Taoist monk views the West Peak of Huashan.
Why would anyone in their right mind choose to spend 5 days in a cold mountain cave without food or water? Short answer: Because the cave was on Mt. Huashan, the most famous Taoist sacred mountain in China. The long answer: I was curious to investigate the experience of Taoists who reputedly achieved the breatharian state through years of practicing internal alchemy meditation in these caves on little food or water. I wanted to have a small taste of their cave lifestyle, to see what it might evoke in me.
The idea originated with my Taoist monk friend Chen (named changed to protect his privacy) who lives in Jade Spring Monastery at the foot of Huashan, along with about 50 other monks and nuns. I had already visited Huashan twice, and fallen in love with its majestic 7,000. ft. high sheer peaks and temples perched precariously on cliffs that regularly disappeared into the clouds. There was something eerie about the mountain – I had the feeling it was alive and watching me constantly. Was this because so many Taoists had allegedly achieved immortality here?
Still being a mere mortal, I wasn’t sure exactly what immortality meant, even after two decades of doing Taoist cultivation. But when Chen said to me, “There are some secret caves here, and I thought you might like to meditate in one”, I promptly booked a date for the following year. I had seen many spectacular caves on Huashan on previous trips (see Qi Journal Spring 2000). But all of those caves had either been turned into Taoist shrines with statues inside, with a monk or nun who rang a bell or gave I Ching readings when hikers came in to pray, or they had been totally desecrated by tourism.
One giant cave was turned into a mini-hotel, with coffin sized boxes for tourists to sleep in. Others were abandoned or filled with trash, being too close to the main path that torturously winds its way up the mountain, its thousands of tiny stone steps faithfully delivering a stream of hardy souls to the very highest peak. Huashan has become one of China’s most famous national parks, even though the communist government returned all the shrines and monasteries to the local Taoists to manage after appropriating them during the Cultural Revolution.
When I finally settled down into my cave (one year later), and waved goodbye to Chen as his black Taoist frock disappeared over the edge of the cliff, I sat down in the mouth of the cave’s doorway to meditate. I focused first on my gratitude to the mountain for being such a powerful presence. The massive West Peak of Huashan towered 4000 feet of sheer wall above my cave. To get to my cave, I first had to climb up a 200 foot cliff with loose rocks, grasping at the roots of bushes, while wearing a backpack filled with camping gear. One misstep, or leaning too far back, and I would’ve been in a grave instead of my cave. I silently thanked Chen and other monks who had helped arrange my stay.
They are part of a very ancient line of Taoists who are guarding this mountain. The first reference to Huashan, which means “Flower Mountain”, comes from the Chou Dynasty, 3000 years ago. In fact, the Chinese character “hua” (flower) was invented to name this mountain, which has five peaks that unfold like petals of a flower. Taoists, attracted to this powerful Five Element feng shui, have been coming to Huashan to meditate for at least 2200 years, according to Han dynasty records.
But how they survived on this towering hunk of granite, where little food can grow and the only water is collected rain, is still a mystery. So I thanked the spirits of Taoists past for sculpting this cave space, and asked them to share with me their secrets. Finally I thanked the cave itself, and any rock elementals who cared to listen, for being such a grand cave – to me it felt more like a palace carved out of solid rock. The doorway was six feet wide and ten feet high, fit for a race of giants. The domed ceiling was 25 feet high, with a window at what could have been a second story level. Chen had read the inscription carved on the outside of the cave.
A Taoist monk named Can Xing had carved this cave, called “Spring Flower” (name changed to protect its location) during the Ming dynasty, which meant the cave was up to 600 years old. No one is quite sure how he or others carved the extraordinarily hard granite, one of Huashan’s many unsolved mysteries. The walls had uniform grooves a half inch apart, as if a giant comb were used to scrape out the insides of the mountain. After I finished saying all my thanks, an extraordinary thing occurred.
