You have asked us to write a paper on Zhineng Qigong (ZQ). After making several unsuccessful attempts to do so, I have decided to write to you in a less formal letter style instead.
In this letter, I will try to briefly make the case that the practice of ZQ at all levels provides strong techniques for achieving awakening or enlightenment. The forms also provide a format in which advanced tantric practices may be easily integrated to further strengthen their power. I will end the letter with some comments and observations concerning my view of ZQ after two and a half years of practice.
Health and Longevity
I understand that ZQ promotes itself as a scientific system for working with chi to establish and maintain health and longevity. It is my impression that, although it was developed by enlightened masters, ZQ does not, at least in the early stages, promote itself as a practice leading to spiritual awakening or enlightenment.
In response to my query about ZQ leading to enlightenment, you wrote that the possible consequences of working with the practices associated with ZBE and Combo CD exercises are superb health and longevity through opening up the dantians and central meridians. Only advanced consciousness cultivation can lead to enlightenment and freedom. Energy cultivation can only improve and purify the body to lay a physical foundation for the eventual transmutation.
I am interested in health and longevity. I have studied hatha yoga in the past and am presently practicing "soul yoga" with Sudhir Addetiwar. I get great joy from riding my mountain bicycle along the dirt trail which runs along the creek near my house. I like to spend time in the mountains hiking at high altitudes with a daypack. I try to eat a reasonably healthy diet.
But, I do not practice ZQ for health and longevity. I practice ZQ because I believe it, even in its most elementary forms, can be a very powerful system for promoting awakening. My viewpoint is supported both by my personal experience and from the writings in ancient spiritual texts.
My Personal Viewpoint of Awakening
Throughout my life, I have been interested in the subject of realizing the highest human potential. If human potential relates to physical and mental health and wisdom, my primary interest has always been in wisdom.
As I have matured, I have come to view wisdom as realizing the role of my personal organism in the harmony and unity of Nature in all of its forms. I believe that wisdom is achieved by seeing the entirety of all aspects of Nature, which includes the ground from which energy arises, the energy that permeates all of space and time, and the physical forms which arise and decay within the energy field.
To me, the primary obstacles to realizing this harmonious unity of Nature lie within the human mind. Two of the primary problems of the mind are the sense of separateness (ego) and the habit of the mind to absorb itself in abstractions or constructs rather than the real. For example, the mind might concern itself more with matters such as one's children's grades in school, rather than whether or not a child might be standing behind the vehicle as we back up. Or we may spend more energy worrying about the value of our real estate rather than the fact that the rain soaked hill behind our home may be about to become a mudslide.
In my view, any practice which promotes nourishing the body in its extremities and internal organs may be said to promote health and longevity. And, any practice which quiets the thoughts or focuses the awareness on the reality of Nature within or without the body may be said to promote awakening or enlightenment. Meditation is the classic method used to attain realization or enlightenment. The word meditation is used to describe various practices.
From my point of view, an example of the elements of a standard sitting meditation practice might be as follows. Sit comfortably on a meditation cushion. Lift the bai hui. Tuck in the chin. Relax the mind and body. The eyes may be either closed or relaxed and looking at the floor. The attention may (or may not) be focused on the breath.
But, generally the core practice consists of witnessing the thoughts and feelings of the mind and body. The Tantric View of Awakening During the past year, I have been reading The Book of the Secrets by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. This book is presented in five volumes containing more than 1000 pages. It gives edited transcripts of talks given by Rajneesh in the early 1970s on his interpretation of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra by Shiva.
The original book describes a conversation between Shiva and his consort Devi concerning the 112 techniques for attaining enlightenment. My understanding of tantra comes from reading Rajneesh's book. The tantra provided in this paper are quoted directly from that book Tantra is a scientific system established thousands of years ago in India.
Tantra means technique. It is applied to any technique which inevitably (scientifically verifiably) leads to enlightenment. The nature of the individual tantric techniques seem to be that they are an activity which is sufficiently engaging to specific types of individuals that they will perform it over time out of interest rather than as a work for achieving enlightenment.
Rajneesh says, "Meditation [tantra] is the ultimate play. It is not a means to something. It is not a means to enlightenment. Enlightenment happens in it but it is not a means to it." Many of the mental and physical activities of the ZQ forms can be done while simultaneously performing tantric practices.
