No Method Meditation

Newsletter 11th August 2016

“No Method” describes the principle of letting go, which is vital to the experience of the One. The following story highlights the importance of no method. 

Once upon a time in ancient China there was a famous Taoist master. He had inspired so many students with his calm demeanour and loving heart. He was reputed to have the ability to vaporize into thin air, and to appear in multiple places at the same time. There was a young man called Xiao Wei who was besotted by this master. Xiao Wei made his way through the adoring crowds until he was standing face to face with the legendary man.

He asked, “What do I need to do to become as you are?” To his surprise, the immortal said, “See that mountain over there? Find yourself a cave, sit in it, and do nothing for thirty years.” The adept was shocked. He was expecting a hundred secret inner alchemical formulas or maybe a list of concoctions of metals to distill, fuse, and ingest. Such a statement shocked him to the core.

He looked inside himself and asked a question to his deepest aspect of his being. “This is too simple; could it be true?” Off Xiao Wei went to the mountains. He sat and he sat and he sat. Occasionally he would eat a little food (some nuts and roots) and practice some Chi Kung taught to him by other masters.

After five years, he started to have some doubts. “Was the Master’s advice true?” Maybe what the master told him was a way to get rid of him. However, Xiao Wei did notice many changes within himself. He delighted in his quietude and the delicate worlds that had already been exposed to him. He decided to try a little longer. 

After ten years, he had progressed in his practice. He could leave his body and begin to unite with heaven and earth, but he became afraid when he thought he would die in this merging. His doubt grew, so he went outside the cave, and then noticed that a whole town was built around the foot of the mountain, with his name written in front of all the temples. This frightened and confused him. He decided to retreat back to his cave for some peace and solitude. 

After thirty years, he had learned to merge with heaven and earth. What he had previously known of himself had been forgotten. He had developed a wonderful compassion for all living creatures. He believed that he and the universe are one! He came down to the village and crowds gathered! He realized now that the whole town was dedicated to him.* The lead abbott came up to him and asked what the details of his practice were. 

He told them, “Sit and do nothing for thirty years and all shall be revealed!” To this the chief abbott turned his back in disgust. Soon the townspeople abandoned their dedication and most of the inhabitants decided to move on. Xiao Wei stared and contemplated those who were still left. He could hold on no longer and at that instant he let go. His flesh disappeared in a puff of smoke and ascended. He became immortal and will live as long as heaven and earth.

The principle of this story is meant to provide the reader with the counter position for this entire text. Within this book are a multitude of formulas. Given the parable above, what should the reader do? *There is a temple in Xian named after an immortal who achieved transcendence by “doing nothing.”

We are not advising the reader to ignore the formulas, but to understand deeply that discovery of the Tao is a natural process of returning to the “uncarved block.” The formulas assist the adept in unwinding back to the core but are not the endpoint in themselves. Formulas come and go and change—not only within a sect, but also between sects and different mystical traditions. They are meant for contemplation and dialogue, not as laws written in stone. Each person is different with varied issues and lessons. Each meditation sitting is unique and should be treated on its merits. 

The formulas provide lessons, which do need to be mastered. In the parable above, the master may have spent thirty years learning methods and techniques before he was ready to do “nothing.” The formulas help us align with the principle of apophasis—the principle of undoing rather than doing. Each of us has been a fetus before, so each of us theoretically just has to let go of temporal conditioning and return. The formulas merely assist us in this unwinding process. Like many skills, the formulas can be seemingly forgotten once they have been mastered and integrated. In our experience most Westerners try too hard and do too much. This is the dark aspect of our Western culture. Because the student expects and does too much, the body and mind cannot fully relax. Consequently, the adept fails to achieve the required internal experiences and gives up. Again, the aim is to undo and return. 

However, the undoing should not be taken to the extreme of spiri-tual laziness. Liu I-Ming explains that if he carried “non-doing” to an extreme, the adept would just drown himself in passive “quietism.”35 The “doing,” which is the formula aspects of Kan and Li, provides a counter to this doing nothing. Much like the principle of Kan and Li and the coupling of yin and yang, the coupling of doing and not doing is another duality. It is a blend and engagement of the two poles that creates the right balance of effort. 