My mouth was suddenly filled with a ball of bright yellow pulsating energy, which slowly moved down my throat and esophagus into my stomach. Remarkably, this chi ball stayed in my gut during my time in the cave, and I am certain accounted for the fact that I never once felt even slightly hungry for the entire five day cave fast! Since this occurred immediately after my meditation thanking the cave, it felt like a clear communication from the mountain. I previously did have some fear about my decision to not eat or drink for five days, whether I would be strong enough to stay warm or to even climb down the cliff afterwards. So to have the mountain send me a chi ball into my spleen/stomach, the vital organ center of earth chi in the body, was incredibly reassuring.
Equally remarkable, I did not lose weight during the five days. I didn’t have a scale with me, but I did pinch the flesh all over my body to measure it, and none of it disappeared or grew taut. At my Healing Tao summer retreat program (now in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains) I had learned from a remarkable medical chi kung specialist, Madame Wang Yan, some weight loss chi kung techniques taken from the Taoist tradition of bigu, or “not eating”. The purpose of these bigu techniques to to satisfy your desire for caloric food with subtle chi (qi) that is breathed into the stomach/spleen. Overweight people then lose weight until they stabilize at their natural weight. I was expecting to use those techniques not to lose weight, but to fight off hunger in the cave. Yet none of these bigu methods were necessary.
Undoubtedly, I was well disposed to having such a spontaneous experience. I had already thoroughly investigated the “breatharian” question (“Is it real, or just a metaphor for a spiritual state?”) and decided it was physically possible. Several of my Taoist alchemy students had stopped eating for months at a time while maintaining stable body weight. Just before I made the Spring Flower Cave my home, Chen had introduced me to an 80 year old Taoist female adept, Ciao Xiang Zhen, who had not eaten for 20 years!
Ciao had been living on Huashan for nearly 50 years, up a different side valley with some other Taoist recluses. She had fallen and injured her hip, and so had moved to a more accessible location where I had the good fortune to interview her. She still wasn’t eating; Ciao admitted to me only to drinking 3 small tea cups of plain water daily and for variety, a small piece of fruit a few times a month. Her appearance was thin, but normal, and her eyes sparkled with the vigor of youth. Chen told me she is considered by the China Taoist Association to be one the “Eight Living Tao Immortals” in China, three of which are women. Skeptics of breatharianism (bigu) will remain skeptics, and that’s fine.
Because bigu is not considered to be any big attainment to go for, just something that can happen spontaneously as a result of your practice. It’s not a special requirement to get into Taoist heaven or necessary for most to think about achieving. But it’s still real, and for me, just knowing that its real expands the freedom of my spiritual imagination and its power of manifestation.
Back to my first day in the cave. Although I felt I was off to a good start, I still had to face the next big issue in Cave Life: what do you DO all day and all night? Short answer: wrestle with your monkey mind. How do you do that? Long answer: practice Taoist cultivation methods, the most powerful of which is neidan gong, or internal alchemy. Alchemy is the art of communicating with the Life Force, as well as the science of locally shaping its universal chi field. The primary purpose of alchemy is to accelerate the unfolding and refining of one’s personal human essence, or jing. Jing is also translated as “substance” and is what generates our blood, sexual energy, and our cellular power to regrow our body.
In Taoist alchemy one’s “raw” jing is refined into an “elixir” of refined golden chi or inner light by a process involving the internal coupling or “cooking” of water and fire. Water and fire are Taoist alchemical code names for the sexually polarized yin and yang forces within the body. To make a long story short, you could say I went off to a cold cave in China in order to have hot spiritual sex within myself. The offspring of this internal sex is the re-birthing of one’s Original Chi (yuan qi) and its Original Spirit (yuan shen), a.k.a. the original self or “your face before you were born”.
Did it work? Hold on, while I fish around for some juicy details from my diary in the cave. Here’s a good place to start – the moment when I realized that by choosing to live in a cave I had stripped away every possible excuse to focus on something other than my core self: “Once you take away eating and drinking, socializing and entertainment and the myriad other distractions our monkey minds dream up – what’s left? A simpler level of being, in which more subtle perceptions arise. I sit in a granite cave, with its door opening out onto the bird filled valley below, and become aware that my mind is sitting inside its own cave, sitting inside my body cave with its sense openings, looking out of the body cave into the outer granite cave.
