(Translator’s note: This article was first appeared in the Buddhist Newsweek, no. 145, March 8, 1993).
Is it true that there is no Chi-Kung teaching in Buddhism? The Zen school teaches practitioners to control the breathing, relax the body and calm the mind as its three key points of practice. Without smooth breathing, without harmonized the four elements, and without a healthy body and peaceful mind, how can one achieve a one-pointed concentration? How can one enter a deep state of meditation? Many Buddhists only emphasize calming the mind and ignore the important aspects of body and breathing. It really is a great loss.
Many Buddhists often ask me: “Is Mahayana Zengong Buddhism?” “Does Mahayana Zengong offer Chi-Kung teachings?” “Are there Chi-Kung teachings in Buddhism?” I can definitely tell you that Mahayana Zengong was transmitted by the sagely Zen Master Miao Kong in the early days of the Republic of China. It is a systematic and progressive teaching that allows us to accomplish mind awakening, realization of Self-nature and leads to the attainment of Buddhahood in this lifetime. Master Miao Kong had two disciples, one a monk and the other a lay person. The venerable monk was an Elder of Mt. E-Mei in Sichuan. Unfortunately, he did not have any successor. The lay person was our Second Patriarch, Yuen-Dao Bodhisattva. Mahayana Zengong offers teachings on Chi-Kung practices, Buddhism philosophy and Zen meditation. In fact, Buddhism is considered the principal doctrines, meditation is the method and Chi-Kung practice is a complementary mean.
Is it true that there are no Chi-Kung teachings in Buddhism? The Zen school emphasizes the three key points of practice as mentioned above. The Tantric school stresses cultivation of wind (Chi), channels, and drops in order to achieve unification of body, speech, and mind and to attain inner self-realization. The Tien-Tai school (Tendai, in Japanese) teaches Chi and breathing training by means of its “Six Wonderful Ways of Dhyana” which include breathe- counting and breathe-following methods. It is well known that the First Patriarch of the Zen school, Bodhidharma, taught “internal Kung Fu” in the Shaolin Temple.
Many Buddhists today mainly emphasize sutra study and mind development. They tend to ignore the training of body and breathing and meditation. Because they are unwilling to take these teachings into consideration they miss the opportunity to develop their potential to fullest. If a practitioner only emphasizes the aspect of understanding the essence of true reality, but not the aspect of its appearance and application, the outcome is obviously not the promised one. Without physiological cultivation the essence of the mind will not be able to manifest anything. The appearance and application in turn cannot be fully displayed. What a sad loss!
The Teaching leading to mind awakening, Self-nature realization, and enlightenment
Zen Master Miao Kong in the early 1910’s transmitted the Mahayana Zengong teachings which include eight levels of mind development and nine levels of physiological cultivation. The first three levels of the latter are all Chi-Kung practices which provide the basis for cultivating the Chi and training the body. These are the foundation for mind development and attainment of realization. If a practitioner ignores these fundamental practices and tries to concentrate on ultimate practices, he/she is truly placing the horse before the cast. The expectation of attaining enlightenment in this life will be something like “looking for fish by climbing trees!”
The first level of physiological cultivation includes seventeen dynamic exercises and one sitting meditation. This is to achieve the three objectives of training the breathing, the body and the mind. There are two purposes for the practice of dynamic exercises. The first is to open all Chi energy channels in order to improve the health and get rid of illness. The other purpose is to strengthen the Chi energy to rejuvenate oneself.
The second level has five dynamic exercises which serve to train the ability of absorbing cosmic energy, emanating Chi energy and using Chi energy at will. The third level is to fully activate all Chi energy channels and to be able to heal oneself and others by remote healing. Combining the fourth level of physiological cultivation and the first level of the mind development allows one to achieve three functions: 1) to cultivate the unity of the ten greatnesses, 2) to transform Chi energy into mind energy and to unify the physical, mental, and universal energies, and 3) to develop remote healing abilities which transcend space and time.
The prerequisite for undertaking the fourth level of physiological cultivation is to fully open all energy channels, knots, and chakras. As such, the meditation practices and the manifestation of the Dharmakaya will become easier. The practice of the first to the fourth levels of physiological cultivation allows one to open up all channels for Chi to freely flow through the entire body. There are four stages, each of which has three aspects. So, I will briefly describe all twelve aspects in the following.
The beginning stage of Chi-Opening
The beginning Chi-Opening means the opening of Chi channel in a particular or isolated area of the body. It can be categorized in three aspects: 1) Chi Sensations, 2) Chi Movement, and 3) Movement of Chi energy along lines or channels. In practicing Zen meditation and Chi- Kung one will be able to cultivate, strengthen, and store abundant Chi energy in the Dan Tien (navel) area. As a result, the bodily sensitivity will be gradually enhanced. When Chi channels become partially opened, one will experience the existence of Chi inside the body with sensations such as heat, numbness, coolness, prickling, or vibration. These experiences indicate the achieving of the first aspect of Chi-Opening, that is, the experience of Chi Sensations.
As one makes further progresses in both Chi energy in the Dan Tien and Chi-Opening through meditation practices and dynamic exercises, one will undoubtedly experience different sensations. For example, when the whole body is in a relaxed state one will be able to sense the movement of Chi. During meditation one’s body may rotate from left to the right and vice versa, may move forwards or backwards, may move left or right, or jump up and down. These phenomena signify the aspect of Chi Movement.
Chi Movement is a necessary landmark made on the path of meditative and Chi-Kung development. The greater the Chi energy the greater the Chi movement. There is no need to be alarmed even when the body movement is extremely vigorous. Simply let it run its course and stop by itself.
