Qi Gong, Alchemy, and the Great Work
Reprinted from Original Article in New Dawn Magazine
Qi Gong has become popular in the Western world over the past decade mostly because of the steady stream of positive health studies that have emerged. Numerous studies and confirmed what several celebrity doctors have touted- Qi Gong works and it is excellent for your health. So what is this practice and where did it come from?
The literal translation of Qi Gong is “Energy Work”. It is the ancient practice of personal cultivation and transcendence that stems from the contemplative traditions of China. The early Taoists (pronounced Daoists) developed their understanding of the energy flow of the human body by observing the internal dynamics of their own life force and studying the patterns of energy movement in nature. This “Qi” or vital energy was found to circulate through specific pathways called Meridians which cover the human body. The free flow of energy is our natural state. Stagnation, blockages, excess, or deficiencies are a result of problems in the flow of this energy. The impedance, or blockages in this flow lead to illness, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and simply, bad fortune.
In the West, like many other things, our notions of capitalism and consumerism have managed to cross-infect our understanding of Qi Gong. Somehow it has become a game of acquiring MORE energy…more power, more reserves, more time to do more. Indian Yoga has also been hit with this. Somehow, Yoga has become a practice of Asanas. The practice of Yoga is one of union. There are deep contemplative aspects that include meditation, Mantra, Yantra, and the practice of Tantra. All of these serve as aspects of a whole practice that is designed to help the practitioner attain Self-realization. Now, the power yoga classes are full and few people meditate. Students get their “yoga pill” which helps them relax or maybe sculpt their behinds and they go about their daily lives. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all but enough to cause concern.
In Qi Gong, we have prescriptions that tell us to it our practice for say heart disease or diabetes. We are told to take our Qi Gong pill daily so that we can carry on with our lives…so that we carry on being who we think we are. This reductionist dilution of ancient esoteric practices is a mark of the Kali Yuga. When we have fallen into the depths of materialism and confusion, we grasp onto whatever we can in order to find our way out of the dark. That’s ok. It’s fantastic that these practices have re-surfaced and are making their way into the public eye. Now, it is time to activate them. It is now time to bring back the Alchemical origins of these practices and speak of the real transformation that these yogic practices are designed to spark.
The ancient science of Alchemy is symbolized by the transformation of lead into gold. Many have taken this to be literal. Although there are many traditions that do attempt it this way, it is considered the lower vehicle. The higher and more wholesome practice of Alchemy is that of personal transformation. It represents the conversion of the “lead” of our personal experience into the “gold” of spiritual attainment. Alchemy is the refinement of our incomplete understanding of who we truly are and is, in essence, the spiritual science of waking up to our true selves. Now, the esoteric lineage of Taoist Alchemists of my tradition have used Qi Gong as an effective vehicle for Alchemical transformation for thousands of years. It is the union of the polarized forces of yin and yang and the consolidation of energy in the dantiens (or reservoirs of Qi) that allows for the refinement of the practitioner’s energy. The goal of the initiate is to take the light of their attention and turn it inward in order to become Self-realized. Sure, along the way there is the gift of excellent health, clarity, and more stamina, but those are not ends. They are simple acknowledgements of a state of being that is our birthright.
The more we wake up to ourselves, the sooner we return to the notion of Unity Consciousness which is the non-polarized state of being from which we have all come. The essence of Qi Gong is not to run off to some far-away notion of “Heaven Above”, but, in a very real sense, imbue our material bodies with Heaven. It is to fuse Spirit and Matter into a unified field which becomes what we call our Light Body.
The notion of the Light Body is certainly not unique to the Taoists. The Egyptians, Tibetans, Inca, Maya, and Hindus (among many others) have well-articulated Light Body traditions. Initiates used to dedicate their entire lives to these practices and there was a time when incredible masters roamed freely across the planet. As the Earth slowly began to descend into its current cycle, these traditions slowly exited the public sphere and went underground. According to the ancient Vedic scholars, this is a very natural process and we are exactly where we need to be right now. That being said, a great deal of information has recently been released back into the public sphere. People are free to study what they choose and look into whatever information is interesting to them. This does create a problem, however.
The release of this information is a wonderful thing but it is not enough. I routinely meet people who can spout off about esoteric philosophy and the books that they’ve read. There are thousands of people who talk about energy flow who are stagnant and unhealthy. The problem is that it is not enough to know about these practices in theory. We MUST do the work.
