Die Erfahrung im Kloster wollen Achim
To live by one’s true nature means to accept what is in the here and now.
The path of love leads inwards
The Taoist view of partnership and sexuality
(An interview from Tattva Viveka, Journal of Science, Philosophy and Spiritual Culture, for the special issue “Sacred Sexuality”, November 2021)
The Taoist tradition is a holistic spiritual path that also focuses on partnership and sexuality. The practices place a special emphasis on coming to terms with oneself and one’s own inner stability, because according to the Taoists, these qualities are the basis for a fulfilling love and sex life.
Tattva Viveka: Today we are talking about the topic of relationship and sexuality in Taoism. In Taoism, sexual power is considered the essence of the human being. From it spring creativity, vitality and spirituality. But let’s start with relationships: Looking around, I quickly realise that, especially in the Western world to which I now refer, relationships are often characterised by conflict and a certain superficiality, and tend to be less long-lasting. What are we doing wrong?
Carsten Dohnke: Sometimes relationships actually work, that’s positive, but if we are doing something wrong, it might be that we don’t look inwards enough, that we don’t get to know ourselves, but rather out of our loneliness, out of our aloneness, we would like to spend time with someone else. As a result, two people often meet with their respective traumas or life habits and what follows is, from an Asian point of view, the working out of karma. It is no secret that from the unconscious level, you already know before the relationship which partner you will attract, because you resonate with the person who has a similar resonance to you.
TV: How can happy and long-lasting relationships be built and maintained from a Taoist perspective?
Carsten: An important point for deep relationships is: arriving at oneself. The Taoist tradition is also famous for its sexual practices, among other things. There is a lot of talk about it and many books have been written about it, but sexual practices do not make up ten per cent of Taoism, but practices such as Taiji and Qigong and also Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is integrated into Taoism, make up together with practices from mysticism, healing and meditation, form a larger field. Sexual practices are a part of this. An important approach is how we can relate very deeply to ourselves and so to someone else. The following sentence sums up what is important both in relationships and in therapeutic work: “A step inwards is like a step outwards”. The more contact I have with myself, with my inner self and my shadow sides, the more I can be in contact with the environment and my fellow human beings who shape my social relationships. The Taoists emphasise one aspect in particular: coming to oneself. Coming to oneself consists in being able to switch off one’s mind and arrive in one’s abdomen, in one’s own inner centre of peace. It takes some time to learn this, but it is no more difficult than learning to play the piano or the guitar. After one or two years you can already do a lot. Besides being well-rooted and stable, arriving at oneself is an important point. If I succeed in arriving at myself, at my inner centre of peace, then I can better perceive and listen to the other person. Many conflicts in relationships are based on the fact that we have forgotten this. Or if we take the arc even further and refer to mysticism: What is the deepest issue in which one has spiritual experiences? It is when we perceive and relate to the other person, and so can feel life and also ourselves more deeply through the other. On the spiritual level it is relevant, and there is a parallel here with sexuality and relationship, and that is that I can listen to life and perceive it. I emphasise this because if we were to ask 50 people on the street if they perceive life, they might not understand the question because we often only revolve around ourselves. Perceiving life then means, for example, truly seeing the sea on holiday. In a spiritual experience, we experience ourselves as life itself. We experience ourselves as part of the universe. Like the wave that experiences itself as part of the ocean. In a partnership we come into contact with life. And sexuality is a foretaste of life meeting us.
In Taoism there is a deep focus on one’s own centre of peace and stability. This gives us the possibility to harmoniously connect with others. There are practices where we are only in stillness. Other areas like Taiji emphasise movement. Taoism has many facets and is not a congruent teaching that revolves around only one aspect. It is a complex system with three core elements: one is self-healing and vitality, i.e. health. This is especially important for us nowadays, because many people are exhausted or have already reached their limit in terms of health. Secondly, emotional healing, i.e. dealing with stress, but also with inner injuries. And the third point: spirituality. These three points make up Taoism. You take your own mind, move your body and learn to train and calm your breath. All this can be supported by a healthy diet or herbs.
In general Taoism is a path that leads to the mind via the body.
From this perspective, Taoism is extremely important for today, because we are losing our physicality, especially in the last 20 years with the increased use of the internet and mobile phones. You also ask about sexuality and meeting other people; that is of course also physical. When I feel really alive in myself, then I also go into a relationship alive. And sexuality is based on both being alive, because otherwise there is no partnership. Based on the fact that we are looking for this aliveness and life force, the Taoists have developed very beautiful meditations on how we can open our heart and harness the heart force for inner healing processes and how we can activate our libido so that it nourishes and sustains us from within. On the one hand this is simple, on the other it is complex. We can sum it up like this: There are few people in this day and age who have an abundance of life force or “qi”. Most of them are stressed or permanently in their heads. Many people can no longer switch off their head. They are not only tense inside, but have also lost touch with their own vitality and lust for life. If I don’t feel love and joy inside myself or even feel empty inside, I look for all this on the outside. This is also a reason why many people do extreme things nowadays, such as bungy jumping, etc. They want to finally feel themselves again. One finally wants to feel oneself again.
The meditation systems of the Taoists can be relevant for our everyday life. This is because the focus of Taoism is first on aliveness and health. Only in second place are stillness and inner contemplation. In order to feel truly healthy and alive, one learns in the inner practices of Tao to activate the power of the heart and the libido. Both forces are not only deep healing powers. They also enhance our creativity and love of life and support our inner growth and spirituality. In the inner practices of Tao, one of the first things one learns is to bring these two energies together in the body, in one’s own centre.
TV: This leads into one’s own aliveness
Carsten: This leads to an aliveness that is completely beyond the imagination of people who do not practise this. Normally, many people cannot feel their heart, but they can feel it when they are in love. In my seminars I work with very many people who, after one or two years of practice (especially), come up to me and say, “I never felt my heart like this at all before in my life in this form.” It’s like a pervasive light that overwhelms you, it’s not like being in love, it’s a heart power that fills you from within.
TV: But heart power is not the only thing you can feel in the heart, is it?
Carsten: The heart has many qualities. The basic idea in Taoism as well as in many other traditions – for example Christianity or Buddhism – is that we really open our heart. But one point distinguishes Taoism from the other traditions in terms of relationship and sexuality: Taoists try to activate their libido through meditation and thus return it to the body. You can ask how this relates to partnership, and the answer would be that it is essential to first feel this aliveness and love within yourself, because this is the basis for giving deep aliveness to someone else in the first place.
Your question before was what is the dilemma in most partnerships today, and I said most people don’t feel themselves. And I would add that they are exhausted or don’t feel their heart and/or libido. Therefore, they expect something from the other person. That’s what makes it complex: I don’t go into partnership to dive into a deep resonant field where I also give something, but actually I come into partnership with a deficit. Nevertheless, one can support oneself in life. The Taoists say that when we activate our aliveness itself within us, we can enter into deep processes of self-healing and energy generation. But something special also happens when our heart energy and libido come together in the belly. One of the deepest meditations is called “the union of water and fire”. This leads to a different vibration entering all the cells, an inner initialisation process, a healing process. If it succeeds, it is more than a rejuvenation process. The sexual energy is the basis of Kundalini, also in yoga. At the bottom is the sexual power. In yoga there are similar practices and it is a similar theme: how can I avoid always losing this sexual power, whether in a partnership, during sexual intercourse or that it just escapes, which happens to many nowadays, so as not to get into an exhaustion? The Taoists found that the sexual force is the basis of all aliveness and all creative processes, because every creative process in life, whether a flower opens, someone writes a new book or starts a project, is based on this deep life force that wants to unfold. When people are exhausted or older, they often say that they would like to do another project, but they lack the energy. The Taoists’ idea is this: We bring these two forces together in us and feel this deep aliveness in us, also the sexual force as an active force. And it would be ideal if this could also be realised in a partnership.
TV: Would you say that the goal of sexuality in Taoism is to achieve this aliveness through sexuality?
Carsten: Why are people drawn to sexuality in the first place? It is the aliveness. Nobody desires sexuality in order to be completely calm, but we feel a total aliveness within us, and it is not without reason that it is said that an orgasm is one of the deepest feelings a person can experience in union. That’s why the Taoists said that we should recycle this energy within us, we absorb it and transform it in meditation, because then you experience a deep aliveness like in sexuality, but combined with stillness and stability, especially with the heart force.
This is what most people are missing these days. I have been teaching for more than 30 years and I always hear participants say that their lives would have been different if they had learned to arrive at themselves, to feel love even without a partner, to perceive aliveness in presence and stillness. This is a very good foundation for all partnerships. Many partnerships come and go quickly nowadays, like friendships, because if the partner is no longer present or is exhausted or overworked, it happens quickly that one does not feel seen and thus is no longer connected. This leads to the loss of heart contact, and then the partnership usually ends relatively quickly.
Evolution has created something special for us that most people are not aware of: when we are in love, we always feel a direct connection with our partner and are in a heart-to-heart contact. In this state, communication is also no longer mental, but goes through the heart level or through subtle gestures. When you are in love, everything blossoms and everyone is floating on a pink cloud. It’s a beautiful feeling, but as they say, you’re in love, you’re no longer completely with yourself and so no longer connected to your inner pole. You have already lost yourself a little. When you’re in a relationship, after two to three years the heart-to-heart contact is usually lost, partly because the hormones also change. You enter a different phase of the relationship. Then many people wonder what they got into. The nice thing is that Taoism foresees this. Other wisdom traditions do too. They see this feeling of being in love as a momentary phase. This is also why contact with one’s own centre, heart power and libido is so emphasised. Because if we stay in touch with these resources, we project much less onto the partner. And in this way we can maintain the vitality in the partnership for a long time, possibly for our whole life.
TV: How can you maintain this heart connection?
Carsten: Among other things, by making the deep decision, which is not easy, that you regularly do inner meditative practices for yourself. That is the crucial thing. You can implement certain sexual practices in your partnership, but that usually doesn’t help for a good partnership, but you need this inner coming together and this inner connection to yourself. That helps to stay in the heart. Another important point is that the topic of Taoist meditation, sexuality and partnership crosses over into two areas, one is spirituality and mysticism and the other is psychology. There are great intersections. In Taoist sexual practices, it often happens that one is overwhelmed by the energy when one feels the heart force or notices the libido bubbling up. When this occurs, one goes less into the finer vibrations in meditation, although this is the point, because in all meditation systems in the world it is elementary to process old emotional issues or traumas. In my opinion, this would be the important third point for a good and deep partnership: the first is, after all, the ability to be in one’s centre and to be able to switch off, the second is the connection between the heart and sexuality, and the third step is that I dive into my old emotional issues and heal inner injuries and traumas because I am more and more in touch with myself. Nowadays there are many therapeutic methods that work quite quickly in a complementary way. Among other things, because the meditations already help to get in touch with the unprocessed issues or inner shadow sides. I emphasise this because it is often not done if only the energy level is emphasised. In other words, soul reappraisal is indispensable for a successful partnership. The inner child wants to be seen. This also applies to all spiritual practices in the wisdom teachings of Taoism.
TV: I observe in my environment that there are people who are caught in a loop, because the same themes or problems keep coming up in their partnerships. Often it is more noticeable to outsiders that one finds oneself in almost the same situation as in the past. If one reads spiritual or psychologically oriented books and observes oneself and one’s fellow human beings, then one notices that themes return again and again until one encounters them differently.
Carsten: There are many exciting connections here. The Taoists say – and I like this approach very much: We are in the world and we have the chance to grow and develop; once spiritually, but also in everyday life we can develop our potential and our ability to love and be alive. It is interesting that brain research in particular says that long-term changes can succeed very well through practices such as Qigong or Taiji, meditation and body exercises. Our character is shaped by our body. Taoism, like Qigong, is also about new body structures and new postures and about feeling physically whole.
This is a great opportunity to change one’s character, because old traumatic experiences are stored through our postures. There are many examples of this: When I am angry, I have a different posture than when I feel like everything in life is too much for me or I am sad. We all adopt these typical postures from time to time. But the point is: when these postures become chronic and fixed in us, they are actually “like ice”. We no longer feel them. They have then become part of our character and are therefore always present.
