Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Daoist In A Pickle

 By Ken Cohen 高漢

I still have a newspaper article from 1980 that discusses the 142 year old Daoist (also spelled "Taoist") Wu Yunqing 吳云青 who had lived most of his life in a cave, but with a wooden floor to keep out the damp. He was a practitioner of Nei Dan (Interior Alchemy), and his advice for longevity is great and classically Daoist:

Wu Yunqing's Lifestyle
Early each morning he practices Taiji Quan.
He gardens and rides his bicycle each day.
He eats small vegetarian meals (no meat or fish), with his main meal of the day at lunch.
LIke many other centenarians in China, in addition to fruit and vegetables, his starches are rice, corn, and sweet potatoes.
No tobacco or alcohol.
Drinks mostly broths, little water.
He sleeps soundly and takes several brief naps each day from a meditative posture.
And perhaps most important of all is his advice about mental health:
"You must be open minded and optimistic in your outlook. Avoid petty squabbles with others, be friendly and try to help others when you can."

Summary of Key Points
Practice Taiji Quan (also spelled Tai Chi)
Exercise in nature
Small vegetarian meals, main meal early in the day
No recreational tobacco or alcohol
Sound sleep
Be open minded, optimistic, and of service.

When did this "Immortal" (Xian Ren) die? 1998, at which time, according to his disciples, he was 160 years old. Is it true? I know you would like to believe this. But I must report that he died at the documented, young age of 102. And that's not so bad.

It is common for Daoists to exaggerate their age and abilities, so please always keep your skepticals on. I know a Daoist priest who tells students he was born 24 years before the date of birth on his passport. Once, more than 25 years ago, during an enthusiastic conversation with a Chinese Daoist colleague, when asked my age I mistakenly said, "Liu Shi San" (63). I think that he was about to ask to become my disciple, when I immediately corrected myself and said, "Sorry, I meant to say San Shi Liu (36)." I remember the look of disappointment.

The latest chapter in this story occurred just last April (2015), when Wu Yunqing's undecaying body, in seated meditation posture, was put on display in a crystal display case with seams sealed with cement. Tourists and monks visit or venerate this miraculously preserved corpse in Lingquan Monastery, Anyang, Henan Province, China. He is stylishly wrapped in a golden cloak and wears a mala (Buddhist prayer bead necklace). His skin is a shiny reddish brown.

There are many stories of Buddhist and Daoist saints who became Rou Shen Xian 肉身仙, Flesh Body Immortals, or Rou Shen Fo 肉身佛, Flesh Body Buddhas, the technical term for this self-mummification. The theory is that their bodies are so cleansed of physical and spiritual impurities during their lifetimes, that their bodies do not rot after death. Is this another example of the religious propensity for exaggeration? Maybe. In the case of Wu Yunqing, experts at the Henan College of Traditional Chinese Medicine believe that the body was preserved with formaldehyde, a chemical that destroys the enzymes that cause decay. Essentially, the Immortal was skillfully pickled and dried.

It is an interesting custom that may encourage some to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Yet, I cannot help feeling that the attempt to preserve the body after death, whether chemically or spiritually, goes against the basic tenets of both Buddhism and Daoism. The Buddha taught anicca, impermanence. We suffer because we greedily attach to phenomena or try to capture in a bucket the flowing and ever-changing river of life. The Daoist philosopher Zhuang Zi (3rd Century BCE) tells the story of a sage who chastises his disciples when they wail against his immanent death. The sage is content to surrender to the "transformation of things." "Who knows what the Creator will make of me next?" he wonders, "Will S/He turn me into a rat's liver, a bug's arm?" After all, shouldn't Daoists recycle? Including their own bodies!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy New Year of the Goat!

Happy Chinese New Year of the Wood Goat (Yi Wei)

In 2015, Chinese New Year begins February 19. Because the Goat is related to Earth (among the Five Elements), this is a Wood Earth Year. The first element symbolizes heaven and spirituality. The second element, earth, symbolizes the physical world, especially the environment and economy. Elements may be either in harmony or conflict. This year the elements are in conflict. Wood breaks earth, like a tree pushing up through the ground. This means that in a Wood Goat year spirituality has the potential to feel at odds with your physical, earthly existence. For example you may feel that your work or living environment does not nurture your spirit, or that economic pressures don't give you the leisure and worry-free time you need to cultivate your spirituality.

The Year of the Goat in general is a good year for the arts, for relationship and marriage, and to, yes, for climbing mountains, which can mean both setting noble goals and making good environmental/ecological decisions.

