Excerpts from Master Li Feng-Shans book:
The course of eterneal Qi
METHODS, MATERIALS, MATES AND MOUNTAINS
The How, What, Who and Where of Practice
Methods, materials, mates and mountains stand for the four conditions for practice. Just like life needs sunlight, air, water and a nourishing soil inorder to grow and flourish.
Method tells you about the ways to practice: It seems there are a real plenty of them, which will lead straight to the question: Which one is the best ? The saying goes "All ways are one way", hinting that actually any method which enables one to progess is a good one. There are different schoools and traditions, like practicing in motion or meditation, by visualization, rhythm or by drumming on the wooden fishd , ringing cymbals, chanting, incantations, praying, etc. all these are actually just instruments for achieving a stable mind, but one should learn not to rely on them forever. There are, for instance, some people who drum the wooden fish, recite mantras, or chant their spells in order to gain tranquillity or a certain state of mind. As soon as they are without their fish, they are even easier to be disturbed.
Even the balanced combination of stillness and motion which I presently teach to my students must once be left behind and continouosly be substituted by other methods, in order not to clinch to one single way and get stuck in it.
Material is about what to rely on for practice, the "capital" of the self-cultivating individual. It may include our financial resources as well as the "capital" we have in owning a healthy body, good habits, our positive perspective towards life and of course the simple fact that we exist at all.
Since monetary resources are one of the fundamentals of countinuos practice, some people get confused about whether or not to pusue wealth and if it is compatible with self-cultivation. Actually having as much money as you really need is sufficient. Besides it needs to be achieved in the right way. One should check oneself for any thoughts of greed. The name of self-cultivation should not be abused for gaining wealth without labor or effort.
The major capital one has actually is health, since it -once lost- will never be regained again by any monitary means.
Many people live a wealthy and comfortably life, but once isolated from their wealth, they would be unable to survive one single day in the wilderness, thus revailing that it is better not to rely to much on technical aids or the means of our modern world. It would be wiser to learn how to survive in any kind of environment, since with flexibility and a good life-perspective we will nowhere be at loss and with useful and good habits we will be one step closer to refine ourselves instead of the things around us.
Mates, meaning our companions of the way are those, who we all can mutually rely on in searching and learning, giving and receiving help or shelter. Sometimes, if we meet bad companions we should neither follow nor avoid them, neither getting close enough that we can lecture them, nor avoid them in fear. Just employ this to improve yourself, your purposeless influence might be more effective in changing them gradually or by chance.
One must be able to face negative influences by people or environments without of being pressed or stressed by them. In fact, all you need to change or improve in this life is yourself, not the world, not others. Raise your ability to tolerate and understand human nature instead of wasting effort to negate the "negative" aspects of life by cursing it as "your bad luck", since it can be change to improve yourself.
Your "companions of the way" are not necessarily some exclusively "spiritual" people. Just like the world consists of more than just mountains and rivers, or the year has actually more than merely four seasonal changes; the worlds fauna and flora has myriads of beast and birds, flowers and herbs and so in the human world practically anybody can be a friend of the way, being inspiring or enlightening to us in a unexpected way.
Mountains stands as an example for a quiet place, where our mind can find a place to practice, but as the saying goes "In every heart is a temple. Use it for practice that is all." This means: No matter whether you are in the tranquility of mountains and forests or in the middle of a city; if your mind is at ease, the spirit is at ease; if tolerance broadens the outlook towards life, the insight will broaden as well.
Everyone has this quiet place within, it needs not to be searches without. Whether by walking, standing, sitting or sleeping; anytime, anywhere is "the best place" to practice. With an accepting attitude and a balanced mind one stands right on the ideal ground to look for the real WAY.
Tan Tien Practice a way of cultivating body and mind.
Chinese books about Taoistic practice often mention mysterious terms like "Cinnabar pill, melting vessel, The Golden Flower, creating the immortal embryo", etc. all referring to the so-called Tan Tian (Cinnabar field) and moreover usually summed up to empty words like "secret arts", which in the past often resulted in misleading leading people to the belief that metallurgic alchemy can actually produce something like "the golden pill of immortallity" which will finally grant eternal youth to the successful alchemist.
The ancient mages undertook a big effort to research the art of melting and mixing the golden pills, often as a tribute to their respective ruler, who was usually eager to devour it for gaining eterneal youth. Unfortunately many kings and not a few emperors passed away after swallowing the venomous pellets.
Different Taoist schools using the similar terms belong i.e. to unorthodox sects using "Yin-Yang-Cultivation", "The art of prolonging life through the bedchamber", and some other eccentric forms of Taoism. But this is not what we are looking for.
For us using internal practice these words stand for some methods and stages of self-cultivation. The cinnabar pill is also a medicament in Chinese Medicine; in alchemist practices it contained sometimes lead which stands symbolically for Metal and Water of the 5 Elements in TCM, as well as for the Lung and Kidney-Functions seen again from the view of TCM. Most of the time it contained quicksilver compounds, and quicksilver can stand for Wood and Fire, or respectively for Liver and Heart. Now lead and quicksilver in the Yi-Jing (I-King) tradition stand for the hexagrams Kunand Qian(Kun and Chien), meaning Yin and Yang, which are complementing each other to the "Golden Pill" such being the unity of the complementing components.
