At the age of 95, Master Ni taught his final Meditation Seminar. He based the series of classes on a document that he passed out at the first class. He entitled this single piece of paper – Chinese Meditation from Master Fu-yuan Ni. (Clicking on this link takes one to the raw document.)
Master Ni's Chinese Meditation paper has 8 numbered paragraphs. This page includes both an account of the seminar and a commentary upon each paragraph, number-by-number. Following is a list of the topics that are covered.
Master Ni’s final appearance on the stage of life:
“Oh by the way, one last message before I pass through the safe and secure City Walls into the unknown Chaos beyond. You might want to listen. My credentials are impeccable.
Am 95 years old. Have had a long and healthy life. Fathered and raised 7 successful children with my wife of over 60 years. Taught Tai Chi for nearly 30 years in Santa Barbara – until I was almost 90 years old. When most were thinking retirement or retired I was teaching some complicated and strenuous movements performed with single sword, double sword, saber, and just empty hands – individually or interactively. To cement these subtle and refined forms in the bodies of my multitude of students I taught up to 8 classes weekly – no interrupt. Could count the number of weeks I took off on one hand. Each hour to an hour and half session started on time or early – stopped on time or late. Never wasted any minutes on mindless chatter or endless discussion. Worked my students hard. Taught all levels, beginner to advanced – sometimes up to seven levels in the same class – especially on Saturday – all the way through my 80s.
During these three decades of instruction I also taught meditation classes from time to time – to balance the art of physical movement with the art of mental quietude – the balance of yin and yang. As such I have been instrumental in the cleansing of the channels of the bodies and minds of myriad students. This is the Way – what it is to practice the Tao.
Since retiring from teaching the movements (just before reaching the age of 89) I have been focusing exclusively on meditation. Would like to share what I’ve learned. Am fulfilling my promise that I would teach a meditation class once I passed through the second gate. This is it.”
(This monologue, of course, is a complete fabrication, as Master Ni never said much. Yet the facts are true and his proud body posture said as much or more, albeit silently.)
Master Ni gave 3 meditation classes on successive Saturdays in February 2010 at 8AM. His daughter, Wei Chao, accompanied him as a translator/facilitator, which proved very useful. The format was the same. Each began with talk (lecture and questions) followed by a group meditation and more questions. Due to the loose organization of the classes I will explore the whole experience as one.
Master Ni: “The point of meditation is to unite mind and body with the light that is everywhere. In this way we hope for a long life.” Daughter: “Enhances life expectancy.”
Ni: “How often? As often as could. Any helps. Every morning and night for the body not to die. The first step is to join the mind and chi together. Not today, not tomorrow, maybe 10 years, maybe 20 years, maybe not. Must practice, practice, practice, practice.”
How to meditate? Master Ni stressed the same techniques in the three classes.
1. Sit upright with crossed legs and a straight spine for 20 minutes to a half hour “as often as could”.
3. Gaze down at the nose, (not cross-eyed) with the eyes seeing through small slits (“as small as you can” – definitely not closed.) (Ni #5)
Presumably with diligent practice these simple procedures lead to the ‘mysterious wonderfulness – the gate of all wonders’. (Ni #1)
Further each meditation session began and ended with joint massage that included specific procedures and order – executed in such a way to increase chi flow and move it through the energetic channels into the psychic centers.
Student: “Why the massage before and after meditation?”
Daughter: “These exercises are designed to energize the entire body. Meditation is a semi-active state. The nei dan (joint massage) helps to awaken the chi – rejuvenate the body's energy – come back to 100% active life.”
Master Ni taught a variety of warmup techniques from meditation in his 30+ years of teaching. An example: Post Meditation Warmup February 1997.
The greater part of the three hour and a half sessions were devoted to meditation technique and direct practice. However at the beginning of the initial class he gave us his 'sacred' document - translated by one of his children. Although Master Ni referred to his paper, there was not much in the way of explication in any of the classes. Taoist style he requires us to fend for ourselves. There were 8 numbered statements in his one page of text on Chinese Meditation. The preceding is a link to the raw words. Following is my commentary combined with questions and answers from the class. Note that this is just my untutored opinion. I welcome any feedback. Note also: just because someone points and another understands the Target doesn't mean they are there.
