Here's How to Quickly Open Your Sushumna Central Chi Channel

If we analyze the various esoteric exercises and teachings of Esoteric Buddhism, Vajrayana, and Tibetan Buddhism with its Generation and Completion Stage yogas, all these various practices can essentially be classified into two stages.

First, there are the yogic exercises for getting the chi to enter into the central channel, which is also known as the sushumna or middle mai. Next, there is a second stage consisting of cultivation exercises, or yogas, that are performed once the energies have been withdrawn from other areas and concentrated in this channel.

Thus, the first requirement of the Tantras is to get the chi to enter into the central channel, but to do so, you must first prepositionally cultivate the chi and mai otherwise it will not be possible. That is why you have the preliminary generation stage practices on the tantric paths. If the mai are not already cleansed of obstructions to some degree, this latter step is an impossibility, just as it is impossible to cultivate chi if you let your jing leak away.

Through the eyes of other cultivation schools, we might say that the tantric purification process is one of purifying the wind and water elements of the body, for this is akin to cultivating the chi and mai. To do this, you have to cultivate merit, virtue, discipline (not losing the jing semenal essence) and engage in devoted meditation of some sort. You can ingest special medicines to help speed this process a little, as is done in the wai-dan practices of Taoism, but science will never discover or invent a substance that will refine the chi or open the mai. The process of cultivation will always require the discipline of emptiness meditation.

Of course, after the chi and mai have been cultivated to a sufficient extent, one’s kundalini will be activated, meaning that the state of hsi will appear if one is sufficiently successful. Kundalini activation, we already know, is akin to cultivating the fire element of the body, or having the shakti become activated so as to initiate one on the path.

In fact, this is the real fire empowerment spoken of in esoteric circles.

However, this still only constitutes a minor step in cultivation since it still only encompasses the first prayoga stage of heat, or warming. Nevertheless, if at this point--where your real chi circulation becomes initiated through embryo breathing--you can forget your body and mind, then you can begin to attain the various ranks of samadhi. By gaining proficiency in the samadhi, you can then scale the ranks of cultivation attainment, break through the confining nature of the skandhas, and ultimately attain enlightenment.

There is no great mystery to the process of cultivation, for it is as simple as this. All along the way you will encounter various mental experiences and physical changes called kung-fu, such as the progressive purification of your body, the generation of a nonobstructive thought-born body (called the illusory in the Tibet school), an experiencing of the emptiness nature of awareness, and so on. All these things, however, are just the extraneous scenery along the way to the goal rather than the destination itself. In fact, experiencing the clear light through prajna wisdom is only the stage of “seeing the path,” and after that there is still a long way of cultivation to go.

Once you realize the clear light of awareness—or empty clarity of awareness--because you have trained at purifying the mind through mastering various samadhi and cultivating your prajna wisdom, then you can finally understand what all the masters and spiritual schools have been talking about all along. Then and only then can you really understand how to cultivate practice correctly after you reach this stage of seeing the Tao and recognizing the mind’s true essence, so this is the point after which you can really start cultivating realization.

If you are successful on that road of True Cultivation Practice, then you will end up with the true attainment of Buddhahood. But the entire process requires merit, discipline, and the hard diligent work of ceaselessly cultivating practice, which means purifying the body and mind while forgetting the body and mind. Hence, spiritual cultivation follows the principle of detachment from form the entire way, and we can also call this the cultivation of emptiness.

The Esoteric school, on the other hand, takes one tiny footnote out of this larger process--the fact that you can attain samadhi when the chi starts to enter the central channel--and constructs a big edifice out of it. Then it starts to add all sorts of special stages that typically confuse practitioners and serve as objects of attachment. It is not necessary to know any of this information as to the overall process of attainment, but that is how this particular school is structured.

The Esoteric school is constantly focusing on this micro level of analysis and asking, “What exercises do you perform to achieve this particular level of attainment? What happens next?” Without relying solely on prajna wisdom, it tries to specify everything down to the tiniest detail so that you have an encyclopedic catalog of what to do in such-and-such a situation. And, it tries to bring results into the causes of the path, rather than have the causes naturally produce results in the forward direction, as they should. In a way, its practices are like a set of parents that put too much pressure on their child by hurrying him along too much.

What is the problem in all of this?

