“Take emptiness to the limit; maintain tranquillity in the center” — Lao Tzu
In other words immerse oneself in a state of tranquillity. It is the basic of basics that one be able to keep a peaceful mind. To be able to remain in a state of deep tranquillity is a prerequisite to attaining higher qigong states, and it is the core of practice.
The first consideration is whether we can achieve that state of tranquillity. Practically every practitioner has come across this or that difficulty, or had this experience or that attainment. For beginners, it is always difficult to relax and quiet down. This may not be a problem for someone who has a more receptive mind and whose body naturally relaxes when the mind quiets down. But for most beginners, it is very difficult to quiet one’s thoughts and relax the body. They usually need to relax their bodies before their minds can calm down.
Then, how can we enter this tranquil state? Handed down from a long time ago is a qigong saying: “substitute ten thousand thoughts with one.” It is so basic that to practice any qigong forms or routines, particularly in the elementary and intermediate stages, no one can expect to go anywhere if it is not first achieved.
What exactly is “substituting ten thousand thoughts with one”? How do we do it? Following are some answers.
First is to adjust the body. This applies to the general meditation routines, including standing and sitting meditation. While either standing or sitting, try to loosen up your body‐muscle, blood circulation, bones and countenance. When each and every organ in your body is relaxed, your mind will naturally follow. This method is easy to do and is efficacious to many. Someone who has never done qigong training should first ease off the forehead, then the eyes, and feel the effect; next loosen up the whole body, from head to heel, inside out, and untighten the muscles until there is nothing between the bones and the muscles. Little by little, the mind also quiets down.
Second is to control one’s breathing. There are quite a few breathing exercises and many books are available about methods that can be used.You can adopt any kind of breathing method as long as it helps you relax and is also convenient for you. Although there are various levels of breathing control, general practitioners should only be concerned with convenience.
Third, focus attention on certain body parts; for example, concentrate on the dantien point. This point of concentration replaces all others and gradually one enters tranquillity.
Fourth, try chanting mantras.This is essential fort he Buddhist Pure Land qigong, which teaches no other methods other than chanting the mantra, “Nammo Amida Buddha.” You can do it in silence, or in a low voice. After chanting this mantra day in and day out, you will do it without any conscious effort, even with out uttering the sound. You can walk on the street or do other things, yet the rhythm of the mantra has become so instilled in your consciousness that the sound, audible or not , produces its effect. There is no mystery in Buddhist mantras or other incantations; they simply substitute endless thoughts with the singleness of mantra recitation.
For example,say you are talking to an old country woman. It would be quite irrelevant if you try to teach her all about qigong theory.All you need to do is tell her to chant “Nammo Amida Buddha,” and after chanting thousands and thousands of times she will have the blessings of both spiritual wellness and physical health.Chances are she will be so immersed in the mantra that all other thoughts are dispelled and she will have achieved the desired tranquillity. She has no more worries and her health is regained. As a result, her family benefits and that is a blessing.
Fifth, concentrate on the routine. Different schools of qigong teach different routines, which are sets of body movements, together with regulated circulation of qi, the energy, and point of attention. Some schools stress the importance of the mind. Others claim that mind plays no part in their practice.
Right now in China, Fragrance Qigong is very popular.Many practitioners of this style claim that it is good to practice Fragrance routine because it involves no mind. It is simple and effective. Normally I make no comments on the alleged pros and cons of various styles of qigong. Yet in this case, when one does such routines as Phoenix Nodding, Dragon Tail, or Bodhidharma Rowing, one certainly gets some idea of the meaning of such titles. What is in your mind when such phrases flash by? That is a thought‐ a good one, though. Also, it seems to be pure movement without thought when you are doing the routines. Nonetheless, the act of doing movements contains thought,a single-pointed thought that dispels all others. This is yet another example of “substituting ten thousand thoughts with one.”
I must be honest and say that all the popular forms of qigong are not high level ones. Advanced qigong routines are generally transmitted in encoded forms by the masters. Regardless, even these popular forms and routines simply will be of no use if they ignore the function of the mind.
I will give another example to make my point. Kong Jing qigong also emphasizes pure movements. It equates its routines with the circulation system of the human body; for example, the movement of each finger corresponds to a specific blood vessel. Its movements can cause strong energy flow in the body. Again, it claims that mind has nothing to do with the movements.But even so, one needs to concentrate on the motions to be able to practice well, which is not different from concentrating on the meridian points. All in all, these simple routines are easy to follow and offer a good start for beginning students.
For every qigong form, especially on the elementary and intermediate levels, the most fundamental issue is to be able to enter deep relaxation and direct your mind to a single point of attention instead of being swamped with myriad thoughts. I hope to open a clearer way of looking at the different forms and moves of qigong, and to facilitate your practice. Such understanding will also help you gradually and naturally find the way that fits your individual needs. Better yet, you may be able to come up with ways that can help you relax faster.
