You could say that the initial level of the first two stages of Taoist sexual meditation are Taoist sexology. They have all this in the West too. Sexology: how to make love better, how to have more fun, how to have more orgasms, how to have a better time, how to like your partner after it’s all over. That is basically what it is about. Sexology is how to have better sex. That is reasonable.
Taoist Sexual Meditation Practice Progression
At the stage of sexual meditation, you are starting to deal with the emotions. If you choose to, you start using the sexual energy to begin tapping into your primary emotional difficulties. This is where a human being who has not been capable of intimacy finds they become capable of intimacy. They learned it as a side effect of meditation. It is not a major goal like the West’s psychologically based sexology.
In fact, most sexual tantra you see around in America today is really about how to be intimate with your partner and enjoy sex more. It is not much more than sexology.
One uses the sexual meditation practices to release and balance all of one’s bound emotions systematically and consistently over time. This is in the context of becoming a mature human being who has decided to be fully alive. This goes beyond images of oneself and others, focusing on essence, not appearance, for long term satisfying sexual relationships.
When you get down to dealing with the core energies inside a human being there is no choice but sharing. They become naked in front of you. Their mind becomes naked in front of you. There is nothing to be intimate or not be intimate about. You have to deal openly with the situation for what it is.
The more profound stages of sexual meditation practices involve converting emotional energy to spirit, then to emptiness and finally putting yourself on the road: the Tao. Returning to solo practices.
Converting Emotional Energy to Spirit
At this next stage, you become conscious of the energy inside the body that is not really physical, but is making the body happen. The qi is a part of the body. As your body cultivates increased qi, you have to be extremely aware. There is a mind-body energy interaction that is undeniable. Within your body’s energy are stored memories of what we have done from the day we were born. We tap in to cellular memory. In Taoism, and to a certain extent, in modern psychology, Buddhism, Christianity and all the old traditions, it is said the body retains memories from the womb, even from the time you were a DNA molecule.
Those memories are conditioning. Commonly these memories do not allow a person to act or be mature. One is constantly being thrown back to the past. The dissolving techniques are done to literally dissolve the whole of the body piece-by-piece, inch-by-inch, until everything that’s inside a body is dissolved.
Dissolving Ghosts, Demons and Devils
The next development incorporates what in Taoism are called ghosts, demons, and devils. It is referred to as playing around with the ghosts inside of you. How many people can genuinely say they have gone past their parents? How many can see their parents, their brothers and sisters, and the people they grew up with, purely as human beings? How many relationships are re-actively lived out?
Very few people can claim this attainment. It is the same thing in China too. This is a basic situation concerning human relations. The Taoists used to say “You want to have children–you should transcend the negative influences of your parents. You wish to produce a spiritual child inside yourself–you must go past your parents.”
Teachers in all spiritual traditions recognize that all these things from your past that affect you very strongly are like demons. In China, they call these internal demons (the traumas, the ifs, the buts, the ways energy of your mind was compressed into shapes, most of which you are not even conscious of). First, one must become conscious of their existence. Then, with dissolving techniques, one must literally disperse and convert the energy, then drive it inside the core of one’s being. This is the fuel through which one produces spirit.
It takes a certain amount of courage to do this. In China, they call it “jumping into the dragon’s mouth.” It is going to bite you. It is a very strange thing to literally go through terrors in meditation that are stronger than anything you’ve experienced in your life. At the level of the mind, the level of the energy inside a person, there is very little difference experientially between events that you considered to be real fact, and memories that have no factual basis but are stored in your subconscious.
These methods for dissolving the demons inside the body are initiated by systematically moving through the energy of the whole body…over time, gaining the capacity to simultaneously dissolve the glands, brain, muscles, and the internal organs. Virtually all of the cells of the body are scanned. The dissolving process gets rid of these knots. However, it is not a question of getting rid of negative emotional and mental states. They want to take that energy and convert it to spirit, it is qi.
Once the body gets unblocked, the qi starts moving. One commonly overlooked point in all meditation traditions is that, if one wishes to meditate to only become relaxed, one is a fool. That is what people have Prozac for. That is why people take drugs. That is why people get drunk, and that is why people go to sleep. The purpose of meditation is to become aware of the center of your being, i.e. spirit and emptiness; to go far beyond states of physical and mental relaxation.
As long as one has any internal demons inside oneself one can not truly become relaxed, one can not become natural. One must to some degree react to these inner emotions because they are etched into the various components of your being unless you do something like the Taoist meditation practices. Through these practices one can systematically dissipate these knots. Eventually dissolving the internal demons.
