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Qi Gong for Total Wellness
Increase Your Energy, Vitality, and Longevity with the Ancient 9 Palaces System from the White Cloud Monastery
By Baolin Wu, Jessica Eckstein, Oliver Benson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Dr. Baolin Wu
All rights reserved.
THE STANDARD-BEARER is Lao Zi. To speak of Qi Gong, of Taoism, of Chinese thought and culture, one must return one's gaze to this lofty warden of ancient knowledge. His teachings were the culmination of thousands of years of primordial shamanic insight and the foundation of all that was yet to come. He left for the world the Tao Te Ching. This massive accomplishment alone generated the first formal school of religion and philosophy in China. From his torch passed a fire that illuminated the mysticism of Zhuang Zi and the ethics of Confucius, and between these two mighty pillars, the poles of Chinese culture found their balance. To this day, all religious and political developments in China have had to answer to the influence of the Taoist worldview. The existence of Chinese civilization cannot be separated from the merit of Lao Zi, the father of Taoism and master of the Tao.
With the Tao Te Ching, Lao Zi provides a complete description of the journey toward oneness with the universe. But how to put one's feet to this path? On Zhongnan Mountain, at the spot where Lao Zi is said to have given his great lectures, rest two small stelae thought to date from the Han Dynasty. The characters of the Tao Te Ching are carved on one. On the other is carved Lao Zi's second great gift to humanity — the original thirteen movements of the 9 Palaces Solar Qi Gong. The Tao Te Ching and the 9 Palaces are inseparable. One provides the vision and the other the means to achieving it.
Through the practice of Qi Gong, you can absorb five thousand years of spiritual history. The Qi Gong tradition goes further back than this, into the prehistory of the Chinese people. Recorded references to Qi Gong cultivation date back 3,500 years, etched onto bronze ritual vessels from tombs excavated in Hunan province. They relate the existence of eleven energetic channels within the body. In this sense, Qi Gong and Chinese medicine share a common ancestry. Today Chinese medicine refers to fourteen main acupuncture meridians and hundreds of points. In a sense, the archaic eleven channels have a greater significance than all the research into points and meridians that came after, for they are the pathways of Qi flowing through the body that were most apparent to ancient people. If they felt a pain while toiling in the fields, they would observe how it spread through the body. A cure was understood as the method that would effectively stop and reroute this flow. Later, through trial and error, more was learned about controlling the flow by pressing points all over the body. Finding the control points came second. What came first was an understanding of the flow. Qi Gong is the study of this flow.
As a young neurophysiologist, Dr. Wu was sent to Kyoto University as part of a joint Chinese-Japanese research team, put together to chart the human nervous system in an attempt to pinpoint the physical locations of the acupuncture points. However, their research proved inconclusive. Even if you dissect every nerve and tissue in the body, you won't find the channels and meridians. Where are they? All there is is the Qi, the way Qi travels inside your body. All the terminology of meridians, channels, and points was developed to explain the pathways of Qi.
Qi Gong originated with the Taoists. There is no mention of Qi Gong in the earliest Buddhist sutras. From Lao Zi to Zhuang Zi, the preserver, and Confucius, the developer, the traditions of Taoism were built and expanded upon from generation to generation, branching and blending with Buddhist thought, practical alchemy, tribal forms of animism, and medical technique. Throughout this winding development, the study and cultivation of Qi was always held sacred and essential, and the Taoist Immortals and Masters were revered as its guardians.
What we know today as 9 Palaces Solar Qi Gong comes passed down to us from the traditions of the Quan Zhen, or Complete Reality School of Taoism. Founded by Wang Chongyang, whose life spanned the late Song and early Yuan dynasties, the Complete Reality School turned away from ceremonial and ritualistic forms of Taoist practice to focus instead on individual self-cultivation. Wang Chongyang saw that only Qi Gong practice had the power to unite the best aspects of Chinese thought — Confucian ethics, proto-Buddhist karmic cosmology and the dual foundations of the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching — within the heart, mind and body of the student. He completely reorganized the 9 Palaces exercises and wrote of and taught them extensively. Through his efforts, the heritage of the 9 Palaces Qi Gong has been passed down to this day. What we learn within these pages is the legacy of Wang Chongyang.
In his role as the originator of the Quan Zhen School, Wang Chongyang laid the foundation for the two greatest sanctuaries of Taoist scholarship in China, the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing and the Purple Cloud Monastery on Wu Dang Mountain. One is in the north, one is in the south, their influence encompassing all of Mainland China. From its earliest roots in the Tang Dynasty, the White Cloud Monastery grew to become the central repository of Taoist thought and study in the north, in large part due to the great fame and influence of Qiu Chuji, Wang's disciple and founder of the Dragon Gate Sect. The story of how the 9 Palaces came to the White Cloud Monastery, faded, and eventually bloomed anew begins with this relationship between master and student and leads to the present and the reason for this book. In recounting this history, held in silence behind the walls of the monastery, we create a new current in the motion of the Tao.
