Friday, October 30, 2009

Full lotus position

The lotus position sometimes called the full lotus pose is much favored by practising masters of yoga. We often see these masters sitting in this pose in Yoga and/or meditation documentaries on TV. In these documentaries, the Yogis would also demonstrate various stretching exercises for health purposes.

According to what is posted in the Wikipedia,
“The lotus position is a cross-legged sitting posture originating in meditative practices of ancient India, in which the feet are placed on opposing thighs. It is an established posture of the Hindu Yoga tradition. The position is said to resemble a lotus, to encourage breathing proper to associated meditative practice, and to foster physical stability.”

Over the past year or so, a number of Tao Bum members have weighed in with their thoughts on whether the full lotus position is a must for advanced meditation (those related to breath control and/or inner alchemy). Some quote their masters or other masters that the pose is requisite, while some masters in their own right say the lotus position is unnecessary. A Daoist member from Hong Kong recently informed that some Daoist masters in China have made the full lotus pose mandatory for their students.

The issue is difficult to resolve since each individual practitioner or cultivator of Tao has their own practices or beliefs. Then there is the other ‘clouded’ issue of whether they are in fact practising inner alchemy like the ancient and the Neo Daoists or are taught some new age ‘qigong’ meditation or exercises by their Daoist or Buddhist ‘masters’.

If you are practising inner alchemy, it would be appropriate to research into the ancient Chinese classics and/or Buddhist sutras. Did the holy sages in the Book of Changes; and Laozi and/or Buddha ever mention in their writings/ teachings that the full lotus position is mandatory for meditation? Did the Zhen Ren (realized persons) and the renowned Neo Daoists who became celestial immortals write down for posterity that it was the pose for meditation? For the esoteric - whether you are a master or a student - did your ancestor master(s) (Daoist celestial immortals) or Buddhas ever told you that the pose was mandatory for the practice?

If they did, then the full lotus position would be appropriate for your inner alchemy practice. Not otherwise. Unless you believe that your master, his master or grandmasters know more than the ancients and the divinities about inner alchemy.

For example, Zhang Boduan wrote in his Wuzhen Pian (Awakening to the Real) that “laboring the body through massage and gymnastics are not the way; refining the qi and swallowing morning clouds are madness.”

Yet some New Age Daoist masters listed on the web are known to teach such things and have the audacity to claim that their various massages, exercises, ‘Daoist’ yoga, and meditation methods lead to immortality. Compared to them, the yogis are more straightforward. The full lotus position and their related stretching exercises, they explained, can lead to a healthier life.

So there you go, it is up to you what or who you want to believe or follow. Not much point in arguing with those attached to forms or bypaths until ‘the cows come home’.

Those who have had attained good aptitude in inner alchemy, according to Lu Dongbin, would know by now which pose(s) to use for their meditation.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tao and the Yi

The ancients say that Tao can be vast and can be minute and so profound that only the right persons can penetrate all its mysteries. They proffered similar references to the Book of Changes (I Ching / Yijing) in the Great Treatise.

Just like the pursuit of Tao, brilliant minds and the literati down the millennia try to penetrate the mysteries of the Yi. How many were actually successful is difficult to tell since there are few written records left behind for posterity. As a comparison, the Daoists keep Rolls of those successful in attaining the Tao (after penetrating its mysteries) to become celestial immortals and whom invariably can be authenticated in the temples, if required.

Of the Yi, the ancients and the wise left behind references in the Book of History, the Zuo Zhuan (Tso Chuan) and the Ten Wings. So did Confucius and his students in the Confucian books. More than five centuries later, a whiz kid by the name of Wang Bi seemed to be able to penetrate its mysteries and recorded down his understanding that the Yi was a book of wisdom.

Several centuries had lapsed before the time of the so called Neo Daoists and Neo Confucians where brilliant minds again penetrated the mysteries of the Tao and the Yi. Chen Tuan produced many diagrams related to both studies including the Wujitu (Chart of the Infinite). Chou Dunyi produced the Taijitu (Chart of the Supreme Ultimate). From the writings of Chen Tuan, Shao Yong came up with his own diagrams and another method of divination, the Plum Blossoms Yi Number. Chu Hsi recorded down his understanding that the Yi was originally a book for divination.

It was also during this time that renowned Daoists like Chen Tuan, Lu Dongbin, and Wang Chungyang – the founder of Quanzhen - proffered their deep insights that neidan (inner alchemy) and not weidan (outer alchemy) is the method to penetrate the mysteries to attain Tao. They also advocated the integrated studies of the three doctrines – Daoist, Confucian and Buddhist for students to better understand Tao.

The profoundness and mysteries of both Tao and the Yi remain challenges down to this day. Brilliant minds and the literati still try to figure them out just like the ancients and all the wise down the ages.

Laozi and Confucius were no different; they had studied and knew the Yi well. (Remember the Book of Changes is an ancient classic.) Well enough to refer to the Yi in their thoughts and writings and yet keep their meanings hidden for the right persons to discover the truths.