Everybody’s got their horror stories; nobody had perfect parents or a perfect childhood. No matter how bad your circumstances, there is always another time and place where people have had a slightly rougher time. You may have been raped and locked in the closet, but were you tortured systematically for weeks or months? Did you have to watch your families assassinated, or killed and tortured by inhumane politics and governments? These experiences are pretty standard in Chinese history. One gets born. The circumstances of one’s birth and what one was born into are not always under one’s control.
Whether these knots that are inside of you are from events that you remember and watch, figments of your imagination, or memories that come from past lives or when you were in the womb, they are real. To you they are real. For you, these impressions block your energy. They keep you from living whole. All of the Taoist meditation techniques systematically start releasing these internal demons where they have settled inside the body.
Philosophical Approaches to Taoist Practices
From Liu’s work, I personally became free of my own internal demons. When you get to the point where the energy just releases inside you, it is as though it does not exist anymore. It is just gone. This is the nature of changing the spirit. If one is thorough and meditates completely then things will just change; the change feels as though it permeates past, present and future. It will seem as though it has always been that way, and will always be that way.
At this first level of Taoist meditation you have, as I have said before, distinctions of practice between the left-wing and the right-wing crowds. The right-wing crowd is usually conservative. They will strive to attain all of this only in seated meditation, by themselves. They will achieve it by having a life that is fairly quiet, so that they can gradually disengage from the distraction of worldly life. They usually live away from people. Often they try living in small communities so all their attention is focused on the subject of spirituality. The radicals (if you want to call them that) will do all of the sitting, afterwards trying to take it into their active life. Deliberately moving the energy coming up in them as situations happen in life and moving into these situations consciously. Disasters and turmoil become the impetus for meditation practice. A practical application is set to work directly, on the spot, in the context of day-to-day surroundings. Practitioners use these situations and energies of real life, both safe and dangerous, as a tool to transform their internal blockages into naturalness and internal harmony.
In the left-wing way, you are going to meditate and will start finding that you are going to deliberately go into lots of situations where you can fail. Because the Taoist objective is to take this qi that is bound inside of the system, to look at what life is teaching, and transform qi into spirit. They play very actively with the world, including sex, politics, business and so on.
For example, my teacher in Beijing taught me the active Water tradition. He himself was the right-wing type. Though it was difficult, he was a virtual recluse in the middle of Beijing. But he managed. That was his way. The way he taught me is different but still within the Water tradition. I am very active in the world. His other student is also very active in the world. As a matter of fact, right now he’s a major real estate tycoon in Hong Kong.
Maturity and Spiritual Development
Maturity is a necessary prelude to profound spiritual cultivation. What an individual needs to confront and do is take whatever Qi is bound inside of the body’s Qi and emotions to convert them to spirit. At the end of that road as one goes through and one starts releasing the energy inside oneself, one starts becoming mature. The difference between a mature human being and a child is that, a child is always quite sure of how things ought to be. They are quite clear the way life must be, should be, has got to be, and if it isn’t, they get very fussy.
A mature human being finally comes to the realization that quite a few things are just how they are. They can relax and function amidst life’s imperfections without the need to be recognized or to condemn. Life is not perfect. Have you ever met the child who doesn’t want the gold star? It is a child’s perspective. In order to move through life and become mature, one realizes that what happens in life is that people are different. This realization is not just in terms of other people, but also one’s self, and life’s events.
A mature human being can forgive people. They can accept that people have limitations, and they do what they can. A child can not. Children want things done according to their wishes. Because that’s how they get their place in the world.
So, the Tao practitioner moves towards this freedom from one’s conditioned emotions and conditioned thought patterns. This challenge becomes a great powerful focus. It takes years and years and years of practice, because it is not easy to grow up. But once one has arrived at this particular level of practice, one is ready to start working with their internal spirit. That is the stage of Taoist alchemy where all one’s energies are converted to spirit, emptiness, and ultimately, Tao.
Mental Energy, Heart and Mind
In this next stage of practice, you start dealing with mind and thought and where thoughts arise from. You are beginning to move in to what the Chinese call the shin (hsin). We are now on the edge of alchemy in this mental level. One is not fully immersed in it, but is getting there. At the level of mental thought one starts working with the techniques of the heart and mind. Through this, you start to perceive the place where thoughts originate. You start finding out what your thought is, along with the consciousness that generates your thoughts. You are starting to move towards the center of your being.