Only if making inner mind stay centered correctly, not hold onto anything or prejudice, and with no thought in mind, then we can enter the gate of mysterious wonderfulness. Mysterious wonderfulness in mysterious wonderfulness is the gate of all wonders.
Paraphrase: If the inner mind is centered correctly, then the gate of mysterious wonderfulness opens up.
Commentary: What is this ‘gate of mysterious wonderfulness’? As with sex, death, music and beauty there is no adequate verbal description of this state. It must be experienced directly to understand it. No words suffice. However it must be fairly marvelous as ‘mysterious wonderfulness inside of mysterious wonderfulness is the gate of all wonders’. I will suggest that this state is akin to the ecstasy of being entirely present. Of course it is not merely a variation of ordinary consciousness that is sought. It is the immersion in the now that is so steady and continuous that it allows one to sink through the dimensions into this ‘gate of all wonders’. Flitting in and about the present is not enough.
How is this accomplished? Centering the mind leads to this marvelous state spontaneously, automatically, without trying. Entering this ‘gate of all wonders’ is the goal of constant meditation – not peace of mind or longevity.
What does it mean to center the mind properly? It is necessary to ‘not hold onto anything or prejudice, and with no thought in mind’. This suggests that mere concentration is insufficient. To reach this exalted state we must also rid ourselves of all those nagging thoughts that plague our consciousness due to our attachments to this plane of existence. We must purge the emotional baggage that has been accumulating since birth – constantly clean our Luminous Egg of the red dust of cultural conditioning that our world generates continuously.
What is the method to accomplish this internal house cleaning? This is discussed in his next 7 statements.
One converges his/her mind to breaths, until the mind and spirit are not affected by or follow the external environment. Then one has intersected with the Tao.
Paraphrase: If one practices converging the mind and the breath until the external environment has no effect then one intersects with the Tao.
Commentary: Uniting the mind and breath is a method for centering the mind to reach the state of ‘mysterious wonderfulness’. Pursued diligently this technique diminishes the effect of the external environment, which tends to draw us from the Path, the Tao – the source of ‘the gate of all wonders’. The implication is that alignment with the Tao is a distinctly different from mindlessly following the mob mentality of the external world. This reflects the idea expressed in the first statement that ‘not holding onto anything or prejudice’ is a feature of a properly centered mind – the prerequisite of practicing the wondrous Tao.
How does one practice converging mind and breath? This is dealt with in Master Ni’s third statement.
When meditating, conserve our mind to listen to the breaths. When our breaths gradually get finer and finer then our mind gets finer and finer too. When our mind gets finer and finer then it makes our breaths converge. When our breaths converge, it empties our mind and make us humble. Consequently, the breaths are stabilized and harmonized. Breaths are derived from mind.
Through his three decades of instruction Master Ni has continually stressed attuning the mind to the breath. On the most elementary level this means to focus consciousness on the in and out of breathing – presumably so that the mind doesn’t wander, but stays focused, giving Brain something to do to keep him out of mischief.
Master Ni: “Think nothing? No! I recite #3 – in Chinese.”
Evidently not only does Master Ni focus on his breathing, but he also has an internal breath mantra that he chants to prevent mind-drift. Let’s examine it in detail. (I broke #3 into 2 parts to facilitate digestion.)
“When meditating, conserve our mind to listen to the breaths.” Focusing upon the breath conserves mental energy by taking our thoughts away from the distractions of day-to day life, which drain our vitality – a car wastes gas when the idle speed is set too high.
“When our breaths gradually get finer and finer then our mind gets finer and finer too. When our mind gets finer and finer then it makes our breaths converge. When our breaths converge, it empties our mind and make us humble.” Just paying attention to breathing is not enough. It is necessary to actually refine the breath, as breathing is directly connected to thought generation, which is linked with desires. If one pursues false (unrefined) desires internal and external chi are dissipated – thereby shortening life. To minimize desire it’s necessary to refine breathing – as desires come with inhalation and exhalation.