You cannot say that this esoteric material is wrong, but that esoteric practitioners become too attached to form. And once you become attached to form, your cultivation method is all wrong.

Why does the Esoteric school focus on the existence aspect of Tao? The answer is because it is based on the Consciousness-Only school. The Consciousness-Only or Mind-Only school always talks of consciousness, which the Esoteric school takes as “existence.” However, in actuality the Consciousness-Only school is actually only talking of emptiness.

The Hinayana school says all existence is impermanent, so conventional existence is only a “false existence.” The Mahayana, however, calls it “miraculous existence,” even though it is empty, because it stresses compassionate activity in this realm to help all sentient beings. So the Esoteric school just turns cultivation matters around and focuses on attainment from the aspect of miraculous existence.

If we turn to the Flower Ornament Sutra, we would find that this, too, introduces some of the existence teachings found within Esoteric Buddhism. Of course these teachings are not the esotericism that the Japanese and Tibetans talk about, for Buddha taught the Flower Ornament teachings when he was in the heavens of the Realm of Form, and his audience was all the high level Bodhisattvas. Yet in that sutra, Buddha makes the point that everything--all phenomena--are generated from the capacity of the original nature: all form comes from emptiness, so it is no different than emptiness.

In Mahayana Buddhism you try to see emptiness, and from there you can accept the realm of false existence with its compassionate call for activity to relieve the suffering of sentient beings. But this existence realm is empty, as we know, and from that aspect there is no such thing as a sentient being. Yet from the aspect of conventional existence, there is still need to act, and so the activity should be as virtuous, compassionate and helpful as possible. This is what requires skillful means.

The Lotus Sutra has a phrase: “All Three Realms are due to mind, all the infinite methods are consciousness.” Hence, this is how we have the name of the Consciousness-Only school, which is the basis of the Tibetan school of Esoteric Buddhism. We have the self-nature, or fundamental nature, and we have form and appearance both born of this fundamental, empty self-nature.

Hence, in the esoteric schools, or even in Orthodox Buddhism, we can say that there are thousands of special consciousness meditations available for cultivation, such as the Six Yogas of Naropa. Most cultivation methods concentrate on emptiness, but a large number of the Esoteric methods use form as an entry vehicle for realizing emptiness. Unfortunately, this emphasis on realizing emptiness is what the form-school practitioners most often forget after they enter into the Esoteric school.

On the one hand you can be broad in scope and say that the purpose of all these techniques is to help you attain samadhi, and ultimately the Tao. On the other hand, you can be more specific and say their primary purpose is aimed at getting the chi to enter, abide and “dissolve” within the central channel. Why should the chi enter into the central channel if spirituality is essentially just a mind-only path? Because if it enters the central channel, then you can quickly transform your physical body of form, clarify consciousness, and more readily attain the Tao.

Regardless as to how you describe matters, you cannot attain this achievement unless you have already cultivated the chi and mai. If you have already accomplished this preliminary stage of attainment—meaning the yoga of marks, the generation stage yogas or the Mahayana stage of preparatory practices--the esoteric schools tell you to use special visualization, mantra, mudra and breathing practices for forcing the chi into the central channels, once they have been sufficiently prepared.

The cultivation methods employed in the world may vary considerably from school to school, but we must always remember that the ultimate target of all these methods is the same. As a single example, the various esoteric schools like to practice vajra chanting (where you do not move your lips or teeth) to get rid of all the miscellaneous thoughts of the sixth consciousness.

If you practice Hindu japa mantra recitation for a long time, then the chi and the sound will become one, and there will be no more random thoughts either. This is done in Hinduism as well as Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In Christianity, if you lose yourself in reciting the rosary, this accomplishes the same task and achieves the same result.

As a practitioner calms the mind through this sort of practice, the chi will enter into the central channel. Hence, vajra chanting can lead the wind to enter the central channel, just as the Zen school says will happen naturally when you match your thoughts with your breath. The Zen school simply tells people to match their thoughts with their breath, because in doing so, the central channel will open naturally. By calming your breath and matching this calm with emptied thoughts, the central sushumna channel (zhong mai in Chinese or avadhuti in Tibetan) will open naturally and your body will be transformed without having to resort to all the artificially contrived practices of the esoteric schools. But the process is so simple that people do not believe it, which is why the Tibet school, Indian yoga and Taoism have invented all their strange techniques and methods.