Most of us right now are very capable of recognizing that, “I think”. “I have something in my head, I say 2+2=4, I’m doing the laundry tomorrow morning, I’m going to buy a bottle of milk on the way home, I’m going to drive my car, I’ve got to get insurance,” this thinking, of course, is thought. You are able to recognize this.
But, when you start going to where the consciousness that literally can travel from birth-to-death from birth-to-death is generated, you have reached the middle ground. This middle ground is where you start dealing with the mind. The cellular-level dissolving techniques tend to be very important until you get to the stage where you start dissolving through the mind flow, and then through the emotions, until eventually you hit where thought is actually being produced. You literally follow the stream to your direct consciousness itself.
When you arrive at the stage of consciousness you start using all sorts of techniques to unravel the knots in your consciousness. The major effect of this part of the training is to start getting you aware of the core of your being and accustomed to working with it. Most of us, when coming near the core of our being run like hell. We jump, we run, we get out, (if we are lucky) we scream. Usually, people simply cut off and become absolutely numb and rigid to it; completely unaware it is happening. The state of denial that arises from that core awareness causes people to sometimes go from the beginning to the end of their life without resolving really major issues in their life, which is why they were born to begin with. In order to deal with these things. So, this next stage becomes extremely important.
At the next stage is where one starts dealing with the psychic energy. One realizes that one’s body goes out. There is the question of a thing called, ‘manifestation’. Where do things come from and why have they manifested in a particular way? Why do you wear a shirt and khaki pants right now, or why are you sitting down at this moment instead of being up on the roof dancing? Why does this building exist – instead of not existing?Why does this world exist – instead of not existing? This world had to come into existence some way. You had to come into existence some way. The thought you hold for this next second comes from somewhere. Here one learns to understand and work with the unseen world.
After the psychic stage you start dealing with the cause of manifestation, in other words, where everything you know comes from. A person’s mind starts going out farther and farther from the physical body in the psychic stage and this is where they start being able to genuinely recognize energetic cause and effect relationships.
It is as though in New York City it’s starting on 59th Street and this stuff is coming down and coming down and coming down, and coming down and when it finally arrives down at First Street, it manifests, but you have started tapping in to the capacity to discern what this energy is when it starts transforming up at 42nd Street, and how it differs when it arrives at 23rd Street. This usually is a very destabilizing period for people involved in meditation. The world now ceases to be so solid.
Your energy is running about and you are experiencing these various things, but there is a question of what is real and what is not real. This is the beginning of what in Taoism is called learning to discriminate between the real and the false. It is a very, very difficult stage because most people at this point start learning how to not only to get the message, but what are the mechanics of it. How can you stop things before they hit you? How can you play with and manipulate these energies in order to find a way of transforming your mind and essence until it is still and unmoving? You go beyond being influenced by them. This is not magic. It does however require a lot of honest, sincere effort and work. It is difficult to not be side-tracked at this point.
There is no intent in Lao Tse Taoism to use this knowledge for power, but only to increase internal awareness so as to free the individual from their internal prison. Some of the Taoists, the magicians in Taoism, play with these things to manipulate the environment. In terms of meditation you can manipulate the environment all you want, but you will still be trapped within that environment if you don’t get past it. So this is the real problem. This is the stage where, as the expression goes, they separate the men from the boys, or the women from the girls. Much of the ability to know what you will know, forethought of what will happen in the future, the ability to cause events, you must see all of this and clearly understand at this point you are not causing any of this to happen. You are simply hearing about the news before it arrives. It is like knowing six days in advance what the stock or bond market will do. That is all well and good. However, the fact is that for everything you can perceive which might turn into a wonderful thing, there is also potential for it to become a disaster.
At this stage you start to enter in to the practices that are alchemy. They are called nei dan. Now that you have some of these energies coming down from manifestation, you will have to deliberately rewire and transmute your system to be able to allow them to pass through you without you being affected or affecting them. When these psychic forces come down most of us are very powerfully and directly effected by them. The psychic stage has to be where essentially they come and you are not affected by these forces. You are not and must not be attached to them. It is also a great temptation to want to play with them. It takes a great internal strength to leave them be.
I don’t know anybody whose gone through the game who hasn’t spent five or ten years being bounced around like a ping pong ball with this. It is extremely hard because it is one thing to have the attitude interacting and trying to get something from it, and it’s another thing altogether to be humble enough to allow existence to operate when you have the power to manipulate it, but won’t manipulate it. It becomes an extraordinarily tricky phase.
You might ask, where does one find peace in all this complexity? At each stage of the practices it is important to remember that one must arrive at a place where any yin and yang energetic relationship have become balanced and comfortable with each other. This results in what the Taoists call jing or stillness, the consciousness being unmoving and completely comfortable with itself. This stillness is the basic context of all the classical schools of Lao Tse’s Taoism.