The reward of breath refinement is great, as this “empties our mind – making us humble.” A full mind is filled with discrimination, polarity and judgment, which elicit pride – one of the primary roots of human suffering. Alternately an empty mind is devoid of judgment, hence humble. This allows us to “enter the gate of mysterious wonderfulness”. The meek shall inherit the earth.
Listening is the technique employed to reassert control and refine the mind/breath connection. To avoid a prolonged forced arrangement, which is exhausting, it is necessary to use the technique of soft attention with this listening energy. We don’t want to force our way upon our new bride. We want her to accept us for ourselves. In this way there is a mutually beneficial feedback between thoughts, breath and listening – each employed to refine the other. This occurs naturally as long as conscious intent is focused upon this dynamic. Alternately when the attention wanders latent habit patterns reassert themselves. Breath and thoughts become rough and one is carried mindlessly to the doom of distraction, followed by agitation and anxiety, leading to poor decisions, which accelerate the cycle of degeneration.
We want to be able to sense the no sound part. i.e. We need to be patient in listening to the breaths getting lighter and lighter, finer and finer. The more relaxed one is, the more finer and more tranquil the breath becomes. After some time, all of a sudden the finer sound of breath gets interrupted and eventually stops. Then the real breath reveals itself and the mind entity is recognized.
To purify these life-dissipating desires one attempts to control the breath. However the tenser one is, the rougher the breath. Alternately “the more relaxed one is, the more finer and more tranquil the breath becomes. Hence an essential ingredient in the refinement process is relaxation, which is also facilitated by soft attention.
(Contrary to popular belief meditation does not inherently lead to relaxation and peace of mind. In fact The Secret of the Golden Flower, an influential Chinese meditation manual from the 16th century, warns of the stagnant pond of degenerate meditation practices. In this light Master Ni’s meditation class provides techniques to stay upon the True Path.)
As breath becomes quieter and quieter so do thoughts. In this way the body, mind and ears are all engaged in the quest to refine the breath. Initially it is difficult to focus attention upon the multitude of required factors – listening, breathing, and relaxation. Luckily with regular practice integration occurs and ‘no forced arrangement is necessary anymore'. (Ni #4)
Eventually with diligence and patience ‘the finer sound of breath gets interrupted and eventually stops’. In this context Master Ni mentioned duration. “How long does breath stop? For you maybe a few minutes. For me over 10 minutes.” As the breath becomes quieter and quieter it also slows down, until it seems to stop.
What’s the point of this arcane exercise? “The real breath reveals itself and the mind entity is recognized.” This is akin to self-realization. Our true face is obscured in the flutter of the mind/breath/desire complex. Mistaking false for true we veer off the Path – aimlessly wandering in the desert of mindless activities. As the ripples on the pond stop all of a sudden our true identity is revealed. Self recognized the work can begin.
Only reflecting back to ourselves can one reach humility and emptiness. Once it reaches a perfect fit, no forced arrangement is necessary anymore.
Master Ni wrote and stated that it’s important to employ these techniques in day-to-day active life as well as meditation – continuously – “as often as could”. In this sense meditation is not separate from everyday life, but is just focused practice. In similar fashion exercise presumably leads to good posture, which should be maintained throughout the day – not just in class.
Student: “How is it possible to look at the nose, reflect the light, and focus the mind on the breath amidst the swirl of modern life?”
Master Ni: “Same as a driver looks at his rear view mirror as he drives.”
Although focused upon the road ahead (the Path) always reserve a little energy for self-reflection. For “only reflecting back to ourselves can one reach humility and emptiness”– the prerequisite of a ‘correctly centered mind’ which leads to the ‘mysterious wonderfulness’.
This integration of inner and outer, internal and external, physical and mental might seem an overwhelming task, but don’t worry. It’s just a matter of practice. After the initial effort the entire process becomes effortless. As Master Ni says: “Once it reaches a perfect fit, no forced arrangement is necessary anymore.”