In TCM the fifth element Earth finds its physiological counterpart represented in the Stomach and Spleen, which are considered Neutral, meaning neither too Yin, nor too Yang. As we can see in this interpretation the five Organs are closely connected with the five Elements, mutually nourishing and balancing each other. If one Organ is sick, it will influence the others as well.
Take for example the TCM principle "Earth bears Metal", or slightly simplified meaning "the healty Stomach/Spleen-System (Earth) will nourish a healthy Lung (Metal)", it means if the Stomach cannot perform its contribution the absorbtion of nourishment from the food, like Vitamins and if (from the Western medical view) the spleen does not perform well in cleaning the blood and supporting the immunic system then a person easily catches diseases of the upper respiratory tract (colds, bronchitis, flus) and other lung related diseases (asthma, an immunologic disease).
In Chinese health preservation the Organs also have an impact on the mind, which is divided into willpower (yi), vegetative soul or mind (po), genetic determination or essence (jing), mental control or spirit (hun), and intelligent mind (shen).
In this concept the will (yi) is related to the Spleen like it is said that "the Spleen houses the will, the Lung the vegetative soul, Kidneys store the essence, the Liver houses the mental control and the Heart rules the intelligent mind.
For example: It can often be observed that people who worry too much, "overthink" themselves, are unable to settle their will into one goal, like the typical "idealistic but unpractical intellectual" suffer easier from digestion problems than other "down to earth" people.
The classics explain that: "Good Earth bears proper land, which bears proper quicksilver, which will easily melt into good Earth again, such resulting in steady actions and a stable mind."
The meaning of this quote is that if the mind is not confused, the will, housed by the Spleen is appropriate, therefore the psycho-somatic coordination bears proper functions, in this way physiologic energy is not exhausted, the mood is at ease and the intelligence is able to concentrate, such closing the circle again, leaving mind and body in harmony.
So in our view the "practice of the secret arts" means self-cultivation of body and mind; the alchemical elixir, the "nourishing of the fire", "creating the embryo" etc. all can be interpreted as terms for internal cultivation techniques in connection with the facts of the mind and the five Organs in TCM.
If we compare now any school or method of inner self-cultivation in China, we will find that they all have on fundamental requirement in common: Body and mind must be staedy and stable. If the equilibrium is achieved they become one. After achieving this unity the presence of the Tao is very near!
The concept of Qi
The boom of Qi-Gong in the Peoples Republic has lead to a worldwide popularity of Qi-Gong and martial arts, furthermore resulting in the image of any good Chinese is practicing exercises at any leasure time, no matter which side of the Taiwan Straits he is on. It seems finally both sides have found the typical "Chinese" feature that unifies them.
But I wonder if we - instead of any smug self-appraisal - shouldnt better take a critical look at ourselves to observe whether we really have made any good use of the wisdom which our revered ancestors have left behind as heritage.
Is the true meaning of the concept "Qi" really undestood ? Is it carefully placed as a golden key in our daily life, inspite of the waves and wiles in our heart ? Or do we need to use it to fry beefsteaks with our hands like a funny bottletrick , showing off "Qi" like stage-magic. Are those high-skilled Qi-Gong performers special skill acrobats or are they - as rumoured secretly in the audience - real masters of QI ?
"Qi" indeed is a concept that is really hard to grasp- on the other hand it is definetely existing, being researched for many years by science- although the explanations differ as much as the research method and the scientists seem to be unable to find one explanation that is commonly agreed on by all of them.
We can carefully state that Qi is an abstract idea, a philosophical concept of an energy which is encompassing all kinds of "life-related" energy- connected with the body, but not strictly bound to the its physical shell, instead of that being network-like in contact with everything under the sky.
This sounds complex- but seen from the practical aspect it is only important for us to know that it can be used for self-cultivation, or as the ancients said : "When hungry- eat. When thirsty- drink. When tired- sleep. That is all there is to say."
Another meaning of this simple advice is that there are no limits in self-cultivation, no time unsuitable for practice, no matter whether we walk, stand, sit or lie down, we can always include our practice into our daily life.
If we listen to our body, it will become a good friend, life will change into a happy and healthy experience, we will be more interested in our life instead of complaining about it and the "unfair world" making any escapistic flight unnecessary. If we change our approach toward others into an open an helpful one, we will find one day that we are a part of everything and everything has a complement in us. Now this is actually the principle of the eterneal transmutation of Qi !
Instead of reducing it to a mere stage-show of its outer appearance, we should really make a better use of this beautiful idea of our ancestors.
