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What are internal practices suitable for self-study?

 

It's an interesting question with two complementary answers. There is the perspective of complete formal practice that allows the practitioner to advance from complete naivety to mastery within its self-contained systemic framework. The other view is that of wisdom and insight into what the this thing "self" that we consider as defining, or confining, us really is. This wisdom aspect is the vitally important element which enables the formal routines to provide benefit and success.

 

Wisdom

 

The general benefit of wisdom deals with karma, both positive and negative, which is our desiring and rejecting habitual view of relating ourselves to our experiences. This is practical observation and not intellectual deduction merely. When a baby is born all pretty much all she does is to shit, cry, and smile. The baby doesn't have any functioning conception of self-worth for herself or for others. This doesn't prevent her from experiencing life and reality naturally like a human baby does. Only later in the childhood would she learn that people assign worthiness to their experiences and infectiously project these out of their persons. A labeled world of good and bad phenomena is traded around like collectible card games, and the only way out of this is to realize that it is a game that can be suspended or quit. The path of wisdom is returning to that earlier puerile innocence that didn't see the world through permanent divisive categories or absolute judgements: we call this nonduality. It asks for genuine inquiry, curiosity, and taking into account the context of experiences. The world and its people reveal themselves as they are: sometimes sweet, sometimes annoying, often helpful, and rarely committed to wisdom. None of these observations are anything but transitory insights into human condition, which makes no impact to our innate worth how we are free to evaluate and judge our worthiness or just leave it as undefined like it naturally is.

 

It's about opening up instead of closing in. Please do not see what I described as any sort of nihilism or radical equalization of all experiences. Defaulting views to nothingness or indifference are marks of not having much understanding nor insight. The high point of wisdom is to train and live through a natural relaxed and flexible view that easily defaults to undefined. The real you is spontaneous and true to your own innate goodness underneath those impulsive habits that cloud it.

 

There are many ways to approach purifying karma, but all have the same fundamental flavors of becoming fully aware of your own suffering and that this limited view is not the entire picture or permanent at all. Yogis can train their familiarity with the open awareness all living beings have in common or they can offer their selfless service to the world in the face of abuse and scorn, up to the point of martyrdom. Make no mistake: The real challenge of wisdom is in facing all your fears and disdain. All the things you would rather avoid and not confront are the very same poisons that when taken in correct doses with good skill become antidotes and medicine that sets you free from these compulsions. Suddenly you feel liberated: much lighter and healthier. What a bliss, what a silly way it was to trap yourself in such a meaningless bubble!

 

In the Western world we have relatively little active culture into the study and preservation of universal wisdom. This problem can be solved through studying some living wisdom tradition and looking into the process of inquiring into one's limited conceptions of self.

 

For this purpose I have looked into some good and short videos that give insight into how people's perceptions of stress and themselves can give rise to real life changing skills and realizations. The core wisdom here is that if you want to change yourself and your sense of self, then you should first have a healthy and strong sense of self.

 

 

Assorted Videos about Self-Compassion and Emotional Welfare

 

 

 

Getting a Clue about Wisdom and Virtue (De)

 

For a good introduction to a wisdom tradition that can take you all the way to complete enlightenment I recommend Shanrendao. It's inspired by the Confucian tradition where the central teachings is that the person should seek to perfect his role and function in the society and within his family, gracefully and gratefully accept all "polishing" others may unkindly serve him, and still remain true to himself and not suppress his emotions and desires. The formula is simple, but difficult to master because people might be unable to express their emotions in a true or meaningful ways. More about this later.

 

I personally have a strong liking towards Confucian view of De because it is all-encompassing and emphasizes that cultivation truly isn't about this or that formal technique, but becoming wise and genuine person with a crystal clear conscience. This lesson is especially important in our age.

 

With Confucian healing and wisdom in mind, I highly recommend the books Let the Radiant Yang Shine Forth: Lectures on Virtue by Liu Yousheng and Twelve Characters: A Transmission of Wang Fengyi's Teachings.

 

Below is a diagram that shows Wang Fengyi's Shanrendao tradition's insights into the classic Five Elemental Processes and how they connect to different behaviors. These can also be useful in diagnosis which is clearly presented in the clinical healing cases of Liu Yousheng's magnificent book.

 

shanrendao-healing.png.f2e2a81a96c5ffaa804e0b45ed9d5465.png

 

There currently is another English translation of Wang Fengyi's teachings available: Discourse on Transforming Inner Nature. Both this and the Twelve Characters book are among the clearest expositions of spiritual cultivation that I have found anywhere. Wang Fengyi masterfully illuminates the similarities and differences in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism.

 


Teachings about Open Awareness, Meditation and Nondual Wisdom

 

C T's excellent topic is a treasure trove of both Buddhist and universal wisdom:

 

 

Click here to see what Steve suggested on this thread.


Click here to see what dwai suggested on this thread.

 

 

Formal Practices

 

The problem with formal self-study is two-fold: it typically hinders cultivating the peace of heart and body correctly. Without confessing these as the primary way there is no true cultivation or satisfaction happening, but the genesis of agitation.

 

 

Emotions Must Be Addressed First

 

Your heart is the window to your entire being. If you have a lot of wild emotions that are easily stirred, then it's guaranteed that your mind will not know peace, but always search for channels for that restlessness.