We do not feel the ice in us, but only what is moving alive in us. Therefore, it is a huge opportunity to combine bodywork with meditation and organ healing. I see many people who are fundamentally transformed and, as a result, enter into different relationships. Behind this is the following sentence: Actually, if we are completely honest, we often treat ourselves uncharitably, especially in our time, everything is supposed to go faster, everyone is supposed to function better; mostly we grow up already in school in such a way that it is suggested to us that we should learn faster so that later on we will be good at university and in our job, and if we are programmed to function well, we get our reward through the resonance in our environment. The result is that we no longer feel ourselves and are not loving towards ourselves. It needs this loving approach to ourselves so that we can physically unfold ourselves and melt our old issues within us. Our love shines like a sun on the inner ice. And by moving consciously, we allow the ice within us to melt as well and begin to feel ourselves again.
TV: What do the Taoists understand by sexual energy and how do they work with it?
Carsten: They understand it as the sexual power, especially the power in the testicles or ovaries as the stored energy of reproduction, but also the energy in the entire area of the sexual organs. Here is an additional important piece of information: according to Chinese medicine and Taoism, the sexual power originates in the kidneys. This means that the two kidneys store our prenatal or inherited energy and in this sense bring forth the sexual power. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is an application that is used for exhaustion or infertility. In this context, herbs are given to build up the blood, but in most cases to build up the kidney energy. One strengthens the kidneys. If a man is impotent, acupuncture is given at the back on the points of the bladder meridian where the two kidneys are located. Often the warming moxa therapy is also used there, which gives a lot of strength. The kidney energy is immensely important because it brings forth the sexual energy. Conversely, if I am in a deep state of exhaustion, then it is of no use to learn sexual practices, but one should first build up the kidney energy, which brings forth the sexual energy, which in turn supports the partnership and makes it easier to get pregnant, if that is what one wants as a woman. Strengthening the kidney energy also helps to support the man’s potency and thus prevent premature ejaculation, for example.
The Taoist practices are called Huan Jing Bu Nao, in Chinese “one reverses the essence”. The essence is the kidney and sexual energy, because sexual power comes from the kidneys, and this essence is directed back into the brain so that it can work well and so that, similar to the chakra teachings of yoga, the higher energy centres can open up. As a result, our intuition can also unfold and we experience a kind of inner wisdom. Colloquially speaking, these exercises are the hammer, because they change the life of every person and are not too difficult. It is wonderful when people notice that their heart power flows down into the pelvic floor like nectar and all of a sudden a vibrancy of love and libido flows into the brain via the spine and the mind becomes infinitely wide. That is one way of dealing with an excess of libido. Once this surplus has bubbled up, it acts like its own champagne in the body and one no longer necessarily feels the need for sexuality.
Sexuality always needs a connection with deeper layers within us. Men are yang-biased, i.e. active, even in a partnership. If a man has no erection, there is no sex. From a Chinese point of view, the erection goes hand in hand with the energy of the liver. The liver with its blood causes the erection, and the liver is related to our power and dynamism, to our kindness, but also to our anger. If I as a man enter into sexuality or relationship with inner tension, the sexual power often mixes with inner anger. Many people carry this tension inside themselves and don’t know what to do with it. That’s not what we learn in school. Sometimes it really comes out, but mostly it is suppressed. At the same time, liver energy is also related to tiredness. It is precisely when the liver energy is stagnant or over-activated, and this is the feeling one often has after a large meal, for example, that one becomes tired. This tiredness and sluggishness is carried by many all the time and that’s why you don’t see the anger, but underneath the sluggishness it is bubbling. This is why it can be important for us to learn the Taoist sexual practices where we can draw the sexual energy up into the brain. And this is also possible for women. In concrete terms, this means that men tend to avoid their normal orgasm, where ejaculation occurs. But by bringing the libido up into the spine and the brain, he can at the same time relieve inner stress and transform the sexual power into a kind of healing power or new life energy that fills all the cells with new vitality from within.
TV: How do the Taoists see the role of the woman and the man in the relationship and in sexuality respectively?
Carsten: For the man, the connection of the sexual power with his heart is important, because this does not normally happen with the man. By connecting with his heart, he can go deeper into the relationship and possibly implement certain practices. Through some Taoist sexual practices, the man can succeed in having sex longer. Both are in intercourse, then come to rest whether they are inside each other or not, and the sexual power bubbles up into the cells, possibly even bubbling through both of them, and this creates an immense closeness to the other person. For the man it is therefore most important to experience the connection to the heart, and at the same time to clear old emotional injuries. Because sexual energy in men is very yang and is also determined by the liver, it easily mixes with tension, stress and hidden anger. This becomes especially apparent in cases of rape. And abuse and also violence in the family increase, as is well known, when social and personal stress increases. A very serious and serious issue. What is striking here: Men can have sex when they are full of anger. Sex then becomes a kind of outlet to release the pressure. Women cannot do that. For women, sexuality usually begins with opening up and surrender. That’s why you don’t hear much about a man being raped. And that’s why it’s so important for men to learn to connect with their heart and release their inner tensions.
Many women tell me that it is relatively easy for them to let the energy bubble up and they feel their heart quickly. This is true in many cases, but ultimately it is different for each person. In some cases, it really happens on its own for women. Which issue is more relevant to women? Stability and coming to terms with oneself, I could summarise. Because with women it happens quickly that they lose themselves in a relationship or literally melt into the relationship. Maybe it’s the way evolution wants it, because they can get pregnant and have the role of mother. As a woman, if you are not in your own centre and in your own peace, it is easy to melt into the relationship and possibly lose yourself in it. On the one hand, this sounds very positive, this melting has its qualities of course, but on the other hand, it goes hand in hand with a lostness. Because when it comes to separation, one’s own life collapses. These are complex issues, but in my experience it has to do with having children, because when there is a child, the woman has much more closeness to the child than the man. The man also has closeness to the child, but in many cases the man only really plays with the child when it can already walk. The connection between mother and child is unique, they merge into one in the meantime and the maternal instinct comes to the fore. Many women also experience this merging when they enter a new relationship or even merge with their home. The catch is that many do not come to terms with themselves as a result. And the consequence is that many lose their clarity. And when I am one with someone, any criticism hits me deep in the heart. Women often feel a deep pain or emptiness when their own children leave home. Many collapse because of the pain and can no longer find themselves. This brings us back to the core of Taoism: coming to oneself. This coming to oneself creates a deeper relationship with one’s own heart, one’s own capacity for love and libido, and the ability to enter into a relationship with clarity. Because relationships need conflicts, we live from conflicts. Conflicts are not always negative, but in the relationship space there are always things that need to be clarified, that we chafe at. Be it between partners or between mother and child or in the company or society, and through this we grow. When I am merged, I am no longer capable of conflict, because how can I criticise this person with whom I am nevertheless a unit. That is the big dilemma.
TV: One last question: How can sexuality have a healing effect?
Carsten: It can have a healing effect when we open the heart in sexuality with our partner and the energies begin to flow internally. The Taoist practices support the inner flow because the energies bubble up into all organs. However, it can also have a healing effect without these practices if you start to melt and flow inside and let go. Research found that people who have sex regularly are healthier or healer in a holistic sense than those who don’t have sex. That would be one point, the other is the inner healing that we talked about earlier. Bringing up sexual power is a speciality of the Taoists. Many ancient images, which are a thousand to two thousand years old, show people holding a peach. They symbolically express that the sexual power has ascended into all their cells, and the peach symbolises longevity, health and inner healing. Research in the area is relatively new, but some say that if one meditates regularly, an inner healing process occurs and a kind of rejuvenation process can happen in the telomeres of the chromosomes, that is, in the area of the cells. This can happen if one meditates regularly and/or fasts regularly. From my experience especially when heart and libido energy are present in the body and give new impulses into the cells. This as a sexual practice on its own, but also during sexual intercourse when the love and libido energies are working within us. I believe from my experience that the deep practices of Taoist meditations lead to cell rejuvenation. This does not mean that one becomes younger and younger, but that the cells have a chance to regenerate – in this deep stillness of meditation and through the new resources that are released. Because it’s not that you just become still, but a new energy comes in, whereby the cells can enter into cell autophagy, cell self-healing. So the whole body can become healthier. A great thing, isn’t it?
About the author
The sinologist (chinese studies) Carsten Dohnke is today an internationally recognised teacher of Taoism and Qigong. He teaches the mystical path of Tao and gives trainings and seminars in Geramny and Holland He was born in Hamburg in 1963 and began to study martial arts and meditation intensively there at the age of 14. For five years he lived in Taiwan, Thailand and China, studying kungfu with Shaolin masters and Buddhist monks.
What do we need? And what does the earth need?
About healing on the five levels of our existence
Carsten Dohnke in an interview with Frankfurter Ring, June 2021 (the interview was conducted by Brita Dahlberg from Frankfurter Ring).
Frankfurter Ring: What is the concept of your training “Tao and Qigong – The Art of Living”?
We offer a training for inner transformation, healing and spiritual growth. The idea is to experience a deeper connection to ourselves, to other people and to life. In this way we want to enable each participant to live their creativity, their potential and also their inner wisdom. Qigong, Tao meditation but also healing sessions are important elements in our concept.
Why did you choose the Tao approach as your way of life?
The wisdom teachings of the Tao have fascinated me since my childhood. And it is more relevant today than ever before. Because in Taoism you find the explicit appreciation of nature and the idea that we as humans are part of a greater whole and should live in harmony with nature. Moreover, the Tao teachings include a complete system that values physical strength, flexibility and vitality as well as energy work, meditation and healing. Our symbolic image of the elephant summarizes the important practices of the Tao. The key is how the different elements support each other and make something bigger than the sum of the parts. This becomes particularly clear in the interaction of body practices, meditation and traditional Chinese medicine.
Why is the Tao wisdom teachings so relevant in our time?
We live in the digital age now. Most people have lost touch with their bodies and also with nature. Many are “mentally” on the go all day, overwhelmed by the complexities of everyday life and in a state of constant stress. In my opinion, it is not enough to “just” meditate and switch off – although I like to do that and teach it as well. It also requires the “rediscovery of our body” and the cultivation and strengthening of our life energy as a vehicle for inner transformation, but also for our vitality, joy for life and healing. Whether in Qigong, Taiji or Taoist meditations, there is always an emphasis on coming home in yourself, strengthening your centre and life force and being well grounded. Moreover, we are currently facing the biggest issues of our time: climate change, the extinction of species and also the dying of the oceans. Political measures are not enough. If we feel in our hearts that we are a part of life and nature, we are also prepared to support the necessary steps from within. Because only what touches us emotionally causes a reorientation of our actions.
You often speak of healing on the five levels of being. What is meant by this?
We are complex and multi-layered beings. To enable inner transformation and spiritual growth, I believe it is important to integrate all five levels of being. This is a key point of our training and all seminars. These levels are at the same time levels of healing and integration. It is an old “inner roadmap of existence” taken from the Eastern traditions, conform with the wisdom teachings of the Tao. Our different levels of being, such as the physical or emotional realm, are referred to as “body”. Concepts of modern forms of therapy, such as the neurobiology of Dr. Klinghardt, are also based on this roadmap.
Can you explain this “inner roadmap” more in detail?
This map explains the connection between our body and mind. It says that working with our physical body and energy is the basis for healing and change. Our physical body corresponds to our basic level of being. The life force that we feel within us is our second level of being. This is also called the energetic body. For example, one can be quite healthy, but still exhausted. Then you would have a deficiency on the second level. In the long term, this would of course also become noticeable physically and emotionally.
Our mental body, also called the emotional realm, is our third level of being. Sounds complex, but it is simple: this is where our personal experiences are stored. Thus, it is also the place of our emotions, unprocessed conflicts and traumas. Our belief systems also originate here. Including this level is of great importance. For if we cannot integrate and resolve our shadow sides and conflicts, it is as if we always step on the brakes when driving a car. We won’t get anywhere. Therefore, this level is one of the biggest blockages on the path of growth and realisation. Many inner practices specialise in this level.
The fourth and fifth levels of being are called the intuitive body and the level of being or oneness. In guided and silent meditations we can connect with this. In the fourth level of being, you experience a melting of your own limitations and a connection to the forces of the cosmos. This level can resolve old issues in the ancestral lineage and family network and at the same time connects us with cosmic energies. Sometimes out-of-body phenomena, visions or similar occur here. In many Tao meditations we consciously enter this dimension. On the one hand because old issues can be resolved here, on the other hand because it enables cosmic forces and information to be stored “like a download” in our own cells.
