Taoist meditation methods have many points in common with Hindu and Buddhist systems,
but the Taoist way is less abstract and far more down-to-earth than the contemplative
traditions which evolved in India. The primary hallmark of Taoist meditation is the
generation, transformation, and circulation of internal energy. Once the meditator has
'achieved energy' (deh-chee), it can be applied to promoting health and longevity,
nurturing the 'spiritual embryo' of immortality, martial arts, healing, painting and
poetry, sensual self-indulgence, or whatever else the adept wishes to do with it.
The two primary guidelines in Taoist meditation are jing ('quiet, stillness, calm') and
ding ('concentration, focus'). The purpose of stillness, both mental and physical, is to
turn attention inwards and cut off external sensory input, thereby muzzling the "Five
Thieves". Within that silent stillness, one concentrates the mind and focuses
attention, usually on the breath, in order to develop what is called 'one-pointed
awareness', a totally undistracted, undisturbed, undifferentiated state of mind which
permits intuitive insights to arise spontaneously.
Taoist masters suggest that when you first begin to practice meditation, you will find
that your mind is very uncooperative. That's your ego, or 'emotional mind', fighting
against its own extinction by the higher forces of spiritual awareness. The last thing
your ego and emotions want is to be harnessed: they revel in the day-to-day circus of
sensory entertainment and emotional turmoil, even though this game depletes your energy,
degenerates your body, and exhausts your spirit. When you catch your mind drifting into
fantasy or drawing attention away from internal alchemy to external phenomena, here are six ways you can use to 'catch the monkey', clarify the mind, and
re-establish the internal focus:
- Shift attention back to the inflow and outflow of air streaming through the nostrils, or
energy streaming in and out of a vital point, such as between the brows.
- Focus attention on the rising and falling of the navel, the expansion and contraction of
the abdomen, as you breathe.
- With eyes half-closed, focus vision on a candle flame or a mandala (geometric meditation
picture). Focus on the center of the flame or picture, but also take in the edges with
peripheral vision. The concentration required to do this usually clears all other
distractions from the mind.
- Practice a few minutes of mantra, the 'sacred syllables' which harmonize energy and
focus the mind. Though mantras are usually associated with Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist
practices, Taoists have also employed them for many millennia. The three most effective
syllables are 'Om', which stabilizes the body, 'ah', which harmonizes energy, and 'hum',
which concentrates the spirit. 'Om' vibrates between the brows, 'ah' in the throat, and
'hum' in the heart, and their associated colors are white, red, and blue respectively.
Chant the syllables in a deep, low-pitched tone and use long, complete exhalations for
each one. Other mantras are equally effective.
- Beat the 'Heavenly Drum' as a cool-down energy-collection technique. The vibrations tend
to clear discursive thoughts and sensory distractions from the mind.
- Visualize a deity or a sacred symbol of personal significance to you shining above the
crown of your head or suspended in space before you. When your mind is once again still,
stable, and undistracted, let the vision fade away and refocus your mind on whatever
meditative technique you were practicing.
Taoist meditation works on all three levels of the 'Three Treasures': essence (body),
energy (breath), and spirit (mind).
- The first step is to adopt a comfortable posture for the body, balance your weight
evenly, straighten the spine, and pay attention to physical sensations such as heat, cold,
tingling, trembling, or whatever else arises.
- When your body is comfortable and balanced, shift attention to the second level, which
is breath and energy. You may focus on the breath itself as it flows in and out of the
lungs through the nostrils, or on energy streaming in and out of a particular point in
tune with the breath.