I am in a cave within a cave, and I know, if I look inward, that I am also sitting inside other caves that exist within deeper dimensions of myself. “In Taoist cosmology, the three heavens in the Tao canon (a kind of Taoist bible collection of 1,160 mostly alchemical texts) are described as the “three caverns”. As I contemplate this idea of Heaven as a cosmic cave, my outer self relaxes back into a deeper level of awareness. I keep surrendering, and ask the spirit of Huashan to take me deep into its core. It feels like eventually I cross some kind of void, and relax into what I recognize as the “cavern” of Early Heaven. Here my observing self sits as a “soul” watching the activities of itself as a body-mind in a Later Heaven cave, the physical dimension.
After this inner -outer cave duality stabilizes, I remember that my Original Ancestor, the Original Spirit from which all humanity has evolved – is sitting within an even deeper cave known as Primordial Heaven. This heaven is also known as Primordial Chaos (hun tun). This cavern is described as the darkest and most obscure of all three caverns. Here the Chaos-of-Oneness (with no distinctions possible) watches the perpetual play of Creation-as-Order it has set in motion. “So really, choosing to live for a week in a cave on Huashan is just a way of reminding myself that every reality has its own boundaries, its own cave walls. However, it seems our Original Spirit may effortlessly slip between these boundaries, as if its vibration were too fast to be caught in the net of any slower reality-cave.
The other lesson I’m learning is that the so called “necessities” of physical life are not necessities – they are optional pleasures. Food is mostly recreational eating, deemed a necessity only because we refuse to acknowledge the possibility of eating directly from the infinite chi field of nature’s abundance. “How do we see into these deeper caverns nested within ourselves, that lead into the original cave-womb of creation itself, the “wuji” or Supreme Unknown of the Tao? How many people sit and watch in the outer physical cave, and nothing much happens, except perhaps they see their boredom and frustration at being trapped in the seemingly solid granite walls of that cave reality? By watching the coupling of water and fire, the inner male and female, there comes an opening hidden from outer sight.”
Now let’s slow down, before the metaphysical story gets too far ahead of the physical one. I should tell you that four years earlier I had spent a week in a cave in Pagan, Burma. I was in a Buddhist cave, 75 feet deep inside a pitch black mountain, with a 25 ft. high Buddha statue guarding the cave outside. That experience gave me a point of comparison with this Taoist cave experience on Huashan, in a relatively shallow 18 foot deep cave. As I settled into my life in this cave, I appreciated how clean and dust free this granite cave was compared to the dirt walls of my Buddhist cave.
I recalled my confusion at the initial resistance the Buddhist cave seemed to have to my doing Taoist practices in its space. My Taoist meditation practices simply wouldn’t work, the chi wouldn’t flow. I decided the cave’s chi field had been deeply patterned by generations of Buddhist practitioners. Only after I opened my heart to the spirits of those before me did the mountain relax and only then did my alchemical practices begin to open up channels with the inner planes. Here it was totally different. Some invisible presence within Huashan mountain seemed to be actively pushing me deeper into Taoist practice at every moment. This ensured that I never got bored, even though my outer cave life was severely limited.
I soon explored the parameters of what was possible within my palatial cave. It had enough room for me to practice chi kung movements and even my Wu style tai chi form and a tight circle of Pa Kua Chang. Carved from solid rock was a three-foot high altar table in the middle of the cave, which was big enough for me to sleep on. Chen told me the cave had later been used in later centuries as a shrine, evidenced by holes higher up on the walls for holding statues. Bits of some of these statues were piled on one side of the cave, the destructive signature of teenage red guards from the 1960’s. This was one time I appreciated the house cleaning by them, as I actually preferred the cave naked, in its raw original form. There was another elevated pedestal in the center of the back of the cave, on which I respectfully set a single candle.
I found that I rarely lit it as there was really nothing much to see in the cave with my outer eyes at night. I spread out my foam pad and sleeping bag on the central stone altar, as if my body was a sacrificial offering to the Spirit of this mountain. There was nothing else in the cave, except my pack, in which I kept some “emergency” food bars and a water bottle I never felt tempted to consume. The only other piece of furniture arrived unasked the second morning, when another Taoist monk, Wen Shi, undoubtedly sent by Chen, arrived with a wooden kneeling stool for me to sit in meditation on. It was taken from a nearby shrine to a Taoist female deity from the Nine Heavens.