If you do not learn how to integrate your mind with your chi, you can practice the esoteric school technique of vajra chanting or japa mantra practice and chant/mantra for a thousand years and it will be useless; you will get no spiritual results at all, but just collect a bit of merit for not having occupied the mind with nonvirtuous thoughts. In other words, if you just continue chanting while letting your mind roam everywhere, you will never make any headway in this sort of spiritual practice. To make chanting or recitation practice effective, you have to be practicing concentration at the same time which is why a number of schools tell you to simultaneously focus on visualizing some objective.

Still other spiritual schools simply say “watch your breath” as a form of spiritual or religious practice, without providing too many other instructions, and the wisest practitioners soon realize this means that the inner chi of the body--which they can start to perceive as they climb the various stages of meditation—should be combined with their thought.

This instruction does not actually mean the breath of the nose and lungs, but the chi within the body that you will perceive once you start making progress in advanced meditation. When Shakyamuni Buddha spoke about knowing whether your breath was warm or cold, coarse or fine, he was talking about the chi within your body that you will eventually begin to feel as you progressively purify your chi mai.

When a practitioner’s chi enters the central channel, he will naturally give birth to an illusory body and experience the stages of emptiness and bliss mentioned by the various spiritual schools. So the vajra chanting practice particular to Tibetan Buddhism is nothing mysterious or holy or peculiar once you know the principles. Rather, it is simply another practice for calming the mind in order to get the wind element to enter into the sushumna central channel. We have the same practice in the Christian recitation of the rosary, or in Hindu chanting, and in other religious traditions. Sufism and even Judaism have similar practices as well.

When analyzing cultivation matters, you absolutely must search for this commonality across the world’s spiritual traditions since all spiritual cultivation is based upon the same set of basic of cultivation principles. In this particular instance, the fundamental nature of wind and mantra are the same since the sound of wind in the mai is like a mantra; all you have to do is put a sea shell next to your ear and hear a hum naturally come out to prove this. Hence, when you do mantra practice correctly, it allows you to concentrate all the wind into the central channel, rather than in the left or right mai, and that is why mantra practice is found in a variety of religions.

The Esoteric school says that it gets your chi to enter your central channel, other schools says it helps you develop concentration, and other schools tell you it leads to the love of God. These are different aspects being described, but the same results happen nonetheless.

The Esoteric school calls this stage “verbal isolation,” but it is basically the state of hsi described by Taoism. It is simply a particular point in spiritual cultivation when less random thoughts appear in the mind because one’s chi and mental state have become pacified. Tibetans refer to it as a point when you start to detach from language and stop superfluous talking, but what they actually mean is that you quiet the incessant internal dialogue of the sixth consciousness.

So now we have described this practice in terms of yet another measuring system you can see--the workings of the sixth consciousness! Needless to say, this goal of having the chi enter into the central channel through mental quietness, or mantra practice, is one reason monks in most traditions are told to refrain from useless chatter. The rules of discipline in many religious schools try to make use of the inherent principles necessary for success in spiritual cultivation.

In summary, you have a variety of cultivation methods to choose from in the esoteric schools, but basically, you want to use a method that will bring your chi into your central chi channel. Young people are particularly full of chi, so they easily ignite the desire for sexual relations when the chi is stimulated through spiritual cultivation. The hormones and sexual essences are all a sort of life force, and because ordinary people cannot get the chi to enter the central channel, they typically end up wasting any progress they make on the path when sexual desire arises.

Couples engaging in sexual intercourse make a different sort of mistake, for they do not realize that at the moment of joy and bliss during sexual congress, they have the potential to let go of their thoughts and realize the nature of emptiness. Without this simple instruction, they always lose the chance to change their bodies as well.

Sexual desires are easier to get rid of when you become older, since with age the impulsive stimulation caused by hormones becomes less, but love becomes a much more difficult problem to deal with since in aging, people’s habits of clinging tend to become stronger. In addition, older people do not have as much jing as they once did, so it is more difficult for them to experience the joys and blisses of the dhyana. In fact, many elderly people cannot even smile, so the joys and blisses of the dhyana are entirely out of the question until they can first rejuvenate their bodies to some extent.