Taoism and Alchemy
During the process of practicing these various exercises we have passed through the stage of meditation into the practice of alchemy. The process of doing everything with alchemy has begun. With the passing of the stage of meditation, you are now going to start transmuting the cells of your body. You are going to start changing your genetic structure. The body now has to be changed into something that is capable of receiving and maintaining these energies.
The fundamental principle of alchemy is that things exist in gross and more subtle ways. Is the energy very condensed, or is it spread out to where it has no boundaries? When you are dealing with energy that is needed inside the body, the Qi, your emotions, your mind, the psychic level, or the place inside you where all of these events that occur happen from, you are experiencing different levels of condensation. Your natural awareness is simply squeezed into a straight-jacket, putting it quite simply. As this releases, as this becomes more open the naturalness of the capacity of your mind and body comes out. This is in terms of both going inside yourself or expanding to the edges of the universe.
In one sense, getting more energy is about the capacity to let that which is out go out, and for that matter, it is to also go in as far as it is possible to condense in. There is as much space inside of you as there is in the whole known and unknown universe. There is as much inside of you as there is outside, and the Taoists just keep on, ad infinitum. The Taoists have games to make you realize what is out to drive you in, and then when you go in, to drive you out, until finally a human being just finds their place in the universe. You find yourself traveling to places astrally. You find that others are also traveling to places.
Once you start to get into Taoist alchemy the presumption has already been made that you have completed the practices of becoming a mature human being.
During this stage of Taoist meditation you start by doing the initial (but not advanced) work on the internal organs and then the glands. A major consideration is to be able to unlink the energy of your glands which is the cause of all sorts of emotional rushes in your physiology.
Your physiology creates tremendous internal sensations. Through feeling these sensations we experience not only our emotional states but may decide who we are. Your glands contribute routinely to all aspects of your physiology and therefore, your mental states. What we think of as emotions are in reality our neural transmitters or organs or glands relocating energy. Emotions are converted through meditation so we are able to consciously transform our emotions.
All of the emotions in the body have practices that one can use to turn their emotions in to opposites. Anger can be turned into love, fear can be turned into courage; there are many and very deliberate ways one accomplishes this.
At a stage of maturity in Taoism, you work very clearly with all energy lines that have to do with functions in the body. There are about four or five thousand energy lines you work with in Taoism. Although that may seem like an impossible number, once you get past the first one or two hundred it really starts getting easier. The most important piece is how you connect one energy line to another, the interlinks.
In the process of going through all of these changes inside you, deliberately working on your internal organs, intentionally changing the energy from one organ to the next, and linking it to one’s mind space, deliberately playing with the energy that is inside the spine, and getting to the point where you start working with the many energy centers inside the brain. You are able to liberate basic negative conditioning which is stopping a person from becoming mature.
Taking Responsibility: Your Practice and Your Self
Once one has reached this stage, one now has to decide if one wants to take responsibility for one’s own being. Up to the stage of becoming emotionally mature you don’t really take responsibility for your own being. The truth of the matter is, to use phraseology of the West, you just clean your toxins out. First you clean out the internal garbage; in other words, all of the negative things that make life exceedingly difficult, exceedingly problematic. At the later end of this process comes what is even more challenging and difficult; you must clear out attachments for everything you like. So you can let things be what they are without what happens in the world influencing your consciousness.
You see, it’s very easy if you have a trauma to take an attitude of, “oh, woe is me,” “I wish….,” “I get angry,” “I get sad,” “I get depressed,” when instead, it is necessary to transform those emotions to neutral energy. Most people can relate to this kind of freedom. But what about when you start doing away with things that you like most in the world? What about this issue of dissipating everything that you greatly desire? You start aiming for a great degree of equanimity with these desires. It is a great and genuine challenge which has troubled everyone who has attained the Tao.
As you begin this challenge you are still taking responsibility for your practice. What you have to do is work on things which are most aggravating. How many people like to endure pain and mental anguish? Very few.
You may take responsibility for your practice, but this alone is not an indication of entirely taking responsibility truly for who you are. In one sense, this could simply be very selfish and self-motivated. My foot is hurting me, I just want it to stop hurting. This alone does not mean that I take responsibility for my foot; it only means I don’t want to be in pain. That is a perfectly valid reason. However, that alone will not lead one to the Tao. One will only move and operate from the level of qi awareness in accordance with personal development. One does not just suddenly traject to high-off, distant places. One needs to understand and transcend everything to do with one’s foot, both the good, bad, and the ugly, in order to truly take responsibility.