Wen Shi, concerned that I would be cold in the cave, also took off the black Taoist cape off his own back and gave it to me as a gift. My protestations were useless; he considered my flimsy pile jacket inadequate against the harsh mountain elements. I wrapped his cape around me, the dress uniform of Complete Perfection Taoists. Chen had told me that Taoists are becoming so rare in modern China that when he wears his traditional Taoist clothing outside the monastery in big cities, with his white leggings, black tai chi shoes and hair tied in a top knot, he is sometimes mistaken for a foreigner wearing some outlandish foreign dress!
I began to merge into the cycle of night and day of cave life. At night I lay on my stone altar-bed in the pitch blackness and did Taoist dream practice, a method where you put the body to sleep while the mind stays awake and does special meditations in the twilight space between sleep and waking states. I sat up at 4 am to meditate with the deep violet-blue light of early dawn. From 7 to 9 am I did standing chi kung movements. Then I sat again in meditation until the sun entered the cave at 11:30 pm. The boundaries between the two halves of the physical cycle of night and day began to dissolve as I sank deeper into the mind of the mountain itself.
This can be a very difficult concept for westerners to accept, that supposedly inanimate natural objects like a mountain or the earth itself could have a “mind”. Yet this is a very fundamental premise of Taoist philosophy – that all of nature is alive and breathing from the universal chi field, its in-out (yin-yang) breath sustaining its very physical form. This means every aspect of matter also has its own intelligence. Even the rigidly fixed intelligence of the granite rock of Huashan can be an energetic pathway into its “parent” spirit of the mountain, whose core intelligence is the earth itself.
A few days earlier I had asked Cai, the breatharian female adept, if she ever felt like the mountain was communicating with her. She smiled. ” I have never felt it speak to me like some human spirit, but its presence is always very strong for me. Everyone who comes to Huashan to live must feel its presence, why else would they stay?” The high piezo-electric conductivity of granite may contribute to the yang chi I felt flowing through Huashan. Others confirmed to me that historically Taoists from all over China considered Huashan as having very yang chi for cultivation practice.
I later visited Mt. Qingcheng (“Azure Truth”) Shan in Sichuan Province, the birthplace of one sect of Taoism 2000 years ago. It was a completely different experience, and I noticed how powerfully yin its chi was. The shape of Huashan, bursting up dramatically towards the Heavens in a five-petal flower formation, is an expression of its yang nature. In Taoist feng shui Huashan’s shape is considered to be a reflection of a yang stellar constellation manifesting on earth. Not far from my Spring Flower cave was another hidden cave used since Han dynasty times for viewing the Pole Star, the central star or higher earth element around which the other four stellar quadrants/elements of Heaven rotate each night.
This inspired me on some evenings to go out on the narrow ledge in front of my cave and practice Taoist star alchemy, a method of absorbing and balancing the chi from all the star quadrants into the crystal palace or upper dan tien (etheric space of the pineal gland). Meditating in this granite cave day and night for five days awakened memories in me of the seven trips I had made to Egypt to meditate inside the Great Pyramid. The walls of the King’s Chamber are made of a special red granite, and above this chamber (which architecturally represents the pineal gland) there are five giant slabs of granite with space between them, wrongly thought to be for earthquake adjustments. According to esoteric lore I learned while studying pre-Egyptian internal alchemy practices, these five slabs of granite represent the five subtle bodies of man that are awakened by initiation in the pyramid.
Taoist internal alchemy holds a similar pattern of unfoldment, but uses different methods to achieve the awakening. But the use of granite to amplify spiritual vibrations from the mountain’s deep earth consciousness and act as a ground for Heavenly frequencies may be similar in the Taoist and Egyptian traditions. Mountains are just natural pyramids; their axis acts as a double vortex between the center of the earth below and the stars above. My experience of Huashan, a giant “earth flower” made of solid granite, is that the mountain is a vast initiation chamber for those who can attune to its inner frequency.
