Thursday, September 1, 2011

Practical problems in doing Taoist yoga (internal alchemy or Neidan)

Taoists seeking the path of enlightenment (or Taoist immortality) had not always been the mainstream in Taoism as a religion. Many practitioners in the past (Dynasty period) could not get support from rich Taoist temples and faced many practical difficulties in the area of finance. Perhaps the only exception would be "Taoists" teaching rich people the art of sexual chi-kung! Anyway, as reflected in many biographies of prominent masters, they had difficult lives in pursuing their practice. Chinese are pragmatic and conceptual. According to classic texts: the four practical ingredients or conditions for a successful program of Neidan are method (法), helpers (侶), money (財), place (地). I am going to discuss these practical issues in this post.

The need to know the correct method is seemingly evident, but actually is more complicated. In the past, as in today, many teachers claim themselves to hold the correct method (including those who taught sexual chi-kung, today they are more likely to be similar to sexual therapists). What is the solution? The classic teachings advised that one had to check what one's teacher taught was or was not in conflict with important classic texts, like Can Tongqi (參同契) and Wu ZhenPian (悟真篇). If this is not complicated enough, one should note that oftentimes one's teacher had only learned the theory from his own diseased teacher, for example that happened with Master Wu Chongxu 伍沖虛 the founder of now most popular Wu-liu group (五柳派). Why? It is because Neidan took years of practice away from "civilization", Wu's teacher after learning the theory from his teacher simply didn't have the conditions to finish all stages of his practice!

That goes with another condition: The availability of helpers. These helpers were not just like maids or servants. In the first place, one needed to be taken care of and being fed during full-day meditative practice for a continual period of a few years. The other thing is the helpers had to know the dangers and precautions during meditation, like won't calling for a doctor without doing some learned judgment when the practitioner might shake involuntarily during meditation (today it would like rushing the meditator to Casualty). That's why the helpers were usually senior students of the master, assuming that fortunately the master could convince younger folks to learn from him and put in extra effort to help, physically and financially, in the first place.

That brings us to another issue: the issue of money. A simple calculation can show the huge among of money needed to support a full-time meditator to practice for years on end, with a quiet place, a number of helpers (at least one of them must be faithful senior student) and living expense for the meditator and his/her helpers. According to Zhao BiChen (趙壁塵) author of Taoist yoga, it is advisable to find students who can support the final stages (i.e. years of full time deep meditation) of the master, in return, after the master being enlightened, the master will teach all methods to the students!

Another interesting point on the subject of finance is the practice of external alchemy (外丹) in turning base metal into silver or gold. In my previous post "The hidden secret of external alchemy", I have analyzed the practice and its morality problem, interested reader can check up by clicking through the linkage. In Master Wu ChongXu's Taoist texts, he mentioned that his teacher Cao HuanYang 曹還陽 told him that traditionally Neidan practitioners learned both external alchemy (defined as changing base metal into silver or gold) and internal alchemy (Neidan 内丹). The former was used to finance the latter! Apparent both master Cao and Wu knew the formula of external alchemy but didn't practice the art, presumably for morality or legal reasons!

That leads us to the final practical condition: place. There were different opinions here. Some master believed in finding a place among the distant mountains, far away from the city. Some believed it had to be close to one small town so that provisions could be bought without too much difficulties. Some believed that a quiet house within the city would be just fine. And some believed it would be better to be practiced in a Taoist temple. It is interesting to note that modern Taoist master Mantak Chia's "Dark-room technology" is trying to simulate a cave among the distant mountains - whether or not Chia's approach has any contemporary relevancy would be beyond the issues commented here.

One last point, during the Yuan Dynasty, Grandmaster of the Dragon Gate group 龍門派 (forerunner of Wu-Liu group 伍柳派) Qiu ChuJi (邱処機)got the support from Yuan (元) Emperor. Presumably he could build temples to support practitioners (at least his students) doing deep meditation for years on end. It seems that later Taoists didn't have that luxury and had to fight their own battle in tackling the four practical problems. And I rest my case here.

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