The fifth level, the level of being or oneness is also called the level of non-duality. The central element of this level is, as the word suggests, that here we have “experiences of oneness”, that is, we experience a melting with “being”, the “Tao”. In silent meditation, this dimension can sometimes come through very subtly like a whiff. Here we enter a kind of timelessness, like a return to our origin. In other words, “because we become empty inside, life can fill us”. Therefore, this dimension can change us deeply. It often awakens a basic trust in life and thus dissolves fears that are present in us and it also gives us an “inner drive”, that many people carry within themselves. In addition, an inner joy and gratitude that we are alive unfolds here. And at the same time a deep humility, because we realise that we are part of something greater. All mystical experiences, no matter what spiritual tradition, happen on this level. Because it goes beyond our personal existence. The entire Tao-Te-Jing, the classic of Taoism, is permeated by the level of oneness or being. The character “Tao” also means “primordial beginning” or “being”.
How do the five levels of being interact?
The five levels of being are all interconnected. And this interconnectedness holds some interesting insights for us: As already mentioned, our body and our life energy form the basis for healing, unfolding and growth.But real inner transformation happens on the higher levels of being, which also belong to the realm of the unconscious and transcendence. This is where 99% of our decisions are made. The experiences and insights we gain here have the effect of new impulses on the soul level and have incredible power. But they can only be brought into the world and be lived if we also feel physically free, alive and vital. When we have a spiritual experience in meditation or perceive how a creative potential wants to unfold in our lives, we can only realise this if our body and our energy play along. Otherwise, these experiences fade away in us like a beautiful dream and will have nothing to do with our everyday life.
Working with the third level of being, the mental and emotional body, is of utmost importance. Because unprocessed emotions, traumas and belief sentences such as e.g. “I am not allowed to be healthy” unconsciously determine our whole life. This is actually about coming to terms with our life story. Blockages on this level limit our life energy and physical condition immensely. But they also block the higher levels of being. They cut off our connection to our inner wisdom, to hidden potentials and to the Tao within us.
The first three levels of being concern our personality, the fourth and fifth levels go far beyond that. Both have to do with the great topics of life such as: “What is life?”, “Who am I?”, “How can we dissolve suffering?” or the great questions of mysticism such as: “Is there something that was never born and never dies”? That is why there is enormous potential in them. The Taoists and all spiritual systems consciously always emphasise meditation and inner contemplation. Disharmonies and deficits that we perceive on one level did not necessarily originate here. Many physical weaknesses or illnesses have their cause in soul conflicts on the third or fourth level. Therefore the solution or healing is to be found on the third or fourth level. And experiencing this physically is like a “game changer” for many people.
There are impulses from the bottom upwards and from the top downwards. Changes in the physical or energetic body cause a new opening for impulses and energies of the higher levels of being. Meditative experiences in the intuitive body or on the level of the spirit also have a healing effect on the lower levels.
By the way, we have an iceberg in the ocean as a symbol for the interaction of these five levels of being. The ocean symbolizes the level of non-duality or the Tao. According to all spiritual traditions, this level goes beyond our present life, but has nothing to do with our individuality. It is also interesting that the iceberg is actually just frozen water or “frozen ocean”, i.e. aliveness in a structured and partly stagnant form. In the West, we like to call this “personality”.
Why have you also integrated Western approaches to stress reduction and self-development?
Because the third level of being, the level of our emotions and inner wounds, is so immensely important. This level is also included in the wisdom teachings of the Tao. But not every seminar participant can meditate endlessly to resolve inner issues. In addition, many people in this digital age are trapped in their stress patterns and in a mental world. Modern western techniques from the field of stress reduction, therapy, observation or coaching are very effective, because they are specialized and designed for us on this level.
An example of this is Tao communication, which we like to integrate into all seminars – a meditative form of communication in which one listens to another person from the heart for longer, like a saint or wise person, and at the end tells them for example what positive qualities one sees in them or what perhaps the next step in life is. Many participants are deeply touched by this and it often leads to healing of old issues and the initiation of new creative processes.
Although this is not meant to be a therapeutic practice, it has deep healing qualities. Our emotional wounds generally originated in a relationship field with other people after we felt hurt, ignored, not loved, not accepted or not seen. Therefore, healing of these wounds happen most easily in the relational field itself. But this requires the compassionate presence of another person. A form of communication in which someone perceives us from the heart, listens to us and values our inner qualities is therefore worth gold.
Let me give you an example: Many spiritually interested people like to go to Asia or other countries to see a spiritual master. And what do you wish for when you make such a long journey? That the master is very busy when you meet him and then gives you a book with many exercises to do for the next years? Nobody wishes for that. Because it does not touch us. We wish to be seen and appreciated in our being. That someone listens to us, recognises our suffering and our potential and also bears witness to it. This can have a life-changing effect, because it is only this loving contact that allows hidden qualities of ours to enter into a larger field and thereby makes them come alive. And as a quick question: who can really listen these days?
What is the relationship between the Five Levels of Being and the social level?
In short, processes of healing, transformation and spiritual insights are more easily possible when all 5 levels of being support each other. This also makes the seminars and especially our training “Tao and Qigong – The Art of Living” very interesting. At the same time, we are also social beings. Therefore, healing in general also needs a social level, a “We-field”, as the modern philosopher Ken Wilber said. After all, healing also means becoming whole. As individuals by ourselves, we could not even survive. And the closer the relationships we enter into, the greater are often the problems. Practices in groups or with a partner are therefore very beneficial for our practices in which we “e-volve”, in which we touch, feel or perceive ourselves. This is very interesting, especially on a spiritual level.
Does the social level also support spiritual progress?
Many people think of spiritual experiences as experiences of light and energy. Or states of deep stillness. But that does not describe the core yet: all spiritual traditions emphasise that we are touched and permeated by something that is greater than our personal existence. That is why people always speak of the “Tao”, the “divine”, etc. In a mystical experience, this even leads to the dissolution of our person. That which touches us is nothing outside of us or far away, but in other words “being” itself. In this respect, practices in which we learn to perceive and feel others also have a preparatory mystical quality. For a person who touches us deeply because we simply listen to him or her and are present with all our heart symbolises life at that moment.
In reality, however, I often experience a split-off here: unresolved issues of the “wounded child” and the inability to form healthy social bonds often lead people to seek comfort and redemption in their loneliness in the divine, with a guru or in the seclusion of meditation. Or they cover up the inner wounds with physical strength, keeping busy or a constant “wanting to prove themselves”. Often so skilfully that they no longer even notice it. But it doesn’t work like that. You end up in a projection. The result of this inner separation is then served up again and again in life. Close and intimate relationships are the best teachers, as all therapists know.
And to what extent does our spiritual development influence our actions?
Here I come back to the beginning: we no longer live 2000 years ago and are currently facing the greatest upheavals in human history: the climate crisis, the dying of the oceans and biodiversity. That alone is sad enough. What is even sadder is that all we need to do, on both a small and a large scale, is to work together and communicate from the heart. But we can’t seem to do that. We revolve too much around ourselves, caught up in our conflicts and fears, without a deep vision of who we are. Since we usually have no real inner contact with ourselves, we can’t experience deep relationships with other people, with nature or even with life, with the “Tao”. Let alone feel 20 or 50 years ahead.This is why many people, companies and governments, as long as they have not been directly affected in a huge way, have so far tried to ignore the changes in the world, climate change and the dying of species. Or postpone all action. The key phrase was and still is for many: “The important thing is that we get off cheap!” We do not yet experience ourselves as a guest on this earth and as a part of nature. Therefore, we do not feel a true connection to nature in our hearts, which automatically leads to a new ethical action. If our perspective does not change quite quickly, this will have dramatic consequences for our life on earth, as we all know. In this respect, spiritual practices offer us a huge opportunity. And because the wisdom teachings of the Tao in all its aspects emphasizes this connection to ourselves, to nature and to life, the teaching of the Tao is, in my opinion, more relevant today than ever before.
Have these insights influenced your training?
Definitely! All this has motivated me and also my partner Dewi to create a new training. The seminars have also changed as a result. To sum it up: it’s all about each and every one of us and about life. In other words: health, Qigong, also strengthening of the body and vitality as well as coming to terms with our shadow sides are immensely important to us. But it is even more important for us to get a new inner vision of who we are and to experience ourselves as part of a greater whole. In mysticism we also speak of discovering our true nature. From this higher vision, embedding, inner touch and perhaps also humility, our actions can then change more easily. And in addition, we can live our inner wisdom, creativity and hitherto hidden potentials.
What is particularly important to you in the seminars or in the training “Tao and Qiong – The Art of Living”?
How something begins. This is also called the law of the beginning. “Every beginning carries a secret”, as Hermann Hesse said. Therefore, it is important how something begins. The sign “Tao” also consists of the elements “head” and “foot”, literally translated “the beginning that manifests”. Our true nature, the level of “being”,“oneness” or the Tao are already there. So the Tao does not need to be recreated. Our personality only covers it up. It is already there, here and now. Therefore, if we start with a focus on “doing and practicing”, with a desire to “get better”, we generally end up with practicing. The soul then quickly gets out and our personality takes over. So we stop noticing the present, feeling “what is”. But if we start with presence and appreciating the moment and continue to practice that, we start and end in being. Only then does life reveal itself in its depth. But that takes some time and also silence. For the “Tao” does not speak so loudly. All wisdom and deep realisation begin here.
Your body – a gateway to being
(published in Frankfurter Ring Magazin Autumm 2020)
My body, my home
I can only put out a fire in my house when I am at home.
It is the same with inner processes or emotional issues. The natural connection with my body enables me to grow personally and spiritually and to work through old life issues. The problem is, however, that most people have little connection to their bodies and to themselves. We are often tense or exhausted, “circling like prisoners” in our thought worlds, rejecting our bodies or whipping ourselves through strenuous fitness programmes in order to be “fit”, function well or look great.
Arriving at myself
But truly arriving at oneself always goes hand in hand with self-acceptance and self-love and a feeling of “coming home”. Why is this so important? Only when I perceive my body as if it were my own house can I also walk through the various inner rooms. And clean up and let fresh air in there.
This arrival in myself is particularly emphasised in the approaches of Tao, Qigong and Taiji. And it is not only the focus on stillness and silence that leads to this. But above all the training of fine motor skills, balance exercises, active body training and deep breathing. This interaction leads to a new interconnectedness with myself – I begin to really feel myself and at the same time rest within myself. This develops a natural self-esteem, the ability to process stress more quickly and to remain stable in crises. In addition, I strengthen my life energy “Qi”, experience more joy, lightness and courage in everyday life and also enter into healthier relationships through the new “connection to myself”.
In a meditation it is now easy to enter the inner spaces of my home. For example, in the wisdom teachings of the Tao, one often lets the love of the heart shine like a nourishing and healing sun into the inner rooms, e.g. into the organs. This is also a physical experience: it feels as if one sinks inwards and the space between the cells becomes wider, accompanied by an inner stillness and being carried. If this introspection is accompanied by acceptance and self-love, old feelings, but also traumas and our shadow sides can now come to the surface and slowly begin to melt “like ice in the sun” – this integration can also be well supported through coaching and therapeutic work etc.
And as if by itself, more and more fresh air and light shines in through the inner windows – a taste of freedom and being, life touches me. This is the beginning of real meditation.
The gateway to being
And only being at home in my body enables me to absorb this taste “like a download” into all my cells. So it can flow into my life, my everyday life. Because meditative experiences and mystical experiences can only be anchored in when we are with ourselves.
Taoist Inner Alchemy in our Modern Times
(This article is from December 2019, written for the magazine of the Taiji and Qigong Network in Germany)
A few days ago I was asked the following question in a Youtube interview: What do people need in this modern age of digitalisation? My answer was: a connection with their body, the possibility for an inner healing process and the connection to their own resources. This is exactly the essence of Inner Alchemy. And to put it in a nutshell: This important current of Taoism still indirectly influences almost all styles of Qigong today.
What does “Inner Alchemy” actually mean?
When you hear the term Inner Alchemy, it first sounds like the Middle Ages. But a brief definition makes it more interesting: Inner alchemy means that through the focus of our mind we are able to direct and centre our life force and change emotional states. This allows us to experience a deep connection to ourselves and to life. In other words, with the help of our mind we can induce biochemical processes in the body that change our entire state of being. Besides self-healing and vitality, the followers of alchemy are concerned with one goal: they want to gain access to their true nature through the purifying effect of meditation. This access is supposed to form the basis for a mystical experience – a oneness with life or the experience of boundless freedom. Among other things, this is also defined as liberation from the “ego” or from all suffering. However, many schools of the Taoist tradition also aspired to the goal of a “light body”. Similar to the Buddhists, the idea here is that this energetic body can continue to exist in another dimension after death. In Taoism, by the way, there were two other orientations: shamanistic currents that sought connections to higher worlds, and various groups that mainly pursued health and longevity. We also find both of these in today’s qigong.
