ON SILENT MEDITATION
by Wan Laisheng
[from Chapter Six of Wan’s 武術滙宗 Collection of Martial Arts Traditions, published Dec, 1929]
[translation by Paul Brennan, Nov, 2020]
GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO SILENT MEDITATION
Enough discussion of martial arts for now, let us turn to silent meditation. Meditation is strongly related to martial arts practice, being an aspect of internal training. It drives away illness, promotes longevity, and brings great benefit to the body. Since people who are old or weak find no pleasure in martial training, a study of meditation is a good alternative for maintaining one’s health, and therefore I will present some instruction below for reference. Why meditate? To calm the emotions and empower the spirit.
Because we work all day, it is in the morning and evening that we have a chance to meditate, revitalizing in order to wear ourselves out all over again. In the case of a monk’s journey to become a Buddha through meditation, this is not something modern people would describe as easy. “How could someone spend so many years in meditation, learning to transcend the material world and thereby become an immortal within it, without getting overwhelmed by the boundless universe? Even if one learns to transcend, might one not be so drained by the experience that one is reduced to a mere ghost?”
As for meditation dispelling illness, this is only natural. Since it can clear away stressful thoughts, it will nourish the spirit, and over time this will of course have an effect of diminishing illness, although when it comes to correcting respiratory or digestive issues, I have not actually been troubled by such issues in order to test this for myself. However, I have heard from Daoists that to find naturalness, one must not seek it directly. If the goal is stubbornly obsessed over, one may end up going down the wrong path, so much so that no medicine will help.
Below I discuss some basic methods of meditation, which is most commonly aimed at simply spending time settling into quietude to refresh the spirit. For more advanced studies on meditation, I recommend doing further research into Daoism.
METHODS OF SEATED MEDITATION
Seated meditation can be done in a room specially set aside for it, which is of course ideal, but if you do not have such a space, a sleeping mat in your bedroom will do just fine, provided it is not springy, which would inhibit the uprightness of your posture. Every day in the morning and evening, spend some time sitting. It does not have to be an extremely long time and you should gradually work your way into it. Do not become obsessive about how it is done and do not micromanage your breathing, just aim for naturalness: mouth closed, tongue touching the back of your teeth, spine straight. (You can move around a little in preparation from sitting still, putting your hands on your knees and slightly swaying your torso forward and back, side to side, and then you will be able to sit more upright, your lower back naturally straightening, your buttocks naturally supporting.)
Your hands gently hold each other, placed below your “elixir field” [i.e. the area below your navel], and can be forming either a yinyang position or a samadhi position. (Yinyang position: your right hand holds your left hand with your right thumb lightly pinching the root of your left ring finger, your left thumb going around your right thumb to lightly pinch together with the tip of your left middle finger. Samadhi position: both palms are facing upward, right hand on top of left, with your right thumb crossing over your left thumb. The samadhi position is used in the photos below.) You can sit in either the single lotus or double lotus position.
When meditating in the morning (ideally after defecating), first open the windows to bring in fresh air. If it is winter, the windows can remain closed. Sit cross-legged and focus your attention. Breathe out stale air through your mouth, then slowly inhale new air through your nose. This helps cleanse the energy in your elixir field. Exhaling should be slightly quicker and inhaling should be slightly slower. Exhale to the fullest extent, then inhale to the fullest extent. In this way, continuously exhale and inhale three times, completely expelling stale energy from your abdomen.
Then go through the sequence of steps for a meditative state (which is not really necessary in the evening [since one is already tired and will slip into quietude rather easily]). If in the beginning you cannot reach a state of quietude, you may either silently chant “Namo Amitabha” [“homage to the Buddha”] or simply count numbers. This is especially useful for women, whose thoughts are more distractible. When your skill deepens and your mind is better at settling down, you will easily be able to ignore such distractions, but this is a good trick for focusing your mind in the meantime. Another aid for when you are not able to enter meditation is to have in view in front of you some calligraphy or a certain object to focus your gaze.
While sitting, empty your mind of desires, restraining yourself physically and mentally, and then your whole body will feel clean and comfortable. Practicing in this way is a case of movement within stillness. Unlike the automatic calm of the evening, the morning session is a more deliberate practice, thus movement within stillness. The evening practice comes after a hard day’s work and is thus a matter of stillness within movement. Practicing with these two sessions thus creates a constant balance between stillness and movement.