Youthful practitioners lose their vital essences through sexual activities, and their problem is made worse by the fact that they do not know how to preserve their jing during sexual intercourse. Elderly practitioners have few stores of jing and chi left at all, so their problem is one of accumulation. If your jing is not full you cannot generate the physical bliss of the cultivation path, if your chi is not full you cannot initiate the stage of internal light within your body, and if your shen is not full you cannot attain emptiness and no-thought. All these things we have been speaking of are linked together.

Okay, so let's talk about yet another aspect of Esoteric Buddhism, which are the states you should experience when you open your central channel.

What are the actual tantric physical “blisses,” or mental “joys,” that are generated as the chi is brought into the central channel and the bodhicitta drops are melted and flow through the sushumna? There are:

· The first bliss, known as “bliss” or ananda, which occurs when the substances in the channels melt, and together with the chi are brought to the crown chakra. In the Tao school, we say that the three flowers assemble at the top, meaning the jing transforms into chi and then shen at the top of the head to produce bliss. In the tantric tradition, attaining the first bliss is related to attaining an emanation body, or nirmanakaya, but we should think of this as being related to attaining the first dhyana.

· The second bliss, known as the “supreme bliss” or parama-ananda, occurs when the chi and channel substances collect at the throat chakra. According to Esoteric school doctrine, cultivating the stage of supreme joy is related to cultivation of the sambhogakaya Reward body.

· The third bliss, known as the “special bliss,” “extraordinary joy” or virama-ananda, occurs when the chi and substances flow to collect at the level of the heart chakra. If you can open up the heart chakra, then you can see the Tao or realize the dharmakaya. Many schools concentrate on other chakras, but if you want to understand enlightenment dharma, the heart chakra is key.

· The fourth bliss, also known as the “innate bliss,” “spontaneous joy,” or sahaja-ananda, arises when the energies collect at the navel chakra. This is the greatest bliss of the four, and is generated when the bindus and chi collect at the great chakra of transformation, which is the base of the heat yoga tumo fire.

These special states of joy and bliss are so powerful that because of them, you can break away from your habits of anger, stupidity and ignorance. As the literature of every cultivation school states, the blisses experienced through cultivation fill every cell of the body completely, and are a hundred times more intense than ordinary sexual pleasure.

Why? Because during sexual orgasm the tumo fire is ignited only momentarily, your chi does not flow within the central channel, and the subtle drops (jing) merely pass by the central channel without going through it. The esoteric schools also tell us that the blisses generated when the drops ascend through the central channel are more powerful and intense than the blisses and joys which occur when the drops descend, and so the most intense blisses are known as “innate blisses.”

These special states of joy and bliss are infinitely more profound than the state of “flow,” “the groove,” “being centered,” “the zone,” “the white space,” “peak experience,” “perfect mental serenity,” “ecstasy,” or “white moment” reported in professional sports literature. This is only a type of lower mundane samadhi, a psychological space in which an athlete’s performance seems supernormal because they experience perfect mental serenity and calm, their conscious thought seems suspended in abeyance, their concentration is heightened to an extreme, time appears as if standing still, and the athlete feels as if fully alive, connected with all things, and living completely in the present.

This is a wonderful state, but it is actually far below even the lowest ranks of true samadhi although it gives an indication of the potential of the state. In fact, it is disrespectful to the term to even call this a “mundane samadhi” because this state lacks most of the spiritual characteristics of what can be called samadhi. Animals, too, can also cultivate states of samadhi, but the animal mind can usually be characterized as having a lower state of clarity than the human mind.

For purposes of comparison, an athletic “peak experience” arises from an optimum attunement of the body in conjunction with mental concentration. It is much higher than the ordinary state of mentation, but this psychological state of peace and quiescence still resides within the realm of the mundane. It is not the samadhi of Tao, nor a mark of progress on your cultivation towards the Tao because it does not help you get rid of desires or help you make progress in freeing yourself from birth and death.

A Taoist would explain that this state results from the yin and yang energies complementing each other, or because our various vital energies reach a state of full but balanced harmony that brings about a corresponding psychological state. Just as in successful cultivation, the state of “flow” we are describing is a state marked by the optimal harmonization of blood, hormonal and respiratory functioning, but it lacks transcendental wisdom.