In the discussion below, I hope to show that elements of the ZQ forms, as taught, are classic techniques for awakening. I will also try to show how the forms lend themselves to adding tantric visualizations which may be done simultaneously while practicing the ZQ forms.
My first exposure to ZQ occurred in November, 2007. I had received a brochure through my Buddhist sangha announcing that Master Mingtong Gu would be in town to give an afternoon workshop on ZQ. I had never before heard of qigong and had never met a Chinese master.
I had no interest in taking on a new practice, but decided to attend out of curiosity. When Mingtong demonstrated LCUPCD, I interpreted the form as a practice for joining the practitioner with the Infinite and Eternal. I saw it as a powerful set of techniques for awakening.
Actually, I did not realize, at that time, that ZQ could also be used for health and longevity. It is my understanding that the physical movements within all of the ZQ forms were derived by Dr. Pang from practices which were taught to him by his teachers.
It is also my understanding that Dr. Pang is credited with adding the practice of organizing the chi field, which is done prior to doing each of the individual forms. The chi field is normally organized by the teacher or group leader through a set of visualizations which are based on the Song of the Eight Verses of Zhineng Qigong by Dr. Pang. Each teacher seems to use variations for organizing the chi field.
Below, I will use a typical set of instructions which I will discuss from the points of view of health and longevity and awakening. Organizing the Chi Field Master Yuantong Liu has suggested that the processes of organizing the chi field and practicing the form can benefit from first establishing the intention of the session. The intention should be in conjunction with one's life's true purpose. It can be an intention of working towards health and longevity or one of working towards wisdom or perhaps for other purposes.
This can be done prior to organizing the chi field or during one of the first two steps below. At the end of the form, the affirmation "Hao La" can be given in the sense of "intention realized". I will now examine how each statement of organizing the chi field may be viewed as promoting health and longevity and/or wisdom (awakening).
Sit or stand upright. Lift the bai hui. Tuck in the chin.
This practice seems to facilitate health and longevity by straightening the spinal cord for better chi circulation and possibly to better communicate between the body-mind and the external chi field for the exchange of energy and information. It also focuses awareness on the situation of the organism which supports awakening.
Gaze forward at eye level. Focus on one spot quietly for some time.
This would not seem to support health and longevity directly. However, focusing the attention on one spot for some time is a famous tantra, popularized by Bodhidharma, for attaining enlightenment.
Withdraw your vision within yourself.
Attending to the state of the body would support health and longevity. Viewing within the body (as is done throughout the ZQ forms) is a powerful technique for attaining enlightenment. For example, one of the 112 tantra is translated as: "Eyes closed, see your inner being in detail".
Gently close the eyes and relax the entire body. Be quiet and be tranquil.
These are elements of the standard meditation technique for attaining enlightenment.
Extend up into the blue sky.
Tantra: "Simply looking into the blue sky, beyond the clouds, the Serenity."
Step down into the Earth.
Tantra: "At the edge of a deep well look steadily into its depths."
Relax the whole body and expand awareness.
Tantra: "Just close your eyes and consider the whole body is spreading, spreading, spreading and then the boundaries are lost." Tantra: "Feel the cosmos as a translucent ever living presence." Tantra: "Consider the plenum (space) to be your own innermost body of bliss." Tantra: "Feel yourself as pervading all directions, far and near."
Be tranquil within and respectful without. Clear the mind and maintain a reverent attitude. Dispel all distracting thoughts and unify the attention.
This is the classic meditation technique for attaining enlightenment. Permeate the consciousness with the void essence. Tantra: "Shakti, see all space as if already absorbed in your own head, in the brilliance."Tantra: "Enter space, supportless, eternal, still."
Introvert awareness to observe the whole body.
Tantra: "Feel your substance, bones, flesh, blood, saturated with the cosmic essence".
Which is now warm comfortable and completely relaxed. Guide by the bai hui move the body backward and forward. Try to experience the strength of our chi field and the Hun Yuan Chi both inside and outside.
Tantra: "Waking, sleeping, dreaming, know you as light."
Lift Chi Up Pour Chi Down
This is the first form, and in my opinion, the last form. It is the lowest form and the highest form. LCUPCD concerns itself with energetically joining the human practitioner with Heaven and Earth. Its sense is one of expanding and contracting awareness of the entirety of Nature.