When you align your human body axis to axis of the mountain, it becomes a pathway for communicating with all that the “mind of the mountain” is communicating with. Huashan is thus just an individual outlet for the collective planetary consciousness, like any ley line or sacred place. The more a place gets used for spiritual awakening, the more powerful and skillful it becomes at using the natural chi field to communicate with humans. For those following the path of the Tao, this is the major reason to visit China’s sacred mountains. This lure of awakening to one’s spiritual truth is undoubtedly what motivated Taoists to spend years digging these caves.
Chen told me that records reveal it took up to 30 years to dig a large cave like Spring Flower Cave out of the cliff wall of solid granite. After digging it, they would undergo tremendous deprivation of ordinary human pleasures to live in the cave. There had to be a special payoff in spiritual pleasure to keep them from abandoning their simple cave life. Meditating in solid rock seems to cause a special resonate with the bone level of human consciousness, where Taoists consider the jing or sexual essence to be stored. Bone and the jing within it is spiritually the most dense level of our human body, and thus the hardest to reach by ordinary meditation. But it is also the secret substance needed to crystallize an immortal Body of Light.
Painting, Mountain Taoist. The granite rock is so hard on Huashan, it took ancient Taoists 30 years to carve out a single cave.
This may also explain why so many Taoist are said to have achieved their immortality on Huashan – they were able here to concentrate their full being on the process of gathering their jing essence and refining it into chi, shen, and ultimately wu (non-being). What about harsh weather? You might ask, as I did: why didn’t the cave adepts simply light a fire in their caves to keep warm? Chen answered this question before he would even show me the way to the cave. “There is one very strict condition for your staying in the cave”, he warned me.”Absolutely no heating or cooking fires are permitted. You will notice that none of the dozens of caves on Huashan have their ceilings blackened by fire. This traditional Taoist rule against using fire is not to make cave life harder than it already is. It is to protect your internal practice. A strong external fire will disturb the delicate balance of water and fire within your dan tien. One purpose of cave practice is to activate more powerfully the internal fire needed for neidan (alchemy) practice”.
Of course, I readily agreed to this condition. I soon discovered other factors that may have heloed warm Taoist cave adepts. The cave itself is good insulation. They did do not freeze in winter because the internal earth temperature radiates an average 57 degrees F. into the cave. They put wood doors on the cave to keep out the worst winter wind and retard heat loss. From that minimal baseline of external support they did internal alchemy practices to heat their body to a sustainable and comfortable temperature.
While in the cave, I spent many hours practicing “internal chi breathing”, a formerly secret method of empty or “counter-force breathing” (kong jing) that powerfully heats the dan tien or belly cauldron. This unique method mixes the chi from the fire (du mo) and water (ren mo) channels, and synchronizes the rhythm of physical breathing with chi body rhythms. Once the dan tien is warm, it feeds warm yang chi to all the deep channels of the body, particularly the Eight Extraordinary Vessels. These control your core body temperature and autonomic system functions, and are the reservoirs that overflow to feed the vital organs and their meridians. I teach this Internal Chi Breathing as part of my Medical & Spiritual Qigong Fundamentals 3, but it was valuable for me to see it work so effectively in the cave.
I found my cave to be quite warm at night, as if it perhaps were still absorbing heat form the daytime sun. This may have been amplified by movement of warm valley air masses rising after sunset. I usually had to toss the cover of my sleeping bag off during the night. I noticed the reverse seemed to occur in the morning: as the sun rose, the cave went through a chilly period from 7 am to 11 am, perhaps from cold valley air masses rising. The sun would not actually shine on my cave until 11:35 am each day. I would watch the pyramid-like shadow of West Peak slowly move across the valley. Then the sun would rise above West peak and cook my cave for the afternoon. I would do practices to directly absorb solar chi , and to circulate it throughout my body and into the chi body of the mountain. Of course, similar weather shifts are changing everyone’s patterns of bodily chi flow every moment.