And what does “Outer Alchemy” mean?
In ancient China, inner alchemy was opposed to outer alchemy for centuries. Alchemy in general is defined as “the scientific study of chemical substances”, “which focuses on the transformation and refinement of substances”. The main focus of external alchemy, which also existed in the Occident, was to prolong life or even achieve immortality through herbs, the ingestion of special minerals, but also substances such as mercury. This direction was very influential for a long time, because people in ancient China were exposed to extreme climatic conditions. Also, life expectancy was not very long. They therefore looked for supportive sources of strength that could strengthen the body and at the same time expel inner cold, wetness or heat. However, as we now know, this direction soon dissolved – the followers did not tolerate the mercury well. Due to the parallel existence of both currents, practitioners of inner alchemy were also inspired to search for helpful herbal formulas to deepen their meditative practice. In addition, the basic ideas of Outer Alchemy led to the development of pills and medicines in Western medicine. In the latest endeavours of many researchers from Silicon Valley, even the entire line of Outer Alchemy is experiencing a new flowering: they are now actually searching for a formula for eternal life.
The Basics of Inner Alchemy
If we now take a closer look at the basics of Inner Alchemy, things get very interesting. For they are based on the principles of today’s therapeutic work and also approaches from coaching:
the principle of self-acceptance
the principle of self-organisation
the connection with one’s own resources
All this is based on the connection with our body, or formulated for our time: the rediscovery of our body as a basis for inner transformation and spiritual growth. I am now deliberately starting from the back: I can only put out a fire in my house when I am at home. It is the same with inner processes or emotional issues. The Taoists recognised the connection between body and mind very early on. Traditional Chinese medicine, which is directly connected to the teachings of Taoism, clearly shows, especially in the teachings of the five phases of change, how emotions such as anger, fear, but also excessive joy, etc. are directly connected to the states of our organs. The problem is, however, that most people have little connection to their bodies. We are often tense, stressed or exhausted and “circle like prisoners” in our thought worlds and emotions.
Even in ancient China, the followers of Inner Alchemy therefore always used exercises such as Taiji, Tao-Yin or practices of today’s Qigong to cultivate their life force, to strengthen themselves and to experience a state of inner balance. We usually know that. But now there is a crucial point: different levels of our being require different frequencies of healing. In order to perceive my inner fears, to process old feelings or to experience a state of being connected to life, I need access to my cellular structure and to my unconscious. Movements and body training are therefore only seen in Inner Alchemy as a basis for diving into deeper layers of our being in meditation.
This immersion in oneself first feels as if one is sinking or sitting down inwardly in one’s body. This creates a feeling of open space and inner expanse, combined with an inner arrival and timelessness. In Inner Alchemy one initiates this process, among other things, by consciously connecting oneself with the forces of heaven and earth and then feeling the the lower “dantien”, the energy center in the abdominal cavity between the navel and the kidneys. This new inner space is the basis for all deeper processes. Life itself can now shine through. And every practice that follows now comes from a deeper level of being, free from the controlling patterns of the ego. One of the basic practices of Inner Alchemy from this inner arrival is then the so-called “Nei Guan”, the inner contemplation. This usually means a perception of the “landscape of the inner organs”. Simple variants of this practice can be found today in many qigong styles as “inner smile” or “journey through the body”, etc.
Self-Acceptance and Self-Organisation
The key to any introspection is self-acceptance. By now lovingly directing my mind to my lungs or liver, for example, and perceiving with an inner embrace what I feel there or see inwardly, a process of integration begins – a healing on a physical and emotional level. Because almost every illness or chronic stress situation is unfortunately also based on the fact that I inwardly deny, reject or no longer love myself. This denial not only takes me away from feeling myself and my aliveness. It also weakens my immune system and leads to an inner splitting off. By now embracing what is and simply being present, the principle of self-organisation of life can also work: Change occurs because the natural force of life is not disturbed. Self-organisation always works when there is an open space combined with inner presence. Using the example of the lungs, this can feel like this: perhaps I perceive how the lungs become wider or larger or how their inner colour changes – in Taoism, a white colour is assigned to them. Or I can feel how the lungs become more vital, how inner images arise or feelings such as unprocessed sadness come to the surface.
Connecting with Inner Resources
This alone is a process of self-healing and integration. And it is now consciously strengthened in the alchemy approach by connecting with inner resources or forces in meditation. Our most important inner resources are the love of our heart and our libido as a source of inner healing power and creativity. Not without reason are both important ingredients of many Hollywood films. In addition, energies of nature and life in which we are embedded as human beings are also important resources. In Taoism and Qigong, these are generally referred to as the forces of heaven and earth or the “Qi of nature”.
The connection with inner resources is based on one of the most important laws of life: Every deep change needs energy. This is already the case at the cellular level. And especially in our modern times, when many people are stressed and overwhelmed or carry unhealed illnesses and inflammations, it often needs an additional force to enable a process of healing and integration. After all, it is significant that many people fall ill on holiday – finally the body has enough energy to regenerate.
Our Love and Libido merge into one Healing Power
A famous practice of Inner Alchemy is now to bring together the power of the heart and the libido with spiritual help in the belly. This is easier than it seems: For example, one imagines a lake in the belly that is nourished by an inner source at the bottom of the pelvis. At the same time, one visualises that the love of the heart shines like a sun on this inner lake. Supported by a gentle, repeated tightening of the pelvic floor, a union of both energies then occurs: Heart and sexual energy merge in the abdomen to form an inner healing power (1,see below). This healing power can then be consciously directed into individual organs or glands. In advanced practice, a fine Qi is created in this way, which, like an “inner steam”, nourishes and rejuvenates each of our cells from within, and carries the practitioner into higher states of consciousness.
The result is a deep contemplation of oneself, the dissolution of the physical body or even the slowing down of the ageing process.The interesting thing is that one not only activates resources, but unites important life forces into a new energy. The alchemists speak here of refining and refining our life force and the above practice is just one example of this. The concept behind this is based on the fundamental idea of the alchemists that we “lose our way in life”. As adults, we move further and further away from the natural state of a child, lose contact with ourselves and exhaust our powers. The unification of different energies is supposed to give us the possibility to counteract this process and at the same time to return to our origin. Actually, everything is similar to “Asterix and Obelix”: In the inner cauldron of the abdomen you collect different essences for a magic potion. And this potion not only has a healing and vitalising effect, it also helps us to arrive at ourselves and opens a door into higher states of consciousness.
Inner Alchemy in Everyday Life
Asterix was overwhelmed by the fact that the Romans wanted to occupy Gaul. Nowadays, we are overwhelmed by the demands of modern life. In this sense, Inner Alchemy hits the nerve of our time, even if it comes from a different social and historical context. For we need not only relaxation, but above all love, healing, an arrival at ourselves and a connection with the forces of life. This enables new ways out of exhaustion, overwork and self-negation. For everyday life, moving qigong can be combined very well with practices such as the “Inner Smile” or the “Healing Sounds” – exercises that are also common in many qigong styles. Even after a short period of practice, one can quickly vitalise and relax and at the same time strengthen the immune system. Deeper practices need a certain amount of perseverance. However, if you are willing to participate in an intensive course over several days, you can experience profound changes that open new doors in your life and last for a long time. The energy field of the group can be a great help. Here goes…
1. An important addition here would be that the energy of the pelvic floor is directly connected to the kidney energy. In addition, the pelvic floor is a gateway to the yuan qi (a deeply restorative energy), the qi of the earth and a foetal state of being of primordial trust. So the sexual energy is actually only a part of the whole.
The three pillars of Qigong
This introduction to the basic ideas of Qigong was published in the Tao Magazin about 1993. The article also draws comparisons to western therapy methods and explains the essence and the core of Qigong clearly and unambiguously.
Qigong is the modern name of a complex practice system that has emerged from the tradition of Taoism, Buddhism and Chinese medicine. CARSTEN DOHNKE describes the three pillars of these practices of life care and draws a comparison with Western body therapies. Qigong is practised primarily with the aim of promoting the flow of the life energy Qi in the human body. Traditionally Chinese belief is that the whole cosmos and also the human body are penetrated and animated by this energy. If the Qi flows harmoniously and in abundance, then we feel healthy and balanced, spray with vitality and inner strength. In short: We feel alive and experience a change in our perception of ourselves and the world.
THE INITIAL SITUATION
People of different cultures and epochs have repeatedly noticed that every being has the tendency to limit its own liveliness more and more in the course of its life, to gradually and mostly inconspicuously reduce the grand possible inner arousal, as it is often found in children. This happens, among other things, by moving some parts of the body only to a limited extent, by chronically tightening certain muscles and by adopting an inner and outer posture as one’s own, which is an expression of a clearly predominant feeling, but ignores all other feelings.
Parts of the body that are permanently tense are not sufficiently supplied with blood and energy and can only be perceived to a limited extent. Those who can hardly move their pelvic area will find it difficult to access their sexual urges and their main sources of energy. Neither can someone who always pulls up his shoulders out of fear or constantly makes a crooked hump feel an intense feeling of joy. In colloquial language this connection is often clearly expressed. Phrases such as “But he carries a burden on his shoulders” are more than common. There is a lively interaction between body and mind: attitudes to life, to others and to the world become fixed in the body and continue to be held by it. Whether the restriction of one’s own vitality is always caused by unexpressed feelings is a matter of dispute among experts today. The causes of chronic bad postures can perhaps also lie in wrong habits or congenital physical weaknesses, which all of us know only too well.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
What can I do to feel alive? First of all: I try to gradually eliminate the chronic muscle tension and incorrect posture of the spine or skeletal apparatus. Actually, I mainly pursue this one goal: to stand quite naturally and straight without doing anything. When I stand like this, my energy automatically collects in my natural center.
Often only a few small corrections are needed. But they need time. A profound process is taking place: the feelings held and hidden in the body come to the surface again and have to be processed step by step. This processing usually takes place on two levels, the physical and the emotional level. So it can happen that I suddenly feel angry or sad, even if there is actually no reason for it. But maybe I also start to sweat, feel a certain uneasiness or have digestive problems. All these processes are positive. They are the body’s response to the situation and serve only the purpose of regaining a state of inner balance. As soon as one begins to relax mentally and physically, the body begins this process of self-regulation. But the elimination of chronic postures and muscle tension is not enough to experience an intense feeling of being alive. It is only one of the three (main) pillars of Qigong. This pillar has Qigong in common with many western approaches to bodywork and therapy.
THREE PILLARS OF QIGONG
In Qigong, however, there are two more: the strengthening and cleansing of the body and the sensitization of perception.
If you practice qigong, you spend a lot of time strengthening your whole body. Not only does this serve the purpose of not being susceptible to illness, but its primary goal is to be able to absorb a high potential of energy. As a rule, the strengthening of the body takes place through long lasting standing exercises in connection with special breathing techniques: One stands like a rock and has the feeling that roots sprout out of the feet which penetrate deeper and deeper into the ground. The breath becomes calmer and finer. Its power fills the entire lower abdomen. Why this very exercise, which is called the Standing Column in professional circles, serves to build up the entire body, is often a mystery to the layman. On the outside, almost nothing happens.
But this is precisely the secret. Strengthening begins from the inside and from below: The lower abdomen expands to all sides. The deep breath massages and cleanses the internal organs. A feeling of warmth spreads in the centre and slowly penetrates from there into the periphery. From the feet, fine energetic vibrations rise up into the legs and gradually flood the whole body. With increasing practice time, the standing person transforms into a pulsating energy field. This effect can only occur because the strengthening of the body in Qigong begins in the center and at the roots: it hits the practitioner directly in his essence.
