RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Thomas Cleary

The Magic Sword passage from the Wu Zhen Pian (Understanding Reality)

歐冶親傳鑄劍方,鏌鋣金水配柔剛。

煉成便會知人意,萬里誅妖一電光。

 

Ou Ye personally transmitted a method for casting a sword; 

Mo Ye, with metal and water, alloyed flexibility and strength.

When the forging is complete, it can read people’s minds; 

A flash of lightning, slaying demons for ten thousand miles.

Cleary translation¹

 

Zhu Yuanyu’s commentary

This passage is discussing the use of the golden elixir sword of wisdom. It is meant to be employed together with the previous passages discussion of ‘bathing.’ When the ancient teachers reached this point, they would be unable to suppress a smile, due to the strange coincidence of legends of miraculous physical swords which were analogies of the golden elixir’s non-physical sword of wisdom.

Now the method of forging these swords requires rigorous tempering with metal and water to complete them; the work of congealing the elixir likewise must be obtained through refining metal and water. The true qi of the two arcs² of metal and water, one hard and the other soft, combine to form the elixir. This exactly resembles the miraculous sword which was created via the pairing of Gan Jiang and Mo Ye, which formed the treasure. The subtle employment of the two arcs requires oral instruction by a true teacher, which again resembles the necessity for Ou Ye to pass on the subtle secrets of forging swords. This is why the passage says:

Ou Ye personally transmitted a method for casting a sword; 

Mo Ye, with metal and water, alloyed flexibility and strength.

When the qi of the two arcs is subtly joined and congealed, then the true fire of the oven of Kun tempers and refines it, transforming them into one qi, making a sharp sword that can cut a floating hair. This is called the sword of wisdom. The edge of this sword cannot be touched, lest you lose your life.

The marvel is in the three words Knowing Human Intent.³ “Intent” () is the true ruler of the yellow centre. Intent is this sword, the sword is Intent: there it stands before your eyes, but if you don’t see it, it might as well be ten thousand miles away.

At the time when the great medicine must enter the oven, if yin demons come to interfere, then use the sword of wisdom to its utmost, hitting them right on the head with the first stroke, immediately clearing even their shadows away. This is why the passage says:

When the forging is complete, it can read people’s minds

 A flash of lightning, slaying demons for ten thousand miles.

The first two sentences discuss the structure of the sword of wisdom, the last two lines discuss its use. Note that there is not really a sword of wisdom that one can use, it is actually nothing but the single point of spiritual light from the primal heaven.† And there are not really demons to put to death: they are but the first stirrings you feel of thoughts—it is another way of stating [what is suggested in the second line of the the hexagram Qian in the Yi Jing]: “eliminate the false”.

Ancestor Lü says about this very same sword: “I do have a sword, but it is different to the usual: first it cuts off greed, then it cuts off desire, and finally it cuts off all mental disturbance. That is my triple sword-play.”

This the the sword he was talking about.

Footnotes

1. This translation of the original verse is from Cleary’s Understanding Reality, page 111, where the verse has Liu Yiming’s commentary appended. It may be useful to compare Liu Yiming’s commentary with Zhu Yuanyu’s included here, in order to form a more complete picture of the meaning. For example, Liu explains the story of Mo Ye: “In ancient times there was a smith named Ou Ye: as he was casting a sword, it repeatedly failed to to turn out; his wife, Mo Ye, jumped into the forge and the work was accomplished in one firing. People called it the precious sword of Mo Ye, It was incomparably sharp.”

2. The “two arcs” are the ascending arc of the waxing moon and the descending arc of the waning moon, symbolising the growth of metal on the left and the descent of water on the right.

3. 知人意。Cleary translates this as “read people’s minds.”

†. 先天一点灵光。

Advertisements

Do not extinguish the shining mind

Working diligently day and night, never wavering for a second, just extinguish the stirring mind, do not extinguish the shining mind; just stabilize the open mind, do not stabilize the dwelling mind. Do not rest on anything, yet have the mind always present.

Zhang San Feng (Chang San Feng),

Cleary Vitality, Energy, Spirit p. 201

Zhū Yuányù (朱元育) comments on a verse of the Wù Zhēn Piàn

The words of the myriad books on immortality are all the same – the golden elixir alone is the root source.