But the cave seemed to amplify my feeling of the mountain’s deep chi rhythmically pulsating with the cycles of the sun and moon. One night, the moon rose just as the sun was setting. I sat in the doorway of my cave, as if the darkness behind me were a warm opening from the earth’s womb. The forces of the sun and moon entered my body, and having well trained pathways from my inner alchemy practice, flowed inside my cauldron and coupled within my core channel. I watched in awe as these cosmic streams of energy effortlessly made love inside me. My body began to glow from within, and I noticed that even though a cold wind came up as darkness descended, it did not disturb my internal bliss or make me feel cold. The experience continued long after the sun had set. After two hours, I finally moved back inside my cave-womb, feeling both deeply peaceful and exhilarated.
It felt like the mountain had again been teaching me something about the Tao – how nature meditates inside us if we meditate inside nature. In alchemy, this is known as wu wei, a state where things happen effortlessly, in the deep silence of the universal mind. Your personal mind doesn’t need to make this happen with visualization, movement, or mantra. Once natural forces have been alchemically accelerated within the adept’s body, wu wei is the ensuing feeling of child’s play as your chi flows with zero resistance between the local self and the Tao. After two days of not eating or drinking water, I awoke on the second night with a swollen tongue and feeling very overheated.
I self-diagnosed myself, and decided it was the lack of water flowing through my kidneys that was causing my heart to overheat. I had brought water, but had decided on arriving in the cave to not drink any, to more quickly test my body response to the deprivations of cave life that might have been experienced by earlier Taoist adepts. I recalled that one of my western friends had a Taoist spiritual guide who taught him how ancient adepts drank their urine and then refined it with internal alchemy. Since this put no new water into my system, and was a well tested method used by sailors to survive at sea, I began drinking my urine. No need to feel squeamish about this, if you’ve never drunk your urine. Urine doesn’t stink until after it grows cold.
It was my first time, but I literally guzzled my yellow fluid down the next morning. I found it to be warm, salty, and like a very mild and tasty broth – and very satisfying to my kidneys and heart, which cooled off. I had no more problem the rest of the time, and had the feeling I could have continued for a very long time. There is also a homeopathic effect also created by recycling one’s urine repeatedly through your system, as it concentrates many subtle essences that can have healing properties. There is a large literature on people healing serious illnesses with urine drinking. I also noticed something unusual. Every time I urinated, I would pee on the ground the starting and ending urine flow, to remove toxins accumulated in the bladder. I was losing about 30% of my urine each day, a gradual loss of body water.
Curiously, the empty water bottle I used to catch the urine always refilled to the same level each time. This meant my body was either producing water from thin air or it was converting blood or body fat into water. This continued the entire five days, and since I didn’t grow thin, it felt like my kidneys were producing new water, in the same way my spleen chi felt like it was producing new food from the chi field. Of course scientists would say I was deluded and just consuming myself on a fast. But what can scientists say about others who rarely eat for months or years on end? I recalled a conference sponsored by another nei dan teacher, Yan Xin, attended by a number of his scientist-students who themselves had stopped eating for long periods without undue weight loss.
Modern science does not have a paradigm for this and many other simple things in life, like love. The facts of our reality do not always fit the modern materialist hypothesis. This is why I find Taoist internal alchemy so fascinating – it allows anyone to use his body-mind as a cosmic laboratory. You don’t need big science grants or a $6 billion dollar super-collider to run an experiment. You can apply Tao spiritual science to explore all the deepest mysteries of the universe in your own body, as a micro-universe. The Microcosmic Orbit meditation, the first of seven formulas of alchemical practice in the system I learned, was by itself a kind of internal super-collider for the yin and yang forces flowing within the body. I was using the cave to test for its effects on my own practice. I found the results to be very positive.
The experimental nature of internal alchemy has led to the development of many different systems of neidan or internal alchemy within China. On Huashan, Chen told me that historically the Taoists here followed a form of neidan taught by Chen Tuan, an 11th century Taoist famous for his dream practice, even though Huashan today formally belongs to the Complete Perfection school of Taoism that follows Lu Dong Bing style of alchemy. Ironically, the Seven Tao Formulas of Immortality I learned (via Mantak Chia) came from an adept named One Cloud who renounced his Complete Perfection monastic life to seek in the mountains the true teachings of alchemy.
