Daoist Meditation Sitting Still Soft Qigong

道家靜坐柔氣功

Through the ages, those who are interested in healthy-living have always emphasized the important role of energy (qi).  For this reason, specialists in healthy-living are sometimes known as qi practitioners (練氣士).  Energy-training (qi training) methods vary from system to system and school to school.  Generally speaking, there are three types – energy-training for medical purposes, energy-training for martial arts and energy-training for religious purposes.  Each of the three can be further sub-divided into systems, schools and branches.  This article will focus on Daoist Meditation Sitting Still Soft Qigong (道家靜坐柔氣功), which is energy-training for religious purposes.

There are a number of reasons we have chosen to focus on energy-training for religious purposes rather than for medical or martial purposes. In addition, we have chosen as focus the Daoist approach to energy-training and not energy-training as practiced in Buddhism or Hinduism.  Energy-training for medical purposes tends to be passive rather than positive.  Energy-training in martial arts focuses on energy as supplementary to martial skills and combat, with not enough attention to healthy-living and longevity.  Energy-training in Buddhism or in yoga in Hinduism stresses hard energy (hard qi), and it is unsuitable for patients who are elderly or sickly.  Daoist Soft Qigong is natural, careful and meticulous; hence it is suited to all ages and all types of constitution.

Why is it called “soft qigong (soft energy-training)”?  Soft is the opposite of hard.  Tibetan Buddhist Mizong (佛法密宗) QiGong Energy training calls the energy that is generated by prolonged deep breathing and stored in the cinnabar field (or dantian 丹田) “hard training energy” (修剛氣).  It is beneficial to and produces quick results in those who are strong, in the prime of life and in whom the blood and energy flow is strong.   Conversely, allowing the energy to enter the cinnabar field (dantian) naturally instead of storing it is known as training the “soft energy” (柔和氣). While the effects may take time to become observable, it does no harm.  For helping the old and sickly, Daoists prefer to use soft energy. Master Hanxu (涵虛真人) summed up the characteristics of soft energy-training by stating, “The small, soft energy exists in a state of nothingness and its use is not harmful.”  Although soft energy works slowly, it is the most efficacious among all kinds of energy-training.  In the same way, in martial arts, the most aggressive is also the most superficial in effect; whereas the internal styles are mostly profound and intense.

Of course, in the past, limited by the times they lived in and by the teachings they received, many Daoists espoused ideas that may appear to be unscientific.  We view these with an awareness of the background they came from; at the same time, we should avoid passing judgement on some of the theories and allow time to provide us with the proof that we seek.

There are numerous religions in the world; among them, the believers of the most popular ones such as Christianity, Islam, and Catholicism all place their hope in their God and life in heaven after death.  The only exception is Daoism.  Daoists believe that control of our own lives is in our own hands, and they preach going beyond the limits placed on us by nature.  All their training methods suggest striving against nature for supremacy and looking for benefits in the here and now.  Buddhist Mahayana is similar to Daoism in this way.  All creatures in nature are endowed with an innate sense of goodness.  The master and the followers are equal.  There is much in Buddhism that we can learn from.  As for the various training methods in Wushangmizong (無上密宗), there are various restrictions on the learners’ ages, physiques etc.  From the point of view of healthy-living, it is not particularly helpful.

There are over five thousand texts in Daoist scripture, including Sandong (三洞), Minfu (皿輔).  However, many of these are forgeries and are of no use to the study and research of healthy-living.  Even with the limited number of texts that contain useful materials for research, it is difficult to get the full picture.  Through the ages, Daoist scholars have given variant interpretations to the texts; some have chosen evidence which they feel will help prove their reading of the texts, while others have opted to use vague language or comparisons to state their ideas.  It is, therefore, impossible to truly understand these texts without the guidance of a master.

The principle of yin and yang, when used in personal training, is the study of soft energy-training or soft qigong.  Although it is also generally known as Neidan Training (or Internal Immortality Training內丹術), it is, strictly speaking,  training through sitting still (or Qingjing Danfa 清靜丹法) and is not the same as genuine Neidan Training.  Genuine Neidan Training is also known as Neijindan (or Internal Alchemy 內金丹) to distinguish it from External Dan (or External Immortality Training 外金丹).  Qingjing Danfa is a northern discipline, whereas genuine Neidan Training is a southern discipline.  These days, not very many are clear about this distinction.

There are many phases or stages to Meditation Training, including, Xiaoyao (小葯) (Small Body Remedy), Dayao (大葯) (Large Body Remedy),  Xiaozhou (小周) (Small Heaven Cycle), Dazhou (大周) (Large Heaven Cycle), Sanju (三車) (Three Stages), Santian (Three Cinnabar Fields 三田) (Three Dan Tian), Hundred Days (百日), Ten Months (十月), Three Years (三年), Nine Years (九載), Jietai (Formation of the Foetus 結胎), Tuotai (Maturation of the Foetus 脫胎), Wenyang (Tender Care溫養), Muyue (Bathing 沐浴), Rubu (Feeding乳哺), etc.   As long as the student has properly understood the initial stage and knows the direction in which they should be going, every step in that direction will bring them closer to their goal.  Progress may be slow, but they will attain success.  There is no need to be overly concerned by the various interpretations as individuals have different constitutions, as well as different rates of improvement in their training.  Following the texts too strictly is often not the best way to proceed.

