In a recent private function, one had a chance to meet and talk to an elder of a Daoist temple who has practiced neidan for several decades. Taking the opportunity to learn from the elderly man who looked healthy and had rosy cheeks, one ventured to ask whether there was anything to hearing Songs of the Immortals. Back came the reply, “Hearing such songs is an imagination. Many things seen or heard during meditation can be due to our own imagination.” When he said that, one stopped listening and nodded my head as he droned on. There was no point in listening to half truths.
While relatively healthy, one has continued to lose weight; the protruding ‘belly’ together with the rosy cheeks has disappeared a few years ago. When a client saw my whiten face, he finally found ‘reasons’ to point out that I was practising the wrong qigong meditation. Yes, perhaps both the client who has no inkling about neidan practice and the Daoist elder know more than me. Whether they were right or wrong in the private conversations, there was no cause to dispute their opinions. Their names including that of the temple and sect have been omitted to avoid embarrassment to anyone.
Of the ancients, only Buddha had made a mention of the Songs of the Immortals [Refer to the Shurangama Sutra (Leng Yen Ching)]. Perhaps Laozi left it to the younger fellows to cover this. Lu Dongbin in his Hundred Character steele, found occasion to say: “Sitting, listen to no string tone.”
A clearer meaning can be derived from the Za Yung Ching or Classic of the Directory for a Day, which some accredited to Tai Shang Lao Jun, the official name of Laozi. It said of the neidan practitioner: ‘His ears hear the songs of the Immortals that need no aid from any instrument; vocal without words, and resounding without the drum.’ At times, even Buddhas may find the songs joyous enough to chime in and sing.
Fellow travelers may need clarity of mind and wide learning to determine if what is seen or heard during meditation is real or imagined. Otherwise we can be led astray during meditation or by many things in life which include opinions from the so called experts. To remain blameless; one often quotes references for the earnest and the sincere, especially for those who are self taught, for their own studies and further learning.
Whether Songs of the Immortals are for real or merely a figment of our imagination is for readers to determine. If you cannot decide and seek my opinion, my answer could either be a yes or no. For how would I know?