Also, unlike the higher states of spiritual cultivation, athletes can enjoy this state but they cannot control it or enter it at will. That is why athletes who taste this type of experience once will work for years trying to regain it. They remember how it once touched their life, but they do not know how to go about re-experiencing that stage and bring it into their everyday living. They associate it with their athletic activity, and so their love of sports deepens after they bump into this state when it is actually the road of spirituality and its results that they are seeking.

Though they do not know it, people searching for the state of flow are really trying to spiritually cultivate. The target they are after is commendable, but is much lower than any of the genuine realms of samadhi attainment. Properly speaking, the blisses of cultivation cannot properly be compared to this type of minor ecstatic experience because the cultivation accomplishments are so far above it. The cultivation blisses, for instance, can also be brought into the daily life where they can remain continuous experiences. They also last longer than peak athletic experiences as well as the transient experiences of sexual joy and bliss.

The physical blisses of spiritual cultivation are unique in that they are totally beyond anything a normal human ever experiences without cultivation, whether blissful experiences be pursued through drugs, sex, sports or other means. Because they are so unique, the samadhi blisses are also the target of much clinging and attachment, which is why a spiritual practitioner must learn how to detach from experiential realms at every step on the spiritual path. Cultivating detachment and attaining “Emptiness” are not to be feared because it is through these that you will actually attain the “Fullness” of Tao.

As we already covered in our discussion of the first dhyana, a practitioner who cultivates a state of bliss and joy can develop a strong concentration. In other words, bliss serves to perfect concentration. The environment of bliss gives rise to one-pointed concentration and therefore helps in the stabilization of the emptiness mindset while full conscious awareness is maintained. If someone can remain in a state of empty mind and bliss, remaining permeated or saturated with these two aspects without getting attached--straddling the middle of emptiness-bliss without becoming ensnared by either extreme—it is easy to transform the physical body quickly.

It is easy to transform the physical body in this state because in this realm, the body’s hormones, chi and mai reach refined states and optimum levels wherein the chi and hormones can circulate freely without obstruction. When athletes attain their experience of “flow,” they also taste a bit of this stage although at a far, far lower level of accomplishment. The longer you remain in this state and let it permeate the body, the quicker the physical nature can be transformed, and the more fit a vehicle it can become for the successful accomplishment of spiritual cultivation.

Naturally there are ranks we can establish as to the coarser and the more refined levels of this sort of bliss achievement. There are always more than one set of measuring sticks we can use to judge meditation progress, and this ranking scheme is one such alternative. To continue progressing through these experiences from one level to the next, you must avoid holding onto any realm but instead keep your mind “abiding in,” “centered in,” or “directed toward” emptiness so that you always experience ecstasy conjoined with emptiness and awareness, but without attachment. That is how you will progress from one level of cultivation bliss to the next, which is by refusing to hold onto that level, and actually detaching from it so that it becomes refined into something higher.

The Four Empties

In terms of this sort of measuring system, the Esoteric school describes the existence of the four “empties” or emptiness stages that match with the four blisses and which manifest as the wind, or chi, is dissolved into the central channel. These empties are subtle forms of consciousness that realize varying degrees of emptiness, but these degrees of emptiness clarity are not yet that realization of emptiness we call self-realization. Using Tantric terminology, these four stages of attainment are described as follows:

· As the wind element, or chi, starts to dissolve in the central channel, a practitioner initially experiences a stage called “appearance.” This stage is the “appearance empty” or “empty” that is the first of the four empties. It is called “empty” because it is devoid of both gross conceptions and the chi winds upon which they typically ride. It is also called the mind of “radiant white appearance” because one can describe this scenario as an experience of pale light, akin to a sky in the early evening in which the moon has just risen and casts a pale sheen. That is why it is called “appearance,” because an appearance like moonlight dawns. It is also referred to as a “vision of whiteness” although it is more like a clear autumn sky pervaded by moonlight. Chuang Tzu of the Tao school said that this stage is so balanced and so nice that it is “white.” This stage physically corresponds to the white bodhicitta at the top of the head melting, and then descending or dripping down to the top of the heart.