The sensitization of perception is the third pillar of Qigong. Almost all important and well-known Qigong exercises serve mainly the sensitization, i.e. the ever finer and more differentiated perception of the body, the thoughts and the outside world. Sensitivity, however, does not only mean that the practitioner becomes more receptive to the mood of his fellow human beings and the events of his environment, because he views the world more from his center.The actual change in perception occurs on another level, the energetic level: the deeper the practitioner penetrates into the practice of qigong, the more he perceives that a fine energetic field also exists around the body. When he begins to understand this field as part of his own being, the usual boundaries of his body gradually become blurred: the energetic field develops into a sixth sense organ. It becomes a kind of spürzone, with the help of which he can directly grasp the energetic radiation of his fellow human beings and the environment – i.e. without further sensory impressions. Instead of intellectual analysis, intuition moves into the foreground of perception.
THE HARMONY OF OPPOSITES
The interaction between body and mind, which also takes place through strengthening and sensitization exercises, does not only happen in the area of the musculature and the skeletal apparatus. In truth, the whole body is the expression and limitation of my being, because the interplay between body and mind takes place on all possible levels. The joints, organs, connective tissue and bone marrow are just as much a part of it as the muscles, the spine posture, the tendons, the skin and everything else.By understanding this interplay, which extends to all areas, a decisive and often misunderstood point becomes particularly clear: It is not only the goal of meditative exercises to achieve a deep state of relaxation, but to experience all parts of the body in a harmonious interplay.Many people attend a meditation or Qigong course with the idea of finally reflecting or coming to rest. The idea of Qigong is to achieve inner balance, harmony and a calming of the mind. But this goal is not achieved if you just relax. In short, harmony and liveliness need structure.
Tension and relaxation always come together. In Qigong, for example, it is said that Yin and Yang must always interact with each other. Real balance is only achieved when opposing aspects complement each other. This can be well understood using the example of a river: When a person practices for a long time, he becomes a great river. Huge quantities of water flow through a river. If one observes its flow, one feels a feeling of harmony and liveliness. If the riverbed or the dike is destroyed now, the current will overflow its banks. Maybe a lake will form there, but the flow and the liveliness will stop. The river does not flow without its intact riverbed.
It is the same with humans: A harmonious and living person is a vessel for feelings, sensations and excitement. The weaker and more porous the vessel, the lower the degree of inner arousal.
Explained using the example of correct posture, this means that it is only possible to walk upright if I stretch certain parts of the muscles. The body does not stand by itself. This basic tension gives me the possibility of inner excitement. If I reduce it beyond a certain level, it leads to the loss of my vitality. It’s that simple.
THOUGHTS, BREATH, MOVEMENT
If I want to start practicing now, I should use three tools. I need the power of my thoughts, the ability to regulate my breath and the ability to move. All Qigong exercises are made up of the skilful combination of these three aids. For a better understanding they are divided into basic exercises and higher exercises:
Typical basic exercises of today’s Qigong are gymnastics-like stretching exercises, self-massage, special breathing techniques, visualizations, grounding exercises, straight posture exercises, slow animal movements, simple meditation practices, Taiji movements and healing sounds. Many of these practices often seem somewhat mysterious to the layman. In reality, however, in many ways they resemble the health practices, relaxation methods and forms of therapy that are widespread in the West today. These include many body-oriented psychotherapies, classical healing massage, autogenic training, biodynamic massage, Feldenkrais training, positive thinking, aura work and much more.
The similarity of the different methods with the basic exercises of Qigong is that both approaches have the goal of restoring or maintaining health and vitality: They give the individual the opportunity to heal his illness and to free himself from his inhibitions and rigid behavioural structures, so that he can become a happy and active being. This being has the possibility to express his feelings, to pursue his desires and goals and to enjoy the pleasures of the senses.
Higher levels of Qigong go far beyond the approach and the idea of the physical and emotional recovery of the human being. Although they are often taught, they can only be mastered after many years of serious practice.
On these levels one learns techniques for the mental transformation of negative feelings, the transformation of sexual energy into consciousness, healing through the transmission of Qi and deep inner immersion. Such techniques are not taught in traditional Western approaches of bodywork.
Clear parallels can be found in comparison with the various yoga systems, Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, the Tantra systems and Christian mysticism. The meditative exercises of all these spiritual traditions, as well as the higher levels of Qigong, cannot be practiced without their spiritual background. They are embedded in the understanding of basic ethical attitudes and only through this unfold their full effectiveness. Because the actual goal of these exercises is not the private happiness of the individual human being, but the connection of the human being with the cosmos.
This requires the inner readiness of the individual to put his self, with all his desires, feelings and views about the world, in the background and to direct his senses completely inwards.
WHAT IS QI?
One of the biggest misunderstandings in the field of Qigong and meditation has arisen through the term Qi. In China and also among the qigong practitioners of the West one speaks constantly of Qi. For many people, however, the word “qi” conceals the great unknown. Some voices therefore ask for a concrete definition of the term or think they have already found it.
Even though such a definition is very important and is likely to clarify many misunderstandings, one thing should not be forgotten: Qi is just a name. A name for something you can experience for yourself. And somehow it has to do with liveliness. That’s why I like to ask back: “What is life?
A crack in the world view
This article was also published in the Tao magazine around 1993 and was later taken up by other magazines. The deeper meaning of Qi and a new way of looking at the world is the central theme of this article.
Carsten Dohnke wrote a master thesis about “Qi in ancient China” at the end of his studies and visited and interviewed various experts in the world. This research has changed his life and his view of the world fundamentally and lastingly.
It is often said that qi is the connection between the material and spiritual levels. CARSTEN DOHNKE reports on the results of research, which prove this in a vivid way. He points out that these insights – if we are prepared to let them really penetrate our consciousness – fundamentally change our view of the world.
When my professor told me in 1990 that I should not write my master’s thesis on a Daoist text, but rather on the term “Qi”, I was disappointed. I replied: “The Chinese themselves don’t know exactly what Qi is. What am I supposed to find out?”
The personal researches and experiences of the next years changed my opinion considerably. Today I am not only of the opinion that important things can be said about Qi. What I would like to say in this short article is the following: A more precise understanding of what Qi is and how Qi works will bring about a profound change in our entire view of the world. This applies not only to personal areas of life, but above all to areas of science such as psychology, philosophy, religious studies and medicine.
Most of the religious and esoteric teachings of this world are based on the assumption that man possesses an energy system in addition to the purely physical body, through which the individual is connected to the cosmos. The Indian and Chinese cultures have paid a great deal of attention to this idea, with different approaches and emphases, and over the centuries have developed the Chakra-Nadi system in India and the meridian system in China. The meridian system lies more in the physical realm than the chakra system, which rather describes the purely subtle aspects of being.
The underlying teachings of both systems argue that a network of non-physical channels and centers of the human body is flooded by a non-directly detectable energy. In China these Qi are called Prana, in India Prana. Only through the existence of this energy is there a connection between the physical body and the rest of the universe. Man thus becomes the “manifestation of a universal continuum of energy and consciousness” (1). According to this view, the physical aspect of man is only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg”. And a separate self that exists separately from the things of the outside world is pure illusion.
From a strictly scientific point of view, this theory about human nature is considered “completely unproven”. We encounter it neither in our textbooks nor at our universities, it has no influence on our traditional religious view of the world and only plays a role in everyday life for a few people.
One reason for this is that the non-physical dimension of life is difficult to prove – and science distinguishes between faith and verifiable facts. On the other hand, it is also due to the fact that it completely contradicts our entire view of the world. Therefore, there is no research in this direction at all in the western world. Although modern quantum physics goes beyond the dualism of subject and object, it has hardly any impact on the humanities. It is also interesting that most scientists who deal with modern physics still live according to a three-dimensional world view in everyday life. Only a few of them believe, for example, in telepathy or other phenomena that are difficult to explain.
Years of research
In the West, man is a clearly definable individual. All further thinking is based on this foundation. Descartes’ famous sentence “I think, therefore I am” is from a Buddhist point of view one of the greatest errors of Western philosophy, because it was formulated in the state of “everyday consciousness”, in which the illusion of a self always exists through the deception of the senses. For this reason, Qigong exercises are also often explained in purely medical terms: Qigong then becomes health gymnastics, accepted by the health insurance companies and the Western medical profession.
For this very reason it is remarkable that the “Institute for Comparative Religious Studies and Parapsychology” in Tokyo, regardless of Western science, has been working for 30 years on the research of the chakra system, the meridians and the Qi. There is also research in this direction in China and in the former Eastern bloc countries. What is special about the Institute for Comparative Religious Studies and Parapsychology, however, is that its work focuses on getting closer to the non-physical dimension of life. The aim of the research is to advance to a deeper understanding of human nature and to gain clarity about the principles of spiritual evolution.
Dr. Motoyama, Director and Head of the Institute, has conducted countless parapsychological experiments with a team of scientists over the years. Special measuring instruments have been developed for their scientific documentation. The results, as I could see during a personal visit, are amazing. Not only the existence of the chakra and meridian systems was scientifically proven, but also their effect beyond the physical realm of being. An important result is the following:
Many experiments have shown that test persons who have been meditating for a long time can consciously send Qi to another person via their meridian system. The special thing about these experiments is that they are also successful when both persons were sitting in different electromagnetically shielded rooms.
Qi can therefore not be identical with an electromagnetic or similar form of energy, the effect of which could be brought into harmony with our previous view of the world. It is more a medium that moves between matter and mind. So it can support physical functions in the body by flowing through the different meridians. At the same time it works where it is guided by consciousness. And this independent of spatial distance and apparently via a non-physical dimension, which is as good as unknown to science.
This last point is also usually overlooked by Chinese Qigong masters. They often explain the transmission and reception of Qi with the help of the model of radio and television waves. The fact is, however, that no form of wave covers any distance, but that qi works directly where the attention of the mind is. This is where a decisive crack in our world view comes into being.
Scientific research into Qi is still in its infancy. Dr. Motoyama, who is a scientist and at the same time a recognized yoga master, can therefore only formulate as a thesis what still needs to be researched: On the basis of the results of many years of research, it seems obvious to him that every genuine spiritual progress is accompanied by an increased activation of the chakra or meridian system. It does not matter which religious or esoteric tradition a person belongs to.
For Dr. Motoyama, spiritual experiences are therefore more than purely spiritual phenomena, because they leave traces in the human energy system and also have an effect on the body. On the physical level this does not necessarily have to be reflected in externally visible vitality. Especially a virtuous attitude of mind, which is aspired to in many traditions by many years of purification exercises and prayers and which is the central element of all religions, shows itself more in finer changes of the whole being than in an increase in dynamics and vitality.
Qi plays the role of a medium through which spiritual and religious experiences are made possible: it is Qi through which consciousness works in boundlessness. This is how Dr. Motoyama writes:
“Consciousness possesses an enormous power. It can connect us – and it does it unconsciously – directly with the minds of other people and other material forms. It is not necessarily limited by the five senses, by time or space. Consciousness is a unifying totality, as mystics have long claimed. The separating boundaries that we experience in daily life are, after all, only illusions.”
I hope that with the beginning of the next millennium there will be another
science and religions come closer to each other. It is important to preserve traditions, but at the same time it is also of global importance to move beyond cultural and emotional interpretations to a unified understanding of the real nature of being. This can not only be helpful for the individual human being on his path through life, but can also avoid or at least reduce cultural and religious conflicts.
The exploration of the meridians, the chakras and the Qi can be an important key to this.
The Universal Tao
The Universal Tao, a long time also called Healing Tao, is a system of ancient Taoist healing and meditation practices founded by the qigong master Mantak Chia. In addition to a variety of qigong techniques, it also includes Taoist methods for cultivating sexual energy, inner alchemy, Taijiquan, ancient Shaolin practices for physical training, Taoist organ massage, knowledge of the forces of nature, dietetics and Fengshui.
Carsten Dohnke has been closely associated with this system for 25 years and also teaches the higher Taoist practices such as “Kan and Li” – the meditative marriage of water and fire – in many seminars. In this article he introduces the basic elements of this system, which exemplify basic Taoist principles.
The practice system of the Healing Tao developed by Master Mantak Chia is divided into two stages. The practices and meditations of the first stage generally serve self-healing: they improve health, release energetic blockades, increase and refine energy in the body and strengthen strength in the lower Dantien. They are consciously called “practices of the healing Tao”.
On this solid basis the spiritual practices follow after about five to ten years of practice. Master Mantak Chia calls them “practices of the immortal Tao”. The ideal goal of the “immortal Tao” is the creation of a light body that emerges from the physical body and continues to exist in the spiritual world even after death. Clear parallels in theory and practice can be found in Tibetan Buddhism, in which the idea of a rainbow body is often represented.