The substance is produced on the ground of the position of EARTH planted in the chamber of intercourse in the house of HEAVEN,

Do not think it strange that the celestial working has been leaked – it is because students are confused and ignorant.

(Understanding Reality, Cleary translation, p. 54)

This verse talks of the great way of the golden elixir, of transcending the common and entering the path of the sages. It is the final verse in the initial sequence of the Wù Zhēn Piàn.

The previous verses spoke of how the effect of the golden elixir was vastly superior to that of the side tracks, and how one could see that only this matter is factual, no other way was real. But it is not only this book, the Wù Zhēn Piàn, that states this: each of the ten thousand classics of elixir are concerned only with this single matter.

The pre-heaven Yì Jīng of Fúxī brings up Qián, Kun, Kăn and ; he was the elder pioneer who cleared the mountain for this temple of elixir classics. The Dào Dé Jīng and Qīng Jìng classics solely model themselves on Being-as-is. Although they directly point to the path of wúwéi, the effect of the golden elixir is already there within.

The books of Yīn Fù and Cān Tóng want people to return to their root, and although they detail practices that are yŏuwéi (ie, active as opposed to wúwéi), yet the effect in the final analysis still comes back to the great way of Being-as-is.

And everything that Zhuāngzi and Lièzi and the Wénshì Jīng expounded comes back to this, and what Zhōnglĭ Quán and Master Sea Toad described—all are just this: investigating the root of Essence and Life in order to set up the principle of the golden elixir. And as for the saying “only the golden elixir is worthwhile,” this is the root source.

The effect of the golden elixir is explained in detail within the text, but the gist of it is merely to produce medicine in the furnace of Kūn (坤爐) and congeal the fetus in the cauldron of Qián (乾鼎). These two phrases cover it all.

In terms of the golden elixir, the great medicine is produced when Kăn and start to interact—this is the work in the palace of Kūn. As to culling according to the time, ascending to the entrance of the Celestial Valley, and guiding the return to the Yellow Court, these are all in the household of Qián.

In terms of elixir reversion (还丹), it is using a gentle fire to warm and nourish the medicine that has been gathered into the furnace; again, work in the palace of Kūn. As to the practice of concentrating fire and metal in close interaction at the peak of Kūnlún, this too is in the household of Qián.

When Master Cui said the birth is from Kūn, the seed is from Qián he was referring to all the above. This is why the line in the text here says The substance is produced on the ground of the position of EARTH (Kūn) planted in the chamber of intercourse in the house of HEAVEN (Qián).

Exposing things to this extent, Master Zhāng could be said to have openly revealed the secret Celestial mechanism. Yet worldly people still are misled by side-tracks! They might take, for example, ‘you’ and ‘I’ as Qián and Kūn, a mistake which destines  them for the lowest reach of hell. Or they might take ‘above the navel’ and ‘below the vertex’ in the body as Qián and Kūn, thus working their way toward the ghost cave at Black Mountain (黑山鬼窟). Isn’t this the ultimate stupidity?

Ba Duan Jin — the Eight Sections of Precious Brocade

An ancient series of Daoist yang sheng exercises, passed down since the Song dynasty 800 years ago, is the Ba Duan Jin–the Eight Sections of Brocade–so named due to their precious effect on health. The earliest reference that I have found so far is a book called The Pivot of Dao (Dao Shu) which contains the sitting postures of Ba Duan Jin. Designed to be simple enough for children to learn, and gentle enough for old people, the series consists of eight associated exercises that stretch and strengthen the body from top to bottom.
The movements also have the intention of opening the acupuncture channels in the body, including the eight extra channels: the movements often include repeated running of the hands over the pathways of the channel for this purpose.

The mnemonic ode for Ba Duan Jin is as follows:

Both hands support the sky, to benefit the San Jiao,
Left and right open the chest, like holding a bow,
Regulate the Spleen and Stomach by lifting one hand,
Look backward to treat the Five Exhaustions and the Seven Injuries,
Wag both the head and the tail to eliminate Heart fire,
Punch and stare furiously to increase energy and strength,
Facing upward then bending the body over makes the Kidneys and waist firm,
Support the back, then seven jolts dissolve the Hundred Illnesses.