As for the method of sitting, it does not matter if it is single or double lotus. To make the double lotus position, the right foot is placed on the left thigh, with the heel near the left testicle, and then the left foot is placed on the right thigh, with the heel near the right testicle. For women, the legs are reversed, right over left, and the male landmarks for aligning the heels of course have no bearing on the matter. To make the single lotus position, first place your left foot, then put your right foot on top of your left thigh [again reverse for women]. This is the position for those incapable of doing the double lotus position and is a Buddhist method of sitting. If you gradually practice to get into the double lotus position, your body may go through a phase of feeling some tension, but keep your body upright.
For those studying Daoism [“cultivating the Way”], the best seated method is “five centers [headtop, palms, soles of the feet] face the sky”, though there are other Daoist methods such as “Guanyin sitting”, “Arhat sitting”, and so on, varying according to individual taste. Sit from five minutes up to fifteen or thirty minutes. Do not force yourself to sit longer. If you slowly progress, you will have success. If you rush, you will get nothing. The procedure for seated meditation is presented below.
Swaying seated position – photo 1:
Single lotus position – photo 2:
Double lotus position – photo 3:
(After getting into a single lotus position, i.e. one leg placed under the other, settle into quietude for two or three minutes. Then you may switch to a double lotus position, which will help reveal your true being more easily. Practicing the single lotus position will make it easy to switch to the double lotus position, but it is fine to use only the single lotus position if you find it to be more comfortable.)
Part 1: Sequence for going into meditation:
Make the decision:
Decide you want to meditate. Dim your mind and halt your thoughts. Let your shoulders and hips feel heavy. Close your mouth and breathe through your nose. By lowering your shoulders naturally, energy will start to descend.
Curl in your legs:
The methods of doing this have already been described above. Using the single or double lotus position is up to you. Pay attention to keeping your lower back straight, and then energy will be able to descend the rest of the way.
Join your hands:
Use your right hand to grab the four fingers of your left hand and place the palm facing upward below your navel. Your hands may also use the Samadhi position if you wish.
Extend the bridge:
Most teachings say “the tongue touches the upper palate”, which causes the generating of saliva to then be swallowed down. This is what is meant by “extending the bridge”. However, I find this position of the tongue to be unnatural, and indeed my teachers taught me that to simply close the mouth and touch the tongue to the back of the lower teeth is enough, for this more ordinary position also generates saliva anyway. The authentic teaching seems to be that there is no need to forcefully stimulate something to happen.
Lower the curtain:
Gently close your eyes, or leave them slightly open if you wish. They must not be shut tightly, only enough to allow you to feel as if you are floating on a cushion.
Stay in the elixir field:
Keep your mind at your elixir field, not letting it drift away from it at all, and yet also not forcing it to be there. The best way to describe this might be “attentively playful”.
Regulate the breath:
The breath should be natural and unforced. The mind should aware of it and yet not aware of it, meaning constantly a part of it rather than separate from it. The real idea is not to regulate the breath, but to instead let it regulate itself, and yet if you would like to describe this as “regulating the breath”, I will not argue.
Part 2: Sequence for coming out of meditation:
Let go of the mind:
When you feel you have had enough sitting, slowly dispel your focus and then switch your intention to getting out of the position.
Withdraw the bridge:
Your tongue no longer needs to be touching your lower teeth.
Raise the curtain:
Slowly open your eyes.
Slowly release your hands.
Leave the seated position:
Gently release your feet from their position, first placing them so that the soles are facing each other, then put your hands on your knees and slowly extend your legs forward.
After leaving your seated position, you may take a short rest. Bend your right arm and use the palm as a pillow, the forefinger bending away and lightly pressing onto the ear so that the hand is not covering the ear. Your right leg is straight, left leg bent, your left hand placed on the bend of the knee. It is the same thing to rest on the other side, just with left and right reversed. See photo 4:
Observe your elixir field even when you are not sitting:
Do not forget this principle: whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, your mind remains focused on your elixir field. (The spot an inch or so below your navel is called the “elixir field” – the meaning being that this is where “elixir” is produced.) Do so even when you sleep, during which you can bend your arms and legs and lay on your side, which is better for settling your mind. There is a Daoist saying: “It is not important whether or not you have found the Way, what is important is that you have learned to sleep like a dog.” If it is cold outside, you can sit with the soles of your feet together and with your hands covering your navel, and then you will not be cold. Once you have mastered seated meditation, you will be able to forget about temperature as you sit, for the temperature is something you will not need.
PLAYFUL DAOIST EXERCISES
For those who are cultivating the Way, these are simple exercises to be practiced each day during one’s free time and which can help to compensate for inadequacies in other Daoist practices. These seem to be more playful than the other exercises, hence the name. Because of their great simplicity, they may seem unimportant, but actually they conform to “pill of immortality” Daoist practices and are extremely helpful for the body. Taught to me by Master Liu, they are rarely seen, and presented here are just a few. I hope you will not overlook them. By practicing them, you will yourself discover that they can treat a great many illnesses.
