Wei Yongzhong; Tangshan College
The second basic essential of Health Qigong is to enter serenity. Compared with the first essential “relaxation”, serenity is mainly focused on the regulation of mental activities. Entering serenity mainly means reducing and stopping the conscious activities of the brain or, in Qigong terms, attenuating and eradicating the postnatal conscious spirit (also known as “external mind” or “external spirit”).
Consciousness is acquired during social activities. It is specific to the human kind and influences and determines other natural instincts of man. Therefore it is an essential quality of man. Whenever we are awake, the brain always thinks one thing or another. On many occasions it will keep thinking even if you don’t want it to. And the thinking is completely irregular. This can be seen from both the ECG and EEG. When one gets excited, the mind will be difficult to calm. When one gets troubled, many thoughts will possess the mind. Therefore it is really difficult to enter serenity, which seems to be against the instinct of man. But the real problem is even worst. The so-called conscious spirit includes the thinking spirit and the lust spirit. In other words, we should not only eradicate conscious activities, but also eradicate emotional experience during Qigong exercise. The former belongs to IQ and the latter belongs to EQ. They are owned by all normal people and should be cultivated since childhood. Animals also have emotions and feelings. Isn’t it against the nature to eradicate them? Why do we have to enter serenity above all?
The direct purpose of serenity is to mobilize and enhance our self-regulating functions or, in Qigong terms, excite and activate the congenital primordial spirit (also known as “internal mind” or “internal spirit”). The primordial spirit exactly controls and regulates itself. This function is inherent with everybody and should not have to be excited. But it has been inhibited and even degenerated by the strong postnatal consciousness and excessive lust spirit of man. Therefore it has to be mobilized and excited. We will not be able to preserve health unless we manage to do so. And we will not have Qigong if we fail to do so. How to mobilize it? It is excited just the way it has been inhibited. As it has been inhibited by the mutual growth and reduction, it should be activated through mutual growth and reduction. In the basic Chinese terms, it is called mutual growth and reduction between Yin and Yang. Among the various types of spirit in the human body, the conscious spirit belongs to Yang and the primordial spirit belongs to Yin. To boost Yin or to excite and activate the congenital primordial spirit, we need to reduce Yang or, in other words, attenuate and eradicate the postnatal conscious spirit.
It seems difficult to eradiate the conscious spirit. Therefore some people completely give up the idea of entering serenity. They think: “It will be OK if I don’t think about anything!” As a matter of fact “thinking about nothing” is just the hardest part, and thus the highest degree of serenity. All Qigong exercises involve serenity. Any exercise without serenity does not belong to Qigong. This is an inevitable step. Relaxation and serenity are like two thresholds to the hall of Qigong. The first threshold is low and we can easily cross it. The second threshold is high and easily daunts us. But it is the most important and critical basis essential. Why is serenity the most critical essential? We have to analyze the reason from the perspectives of both health preservation and Qigong.
First let’s take a look at health preservation. Health preservation is a modern term. In ancient times it was referred to as “physical cultivation”. Qigong is called “life cultivation”. In the introductory chapter of “Xiu Qi Zhi Ping” in The Great Learning, the first of the Four Great Books, it says: “Self-cultivation is the foundation for all people from the emperors to the common people.” But it also stresses: Self-cultivation should be carried out on the basis of a righteous mind.” This is because “the heart is the master of the body.” (annotated by Zhu Xi). This is no longer Confucian but involves medicine. Nei Jing explicitly says: “the heart is a monarch organ.” A monarch gives orders. The heart does not give orders; the brain and the central nerves do. How come the heart becomes the monarch? This is because “the heart is the container of spirit” and “the origin of spirit”. The spirit in the brain is originally stored and originated from the heart. This is why we call it primordial spirit. Let’s make a metaphor. Although the spirit works in the brain, the heart is its home. And this home cannot be changed. Therefore spirit is the master but when it comes to organs, the heart is always the monarch which governs the entire body. Being in charge of the entire body, can it have a rest? No. Even if it takes a nap, “all internal organs will be endangered”. Therefore the heart does not have a rest for even one second. The cerebrum, cerebellum, and all other organs have rests and at least work shifts. Now that the heart is the master of the whole body, we should never ignore the health of the heart and erase it from the list of our health-preservation items. Otherwise, health preservation will be just a joke. We have always wanted to realize “Fitness of the nation” and the United Nations have also proposed “Health for all” and made new annotations of “Health”. But health is far from being realized. When will it be realized? How? As far as I am concerned, mental regulation is the key to health preservation and health. Some Health Qigong specialist have long pointed out that: The life of a man is a contradictor yet unified entity dominated by the mind. The key words here are “dominated by the mind”. This means the main aspect of the mind-body contradiction is the mind rather than the body. And it also annotates the “simultaneous cultivation of both Xing and Ming” which has been pursued by Chinese Qigong exercisers since the ancient times: Cultivation of Xing and mind is dominant and cultivation of Ming and body is auxiliary.
