Daoist Qigong - Daoist Cultivation and Training Concepts
By Grandmaster Shou-Yu Liang and Master Wen-Ching Wu
Daoists value life and enjoy life, and believe that this life is not only precious, but also hard to come by. Since life is precious, one must seek ways to live a good, healthy, long life. Not valuing life, one will not take good care of life, one will not be healthy. When the body is unhealthy, illness will surround the body. Therefore, they cultivate their life to keep it healthy, so as to attain a solid foundation for furthering their spiritual development. Individuals interested in higher spiritual aspects will find the techniques in Daoist Qigong, not only to be health, healing, and longevity exercises, but also an important foundation for furthering their spiritual pursuits.
Daoists are interested in figuring out the mystery of life and its relationship with nature, to discover life nourishing techniques, so as to attain the highest possible goal of existence - being one with the Dao. In their cultivation, they strove to understand the integrated system, not just the parts. It is not possible to understand the complete human phenomenon by isolating ourselves from nature. We can only attain full realization of ourselves through the understanding the interrelations between nature and us. Because of this integral study; Daoists have not only contributed in the development of health, healing, and longevity methods; they also have made valuable contributions to our civilization, such as the development of fire powder, medical advances, astrology, chemistry, etc.
Daoist cultivation training views the human body as a Small Cosmos, and views the Great Cosmos as a Big Human Body. The human body follows the same principles and contains the same energy as the Great Cosmos, because the Great Cosmos and the human body are from the same origin; they were originally one. Everything in the Great Cosmos came from the Void and all things are in constant change, some vary at a fast pace, some at an extremely slow pace relative to the human life span. Not one thing in the Great Cosmos is everlasting. Even the stars and the earth have their limits. The only eternity is Dao. Therefore, to attain immortality and to be the controller of one's own destiny, it is imperative that one return to the Dao.
Daoism utilizes yin and yang to generalize all things in the cosmos. Everything has yin and yang. This includes space. Everything in the visible first three dimensions is classified as yang. What we can't see with the ordinary eye in the fourth dimension and up are classified as yin. Within yin, there is yang and within yang, there is yin. Yin, by itself, cannot produce and yang, by itself, cannot grow. When yin grows, yang diminishes; and when yang waxes, yin wanes. Yin and yang are always in dynamic equilibrium.
In a Taiji Symbol, one side is yang the other is yin, and the curvature in the middle is the Taiji Cord. Taiji is derived from Wuji, the original nature of the Dao. If we compress a Wuji Symbol (a circle) then twist the compressed symbol (oval) it becomes a Wuji Twist (Wuji in a twist). Overlap the Wuji Symbol with the Wuji Twist and it becomes a representation of the Taiji Symbol (Drawing 2-1). The ability to reverse the twist and return it to its original nature is the way to the Dao.
The human body is like a Taiji Symbol. The channel in the middle of the body (Thrusting Vessel) is the Taiji Cord, the Governing Vessel is the arc on the yang side of the symbol, and the Conception Vessel is the arc on the yin side of the symbol. The channel in the middle is the path to which the Original Spirit enters and leaves the body, and the Governing Vessel is the governor of the physical body.
Daoists believe that yin and yang are products of the Dao. There are over three thousand, six hundred traditional Daoist schools, each with their unique cultivation methods. Philosophically, the highest cultivation of all the schools is to achieve the ability to reverse the twist in the Taiji Cord, thereby returning to Wuji. The major obstacle in high level qigong, and the attainment of immortality, and the eventual unification with the Dao, lies in whether or not one is able to break through the Taiji Cord.
Daoists don't view life as misery, but rather a trial and tribulation experience. One must hold on to this life to contribute to the world and accumulate Virtue, the required step towards spiritual evolution. The physical body is like a laboratory for experiments. Daoists are always in search of methods to attain longevity, methods to break through the Taiji Cord and unite with the Dao.
Daoism views the existence of the Small Cosmos (human body) through this process "Void changes into Spirit, Spirit changes into Pure Energy, Pure Energy changes into Pure Essence, and Pure Essence produces the physical body". Based on this belief, in order for humans to reunite with the Dao, humans will have to reverse this process to become free from this physical existence and achieve immortality. Thus, the process of cultivation will start from training the physical body, training jing (essence), training qi (energy), training the shen (spirit), and finally returning back to the Void and uniting with the Dao.
The jing, qi, and shen, correspond to Pure Essence, Pure Energy and Spirit respectively. Through the perfection of jing, qi, and shen; longevity, immortality, and unification with the Dao can be attained. It is, therefore, not surprising that the stages of Daoist training include the cultivation of jing, qi, and shen.
Generally speaking, Jing is the essence of the body. It is a life activating and nurturing substance. Qi is the life activating force. It is the energy that gives rise to life and performs all its activities. Shen is the spirit that controls and regulates life. It is that which gives rise to higher realization.
As we get older jing and qi deplete faster and faster. The consumption of jing also accelerates as we get older. To attain good health and longevity, we must assure an abundance of jing. Therefore, Daoist qigong training also targets at refilling depleted jing. Daoists believe that "Qi is like the root and jing is like the trunk of the tree. If the root is not deep, it can easily be pulled; and if the trunk is not strong, then it will fall. When one is able to firmly store qi and guard jing, one will be able to attain longevity."
Through training, cultivators condense their heart, nourish the qi, gain the ability to regulate their Personality, and remove post-birth characteristics. This will allow the Original Spirit to emerge, to be nurtured, and go out into the astral planes to absorb the pure essence, and accept the teachings of the Spiritual Guides. In the cultivation of the Original Spirit, there are three important requirements. They are: 1. Value and cultivate Virtue. 2. Understand the principles and the methods of cultivation. 3. Have the guidance of higher teachers, especially the guidance of Spiritual Guides.
The uniqueness of Daoist training is in its emphasis on both the physical body and the spirit. The connection between spirit and the physical body is like the relationship of humans with their homes. When the home is damaged and beyond repair, humans then leave the house, and look for a new home. Some religious philosophies believe this life is filled with misery and there is nothing in this life to keep them here. These religious philosophies also put hope in the afterlife and place their hope on the salvation of the spirit after death. Daoist philosophy, on the other hand, believes that this life is hard to come by. One must hold on to this life and cultivate unceasingly. Once the spirit has left the physical body, a rare opportunity to significantly improve the quality of the spirit has been lost.
The simultaneous cultivation of the spirit and the physical body is a very profound study. It is said, "Spirit is realized by oneself, methods to train the body are taught by teachers." Teachers can only show you the proper methods, explain the principles, and guide you according to your evolution. They can help you train your physical body and attain good health. The improvement of the spirit, however, depends on your own realization and effort.
By taking care of this physical body, and allowing the spirit to cultivate and evolve while in this physical body, one will be able to achieve true liberation. By following proper cultivation methods with dedication and focus, the physical body can become immortal; or the spirit can leave the physical body and become independent. Since life is hard to come by, one should not waste this opportunity. One should not rely on the next life or wait until death to ascend to heaven.
To return to the Dao one must first have an abundance of energy and a strong, healthy body to attain longevity. Daoism values life. To attain longevity one needs to actively work on their training. They do not believe that life is completely determined by fate. They believe that, "My life depends on me; and it is not predetermined." They also believe that old age and sickness can be avoided, and immortality can be attained, provided one continually cultivates and engages in learning about and living harmoniously with nature. Ignorance and lack of discipline are the reasons for not being able to master one's life and determine one's destiny.