The great merit of Master Mantak Chia is that he has taken essential methods and exercises from a multitude of Daoist practices that have developed in China over the last three thousand years and combined them into a new and self-contained system. This is particularly evident in the “practices of the healing Tao”: the central themes here are the cleansing and strengthening of the inner organs and the compression of the life force into a Qi ball in the lower abdomen. Both go together: If the energy flows harmoniously and abundantly in the individual organs, then it can easily be centered in the lower Dantien.
THE BASIC PRACTICES
The cleansing and strengthening of the internal organs has above all the aim of creating a “good and stable internal climate”: The basic Qigong practices like the Healing Sounds and the Inner Smile serve to transform the negative emotions internally – through the power of the mind and the Qi – to lead toxins out of the body and to strengthen the harmony of the organs among each other. This not only cleanses the body internally, but also develops a balanced and cheerful attitude of mind.
The centering of the vital energy in the lower Dantian promotes the entire vitality and makes it possible to store the energy. In the Healing Tao, the formation of a Qi ball in the Dantian area serves to build up an inner gravitational field. This is why Master Mantak Chia also speaks of the compression and condensation of the Qi energy: Through the idea of an inner suction, initially combined with a slight tension of the ring muscles of the eyes and reversed abdominal breathing, the energy in the lower Dantien is compressed and gradually refined into a glowing and bright shining light pearl. This automatically attracts the forces of nature, the earth and the cosmos through its “gravitational force”. The practitioner then lets these forces circulate along the Small Energy Cycle and other special meridians so that they are evenly distributed in the organism and, where necessary, initiate healing processes. The inner gravitational field can be compared to the attraction that the sun exerts on the planets of our planetary system: Without the Sun, none of the planets would be kept on their orbit. The same applies to the lower Dantien: If the Dantien is weakened, it lacks a natural magnetic field and no attraction is exerted on the Qi forces surrounding man.
The Taoist “novice” first learns and practices the various basic techniques of the Healing Tao separately. These include various “iron shirt exercises”, ancient practices of the Shaolin tradition to train a steel body and to improve posture and bone structure. After only a short period of practice, the practitioner also allows the sexual energy to flow through the Small Circulation. The power of the ovaries or testicles is partially withdrawn from the reproductive process and is available to supply and heal the internal organs, glands and brain. This is an ancient Taoist practice which is also called “Huan Jing Bu Nao” in Chinese: “The reversal of sperm flow to nourish the brain”.
At the next step – the “fusion of the elements” – a synthesis of what has been learned takes place: The compressed energy in the lower Dantien becomes of such intensity that it can simultaneously attract the purified energies of the organs and the forces of nature. This strengthened inner pearl of light is now guided together with the sexual energy through the Small Circulation, the Special Meridians and the Glands.
THE “FUSION OF ELEMENTS”
The practices of “fusion of the elements” primarily serve the transformation of negative emotions and the formation of virtuous qualities. They are the first step of the inner Daoist alchemy: The energy is firstly internally purified and harmonized, secondly condensed in the center, thirdly refined by circulation along the meridians and fourthly multiplied by new energies from nature and the universe. The energy merged into a new and refined form in the human body serves the purpose of gradually increasing the vibration frequency of the entire organism and initiating an inner regeneration and self-healing process from the cell level. It also leads to an extreme opening and activation of the energy pathways.
The one who practices “fusion” has the possibility to emphasize one or the other organ or natural element more depending on the innate weakness or the momentary life situation. In this way he can independently restore his emotional and physical balance and – in the longer term – gradually dissolve deeper old patterns of behaviour.
Since it has been shown that the effect of Taoist meditations without a good physical basis is very limited, Taiji, the already mentioned iron shirt exercises and “Chi-Nei-Tsang”, an organ massage developed by Master Mantak Chia, play an important role in the system of the Healing Tao in addition to the purely energetic practices. What all these practices have in common is that they deal specifically with the organ energies and the centering of the life force in the Dantien. Taiji and the iron shirt exercises emphasize the rootedness in the earth. In this way, the Dao student is given the opportunity to strengthen his physical constitution parallel to the meditative inner training, so that he can gradually move on to ever finer and more subtle practices based on a good physical foundation.
“KAN & LI.” THE MARRIAGE OF FIRE & WATER
The spiritual practices of the Healing Tao carry the name “Kan and Li”. They are high practices from the Taoist tradition of inner alchemy. Their mastery requires many years or even decades of intensive practice. The terms Kan and Li refer to two of the eight trigrams of the ancient oracle classic Yijing: “Kan” symbolizes the hot forces of fire and “Li” the cooling energies of water.
The Daoist adept, who devotes many years to meditation and inner alchemy, feels the forces of fire especially in the heart and the rest of the upper body. They are amplified by the high-frequency and also hot energies of the sky and the stars, which penetrate into the body through the apex during the meditation practice. The cool forces of the element water are mainly in the kidneys and sexual organs. The often blue earth energy, which rises through the soles of the feet into the legs through the suction of the centered force of the lower Dantian, makes up a further part of the cool energies.
Following the tradition of Chinese medicine and Taoism, the hot and cool energies in the body separate more and more during the course of life and become weaker and weaker. As a result, natural death occurs in old age. The corresponding symptoms are also known to Western medicine: Older people often suffer from muscle weakness in the pelvic floor area, bladder weakness and edema in the legs. At the same time, they complain of rising heat and other “fire symptoms”.
The Taoist adept, who is dedicated to the practice of Kan and Li, does not only want to let the decay of the elements and the natural aging process run harmoniously or slow down, but he also wants to reverse them inwardly: the different forces should unite in the body to a new form of life: Kan is no longer balancing Li, but the water evaporates in the body over the fire. This is the essential element of the inner alchemy. In Taoist classics this process is called “counteracting the course of nature”.
If the oracle master or connoisseur of Yijing strives to live in harmony and harmony by recognizing the change and the states of tension of nature and life in general, the alchemist goes one step further: He has the desire for evolution and inner development and through his practice slowly transforms the matter, which is inferior to decay, into light. The body is his medium.
In practice, the marriage of Kan and Li looks like this: The light pearl of the lower Dantien becomes a kind of “inner melting pot” in the advanced adept: the fire is led through the inner energy paths of the body deep into the lower Dantien and forms the furnace. The forces of the water are bundled into a cool ball of light and slowly led up over the furnace. The art now is not to let the water fall into the fire, but to lower it gradually and stop it above the fire. What happens then, the Daoists call “inner sexual intercourse”. The marriage of both forces takes place. The sexual energy, which makes up a large part of the cooling water forces, is refined in its quality by the inner fire and transformed into cooling steam. This steam nourishes the whole organism from the inside. It is consciously guided by the adept step by step into the individual organs, the glands, the meridians, the brain and the lymphatic system.
The goal is that after years of practice, when the inner self-cleansing process is completed, a spiritual body emerges from the excess refined energy, which can travel – separately from the physical body – in the spiritual world. This “light body” is also called the “inner child” in the Taoist tradition. This reveals the deeper meaning of “inner intercourse”: the advanced Taoist directs his reproductive energy inward and “fertilizes” himself. Together with the energies of the natural elements, a new inner force is formed which leads to spiritual growth.
In the system of the Universal Tao, qualitatively very valuable practices of the old Taoist tradition are imparted, many of which in ancient China were only given back to initiates. Mastering these practices is a life task. For the modern western student who grew up with the extreme sensory stimuli of our fast-moving media and information society and who learns complex meditations on weekend courses, this holds certain dangers: If he begins too quickly with the spiritual practices without building on a solid self-developed foundation and long inner experience, the inner “light body” can quickly become the product of the imagination. In other words, it takes many years of serious practice. Then you can reap “unimaginable results”.
This article was published in the Tao magazine around 1994 and later also in the magazine Connection. Several later master’s theses have quoted important parts of the article article.
The article gives a basic and clear overview of the history, the concrete contents and the development of Taoism as well as its significance for our present time.
Taoism as one of the great wisdom traditions is neither a religion nor a purely philosophical doctrine. Rather, it is a very practice-oriented way of life that interweaves healing arts, meditation, knowledge of the forces of nature and philosophy. A path that sees beauty in life and unfolds it with these very means.
A Taoist believes that every person’s life is beautiful. To “nurture life” and to live in harmony with oneself, nature and the cosmos is the central concern of all Taoists. Based on this idea, a detailed system of breathing and body exercises as well as medical practices has developed over thousands of years. One of the main themes of the Tao teachings, which can also be found in all practices, is the constant transformation of all things. In nature this change manifests itself through the constant interaction of the two main forces of life, Yin and Yang, the female and the male principle. Taoism therefore emphasizes the balance of these two forces in all areas of life. In addition, it teaches that the soft and apparently weak that can be attributed to yin is often superior to the hard and strong. In nature, this is particularly evident in the power of water.
The essence of Taoism includes silent meditation, Taoist sexual teachings, inner alchemy and many practices of today’s Qigong. But also Taiji and other Chinese martial arts, traditional herbalism and acupuncture are mostly based on Taoist ideas. In addition, Taoism has produced many magical and religious forms in China over the last two and a half millennia and as a spiritual current has influenced almost all areas of Chinese life. These include painting, calligraphy, literature, warfare, astrology, philosophy, natural science, geomancy, governance, and everyday Chinese life.
THE ROOTS: LAOZI AND ZHUANGZI
The spiritual foundations of Taoism were laid in the 6th-3rd century BC. In this time the two most important philosophical works of Taoism were created: the “Daodejing” (old transcription: Tao Te Ching), the classic of Tao and his power, and the famous work “Zhuangzi” (old transcription: Chuang Tzu), named after his author of the same name. Without these two writings there would probably be no teaching today that could be called Taoism. To this day, almost all schools and representatives of Taoist movements refer to the content of these two fundamental works.
The “Daodejing” consists of 81 short and partly rhymed sayings and belongs to the most translated and commented works of mankind. According to traditional Chinese historiography it goes back to the sage Laozi (old transcription: Lao Tzu), who allegedly was a contemporary of Kongzi (Confucius) and is said to have lived around 500 BC. The historical data to his person are however contradictory and legendary.
At that time China was not yet an empire, but a national territory divided into various principalities. Wars, famines and political unrest dominated life for a long time. Like many other thinkers of that time, Laozi (Lao Tzu) therefore tried to find an answer to the question of how peace can be restored. The “Daodejing” is to be understood in many aspects therefore as a political book, which was written predominantly as a councellor for the princes.
THE POWER BEHIND THE THINGS
This also makes it understandable that in many chapters Laozi is provocatively directed against the ideas of other intellectual and political currents of his time: Thus the followers of Confucius called for the restoration of virtue and duty to create unity and harmony among people, while the legalists tried to put a stop to political and social confusion with strict draft laws.
In “Daodejing” Laozi, on the other hand, takes a different view: For him, peace among the states was only conceivable through the inner peace of each individual. He therefore calls on the people, and especially the princes, to abandon their desires and desires, which only lead to strife and misfortune, and to turn to their inner nature. In this way they come to Laozi in harmony with the “Tao”, the “way”.
Tao, as a philosophical concept actually untranslatable, means as much as highest principle of being, worldly origin or also spiritual law of the universe. The Tao manifests itself in the entire creation with all its physical appearances, but is neither recognizable nor describable itself, but stands like a higher force behind things. The first chapter of “Daodejing” states: “The Tao that can be communicated is not the eternal Tao.
By living in harmony with the Tao, a person becomes a sage: He knows his true nature, understands the subtle laws of the cosmos and the changes in things. So he lives in inner silence, simplicity and deep harmony.
This connection with being leads the sage to “accomplish everything without doing anything”. He does not intervene in the natural course of things, but orients himself by the principles of nature. So for him there is nothing to add where everything is present in harmonious abundance. About the connection with the Tao through the renunciation of the world of the senses, the wise and the non-action it says among other things in “Daodejing”:
There is a beginning of the cosmos,
The mother of all things.
To know the mother is to know the son.
To know the son, and yet in connection
to stay with the mother,
Means being without worry for the rest of your life.
Close the senses,
Close the gate,
And life is always full.
Open the senses,
Always be busy,
And life is beyond help.
The wise men step back, and yet they are ahead.
When the Self is given up, it is realized.
When the ego is crossed,
you gain fulfillment.
In the pursuit of scholarship
Something comes along every day.
In the pursuit of the Tao
is getting a little less every day.