Any well articulated system of Qi Gong and yoga should have a solid trajectory and discipline. The roots of this knowledge are founded on ancient traditions. These traditions help the student develop from the “ground up” and help solidify and consolidate the body-mind of the practitioner. Rooting one’s energy into the earth and allowing for the liberation of blockages is critical. Mental abstractions and philosophical meanderings are wonderful at a cocktail party but the true student is always doing the work. The true student has woken up to the cultural trance of superficiality and has jumped right into the essence of their esoteric practice. This is where true transformation occurs. This is where the magic of Alchemy happens. When we surrender ourselves to a path of liberation, we commit ourselves to a life of cleaning and clearing of karma. We are constantly engaged in the release and transformation of disharmonious energies as we become more and more aware of the living force all around us. When we become actively aware of the energetic matrix all around us, we wake up to who we truly are in the grand scheme of things.
Does this mean that we are to become very serious and not enjoy life ever? Absolutely not! The human experience is precious and we need to savor every moment we have with our families, friends, pets, and our environment. As the Kali Yuga comes to an end, it heralds the end of the need for monastic isolation and seclusion. We are here to share our experiences together and to share this world together. It is now a time to wake up to our own essential nature and to enhance ourselves through community. We can help each-other wake up by opening up dialogue that enriches and challenges. We all have so many painful memories and hurtful demons lodged inside of us that we are afraid of even looking inside.
Qi Gong is a tried and true vehicle that will help liberate stagnant energies and allow the student to find the personal power needed to unlock their own potential. When we can face ourselves, we can love ourselves. When we can love ourselves, we can love others. This is the essence of community and it is the mark of Dawn of the next Golden Age. Using a tried-and-true esoteric practice to unlock our personal energetic blockages becomes the baseline. From there, we continue to examine our own internal universe. It leads to a profound understanding of Reality. As the old Hermetic Axiom goes, “As Above, So Below”. Our ability to probe deeply within ourselves can unlock the greatest secrets of the Universe. Think of it this way: if you were to look up into the night sky and extend your vision as far as you can, what would you see? More stars. It just keeps going! Now, on the other end, we used to think of the atom as the smallest constituent piece of material reality. Since then, we have identified protons, neutron, electrons, quarks, neutrinos, and so on. It seems that the deeper we look, the more space we find. It also keeps going. So what is one to make of this? If I look either out or in, all I find is more space…an infinite extension in either direction. That suddenly puts us in a very interesting position.
As it turns out, you are the center of your entire universe. It goes up and down to infinity in both directions. Now, how does a finite mind understand this? It can’t! We must learn to find that aspect of us which is also infinite. From this perspective, everything begins to make sense. From the standpoint of infinity, we can join in the dance of Creation and understand Who we truly are. It is from this perspective that we become liberated and free. This is our essential state once we learn to stop reacting to the noise and once we balance the flow of our energy. How do we do this? Do the work!
Qi Gong exercises require physical exertion, breath coordination, mental focus, and determination on the part of the student. We need to work to clear our karmic patterns and stagnant energy so that we can perceive the infinite. Now this does not only apply to the designated times we have allocated to our physical practice. The true Alchemist is always turning lead to gold. The true Alchemist is always clearing the veil of stagnation in whatever they see around them. The practice of Qi Gong then becomes the practice of constantly being aware of the energy around you and clearing and cleaning it. The energy work becomes second nature. You are soothing flow, condensing Qi , and gaining deeper perspective in everything that you do. This then becomes the Great Work. No-matter the profession, the Alchemist is always bringing more Light into the world and illuminating the environment around them. As more people wake up to this principle, we can stop talking and start acting. When enough people wake up to this, we will rapidly see the world begin to change. As our community emerges, individual “stars” of coherent light will emerge around the planet and light up the grid. Then, we can all rejoice in the Dawn of the Next Golden Age.
Let’s get to work!
Pedram Shojai is an acclaimed Qi Gong Master and Doctor of Oriental Medicine. He is an ordained Taoist Priest from the Tao Tan Pai Lineage of Alchemy. He has studied various Alchemical traditions around the world and is an avid student of Kung Fu and Tai Chi. He lives in Southern California and has been teaching Qi Gong to students for years. He has currently produced a comprehensive 3 DVD set through Sacred Mysteries Productions (www.sacredmysteries.com). His book titled “Rise and Shine: Taoist Alchemy, Qi Gong, and the Spiritual Science of Waking Up” will be published later in 2010. Please visit taoistpath.wpengine.com for information on upcoming seminars and retreats.