Rub your palms together to create heat, put your face to your left palm, and inhale and exhale (not a large sniff, just a gently whisper being enough). Do this a couple times a day, repeating the action three or four times. This can enhance energy and blood circulation.
REGULATING THE BREATH
Use your left forefinger and middle finger to pinch your nostrils closed and silently count to ten. Then release the forefinger if you are a man [releasing the left nostril], the middle finger if you are a woman [right nostril], and take a full breath. After performing this process three times, release both fingers and take a full breath. Repeat this process another three times, then stop. Your breath will now feel even and your organs cleansed. This indeed seems like teachings from the immortals.
With your left hand at your waist, get into a left bow & arrow stance and swing your right arm in backward circles and then forward circles, without using any muscular exertion. Then switch to swinging your left arm in circles, your right hand at your waist, in a right bow & arrow stance. Swing through three or four circles each time. This can boost energy and blood circulation.
RUBBING DOWN AFTER MARTIAL ARTS PRACTICE
Regardless of internal or external training, or whether you are practicing Baduanjin or other exercises, use your hands after a practice session to rub down your whole body. Rub on your left side with your right hand, then on your right side with your left hand, rubbing a few times at each joint, which will improve blood circulation through the joints. Over a long time, this can cause the joints to become more supple, preventing you in your old age from having joints that are stiff and aching.
BOY PRAYS TO BUDDHA
Your right hand grabs your left hand, your hands placed in front of your chest, your body standing straight. With your left foot at first slightly turned outward, but over time pointing more and more straight ahead, your right foot gradually lifts near your left shin so that you are standing one-legged. Silently count as you stand like this, gradually increasing the count until you are able to stand in this way for five minutes at a time. Practice on each foot alternately. This boosts energy and blood, livens sinews and bones, and thus it is a good exercise for old people and weak people. See photo 5:
The Daoist student’s walking method: let the fingers be slightly bent as you slowly walk forward two steps, back one step, then forward another two, and so on in this way, thereby occupying the mind.
In a position of ordinary sitting or lying down, fingers and toes slightly curled, close your eyes, breathe naturally, and focus your mind on your elixir field. Doing this nourishes spirit and consequently boosts longevity.
A DAOIST EXERCISE FOR PREVENTING EYE DISEASE
Get up early in the morning, face toward the west, and turn your eyes to the left and right with your eyes closed, to the left seven times, then to the right seven times. See photo 6:
Then gaze into the distance over the course of two full breaths, with your arms outstretched like a gymnast, your heels lifting up, and feeling a sense of a fire blazing in your eyes. Do this five or seven times. This treats all kinds of eye issues, can for instance correct nearsightedness in just six months, and can also strengthen the body. (The best place to gaze into the distance is in a forest.) See photo 7:
ONE THOUSAND EIGHT HUNDRED ACCUMULATIONS (A DAOIST EXERCISE FOR RIDDING ILLNESS)
This exercise is also known as External Baduanjin or Lesser Baduanjin. Baduanjin is written two ways, same pronunciation but different characters, the most common being 八段錦, meaning “Eight Sections of Brocade”, and then there is also 拔斷筋, meaning “Stretching the Sinews”. The purpose of the exercise is after all to stretch the sinews, but later generations fixated on there being eight postures, and so they mistakenly called it “Eight Sections of Brocade”. However, Baduanjin does not necessarily need to be done in eight sections. Its other name “One Thousand Eight Hundred Accumulations” means that it is to be practiced one thousand eight hundred times.
This is a secret exercise, but I have decided to break that tradition and share it openly. Long-term practice can make the joints supple and dispel all illnesses. It is simple and effective. It is an excellent exercise for middle-aged people who do not otherwise enjoy martial arts training. This is a Daoist “pill of immortality” exercise and also a type of standing meditation. Practicing it over a long time will not only strengthen your body, it will also boost your energy. It is suitable for young and old alike, nothing about it being difficult or confusing.
This exercise has seven postures, performed in ten movements [three of the postures being performed on both sides]. The first posture is HANDS PROP UP THE SUN & MOON, in which the left hand represents the sun and the right hand represents the moon. Gaze upward toward your hands, welcoming the passive and active energies. However, this initial posture does not need to be repeated when repeating the whole exercise.