This is akin to the statement that once a musician has mastered a piece he doesn’t need to think about his technique any more – except as it serves the music. Of course this is the ideal; the reality is that as the musician approaches mastery technique is focused upon less and less. With the stabilization of body memory (as the repetitions are stored in the cerebellum) the fingers move more and more automatically, with less and less mental and physical effort. Similarly after a period of regular meditation the effort of psychic integration becomes less and less, more and more automatic, almost natural. With frequent repetitions the momentum becomes inexorable.
Thus it behooves us to attempt the impossible – remembering to look in our rear view mirror. After awhile it becomes a constructive habit that happens almost naturally.
The tip of the nose is the most wonderfully important. It is used for the leveling and the accuracy of the eyes. Let the eyelids drop till only a small gap is open so that only the tip of the nose is seen, and let the light come into the eyes naturally. There is no need to do it on purpose or not on purpose.
Numbers 1 to 3 of Master Ni’s final document dealt with the connection between mind and breathing. This engaged ears, mind and breath as well as the intent to relax. Numbers 5 to 8 explain the importance establishing control of the eyes and light. In this context, “the tip of the nose is the most wonderfully important.” Throughout the three sessions Master Ni frequently reiterated the importance of gazing at the nose tip. In terms of meditation this is different from closed eye meditation, which is taught by many schools, including Transcendental Meditation.
“Let the eyelids drop till only a small gap is open …” As little light as possible – on the verge between open and closed – “so that only the tip of the nose is seen.” Hence the importance of the nose. It is the object of the meditator’s gaze, as one drops one’s eyes. However it is important to just gaze (employ peripheral vision) and not to focus on the nose tip. (See Rods & Cones: Focus & Gazing.)
Ni: “Not cross eyed. Not one nostril. If problem, practice will solve.”
However the meditator must be aware of his nose – this anchor to the light. This means the eyes do not roll back in the head, glaze over, or slip into a daydream/reverie. This focus on the nose grounds the practitioner in everyday reality. Further the eyes are held steady, not allowed to wander aimlessly. As with a gun sight, the nose is “used for the leveling and the accuracy of the eyes.”
Ni: “Waste energy when eyes move around – looking at this and that. Maybe not even trust man whose eyes shift about.”
In this fashion Master Ni’s slit-eyed meditation is a practice session to gain control of the random motion of the eyes – forever darting here and there.
Ni: “Eyes always looking around – See something – Mind wants. A horse with blinders stays on the path. Monks always have their eyes down.”
This is where internal and external merge. In meditation nose awareness prevents closing the eyes. In waking reality nose awareness prevents the continual eye drift that evokes trivial desires, whether based in sex, materialism, or jealousy. Not only does this minimize trouble it also conserves energy – as it reduces thoughts that emerge instantly and inadvertently when one sees something – anything. Try it; you’ll like it.
Conscious intent employed on nose awareness is well spent. Not only does this connect us to this world when in meditation, it brings us back to our body when out in the world. Trapped in our mind we spin off imaginary universes from just a casual glance. Body awareness via the nose returns us to the advantages of self-reflection (Ni #4) – emptiness, humility, and the conservation of energy.
There is more. The downward gaze of the eyes connects the mind with the lower tan tien, which eventually leads to the integration of jing, chi, and shên – the first step towards complete integration. The final step is to join the light with this accomplishment. This also is facilitated by nose awareness.
The eye slit that sees the nose also lets in the all-important light. “Let the light come into the eyes naturally. There is no need to do it on purpose or not on purpose.” Again the process is soft attention or gentle awareness – not trying, just allowing through intentionality. Very subtle. Easy to say. Hard to do.
Master Ni: “Subtle is most important.” This has to do with endless refinement – seeking out the middle – continual investigation of the boundary. These are the reasons that “the tip of the nose is the most wonderfully important”.
Lu Zhu (Lu Dong Bin) said: “Everybody just returns the light naturally. Therefore this is the best wonderful truth in meditation. Light is always moving and very hard to be stabilized. After returning the light naturally for some time, it will be stabilized and congealed.”