There is another form of Chi Movement which seems to be more inspirational. Occasionally, one may display different mudras (hand posture) or perform an exercise routine which was never consciously learned before. Or, one may tap, strike or slap various areas of one’s own body which evidently promotes energy flow and/or relieves stress caused by previous injury to the area. These are known as movement of spirit Chi-Opening and have very effective therapeutic results. It can normally be classified into self-spirit Chi movement and other-spirit Chi movement. The self-spirit Chi movement is a sign of the emerging activity of one’s Dharmakaya. Many of the movements are performed subconsciously. Whether be it singing or speaking a foreign tongue that has never been learned. All the while the person is vividly wakeful and can stop the movement any time he/she wants.
If the body movement or activity, however, cannot be voluntarily controlled by the practitioner, then it is called other-spirit Chi movement. This can often be seen in spirit mediums who host “walk-ins”. If an individual has impure motivation, practices recklessly, or has heavy karmic debts, he/she is prone to such other-spirit attachment. In such cases the individual should perform the method of “Exorcising Evil Spirits of the Great Wish-Fulfilling Palm” to cleanse it. Otherwise, one may result in a long term psychological instability.
Further, there is another type of strong Chi movement called levitation. Under extreme condition when there is too much Chi energy, one may actually rise from the floor and lower back down again during the meditative state. There are three kinds of levitation, i.e., the vertical levitation, horizontal levitation and aerial flight. The aerial flight is possible only for those who have achieved higher than the third Bhumi of the Bodhisattva. That is because it requires that one be able to freely transform between matter and energy.
The third aspect is the Movement of Chi energy along lines or channels. When a given energy channel is gradually opened up one will correspondingly feel the development of sensation along that particular channel. One is now able to gradually experience heat, numbness, coolness, or prickling sensations throughout an entire energy channel instead of just in an isolated area. All the above belong to the three aspects of the first stage of Chi energy cultivation.
The second stage of Chi-Opening: to open the Ren and Du Channels
There are physiological changes associated with the second stage of Chi-Opening. In this stage the primary goal is to open the Ren (the Conception or the front meridian) and the Du (the Governor or the back meridian) channels of the body. In the Taoist school the opening of the microcosmic orbit refers to the free flow of Chi energy between the Ren and the Du channels. There are three aspects, i.e., the skin clearance, spinal column clearance, and spontaneous circulation.
In the Taoist school, their primarily objective is the opening of the microcosmic orbit, that is, the Ren and Du channels. If the Chi energy in the Dan Tien is not sufficiently strong, one can use one’s mental power to direct the available Chi energy to circulate in the microcosmic orbit. If one is able to sense that there is Chi energy truly flowing along the orbit according to one’s command, then it is called Chi-Opening on the skin surface. If the Chi can penetrate and travel inside the spinal column by means of mind control and one can feel apparent sensations of heat, cold or numbness circulating along the Ren and Du channels, then it is called spinal column clearance.
During meditation or when the body is relaxed, if Chi energy automatically circulates the microcosmic orbit without any mental manipulation one can then declare that the Ren and Du channels are truly opened. There are practitioners who claim that they have achieved full circulation of the Chi energy in microcosmic orbit. Actually that may not be correct if their sensational experiences resulted from mental manipulation of Chi energy. Under this situation, the achievement can only be equivalent to that of skin clearance.
The third Stage Chi-Opening
In this stage all Chi channels, knots, and chakras throughout the body are opened. That is, Chi energy is able to freely flow through all microchannels (capillary circulation). In Taoist terminology this is called the full opening of the macrocosmic orbit. There are three different aspects associated with this stage of cultivation. The first aspect is Sensation Clearance for which one feels as if all the energy channels of the body are active. When energy is absorbed, the entire body feels hot, numb, or tingling sensation. This is the first aspect of the third stage Chi-Opening. When practicing meditation or Chi-Kung, one is able to use mind power to guide Chi energy to any chosen point and then perform emanation or absorption of energy. Of this it is said that one has achieved a state where “the entire body can function as a Dan Tien”. This is the second aspect of the third stage. If during meditation or Chi-Kung practice, one can freely emanate energy to or absorb energy from any two or more specified points, then one accomplishes the third aspect of the third stage. This indicates that all energy channels have been completely opened without obstacles. Nowadays, most Chi-Kung practitioners are able to achieve Chi-Opening up to the first and second stages. Very few reach this third stage.
The fourth Stage Chi-Opening
The fourth stage is the attainment of spiritual, beatific Chi-Opening. At this stage one is free to display and manifest the potentiality of the Dharmakaya. It is the opening of the intangible channels of our subtle body. It is the ripening of the innate potentiality after one actualizes the Buddha nature.
This is the stage of spiritual development that has been reached when one has completely relinquished the Three Minds and Four Appearances. He/She is truly free from deluded concepts of an ego, personality, beings and a life and has transcended the bondage of ego- grasping, phenomenon-grasping and emptiness-grasping. The Buddha nature is constantly in the state of unborness and calm abiding tranquility. Should a loving and compassionate thought arise, however, it will accordingly, spontaneously display and manifest with the intrinsic supernatural powers.
When one has fully actualized the first Bhumi of the Bodhisattva, the Six Supernatural Powers are spontaneously fulfilled. When one enters the third Bhumi of the Bodhisattva, he/she has attained the ability to freely transform matter and energy. He/She is able to emanate and manifest subtle bodies and put the Six Supernatural Powers to miraculous use and application. At such time the spiritual, beatific channel is fully opened and fully functional.