· With progress, this stage dissolves into the second empty, which is known as the “very empty” because it is devoid of the mind of appearance along with the chi flows that serve as its basis. It is also described as the stage of “proximity” or “increase,” in which there is a vision of redness. That is why some texts call it the mind of “red increase.” It is also called the “increase of appearance” because its vivid appearance is more like sunlight than moonlight. In this stage the practitioner can see a reddish shaded light that is much like a sky pervaded by sunlight. In terms of the subtle drops, this stage of attainment is due to the red bodhicitta ascending so that the red drops touch the bottom channels of the heart chakra.

· With further progress, this stage next transforms into the third empty, or “great empty.” This “great emptiness” is the tantric stage of “proximate attainment” or “near attainment.” This stage is called the mind of “near attainment” because of its proximity to the dawning of the clear light. In this stage, there is a vision of overwhelming darkness or blackness, like the sky before dawn. As we saw in the Surangama Sutra, this darkness must be because there must be darkness before dawn, just as yin has to reach its zenith before the birth of yang. In fact, the more intense one’s vision of darkness, the more dominant the clear light experience will be when it emerges. In terms of esoteric biophysics, it is a stage where the red and white bodhicitta drops meet at the heart chakra, thus, initially covering one another and producing confusion such that the consciousness experience is one of blackness. Since black is just a color, there is nothing to be worried about at this stage. There are, in fact, many beings that like darkness; it is only our discriminatory mind that causes us to like sunlight. The point is, darkness and light are relative phenomenal opposites that having nothing to do with the Tao, and there is no need to be afraid at this stage of cultivation attainment.

· This stage of proximate attainment then dissolves into the mind of “clear light” where there is a vision of clear radiance, free from any conditions. This is the stage of “completely empty,” “all-empty” or “utter emptiness,” but it is still not enlightenment. It is called the “all empty” because it is entirely void of all subtle and coarse chi flows, as well as their accompanying minds. This is a stage of extreme lucidity that we can compare to an extremely clear, bright and radiant sky that is totally free from any blemishes, including clouds. The sense of clear light can be compared to the sky at dawn, when there is neither sun nor moon nor darkness. The Zen school describes this point in saying that the mind is like a clear mirror. However, this stage of clear light it is not the true clear light of self-realization that even the most evil karma can never extinguish. Far from being the true “clear light,” it is still a clear light with form. As to the internal biophysics of this stage, esotericism explains that it occurs when all the chi have dissolved into a very subtle state and the red and white drops have dissolved into the red and white parts of the indestructible drop located at the heart chakra. As the Chudamani Upanishad of Hinduism says, “When the red bindu moves upward by control of prana, it mixes with the white bindu and one becomes divine. He who realizes the essential oneness of the two bindus when the red bindu merges with the white bindu, alone knows yoga.”

This completes the description of the four blisses and four empties of the tantric schools. We know that the blisses and empties are not the same thing because at the time of death you will experience the four empties, but not the four blisses. Furthermore, the blisses deal with the physical body, and the empties deal with the mind. There is also a big secret here, a big secret that no one in the Tantric schools bothers to tell you. If we turn back to our knowledge of the first dhyana, it too has the realms of joy and bliss. The second dhyana is characterized by a higher stage of joy and bliss, and the third and fourth dhyana have higher degrees of emptiness and bliss as well.

Here is the secret: if you unite the four emptiness characteristics of the four dhyana with the four physical blisses of the four dhyana, you already have co-emergent emptiness and bliss! You have the “being,” or existence aspect of bliss, which is the blissful ecstasy from the Realm of Form attainments. Together with that, you also have the nonexistence formlessness or emptiness attainments. It is all right here in the four dhyana--the bliss of the body and the empty no-thought nature of the mind.

Mind and body interact with each other, and if you understand Tantra you will be able to attain this undifferentiated union. This is the perfect union, the Middle Way. When you attain it, everything you see will appear to be a manifestation of bliss and emptiness. How did Buddha describe this for the Orthodox school? He said you should simply cultivate the four dhyana as practice training vehicles, and that everything should be viewed as if it were a dream. This state is actually co-emergent emptiness-bliss, the Middle Way from which you can realize Tao.

This is how you attain enlightenment, and how a Buddha can transcend the world of form while at the same time remaining involved with it to carry out vows and perform acts of compassion. This is it, only we have explained it from an entirely different angle.