A lot of qigong movements have interesting names, such as those we mentioned earlier and others like Holding the Sun and Moon, Embracing the Universe, Standing on Snow Mountain, and so forth. They all connote some positive message, which infuses the practitioner with a certain psychological association. Imagining traveling through the infinite light of the universe or imagining being totally transparent can certainly help with one’s understanding of the movements. Therefore we can see the purpose of these titles. Would you like a movement that is named A Mouse Crossing the Street? I think not.
The next thing to do is desist thinking, which means in the process of quieting down, cease any thought the moment it emerges, instead of letting it run wild. Usually the mind will pop up with new ones,and it is important to halt each one as soon as it arises. Before long, you will acquire the ability to shut out any unwanted thoughts, and eventually you will be able to do it without ever being conscious of the process.This is the high level you should seek. Again, it is to “substitute ten thousand thoughts with a single one.” The single thought is used as a means to halt the ten thousand thoughts.
The last step is to “conquer without conquering.” You can read about this in the Buddhist Diamond Sutra. What does it mean? Say you are agitated, and your mind just will not calm down. What can you do? Just ignore it. Yield to it. Make no effort to subdue it. In the long run,the mind will surrender it self, and thus you have conquered your mind without conquering. This is also of a higher nature, which is more difficult to attain.
When you try to quiet down, your mind is unlikely to cooperate readily. It churns out all kinds of thoughts. At such a moment, you need to sit quietly, trying to figure out where your “true self” hides. Through the eye of your true self, try to observe your mind. It may run in every direction, but your true self can manage it. In due course, you will enter a state of deep meditation despite the resistance of your surface mind. The deep tranquillity and the surface flow of thoughts can co-exist. However, your original mind remains undisturbed even when thought seems to be still flowing on the surface. This state of mind is of a much higher level.
The Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, Hui Neng, once said, “I myself possess no talent, but I never cease thinking.” What he meant was that amidst the turmoil of mind activities, his true mind remains peacefully undisturbed. Just like the ocean in the storm ‐ underneath the surges, it remains calm and serene.
We have discussed the seven ways of achieving tranquillity. Once you are able to make them thoroughly your own, all the mysteries of qigong will become clear. Why is it that calligraphy can help you enter tranquillity? Before starting to use the brush, you wash your hands, dust the desk and lay down the paper. In the old times, people also lit incense. You then sit straight and hold your brush. Now you concentrate on one thing only ‐ doing your calligraphy well. That’s it! The numerous thoughts are now replaced by only this single one, and you easily enter the state of qi.
By experiencing, we mean that when you are practicing qigong, try not to involve any intellectual analysis. Forget all that you have learned and known. Of course, when you are not doing the routines, you should learn as much as possible about qigong theory. Think about it. Talk about it yourself. Listen to others talk about it.Turn it over in your mind.Try to understand it.But when you are doing the routines, think of nothing. No theory. Instead, experience every movement.
This perspective may not be shared by some practitioners. That is all right. Even so, try not to think too much. Just keep it in mind. Sooner or later you will experience its meaning. If not,keep on and it will sink in.It is most important to experience with your heart and with your soul.
In qigong practice, “nothingness” cannot be overstressed. We need to set aside all our attachments to levels and achievements, even to qigong itself. “Nothingness” is really a transcendental state, a natural state of being. For instance, a group of people gathers together. Somebody in charge tells them not to stand too close, sothey quickly disperse. Now the person in charge asks them to please stand more naturally, and everybody begins to assume a more natural posture. They probably did not realize that the way they stood before making the adjustment was the most natural, since nobody was conscious of it. As soon as they were reminded to “be natural,” the spontaneity was lost.
The moment of spontaneous posing can be referred to as “nothingness,” the most natural state of being. It is also analogous to our qigong practice. You do not have to be too fastidious about each move. Just try to relax. Flow through it.
I have gone into great length on this topic in the previous section so I won’t repeat myself.
While we maintain an empty state of mind, our bodies undergo certain changes. They are involuntary. I will not go into details since that may create certain visions, which may be come a hindrance in our practice and lead us astray.
Just pay attention to the changes that take place in the state of pure emptiness, that moment of divine inspiration.
No matter what school of qigong we follow, it is essential that we experience its origin. The same is true with looking at our world: go beyond the surface, the image,and the perception until you get to its origin.
A book is produced with paper. The paper is made of trees, straw or other materials. The trees and straw are grown in nature. Nature forms part of our universe. And where does the universe come from? On and on we reflect on the original state of our world. In the qigong state, we can often experience miraculous phenomena.
