is very important. Try to draw the chin to the chest bone first, then release it back to let the head up.)
6. Closing the eyelids or just leave a bit light in, the vision should be extended to 4 meters away;
7. Raise the tip of tongue touch slightly on the upper roof behind the upper gum.
Adjustment for the Chi
As the mind and Chi are linked, we start with smiles, which will help to relax the nerves. Inhale slowly like smelling a flower, then exhale a bit fast through your nose. Repeat several times till you feel at ease. Exhale can help release any tension with joints.
Try the silent chanting of Six Chi Mantra, with the order of “Ho”,”Hui”,”Fu”,”Tsui”,”Hei” and “Tsei”. Please follow the in-class directions to make the accurate pronunciation. Each mantra can be repeated 6-10 times, or repeat the specific one with your own health concern. Chanting undergoes with the exhale and close your mouth when finish, then the inhale will come in automatically with no effort. This exercise will help detox internal organs and bring balance to the system. The technique was introduced by Tian Tai Master who established the first Chinese Buddhist school and published the most elementary meditation textbook. Many Taoist and other schools followed up with the same introduction to their practice.
Practices of Chi Meditation
Finally, we enter the Chi Meditation, which is also named as “Ana-pana” like the ancient Indian translation. “Ana” means inhale, and “pana” means exhale. With the previous effort, the body should enjoy a slower breathing with smoothly running. Focus on your exhale and follows until the end of the exhale then count number one; that is the period between our exhale and inhale when we experience a moment of stillness. There is no effort for the inhale, just focus your mind following the exhale and continue the counting from one to ten, if any floating thoughts disturb your counting, please restart from one. As the life counts on breathing, the meditation goes with awareness. No need to feel annoyed by the breaking thoughts that lure the mind nowhere. Everything takes time to develop and the notice of our wondering thoughts means we are on the way of clarity. In a dark room, we will not notice flying dust, until a beam of light shoots in. It is the same for meditation.
When we finalize our meditation, body exercise will wipe any stiff or tension we might carry during the meditation session. For beginners of meditation, each session should be short, just about 15 minutes will be good. 2-3 sessions per day will help build up the experience and not feeling boiled. The body exercise and self-massage help to improve chi and blood circulation. Only on-site teaching could show correct performance.
Baduanjin, a famous energy exercise with over 500 years history is a good stretch before or after meditation to make sure the meridians and tendons are fit for practice. Below is a demo clip for reference:
Session 5 Meditation and Stillness
Stillness is the goal here for any meditation that could bring us to the ultimate wellness and wisdom, and yet many different schools leading different paths right from here, either stop at fake destinations or lured to another side paths. Basically, practitioners all facing two problems: fall to drowsy moments or be bothered with floating thoughts that leave no focus at all. The emotional reaction and sensational response occupy our meditation almost all the time. Here, let’s look at some facts as a checklist for your practice.
Eight status that disturbs meditation:
The above 8 points were concluded from Tian Tai school of Chinese Buddhist meditation, and a real stillness should leave any of those.
Eight response during meditation
The above responses all work on our sensibility during the practice. No matter which one we feel, it is only phenomena on the path, ignore it and continue head for the stillness.