Walking the Path
In order to understand any internal practice coming from the Daoist tradition we should first look at the Chinese character for Dao. It shows a while haired shamanic man walking along a path. This character can be seen to the right. The character is showing us that in order to reach Dao we should ‘walk along the path’. A path is a linear route through a practice that starts at A and leads you through to B. If we then look at any of the internal arts we can see that true transmission of the methods involves following a systematic path of progression that takes you through a series of developmental stages. If we do not have these developmental steps then we will, at some stage, become ‘lost’ in our practice and, as the Daoists would say, will ‘stray from the path’.
Curiously, the basis of Daoism is that we have to adhere to a tradition and then at the correct time (the term ‘correct’ here is very important!) we must step away from the tradition and instead simply allow Dao to unfold within us. This is highlighted within the line – ‘Dao Ke Dao Fei Chang Dao (道可道非常道)’ or ‘The Dao that can be followed is not the true and un-moving Dao’. This implies that although the ‘path’ of Dao must be walked, at the right stage in our practice we must forget the path and let our prior work lead us towards the next stage in our development.
The basis of understanding when to ‘leave the path’ is looking at what the path does.The systematic internal training of the Daoist arts works to regulate the body, energetic matrix and consciousness in such a way that when we then relax and allow ourselves to merge with Dao we are in the right condition to do so. If we try to ‘simply be with Dao’ before this then we will have little hope. The quality of our Jing, Qi and Shen is not right. Instead we prepare the body, the vessel, through systematic practice until such time as everything is as it should be. Practice leads us into a specific state of being and then we allow the fruits of our labour to unfold within us of their own accord. This is known as the balance between Wei (doing) and Wu Wei (non-doing). Getting this balance right is of paramount importance and is the reason for the usefulness of traditional training within an internal system.
Many are unaware of the importance of preparing in the right way and this is a true shame.
Many Qi Gong systems do not really have a step-by-step nature to the way that they are taught. This is fine for those who wish to relax and move their bodies gently, but it is not really an efficient way to study for those who really want to go deep into their internal practice. Every classical system of practice from an authentic root is taught in a step-by-step manner with each stage in the practice building upon what came before. The student first works towards developing the body in the right way, then the energetic system and finally the mind. Though there is, of course, some cross-over between these stages of development, we generally work in this manner.
For each stage of development there are defined exercises to practice and expected results. The ‘landmarks’ show us when to move on and this is where the role of the teacher comes in. The teacher must help the student develop along the ‘path’ as effectively as they can.
Level 1 Practice
The first thing to understand within Nei Gong training is the we need to prepare the body and lay the foundations for further practice. There are various principles that we need to understand and certain skill/qualities we need to develop (known as Gong). These help to clean and circulate the Qi as well as opening key channels and establishing an efficient circulation system within us.
Level 2 Practice
Once the foundations have been laid, students then move on to more complex aspects of training which essentially involve developing the body’s ability to store Qi. Exercises are aimed at developing the ‘gourd body’ which is an internal quality we require to make sure that we can work with the body to develop and sustain a higher degree of Qi.
Level 3 Practice
The third stage of training aims to ‘govern’ the Qi. This is an advanced stage of practice that serves to develop medicinal and spiritually-based skills. The training here is demanding and only really for those who wish to go deep into the Daoist arts. It is also important that adequate foundations have been built in the previous stages.