The conflict between wood and earth may foretell earthquakes.

San Sha-- "Three Killing Forces" For every year, there is a direction of bad luck (San Sha)-- including disasters, accidents, and financial loss. This year the killing forces are in the West. That means it is best not to travel west, or do home renovation in the west side of your home, or disturb the ground by digging holes in the west side of your property. The latter would disturb the Lords of the Soil (Tu Di Gong and his wife, Tu Di Po), who influence prosperity and the well being of ancestral spirits. It is best not to sit in the west side of a home or office. Do not buy or move into a house this year with a west facing main door. In general, be careful regarding any phenomena associated with the west. You can neutralize the san sha by placing 3 bamboo plants or representations of bamboo plants (paintings or sculptures) in the western part of your home, and, if your door faces west, placing a bagua mirror on or above it.

The Southwest is also inauspicious this year as it is associated with the unlucky star Tai Sui, the "Great Year Star" also called the Grand Duke of Jupiter.

Wu Huang "The Five Yellow Sick Forces" This year illness is associated with the West. West is thus doubly inauspicious this year as it is the direction of the Three Killing Forces and the Five Sick Forces. Again, it is best not to travel west, add a new western section to your home, spend a great deal of time in the western section of your home, etc. Neutralize the wu huang with a small altar in the western part of your home. Place symbols of your spirituality-- a statue, a holy book, candles, flowers—on the altar and offer prayers for peace and health.

Tai Sui- the Great Year Star, also called Grand Duke of Jupiter, is a spirit that is different each year, appointed to oversee the energies of the year and the world’s affairs. He can cause misfortune or protect people against it. In 2015, Tai Sui has the potential to especially obstruct those born in year of Ox, but can also cause problems for those born in the years of the Goat, Dragon, or Dog. If you were born in one of those years, it is best to perform a An Tai Sui (Pacifying Tai Sui) Animal Year Ritual on Chinese New Years Day and, for extra protection, on every new and full moon of the year.

Instructions for the Pacifying Tai Sui Ritual: Use a clean, clear table to create an altar with flowers, candles, tea, fruit, incense. Use a special pre-made Tai Sui talisman or make your own by writing your name on a piece of paper, along with a simple prayer for good fortune. Fold the paper and sandwich it  inside gold and silver talisman paper (available at feng shui shops). Circle the talisman respectfully three times through the incense smoke. Then place it in a fireproof container either outdoors or in a safe area indoors. Burn it while asking that negative forces be dispersed and that you and family receive blessings for health, prosperity, longevity, success, and protection from misfortune.

Auspicious Direction for Wealth and general good luck: North

Other Auspicious Directions (for travel, education, wealth, romance, and general good luck): Northeast, East, Northeast


On Chinese New Years Eve, seal in the good energy by fixing sayings or words that suggest good fortune on or around your door. For example the photo on this page is a typical New Year Blessing which says, "Enter and Leave in Peace,  Flowers Open Bestowing Wealth."

On Chinese New Year's Day: Open your door early in the morning. Dawn is best. Set off firecrackers (if permitted) or play sacred instruments (such as a temple gong) to scare away any remaining unneeded qi (energy) from the previous year.  Opening the doors also lets in the new energy of the year. Light incense and offer flowers and fruit on your altar. Give "lucky money" in red envelopes to friends and family. If you are a student of Chinese cultural arts (such as qigong, martial arts, painting, music, Taoism), and if your teacher follows the old customs, call to find out if you can visit your teacher to offer incense on his/her altar and to present a New Years gift. Avoid using the number 4 (for example offering $4 lucky money or giving 4 gifts or ordering 4 dishes in a restaurant). The word 4 in Chinese (si) sounds like the word for death. Rather, 3, 6, and 8 are lucky numbers. 3 means Heaven, Earth, Human. 6 means Flow (both pronounced Liu). 8 means Wealth (8 in Chinese sounds like Fa Cai, Wealth). In general, be positive and use positive words. Here's an example. If something falls and breaks, don't say, "It broke." In Chinese, one might say Xiao Le "It laughed." Your behavior on New Years Day helps set the energy and tone for the year.

On New Years Eve and New Years Day, eat chicken and fish for luck and prosperity. Avoid duck. Do Tai Chi and other harmonious healing exercises. Avoid strong martial arts and weaponry practice (to not "cut" the good fortune). Drink your best Chinese Tea to start your year with good health and powerful cha qi (tea energy and life force). Please see the catalog of fine Chinese tea on this website: www.qigonghealing.com