November 10, 2011

Question and Answer about the order of practice

Question:

Hi James,
hope everything is good with you. I just wanted to ask you in all your years of training, have you found there is a particular sequence that is best to do the exercises in order to extract maximum benefit? For example, doing supplementary practices [walking,trees] followed straight away by sitting, or the other way round.
Would apreciate any advice you could give me in order to gain the most benefit from the practice.

Answer:
this is not an easy question.

Basically one practices the 'spontaneous dao', meaning that through time and training one should spontaneously simply do the appropriate thing at every moment.

This can however be a 'very slippery slope' since we are easily fooled by the human mind into doing things that are really just a product of desire and are nowhere near the real spontanaity of the true dao.

So, sitting practice immediately after tree practice in the evening is very effective. The balancing effect of pin heng gong can help make quiet sitting more true and effective (ie less forced).

Walking practice is effectively 'building the furnace' and should be followed by nourishment and rest. ( As we did at the retreat, followed by the morning sitting )

I have not been able to really tell from my recording whether Master Wang followed different methods in the morning and evening sittings, so I cannot advise there.
I use a method of study where I read the taoist classics for inspiration and focusing, followed by sitting practice. There are a number I find particularily effective.
Thomas Cleary's 'The Inner Teachings of Taoism' (in Chinese is called 'Four Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir') as well as his 'The Secret of the Golden Flower' and his badly titled IMO 'Practical Taoism' are all excellent. I really like Eva Wongs' 'The Tao of health, Longevity and Immortality', a translation of the 'Chung-Lu ch'uan-tao chi' or 'The Teaching of Chung and Lu'. This is a core text of the Northern Branch of the Complete Reality School, of which the Longmen Dao, Master wang's sect is the primary existing line.

All that being said I will repeat here my mantra about the Living Midnight, you have probably heard this from me before.

The most important issue of all in effectiveness and making real progress is familiarity and use of what is termed in the classics as the 'living midnight'.
There are two methods.

1 - During sitting, when stillness culminates in the 'song' stage (the quiet sitting part of the practice following the initial pore breathing and gathering of the shen), then energy arises spontaneously. This rises naturally in the body and there is a sensation of 'lifting off' floating up to heaven. When the floating reaches it's peak and yin commences, you 'hang' from heaven and dissolve completely, the accumulation settling in the sha tien. If you accomplish this, the remaining part of the practice (an shen tzu chio and five element circulation ) will have a living shinng character that is immistakable. Then when you plunge the spirit into the lower field you will know the spirit and energy are joined.

2 - Anytime during the day, is the spirit is settled and presence sufficient, you will 'sense' the moment of the 'living midnight' ( actually this is the 'living hour' of the shen returning. If yo are lucky to be able to sit at that moment and do the practice of 'an shen tzu chio' you will experience something like #1 above, but much stronger. The energy surges up, and you literally take off, feeling like all the body and sense are bouyant like a balloon. You can rise very high, into infinite space and literally 'touch heaven'. As that period wanes, hang from heaven by looking up through the crown and fastening your attention on the highest, while the body and all sensation dissolve into emptyness, and then emptyness itself dissolves. This is all spontanoeusand requires no thought or effort. Only 'an shen tzu chio'.
Mind resting on breath and breath resting on mind.

Posted by james at 10:47 PM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2011

10 Days with Wang Liping, a student's experience. Days 1-3, Establishing the Field and Ziran

Days 1-3, Establishing the Field and Ziran

No question that on looking back, the first 2-1/2 days of the April 2011 retreat were the most difficult. Students arrived from all over the world, with widely different levels of practice, some with little or virtually no experience with the type and form of practice we were doing. Master Wang expended great effort devoting the time to build and stabilize a common meditation field for the entire group of close to 20 students. To understand what this means, one must first understand the concept and meaning of what is called in Chinese 'Ziran' translated commonly as 'Natural Breathing'. Sounds simple, absolutely not so. Why is this so, where does the common translation arise, and what does 'ziran' really entail?