The postures in the exercise are: HANDS PROP UP THE SUN & MOON, REACHING FORWARD TO THE RED BIRD [representing the south], REACHING BACKWARD TO THE BLACK TORTOISE [representing the north], REACHING LEFTWARD TO THE BLUE DRAGON [representing the east], REACHING RIGHTWARD TO THE WHITE TIGER [representing the west], TURNING A WINCH, and DRAGON & TIGER MEET.
The practice sequence for these postures is: HANDS PROP UP THE SUN & MOON (both hands), then REACHING FORWARD TO THE RED BIRD (left hand, then right hand), REACHING LEFTWARD TO THE BLUE DRAGON (left hand), REACHING RIGHTWARD TO THE WHITE TIGER (right hand), REACHING BACKWARD TO THE BLACK TORTOISE (left hand, then right hand), TURNING A WINCH (left hand, then right hand), and finally DRAGON & TIGER MEET (both hands), followed by a closing posture. This exercise, which has never been shown before, is demonstrated below:
Your hands grasp into fists and are placed at the sides of your waist, your tailbone tucking in. See photo 8:
[Movement 1] HANDS PROP UP THE SUN & MOON
Continuing from the previous posture, your fists go upward, turning over and becoming palms, the fingers pointing toward each other. First look toward your left hand, then your right, welcoming the energy of the sun and moon. See photo 9:
[Movements 2 & 3] REACHING FORWARD TO THE RED BIRD
Continuing from the previous posture, first withdraw to the beginning posture. Then your left hand extends forward as a palm. Your left hand then moves outward to the left until it is making a right angle with your left leg, becomes a fist, and returns to your waist. Then perform the same action with your right hand. See photo 10:
[Movements 4 & 5] REACHING LEFTWARD TO THE BLUE DRAGON [& REACHING RIGHTWARD TO THE WHITE TIGER]
From the beginning posture, your left hand extends to the left as a palm, then becomes a fist and returns to your waist. Then perform the same action with your right hand. (When going to the right side, this is called REACHING RIGHTWARD TO THE WHITE TIGER.) See photo 11:
[Movements 6 & 7] REACHING BACKWARD TO THE BLACK TORTOISE
From the beginning posture, your left hand extends to the rear as a palm, then becomes a fist and returns to your waist. Then perform the same action with your right hand. (Your feet do not move, your torso simply twists.) See photo 12:
[Movements 8 & 9] TURNING A WINCH
From the beginning posture, your left hand extends forward as a palm, draws a large arc downward to touch your toes (bending at the waist instead of bending the knees), lifts upward to the left side until making a right angle with your left leg, then becomes a fist and returns to your waist. Then perform the same action with your right hand. See photo 13:
[Movement 10] DRAGON & TIGER MEET
From the beginning posture, both hands go forward as palms, brush outward with the backs of the hands, prop up with the palms turning over to be facing upward, the hands crossing, then return to your waist [as fists]. See photo 14:
From the beginning posture, your hands press down as palms. Your intention settles at your elixir field, establishing an elegant calm that lingers long, a sense of having nothing at all to do. See photo 15:
To repeat the exercise instead of closing already, go from movement 7 back to movement 3 [skipping movement 2 since movement 7 is so similar to it], performing movements 3–7 as many times as you please before finally closing.
DAOIST SEATED METHODS FOR RIDDING ILLNESS & INVIGORATING THE BODY
These Daoist seated exercises for ridding illness are also called Internal Baduanjin. They also appear within the Yijinjing [“Sinew Changing Classic”] exercises that are known as Shi’erduanjin [“Twelve Sections of Brocade”]. The final four of those twelve are explained after as finishing exercises, whereas this set of exercises is comprised of the eight shown immediately below.
This set of exercises was gradually lost over time. The versions I have seen in bookshops are not authentic and depict many variant teachings, and it is rare to find someone who is good at those other versions anyway. To obtain this unique series of exercises, I spent two years in the arduous quest for it. Therefore I hope that these teachings being passed on to you, having been so hard-earned, will not be met with dismissive indifference.
The sitting method is the same as before, but if you are already tired of sitting, get up and do the walking exercise of two steps forward and one step back, then sit again. Do these exercises after waking up in the morning, and then after practicing other exercises in the evening. These exercises are a method of ridding illness and promoting longevity.