One thing that I should tell all of you is that, in the Water tradition of Taoism, they think the whole concept of enlightenment is a load of nonsense. The Buddhists say “one will break the wheel of reincarnation,” a Christian will say, “ah, become one with the Godhead.” The word Tao means the way, the avenue, street, drive. Whatever term you want to use when the point of view in Taoism is that it doesn’t really have a beginning or end. There is no brass ring at the end of the journey. There is no “boing gng”, I got it.” There is no ahhhh. It would be nice probably if it was, but Taoism is really not amenable to accomplishing that. There is no big enlightenment experience.
Relationships, the Heart and the Tantiens
The fact is that, as one goes deeper and deeper into meditation, one just simply gets involved in the essential nature of how things are. Stillness in essence and practical function becomes the guidepost when you start doing internal alchemy, you begin working with the channels of the body. You start changing things inside yourself. You genuinely work with the energy of the environment, of the sun and the stars, the Earth, the five elements, and all these things which I am sure you have heard of. But when you sincerely start working on these things, you start finding out that probably the most single difficult part is having genuinely to take responsibility for every single individual action you take internally and in the “red dust” of the world. From then on, you really begin to practice. Especially when working in the middle and upper tantiens (there are three tantiens frequently used in Taoism). This has to do with your body and it’s the way of understanding, let’s just shall say, what naturalness is through love.
This is the work of the heart, which has, essentially, to do with relationships. You to people, you to things, you to the earth, you to the stars, you to yourself. The heart practice in Taoism is very strong stuff.
Then you have the upper tantien practices which have to do with time and space, and literally going beyond time and space. As you start getting into the upper tantien practices you start becoming aware that there is more going on than just here on Earth. You start finding out that everything you are doing really doesn’t matter because it does not exist long in the grand scheme of things and yet has profound temporary effects at the level of qi.
One starts having to take responsibility for ones actions. Everyone basically learns the hard way. Only the most lucky and evolved of human beings don’t learn by the school of hard knocks. There is a thing called human limitations. That is what you start finding out about. Your spirit does not particularly have a limitation, but your body and mind definitely do.
Working with the three tantiens of the body in the level of alchemy starts becoming very critical, working with the channels of energy in the body, and then working with the states of mind that go with it. The object now is that in the process of changing the body into spirit and moving the energies, something starts happening to your physical body. The cells start changing. Something changes. I don’t really know quite how to describe this.
You don’t get the body of a normal human being. Your body starts molding into what your mind really wants. You gradually learn the genuine relationships between what is and is not conscious.
Taoism, Ethics and Morality
The Taoists are a funny group in terms of ethics and morality. They genuinely don’t believe that anything is good or evil. They are genuine in this point of view and do not use this philosophy to justify being a selfish, destructive fool. It’s not a matter of there being, ‘no such thing as good or evil, so go ahead and steal or kill for my interest’. They think the human morality system is all hogwash. Because when one starts becoming aware of spirit and emptiness, you slowly but surely start realizing that almost all the good and evils that you are aware of is based on and is being created by an immature human mind. Not necessarily your own.
That’s how societies stick together. The basic function of society is to keep people from starving and to keep the trains running on time. I don’t think that anybody has ever tried to say that there has been a particularly enlightened, or even sensible society that has ever existed for a terribly long period of time.
What develops is a mentality of “I want my thoughts to win.” Everybody has to fight, brood, and all of that. Bear in mind that the concept of democracy is totally alien in China. A very strange idea. Today, different issues and events go on, different ideas of right and wrong simultaneously existing in different parts of the world. What has that got to do with essence, consciousness or the Tao?
The Taoists always focus on what the essence of something is. What the essence of the situation is. Then they try to look at things in terms of practicality, so that as much harmony as possible can maintain its continuum in any situation.
The objective behind the fundamental driving core of Taoist morality is to start realizing the morality of the Tao, or to at least realize the morality of emptiness. This is very hard. Because if someone does this, they will become the most immensely moral human being you are going to meet. They will never do anything that is really silly. But then, the Taoists are known to be pragmatic. Most people don’t operate from that point of view. Even if they want to, it takes them a long time. They slip up every once in a while.