Yet some modern scholars, even if they have brilliant minds, tend to think that the Yi is not profound and they have had penetrated its many mysteries. Some had claimed the same about Tao.

Despite their claims, it is difficult to find their penetrating clarity requisite for an in-depth understanding of the Tao and/or the Yi.

Did anyone note that a court historiographer (a professional diviner or expert) wrongly interpreted the prognostication in the Zuo Zhuan during the Chun Chiu era? If the Tao and the Yi is not other than profound would Laozi state so in the Tao Te Ching and would Confucius in his old age request for fifty years (as recorded in his Analects) to study the Book of Changes so that he would not come to great faults?

If a great sage himself needed so much time to study the Yi, would he tell his students to study this ancient classic to correct their faults? Was it not proper for Confucius to request them and his son to study the easier-to-understand Book of Odes or the Book of Music instead? (This is written in response to spurious claims that Confucius did not study or refer to the Yi in his dealings with his students.)

As a matter of interest, how many Yi scholars out there can really say that they understand Confucius’s interpretations of the lines or hexagrams in the Book of Changes as he did?

If they know little about Confucian doctrines, they may not quite understand where Confucius was coming from.

And if they know any less about ancient Chinese history, they could be clueless as to what Laozi and Confucius meant when they talked about the closure of Heaven and Earth - and therefore the absence of Tao – in their respective texts while making an inference to the Yi.

Meanwhile less brilliant students like us should put more effort into reading the correct books and do homework on Tao and the Yi. It is also proper to discuss our learning with likeminded fellows.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A good opportunity for Yi studies

Steve Marshall, the author of The Mandate of Heaven, is considering starting a regular Yi study group in London for likeminded aficionados depending on the response.

This is a good opportunity for all Yi aficionados who live in London or near enough. If I were still living in London or even Brighton, you can count me among those who would gladly join. Alas I now reside back in Malaysia for a few decades now (and not as reported by some in the World Wide Web).

Steve can be said to be knowledgeable in many tenets of Yi studies. His insights on certain lines or on hexagrams can sometimes astound Yi aficionados. His knowledge on the use of the Shao Yong’s circular diagram helped me pinpoint more accurately on the omen on another 9/11 – the bombing in the US, UK, and Europe; leaving out Japan.

From online discussions with him and by his blogging, one can see he knows something about Daoist, Confucian, and Zen thoughts.

It is a good opportunity not to be missed to discuss the Yi with someone as knowledgeable and reliable as him. Check his Yijing Dao website under Resources.

If you are Chinese or love Chinese tea like him, do not forget to bring along some Ti Guanyin or the milder Po Li for the group discussion sessions. To drink Chinese tea and eat some ground (monkey) nuts over a friendly discussion on Yi studies with someone knowledgeable, what more can one ask?

If interested, search with this address:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Note to students and teachers of ancient Chinese philosophy

Right books and doing proper homework is the correct approach to the study and/or teaching of ancient Chinese philosophy. While I have been saying or hinting that in this blog from time to time, it does not seem to convey the message across.

More particular, I am concerned about the various aspersions cast by some modern scholars (Chinese and Western) that raise doubts in the minds of students and teachers alike on the existence of Chinese sages like Laozi and Confucius, and/or their studies.

Take for example that of Confucius’s study or knowledge of the Zhouyi.

While both in the Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu) and the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji) it has been recorded that Confucius loved his study of the Yi, some modern scholars have the shameless audacity to claim that the great sage had never read the ancient classic. Where such unsubstantiated or specious claims arise, they can mislead students or teachers of ancient Chinese philosophy who did not do their homework well. But we know that the mean men or Xiao Ren whether they are so called masters or scholars have no shame. They just want a pecuniary gain of money, fame or even both, if they can get away with their various spurious claims.

However if we do our homework well, we could substantiate that indeed, Confucius knew his Yi. (Click on Confucius and the Zhouyi link, if interested.)

Then I read of modern scholars and teachers who doubt the very existence of Laozi and Confucius.

It is funny to say the least that they believe in the existence of Zhuangzi but not that of Laozi and Confucius. Yet they read in the writings of Zhuangzi of both Laozi and Confucius who had lived in an era about two centuries earlier than him. It is also said that Zhuangzi claimed to be a follower of Laozi. (No point in bringing up again, the argument that the Chinese emperors and their ministers including grand historians a few centuries removed from both Laozi and Confucius, and those down the ages, had far greater access to historical records than any scholars.)

It seems that some scholars and teachers of ancient Chinese philosophy like to believe in what they want to believe, creating conundrums or at worst, paradoxes for themselves and their students in the studies.

Luckily, the Daoist and Confucian scholars who were top ministers in the first Han Court of Liu Bang had no such quibbles like modern scholars and teachers of ancient Chinese philosophy. These renowned Han scholars had no difficulty in accepting the existence of both Laozi and Confucius. (Read the Records of the Grand Historian)

If we want to know if certain personages of ancient history truly existed, read the right books and do our homework. To read about Confucius and his thoughts, I have always recommended the translations of the four Confucian books by James Legge.