- The third level is spirit: when the breath is regulated and energy is flowing smoothly
through the channels, focus attention on thoughts and feelings forming and dissolving in
your mind, awareness expanding and contracting with each breath, insights and inspirations
arising spontaneously, visions and images appearing and disappearing. Eventually you may
even be rewarded with intuitive flashes of insight regarding the ultimate nature of the
mind: open and empty as space; clear and luminous as a cloudless sky at sunrise; infinite
Just as all the rules of chee-gung practice can be boiled down to the three Ss - slow,
soft, smooth - so the main points of meditation practice may be summed up in the three Cs:
calm, cool, clear. As for proper postures for practice, the two positions most frequently
used in Taoist meditation are (See the
description of postures given elsewhere):
||Sitting cross-legged on the floor in 'half-lotus' position, with the buttocks elevated
on a cushion or pad. The advantages of this method are that this position is more stable
and encourages energy to flow upwards towards the brain.
||Sitting erect on a low stool or chair, feet parallel and shoulder width apart, knees
bent at a 90-degree angle, spine erect. The advantages of sitting on a stool are that the
legs do not cramp, the soles of the feet are in direct contact with the energy of the
earth, and internal energy tends to flow more freely throughout the lower as well as the
Most meditators who follow Taoist Meditation use both methods, depending on conditions.
When sitting cross-legged, Western practitioners, whose legs tend to cramp more easily
than Asians', are advised to sit on thick firm cushions, perhaps with a phone book or two
underneath, in order to elevate the pelvis and take pressure off the legs and knees. This
also helps keep the spine straight without straining the lower back.
The way the hands are placed is also important. The most natural and comfortable
position is to rest the palms lightly on the thighs, just above the knees. However, some
meditators find it more effective to use one of the traditional 'mudras', or hand
gestures. Experiment with different combinations of posture and mudra until you find the
style that suits you best.
Taoist meditation masters teach three basic ways to control the Fire mind of emotion
with the Water mind of intent, so that the adept's goals in meditation may be realized.
||The first method is called 'stop and observe'. This
involves paying close attention to how thoughts arise and fade in the mind, learning to
let them pass like a freight train in the night, without clinging to any particular one.
This develops awareness of the basic emptiness of all thought, as well as non-attachment
to the rise and fall of emotional impulses. Gradually one learns simply to ignore the
intrusion of discursive thoughts, at which point they cease arising for sheer lack of
||The second technique is called 'observe and imagine',
which refers to visualization. The adept employs intent to visualize an image - such as
Buddha, Jesus, a sacred symbol, the moon, a star, or whatever - in order to shift mental
focus away from thoughts and emotions and stabilize the mind in one-pointed awareness. You
may also visualize a particular energy center in your body, or listen to the real or
imagined sound of a bell, gong, or cymbal ringing in your ears. The point of focus is not
important: what counts is shifting the focus of your attention away from idle thoughts,
conflicting emotions, fantasies, and other distracting antics of the 'monkey mind' and
concentrating attention instead on a stable point of focus established by the mind of
intent, or 'wisdom mind'.
||The third step in cultivating control over your own mind is called 'using the mind of intent to guide energy'. When the emotional
mind is calm and the breath is regulated, focus attention on the internal energy. Learn
how to guide it through the meridian network in order to energize vital organs, raise
energy from the sacrum to the head to nourish the spirit and brain, and exchange stale
energy for fresh energy from the external sources of heaven (sky) and earth (ground).
Begin by focusing attention on the Lower Elixir Field below the abdomen, then moving
energy from there down to the perineum, up through the coccyx, and up along the spinal
centers into the head, after which attention shifts to the Upper Elixir Field between the
brows. Though this sounds rather vague and esoteric to the uninitiated, a few months of
practice, especially in conjunction with chee-gung and proper dietary habits, usually
suffices to unveil the swirling world of energy and awareness hidden within our bodies and
minds. All you have to do is sit still and shut up long enough for your mind to become
aware of it.
It's always a good idea to warm up your body and open your energy channels with some
chee-gung exercises before you sit down to meditate. This facilitates internal energy
circulation and enables you to sit for longer periods without getting stiff or numb. After
sitting, you should avoid bathing for at least twenty minutes in order to prevent loss of
energy through open pores and energy points. If you live in the northern hemisphere, it's
best to sit facing south or east, in the general direction of the sun; in the southern
hemisphere, sit facing north or east.
Given below are three Taoist meditations that are useful for beginners.
Next Topic: Breath And Navel Meditation
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