My teacher Liu would go on about how at their spiritual core: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and actually even Islam (there are millions of Muslims in China), were the same. There is essentially no one point of morality that the Taoists take. Clearly, there are Confucian Taoists and they will have lots of points of view about what’s correct. The full sense of the basic root of Taoist morality is the golden rule, “do unto others as you will have them do unto you,” given your level of awareness. If you don’t want or are unwilling to accept something being done to you, don’t do it to someone else. If you can actually see it would really be a good thing to have done to you, do it then. They don’t have it as any sort of thou shalt and thou shalt not, because there really isn’t any point to that, as this creates human morality which ultimately will pervert itself to satisfy self interest.
Spirit and Emptiness
Once you start moving at the level of spirit (especially when you move into the realm of emptiness) it becomes plain that rules, ‘you must and you must not’, ‘you should and you should not’, are usually created out of peoples’ hidden agendas. That is what politics are about. “I want you to do this”, and if it really comes down to why they want people to do it, the motivation is that these people have finally ascended to their political position and they want to use that political position to satisfy their own self interest. They want you to do it their way because it is politically advantageous and lucrative. They will explain it in many ways, and with all sorts of euphemistic double-talk.
Ancient China had a tradition where the ideal was the sage king. Philosophically the ideal ruler was one who was highly spiritually developed and had no need or desire for secular power. This person had usually lived as a solitary hermit, cultivating the Tao until they had cleared out the internal blockages in their being. These sage kings acted from a spiritual point of view where their concern was for the people, the nation and its future and not for self interest and benefit. Historically, and over time, when the emperor was not a true spiritual (son of heaven), China slipped into nepotism, dynasties declined and the people suffered.
These are the things of man. These are things of immaturity. Taoist morality is about tapping into one’s essence and slowly but surely working into what the essence of the situation is. Being practical with it. You can see why they have had a lot of problems with human morality in China where killing or torturing ones opponents has historically been considered to be a political modus operandi.
America would be a solid Confucianist culture in Chinese terms. A Confucianist is not that different from a bible-thumping Baptist. ‘If you do not do the proper thing in the proper place’, they seriously contend that, you will: (a) go to hell; (b) should be ostracized by the entire community; (c) you should be damaged in some way. That is it. They will feel absolutely right about the damage they inflict. Sometimes they might be right, they may be right, they may be wrong. It is hard to say. It depends on the situation. Often the love, forgiveness, generosity, and redemption aspects of Jesus are given less than full attention.
This morality that gets developed is one that has to come from very deeply inside a person. The more one contacts essence, the more one has the experience in converting spirit into emptiness, the more moral one becomes. Taoists do not necessarily have any of the conventional moralities of any of the religions of the world, and yet they will start living to the very best of their ability like a Lao Tse, Buddha, or Jesus Christ. This realized way of life is the fruition of all spiritual practice. The Taoists achieve it by the methods I have described. In the Water method, it emerges naturally as obstructions to ones health at all levels and awareness are dissolved.
Energy Channels in the Body
In almost all the Taoist practices the major channel of energy being worked with is not terribly different in mechanics or structure from the yogic point of view, or the tantric point of view. Basically, it all originates with the DNA helix.
Putting it quite simply, when human beings are born the essential capacity of yin and yang, and that which is beyond both, is locked in. The central channel of energy in the body is that which is beyond yin and yang. The right and left channels of energy in the body are what are responsible for manifestation. As these two lines start moving together they cause their currents to spin throughout the whole body and make all sorts of interlinks we call energy channels.
These interlinks, besides producing energy in many of the tantiens, are places where qi focuses. This is essentially where consciousness can be tapped into. That marks the shortcut, the route into the right place. This is one factor that is a great problem. The Neo-Taoists are responsible for the obsession with energy channels for their own sake, in terms of their ability to manifest power. The attitudes of ‘I want to live 200 years’, ‘I want to live to be 1,000 years old’, ‘I want to be able to fly’, ‘I want to be able to leap over tall buildings with a single bound’, and the ‘I want to have the power to have this, and this, and make this, and that, happen’.
The Neo-Taoists tended to have a super fascination with fire, force, getting there, opening your channels, having powerful awareness of what they can do with the energy they are producing and that kind of thing. That is what I did when I was younger. Believe me, I am really aware of their point of view, and spiritually it leads to a dead end. It does not make one spiritually free.
What you have to realize about the major channels of energy in the body is that, when you start moving into consciousness, when you actually start becoming aware of spirit and essence, then it starts to emanate. As we know, there is the romantic concept of love in the West. But everything being perfectly fine as it is, and truly as fine as it is defines the Taoist point of view on love.