From Wang Chongyang and his seven disciples onward, it was decided that in each generation, the complete teachings would be passed to seven primary students: seven students per generation only, generation after generation. Despite the thousands of other students who played a part in the life of the White Cloud Monastery, there were always seven principal students. Of all the rules and regulations of monastic life, the primary policy was secrecy, especially in what was passed to the main disciples. What each student was taught was confidential and could never be shared with the outside world. There was a certain rationale behind this concealment. A teacher had a responsibility to really know and understand each student. If teachers didn't develop an individual relationship with their students and impersonally taught all comers, the wrong person might be taught and then could use what was learned for the wrong purpose. Beyond that, it was a question of aptitude. Not every student had the capability of mastering all that could be taught. So for Wang Chongyang and generations on, seven students were selected to become the inheritors of the undivided knowledge of their Taoist ancestors.
Wang Chongyang can be considered the spiritual ancestor of the White Cloud Monastery in that he unified all the theories and practices that became Complete Reality Taoism and 9 Palaces Qi Gong. However, he spent the last years of his life teaching and practicing the 9 Palaces in the south, at Wu Dang Mountain. Although Wang Chongyang's Complete Reality principles pervaded the scholarly culture at the White Cloud Monastery at its basic foundation, it was Qiu Chuji who built upon this foundation, establishing the White Cloud Monastery as the northern seat of the Complete Reality School and his own Dragon Gate Sect. While the White Cloud Monastery flourished as the wellspring of Taoist scholasticism, after the centuries of war and turmoil that was dynastic China, we cannot locate the original writings of Wang Chongyang's Wu Dang lectures.
Wang Chongyang lived to the age of 135, his entire life spent in the solar Yang practice of 9 Palaces Qi Gong. In spite of this, his disciple Qiu Chuji studied and practiced the Yin Gong of the 5 Centers Facing the Moon. Why did the student spend a lifetime in Yin practice when the master devoted his own exclusively to Yang? The answer is a story that is part of the secret oral tradition of the White Cloud Monastery, a story that is never told openly. Wang Chongyang did teach Qiu Chuji the 9 Palaces, but instead of profiting from his practice, his body violently reacted against the Yang energy he was taking in and he began to hemorrhage and vomit blood. He survived his ordeal, but was enjoined by Wang Chongyang to stop studying 9 Palaces, and only practice 5 Centers Facing the Moon from then on. Master Wang told him, "Your body is unsuitable for the 9 Palaces. By developing yourself with the 5 Centers, you will be able to focus like no other on the energies of the I Ching and from that, become a great master of Feng Shui. In this way, you will use the forces of the unknown to find your fortune and further the teachings of Taoism."
Qiu Chuji heeded his master's admonition and spent years living deep within the Dragon Gate Cave, refining his occult abilities. He eventually rose to great fame as an advisor to emperors and warlords, including Genghis Khan. His abilities as a seer and oracle, as well as a military advisor using Feng Shui to position the troops on the fields of battle, earned him the necessary support to promote Complete Reality Taoism and erect many temples and monasteries. His wide following established the White Cloud Monastery as the central headquarters for Taoist learning that it is still known even today.
Since Qiu Chuji's reputation was built on his peerless mastery of 5 Centers Qi Gong, all his students in the White Cloud Monastery dedicated a large portion of their studies to it. Yet toward the end of his life, he advocated a renewed emphasis on the 9 Palaces. Qiu felt it was strictly his own mistake that he had learned the practice incorrectly from his teacher. He regretted that his students would not experience its great benefits because of his error and did what he could to pass down what he knew as part of his tradition. However, the lineage of 9 Palaces Qi Gong study at the White Cloud Monastery was weakened enough that by the end of the Qing Dynasty, hardly a soul there knew anything about it.
Between 1927 and 1934, the White Cloud Monastery issued a formal invitation to the monks of the Purple Cloud Monastery at Wu Dang Mountain to send an emissary to come teach the 9 Palaces again in the north.
With great ceremony, the Purple Cloud leaders called for a convocation of all the monks of the monastery. Of the 705 monks who gathered, one would have to be selected. The first priority was that he be one of the direct inheritors of the 9 Palaces, whose lineage could be traced back through the generations to the original teachings of Wang Chongyang. Second, he must be a meritorious individual, respected by all. Third, his scholarship must be impeccable, having complete knowledge of the books, sacred texts, and practical arts of Taoism. A single person who could best embody the solid foundation of the southern school would be required to rebuild from the ground up the foundation of the north.
After seven days of heavy testing, a worthy representative was selected. Not only was he chosen as one of the original lineage inheritors of the 9 Palaces, he was also picked for his position as the top martial artist in the country. There were others with names more famous than his, but all respected the authority as well as the erudition of this unusual man, who would be sent to the north to rebuild the tradition of the 9 Palaces and to eventually become Dr. Wu's guardian and teacher. And thus, after centuries, was the original knowledge of Wang Chongyang returned to its northern birthplace. It is in his honor, as in honor of Lao himself, that this book is presented.