First, Ziran is a specific and specialized state, not in any real way associated with what most would call a 'natural' state, although that is in fact exactly what it is. The difficulty lies in the unfortunate reality that, in modern life, there is virtually nothing remaining of the 'natural', certainly not from the Daoist perspective.

When it is said that ziran is a state, it means it is a state of consciousness that can (by the experienced adept) be entered and exited from quickly and consciously at will (by will), by an established and transmittable method, this being one of the primary and initial achievements of a developing Daoist practice. By establishing a 'group field' the endowed Master can cause the members of the group to enter into the state (ziran) primarily by being a conscious participant in the group field. It is through entering into the sate, whether consciously or as a group participant that the further states the Master is transmitting can be experienced. It is that important. Perhaps unfortunately, the real meaning of the state, it's experience and importance of developing this power in practice are often 'taken for granted' or assumed.

The practice of 'An Shen Tzu Chio' (Stabilizing the Shen in the Ancestral Cavity) and 'Ziran' are to some extent synonomous. This immediately implies what could be termed a 'Catch 22' in the following sense. Once the practitioner has the ability and power in practice to simply 'An Shen Tzu Chio', in exercizing that power in 'quiet sitting', they thereby enter into 'ziran'. Natural breathing is, simply put, the state the body assumes once the shen is stabilized. In most cases, this implies years, if not decades, of practice and achievement. Hence the value of group practice under the guidance and energy field of a Master. By submitting to the group field under the Master's 'Pressure Field', the shen is stabilized (to a greater or lesser extent) by the external field generated by the Master's. Once the field reaches a certain critical mass, the individuals in the group enter into and experience ziran.

One difficulty lies in the fact that each individual must eventually find and stabilize their own 'ziran', which will have a characteristic pace and rhythm specific to them and their level of practice. There will be a characteristic ratio of in-breath to out-breath, and a rising and falling pace, linked to the date/time (daily,monthly and yearly sexagenary cycles), the place in the current meditative session and various other factors. The Master must match his developing group field to these factors and gradually, in increasingly intensive sessions, bring the student group into sync with that constantly varying field. Timing is everything.

Because this is an article about personal experience, I relate as follows:

Due to the kindness of Master Wang and his disciple Kathy Li, I was offered a position in the group immediately adjacent to the place Master Wang took during the opening and closing phases of each sitting session (pan tzu). My habit was to arrive early enough for class to sit in place and practice entering into ziran and allowing the state to stabilize prior to the arrival of Master Wang. This would allow time for any 'processing' that was required for me to settle into a stable state of 'song rong' or 'dissolving and melting', often implying a sequence of 'rising and falling' that needs to occur spontaneously and effortlessly if the song state is to be completely realized.

Once the session started, and again this refers to the intial 2-1/2 day period of 'Building the Group Field', I (and most of the group) initially experienced significant distress when the pace of the ziran of the developing field, and our individual ziran varied. My attention was drawn to this when Kathy commented ( after perhaps the third 1-1/2 hour session ) that the developing pace was quite, and perhaps even uncomfortably, slow. My reaction was that the pace was close to ideal for me, and if anything slightly fast. At that point the pace was perhaps 4-5 breaths per minute after about 15 minutes (in and out being counted as one breath), with a ratio of approximately 1-5 for the durtion of in-breath to out-breath .

A very interesting discussion about the cause of this difference in experience ensued. I was seated immediately adjacent to Master Wang and I assumed the first one to be enveloped in his field (my assumption). She countered that perhaps he was taking my pace as a sample for the group, and others found this was simply not appropriate for them at the current state of the group field. I do not believe we were able to settle this question to our mutual satisfaction. This experienced difference grew greater with each session ( and the sessions grew longer each day ) until on the afternoon of the third day we were sitting for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Several of the students were in obvious distress at crucial points in the sitting, although Kathy had, by that time, found herself comfortable in the emerging group field.