Ba Duan Jin part one links to a pdf with the first four exercises including a photo of each movement.
Ba Duan Jin part two links to a pdf of the last four exercises, with a quote from Thomas Cleary regarding its history, explanations of the final four movements, and photographs.

There is a difference between qi gong (‘breath work’) and exercises like Ba Duan Jin, which are yang sheng (nourishment of life) exercises. Yang sheng movements maintain and promote general health, which includes a good qi flow through open channels and collaterals, whereas qi gong concentrates on building a qi sensation, often in the Dan Tian (Cinnabar Field–a point located in the centre of the lower abdomen) then allowing it to circulate.

As a reward for those who have read this far, I will pass on the greatest secret of nourishing life, which I learned from my teacher Wang Ru-Zheng many years ago. The secret, he said, will look like no secret at all to those not ready to hear it, but it is the basis not only for yang sheng, but also for all healing, learning, spiritual studies and even financial investment. And here it is:

A little bit every day accumulates.

The thing about Jing

In a previous post we looked at jing/essence as a trust fund of inherited constitutional energy, intended to be used for procreation and emergencies only, but regularly wasted through failure to understand that:

a) it is not infinite, and

b) it can only be replaced through long-term quiet accumulation in the midst of stillness.

Jing/essence is, in fact, the power of our youth. Those with less age quickly.

Chen Zhi-Xiu (Shang Yang-Zi) quotes the Daoist acupuncturist Ma Dan-Yang about its importance:

The most precious thing people have is jing/essence, but it is very limited … [Ma] Dan-Yang says ‘Sex is worse than tigers or wolves, it destroys a person’s beauty and bearing, it ruins good actions. Wasted jing, extinguished spirit — these simply lead to premature death. Those who would aspire to the Dao must avoid [excess in this regard].’*

Chen goes on to say:

Others, of less intelligence, quip that the span of their life is set by fate, why not enjoy it? But the old saying warns: when the oil dries up, the lamp goes out; when the marrow is exhausted, a person dies. You must know that jing/essence is the root and basis of your body — how long does a tree last when its root is cut away?’ To nourish life, first treasure the jing/essence. When the jing/essence is full, qi will flourish, and then the spirit will be hearty, the body healthy, with few illnesses. The organs inside will function perfectly, the skin outside will glow, your visage will be bright, your eyes and ears and brain sharp! And all of this from reducing the wastage of jing/essence in your youth. If you have done this, and on top of this can reduce desire altogether, you will live a good long life.

It is not only ejaculation that wastes jing/essence: anything that disturbs its quiet repose and incites it to movement has already caused wastage of the jing, as it has become transformed into active energy waiting to be used. Jing is potential. Once this source has been tapped, that activated energy cannot be easily transformed back into the potential which was.

So what disturbs jing? Anything that excites desire, especially sexual desire, disturbs jing. Little desires cause little disturbance, the greater the desire, the greater the disturbance to the jing/essence. Desires modified by control are much less disrupting.

This whole concept, of course, is anathema to a consumer-driven society (or at least to the information media fueled by advertising), which is why these sorts of ideas are not very popular, but we should be able to see that in fact unbridled craving for things is ultimately weakening for the whole society: less essence, less spirit, less will.

This idea, that desire which is not skillfully controlled will easily drain jing/essence, also shows up the potential danger in the “Taoist sexual techniques” advocated by so many popular books — dangers in fact warned against for centuries by Daoists themselves. Thomas Cleary’s Sex, Health and Long Life provides a balanced introduction to the topic.

And how do we build up jing/essence, then? Well, how about a little peace and quiet, first …

Xiaoyao building up his jing/essence

Xiaoyao building up his jing/essence …

 

* 盖色之害人,甚于狼虎,败人美行,损人善事,亡精灭神,至于损躯,故为道人之大孽。

Review: Thomas Cleary’s Vitality, Energy and Spirit

Review:  Thomas Cleary’s

Vitality, Energy and Spirit

and

Taoist Meditation

When I first noticed Thomas Cleary’s wide range of translations from Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and later Islam, I was dismissive: ‘Too many books,” I thought, vaguely, something along the lines of ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’ Furthermore, looking into these books, they did not have the detailed endnotes of the scholar, despite his PhD from Harvard: why this Chinese character was chosen for this sentence, instead of that; what other authorities thought and said.
“Shallow,” was my judgement.

