"Conquer the mind, do non-doing"
In the Lotus Nei Gong school we have many practices that work deeply with the nature of mind. One such study is Nei Dan or Internal Alchemy, a kind of alchemical meditation. In Cardiff I teach some of the foundation level practices such as how to sit correctly and form the energetic pyramid, anchoring the breath and song breathing. Below I present a brief overview of some Daoist conceptual theories which help us understand the nature of mind. Of course you don’t have to personally have this belief system to practise, but it helps to understand the thoughts of the people who created these arts.
The Heart/Mind conceptual model
When the mind is mentioned in Chinese text it is usually with the character for heart (Xin). In Daoist thought there are two states, the acquired mind or post-heaven (Hou Tian) and the congenital mind or pre-heaven. (Xian Tian). The acquired is movement and is our everyday mind, the congenital is stillness and is our true nature. If we use the conceptual Heart/Mind model we can see that the five senses (five thieves) interact with the world and gather information inwards. From birth we are conditioned (try reading the book Brave New World where this conditioning is purposely engineered at birth) firstly by our parents, then school, then friends, then society, then country, and by what we read and who we associate with. All these have an effect upon us and as a result we all develop biases and prejudices. Our true nature or congenital consciousness sits deep within, and every interaction we have in life is passed through this filter of our personal lens of conditioning. As we grow our personality develops and our ‘false self’ is formed, but the connection to our ‘true self’ is buried deeper and deeper within the layers of the acquired mind.
So, is it possible to have a thought that is not distorted by bias, and conditioning? All our internal practices work to release as much as this conditioning as we can, but Nei Dan takes it to a deeper level. What is the nature of mind? Think of your congenital nature like still water, sitting deep below your personality. Think of the wind blowing as our thoughts which are continually arising. This constant mental activity creates waves on the water. When we are able to stop the activity the water will still and reflect our true selves. As we still the emotions or the five poisons, the mind starts to change towards a congenital state, and the emotions begin to be converted into the five virtues, (Wu De). These are: anger to patience, excitation to contentment, worry to empathy, sadness to conviction, fear to wisdom.
The process of Creation
This a conceptual Daoist model of how life began and affects all our studies. Daoism never really defines whether there is a god, but is more likely to say, maybe or maybe not.
There is the Dao, which has always existed and gives birth to the myriad of things (everything that exists). Dao works through a state of Wuji or ‘without extremities’ a blank canvas of stillness. Out of this extreme stillness came movement from a single point. This motive force called Taiji was of a spiralling nature and gave birth to Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang cannot exist without each other, they are two sides of one coin so one (Wuji) becomes two (Yin & Yang). Then the process unfolds to create three (‘Mean Qi’) which forms the four directions which creates the Wu Xing or the five cycles of life, the transformation from growth to decay.
"We sit between the two forces of Yang or Heaven, from above and Yin or Earth from below, these two forces meet within us"
The Yuan Shen
From Wuji, Yuan Shen or ‘original spirit’ is formed at the point of our creation. Yuan Shen then refracts and becomes the Wu Shen or five spirits of the Hun, Shen, Yi, Po and Zhi. These are anchored into the physical body via the organs. The realm of Shen is experienced by the brain as light and the Yuan Shen as a white light. When the light refracts (like a prism) into the Wu Shen, each individual aspect of Shen is decoded by the brain as a different colour of light. As we refine the frequency through our practices we have the potential to return to the white light before we were created, or ‘reverse the path’. This is also known as the ‘White Moon on the Mountain peak’. (See Damo’s book with this title.)
The San Bao
We all know that meditation involves working with the mind. Some traditions work directly with the mind, but Daoist Alchemy works by the converting of inner substances, or the Three Treasures (The San Bao) which are Jing, Qi, and Shen.
Everything in the universe vibrates, and Jing, Qi, Shen is one vibration. Jing, is the denser and slowest vibration and closer to the physical realm although it is not actually physical matter: it is our essence or potential and has a close relationship to the Ming Men and the Kidneys. Qi belongs to the energetic realm and has a higher frequency. Shen has the highest frequency and belongs to the realm of consciousness.
The Three Dan Tian or Elixir fields are areas of energy or information which enable the frequency of the vibration to be changed to a higher one, a bit like a transformer. The first and largest is the lower Dan Tian and sits below the navel. This is our main entry point to awaken the energy system: it is like a water wheel turning and moving the energy through the meridians. The middle Dan Tian sits in the centre of the chest and converts Qi into Shen or the energy of the consciousness body. The upper Dan Tian sits on the forehead between the eyes – Yintang (the Third Eye) and here Shen is converted into the vibration of emptiness. We can think of the Jing as ice, the Qi as water and the Shen as steam: it’s all water but at different stages.
Internal Alchemy or Nei Dan
Many classic texts on the subject of alchemy were written in a hidden language in which there was only one interpretation not several, and only inner door students were able to understand these writings. They were not for everyone.
According to Daoism, behind everything in existence sits an energetic equivalent or blueprint. Working directly with the mind is obviously extremely difficult. We are open to so much delusion from the acquired mind. In Nei Dan, a foundation is built by working to still the Jing or essence, which then converts naturally into Qi when it’s consolidated enough. The Qi is then built to a high enough degree that it converts to Shen. The brain interprets Jing as heat, Qi as movement and Shen as light. These markers help us to recognise where we are in the process.
The process of creation path I talked about earlier takes us from birth to death. Energetically speaking in Nei Dan, the path is reversed until we reach a state of Wuji. This is called ‘returning to the source’. We sit between the two forces of Yang or Heaven from above, and Yin or Earth from below. These two forces meet within us. This is known as ‘Heaven, Mankind, Earth’. (This is not the Christian view of Heaven but the vibrational information of the Cosmos)
There are two important terms that are used a lot. One is Xing or ‘your nature’ and the other is Ming or ‘your path from birth to death’. We are born with the influence of our family bloodline or genes and also the influence of the planets at our point of conception. At this stage we are closer to our congenital nature before the experience of life creates our personality and strengthens our acquired nature. Ming is a difficult idea to explain and understand, but essentially it’s your potential for life. The connection of Ming and Jing or our essence given to us by our parents is an important factor. If we follow our Ming path in life (whatever that is), we conserve our essence and have a long life. This is why so much emphasis was placed on the health of the body by Daoists, so that the study of these arts could take place over a long lifetime. Not to follow your Ming path was to use up the essence quicker and die young. Alchemical practices aim to unite Xing and Ming. In other words working with the body (Ming) and mind (Xing) together.
There are countless other stages, but I’ll mention one final method, and that is the Lu and the Ding, metaphors taken from external alchemy (changing base metals). The Ding is the ‘Cauldron' or the Lower Dan Tian, and the Lu is the ‘Furnace’, or the heat reaction you get when the Jing is stilled enough. This process is called the ‘Firing Process’. This is a very important stage at the beginning, but we need to have consolidated the Jing enough through stillness for this process to happen, a bit like a pilot light on the gas boiler: if it won’t ignite there can be no heat. We need the heat to ‘cook the cauldron’ and transform the jing to Qi.