The same conclusion will be reached when it comes to the treatment of disease. But we have to begin with the dialectics of traditional Chinese medicine. According to traditional Chinese medicine, diseases are caused by “seven emotions from the inside and six evils from the outside.” The endogenous factors are in the first place and the exogenous factors are in the second place. This is because endogenous factors are the basis and the exogenous factors are the conditions. The exogenous factors do not take effect unless through endogenous factors. Western medicine does not explain pathogenic factors this way. It only involves germs and viruses. However, traditional Chinese medicine never mentions these. It focuses on wind, cold, summer heat, damp, dryness, and fire, the “Six Forms of Heaven Qi” and “Six Forms of Earth Qi”. They fill up the entire universe and do not carry benign or malignant properties. They do not harm people unless they are surplus. Surplus leads to excess, excess leads to pathogens, pathogens lead to toxicity, and this is how harm is eventually done. However, if we do not have excessive emotions, we will never be affected by the six excesses. If we preserve health according to the four seasons, we will never get sick. This is why Taoists believe “life is controlled by oneself instead of God”. And as a matter of fact, there were many Taoists and doctors who did manage to master their own lives and lived long lives until their painless deaths. How did they manage to do so? They did not rely on sterilization. On the contrary, they knew that many germs were good even if they were toxic, as toxic things could be utilized to counteract toxin. Therefore they did not try to kill them but did whatever they could to find and utilize them. As a matter of fact, such things have always been with us or inside us since the very beginning of our history. They could never be eliminated. If we do want to kill them, they will get stronger and stronger and more and more diverse until they completely go out of control. And us human beings will be victims when that day comes. Taoists and doctors of China would never get the worst of it, neither would the Confucians, Buddhists, or the I-Ching practicers. The key to their longevity was: avoiding being impaired by the seven emotions. Emotions originate from the heart. The seven emotions are activities of the mind.
This is also true when it comes to happiness. Happiness does not lie in excellent material conditions but lie in the delightful feeling of the mind. Therefore, a person always in a good mood is far happier than another person having delicious food and drink everyday. As the saying goes “laugh and grow fat”, we will never feel at east or happy if we do not have an open mind.
From this we can see that the mind is always the dominating one in the physical-mental entity under any circumstances. Therefore we need to cultivate our mind if we are to preserve health. This is the key that we have to grasp. Then why do we have to enter serenity before mind cultivation? To answer this question, we need to start with some detailed information of Qigong.
