From the 6th to the 20th August 2015 took place our first course on Inner Alchemy (Dan Dao).
In the past, Li Shifu did not want to teach such a subject. Inner Alchemy is the highest Gong of Daoism, truly sublime and mysterious, a path of cultivation to reach immortality and transform the physical body, that’s requires a very high level of virtue and a special destiny. He would sometimes mention it to his students, but never did he clearly teach it, because he considered it was too high. However, since he started teaching western students, he noticed that some of them would come up with the same sort of questions about practices involving the sexual union of man and woman under the name of Inner Alchemy. If at first he did not pay too much attention to what he calls a small Dao or a crooked path, over time he started to notice that these questions were being raised re-peatedly. He soon found out that some teachers and some so-called Daoist organizations in the West were spreading these teachings under the name of Inner Alchemy. Profoundly baffled, and seeing that this could only mislead a lot of sincere seekers, inciting them to walk down a crooked path, sometimes to the point of harming their own body, he decided to open the Inner Alchemy course so as to provide a guiding lamp, a direction to those seekers in search of information, so that the Upright Dao of the Way of the Elixir (Dan Dao) could not be misinterpreted for the mere sexual practices happening in society.
For this first course, 22 students were attending, representing 12 nationalities : Germany, France, Poland, Italy, Sweden, Ireland, England, Bulgaria, Portugal, Australia, America, and Mexico.
To start the course, the students were taught 6 Qi Gong and standing meditation exercises to practice every morning, and a method to start practicing sitting meditation at night, for 2 hours every day, from 9.30pm to 11.30pm or even later.
At first, we were given a broad introduction to the subject, starting with a short history of Daoism and of the practice of Inner Alchemy itself, over-viewing the 5 steps of the refining process, looking at the diagram of the cultivation of Dan Dao created by Li Shifu, articulated around the Point 0 in which transformation may happen if the mind can stabilize into it, and the diagram of the growth and decline of the Original Qi from birth to death.
On the 8th of August, in the evening, Li Shifu performed a ceremony of transmission of the inner fire within the main altar of the Five Immortals. One by one, each student ascended to the altar, offered incensed and bowed, then Li Shifu transmitted the fire to them through a ritual. The moment felt very grandiose and we all had a feeling of awe and reverence. Our experiences during meditation deepened after that.
Every day, a new mantra/incantation was given to the students to study and memorize, starting with the mantra to bless the food, going through 7 of the 8 great Spirit-Mantras of the Morning Scriptures (To Purify the Heart, To Purify the Mouth, To Purify the Body, To Purify the Earth, To Purify Heaven and Earth, the Incense Offering Mantra, and the Mantra of the Golden Light) and finally finishing with the mantra of Ling Guan, the Commander Spirit who guards the entrance of the temple, the mighty servant of the Three High Pures, whose power over the three realms is li-mitless. We looked at their meanings together, at the situations in which to use them and ways to practice them, and practiced pronouncing them properly together.
Every morning, our theory class would start with a long session of questions and answers during which each student would have a chance to share his experience and questions of the previous evening meditation session, and receive feedback and advice on how to adjust the practice. The method would then get more elaborated day by day. This time of answering questions and adjusting the practice was very precious for all, as the experience of one is often a teaching for many, and as nothing is better than working with the material of reality, of our real experiences right here and now. We all gained an invaluable understanding of what is the correct method to lay a solid foundation for our meditation practice, during the time of sitting meditation itself, but also during the rest of the day and even during the night, as we studied methods to maintain the awareness during activity as well as the method of the Sleeping Dragon.
We studied everyday a lot, having a long theory class in the morning and an other long theory class in the afternoon. The main emphasis throughout the course was on the fundamental aspect of laying the foundation of Retrieving the Heart and Refining the Self (Shou Xin Lian Ji).
Because Inner Alchemy is the highest Gong of sublimating this human life, the first requirements are to keep the mind pure and still, focused within the body, and to develop one’s virtue and com-passion, through which one’s karmic retributions may be alleviated. To understand this direction, to have the proper theory, is the first step; then one needs to put in the time to practice it. Without knowing the right direction, how would one know where to go ? As the Gong ultimately will demand entering seclusion and meditating for extended periods of time without the slightest concern, having developed a constant capacity of concentration, absolutely detached from any desire or aversion, and having paid back one’s karmic debts through the detached performing of good deeds, are ab-solute prerequisites. To reduce one’s desires and to develop one’s compassion in everyday life are the fundamentals.