Decrease and decrease further,
Until no more needs to be done.
If nothing is done, nothing remains un done.
The world is ruled by non-interference.
It cannot be governed by intervention.
The work “Zhuangzi”, published in the 3rd century BC in the form of short stories and dialogues, is regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature. Due to its variety of themes, it repeatedly provided spiritual inspiration to many generations of Taoists. Zhuangzi” takes up the fundamental idea of the “Daodejing”, the unity of man with Tao, and developsit in a literary and poetic form.
FREEDOM AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF THINGS
While “Daodejing” gives short and concise advice in the tone of a master, “Zhuangzi” asks questions. Moreover, “Zhuangzi” is the first work in which the individual takes centre stage: Not the harmony of society and the peace of the country, but the freedom of the individual.
People – and especially those who live in harmony with the Tao – is the most important topic in “Zhuangzi”.
Two important and well-known sections of the text are “the butterfly dream” and the short passage about “Liezi riding the wind”. While in the first the transformation of all things is the theme and at the same time it is questioned what a person is capable of knowing at all, the second hints at what “Zhuangzi” understands by true freedom:
Zhuangzi once dreamed that he was a butterfly, a fluttering butterfly who felt comfortable and happy and knew nothing about Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up: There he was again, really and truly Zhuangzi. Now I don’t know if Zhuangzi dreamed that he was a butterfly or if the butterfly dreamed that he was Zhuangzi, although there is certainly a difference between Zhuangzi and the butterfly. So it is with the transformation of things.
(There were…) Liezi, who could be driven by the wind with great superiority.
Only after fifteen days did he return. He was completely independent of the pursuit of happiness; but although he was not dependent on his legs, he was still dependent on things besides him. But he who knows how to make the innermost being of nature his own and to let himself be driven by the change of the primordial forces to wander where there are no limits, is no longer dependent on any external thing.
The “Daodejing” and the work “Zhuangzi” contain many passages in which meditative elements can be found. However, both works are primarily philosophical writings whose central theme is the possibility of human unity with the Tao. Therefore, they do not provide practical instructions for states of immersion.
Nor is the idea of cultivating life forces through physical exercises and thus prolonging life a theme of both philosophical works. “Zhuangzi” even smiles at this idea in one chapter, because it leads away from being in harmony with his true nature.
The shift to breathing and body practices and the associated pursuit of life extension or even “immortality” only began in the late development of Taoism. With this, the cultivation of the life force Qi, as it is taught today in many Qigong exercises, gradually gained its present significance
YIN-YANG AND THE FIVE ELEMENTS
In the time of the pre-Christian centuries there was a departure of thinking in China. On the one hand, due to the social and political crisis of the country, a multitude of philosophical schools arose, of which the Confucians, the legalists and the followers of the Tao were the most important. On the other hand there were first pro-scientific approaches – attempts to explain the events of nature and also the changes of society in a rational way with the help of simple models and to predict possible future tendencies. This is how the “Teaching of the Five Elements” and the “Yin and Yang Teaching” developed. Both have evolved over the centuries and are still among the most important diagnostic methods in Chinese medicine. The origins of the “Yin and Yang teachings” go back to the “Yijing” (old transcription): I Ching, the “Book of Changes”. This oracle work, which already existed in rudimentary form in the 2nd millennium B.C., carries the roots of Chinese thought in itself and formed an important basis for the philosophical explanations of Laozi and Zhuangzi. In addition, there were the first beginnings of acupuncture procedures in ancient China. There were drug experts who were familiar with medicinal plants and an old shamanism in which various trance practices were widespread.
Simple gymnastic exercises were also well known.
The roots of many of these ancient traditions probably date back to the 2nd millennium BC, but can no longer be traced back. It is important that they are not necessarily Taoist, but rather belong to the general Chinese cultural heritage. But with philosophical Taoism, just like the newly developed pro-scientific approaches, they have an important common theme: man’s harmonious relationship with the cosmos and man’s relationship with one another. Soon a synthesis of the most diverse currents could come about, which led to a further development of Taoism.
In the time of the pre-Christian centuries there was a departure of thinking in China. On the one hand, due to the social and political crisis of the country, a multitude of philosophical schools arose, of which the Confucians, the legalists and the followers of the Tao were the most important. On the other hand there were first pro-scientific approaches – attempts to explain the events of nature and also the changes of society in a rational way with the help of simple models and to predict possible future tendencies. This is how the “Teaching of the Five Elements” and the “Yin and Yang Teaching” developed. Both have evolved over the centuries, and
THE ADVANCED TAOISM
Especially through the influence of the “Yin-Yang” and the “Five-Element-Teaching”, the old shamanistic practices and the medical knowledge, a new form of Taoism gradually crystallized in the first centuries after Christ, whose emphasis consisted in the “care of life”. Taoism now became a comprehensive and practice-oriented teaching encompassing a variety of disciplines, forms of practice and fields of knowledge. Among the most important are:
– Philosophy and
– physical exercises
– breathing exercises
– silent meditation
– nutrition science
– sexual practices
– shaping of fate
Various schools and currents developed, some of which were also influenced by Buddhism, which had gained a foothold in China since the 2nd century AD. Furthermore, as in pre-Christian China, there were still hermits who followed their individual Taoist path. In addition to silent meditation and the cultivation of the mind, ritual and magical practices, life-prolonging techniques, and secret sexual practices were widespread. The latter served the purpose of Yin- and Yang forces between man and woman to harmonize and the raw to internally refine sexual power and thus make it available for spiritual purposes. But the most important change and innovation of the further developed Taoism was the “search for immortality”. Thus a long lasting epoch of “alchemy” was introduced.
THE SEARCH FOR IMMORTALITY
Alchemy is generally defined as “the scientific study of chemical substances”, “the focus of which is the transformation and refinement of substances”. In Taoism one separates between the schools of outer and inner alchemy.
The followers of external alchemy were inspired by the desire to prolong life to eternity and tried to stop the decay processes of the body by adding nourishing or chemical substances from outside. However, their practices, which were similarly widespread here in the West and have many parallels with modern science, showed no lasting success. Thus this direction gradually lost its influence and significance.
The term “inner alchemy”, on the other hand, conceals a complex meditation system that has matured over centuries and is comparable in many areas to the tantric schools of Mahayana Buddhism: In both systems, the emphasis is on visualization practices and the transformation of sexual energy into mental power. While Buddhism primarily teaches the training of the mind, the path of alchemy leads through the cultivation of the body to the mind. The connecting link between the two is the life force Qi.
If one compares human life with a burning candle, the followers of external alchemy had the goal that the candle would burn forever. The inner alchemists, on the other hand, wanted the light to still shine after the candle had gone out. They used a combination of strengthening physical exercises, energetic practices and silent meditation. In addition, they often followed special diets and ate various medicinal herbs for some time to purify themselves internally and stabilize the body’s energies.
HARMONIZATION AND REFINEMENT OF THE VITAL FORCE
The focus of inner alchemy was the preservation, refinement and refinement of the life energy Qi. The approach of the inner alchemists consisted above all in balancing the Yin and Yang energies and the balance of power of the five elements within the body. Since in Chinese medicine the five elements are equated with the five main organs of the body – the lungs, the kidneys, the liver, the heart and the spleen, the purification and harmonization of the organ energies formed an important part of alchemical practice. This process was supported by inhaling and absorbing fresh qi from the various sources of nature, which also contained the qualities of all elements – metal, water, wood, fire and earth.
Few are able to harness their life energy.
center and store in the abdominal cavity
Thus the alchemists could not only enter into a harmonious connection with nature and the cosmos, but also return to the unity with the Tao already proclaimed by Laozi via detours. According to the inner alchemists, this consisted in a state of complete freedom beyond the physical being, for the collected and combined Qi forces of the physical body were transformed into “Shen”, “spirit”, by the refinement that took place during deep meditation, so that within the physical body an “immortal spiritual body of light” could gradually develop.
Sexual power was considered to be one of the main sources of life energy. For the inner alchemists, this energy, which can create new life, was not only the essence of their being, but also the basis for creativity, artistic creation, vitality and spirituality. One of the most important concerns for the success of the preservation and refinement of life forces for the inner alchemists was therefore the harmonization, multiplication and transformation of sexual power into spiritual energy. Man and woman learned to preserve sexual energy and consciously increase the energy of the testicles and ovaries and lead it via the spine up into the brain, glands and internal organs. In this way, an inner process of self-healing and rejuvenation was initiated, which in advanced stages led to deep meditative states of immersion. These sexual practices, which could be carried out during but also outside sexual intercourse – as a form of meditation – and which presupposed that the man did not shed his seeds during sexual intercourse, also formed the basis for the formation of the “Golden Elixir” – the actual goal of the inner alchemists.
THE LIGHT BODY IS CREATED
The “Golden Elixir” emerged from a form of “inner sexual intercourse” after many years of meditation. The formation of the “Golden Elixir” explains which practices the inner alchemists used to strive for the creation of an “immortal light body”. Instead of seeking fulfillment in the world of the senses and increasingly exhausting the life forces over the years, the inner alchemists directed their sexual energy and the desires of their hearts inwards and “fertilized” themselves.
INNER ALCHEMY IN THE 20TH CENTURY
Together with the fresh forces of the natural elements, which they absorbed through special Qigong exercises and stored in the body, and the purified energies of the inner organs, a marriage of opposing forces could arise in the lower abdomen, the “melting pot” of the body – a condensed and refined inner energy, called “Golden Elixir” in alchemistic language. This “golden elixir” formed, so to speak, the seed for a “spiritual embryo”. From the condensed and refined life energy, the subtle “light body” could gradually develop, which according to the acceptance of the inner alchemists, was also called the “spiritual embryo”.
the death of the physical body could travel independently in the spiritual world.
Especially through its combination with meditative procedures – such as the harmonization of the five elements and the balancing of the Yin and Yang forces – the inner alchemy became the most important meditative current of post-Christian Taoism, which has been active in many forms up to our century. Not a few of today’s Qigong or Tao masters are direct or indirect successors of the ancient Chinese alchemists, because they usually do not teach “silent sitting” and direct union with the Tao, but “care of life” and the collection of Qi forces in the lower abdomen. Two of the well-known Chinese masters who now teach in the West and say of themselves that they come from the tradition of inner alchemy are Mantak Chia and Zhi-Chang Li.
If one understands the creation of the subtle body more as an ideal or as a “hypothetical possibility”, then the practices of inner alchemy become far more related to everyday life in today’s West than might be assumed at first glance. For the alchemists did not only teach the conscious use of sexual power, which can be of help to many people, especially in this day and age, but also a modern form of “energy management”: they knew how to avoid overwork, learned to center their vital energy, were able to prevent diseases by cleansing and strengthening their organs and were masters in building up and preserving their substance through physical exercises and herbs. Besides all this, they showed a detailed way to reach deep spiritual states of immersion through the “care of the body” and the refinement of the inner energies.
Many detailed knowledge of this path can also be of use to us today, because especially in the last twenty years body work, therapy and meditation are more popular than ever before, but only a few people are able – even after years of intensive practice – to center and store their vital energy in the abdominal cavity. And this is not only a concern of the Taoists, but a very important prerequisite of almost all higher forms of meditation of the most diverse traditions.
Not born, not died
I wanted to penetrate into the deep levels of meditation, into the “Dhyanas” as the Buddhists say, into meditative states in which ecstasy, happiness and deep peace soak (one’s own) being. On this path I wanted to learn to go lovingly and openly through the world and to support others on their way. With this goal in mind, I had already left for Asia so many times before. But this time there was a difference: unlike the previous journeys, I did not meditate in a monastery, but in a darkroom: for three weeks I wanted to live in the pitch dark without even a minute of light, without seeing my hands in front of my eyes, without seeing what I ate and without any outside stimuli that could distract my senses.
Fear, loneliness and emotional crises grab me already in the first days. I don’t know where I am, I am bumping into people everywhere, feeling totally lost and becoming the victim of countless bizarre dream images that seize my mind. At the same time in many meditations I experience unexpected inner orgasmic states; I feel every cell of my body dancing and uniting with the life force of the universe. These first days are an alternating bath of emotions.
The more I accept the darkness, let go and relax, the more intense the feeling of infinite love becomes in my heart. In the second week, peace without space becomes my constant companion. The images that now ascend in me during my waking dreams come from ever older layers of my existence. And I feel exactly what is always lost in the dualism of everyday life: the original security of a fetus in the womb.
