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Friday, June 17, 2011

A Field Guide to Taoist Meditation

By Sat Hon, Founder, New York Dan Tao Center

On Finding a Teacher

On one fine summer day, as I strolled aimlessly along a riverbank,
Beset with a thousand disquietudes,
I chanced upon an old woman fishing under the shady cool of creeping willows.
I wanted to ask her my thousand questions regarding the sun, moon and the creation of the universe and my purpose in life and oh so many more,
She placed her fingers on her lips: Fish are rising.
So I stood there and watched.
The freckled river shimmered with flashes of light like scales of an anaconda.
Clouds drift and tugged the blue horizon with their thick, silken strands;
Shadows of the willow grove deepened. 
I felt my questions draining away.
Finally, as she slowly reeled in her line,
 I laughed as I saw that the line was without a hook.
How does one catch fish without a hook? I wondered.
As she turned to go, I know that tea is ready and I am invited.
Following behind her light, drifting footsteps, 
a gentle breeze combs through the willow branches, 
I catch fragments of their whispering: A big one she caught..

* * *

Taoist meditation is action without aim. It is an aimless, meandering meditation without technique or prefabricated notion -- fishing without a hook. In Taoism, the very nature of this existence is considered a total meditation of the cosmos. Yet, my clinging mind needs something concrete, steps and the knowhow. Thus, began my foray into the wide horizon of meditation.


Taoist alchemical meditation
I consider this the most simple yet, the most difficult of meditations. There is no technique, no particular posture or formality. Just this very instance of one's existence is the meditation. One takes each moment as perfect, whole and everything in its rightful place; thoughts, emotions and such are wonderful, magnificent manifestations and an expression of one's true nature. It is likened to a man waking up after a long coma to find everything -- every thought utterly sweet. In other words, as in the case of a patient of mine who suffered partial paralysis from a stroke, the sharp pain of a needle was felt with overwhelming joy and gratitude.


Mentak Chia's macrocosmic/microcosmic meditation
The representative of this lineage of Taoist meditation is Master Mentak Chia who guides students in circulating their endogenous energy/Qi through the acupuncture meridians. Master Chia also utilizes the internal visualization of the inner smile in this meditation. Smiling to one's angry liver or soothing the weeping lungs might seem farfetched, but such inward smiling does have wonderful healing affects on the organs and their functions. Furthermore, in the opening of the endogenous energy channels, the source and root causes of pathogens are vanquished and one's health is restored. In summary, the Healing Tao meditation system emphasizes the harnessing of the mind's power in the health process and guides one toward healing.


Yan Xan's inner child meditation
In this meditation, one is seated in a chair and initially the breath is settled as a way to calm the mind and body. Then one visualizes the image of oneself as a small child at the age of four or six years old. Often, a vivid image of one's childhood emerges with crystalline clarity. Then with each breath, the inner child enlarges in size until he/she completely fills one's present body. I have found this meditational process extremely effective in dealing with childhood traumas. But readers should proceed with caution. One should always have a competent and enlightened guide in doing Yan Xan's inner child meditation.


The golden flower meditation
In essence, the golden flower text is a combination of the above two meditational techniques: opening the channels and visualization of the birth of the immortal fetus. Through a hundred day process of laying the foundation by at first opening the channels, and then 1,000 days of creating an immortal embryonic energy entity within. The initiate is said to achieve the next level by projecting their consciousness outside of their body -- the initial stage being only an invisible shadow of oneself that others cannot perceive. This ethereal body can travel vast distances of space and experience reality as we know it, but this entity cannot interact in a concrete way with anyone or anything around them. After 10,000 days, or nine years of further cultivation, the initiate advances further into the realm of true immortality by the achievement of a concrete, solid, conscious projection of self. At this stage, the initiate must still maintain their physical body, although at this point, it is in a catatonic state. Meanwhile, the projected self wanders and functions like a normal person. However, as their true physical body's biological functions are in a state of hibernation, they will age at much slower pace. Caution: In the last 200 years of modern Chinese history, I have not personally verified a single individual of this lineage who has achieved this advanced level. A few have claimed that they can project their consciousness outside of their body, but an objective assessment of their claims has not been proven. Obviously, this particular path is filled with pitfalls and practitioners often deviate into psychosis. At this point in time, only one teacher, Wang Li Peng, teaches this cultivation in sporadic seminars in China.


Qigong dynamic meditation
As China morphs from a feudalistic society into the modern era, old time martial artists are transforming their martial fighting skills into healing practices. Master Wang Hiang Xia, the founder of Yi Quan or Mind Martial form, created a series of standing meditation postures such as Tree Hugging stance or Taming the Dragon stance. This dynamic meditation employs the use of imagination and visualization such as Standing Like a Windsock Filled with Breeze in order to distill the mind into a dynamic power force. In his martial system, the laser sharpness derived from meditation is then used later on for sparring and fighting. Yi Quan's dynamic meditation is a wonderful healing meditation with only minor side effects: spontaneous movements and shaking. However, these side effects are symptomatic of one's endogenous channels being opened. Once the stagnation is freed up then the shaking and movements cease as well. As Master Wang once said: Moving greatly is not as fine as moving in smaller motion, tiny movement is not as fine as stillness. Hence, dynamic meditation can be said to guide one from motion into stillness.