Despite the seeming complexity of the above instructions, “the best wonderful truth in meditation” is that “everybody just returns the light naturally.” If one relaxes, quiets the mind, suspends effort, and cultivates awareness during meditation the lights reflect inward naturally without trying. In other words don’t be looking for something extraordinary, just let it happen – the glint of the ordinary.
This inner gaze is an essential balance to the constant turmoil of every day life. Ever looking outward we dissipate our life force on trivia. This frantic outward energy is hard to control. “Light is always moving and very hard to be stabilized.” But don’t worry; after practicing returning the light through nose awareness the swirl of the illusory external world will lose its nefarious grip and the practitioner’s manifestation will be clean, pure, and effortless. “After returning the light naturally for some time, it will be stabilized and congealed.”
More information about the above method of using the returning light technique to revive our true body. When an event occurs, we deal with it. When an object comes, we need to see through the truth. We use proper thinking to handle things. If we are not influenced by the outside matter, then the light will automatically return back to ourselves. In our daily life, if we can reflect the light back to ourselves all the time without any differentiation between the illusion of a real ego and beings of the other paths, this is the practice of returning the light anytime and anyplace.
Reiterating some earlier points: an empty mind is a prerequisite for achieving ‘the state of mysterious wonderfulness’ (Ni #1). This is only achieved through self-reflection (Ni #4). Gazing at the nose tip is the mechanism for reflecting the light inward (Ni #5). No need to try to return the light as this process happens naturally if one practices nose awareness (Ni #6).
Master Ni’s 7th statement deals with the method of applying the returning light meditation technique to the external world. The rewards are great as regular practice will “revive our true body” – a return to the spontaneity and vitality of youth. Sign me up.
The next three sentences are crucial. “When an event occurs, we deal with it.” We must deal with events as they occur rather than procrastinating, as delay fills our mind with residual thoughts, disturbing the peace. No humility; no emptiness; no mysterious wonderfulness.
“When an object comes, we need to see through the truth.” Instead of continually getting tricked by appearances we must carefully investigate essence – the underlying realities. Discern the implicit rather than be deceived by the explicit. “We use proper thinking to handle things.” We want to deal with objects and events in a mature manner, rather than overreacting emotionally due to anger, fear, or desire, as this will most certainly disturb our mental peace with distracting thoughts, denying us “the gate of all wonders”. Of course the terms ‘truth’ and ‘proper thinking’ are quite subjective. We can get some idea of their substance by the next statements.
“If we are not influenced by the outside matter, then the light will automatically return back to ourselves.” Evidently the trick is not to be influenced by the external world as this leads automatically to the life regenerating state of the returning light. But how is it possible to avoid the influence of the omnipresent ‘outside matter’?
This is achieved by ceasing to “differentiate between the illusion of a real ego and beings of the other paths.” When a student asked who these “beings of the other paths” were, Master Ni’s daughter responded: “Usually we differentiate Self from Other. Advanced we view Self and Other as One.” Master Ni nodded his agreement. This is the essence of the ‘truth’ of the object, ‘proper thinking’, and the ‘influence of outside matter’. Reacting emotionally to external events fills our mind with thoughts, disturbing the essential peace. This indicates we are separate from the One and are therefore influenced by the Other.
How to avoid this trap? “The practice of returning the light anytime and anyplace” – not just during meditation. To deflect our tendency to supernaturalize the ordinary let it be noted that reflecting or returning the light is akin to listening inward, looking inward (gazing at the nose tip), or feeling inward (for instance sensing the organs). The pregnant woman is continually focused upon the growing being in her belly – even while talking, driving or working.
On more advanced levels …
Master Ni: “Direct eyes and ears inward to the Central Cavity [located in center of your head].”
While external focus creates a negative feedback loop that leads to dissipation and degeneration – proper inward alignment creates positive feedback between the various elements, which makes the process automatic after regular practice. The mind is employed to refine the breath, which enables relaxation, which empties the mind, which enables the light to return, which leads to ‘the revival of our true body’ – rejuvenation – ‘humility and emptiness’ – and inevitably ‘the mysterious wonderfulness’. (Ni #1)
If we can continuously deal with any event or thing by only using this reflection light method, after practicing two to three months some experienced immortals from heaven will definitely give you assurance or approval.