Achieving this state of mind is not difficult and is readily accessible to all. Remember we all came from this state as fetuses in the mother’s womb; accessing it again requires nothing more than undoing and returning. This state of mind does not require performance of miracles. It doesn’t require membership in a church or organization. It doesn’t require death or a long life of suffering and hard labor in order to find it. These latter notions are all ways that religion has misinformed its followers in order to control them. Humanity and its perversion of religious doctrine have made access to this state of mind more and more difficult. The biggest lie is that only death will bring peace. What is the point of being in a blissful calm state if you’re dead! It is likely that you won’t even be conscious of it! Therefore, the advice for the UHT students is to remember that the formulas provide a framework for the student to set up the process of undoing. In other words, the student lets go or falls into these formulas by relaxing and smiling. If the student contrives and manipulates too early then the coupling will not hold. The unwinding or letting go process allows the student to enter naturally into a formula. 

Advanced students have learned many formulas in the course of their training. The best approach is to attempt to master each formula individually, which may involve repeat attendance at specific workshops and the assistance of audiovisual aids. Each meditation session will be different and the student will eventually allow one of many formulas taught over the years to arise spontaneously. This could include one of the Fusion formulas, or any of the formulas taught up to this point in the Kan and Li series. Bear the goal in mind—merging with the Tao—and allow the formulas to drop in to your meditation. Allow them to assist with the unwinding and returning to “nothing.” Sometimes you may have to conjure up a missing link from your own experience—a practice that may not have been overtly taught by our system. 

A student will often start with expectations and adhere to the prescribed formulas. Then at some stage in the meditation, he lets go and allows the energies or internal rhythms to take over. Once this threshold has been surpassed nothing else remains to be done. From here on the practitioner may only need to keep reminding himself to let go and enjoy the ride. This is particularly so when you begin to form the embryo. Here, the mind is captured by the blissful “unified energy.” (1)No thoughts can arise and there is only passive following. This is the non-doing phase, which is essential to accessing the higher realms. Liu I-Ming says of this phase, “When you get to this state, doing is ended and non-doing appears; it is no longer necessary to strive—leave it to nature. It is like fruit growing on the branch—eventually they will ripen; the child in the belly will one day be born.”(2)

Letting go also occurs in guided meditation as the student lets go to the teacher’s guidance. However, the letting go of solo practice is more difficult, as expectations and distracting thoughts are seemingly stronger. Unlike in guided practice, students in solo meditation must learn to fol-low their own lead. Just like Push Hands, one follows the direction of the meditation and the lure that has the more powerful thread. It may be the breath, the pulse, deep pleasure in the Primordial Chi, merging, spiralling, or just the simple pleasure of dissolving. The formulas provide you with the skills to handle such varieties of meditation experience. 

As soon as there is too much “doing,” however, meditation becomes blocked. Too much doing includes excessive visualization. The move towards darkness and nothingness includes fusion of all the senses into one complete sensation of unity: do not get stuck in trying to see every color, every form, and every image. After many years of practice I (Andrew Jan) had moments where I thought my mind was changing for the worse. No longer did I see the bright colors of the organs in such practices as the Inner Smile. When I relaxed, my body would just melt away into “one dark night.”* Whereas colors may be important for the novice just learning to visualize, the precepts associated with beginner’s practice should be forgotten by the advanced practitioner. Liu I-Ming believes that many adepts become misdirected by getting attached to visualizations instead of allowing the necessary merging of awareness with the nothingness of the Wu Wei!(1)

*St. John of the Cross was a Christian Mystic who wrote the poem The Dark Night, referring to the unitive experience.

Visualization is not wrong if it is integrated with the other senses. If you can hold onto a tactile sense of the yin essence in the cauldron—the formation of the primordial—while hearing the sounds of the tiger or dragon, then the visualization is both valid and empowering. However, students can easily get locked in the monkey mind and remain in the intellectual/visualization mode alone. The aim is to move toward a more holistic integrated state of awareness. 

(1)Liu I-Ming in Cleary, trans., The Inner Teachings of Taoism, 52.

(2) Chang Po-Tuan and Liu I-Ming in Cleary, trans., The Taoist Classic, vol. 2, 46.