Qigong is the manipulation of Qi. Once the body is relaxed, Qi will start to circulate. This is easy to understand. But how do we master, control, rein, and apply Qi once it starts to circulate? This is a complicated but most critical issue. Fortunately, many health-preserving schools of ancient China, such as Qigong, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, I-Ching, medicine, and Wushu, have provided us with clever methods to rein and control Qi. There have been countless grand masters that had profound knowledge about the mechanisms of Qi. Even if we ignore the time before the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, there were Guan Zhong, Lao Tzu, Kuei Ku-tzu, Confucius, Yen Hui, Bian Que, Wang Qiao, Qu Yuan, Liezi, Chuang Tzu, Mencius, Hsun Tzu, Dong Zhongshu, Wang Chong, Wei Boyang, Zhang Zhongjing, and Hua Tuo between the Spring and Autumn Period and the Qin and Han Dynasties. After the Wei and Jin Dynasties, there were fewer grand masters but numerous famous masters. And we had many hermits who concealed their identities or left their works but not their names. And countless ancient people knew how to control Qi. Below are just some examples:
The Guan Zhong, the great politician of the 7th century BC wrote in Nei Ye Pian that: “Qi cannot be spoken, seen, or heard.” This indicates how difficult it is to control Qi. “Therefore this Qi cannot be stopped with force but can be calmed with virtue. It cannot be vocalized with the mouth but can be expressed by the mind.” “When the mind is serene, Qi will come into order and stay inside you”. “By cultivating our mind and tranquilize our thought, we will be able to achieve Tao.” This indicates that Qi can be controlled. But how do we control it? With “serene mind” and “cultivated mind and serene thought”. What Guan Zhong meant was that: Qi cannot be spoken, seen or heard. Therefore this Qi cannot be stopped with force but can be calmed with virtue. It cannot be vocalized with the mouth but can be expressed by the mind. But we can calm it with virtue and cater to it with thought. When the mind is serene, Qi will come into order and stay inside you. And when you cultivate your mind and enter serenity, you will achieve Tao and Qi and be able to control Qi.
Mencius is as good as Guan Zhong with it comes to the Qi-driving skills. Although he too though it was “difficult to explain” what was “the Great Qi”, when asked by his disciples he still dared to say: “I am good at nourishing the Great Qi.” The Great Qi is “extremely tremendous and firm” and “fills the entire universe”, while Mencius were able to “nourish it without being harmed” and convert it into “filling material of the body”. How did he manage to do so? Mencius says: “Aspiration is the master of Qi” and “focused aspiration will help control Qi and focused Qi will help control aspiration”. Aspiration is will. Nei Jing: Ling Shu: Ben Shen says: “persistent intention is called aspiration.” Put in a modern way, aspiration is very similar to intention. In other words, Mencius use focused intention to control Qi, driving the endogenous factors with exogenous factors and converting external Qi into internal Qi. It should be noted that according to Mencius, Qi and aspiration are interactive. (See Mencius: Gong Sunchou I)
According to Chuang Tzu: Ren Jian Shi, Confucius also used focused intention to drive Qi. One day Yen Hui asked him what was “pre-occupation”, he said: “Maintain a perfect unity in every movement of your will, You will not wait for the hearing of your ears about it, but for the hearing of your mind. Let the hearing (of the ears) rest with the ears. Let the mind rest in the verification (of the rightness of what is in the will). But the spirit is free from all pre-occupation and so waits for (the appearance of) things. Where the (proper) course is, there is freedom from all pre-occupation.” From this we can see the keys to pre-occupation and serenity. And we can also see that the Qi-driving techniques of Confucius described by Chuang Tzu were more than a health-preserving method or a Qigong exercise used to cultivate the mind and build up the body. They are a great way to master everything, properly treat everything, adapt ourselves to everything, and contain everything. And they are also the life philosophy of both Taoist and Confucianism. This was exactly why Chuang Tzu named this Chapter as Ren Jian Shi. How did they realize the great leap from a health-preserving method to great Qigong? They grasped the common things between Qi and mind, the coupling joints between Qi and mind, and coordination between Qi and mind. According to Mencius, Qi and aspiration are interactive and coordinated. None of Guan Zhong, Mencius, Chuang Tzu, and Confucius was a scientist and none of them knew any physics or systematic sciences. But they all knew coordination-the great coordination between Qi and mind and between nature and man. Only these great thinkers could manage to do that.