Opening the Channels of the Body
The opening of the energy channels of the body in meditation must be done so that genuinely your spirit can move to contact others, and contact other energies of whatever type you come across, internally or externally; about who should or should not have the opportunity to become aware of their essential nature in a fashion that causes them to live. In a fashion that causes them to grow. Just like the sun. Just like the moon. It is not an influenceable power. It is something that eventually comes, it is that which is opening up inside you. You then spread out through the rest of the rest your life and then into space beyond the earth. This complete openness to whatever situation comes up is very critical in the Taoist way of thinking.
There are numerous meditations in Taoism. The basic process of internal alchemy is initially done by feeling. You are going to feel energy. The Taoists believe that you can feel energy. The capacity for feeling is inherent to life in a heavy gravitational field, i.e. the Earth. The Taoists believe that you can feel energy, only because you were born on the Earth, a highly condensed energy field. Their opinion is that upon dying, you will still see and hear, but you won’t feel anymore. Sight and sound are all you get when incorporeal. Where you are right now is a seriously condensed energy field.
This is your densest energy body of which the Taoists believe you have eight. Like the eight trigrams of the I Ching. At this level of density it is very important to become comfortable with your body. Your body is about feeling. The easiest way not to feel things is to literally disconnect from your body and go into your brain (i.e. get stuck in your head).
This capacity to feel then moves into sound and visualizations later on. The Taoists have a very refined method of using mantras and sound. They also have many methods so that if one group of methods doesn’t do it for you, don’t bother, you can get the same result using a different practice. You can purely go through feeling. At the later stage in Taoist alchemy there are ways to do it primarily through visualization or through sound frequencies and feeling.
In the end, what they want is for all the external systems of the body to become completely alive, internally. They take you through progressive training, at least in terms of what I have seen of the point of view and of energy as it manifests in the mind. The only tradition with an endpoint that is really coming from a similar place as Taoism is the Dzogchen tradition in Tibetan Buddhism (a practice integrated into the Nyingma and BonPo schools of Tibet which seeks a direct realization of one’s innermost nature). It was not originated by the Buddhists. It was around even before Buddhism even showed up. The geographical area where Taoism was very active and the Dzogchen tradition come from are very close.
Tibetan Buddhism in general is the Fire tradition all the way. There is very little in Tibet that is not Fire tradition. That is their thing. No maybes about it. The Dzogchen Tradition is similar to Taoism, but by way of the Fire method. Lao Tse’s method was the Water way. My teacher’s way was the Water method. The gentleness and the letting things be when they get inside of you, a tremendous degree of deep relaxation, this is the Taoist way of doing things. It way of practice is not the same as the tantras. Many of the methods the Taoists use are not dramatically different in end result, it’s just the way they go about it. They are much looser. The Taoist inner-meditation tradition is not ritualistic. The Water method tends to be a lot softer. But don’t confuse softness with weakness. A tidal wave is pretty strong too. The whole method of letting everything just come together, with full effort and yet no strain is a real hallmark of the Taoist water tradition.
Teacher-Student Relationships in Taoism
The subject of going from emptiness to the Tao is one which must be directly transmitted to the student. No verbal or written explanation can suffice. Those sort of things have to be done directly from the teacher to the student. I should probably talk about the teacher-student relationship in Taoism. In Taoism, there are basically three ways the teacher student relationship is handled.
If you are with one of the old ones, consider yourself lucky. What ‘Lao Tse’ actually means is ‘old one’. If you are actually with a person who is a full-blown Taoist (my teacher Liu was one), then you are with people who pretty much have mastered what is inside of them. The relationship with the old ones is usually very quiet and immensely respectful. When people get that old and they are nearing the end of their life, you don’t want to be so rude as to disturb them. Grace and respect are imperative. That is the best way I can put it.
The younger Taoists in the Water tradition, who either are realized or not, tend to have the point of view, and the way in which they operate is, that they don’t really orient so heavily towards the master/disciple point of view in terms of external respect or guru worship, but instead place great emphasis on the inner connection between the master and disciple.
The Neo-Taoists placed heavy influence on who was the teacher and who was the student. That relation was extremely binding in terms of required responsibilities and obligations between teacher and disciple. Most of the well-known stories that are about Taoism have the people and the immortals in heaven bringing someone down to Earth to do this and this and that. These stories are usually referring to the Neo-Taoist tradition.
In the Water tradition of China, there is the consideration that all are friends in the Tao, that respect is something which comes from deep inside a person’s mind and heart. The outer show of it is not as big a deal. It is not immensely rigid and formal with all positions in the hierarchy being clear.