The normally closed human being practices opening and closing to Heaven and Earth. The umbilical cord between the navel and Mother Earth is reestablished. Clean chi is received from the Natural Source. Opaque chi is removed by the Source. All of these are conducive to realizing our place in Nature.
At the intermediate level, the ZQ mantra is added. The mantra (short form) is "Hun Yuan Ling Tong". Mantras need not have meanings. They are often chanted for the effect the sound has on the body and mind. But, the ZQ mantra is said to also have meaning.
Master Yuantong Liu, in Basic Theories and Methods of Zhineng Qigong says that Hunyuan means "transformed to one" and "ling tong" means "One's mind's intention immediately becomes true." Hunyuan Ling Tong means: The Hunyuan Qi of everything follows the human mind's intention to become immediately realized by uniting and transforming. I have heard other teachers emphasize that the ZQ mantra means "Mind's intention immediately becomes true."
And, I have observed that this particular translation is of great interest to students. This translation is reminiscent of some of the comments made by Rajneesh in discussing tantra. He says, "The universe is nothing but a response to you. Whatsoever you are, if you are silent the whole universe responds to your silence in thousands and thousands of ways. It reflects you. Your silence is multiplied infinitely. If you are blissful, the whole universe reflects your bliss. If you are in misery the same happens."
My reaction to the mantra is different at various times. Sometimes the sound seems to vibrate and stimulate the three dan tians. Sometimes it seems to create a sense of being at the center of the universe. But, usually, it feels like a prayer. That prayer is a request to transform and integrate the consciousness of the individual being into the greater awareness and wisdom of Nature.
The ZQ mantra may promote health and longevity by stimulating the internal organs and energy centers. But it seems a very powerful tool for connecting with the larger universe. One opportunity for introducing tantra into qigong forms occurs in LCUPCD.
This is the place in the form when we are bringing energy into the middle dan tian by placing the tips of the middle fingers on the da bao and subtly rotating them. The tantric practice that can be used at this point is described as: "In any position, gradually pervade an area between the armpits into great bliss."
Another place for using tantra in LCUPCD is while directing chi into the lower dan tian. Rajneesh comments that "If energy begins to pour in, it will hit the navel. It will go on in and become centered at the navel. When it is so much that the navel cannot contain it, that the center cannot contain it any longer, the center explodes.
In that explosion, again you are no longer an individual. You were not an individual when you were connected with your mother; again you will not be an individual. A new birth has taken place. You have become one with the cosmos."
Zhineng Breathing Exercises (ZBEs)
The addition of breathing exercises to ZQ by Master Zhankui Liu was a major contribution. The natural abdominal breathing that he recommends and all three of the ZBEs clearly have the purpose of increasing health and longevity.
As noted above, basic forms of meditation often use the breath to focus the attention without encouraging discursive thought. Each of the ZBE forms may be done as a meditation and as such would lead to enlightenment.
Tantra offers several techniques for employing the breath which can be done in association with ZBE. For example, focusing the attention on the point between the in-breath and the out-breath. Tantra: "Radiant one, this experience may dawn between two breaths.
After breath comes in and just before turning out--the beneficence." Or, some masters, such as Gurdjieff, have used surprise, such as a shout, to suddenly stop the breath of the students, and as a consequence, to stop the mind.
Tantra: "Or, when breath is all out and stopped of itself or all in and stopped, in such universal pause, one's small self vanishes. This is difficult only for the impure." But, of most interest to me is the process in ZBE2 of using the hand and the mind to move chi from the upper dan tian to the lower dan tian by way of the spinal column.
This provides an opportunity to practice the tantra: "Place your whole attention in the nerve delicate as the lotus thread in the center of your spinal column. In such be transformed." Chakra Meditation, Hip Rotation and Tailbone Swinging In ZQ, we have been practicing focusing attention on the Chakras. We are using nine chakras and gates.
In the practice, we begin at the highest or crown chakra and end at lowest or the hui yin before returning to the lower dan tian at the conclusion. We also practice hip rotation and tailbone swinging for extended periods to loosen the lower back and to stimulate internal organs and energy centers.
I do not know that either of these practices is a direct path to enlightenment. Yet, they could be used in preparation for the famous tantra which is sometimes called "raising kundalini". This tantric practice is described as "Consider your essence as light rays from center to center up the vertebrae."