One of the reasons for the recommendation is because Legge provided many important notes and comments of noted Chinese scholars down the ages on the sage’s teachings, as well as on the sage’s family and his numerous named students. If that is not good enough to prove the existence of Confucius for some, try reading his lengthy travels across the various ancient states in China as recorded in the Shiji. Or read the thoughts of Mencius who was said to be a student of the grandson of Confucius. (Any wonder why one has considered some Western scholars and teachers of ancient Chinese philosophy as third class scholars in an earlier post about nearly the same matter.)

While I am aware the James Legge’s translations is out of print, one is sure the established libraries in the West still stock them. Is it too difficult for teachers or professors of ancient Chinese philosophy to get access to these translations and do their own homework instead of quibbling or reliving doubts about the existence of Confucius? It could make a difference to their knowledge or improve their class of scholarship.

(The previous entry on ‘The mother of Mencius’ was written for a similar purpose.)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The mother of Mencius

While Confucians follow the doctrines of both Confucius and Mencius, Chinese mothers down the ages try to closely follow the example of Madam Chang, the mother of Mencius.

“According to Chao Chi, it was the misfortune of Mencius to lose his father at an early period; but in his youthful years he enjoyed the lessons of his kind mother, who thrice changed her residence on his account.

At first they lived near a cemetery, and Mencius amused himself with acting the various scenes which he witnessed at the tombs. ‘This,’ said the lady ‘is no place for my son;’ and she removed to a house in the market place. But the change was no improvement. The boy took to playing the part of a salesman, vaunting his wares, and chaffering with customers. His mother sought a new house, and found one at last close by a public school. There her child’s attention was taken with the various exercises of politeness which the scholars were taught, and he endeavored to imitate them. ‘This,’ she said, ‘is the proper place for my son.’

Han Ying relates another story of this period. Near their house was pig-butcher’s. One day Mencius asked his mother what they were killing the pigs for, and was told that it was to feed him. Her conscience immediately reproved her for the answer. She said to herself, ‘While I was carrying this boy in my womb, I would not sit down if the mat was not placed square, and I ate no meat which was not cut properly; - so I taught him when he was yet unborn. And now when his intelligence is opening, I am deceiving him; - this is to teach him untruthfulness!’ With this she went and bought a piece of pork in order to make good her words.

As Mencius grew up, he was sent to school. When he returned home one day, his mother looked up from the web which she was weaving, and asked him how far he had got on. He answered her with an air of indifference that he was doing well enough, on which she took a knife and cut through the thread of her shuttle. The idler was alarmed, and asked what she meant, when she gave him a long lecture, showing that she had done what he was doing, - that her cutting through the thread was like his neglecting his learning. The admonition, it is said, had its proper effect; the lecture did not need to be repeated.

His wife was squatting down one day in her own room, when Mencius went in. He was so much offended at finding her in that position, that he told his mother, and expressed his intention to put her away, because of ‘her want of propriety.’

‘It is you who have no propriety,’ said his mother, ‘and not your wife. Do not ‘The Rules of Propriety’ say, ‘When you are about to ascend a hall, raise your voice; when you enter a door, keep your eyes low?’ The reason of the rules is that people may not be taken unprepared; but you entered the door of your private apartment without raising your voice, and so caused your wife to be caught squatting on the ground. The impropriety is with you and not her.’ On this Mencius fell to reproving himself, and did not dare to put away his wife.

One day, when he was living with his mother in Chi, she was struck with the sorrowfulness of his aspect as he stood leaning against a pillar, and asked him the cause of it. He replied, ‘I have heard that the superior man occupies the place for which he is adapted, accepting no reward to which he does not feel entitled, and not covetous of honour and emolument. Now my doctrines are not practised in Chi: - I wish to leave it, but I think of your old age, and am anxious.’

His mother said, ‘It does not belong to a woman to determine anything of herself, but she is subject to the rule of the three obediences. When young, she has to obey her parents; when married, she has to obey her husband; when a widow, she has to obey her son. You are a man in your full maturity, and I am old. Do you act as your conviction of righteousness tells you you ought to do, and I will act according to the rule which belongs to me. Why should you be anxious about me?’

Such are the accounts which I have found of the mother of Mencius. Possibly some of them are inventions, but they are devoutly believed by the people of China; - and it must be to their profit. We may well believe that she was a woman of very superior character, and that her son’s subsequent distinction was in a great degree owing to her influence and training.”
[Pages 16 to 18, The Works of Mencius – James Legge]

Perhaps with the above stories, Yi students understand why the mother plays an important role in the family. (Refer to Hexagram 37 Jia Ren / The Family)

A good wife and a kind mother is all a man (whether he is an emperor, sage, or pauper) need. Whether your wife is good, beautiful, or not, friends do not mention her. Neither would the ancients. It forms part of Chinese culture down the ages.