Meditation is popular because it can help reduce stress and provides some health benefits. The Confucians have their own type of meditation, so do the Chan Buddhists and many others in the world. To avoid frivolous claims, instead of titling this article, meditation or ancient meditation, it is titled Circulation of the Light since Guan Yinshi – the person whom Laozi wrote the Tao Te Ching for - was the first to call it by that term.
With correct practice and using the backward flow movement, light would circulate together with breath energy (Qi) up to Heaven / Qian and down to Earth / Kun. Thus the apt term: the Circulation of the Light. The diligent and continual practise of this ancient meditation will provide a student the means to cultivate the Tao of heaven – the dark and the light – as determined by the Holy Sages who wrote the Book of Changes.
In TTC Chapter 40, Laozi taught that “Return (reversal) is the movement to Tao. Yielding is the usefulness to Tao. Myriad things under Heaven are born from being. Being(s) born from non being.”
And in TTC Chapter 16, he had indicated that top scholars of Tao can make the Return by an empty mind (Xin) and a still heart (Xin). An empty mind and a still heart signify meditation. (Also refer to Hexagram 52 Gen / Keeping Still / Mountain.)
To empty the mind during meditation is not difficult, yet many including masters and grandmasters make a hash out of it. Neo Confucians probably not truly understanding the teachings of Confucius and Mencius do away with the workings of Qi and went on to contemplate instead. Their contemporary Chan Buddhists also caught on the idea of contemplation meditation. However, contemplation only clutters the mind with ponders and not empty it of thoughts.
Probably these Chan Buddhists did not really understand the fasting of the mind (Xin Zhai) of Zhuangzi or being illiterate did not read it. The fasting of the mind means to empty it. And Zhuangzi had had also indicated that the Light can be seen. (The text of Zhuangzi and the teachings of the Buddha and Laozi are deemed important to Chan Buddhists.)
The Chan masters who prefer the bypaths of “sudden enlightenment” and “turning the light around” will get nowhere fast. Nor can they achieve longevity – the first stage of the Zah Yung Ching. How could they when their practices follow not the teachings of Laozi and/or of the Buddha? Their misled students in the West are propagating falsehoods of the Way on online Tao and Buddhist forums. So be wary of them.
Eminent Neo Confucians like Han Yu of Tang and Zhu Xi of Song would have progressed far in the cultivation of Tao if they just knew how to empty the mind since having studied the four books and five classics they can probably still the heart. If only they were yielding enough to learn Daoist meditation. Furthermore, both scholars had shown in their writings that they possessed the requisite extreme intelligence and clarity to work the secret charm of the Circulation of the Light. No wonder Han Xiangzi, one of the famous eight immortals, tried hard to convince his uncle Han Yu to cultivate the Way. Instead Han Yu went on to write his study of the Confucian Way comprising of benevolence (Ren) and righteousness (Yi) – which influenced later Neo Confucians - and stuck to it. According to the Shou Gua (Eighth Wing) in the Book of Changes, benevolence and righteousness constitute the Tao of man.
The best way to learn the Circulation of the Light without a doubt is from the Daoist celestial immortals. While names for the meditation could differ, the practice is the same. But even if a student is taught by these real masters, he or she still has to read the four books and five classics to acquire the extreme intelligence and clarity to work the secret charm of the Circulation of the Light.
An alternative, if no real masters can be found, is to learn the Circulation of the Light from the Secret of the Golden Flower which was planchette written by Lu Dongbin, a Daoist celestial immortal. The translated text by Richard Wilhelm and Cary Baynes will provide many a self-taught student who already possessed extreme intelligence and clarity an avenue to reach preliminary levels of neidan (inner alchemy). Although the Daoist text has been corrupted and/or substituted in parts with Buddhist writings – which Wilhelm has had already informed as much – diligent and serious students can still learn from it and practise the Circulation of the Light.
To practise the Circulation of the Light, the student has to learn how to breathe like a baby all over again. A baby’s breathing is ever so soft that it cannot be heard. Breathing in, the abdomen extends, breathing out, the abdomen contracts.
However breath control is required for the backward flow movement. (Refer to TTC 42 on breath control) Breath energy (Qi) has to sink into the lower elixir field (Dantien) before the Qi can be made to reach Return / Fu to begin the Circulation of the Light. (Refer to the articles on Circulation of the Light and I Ching for further information.)
Breath energy is sparse when the student first begins the Circulation of the Light. With continual practice, the breath energy slowly accumulates since the circulation passes through essence locations. When essence transforms into breath energy, there will be more Qi available for use.
Qi when fully mature has to be put to use otherwise it goes to waste.
Some early signs of progress:
After a few short years of practice, students can feel the Qi tingle their palms at seven pm in the evening when they think about it. Those who have several years of practice would also feel heat in the palms.
This thermal heat in the palms can help quicken the healing of bruises and of broken bones. Furthermore, if the thermal heat is properly applied for only a few minutes to the neck area of someone who shows signs of an oncoming flu, it can prevent a full blown influenza for years to come.
Some preliminary eternal signposts of the Way:
Diligent and serious students who use Wilhelm’s translation of the Secret of the Golden Flower would be able to practise the Circulation of the Light up to the stage of entering the Mysterious Gates and visiting Heaven - similar to what the ancient Daoist immortal, Guang Zhengzi and his student, Huangdi had done (as indicated in the text of Zhuangzi).
To do that, students must first see the Light during meditation as indicated by Zhuangzi in his Xin Zhai. They then have to learn how to investigate it as taught by the Buddha in the Shurangama Sutra. Later they have to learn how to use the Light as indicated by Laozi in his Tao Te Ching before they can enter the Mysterious Gates (Tao Te Ching Chapter 1) to visit Heaven. In between they will see the interchanging of the dark and the light, of yin yang, and of forms and emptiness. (Refer to TTC 14 for forms and formlessness)
If a student has already obtained extreme intelligence and clarity after studying and practising the teachings in the four books and five classics for a decade or two, the entire process from the beginning of the meditation practice to visiting Heaven could take several years. It is assumed that the student is already a person suitable for Tao. (Refer to the Hui Ming Ching for the definition of a person for Tao with reference to TTC 18 on the cultivation of virtues.)
For those without extreme intelligence and clarity, and for those who chose to practise bypaths, the magical event would never happen.
Major eternal signposts of the Way
Using the backward flow movement (or reversal) to circulate Qi and the Light would bring about the alchemical transformations of essence (Jing), of breath energy (Qi), and of spirit (Shen). When the germinal vesicle develops, the cooking of the medicine (Kan and Li) will begin in order to produce the golden elixir (Jin Dan). Swallowing the golden elixir will bring about a non being (a spiritual embryo) within being (the adept). After having been nurtured for some years, the non being emerges via the top of the head to open space (Xu) bearing the image of the adept. With further nurturing, the non being produces beings before returning to the Way (Tao). (Refer to TTC 40, the Secret of the Golden Flower, and the Hui Ming Ching.)
Those including masters and grandmasters who cultivate human nature (Xing) and fate (Ming) are many, yet only top scholars of Tao will witness the eternal signposts each and every step of the Way. The signposts are eternal because they still exist after so many millennia have gone by.
No wonder, Laozi lamented in TTC Chapter 70:
“My doctrine is easy to understand, and very easy to practise. Yet the world cannot understand it, nor practise it.”
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It is recommended that the Circulation of the Light be practised by laity only when they have reached the mature age of late thirties or older. By that time, they would have read and practised some of the teachings embedded in the four books and five classics for a decade or two. By that time, they would have procreated and fulfilled their filial duties.