After about 14 days, I have completed my inner retreat into the darkness. It becomes incredibly boring. The time seems stretched. I am ready to leave the darkroom. I have learned my lesson – at least I think so. Nevertheless, I continue to meditate and enjoy the feeling of love and silence in my heart. But inwardly I am waiting for the “door to life” to open. I want to be reborn and step out into the light.
But suddenly something unexpected happens. I am seized by the fear of death. Death permeates my being with a violence I could never have imagined: I dream, see and feel my death, the death of my wife, my parents and my friends. For days! Life has lost its magic: dancing, swimming in the sea, eating delicious food, kissing and loving each other, all these pleasures seem like an escape from the truth! And even the belief in rebirth in the face of death seems like a powerless hypocrite, trying to show me that I am immortal. Nothing makes more sense, not even to get out of this darkness. For that is now certain: before death there is no escape. He waits and fetches me at the right time.
It doesn’t go on here. On the search for peace and happiness I found granite! It is pointless – even impossible – to find permanent inner peace when this life ends in decay. This, my person cannot be freed from suffering. Its existence already contains the basis of suffering! Inside I give up! And so death begins to embrace me even deeper.
Although each of my cells is permeated by fear and powerlessness, something else is there since that moment, like a hunch, like a feeling, and yet I have not perceived anything. It is not like the light at the end of a tunnel. There is neither light nor tunnel. It is what has always been there. Never born and never died. I want to grasp it, but it is not tangible. It has nothing to do with any meditation or practice. It is neither being nor non-being. It feels more like a fog that surrounds everything. In it lies the source of love. And in it lies the gate to freedom. To pass through the gate is to die like burning in a flame. And that which may then be born is something else, no longer “I” myself.
When I leave the darkroom after three weeks, something deep inside me has changed: For a very small moment I felt a deep trust in the “essence of life”, in the “power of the Tao”, as the Chinese say. And I suspect that it is important to develop this seed of trust more deeply in order to get fully involved in life, to give up the deep fears in me that do nothing but permanently knit the illusion of an I that must constantly fight, work and prove itself in order to be loved or simply to be. What a sham!
What do we need? And what does the earth need?
Qigong and cooking
Published in Frankfurter ring Magazin as an introduction to Tao and Qigong training
What do Qigong and cooking have to do with each other? Carsten Dohnke, Qigong expert from Hamburg, surprised us with this comparison.
Qigong means “the art of nourishing one’s own life force”.
Practicing Qigong is similar to cooking. For a good dish I need different ingredients, which are processed together and should be well coordinated. Then it not only tastes delicious, but can also be varied according to requirements.
In qigong we distinguish between three important “ingredients”: physical exercises, working with the imagination, and silent meditation. Through their combination, inner strength develops, the flow of life energy is activated, cells, organs and the immune system are positively influenced and old emotions such as anger or fear can be processed. Qigong also creates a state of inner peace. When I understand how these ingredients work together, I can easily see what I or others are missing. This helps me as a teacher to build up a seminar or to coach someone.
Qigong is based on four principles that explain how best to “cook”:
1. let go and relax
2. find one’s own center
3. being natural – which also means omitting superfluous things and cooperating with the power of nature and
4. merge with life – the last principle is most important. It leads to deep power and inner peace.
Qigong is a part of traditional Chinese medicine. If one understands the principles of TCM – which is an important aspect of my training – it immediately becomes clear what the different forms and styles are doing. In addition, the result of the practices can be wonderfully complemented by Chinese herbs or special nutrition.
Not the method, but the human being is in the foreground. People who want to learn Qigong have very different goals. Specifically: they order different dishes. If I know the effect of the ingredients and can cook well at the same time, I am less attached to a certain recipe. In China, a good cook doesn’t just serve what has been ordered. He also looks at what his guest really needs and conjures up another dish on the table as an offer. This is where the true art of Qigong begins!
Stay in the monastery
Carsten Dohnke has participated over many years in about 13 retreats in the monastery Suan Mohkk in Thailand. Here is a short report with a lot of information about the retreat, that a local newspaper published years ago.
Sleep on hard plank beds. Instead of a warm shower there is rainwater from bowls and in the morning at 4.30 am it is time to wake up. And you can’t even complain about that, because there’s no talking – not even in sign language.
Nevertheless, Carsten Dohnke and Hans-Joachim (Achim) Drew radiate enthusiasm when they talk about their two-week stay in the Thai monastery Suan Mokkh. The similar daily routines, the low-fat food and the time free of stimulants (cigarettes and alcohol are strictly forbidden) make the head clear and facilitate the entrance into meditation (“We never had the feeling of lack, but on the contrary of abundance – it literally swells in one”). For the two friends, meditation and spirituality are not new territory: Achim had already dealt with “that which cannot be seen” at the age of 12, did not lose interest for the rest of his life, went on a search.
The experiences of the learned typesetter range from Zen Buddhism
The experiences of the learned typesetter range from Zen Buddhism (“melting through hardness”) to psychoanalysis. Achim married at the age of 26, had two sons and founded Wolkentor-Verlag in 1980. There he published poetry volumes, fairy tale books and books about conscious dreams for a few years: “A good time. I learned a lot about esotericism”. But he only found satisfying “answers” when Carsten Dohnke crosses his path in his hometown of Geesthacht: “I’ve been looking for a teacher for years and find him right next door,” the 52-year-old is still amused today.
Carsten also grew up in Geesthacht and is a teacher of Qigong, Taiji and meditation. His path began when he realized at the age of 14: “I am missing something. Life dynamics and life force”. Then he learned Kung Fu. At the age of 19 he came from the body to the mind, from fighting to meditation. (“In youth we are fighters – in old age we become healers”). Since then Carsten Dohnke has developed into a martial arts expert, learned healing and meditation techniques and studied Sinology in Hamburg. For four years the Geesthachter studied directly in Asia and is also a long-time assistant and translator of the well-known Tao master Mantak Chia. ”
Achim and Carsten absolutely want to repeat their experience in the monastery: “It is an event to eat quietly together with 140 people. And this sunrise and sunset, this subtropical landscape is indescribable.” Near the monastery, visitors can even bathe in hot springs – pure relaxation. “After three days one loses all Western feeling of time, adapts automatically to the daily rhythm of the monastery and learns to come into the silence”, Achim describes his feeling. And if you have a lot of meditation experience, you can “leave” the physical body during meditation and merge with the space: “A feeling of happiness and peace,” says Carsten. Buddhists say, “As long as there is an I, there is suffering in the world.
Information about the Suan Mokkh Monastery can be found here:
Interview with Master Mantak Chia
This interview with Master Mantak Chia was published by Frankfurter Ring Magazin
Spiritual immortality is the highest goal. Mantak Chia developed the system of the “Healing Tao” after years of research. These are techniques that contribute to the mobilization and expansion of the body’s energy capacity while at the same time relaxing. Carsten Dohnke spoke with the Qigong master about spiritual growth, the “inner smile” and the power of love.
Carsten Dohnke: You are the founder of the “Healing Tao” system. What is it all about?
Mantak Chia: The first goal is that people learn to heal themselves and to be spiritually independent. The longer term goal is spiritual growth and the highest goal is achieving spiritual immortality.
CD: How important is the power of love for your work?
MC: In Taoism love always goes hand in hand with sexuality. Love and sexuality are the most important human energies and also the most elementary forces in the cells of our organism. They help the cells to divide better and to age less quickly. By directing the sexual forces and the love energy into our organs during practice, we can let go of old ballast “lying on the organs” and feel renewed both physically and mentally. This energy is also carried on in cell division.
CD: And how important is the power of love in your private life?
MC: Love and sex are important for everyone! (laughs) Without love my life would not be worth much. I would feel energyless.
CD: Please explain to us the techniques of the “inner smile” and the “six healing sounds”.
MC: The “Inner Smile” is the most important basic practice in the Healing Tao. Through it you come into deep contact with your organs, with your cells and also with your own genetic structure. When you learn to smile inside, you bring energy into your system and organs. This leads to unity between body and mind. With the “Six Healing Sounds” the same principle works: You use sounds and certain hand postures to heal the individual organs. This transforms negative energy into positive vital energy and at the same time balances the organs among each other. This corresponds to the ancient Chinese teaching of the five elements. This leads to inner and outer harmony.
CD: How can we increase our life energy?
MC: Many people have not yet learned how to recharge their bodies with energy. That’s a pity, because it’s actually quite easy. First we have to feel the energy in Dan Tien. This important energy center is located in the middle of the lower abdomen between the navel and the kidneys. When we activate the Dan Tien, we feel a kind of inner spiralizing force in this center. When we then feel the infinity and the spiral power of the universe with the mind and absorb it through deep breathing, the Dan Tien is automatically charged with universal energy. If this energy goes even deeper, it also fills the individual organs and at the highest stage it even penetrates the bones and marrow.
CD: What is the point of bringing energy into the bones?
MC: According to Taoist teachings it is important to soak the whole body with energy. This slows down the aging process and many internal diseases can be cured. In addition, we can use the stored energy for coping with everyday life and for our spiritual growth.
CD: What do you teach in the Tao Yoga basic course in Hamburg?
MC: On Friday evening I show the exercises of “Healing Love” and the activation of the Multi-Orgasmic Energy. On the weekend I teach the “Healing Sounds”, the “Inner Smile” and finally the “Small and Big Energy Cycle”. All these exercises harmonize the Yin and Yang energies in the body and help us to go through life healthier, happier and with more ease.
CD: With which masters did you learn?
MC: My main teacher is called White Cloud. He is a Chinese Taoist master who practiced in the mountains for many years.
CD: You have developed your teaching method further in recent years. What has changed?
MC: The practices are still the same. However, I have changed the way I teach them. Many findings of Taoism have been proven by Western scientists in recent years. I integrate these findings into my teaching. For example, I will use images of crystallized water
The Tao Summer Retreat “Essence of the Tao” with Carsten Dohnke
In the one-week seminar “The essence of Tao” exercises from different schools of Qigong were taught. Basically, the seminar leader Carsten Dohnke emphasized the importance of separating the practices of the different traditions of Qigong, as each system is built in itself and the mixing can be counterproductive. Therefore the exercises of different traditions were divided into different days and were taught separately. I myself was present for three days, two of which were dedicated to the Small Energy Cycle according to the methods of Mantak Chia.
The common practice time included two blocks of three hours a day, with breaks for tea and snacks. As a rule, repetitions of the exercises or silent meditation were offered in the evenings. It always began with a fifteen-minute silent meditation, which was introduced by Dohnke with Buddhist mantras. I found this very helpful to arrive at myself.
On the first day Dohnke introduced the energy cycle theoretically, explained it with coloured schematic representations and integrated it into the socio-cultural and historical context of China. I found these teachings very interesting and never too dry. Dohnke repeatedly strewed in anecdotes from his rich wealth of experience, so that a relaxed and humorous atmosphere prevailed. Nevertheless, the subject of the body and its energy system was treated very seriously. Again and again Dohnke asked for feedback from the participants and answered their questions as far as they were helpful for all participants. He offered more intensive discussions on individual problems for the breaks.
With great radiance and devotion Dohnke led through numerous preparatory warm-up and Qigong exercises during the two days. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of the kidney center and the navel as the basis for the energy circulation of the whole body. He regards practices that promote the “power of the center” as the most important exercises of Qigong. Altogether standing and sitting, moving and meditative exercises alternated. In addition, he sprinkled exercises of acupressure and self-massage. I found this varied design very pleasant. So he carefully guided the participants to the exercise of the energy cycle, which then became a complete success even for a rather inexperienced student like me.
This intensive, annual summer retreat is rather an event for advanced students or at least for people who already have some previous knowledge in the areas of Qigong and meditation. Altogether a recommendable seminar for everyone who wants to deepen his knowledge in the area of Chinese body exercises.
Ellen Jacobs, born in 1976, M.A. in Religious Studies and Ethnology, lives in Heidelberg and works intensively with traditional healing methods and Far Eastern forms of movement.
At a glance
Trainer: Carsten Dohnke
Duration: 8 days
Prerequisites: Qigong experience advantageous
Seminar location: 3 of 5 stars (we changed already to a much better place!)
Organization: 5 of 5 stars
Worth the money: 5 of 5 stars
Seminar objective: 5 of 5 stars
Seminar leader: 5 of 5 stars
Didactics: 5 of 5 stars