Let me first show you an experiment that can be done during mediation. As soon as you calm down, try to imagine that you can see the meridian points in your body. Some of you may be able to actually look inward and see the channels. When the images of these points appear, imagine again that all the points in your body are open and connected. If you keep on visualizing, your body will experience certain changes. You then imagine that not only your body organs are linked, but your mind and body are connected, too. Through this experiment, you may experience the wonder of qigong.
My research tells me that whenever our minds are blocked, our bodies will be affected by the blockage as well. When you are caught in a difficult situation,you may pull al ong face. Don’t think it is just your face showing the anxiety; your entire body also is burdened. If you ease off your facial muscles, your look will be relaxed and your body will in turn loosen up. Life is a material form of interrelations.Your facial expression is connected with your body organs.
It is known in modern medicine that through a single hair we can know the health of a person. Similarly, in Traditional Chinese Medicine,the ear-acupuncture therapy, with needles applied to one’s ears, can cure ailments in other body organs, for example.
When your brows are knitted because of worry, not only is your body knitted, but your internal organs are also tightened into knots. We often use such phrases as”my heart was in my mouth ,” ” it makes my blood curdle,” “ it delights the cockles of my heart,” and so forth. These are not just descriptive terms. They relate to certain body and mental states. When a person is fearful, his face shows it. His heart also feels the dread. On the other hand, when a person is serene, not only his facial expression tells it but his body feels the peace as well. We need to observe and understand our body-mind relations.
In my work, The Decoding of Human Metaphysical Phenomena, I wrote that “our facial expression is our transient and changeable physiognomy which is in turn our permanent and fixed facial expression.”
A person may be born with a good looking face, but if he or she has been over burdened by the hardships of life , then gradually the look becomes one of distress. A sad face does not look nice. Sometimes the genes may carry it to the next generation.
When you feel mentally distressed, your digestive system may also suffer. Stomach disease, indigestion, and distress are all related. Long term depression may lead to heart ailments. This is now common medical knowledge.
Pay special attention to keeping a peaceful mind. When practicing, signal your self to open up, to connect every artery and channel of your body.
To be one with the universe is the ultimate state of qigong. Many qigong guidelines tell us to merge ourselves with heaven and earth, be in harmony with man and universe, and embrace the cosmos. These are some basic principles of qigong practice. However, at higher levels of practice things may be different.
These guide lines are a good way to initiate practitioners into qigong. On the other hand, their over emphasis can be paradoxical. It may become a subjective desire rather than the actual experience, which can lead to illusions. It is important that we reach a state of pure harmony with the universe through our own practice and experience. Do not rely on what the masters say or what the books say. We need to experience this by ourselves.
To be compassionate and loving means that we should be kind to everything and everyone. Those who have a kind heart can be close to the state of qigong even without practicing. On the contrary, a person who always harbors unkind thoughts may find it extremely hard to do well even with incessant practice.
From a macro viewpoint, compassion and love form the psychological mainstay in our daily lives as we practice qigong. Of course, for a compassionate and loving person, there will be unavoidable moments of trouble, suffering, anger, or narrow‐mindedness. It is perfectly understandable and we should not be overcritical.
Say for example a person gave some much needed assistance to an old man who is in a life threatening situation; the giver would feel very happy and in a good state of mind. If he did his qigong routines at such a time, the effect would be very good, too. He may have a marvelous experience. On the contrary,if aperson was engaged in something shady and then did his routines, a negative effect could result.
To be compassionate and loving enables us to better receive energy from the universe. Vicious thoughts make us out of sorts with our environment, hence attracting negative energy. Being compassionate and loving is not only a psychological requirement but also a basic practicing skill.
The concept of harmony should be understood in the context of qigong. It does not mean that we should not fight against the evils in our daily life.
To maintain harmony is more than what etiquette requires in our speech and in how we deal with people. More importantly, we need it in our qigong practice. Maintaining harmony all around us is in itself a state of being. In Chinese language, harmony contains the meaning “soothing the qi.” Cultivate harmony with your‐self and the universe. When you are in harmony with heaven, the earth and all beings, you harmonize the various life forces into yourself. Try to experience it , feel it and understand it.
While in a group,an adept qigong practitioner can immediately sense from its energy field whether the group is in accord. When we detect disharmony, then we do our best to bring back the harmony, to synchronize the energy flow. It is a way to practice and improve oneself. If a practitioner diffuses discord everywhere, he causes pain. He is then far away from his goal of maintaining harmony.
“Man models himself on the Earth; The Earth models itself on Heaven; Heaven models it‐self on the Way; And the Way models itself on that which is so on its own.” — Lao Tzu
This means man should observe the ordinance of heaven and earth, while heaven and earth operate on the laws of the cosmos, and the cosmos complies with the principles of the Tao. Ultimately, the Tao follows the prescript of nature.
Following nature is the ultimate achievement of qigong. Model ourselves on that which is so on its own. Accept and take whatever is natural.
Reference: The Essence of Qigong By Ke Yun Lun
p. 53 – 63