If you are already spending your time doing other Daoist practices, then you probably would not need to do these. The aforementioned variant versions are usually categorized as “training”, and thus they may fulfill the needs for longevity, but they do not really seem to reach the Way. When there is nothing to do and nothing to be done, that is the Way. When there is something to do and something to be done, that is not really the Way. Before studying the Way, one indeed has to go through a period of training, after which one will then be capable of discussing the Way, but it is only in this manner that seeking “longevity”, engaging in “training”, and studying the “Way” are connected. However, I will discuss the process of Daoist studies another time and for now I present these seated exercises below:
BEATING THE CELESTIAL DRUM
Your hands cover your ears. Place your forefingers on top of your middle fingers and then snap them off onto your skull, though not aggressively. The sound will be like beating a drum. Do this twenty-four times. This will toughen you against illness from both the weather and pathogens, and can relieve headaches. See photo 16:
RUBBING THE TEETH TOGETHER
Bring up your lower jaw, rub your teeth together [lightly rather than grinding] back and forth ten times, then swallow. Do this seven times. This will prevent dental illnesses and can help relieve toothache. (An old-fashioned method involves loudly biting the teeth together, but doing that over a long period results in injuring the teeth, and so it is not as good as this method.) There is really no way to demonstrate this in a photograph, so this photo simply has the lips parted to show the teeth and give a sense of them rubbing together, though the mouth is actually closed when practicing. See photo 17:
RUBBING THE CLAY-PELLET PALACE
One hand rubs Mt. Kunlun (the upper area of the occipital bone) while the other hand rubs the front area of your headtop (an inch above the hairline being the “clay-pellet palace”, also called the fontanel). Do this twenty-four times. This will relieve headaches. See photo 18:
BRIGHTENING THE EYES
Interlink your fingers so that your right little finger is on the outside and put the base of each thumb at the side of your nose. Then rub outward from the inner corner of the eye to the outer corner, slightly pausing as you reach your temples. (This rubbing action of course moves along the eyelids and not directly on the eyes themselves.) Do this twenty-four times. (If it is winter, first rub the base of each thumb against the opposite palm until it is warm in order to keep cold hands from counterproductively making your face uncomfortable.) This can improve vision and prevent eye disease. See photo 19:
RUBBING THE NECK
One hand rubs your clay-pellet palace while the other hand rubs the back of your neck. Do this twenty-four times. See photo 20:
RUBBING THE FACE
Rub your palms together thirty-six times, making them hot, then rub your face up and down twenty-four times. This can prevent wrinkles and brighten your complexion. See photo 21:
REVIVING THE EARS
Your hands cover your ears. Cover them lightly and then release more strongly, in the same manner as removing a lid from a jar. This action can draw undue heat out of the ears and thereby improve hearing. Do this twelve times. See photo 22:
RUBBING THE BACK
In the winter, warm the back of each hand by rubbing it with the opposite palm, then make loose fists and rub your lower back up and down on the sides of the lumbar vertebra. Do this twelve times. Allow the movement to make your torso shake and to push out frequent exhalations, the movement giving the exercise its other name: MYTHICAL TURTLE WAGS ITS TAIL. This can help dispel indigestion. See photo 23 (which is shown in a shirt, though this exercise is best practiced shirtless):
Having completed the Internal Baduanjin exercises, there is still more to do while you are sitting.
 After practicing, you can slowly stretch out your arms and legs as before in the resting position.
 Then sit up on the mat with your legs extended parallel and without tensing your leg muscles. Use your middle fingers to rub each kneecap twenty-four times.
 Then use the fingertips to rub the backs of the knees twelve times, being careful that this is an action of rubbing rather than scratching.
 Then bend one leg over the other, the other remaining extended, and use one hand to gently pull back the toes while the other hand rubs the sole of the foot at the Yongquan [“bubbling well”] acupoint (which can be found at the middle of the foot where the valley between the two forward pads of the foot finishes). Rub this area twenty-four times. Continuing to do this into old age will prevent numbness or atrophy of the foot muscles. See photo 24 (which is shown in socks, though this exercise is best practiced sockless):
FINISHING EXERCISE FOR SEATED MEDITATION IN THE EVENING
The previous two sections have to do with meditating in the morning. It is not necessary to do as many things to finish in the evening. As before, if you have had enough sitting, you may get up and do the walking exercise of two steps forward and one step back, then sit again. One hand rubs your elixir field while the other rubs your back. The hand rubbing your elixir field uses the edge of the palm, placed sideways on your lower abdomen, and rubs side to side twenty-four times. Then move the back-rubbing hand to the front, as in the photo. This will help rid you of the day’s indigestions, after which you can slowly get out of the position and go to sleep. See photo 25:
All of these meditation exercises are means of helping the body into a state of emptiness, in contrast to the affairs of the day that keep the body from finding such emptiness. (There are additional exercises such as “three centers facing the sky”, “five centers facing the sky”, “tortoise sleeping”, “crane sleeping”, and “snake sleeping”, which are not easy to practice unless you already have some skill in martial arts, and so they are not described here.)