One Cloud found a high level hermit teacher, and used the Seven Formulas to become a breatharian himself. Yet these Seven formulas are recognizably within the tradition of Lu Dong Bing, even though they don’t teach the theory of reincarnation adopted by the Complete Perfection school. Neither Lao Tzu nor Chuang Tzu taught reincarnation in their writings. I believe it was because living in the Tao dissolves all divisions of past and future into a present moment that is incarnating ever fresh from the coupling of Heaven and Earth.
There is a beautiful simplicity to this vision: there are no endless cycles of the same individual recycling and suffering through different lives; every human is instead the direct, fresh, and unique child of Heaven and Earth. There are no past lives, only a multiplicity of parallel lives in the present moment. Each person who rfines their essence and thus completes themself in this life completes life for all Heaven and Earth. One’s level of completion is what defines one’s level of immortality, as a human, earth, heaven, or celestial immortal. The concern is not to live physically forever, just long enough to complete one’s true destiny. Ultimately everyone has the same destiny, to return consciously to the Tao.
The adepts on most Taoist sacred mountains in China have adopted a different set of nei dan methods to explore the Tao. Yet all these variations derive from the same core principles of yin-yang chi flow, of five elements cycles on a matrix of eight primal forces emanating from a ninth neutral force (yuan, or original chi) in the center. The fluid and changing nature of Taoist practices makes it very difficult for westerners to pin down, and thus to understand in their normal analytical manner, what exactly internal alchemy is. Unlike most religions, Taoist alchemy is not based on a fixed set of beliefs, or on an single divine entity who saves humans, but rather is based on the merging of human body-mind rhythms with cosmic rhythms. As the adept learns to shape the chi field through chi kung and nei kung practices, he or she also shapes their destiny in the world.
I arrived in the Spring Flower cave just a few weeks after the Sept. 11 bombing of the World Trade Center. It might have appeared I was retreating from the world’s problems, rather than engaging them. Yet I did not experience it as a withdrawal, but rather saw my cave an observatory from which I could more clearly interact with the convulsive rhythms pulsing through the planetary brain from the heart of America. When you are caught up in reactive emotional patterns of society and politics, it is difficult to directly perceive the underlying natural forces at work in shaping society. Every event, even one seemingly caused by evil forces, is ultimately an expression of natural forces seeking to achieve balance. I am not talking about the immediate or surface political reasons for terrorism, and maybe I should have made that clearer.
I am talking about the core spiritual reasons/imbalances in the global mind that surface from the deep unconscious and get shaped by cultural forces into whatever they are. By the time any thought form/impulse gets to the stage of action, be it benevolent or violent, it has gone thorugh many filters/layers of consciousness, some of which reflect the global brain imbalance I was attempting to refer to. These imbalances come from fears that are very primordial/deep ancestral, and precede the current situation. From my cave perspective, I saw that beneath the apparent political issues surrounding the 9-11 terrorist attack were deeper spiritual divisions in the collective global mind.
The left-brained western hemisphere does not comprehend and thus cannot trust the more right brained eastern hemisphere. Its similar to the difficulty men and women have in communicating. This is a very ancient ancestral pattern buried deep within the planet that is resurfacing in a new form. The mistrust breeds fear, which in the current scenario has translated into western politico-military strategists seeking to dominate with weapons the near eastern and asian peoples and their resources. The U.S. military sees China’s huge population and political system as its only long term potential competitor on a global scale, and the oil rich Muslim countries as essential to controlling and containing the China threat.
What can a simple western Taoist, while sitting in a cave in China, to do about all this? I love both China and America, the peoples of both the near eastern and the west. The politicians tell me I have to choose, that only one side can be in control. My natural response to this event as a Taoist is that there is always a third choice. I chose to align with and alchemically balance the natural chi field of the planetary mind with this third point, the still point between the global yin and yang forces. My hope was to bypass the apparent political polarity on the surface of the planet and use Huashan to help me dive deep into humanity’s collective heart. My intent was to lessen the intensity of fear driving the two split and competing halves of the planetary brain.