This statement reiterates that the ‘return the light’ method is not an instant fix, a spontaneous enlightenment to the truth, or an immediate revitalization, but requires 2 to 3 months of continuous and intensive practice – in day-to-day life as well as meditation. At that point ‘some experienced immortals from heaven will definitely give you assurance or approval’.
Me: “Some experienced immortals?”
Master Ni: “Self assurance and inner approval. The Brain changes.”
The Inner Garden contains the entire Universe.
Another interpretation of this curious passage: Master Ni has mentioned that a personal god exists 3 feet above our head – whose power we can tap into. In similar fashion the ancient Greeks believed that each person, especially exceptional ones, had a guiding spirit called a genius, who lent assistance in time of need. Another example of divine influence is that of Cupid flying above our heads shooting his love arrows at hapless humans. Painting, whether Western or Eastern, is replete with images of hovering demigods directing the human drama for better or worse. Even in Disney cartoons Goofy is shown with his personal devil and angel on opposite shoulders – giving conflicting advice.
According to this statement diligent practice of the reflection light method draws these Guardian Angels (experienced immortals) into one's sphere – arranging circumstances to personal advantage – orchestrating divine coincidences and such. They don’t waste their time with the timid. In general they bid and coax, sometimes even coerce, their charge to head into the Heart of the Furnace. If one refuses their challenge – due to fear or laziness – they along with their divine assistance disappears. Indeed their dark side might emerge – arranging misfortunes instead. So regular practice of these techniques is exceptionally important as this marshals the positive power of the immortals for our benefit.
Note: When bowing heads to one another Chinese style, our respective gods briefly join forces as one.
More class Master Ni: “Humans are a balance of yin and yang. When no more yang we die. We use up yang during the day and replenish it when sleeping or during meditation. Maybe meditation better. Dreaming costs energy. Goal to replace yin with yang. Then we become immortal like a 6th generation monk in China.”
Daughter: “He died meditating and his body hasn’t decomposed.”
Ni: “Necessary to stop moving eyes. When eyes move mind moves with random thoughts. We spend energy through the 7 openings. [He points to nostrils, ears, eyes and mouth.] We can also generate energy through these same openings.” (The poison can be the cure.)
Daughter: “By focusing inward rather than outward.”
Ni: “Four important points: 1) Mind and Chi as One – gazing down. 2) Welcome the light. Head goes up to heaven. Not by strong idea. Just do it. 3) Subtle: Light goes to the middle. Most mysterious of mysterious. 4) Method of eyes instead of mind. Use eyes to walk. Step by step, never interrupt.”
At this point Master Ni got down on all fours and began crawling – just hands and feet, no knees. “Really good for babies and elders. Eyes watch hands.” As Master Ni is moving across the floor with a big smile on his face.
Daughter: “Scientists have discovered that a child reads better if he has crawled. They don’t know why but tell the parents to encourage crawling.”
Ni: “Hand/eye connection good for integration. Important for breath and eyes to be steady and stable.”
We are all dumbfounded observing this 95-year-old man crawling with ease around the room on his hands and feet.
Ni: “Taoist masters wear beautiful robe. I don’t have, so I wear bathrobe.”
We all laugh, as his overcoat is an ordinary faded blue bathrobe. Humility, a prerequisite of an empty mind.
Ni: “The first accomplishment is to move the chi. Next stage the chi stops. Goes downward through the mind/eye to the lower tan tien. For life – not just meditation. Eyes out- energy out. Inward – stay with body. Go out easy – in difficult. But important all the time.”
He directs his gaze downward and immediately seems to enter a deep trance. After a minute or so, he looks up and says, "See?", with a radiant grin beaming from his smooth bright red face.
Nearing the end the download continues at a furious pace.
Ni: “Jing chi one family. Shên another. Join families, first step. Good accomplishment. Next step to add the light.”
A post-doctoral class in meditation. Past chi revolution and integration of jing/chi/shên. Next stage, stop the chi and the importance of returning the light.
Peter: “When you retired you said that you would give another meditation class when you passed through the second gate. Is this that class?”