My experience was completely different and became the defining personal experience for the entire retreat. As the group field developed, I found my ziran at significant variance wih the group. Their in-breath to out-breath rato was more like 1-2, and while my pace might normally stabilize at 3-4 breaths per minute, the group never approached more than 5-6. That was the natural pace for the group and once stabilized it varied very little throughout the retreat. I spent every available 'resting moment' seeking a new and comfortable ziran that would sync with the group, with remarkably little success (until the 8th or 9th day, but more about that in a later article). My experience was simply that by sitting in the group ziran, the pre-existing state I had arrived at through 5 years of practice of 'an shen tzu chio' was under intense revision while in personal solo practice, I could not find and enter a truely stable state. Master Wang very helpfully made clear that the exact position of the shen in the tzu chio was critical in correctly entering the state, and I (obviously) had not correctly achieved that. The distance the shen is held relative to the heavenly eye is determined by an individual's specific body measurement. I needed to increase that relative distance, and due to force of habit, this was far from easy. This was a huge and difficult lesson for me, as I had assumed that since I had developed the power in practice to enter into the ziran (and hence the song state) virtually instantaneously and at will, I was doing the practice correctly. I was very incorrect in that assumption, and only through the Master's powerful field and the resulting group ziran was I able to percieve (and eventually overcome) this.

The practice of An Shen Tzu Chio requires you to, at various stages of the sitting practice, to enter and leave ziran mutiple times. There are periods of intense intentional guiding of the breathing pace, depth and rhythm, followed quickly by ziran. Master Wang would guide the practice by saying simply (translating from the Chinese here) 'Breathing is now natural breathing', expecting (and in the group field, allowing or 'forcing') the adept to immediately enter the state. A lyrical description of this is contained in the words (I'm quoting from David Verdesi here) "You are not breathing, you are being breathed". This describes the state as experienced in the group field very exactly. To find the means and power to enter this state effortlessly and at will should be, in my understanding, a primary goal of anyone taking the Ling Bao Bi Fa 10 day retreat. In other words, 'Submit'.


Posted by james at 1:25 PM | Comments (0)

10 Days with Wang Liping, a student's experience. Arrival

Arrival

The 10 days at Tao Garden was a waiting experience. I got over the 12 hours of jet lag, and found some time to disconnect from the hectic pace of the last few weeks of disposing of 64 years of personal accummulation. Tao Garden had transformed itself from a Taoist Retreat Center to a Thai spa. It was busy and evidently successful in it's new form. It was a complete surprise to realize I had for an unknown reaon simply ignored it as one of my possessions. I was pressed to decide if it was to also be 'dissolved' as I hadevidently been holding onto it as a sort of personal refuge or lifeboat with all other means of support gone. By the end I resolved to also sell this piece of my past and asked the management to find a buyer. On April 14th I left for Bejing.

The flight to Bangkok was uneventful. The flight to Beijing was not. The entire 5 hours was one long lucid dream. The plane landed on a frozen river. I deplaned and explored a remarkable isolated village with strange unhuman but welcoming inhabitants who fed us and hurried us back to the aircraft. The takeoff was frightful, the plane almost too heavy to lift off. We skimmed between the snow covered tree lined banks for what seemed forever, the engines roaring with the effort, rising and falling in pitch as the pilot struggled to achieve flight. I slipped from the lucid dream state to the waking state multiple times, each time upon waking, surprised that the roar of the engines was actually real. This state was over only when the plane ( in the waking state ) started it's final descent to Bejing.

While still in Thailand I had received an email from Kathy Li, the retreat organizer with pictures of two students also attending the retreat who would be on my flight from Bejing to Dalian. She hoped I could connect with them prior to the flight. Of course the likelyhood I would recognize two Chinese men ( myself hopelessly Westen in a sea of Chinese) was less then zero! I took my aisle seat near the back and was ( to say the least ) astounded, when these exact two men took the middle and window seats still vacant to my left. They introduced themselves as if this impossible coincidence was an ordinary experience. The subtle power of the Master must be experienced to be believed. Simple as that.

In a short time we were met in Dalian by a long time Korean student of Master Wang and were resting in his hotel room. I slept briefly, we had a quick meetup and meal with the rest of the students and were on the road to the Hot Springs Hotel. After checking in, we all enjoyed a personal greeting in our room from Master Wang and I fell immediately into a badly needed (and dreamless) sleep.

Posted by james at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)