In most religions, and for example in India, if you don’t know what a guru/disciple relationship is, there is no need to worry, you will be told pretty quickly. You’re going to get told what to do, how you should do it, how you shouldn’t do it, and you get chastised if you do not behave accordingly. To a certain degree the same is true in the Buddhist Tradition.
The Taoist tradition is one where they genuinely believe that the natural respect of the student towards the teacher has to come from the inside out. Most of the time if you don’t give it to them they’ll just shrug their shoulders. It’s not much different from the way a child will come up and do something silly. It’s somebody else’s kid and even though they come to you, it’s okay, just go over there, hope you had fun, hope your mother takes you home soon. Seriously. There is no sense of force. With the Buddhists, the Sufi’s, the Hindu’s, and the Christian traditions there is a tremendous sense of what and how shall we behave to the lama, priest, guru, monk, and so on. The Taoists are a little more watery. Which also allows them to be quite a bit more human.
If a person has genuinely decided that what they want to do is develop their essence, then they are now pointing in the direction where they will reach the end.
Once genuine resolve to develop one’s essence has been made, you will move until you get to the end of that road. I will put it this way, you will move until you are on the road. It doesn’t matter what that person has to do to initiate this. Whether it takes a day, a week, a year, or a million years, you are going to get on that road. The road is the Tao, the spiritual essence of a human being which is changeless and beyond influence. At the end of the day you are going to be on the road and you will be with friends practicing the Tao together. Knowing that this bond of respect for the Tao exists in both of you, Taoist masters tend to treat their students as friends rather than as underlings, even though at this point in time they are superior. Their spiritual point of view is very long-term.
You start from that position of spiritual evenhandedness and act accordingly. That is pretty much the way this teacher/student relationships goes. Unless you are with one of the old ones. Then all I can say is, if you come into someone like that, who is genuine, be very respectful, follow their lead and be happy to even be in the same room with them.
If they are not one of the old ones then it’s a bit like family members. Your brother can be a total jerk, but he’s your brother. Or, your sister does really stupid things and sometimes you want to throw her out, or tell her off, and you do sometimes. You may choose not to talk to them for years while they get their act together. Your brother hits you against the wall because he thinks you need it. Regardless of what happens, by the end of the day he is your brother, she is your sister, it is going to be all right. You are going to go through some nonsense, but in the end you are still going to be brothers and sisters with whom you seek mutual respect, love, harmony and balance. This is the type of realization that can not come from formality, rather it is something that comes from inside. It is the nature of love.
That is pretty much the basic substance in alchemy. The work from spirit to emptiness is fun, it’s wild, it’s interesting, it’s intense. When one genuinely gets involved in meditation (this to be true of all traditions from what I have seen), once you really decide to get into it, it is a 24 hour a day involvement. It is like the famous Joe Lewis comment to Max Schnelling before their world championship boxing match, “There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”
You have now made the decision to fully engage your life, and once you do that, ultimately, you will end up spiritually fine. You also, shall we say, learn a few lessons along the way, both pleasant and unpleasant. Taking the bitter with the sweet goes with the territory.
What happens after that is better not to put in an article at this moment in time. I think those are things which should to be told to individuals when they have reached particular stages of practice. Not as intellectual information for the satisfaction of curiosity.
All I can share with you is what I learned in Beijing with Liu Hung Chieh for a little bit over 3 years. In the Taoist tradition he adopted me as his son. In the three years I was with him, he taught me all that he could. I wouldn’t say I was a terribly bright student. As a matter of fact I was a total clod, but I did the best I could. As time goes on the spiritual process ripens and things happen.
I think the Taoist traditions are as vibrant, practical and beneficial in today’s modern world as they were thousands of years ago. They deal with the essential issues of spirituality in a beautiful way that is relevant and applicable in daily life and beyond mere theory. These practices have been proven by the test of time and have been perfected in some of the most sublime and arduous periods of human history. I sincerely hope I have done my best to introduce you to what I experienced and learned about Taoism during my ten years in China. Although, I feel my capacity to communicate is only a faint shadow of what the late Master Liu Hung Chieh taught, and what the depth and richness of Taoism has to share with the world.
Bruce Kumar Frantzis began studying meditation almost thirty years ago and has practiced Zen Buddhist meditation in Japan, Tantric Kundalini meditation in India and Taoist Meditation in Hong Kong and Taiwan before studying in Beijing.
Click here to learn more about Bruce’s book, Opening The Energy Gates of the Body: Gaining Lifelong Vitality.
An Interview by Sara Barchus
QI THE JOURNAL OF TRADITIONAL EASTERN HEALTH & FITNESS
Vol. 4, No. 3. Autumn 1994