All roads lead to Roma. The Qi-driving techniques and methods of the great thinkers came from various origins but were based on the same mechanism. This can be summarized with four words: “Driving Qi with spirit”. This sentence was frequently seen in many Qigong classics such as Zhou Yi Can Tong Qie and Xing Ming Gui Zhi. The spirit referred is only the primordial spirit that lives in the monarch organ. And to sum up the Qi-driving mechanisms of all Qigong schools, we can describe them with a single sentence in Nei Jing: “A tranquilized mind will cause vital Qi to flow normally in the body.” According to my understanding, quiescence, peace, vacancy, and inaction are four levels of serenity in ascending order. In other words, we should first achieve quiescence, and then move from quiescence into peace, from peace into vacancy, and finally vacancy into inaction. Inaction is the ultimate level that we need to climb up to. Buddhists call it “void”, Taoists call it “inaction”, and common people call it “having nothing on mind”. This is the highest level of serenity. And all the way to serenity, Qi will follow you. The word “follow” means Qi only follows you when you try to enter serenity. And it will not follow you and listen to your orders if you do not enter serenity.
From this we can clearly see the critical role of serenity in the entire system of Qigong. “Driving Qi with spirit” and “Vital Qi in the body flowing normally” are both based on serenity. Therefore once you circumvent this threshold, you will never enter the hall of Qigong.
As a matter of fact, it is not difficult to enter serenity. Since it is easy to learn the rudiments of Qigong, it is totally possible to go further. Readers may still remember the rudiment keys to Qigong that I presented last time. Now we may name them as “Trilogy of Relaxation”: 1. Calm the mental state; 2. Coordinate respiration; 3. Command the intention. The first and the last steps are all about serenity. It has also been mentioned earlier that the neck is the key and has to be relaxed in particular during the practice. Why? Once the neck is relaxed, an expressway from the brain to the heart and from the heart to the brain will immediately come into being. And the spirit will be able to go home from time to time with ease. Once it’s home, the conscious spirit is returned to its original position and serenity will be achieved. In addition, relaxation of the neck will drive the relaxation of the brain. And once the cerebral cortex is relaxed, serene you will immediately be. This is because once the cerebral cortex is relaxed, Qi will start to circulate there and driving power will come in to convert essence into Qi and Qi into spirit. And spirit will be able to get home in no time. In other words, serenity is a natural process which takes place with the relaxation of critical parts of the body.
However, serenity of Qigong is an attenuation of the conscious spirit. It has to face complicated factors such as the brain, spirit, thought, and emotions. Therefore it is easy to achieve rudimentary serenity, difficult to achieve in-depth serenity, extremely difficult to achieve ultimate serenity, and desperately difficult to maintain the ultimate serenity. It is most difficult to maintain and experience the ultimate serenity everyday.
Now that serenity is a prerequisite of Qigong, how can we enter it better? What are the methods to enter serenity? Generally speaking, there is no definite method. But we can learn from the experience of predecessors in Qigong and may make our own innovations. Next I will offer five methods.
I. Internal and external consignment. This means to consign all your thoughts to a certain place inside or outside the body. Inside the body, it may be the tip of your nose, the area between eyebrows, the arch of your foot, Dantian, a Zang or Fu viscus, the Ren or Du Channel, or the focus of a disease. Outside the body, it may be the sun, the moon, a mountain, a river, a flower, a grass, a sweet moment, or a beautiful scene. Internal consignment is also called “internal concentration”, “inward vision”, “internal scene”, “aperture adherence”, and “pivot adherence”. External consignment is also called “external concentration”, “external scene”, and “mental consignment”. Both of them are called “mind concentration”, “consignment of thoughts”, “consignment of mind”, and “meditation”. Nei Jing says: “When mind is concentrated inward, how can disease take place?” This is just an example of the health-preserving and disease-preventing effects of internal consignment and internal concentration. External consignment and external concentration are also a good and indispensable method to capture, collect, and input benign information. However, as the methods to achieve serenity, both internal consignment and external consignment are elementary approaches to temporary replacement of multiple thoughts with one single thought. And such methods are optional and differ from person to person. However, any method will contribute to your accumulation as long as you use it to enter serenity. Even the elementary exercises may lead to perfection after being practiced again and again. They may also be universal and good for the cultivation of both the mind and the body.