As a westerner sitting in a cave at the geographic center of China near its ancient capitol of Xian, I felt perfectly positioned to initiate such an alignment through meditation. To amplify the effect of my practice, I had pre-arranged for my wife and alchemy partner Joyce Gayheart to do similar meditations from the nearly exact opposite side of the planet back in America, not far from Washington D.C. Lao Tzu became famous in China because his 5,000 character meditation manual (the Tao Te Ching) integrated politics and spirituality. It emphasizes repeatedly the necessity for political leaders to harmonize with the chi field of the Tao. Following the
Tao is not about choosing one political system or leader over another, but about choosing the balance point between all contending forces. Only from this still point of calmness can the emotion-crazed and polarized politicians on both sides be guided to peace and harmony. This situation today is no different from Lao Tzu’s 2500 years ago. Unless the innate harmony of the Tao is sought, the cycle of guerrilla terrorism vs. state terrorism (a.k.a. war) will continue until all parties exhaust themselves and many innocents are harmed. This is a slow and tortuous way to achieve balance.
The meditations I did on the global situation from my cave on Mt. Huashan were very profound. I linked my own polarized brain hemispheres and deep energy body channels to the powerful granite meridians of Mt. Huashan. These connected me into the core of the planetary brain that links humanity into a single collective mind. I called in the polarized forces from the different Tao alchemy formulas, in equal and opposing streams of chi flow: male sexual fire vs. female sexual water, sun vs. moon, stellar spirit vs. earthly matter, formless chi field of Early Heaven vs. formed chi field of Later Heaven.
Ultimately all these poles are fluctuations between the eternal desire of beings to return to the primordial chaos of Oneness vs. the impulse to create new order as the Ten Thousand Things. Into the meeting point or cauldron of all these octaves of my consciousness, I called in the archetypal fear splitting the planet in half. Fear lacks its own center, and thus cannot survive such powerful cosmic impulses to unite in the center. I had an experience of the vast currents of fear flowing about the planetary chi field as fuel for a powerful meltdown into a deep and peaceful inner space. Joyce and I, meditating on opposite sides of the planet, were only two people out of six billlion people on the planet.
But by alchemically aligning and accelerating these natural forces, I am certain that we were able to dissolve some deep unconscious layers of fear and shift the mind of humanity far out of proportion to our tiny number of two. In this way, the Spring Flower cave on Huashan became in the inner planes a cauldron of hope and renewal for all humanity. Later, after I left Haushan, I could still feel the chi from Huashan’s granite still coursing through my deep channels, and the heart of humanity beating more palpably within my own heart.
The only book I took with me into the cave was Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. In it Lao Tzu comments that “the sage stays at home, does nothing, and yet everything is accomplished.” Staying home is a Taoist metaphor for staying in one’s spiritual center, in the inner heart of hearts, at the core of one’s personal cauldron. The easiest way to “do nothing” is to align with the natural harmonizing flow of cosmic forces. Those forces will ultimately and effortlessly accomplish the return to peace and harmony. Internal alchemy is one very deep and powerful way to align with those forces. Lao Tzu also mentions that “Humans hate to be alone, poor, and hungry”.
Yet there have been countless generations of Taoist adepts on Mt. Huashan who have chosen to live in remote mountain caves in lives of apparent aloneness, poverty, and hunger. Why did they do it? Perhaps only the paradoxical thinking of Lao Tzu can define their motive, incomprehensible to the great mass of humanity: “We we gain by losing, we lose by gaining,”Lao Tzu advises. In their cold caves without much food or water, lost to the gaity of outer world, I believe these alchemy adepts fed themselves and gained everything by embracing the Tao itself.
Michael Winn is a pioneer in bringing Tao arts to the west. He is founder & director of Healing Tao University which offers 30 week long summer retreats in all of the Tao arts in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Recent President of the National Qigong Association USA, he wrote 7 books with Mantak Chia. and offers in depth Tao home study audio-video courses in qigong/chikung and Taoist inner alchemy. He leads a China Dream Trip each year to Taoist monasteries and every other year to do cave practice on Mt. Huashan. Contact: Info@HealingDao.com or 888-999-0555 or www.HealingTaoUSA.com