An elder of a Daoist temple had always fancied himself versed in the practice of Qigong and had augmented his ancient master’s breath control meditation techniques with various other methods. After practicing breath control for more than a decade, he gathered enough courage to ask his ancient master for permission to teach breath control to some students. The heavenly immortal through the planchette answered, “No.”
Another decade had passed and one night he thought to himself, “Ah, after decades of neidan practice I have made much progress and have reached a very high level already. It is time to seek the ancient master’s acknowledgement of my achievements.”
The next day, he could no longer withhold his excitement and in front of his fellow disciples asked aloud for the ancient master’s acknowledgement. (For privacy, questions to the Heavenly immortal can be in writing or in thoughts.) Back came the reply in an equally loud and clear tone, “When you practice your meditation, does your hair stand on end?”
The elder blushed, choked, mumbled to himself and drifted from the main hall to a far end corner of the temple.
On a couple of occasions one had heard this elder speak. He likes to talk about various Qigong techniques (some deviant practices) rather than that of the Circulation of the Light meditation. When concepts are unclear the fault lies with the teacher, if concepts are clear but the student likes to take bypaths instead, then the teacher cannot be blamed.
Even if someone has spent several decades practicing neidan, it does not necessary mean he or she has reached a high level in the practice. (The same can be said of Yi students in the practice of divination.) It depends on many things – for example - right teacher, right method, right books, continuous practice, sincerity, earnestness and self cultivation.
Not all who practiced neidan are prepared to (or can) read and understand the ancient texts and writings. Even with the best teachers available (read heavenly immortals), without the requisite readings (theories), how far can we expect to progress in our practice? Do not be surprised if you come across some Buddhist spiritual masters or so-called Daoist masters who have not heard of the Shurangama Sutra (Leng Yen) or a number of Daoist texts quoted in this blog. However it does not mean they do not know anything or do not cultivate.
If this elder have read or referred to the Leng Yen and the necessary Daoist texts (for example – The Secret of the Golden Flower) he would have known what stage of the neidan practice he has reached. While good progress has been made if there were actual confirmations, it does not mean we are close to the center. Still far from it, I believe.
When a friend related the above story and what the Daoist immortal had said, I quipped: ‘Oh now that is easy! Apply some gel and the hair will stand on end during meditation.”