It should be noted by readers, and especially foreign readers that: The intention of oriental Qigong does not equal thinking or consciousness, even if they all belong to the spiritual world. All Qigong intentions are peaceful and between adherence and non-adherence. They seem to exist and yet not to exist. And they are half-hidden and always kept at arm’s length. As Mencius put it, “neither forget it nor support it”. As Lao Tzu put it, “keep between concentration and absent-mindedness”. The so-called mind concentration means concentrating the mind to a certain place instead of having distracting thoughts on the mind. Otherwise you will not be entering serenity, practicing, or cultivating spirit. On the contrary you will consume life and spirit. Some hold that: mind concentration also includes rich imagination which enhances attention and imagination. This is wrong. Mind concentration should never involve imagination, let alone rich imagination. The “richer” you get, the far away you will deviate from Qigong. In one word, the boundary between thought and consciousness must be clearly defined. Although the mind concentration is described as a method to enter serenity, it is actually directly used to control Qi. All techniques of Qigong are Qi-driving techniques. And it is the thought rather than the consciousness that drives Qi. The primordial spirit rather than the mind drives Qi and the heart rather than the brain drives Qi.
II. Coordination of mental activities and breathing. This is also called mental and respiratory interdependence. In other words the mental activities are dependent on respiration and coincide with the breathing process. This is advocated by almost all schools of Qigong. Liu Zi Jue and the Buddhist “Liu Miao Fa Men” are both based on coordination of mental activities and breathing. The practicing process is divided into six stages and six levels: Counting breaths, following breaths, stopping breaths, observing breaths, returning breaths, and clearing breaths. Counting breaths means counting silently how many times you breathe. By replacing all other thoughts with this one thought, you will be able to reach serenity. Following breaths means no longer counting breaths but having the mind follow the exhalation and inhalation to ascend & descend, open & close, or enter & exit. Stopping breaths means stopping the thought at a certain position where the breaths pass by and keeping it from leaking. It may be stopped at the tip of the nose, between eyebrows, in the bottom of the heart, or in the lower abdomen. Observing breaths means meditation and inward vision of your own respiration. For example, you can observe exhalation when turbid Qi is exhaled from the body and observe inhalation when genuine Qi is inhaled into the body. Returning breaths means returning to the source of breaths. The source of breaths is the congenital Qi of the universe. Clearing breaths means clearing all breaths and thoughts. This is the ultimate result of Liu Miao Fa Men. In addition, Chuang Tzu says: “immortals breathe to the ankles while common people breathe to the throat.” Then is “inhaling to the top and exhaling to the bottom” no more than the mental-respirator interdependence of these “immortals”?
III. Kung fu comes from outside the exercise. The great Qigong master and poet Lu You enlightened his sun by: “Kung fu comes from outside poets.” This is of profound meaning. The serenity Kung fu of Qigong comes from outside Qigong. The key to the practice of Qigong is mind cultivation. Serenity only calms the mind. Therefore a man with a dirty mind will be stuck in obstacles during the practice of serenity. And people with bad moral characters or selfish thoughts will find it difficult to enter serenity. And if we become capricious during practice, we should know how to restrain and lock the distracting thoughts.
Looking back into the history, we will find that the best practicers of Qigong were philosophers, great writers, medical masters, thinkers, and politicians. “Ge Wu” has existed in China since the ancient times. This is science. The Great Learning says: To cultivate the body, we must clear our mind. To clear our mind, we must be sincere. To be sincere, we must get informed. To get informed, we must learn science. In other words, the entire “Xiu Qi Zhi Ping” is based on science. Philosophy is the highest level of thinking but it is by no means unfounded thinking. Thinking comes only from learning. The philosophy of Lao Tzu was exactly obtained by “learning Tao”. Body cultivation, mind clarification, and sincerity are all within the framework of Qigong but learning and science are outside Qigong.