You already know there is an aspect of conventional existence that we call karma, dependent arising, or interdependent origination. This empty, energetic nature of the universe is not real, but it functions with interdependent rules and will never be destroyed. You also know there is an emptiness aspect of voidness behind the outward veneer of this realm of falsity and delusion. The process of straddling both, integrating both, recognizing both, unifying both is called co-emergent emptiness and bliss, or the Middle Way. Whereas the Tantric path says you must cultivate the empties and blisses separately and then unify them, Shakyamuni simply said you have to cultivate the four dhyana as the practice stations to self-realization.

The Tantric tradition breaks the process of spiritual cultivation into such indiscernible tiny pieces that you miss this realization of the big picture. It makes you memorize all sorts of useless details, and mystifies the process so that you get lost or encumbered. Nevertheless, this is it, this is the big secret. Buddha describes the process by saying you gain proficiency with the nine samadhi--those of the Form Realm and Formlessness--and all the while you try to attain Tao by searching to realize where these states come from. He also explains the process in terms of breaking through the skandhas, first the form-related and then the more intangible of the five aggregates. But to attain these states you need merit which accrues from active engagement with the world, and so when you attain enlightenment the pathway is still one of compassion and charity as well, because enlightenment can never truly be called complete as long as the Three Realms remain unenlightened.

Taoism describes the cultivation path by saying this: you achieve emptiness after experiencing various physical transformations between jing, chi and shen, which is the same thing as the Tantric path only without the discussions of chakras, blisses and empties. You pass through all these realms of transformation and with enough prajna wisdom, can finally surpass the impermanent, false and artificial. Then you return to the world and integrate your realization with your behavior to manifest or exhibit what you have learned.

You must work to spiritually realize the fundamental wisdom essence without any characteristics, which is the dharmakaya, but then you have to reveal it or manifest it in the world. In the process towards this end you cultivate an empty form or appearance (xiang) body from your accumulation of meritorious energies, and this is the sambhogakaya. It is a pure illusory body, a magnificent appearance body composed of very subtle fundamental energies that can display your past merits.

With realization and appearance, or the dharmakaya and sambhogakaya realizations, you still have the task of acting in the world, which is called exercising your tai yung or great functioning. After enlightenment, this you do through the use of the nirmanakaya, which are the varieties of forms you can manifest for the sake of helping living beings. As a Buddha or Bodhisattva, your mind is in the continual state of the nondualistic clear light, or dharmakaya, but your nirmanakaya emanation bodies are projected everywhere in the universe, functioning for the benefit of other sentient beings in the realm of phenomena. Because your mind is empty and omniscient, you can handle the affairs of a vast number of these projected beings and thereby accumulate even more merit at a fantastic inconceivable rate.

In light of this information and way to look at the spiritual path, much of the esotericism you see today, such as yoga and chi-gong practice, is just playing with tricks of consciousness, playing with internal wind to achieve tiny ends rather than aiming at the great end of cultivation. What you can find in these offshoot paths often violates the cardinal principle of cultivation, which is to allow those spiritual transformations that are supposed to occur to do so naturally. For instance, there are tantric yogas for “shaping” one’s chi energies into an illusory body.

Such a thought-born body can be created by the seventh consciousness, and not just formed by the sixth consciousness. But why does it have to be forcefully shaped, and why that particular shape? Should not the illusory body, if there is such a thing, simply arise naturally? If you create a body by visualizing its shape, what is to say that the shape you choose is the right one, or the best one? Would that not be just another illusory form anyway, and are you not supposed to be detaching from form on the cultivation trail?

In the Tao school, people also try to force various kung-fu events into happening prematurely. People mistakenly think they can guide their jing into their mai using their mind, and then return it to the brain so as to become younger. Or they think they can guide their chi to open the tu mai and then jen mai channels. Of course, this only results in the re-circulating of physical poisons, and you can see all the practitioners gone astray from such mistaken efforts because their faces become dark red or black in color.

Tao school practitioners therefore make the same mistakes as tantric practitioners in many places, but even Tao school practitioners know that the yang shen is born naturally without the use of force, and without being specifically targeted as an object of spiritual attainment. In being perfectly natural, you will not have an artificial end in cultivation and you will achieve the full blossoming of whatever final effect is supposed to naturally happen! You will end up contacting the real rather than some false design or some artificial construction. This is the meaning of, “Do not put a head on top of the one you have already got.”