We studied the Scripture of Purity and Stillness (Qing Jing Jing), an ancient and most precious Scripture of the Daoist Canon, in many ways very similar to the Buddhist Heart Sutra (Xin Jing).
The Scripture guides the practitioner to return to the Great Dao through cultivating constant purity and stillness, first retrieving the five senses from the outside, then attaining a deeper understanding of the emptiness and inter-connection of all manifested things, until the complete purification of the mind will allow the Qi of Heaven and Earth to return to him, refilling the Three Treasures of Essence, Qi and Spirit (Jing, Qi, Shen). Cultivation is a matter of oneself turning inward, nothing is to be sought from outside, everything is within.
We studied the 49 Barriers (49 Guan) that will arise on the path of the cultivator, one by one in details, which allowed us a deep introspection into our own minds and limitations, and gave us a very clear direction to practice for any circumstance of our daily life. By the time we actually finished going through the barriers one by one, everyone experienced a heavy tiredness, of a very different nature than the tiredness we sometimes experience during intensive physical training periods. At that time, we all had to face ourselves, the mistakes of our past and the selfishness of our habits, and we took a precious time to reflect on ourselves.
We studied the Hundred Characters Tablet of Lü Dong Bing (Lü Zu Bai Zi Bei), first going through a short history of the founding master of the Inner Alchemy lineages himself, then studying each line of the tablet character by character, in itself a clear depiction of what it calls a ‘Ladder to Heaven’.
We studied the Dragon Gate Heart Method (Long Men Xin Fa), over viewing the content of each chapter, which gave us a very clear outlook of the way to refine the self: take refuge, repent from past faults, break through obstacles, practice generosity and abandon personal likes and dislikes, endure dishonor subduing the mind, help all life forms, cultivate a body and heart of stillness and purity.
Everyone’s destiny is different, everyone’s karmic afflictions are different, and everyone’s abilities are different. The Higher Realization of the Elixir is a very rare feat that only those who have the destiny and the karma would be able to achieve. Human life is precious, it is a unique opportunity that may not be repeated. So one must grasp the time and put efforts to elevate oneself as much as possible within this lifetime.
After around ten days of intensive theory classes, we studied methods for fasting (Bi Gu) : first how to substitute grains with wild herbs; then how to completely cut off any kind of material food to instead ingest Qi and swallow fluids. After hearing the teachings, some students decided to fast for 3 to 7 days, according to their physical capacity, so as to cleanse and regulate their bodies and minds, and to develop their will power.
We finally studied the Essentials of the Shortcut to the Great Achievement (Da Cheng Jie Yao), a scripture that is a kind of summary of many other alchemical texts, offering a guidance for the cultivation of the Elixir to the meditators. Because it is addressing meditators of perfect virtue, ready to enter seclusion and sublimate their whole form, Li Shifu told us to listen to it as a kind of story, a great tale of many wonders. We heard a detailed description of the 5 steps of the alchemical process : refine saliva into Essence (jing), refine Essence into Qi, refine Qi into Spirit (Shen), refine Spirit to return to the Void, refine the Void to unify with the Great Dao; through the 3 main periods of Hundred Days to Lay the Foundation, Three Years of Breastfeeding, Nine Years Facing the Wall.
Li Shifu also taught us the way of cultivation that we could use while still being involved in society, to protect the Essence (Jing) and ensure longevity, through the method of picking the small medicine and cycling the microcosmic orbit.
On the last day, Li Shifu also offered women a class reserved to them only, so as to transmit them directly the distinct methods for the female body. Because of the differences between the male body and the female body, the women’s Elixir is faster and easier to accomplish, and the first steps to realize it are different than those for men. However it should be recalled that, if the Elixir is easier to accomplish for women, life in society is harder for them than for men, which explains why there were so few women masters and female immortals in the past. Li Shifu first told us the story of his own master, the Daoist renunciate Tao Shifu, the previous abbess of the Five Immortals Temple, who transmitted to him so much knowledge and wisdom, including the Way of the Elixir. Her story evoked a lot of emotions in all of us, hearing of the bitterness she had to go through, of her cultivation and of the arts she transmitted. Because of being a man himself, Li Shifu could then only teach us the method, without the precious account of his personal experience, explaining us the specific aspects of the women’s Elixir.
Finally, for our last class, we had a look together at the Map of the Internal Landscape (Nei Jing Tu), going through the different symbols depicting the processes within the body. We also received a list of scriptures on the Way of the Elixir, including the women’s Elixir, to study in Chinese to further our studies.