Du Xinlin, known as the Master of the Purple Luminescence, was an extraordinary modern seer. From his earliest childhood to his mystical passing from this plane, he lived his life as something more than a mere man. Tales of his feats of divination, martial artistry, and healing are recorded within the annals of both the Purple Cloud and White Cloud Monasteries. In fact, his earliest beginnings earmarked his special fate.
He was an orphaned child, abandoned to the swelling waters when the river flooded his village. Amazingly, he survived the flood completely alone. He recalled being protected in the wild by a tiger and weaned on her milk. Later, at age four, he was found by a wandering Taoist hermit who raised him in the wilderness of Wu Dang Mountain, and eventually brought him to the monastery. All his life, he lived and learned with animals. He kept vultures as his pets, along with a tiger and a crane. His martial arts were not learned from traditional teachers. He played with his pets and gained his martial arts prowess from them. Dr. Wu has an early childhood memory of seeing his master pick up a massive tree trunk and fling it down with no effort. He would toss a heavy traditional clothes- washing roller for his daily practice. He slept balanced on a rope hung between two trees. He would eat fruits and vegetables by biting them while they still hung on branch or vine. Whenever he traveled or gave a public speech, vultures and eagles would fly alongside him. Dr. Wu remembers being amazed at the quantities of unusual birds following above him at all times. There is no way to describe a man like Du Xinlin from a contemporary perspective. The words aren't there, but the memories and stories linger on.
In the 1930s Master Du came to Beijing, arriving at the White Cloud Monastery, where he began teaching the 9 Palaces. It was not taught to outsiders, kept within the circle of the monastery. All his life, Master Du kept back from the daily press of the public, only agreeing to help the very sick and desperate who came within the confines of the monastery seeking succor. Occasionally he would travel quietly to pay respects and make offerings at shrines and temples across China, in later years accompanied by the young Dr. Wu. His great love, though, was to stay inside the walls of the White Cloud Monastery, tending to his animals or strolling in the fields and fruit orchards that provided their bounty to the monks.
According to Dr. Wu's other teachers, Master Du's martial arts were more advanced than even Qiu Chuji's and Wang Chongyang's. Many came to challenge him, but no one could best him. He could hold off his opponents just by raising his sleeve. With that one gesture, his internal force was so obvious that his would-be challengers would concede before the fight even began. Despite his life of seclusion, he was involved in training many better-known martial artists of the time. These stories were kept as secrets by the Taoist brothers, but it serves to honor the abilities of this remarkable man and the power of 9 Palaces Qi Gong to relate a few of them here.
Master Du's most famous martial arts student is a name that has gone down in the annals of modern martial arts history. Wang Xiangzhai is recognized around the world as the great twentieth-century popularizer of Chinese martial arts inside and outside China. As an unbeatable master, he traveled extensively, taught, wrote, and established a number of forums and organizations for the study and dissemination of scientific martial arts. There are many stories of the Chinese, Japanese, and Western fighters who came from all around to be bested by his superior skills.
All his life, he practiced the 9 Palaces. With his lifetime of study and his public persona, he did more than any other figure to publicize the energetic principles of the 9 Palaces. His books and lectures are famed for discussing the body's natural "springing power." The body can express energy like the release of a coiled spring. Wang would often compare the strength of this force to the power unleashed by a person maddened with anger or distress. Even ten men can't hold down a man or woman overtaken by his or her own primal intensity. Wang's writings go to great lengths to conceptualize the body as a spring and the personal aspects involved in allowing force to come out naturally from inside. However, he refrained from directly discussing the full scope of this force. In fact, it is the energy of the 9 Palaces.
The coiled, springlike aspect of natural force is only the most basic element of a complex process. Practicing 9 Palaces Qi Gong develops this force not as an end in and of itself, but as a means of igniting an electrifying energy. Once you can call forth this bioelectrical power, everything that comes at you can be repelled. Just a touch can stun with the impact of an electric shock. This is how Wang, like his master before him, was so successful. Master Du recognized Wang's natural abilities and leadership skills and trained him in order to send him out as a living demonstration of the power of Qi Gong, expressed through martial arts. Practice Qi Gong, and anything that hits you will spring off. However, with its protective and propulsive qualities, this same force can equally be used for healing work or taken further into higher levels of spiritual development. It comes from a unified effort of body, mind, and spirit. It cannot be grasped on a purely intellectual level. It must be practiced to be understood. To understand it is to understand yourself. With this understanding comes a passage into a new realm of energy and awareness.
Excerpted from Qi Gong for Total Wellness by Baolin Wu, Jessica Eckstein, Oliver Benson. Copyright © 2006 Dr. Baolin Wu. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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