In this technique, sexual energy is generated using the imagination. This energy is then raised up through the chakras. Rajneesh says that the objective is to raise the energy from the lowest chakra up to and out of the crown chakra.
He says that the energy may be moved directly between the lowest and highest chakras, or in stages. He suggests moving the energy through five chakras, employing the three dan tians as intermediate steps. He indicates that it may be better for females to visualize the energy moving as a steady flow whereas males may do better visualizing the energy moving in steps like lightening.
Virtually every element of the ZQ forms seems to have been designed to bring about awakening or to provide a place in the form into which a technique for awakening may be easily added. Comments, Observations and Speculations In this, the final section, I would like to offer several comments regarding the impressions which I have formed in my two and one half years practicing ZQ.
These comments are offered with humility and respect from a beginning qigong practitioner. Meditation and other tantric practices are known to bring about enlightenment or awakening. The creators of ZQ are known to be enlightened masters who, presumably attained enlightenment during a period in which they were practicing qigong.
Yet, it is my understanding that ZQ does not promote itself as a path leading to enlightenment. My first comment concerns why this might be the case. One possibility lies with the nature of enlightenment and in the relationship between the master and the disciple.
Shakyamuni Buddha indicated that sorrow is caused by desire and attachment. To transcend sorrow, we must transcend the ego through meditation which leads to awakening. It is ironic that anyone who desires enlightenment or who sees himself (his ego) as a seeker of enlightenment faces great difficulty due to the desire of the ego to attain this high and valued state.
Thus, a master must present a program which, as Rajneesh is quoted above as saying, is the ultimate play. It is not a means to something. It is not a means to enlightenment. Enlightenment happens in it but it is not a means to it."
In my view, ZQ is a tantra of tantras. It promotes itself as a program for health and longevity, and as such, enlightenment can happen in it. But ZQ is not promoted as a means to enlightenment which would foment desire and inhibit realization. My second comment concerns the differences I see between the European (Western) mind and the Asian (Eastern) mind.
In my lifetime I have been privileged to have had a number of Asian teachers. I have noticed that Asians seem to provide a minimum of instruction between teacher and student, whereas teachers of European descent usually try to present as much information as they believe can be learned by the student.
I believe that these differences are due to a fundamentally different view of teaching. Asians have a tradition of masters and esoteric practices which they highly value. Asian students may attach themselves, in a servile role, to teachers and dedicate their lives to mastering the teachings.
Asians accept the minimal explanations as a mystery to be solved intuitively over time through their own practice and experience. Once they learn the practice by doing the forms, Asians would be expected to have a high sense of ownership.
People of European ancestry tend to think of time as something which they are investing and expect a maximum return in exchange for it. A good Western teacher is viewed as one who can transfer a maximum amount of information in a minimum amount of time.
It seems to me that the present ZQ teaching system is not designed for the Western mind. In my two and a half years of practice I have seen hundreds of Americans take up ZQ, only to leave it within the first three months. Perhaps only one new American student in 50 is still practicing ZQ for 25 minutes or more per day after the first year.
I believe that our goal as ZQ teachers and students should be to create a Western version of the teachings for the Western mind and lifestyle. Ideally both Eastern and Western versions of ZQ would be made available in the West. My third comment is closely related to the previous two.
I believe that the Western mind may not value health and longevity to the extent that the Asian mind does. Many people in the West do not consider themselves to be Christians and many people in the West who consider themselves to be Christians are not interested in higher states of consciousness.
But the Western view of reality seems to be deeply affected by the Christian model. Scientific surveys show that Western people believe, in some form, that, in death, they will experience a spiritual and blissful form of eternal life. Given this fact, there is little interest in practicing ZQ for hours per day to improve health and extend lifespan.
However, a minority of Westerners seem to believe that practices which develop a higher realization of the Infinite and Eternal are useful and worthy of an expenditure of time and effort. What is needed, in my view, is a set of ZQ practices which more overtly addresses the intention to awaken this higher state of consciousness in addition to the present system for extending the lifespan of the organism.
Jane, I would like to end this by thanking you, Dr. Ming Pang, Master Zhankui Liu, etc. for bringing the ZQ teachings to the West. We receive them with deep gratitude. You have planted a seed on Western soil which I hope will grow to abundant fruition. It is my understanding that you will remain in the West for a time to help us further in this endeavor......