After having it brought to my attention that such a judgement might be hasty, and over the intervening years having perhaps matured, to an extent, in my appreciation of some things, a revisiting of the Cleary books brought a very different conclusion. That conclusion, steadily reinforced with the passage of time, was that these translations are an accurate conveyance of the original practical intent of the texts he has chosen to translate; not simply translations of the words, but a conveyance of the heart of the text, the underlying meaning, done by someone who understands that meaning.

He recounts in the afterword to one of these books that this understanding came from

… my own introduction to the golden flower practice of “turning the light around,” long before I knew of the existence of this particular book [the Secret of the Golden Flower]. Finding this method of mindfulness extremely powerful and versatile, I subsequently spent many years studying its use in experience and looking for tested information pertaining to its objective application.

Cleary found that similar techniques of mindfulness played an important role in many if not all religions, although ‘dressed’, as it were, in very different costuming. Peeling away the packaging revealed a surprising identity of content within these religions, albeit expressed with characteristics determined by the culture: quiet, simple and practical for Chinese, for example, while the Indians might express the same core experience in colourful emotional ways.

In short, it seems to me there is a fair chance that Cleary knows what he is talking about, from experience. The texts are practical, that is, intended to be used. This is explicitly stated in his book Immortal Sisters: secret teachings of Taoist women:

The present volume addresses itself to individual pragmatic issues, and not to the sociology and politics of times gone by, for the simple reason that it is only by tackling practicalities on an individual level that the living element of Taoism can be brought out of past history and localized culture into the present reality of everyday life. This means seeking the essential rather than the incidental, the fundamentals rather than the outgrowths, that which applies to the human mind itself rather than to a specific mentality alone.

In other words, Cleary is of the opinion that it may be more valuable to learn to access the living flow which gives rise to Daoism and equivalent streams, a flow which is present now, rather than simply try to look like or act like a 12th century Daoist.

In the Taoist series, probably the best books to begin with are Vitality, Energy, Spirit: a Taoist Sourcebook, and Taoist Meditation. The former has selections spanning the whole history of Daoist thinking, in particular regarding Jing/essence (vitality), Qi (energy) and Shen (spirit), their appreciation, conservation, cultivation and ultimate unification.

In the much shorter Taoist Meditation, Cleary says:

Meditation is one element of Taoism that interests a broad spectrum of people, because the state of mind is central to the well-being and efficiency of the whole organism. Taoist meditation is for enhancement of both physical and mental health, as these two facets of well-being are intimately related to one another.

The practicality of these texts is shown in the clear directions provided for checking one’s own progress, and warning indications for when things are going wrong. An example is in this excerpt from the Tang dynasty Sima Chengzhen’s Treatise on Sitting Forgetting:

As long as the mind does not stick to things, and you can remain unmoved, this is the correct foundation for genuine stabilization. If you stabilize the mind by this means, your mood will become harmonious; the longer you do so, the lighter and fresher you feel. If you use this as a test, error and truth become evident.
If you extinguish the mind whenever it is aroused, without distinguishing right from wrong, then you will permanently cancel awareness and enter into blind trance.
If you just let your mind be aroused without collecting or controlling it at all, then you are after all no different from an ordinary mortal.

Then there are the “Sayings of Master Danyang”, from Ma Dan-Yang, whose “Song of the 12 Heavenly Star Points” is an acupuncture classic.

Here are two selections:

The energy in the body should not be scattered, the spirit in the mind should not be dimmed.
How do you avoid scattering energy?
By not acting compulsively.
How do you avoid dimming the spirit?
By not keeping things on your mind.

If people can master the path of purity and serenity, that is most excellent. Therefore scripture says, “If people can always be pure and serene, heaven and earth will resort to them.”
This ‘heaven and earth’ does not mean the external sky and ground. It refers to the heaven and earth in the body.
Above the solar plexus is called heaven, below the solar plexus is called earth. If the energy of heaven descends and the vessel of earth opens, so that there is harmony above and below, then vitality and energy spontaneously stabilize.