To attain proficiency in tantra, however, you have to purposefully generate each of the four “joys” and “empties” in a precise and exact manner. You use a specific technology to attain proficiency in manifesting these states, and you are instructed to remain with these states for some time in order to cultivate familiarity with their characteristics. This is no different than the need to cultivate proficiency at attaining and switching between the first, second third or fourth dhyana at will.

Another problem in the tantric schools is that the adherents, including lamas, try and use sexual intercourse as a means to generate the blisses and empties, but practically no one succeeds in this way, and everyone suffers accordingly. The theory behind this is sound, but sexual cultivation can only take you to the first dhyana past the top of the Desire Realm heavens at best, and since most people are not qualified for the practice from the start, most never learn to do it correctly.

As we stated, the object of Tantra is to cultivate the tumo heat so as to bring the chi into the central channel and melt the subtle drops. Then, you retain the subtle energies produced at each of the chakras for a prolonged period of time, which will give rise to the four empties and joys. Thus, you try to generate and then remain within each of the individual stages of co-emergent emptiness and bliss. In attaining these stages, you purposely hold yourself at each level of attainment to become familiar with its characteristics, and help stabilize the attainment. In this case, abiding in the stages is not actually clinging, but is the idea of not regressing and losing a stage once you have attained it. This is just a different way of teaching you how to cultivate the stability of the four dhyana.

Hence this is the Highest Yoga Tantra system. You cultivate co-emergent emptiness and bliss during the meditation session, and then you progress slowly so that you can bring this attainment into your ordinary everyday experience, just as you should strive to bring any samadhi attainments into your everyday experience. Whether you are talking about the nine samadhi, or the various samadhi of co-emergent emptiness and bliss, at all times and places you must remain in the stage of samadhi if you can. That is being in the world and not of it. To attain the state of samadhi and then lose it is one of the greatest violations of cultivation discipline.

This is the supreme emphasis of the Esoteric school, which emphasizes the existence nature of reality by focusing on co-emergent emptiness and bliss. If you simply attain a samadhi of nonconceptual absorption for a prolonged period of time—a stage of “dry Zen” stillness clarity without any physical transformations--there cannot be any great signs of cultivation progress, and you will not reach the highest levels of spiritual attainment. You will cling to some level of empty awareness as being the right way to practice. The Tibet school says that the emptiness realm you can achieve from co-emergent emptiness and bliss is so strong that it will enable you to break many such barriers so as to finally see real emptiness, which is to realize the dharmakaya.

Hence, this is the general esoteric path, with the relevant biophysical explanations, for the objective of attaining enlightenment. Of course, as one progresses through the stages of this path, there are specific kung-fu signs that will manifest just as they do for the four dhyana. These signs herald the progress of your practice, and people can use them to judge their spiritual progress in meditative attainment.

Summarizing so as to keep the big picture in mind, as one progresses in the “heat yoga stage of attainment,” one gains control over the coarse and subtle chi circulations within the body. As the body settles, these chi energies withdraw into the central channel, causing both inner and outer signs of kung-fu to manifest. As these signs appear, they can be taken as a small measurement of one’s spiritual progress on the cultivation path. Eventually, a meditation practitioner will attain the joys and empties, or the special realms of samadhi, and ultimately the true clear light of dharmakaya, although in the Esoteric school there are all sorts of various “clear light” stages other than the ultimate one.

Interested in more?

I simply took out short sections from How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization, also known as "Measuring Meditation, and wove them together to make them available to you in article form. This is just a short section ... you cannot believe what the entire book contains, or the Stages course as well.

There are hundreds - I kid you not - hundreds of lectures woven together in these materials, and you can look at the testimonials on the website to judge our contents (from people who have studied/practiced for years and purchased hundreds/thousands of books to become experts that know what's good and bad).

You cannot get teachings from an enlightened Zen, Taoist and Esoteric master like Nan Huai-chin in regular New Age books or in the books of ordinary samadhi masters. It's just a plain fact. To help you out, the website has TONS of free articles and reports and book chapters and downloads, so it's up to you whether you want to go further on the spiritual path.

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