Tao cultivators especially those who learn from masters tend to think they know more about meditation than others. While many cultivators would have learned the ordinary types of meditation, only the dedicated would perhaps be taught neidan, if their masters have the real technical skills and know how.
Neidan, the pinyin for inner alchemy, differs much from the ordinary meditation made available and taught to the general public. This advanced meditation uses breath control to generate Qi within the body as well as absorb Qi from the atmosphere. Light will circulate together with Qi if the practice is correct.
Parts of the process of neidan practice have been described in the ancient Daoist texts – Tao Te Ching, Neiyeh - and the Shurangama Sutra (Leng Yen Ching). But not many down the ages really understood what had been said. Not to mention the Buddhist monks and Daoist priests who know little about these ancient texts and the Book of Changes and yet think that they know much about the practice. Perhaps till today, some may still consider waidan (outer alchemy), made popular and practised by post Han Daoists for several centuries, to be the key in the path to Tao and immortality.
It was not until the so called Neo Daoists era that the learned began to understand what they had to do. They realized that the practice of neidan, and not waidan, was important to achieving longevity and immortality. Over the next few centuries, a larger number of neidan practitioners had been recorded to have attained immortality. If my understanding is correct, during this era, many of those who attained Tao and became immortals belonged to Quanzhen (Complete Reality Religion).
Once a neidan practitioner has obtained a confirmatory experience or experiences as indicated by Lu Dongbin, a Quanzhen Patriarch and one of the famous eight immortals, he or she shows good aptitude of the practice. However do not expect other neidan practitioners including Buddhist masters to understand what you are practising or experiencing. After all according to Lu Dongbin, his practice known as the Circulation of the Light differs from those taught in Chan (or Zen) Buddhism because the experiences can be confirmed.
Not many living practitioners, even though they represent themselves as neidan masters in the web or in books, have reached the confirmatory stage(s) and fewer would know what you are actually doing. Therein lays the secret. Therefore be circumspect otherwise you may have to reveal more and more secrets or get into needless arguments. Just refer to the relevant ancient texts, sutras, or Neo Daoist texts wherever required and desist from arguing.
Recently, someone handed a Thai Buddhist meditation book for me to read since my meditation, inadvertently revealed by a third party, was deemed wrong. (The book was returned to him through the third party the following day.)
The book described well, the teaching of Dharma and the differentiation between good and evil, which forms part of the cultivation of life, by a high level Buddhist monk (an ‘Achan’) several decades ago. Probably his teachings had been closely followed by various Buddhist spiritual masters in Thailand and Malaysia.
While his teachings on the cultivation of life are commendable, his meditation may be incorrect because the late venerable Buddhist master had various visitations by angels from different parts of the world, including Germany, during his meditation. It must have been a great feeling to any meditator if ‘angels’ come from any part of the world to listen to your Dharma and tell you how good you are – similar to what the late Achan have had experienced.
You see, neidan meditation not only differs from other types of meditation, it can be dangerous without the requisite knowledge and proper guidance when practised alone. At higher levels, a practitioner needs to be more vigilant since one can easily be misled into bypaths by seemingly ‘good’ spiritual beings appearing as ‘angels’ for instance.
In case, Buddhist and Daoist readers disagree to what is written about the venerable Buddhist spiritual master’s incorrect meditation, ask yourself this question:
Did Buddha not warn in the Leng Yen about the various types of manifestations by demons (Mo) and the forms they can take to appear to a meditator during meditation; and the similar warnings given by Lu Dongbin in his Secret of the Golden Flower?
If the answer to the question is a resounding Yes, then these readers may understand this attempt to point out the bypaths walked by the many down the ages, including neidan masters, who thought they are in the know without ever crosschecking with ancient thoughts and with real divinities along the Way. This could be the reason why those who left behind scriptures on neidan practice before becoming immortals, tell students to seek out real masters for guidance.
How many neidan practitioners had actually reached the center and went on to attain Tao without really knowing the thoughts of the ancients and knowing how to differentiate between good (Tao) and evil (Mo)?
Perhaps some readers reading this entry may know the answer better than this student.