Superiority in female self-cultivation
If we take a look in the history we will find that from past to present among people who achieved the Tao women were always in the minority compared to men. Why is this so ? Are women inferior to men or could it even be true that -as some esoteric belief goes- peoples spirits are born into female bodies for the first 500 years of spiritual life, due to the lack of experience ?
On the other hand my old master always said: "The spirituality of women is unmatchable since their softness and fragility are the keys to heaven."
So lets discuss why there were only such a few women who have entered the Tao. From the view of biology one finds that nature has given the female body less strength, making it also less sturdy than the male.
In this aspect I always encourage women to learn Qi-Gong or even martial arts in order to gain strength while training the limbs to become more nimble. Traditionally in the Chinese agricultural society women were regarded inferior by the farmers due to their lack of strength at the daily work on the fields. Now that we live in a more civilized age were the society does not rely on physical strengh anymore and women are well-educated and intelligent still some violent and ugly things happen to them.
Besides the lack of physical strength makes women mentally more sensitive. If we take a look at the animal world for comparison, taking say a big and sturdy dog and a tiny and fragile one, we will find that while the large one is hard to be unnerved but also less sensible, the small one will be very aware but susceptible to any influence reaching its body and also easier to frighten.
But for women fortunately this can be changed: any woman who gaines strength by practice will confirm that she emotionally also has gained independency and courage. No one will be able to apply to her those old prejudicial sayings like "idle chatterbox", "helpless and incompetent" and other sarcasms.
Lack of independence is another changeable shortcoming resulting from lack of physical strength: Before marriage many Chinese women exclusively rely on their parents, after marriage they rely on their husbands and in old age on their children. Those who are unmarried, but in the "right age" are searching nervously for their future "free ticket to ride" to rely on, claiming that they feel "uncomplete". No wonder they voluntarily become "gullible prisoners for life" of their fathers, husbands and sons guilely following their own wrong belief.
But there is no need to do so as the examples of self-cultivating women in ancient China can show: Take for example Ching Yang Bai Yu, a women in the Sung-Dynasty: as a child she learned how to gain a steadyness of mind by meditation, when she was married against her will when eleven years old, she choose to rather become a Buddhist nun and finally she achieved enlightenment.
Or Sun Bu Er, the wife of the Taoist Ma Dan Yang, she choose not to have children in order to practice unhindred by duties. After she practiced daily together with her husband they finanally both became one with the Tao.
Women should consider themselves as "complete, independent human beings" not as "helpless and suppressed poor women" training body and mind and such gaining the understanding that they actually are complete in themselves and so achieving a deeper meaning of "emancipation". If this idea is not put into action "equality of the sexes remains an empty phrase only.
Let children learn the book and the bow
Some years ago my son - when in the first year of primary school - came home with his math exam at a very low score. "It seems your math exam went pretty bad this time" I asked him. He just said: "I dont care much about that." "Alright," I smiled "you are straighforward and daring, I must admit. But wouldnt it be even better to be unconcerned about your marks if they were good ones ?" Later, when he went on studying free from pressure and stress his math score also gradually became better and better. Would it have been better to apply more pressure ?
One of the reasons that nowadays the pressure on children is so high is certainly the fact that parents want their children to be able to cope with the stressful competition in our society.
Many parents have only one single concept about the values and ethics in education: "How else on earth should we educate our children; if they dont study well while they are young, it seems there is no hope for a bright future anymore. After they have grown up they wont be rich, their skills will be mediocre and their status below others, hence they will have no self-esteem and under the huge pressure the society will put on everyone they might even give up any dignity."
When I hear some parents talking about the exams their children have taken, their achievments and disappointments, success and failure and so on, I feel an endless sympathy for them and the human nature. Hope in their childrens succes is common for all parents in the world- so of course they cant be blamed for their high expectations in their children, but how can they bear it to see their children growing up never ever being able to free themselves even temporarily from the pressure the human spirit has to endure ?
In ancient China there were some proud and free-roaming vagabonds who considered fame and fortune only as floating clouds to their unbound spirits, or the righterous knight-errands some high-spirited fighters took as their goal of life, but this chivalrous and carefree attitude has almost vanished in our viciously competitive society.
Some parents require their offspring to cram and exam until they almost throw up on it, trying to pump any kind of knowledge into them and finally only resulting in problems of their normal and natural development of body and mind.
If we look back into the past again observing the sages and the heroes, we will notice that there is a sword hanging from the belt of the sage Confucius, while the saint of all warriors Kwan-Kung (Guan Gong) holds an old tome in one hand, such hinting the importance of a balanced education, be it in martial arts or be it in literature.
Since I, too, was educated by both of them, brought up by "book and bow" I realize the importance of a strong and healthy body housing a sane steady mind, since only in this way the stress can be transformed and released. And for this reason I consider it to be a good way of education, when children learn some martial arts like Shaolin-Boxing, Eight-Trigram-Palm, etc. such embracing the spirit of traditonal Chinese education for gaining physical strength, a mental equilibrium and an open and a free spirit.
Here ends the first excerpt from Master Lis book, any interested publisher is welcome to contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org