The Zah Yung Ching or Classic of the Directory for a Day contains only three stages for cultivators to return to Tao. In the first stage, it is said:
As to what should be done in a day, when the eating and drinking has been arranged, let one sit straight with his mouth shut, and not allow a single thought to arise in his mind. Let him forget everything, and keep his spirit with settled purpose.
Let his lips be glued together, and his teeth be firmly pressed against one another. Let him not look at anything with his eyes, nor listen to a single sound with his ears. Let him with all his mind watch over his inward feelings. Let him draw long breaths, and gradually emit them, without a break, now seeming to breathe, and now not.
In this way any excitement of the mind will naturally disappear, the water from the kidneys will rise up, the saliva will be produced in the mouth, and the real efficaciousness becomes attached to the body.
It is thus that one acquires the way of prolonging life.
[James Legge – sacred texts. Com]
Sounds simple even to James Legge, but many a cultivator of Tao would take several years or decades of dedicated practice to pass through this initial stage, if at all.
This would be the stage where students and ‘masters’ continue to study learn and practice with many failing to acquire or attain the way of prolonging life.
For without the diligent cultivation of essence (nature) and of bodily life (fate), the many who cultivate Tao would invariably be stuck at this level, unless Heaven happens to be on your side, if you have sufficient merits.
The unknown author of this classic, like the Zhen Ren, assumed that those who practise neidan (inner alchemy) know what they have to do. The earnest and sincere would note that the cultivation of virtues is left unsaid like in many Daoist texts on neidan. But then if we read further into these texts, terms like good and purity are written therein. What do those terms mean? Go figure, or ask your teacher for an explanation.
The unknown author just like the Zhen Ren also assumed that readers know how to meditate.
Those who practise neidan meditation can spot the few things left unsaid in this initial stage, thereby not revealing too much on an esoteric practice relating to Heaven and Tao.
That is why the earnest and sincere, even if they are taught by Daoist celestial immortals, require a lot of reading on relevant texts and ancient classics of the three doctrines – Daoist, Buddhist and Confucian - to augment their learning and practice. The learned can then try to steer earnest and sincere students away from bypaths and pitfalls thereby gaining merit.
If perchance or through diligent practice, cultivators get pass this stage, congratulations!
By performing a great service for Tao and/or through your own talent and virtue, you have managed to prolong your life. Not many down the millennia could attain this.
To the observant, an accompanying change to the line of life in the palm provides a confirmation of this achievement.
It is as if the Junzi is mounting up to Heaven on two dragons, however according to the Book of Changes six is required before he or she can go all the way. In line with the three stages discussed in this simple classic, the right person has attained human immortality – refer to the treatise on the three types of immortals by Zhong LiQuan for clarity.
Having acquired the way to prolonging life, do these right persons have sufficient talent and the requisite purity to go through the more difficult second stage?
The same stage where the legendary centenarian Zhang SanFeng had reached, and where celestial immortals come to talk and sing and much more.