Thursday, September 1, 2011

The mythical North in Taoist meditation

As I explained in some previous posts, the Taoist North equals to geographical South and vice-verse. Why is it so? Is it because Taoist in the past wanted to mystify things? Certainly mystification is one possibility, with the objective of the image enhancement or "barrier to entry", to use our modern terminology. The practice of deep meditation works on one's inner feeling and experience which can better be influenced by one's imagery and visualization (the whole idea of literature works on the same principles). What significance is the North-South switch? This is the issue I'm going to tackle here.

North had a special signification in the Chinese mentality (clearly I'm not talking about modern Chinese). The South of China reaches to the sea, and southern tribes had not known to be aggressive, as with other nationals around the hotter south, people there have always been more lay-back. All troubles came from the North, including invaders and harsh climate. Yet, it was the North that ancient Chinese traded with the rest of the world to obtain exotic goods and articles, from as far as present day Iran.

Chinese believed that the sky (heaven) reflected (synchronized with) events on human affairs. Traditionally Chinese grouped heavenly stars into four, according to its geographic direction of North, South, East and West. Due to the concept of synchronicity, the North group held more significance in Chinese belief systems: in particular the Big Dipper held significant power on one's well being as well as practice (modern Taoists' idea of space travel often points its destination as the Big Dipper! Which is of course believe it or not.).

In Chinese mythology, the North group is represented by an image of a cross-breed of tortoise and snake (龜蛇) and is given a mythical name The Profound Warrior (玄武) of the North. In Taoist Neidan literature, the Profound Warrior is elevated to the status of god or high spirit who in certain cases will teach the profound teaching of Neidan to devoted meditation practitioners. In Tao lingo, North signifies Yang of Yin/Yang.

Thus it is naturally for Neidan practitioners to put mythical power on the symbol of North from which the original energy can be released. Looking back at Neidan from a practice perspective: The center of original energy (which is Yang) is located at the bottom of one's torso: lower abdomen. And the act of visualizing this center as North (for those with this cultural background or learned it through teachings and practice) can certainly stimulate one's Unconscious in activating one's internal original chi.

And I don't think ancient Taoist masters took it as a barrier to entry. It is only unfortunate that in a diagram of upright human torso, the lower abdomen is in the direction of geographical South. Perhaps our modern batman hanging himself upside down won't have that confusion!

The mythical Profound Warrior 玄武 (tortoise-snake 龜蛇)

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