Week 5: San Bao and the Microcosmic Orbit
Welcome to week 5 of the Qigong study group.
This week we will be learning the Microcosmic Orbit meditation and our reading will be about the theory of San Bao (Three Treasures).
Out of all of the Three Treasures, the one we have yet to talk about is Shen.
From wikipedia, one of the many meanings of the word Shen is:
2. Spirit; mind, mental faculties; consciousness. Like: concentrated attention; tire the mind; concentrate one's energy and attention. (精神.如: 凝神; 劳神; 聚精会神.)
Also from Wikipedia
This Chinese name sanbao originally referred to the Taoist "Three Treasures" (from Tao Te Ching 67, tr. Waley 1958:225, "pity", "frugality", and "refusal to be 'foremost of all things under heaven'") and subsequently translated the Buddhist Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha).
In long-established Chinese traditions, the "Three Treasures" are the essential energies sustaining human life:
Jing 精 "nutritive essence, essence; refined, perfected; extract; spirit, demon; sperm, seed"
Qi 氣 "vitality, energy, force; air, vapor; breath; spirit, vigor; attitude"
Shen 神 "spirit; soul, mind; god, deity; supernatural being"
This jing-qi-shen ordering is more commonly used than the variants qi-jing-shen and shen-qi-jing.
In Neidan "internal alchemy" practice (Despeux 2008:563), transmuting the Three Treasures is expressed through the phrases lianjing huaqi 鍊精化氣 "refining essence into breath", lianqi huashen 鍊氣化神 "refining breath into spirit", and lianshen huanxu 鍊神還虛 "refining spirit and reverting to Emptiness". Both Neidan and Neo-Confucianism (Despeux 2008:564-5) distinguish the three between xiantian 先天 "prior to heaven" and houtian 後天 "posterior to heaven", referring to Yuanjing 元精 "Original Essence", Yuanqi 元氣 "Original Breath", and yuanshen 元神 "Original Spirit".
The (2nd century BCE) Huainanzi refers to qi and shen with xing 形 "form; shape; body".
The bodily form [xing] is the residence of life; the qi fills this life while shen controls it. If either of them loses their proper position, they will all come to harm. (1, tr. Englehart 2000:99)
The Taoist text Gaoshang yuhuang xinyin jing (高上玉皇心印經, "Mind-Seal Scripture of the Exalted Jade Sovereign", or Xinyin jing "Mind-Seal Scripture") is a valuable early source about the Three Treasures (tr. Olson 1993).
Probably dating from the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), this anonymous text presents a simple and concise discussion of internal alchemy (neidan 內丹). In particular, it emphasizes the so-called Three Treasures (sanbao 三寶), namely, vital essence (jing 精), subtle breath (qi 氣), and spirit (shen 神). (Komjathy 2004:29)
Frederic H. Balfour's (1880:380-381) brief essay about the Xinyin jing ("The Imprint of the Heart") contains the earliest known Western reference to the Three Treasures: "There are three degrees of Supreme Elixir – the Spirit, the Breath, and the Essential Vigour".
The (late 16th century) Journey to the West novel provides a more recent example when an enlightened Taoist patriarch instructs Sun Wukong "Monkey" with a poem that begins:
Know well this secret formula wondrous and true: Spare and nurse the vital forces, this and nothing else. All power resides in the semen [jing], the breath [qi], and the spirit [shen]; Guard these with care, securely, lest there be a leak. Lest there be a leak! Keep within the body! (tr. Yu 1977:88)
We already understand what Qi is, the breath of life, spiritual energy; and we already understand Jing is vital essence, or spiritual power. We also understand Yi as being a unified spiritual intention to accomplish something with Qi. What, then, is Shen?
Put simply, Shen is at once your spirit or soul, and your consciousness and mind. Shen is what gives rise to your thoughts, your emotions, your quirks, your personality, and your intellect. However, it is also your spiritual consciousness, your very soul. Developing Shen is developing your mind through learning; yet it is also developed through meditation and forgetting knowledge ("unlearning"). This paradox is succinct, as Shen is many things at once. With focused Shen producing pure Yi, mountains will move for you.