How to make efforts outside Qigong? We can start with the following three aspects. The first is mental cultivation, the second is moral cultivation, and the third is daily cultivation. Mental cultivation includes philosophy cultivation and science cultivation. All these three levels of efforts are based on both learning and mental exercise. Therefore both the inside Kung fu and outside Kung fu belong to one Kung fu. And philosophers are often Qigong masters too. Daily cultivation is called “mental refinement through things”. Exercise is different from refinement. Exercise is like bleaching a silk cloth with water, while refinement is like smelting metal with fire. I’m afraid that the human mind has to be both bleached and smelted. Cultivation means learning. Learn proficiency for officialdom. Chinese Qigong was called refinement in ancient times but now considered an exercise. But if we only exercise the body and fail to refine the heart, it will be like strengthening only the body and ignoring the spirit. And the tradition of cultivation and refinement is not an ordinary culture or spirit. It is a symbol of the civilization and spirit of the Chinese nation. Refinement is very difficult, we need to be serene, clear, precise, and humble and persevere on a long term basis, so that we could be pure, noble, generous, and good for others.
IV. “Achieving the ultimate vacancy and adhering to the true serenity”. In the strict sense, this is more a goal than an approach. It is the ultimate serenity that can be hardly achieved by normal people. Adhering to the true serenity is more difficult than achieving the ultimate vacancy. The ultimate serenity of Chuang Tzu is “utterly dead mind”. But this mind has to be revived for if it does not, serenity will be absolute. And as we know, serenity is always relative. Just as there is no absolute quiescence in the material world, there is not absolute serenity in the spiritual world. But Chuang Tzu did not say how long we should adhere to it before its revival. The longer we adhere to it, the closer we get to the “immortal” state of health preservation. And this is surely difficult to achieve. “I’m number one in the universe”. This is true. He might be the first one in the world’s history to interpret the dialectics. Was Chuang Tzu the second one in the universe? As a top philosopher under the sun, he also made it to the ultimate serenity. This is a secret in which methods are hidden.
V. Assume a humble attitude. As far as I’m concerned, these four words are both keys to the elementary hall of Qigong and the keys to the serenity of Qigong. And they are a clever way of cultivating the mind and body, preserving health, prolonging life, and staying happy and delighted. Why do we have to be humble? This is because “Human hearts are evil”. This maxim was said to have been spoken by Shun when he handed over his crown to Yu in the ancient times. Evil is height. And height is evil. Our great ancestors knew the human heart profoundly. Human hearts are even higher today. Many children are customized as scientists when they just enter the kindergartens. Their parents wish they could sign a contract. Some country kids were forced to answer to the question “who will you make money for when you grow up” when they don’t even know how to speak. They parents wish they could make money right now. Why are human hearts so high? This is because the heart belongs to fire and fire easily leads to inflammation. However, Shun also said to Yu that contrary to the human heart, “the Taoist heart is humble”. The Taoist heart is also surrounded by shadows and contains pure essence. Taoists also pointed out that we should be as noble as water, which facilitates everything but does not snatch anything. Here is the solution. Water restraints fire. However, we cannot live without fire. We cannot keep the kidney and heart in balance unless we have both water and fire. It is just that we have to keep the water on the top and fire on the bottom in order to cook rice thoroughly. This is also the case with us human beings. We will not be “mature” unless we lower the fire-natured heart. If one can remain as mentally serene as water, he will definitely be able to find Kung fu in the finest places and get closer and closer to the Taoist heart. Taoists heart is not only humble, but also very, very low. It always stay when it belongs. Besides the Taoist heart, the Confucian heart is also low. It’s just that Confucianism did not come into the world in the times of Shun and Shun could not speak it. Mencius believes that we should just lower our hearts. Lowering our hearts means lowering our attitude.
To sum up, the key to the serenity of Qigong is to overlook the bottom of the heart from a philosophic perspective. As Taoists put it, we start with action, return with inaction, and thus achieve “No willful action and nothing without willful action”.