The main Daoist text “Wuzhenpian” (悟真篇) has a number of annotative notes; though they appear to be referring to different practices, the underlying principle is the same.  The ancients often said that Immortality Training is comprised of the principle, process and method, and that it was necessary to distinguish between the three.  Although the principle is the same, the process and method may vary according to the teachings of the individual masters.  While one may gain an understanding of the principle on one’s own, it is hard for one to attain full command of the process and method without the guidance of a master.

The physical body, life, mind, spirit and energy refer to different things, yet, the ancient scholars stated, “The physical, the life and the mind are not separate; spirit and energy are one.”  Energy and life are the basis of all matter; the physical and spirit are the effects of the working of matter. Buddhists believe that “the mind and energy are not different.”  From the point of view of healthy-living of longevity, what Daoists and Buddhists refer to as “mind, life and spirit” are all reflections of how matter works on the brain.  In both Daoist and Buddhist training, there is, sometimes, the appearance of illusions.  Ancient philosophers call these “mara” (obstructions to meditation-energy training 魔事), but in reality, they are the illusions produced by the workings of energy in the meridians.  Because they originated from matter, they are conceived as “illusory but real.”

Those who were regarded by Daoists as “immortals” or “holy men” were really energy-training practitioners who were able to display powers that normal individuals had not attained – there is nothing particularly mysterious about them.  Anyone who has proper training to work on with the right effort is in a position to attain the same abilities.  The reason is the human body is made up of matter, and all matter is composed of energy. It is only that most individuals know they should use the energy they have (e.g. the ability to see, hear, speak, move and think) but are unaware of the possibility inherent in storing up, developing and changing the energy so that there is even more power of energy available for use.  Daoists train to harness the cinnabar fields, chakra (whorls of energy脈輪) – which work like the boiler or reactor – so that certain parts of the body are able to give scope to greater quantities of energy than normal individuals.  From the theoretical point of view, this is totally possible.

In Daoist Meditation Sitting Still Soft Qigong (道家靜坐柔氣功) energy is conceived as the “remedy,” the spirit as the “fire” and the cinnabar field as the “vessel.”  Chen Xubai (陳虛白) in Guizhongzhinam(規中指南) talks about xuanpan (玄牝) (Dan Tian), remedy (藥物) and duration of heating (火候).  These are all guidelines for application.  However, the text itself is vague and readers often find it difficult to understand.

To attain the ultimate goal in longevity of healthy-living, there is no other way than training.  The highest level is to train the spirit, the middle level is to train the energy, and the low level is to train the body.  One who chooses to train the spirit can, at the same time, improve the energy and the body. One who chooses to train the energy can simultaneously improve the body.  However, one who trains only the body may not necessarily be able to improve the energy.  One who trains only the energy may not necessarily be able to improve the spirit.  If one’s consideration is the amount of training time needed, then the lower level takes the least time and the highest level takes the longest; though this is not categorically true.

The middle and lower levels of energy-training may have their focus on inner strength (internal) or outer (external) strength training.  Inner strength training brings the energy into the bones.  When the training is complete, the individual may appear to be slim but his internal organs are strong and his body is suffused with energy.  Outer strength training usually results in a bulky body where the vigor is easily observable.  In the past, those who made their living doing Chinese acrobatics tend to be this type.  Although some have bodies that are suffused with energy and are able to carry heavy weights or withstand strong pressure, from the point of view of healthy-living, this form of training is not commendable.

In traditional Martial Arts training, Yijinjing (Tendon Changing Exercises), Wuqinxi (Five Animal Internal Energy Frolics 五禽戲) and Tongzigong(Youngsters’ Training童子功) are all basic and intermediate level training methods for internal strength, that is why the effects are evident within a relatively short time.  However, these training methods are best applied when the individual is between his teens and thirties.  For one who is over the age of forty, it is far harder to reap the benefits.

It is important to point out at this juncture that there are many training methods that go by the name of Wuqinxi (Five Animal Internal Energy Frolics 五禽戲) or Yijinjing (易筋經).  Here, the Yijinjing training referred to comprises thirty-two guidelines, external massage and use of training apparatus.  As for Wuqinxi (Five Animal Internal Energy Frolics 五禽戲), aside from the set of movement guidelines, there is also pole work (樁功), still and active training.  In both cases, the training methods focus on internal strength rather than outward show.

Genuine internal immortality training does not place limits on age.  It was specially developed for the treatment of aging and illnesses.  In ancient times, there was the saying that even when one was one hundred and twenty years old, one would still be able to do the training, as long as one was able to breathe.  For this reason, it is important to master the core ideas in this form of training if one is looking to be successful.