Shen leads Qi, and Qi leads Jing, and Jing leads your opponent.
However, it is thought that before we were born or conceived, we were at one with Dao. The Three Treasures come into accord when we are conceived, and our pure soul splits into three separate, distinct forms. The goal of Daoist Daoyin (Tao-in) alchemy is to bring Jing into Qi, Qi into Shen, and Shen into emptiness, or oneness with Dao. This is the secret of the so-called Immortality of the Daoists, and it is purely spiritual. The longevity practices you have been learning, and taking care of the body and keeping it from being polluted, will surely lead you to a long life. However, it is the spiritual immortality these exercises develop that is the true immortality.
One of the most fundamental exercises in reunifying Qi, Jing and Shen is the Microcosmic orbit, which we will look at now.Exercise 8: Microcosmic Orbit
This method has been rewritten for 2013.
To start, make sure you can go to a meditation spot free of distractions. Use the bathroom beforehand if you need to, drink water or tea so you are not thirsty, and eat so you are not hungry. Additionally, if you are sleepy you should not practice this meditation.
Beginning the meditation, sit down crosslegged. Keep your back straight and your shoulders rounded. Place the hands on top of the knees. Practice deep belly breathing and Dantian meditation with your eyes closed for ten minutes, to be able to feel out your Qi.Microcosmic Orbit (MCO) 1 repetition
a. Squeeze the anus shut with your muscles. This is to bridge the gap at the perineum between the Governor and Conception channels (Dumei and Renmei). Touch the tongue to the roof of the mouth, the upper palate. This bridges the gap between the Governor and Conception vessels in the head. Keep the eyes closed.
b. Focus on Baihui, the point at the top of your head at the very center. Inhale and take a slow, deep breath into the belly, and allow the Qi to move up the Governor vessel in the spine to the top of the head. Roll the eyes back in the head as the Qi reaches Baihui. DON'T guide it, force it or trace it's movement along the Governor vessel with your Yi; just focus on the top of the head and let the Qi rise up the spine naturally. DON'T VISUALISE.
c. Exhale, and focus on Huiyin (the perineum). Allow the Qi to fall down the front of the body from the head in the Conception vessel. Allow the eyes to roll and look down as the Qi sinks down the Conception vessel. DON'T guide it, force it or trace it's movement along the Conception vessel with your Yi; just focus on the perineum and let the Qi fall down the front of the body naturally. DON'T VISUALISE.
d. This concludes one cycle of the Microcosmic Orbit.
e. After five (5) cycles of the Microcosmic Orbit, there will be a good deal of saliva in your mouth. The Daoists call this the Jade Nectar. It is seen as a beneficial leftover from the internal alchemic firing process. Focus on the Dantian and swallow this saliva. Inhale, and guide the Jade Nectar from the mouth, down the Conception vessel, to the Dantian. It is appropriate here to visualize it as a golden-white light. Exhale, and allow the Qi to expand from the Dantian out into a bubble of golden-white light around you; that is, allow the Qi to flow into your aura, with the center of it being the Dantian.
When first beginning this meditation, practice no more than nine (9) repetitions of it in one sitting. Do it slowly and deliberately and take your time.
After one week of practicing 9 repetitions, move up to 18. After another week, move up to 27. 27 repetitions a day should be the maximum. This is a powerful exercise; practicing too much can lead to Qigong sickness, delusion, paranoia and mental instability.
Practice the microcosmic orbit for 30 minutes a day this week (or however long it takes you to do nine repetitions, swallowing the Jade Nectar twice). The other 30 minutes of practice can be Baduanjin or Dantian meditation, the choice is yours.
There is also recommended reading this week, assuming you have the time for it. It is the Secret of the Golden Flower, a Daoist treatise concerned solely with the microcosmic orbit practice. http://www.alchemylab.com/golden_flower.htm
This concludes week 5 of the Qigong study group.
Good Health and Training.