QIGONG: Experiencing the Holy Spirit through an ancient Chinese practice
"There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy"
- Friedrich Nietzsche
There is a famous dictum in occult literature that reads: "When the student is ready the master will appear."
Of the significance of these words, I thought long and hard. Only time will tell if I am that student. It's March 12, 2015. I arrive in El Monte, Los Angeles. It's 9 a.m. and I make my way through early-morning traffic and the blaring sounds of city life.
I arrive at the Tian-Jue Qigong Foundation. The building stands almost imperial. I nervously walk in, passing golden sculpture of Buddha and the goddess Guanyin.
There is an array of Chinese characters on the walls and
banners in the main hall. The
marble floor is striking, a dome-shaped pavilion is overhead, obvious signs of opulence.
But the modernity of this setting belies the 7,500-year-old traditions that are conveyed there, daily. I enter the colossal hall where pictures of 84-year-old Grandmaster Zhou Ting-Je adorn the walls. The accolades, awards and citations are ubiquitous. And the pictures of Master Zhou jump at you.
He is either flanked by celebrities or is captured performing mind-bending, incredulous feats, such as standing mid-air on a thin sheet of paper. There is a compelling picture of him bending a sharp sword using the muscles in his throat, and using his small frame to bring a motorcycle strapped to his waist to a screeching halt.
Indelible words are also framed: "Don't be angry when others are. No one will be there for you. What benefits are there to anger; it only drains your energy."
Master Zhou has garnered international attention not only because of his unbelievable exhibitions but because of his healing powers that the famous and the nondescript have readily sought.
Before coming to El Monte I read so much about Qigong, a spiritual practice of ancient China. The West is now discovering its healing properties and spiritual benefits. They include strengthening the musculoskeletal and the nervous systems; curing skin and bone-related ailments and injuries; alleviating endocrine and metabolic imbalances; and effectively treating impotence, sterility, gynaecological problems, and even cancer.
But Qigong in modern times has been commercialised and made amenable to Western sensibilities. It has been cheapened and corrupted to the point where it has become acutely distinguishable from its original form. Weary of this development, I went to the well, to the very source, to Master Zhou.
Qi means 'energy' and gong is defined as 'cultivation,' or 'practice'.
It reasons that if God is pure sentient energy and He breathed that force into us, then we too are energy, made in His image and likeness.
Having that energy flow through us, in the right way, is magical. Regrettably, we are cut of from this life force when we engage in errant, self-destructive thoughts and behaviour.
We can harness and strengthen our Qi by eating healthy, enjoying sound sleep cycles, practising Qigong and living a selfless and righteous life.
As John 15:2 articulates: "He cuts off every branch of mine that does not bear fruit and prunes the branches that do bear fruit that they will produce even more."
I am finally greeted by Master Zhou's assistant, Katherine, a diminutive and affable woman whose command of the English language will make it that much easier for the Master to interact with me.
I am ushered into a small, comfortable room and later given a tour of the facility. Meanwhile, the clinic, adjacent to the main hall, is alive. Clients on wheelchairs, the walking wounded and the physically and emotionally ill are treated.
A case that still leaves me curious and in wonderment is that of a mentally challenged young adult who is shepherded inside by his mother. He's resistant, combative, incorrigible and, if I were to guess, suffering with autism on the spectrum. It is a challenging encounter for Master Zhou. He wins out. The young man emerges calm, almost lamb-like.
Katherine interrupts my train of thought. She tells me to relax, freshen up and ready myself for that first encounter with a man known as 'China's Jewel'.
At 5 p.m. the door to the
clinic opens to the main hall. I immediately recognise Master Zhou. He is even smaller than I imagine. How could such a small frame accomplish the physically impossible? He walks towards me with Katherine in tow. She is the communications lifeline between Master Zhou and me.
I am given a booklet on the fundamentals of the Master's unique system of Qigong.
I am advised that I must attend to all tasks before undertaking the practice. My mind must be unfettered. The lesson is already in progress and I hardly realised it. "Think happy thoughts; about the happiest times in your life," I am instructed.
It's amazing how this simple instruction can send your mind into a tailspin. Good times and bad times jockey for position. Master Zhou goes through the paces on how best to extract the most energy from breathing correctly.
It is a natural grace that we have lost over the years. My breathing is slower, more cadenced and rhythmic now. It is called 'belly breathing', where you extend your stomach as you exhale. I am standing in a meditative posture, referred to as 'Zhan Zhuang', or standing like a pole.
My arms are extended, hugging an imaginary energy ball; it is a posture called 'Chen Bao'. Never did I fathom that meditating while standing can be so efficacious.
The Master approaches and touches particular areas in my body: my hands, chest and back. He places his hands over my head. Katherine tells me that my energy centres are blocked and are being opened. Qigong teaches that illnesses are due to interrupted flow of energy through the meridians in our body.
harmonise yin and yang
Unclog the passages and you will reap physical, mental and spiritual wellness. Chinese medicine embodies the Taoist philosophy that the natural opposing forces of nature, yin and yang, must be harmonised. This balance or homoeostasis we must seek within us and in our surroundings, lest there be chaos and sickness.
Master Zhou's hands hover over my head. I feel an intense heat throughout my body. I am wobbly. He steps back. I regain my composure. The Qi emitted from Master's hands is no different to Christianity's Holy Spirit. The reaction can be similar to what is described in Acts 2:1, such as involuntary movements of the body (kriya); glossolalia (speaking in tongues), prophesying; passionate outbursts (laughing or crying); and a sense of being cleansed (catharsis).
Also, it is not uncommon to hear accounts of being healed by touching personal items imbued with the Qi of a master. And for a moment I ponder on the words spoken by an ailing woman seeking healing from Jesus in Matthew 9:21, "If only I touch his robe I will be healed".
I am brought back to the moment. The teachings I am receiving can be termed arcane and esoteric. I can only divulge that much without violating the Master's trust.
In this standing meditative posture, I am asked to direct my awareness on certain energy centres, in particular the 'Dantien', or area just under the navel. I am made aware that I could generate this immutable energy through visualisation, right breathing patterns, posture and movements.
Some movements are slow, others are more dynamic. Each movement bears a name that is fittingly descriptive: 'Lady Jade weaves,' The Black Dragon waives tail,' 'Dragon rises from the bloody sea'.
There are 12 principal meridians or channels through which the energy must be evenly distributed. I must have patience and practise.
Slowly, I am beginning to sense changes within: mental clarity, more vivid dreams, a sense of euphoria. There is also sporadic tingling in my hands and at times I am overcome with heat. But the journey has just begun.
The days drag on. There is so much more to learn but I leave with a body of knowledge that is timeless and mystifying.
Pre-Christian cultures acknowledged and embraced this Holy Spirit or Qi.
The Ancient Egyptians called it 'Kneph' or the breath of life; Hindus call it 'Kundalini, Shakipat' or the Serpent's Fire; the Greeks referred to it as 'pneuma' or spirit. In the Temple of Delphic Apollo it was symbolised as an eternal flame and in Roman paganism this energy was embodied in the sacred fire of Vesta. Surely, this is the very fire or Qi referred to in Matthew 3:12: "He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire".
n Dr Glenville Ashby is a social critic and president
of Global Interfaith
or follow him on Twitter@glenvillleashby