 

The most critical foundation for internal training and safe energetics is that the emotions must be healed through what could be called a process of acceptance, balance, and integration. If emotions flare, then the body's vital energies are diverted into excessive tantrums that weaken the whole bodymind complex. This weakens and counteracts any healing that is supposed to happen naturally, and strong emotions are a contraindication for energetic practice because they may cause deviations. Therefore it's an incontestable premise that calmness of heart is the way to vitality and energy, but it must happen naturally through wisdom and not by forcing.

 

Suppressing emotions is unhealthy. It shuns the wisdom and awareness of experiences as they are, so it sets the stage for growing psychological and ethical issues if not addressed early enough. These are deviations from proper practice which, if perpetuated, will almost certainly lead to unwholesome trance states. Bliss and pleasure seeking are often convenient masks for not wanting to deal with uncomfortable emotions or traumas. There is nothing wrong in either as such, but forceful desires and "positive attitude" will not genuinely calm the heart.

 

Please this topic I wrote about psychic trance states that flawed practice and emergence of psychic shadows can cause:

 

 

For instant karmic cleansing and emotional balancing, the most rudimentary things you could do relate to your emotions. You could offer sincere and deeply heartfelt personal apologies for every tantrum you have projected onto others; you could try acting out difficult emotions, maybe in a social setting like improvisation theater hobby; and you could do exercises like Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) that are designed to unwind traumatic emotions that the human body might suppress and keep inside (see the works of David Bercelli and Peter Levine).

 

Please consult your health care provider before trying the following exercise on your own and decide together whether it suits you.

 

A Simple TRE Flavored Practice

 

Spoiler

1. Lie on your back.


2. Put your feet bottoms facing together as in the butterfly pose. Your knees open to the sides.

 

Open the spoiler tag below to see what you should be looking like right now:

Spoiler

YogaClass.jpg

 

3. Pull your knees closer together using just the barest amount of force so that they don't actually move them any closer. You want to keep engaging this threshold of muscular activation without moving them.


4. The threshold activation of your thigh muscles will tire them so they will start to shiver and shake spontaneously. Allow these tremors expand and travel to other parts of the body if it happens on its own.


5. Let spontaneous shivering and shaking happen for 20-30 minutes. If you want and are able to, it's perfectly fine and actually recommendable to vocalize any emotions you might experience while practicing.


6. Rest a while after finishing.

 

 

Please note that this exercise is not supposed to be Spontaneous Qigong or any other type of energetic exercise. It's just supposed get emotions out and help you relax.

 

Another thing to consider that if you have a lot of stress and tension within your muscles and fascia, this probably is a sign that you have kept emotions inside in a very corporeal sense. In this case very spiritual practices can be unsuitable because they might provoke excess irritation, unstable mind, and general disconnect and floating attitude towards mundane activities. TRE is one way to help improve the situation because it removes tension, but so also is the traditional Chinese standing exercise Zhan Zhuang (ZZ). You would have to be mindful that not all ZZ teachings and standing poses are equal, and that those starting with energy body activation may be unsuitable for beginners with bad health.

 

Static standing exercises like Zhan Zhuang in internal martial arts offer simplicity and stability, but finding the correct beneficial physical alignment on your own can be very difficult, and especially so if starting when in ill health and a tense body. If your Zhan Zhuang doesn't make your cry or challenge your comfort zone while standing extended periods, then you probably should look into finding better instructions because getting that deep seated tension off your body really requires facing discomfort. It's a painful process for a while, but when done carefully and correctly, you will be much relieved.

 

 

Getting into Energetics

 

There are following main factors that make the formal internal practice good for self-study:

 

1. Safety (It's difficult to fumble with the practice. Mostly safe even for pregnant women and the fetus.)
2. Effectiveness (Brings good and clear results every time.)
3. Ease (Allows good practice from beginner level to complete mastery.)
4. Completeness (Not a sprawling system, but a clear sense of defined practices and progression with them.)

 

All of these together lead to the summit that the practice is really self-correcting and can be well traveled without any teacher's supervision, continual corrections, or amending with advanced instructions.

 

It's an evergreen fare on this forum that people come looking for practices as a means to satisfy some fixed personal desire. Often this fixity is then channeled as meeting some whimsical aim and urge to take forceful control that deviates from the laid back wisdom of true contemplative and peaceful heart. Therefore there's a lot of room for creating errors.

 

Not only are many people dissatisfied with simple and efficient exercises, but they want also to modify what they have previously seen or create their own brand new fad methods in order to evoke a sense of external mastery. Some are more modest and publicly only claim high mastery in kungfu or meditation without making alterations to established standards. All these are signs of self-initiation, which is in contrast to an open minded and respectful self-study.

 

Yes, it's entirely possible to train energy in a multitude of different ways, but not all of them are beneficial in the long term or fostering fair character development. Safety is another factor that can't be neglected especially when learning on your own. Please see the following topic I wrote about Qi deviations:

 

 

There are simple moving exercises in many Qigong styles, but even in these people may err while learning on their own or forget to foster adequate physical relaxation. Also, this forum has witnessed many occasions where a disgruntled practitioner lashes out against his teacher because the physical movement apparently invites overtly critical examination and experimentation. Therefore I have a bias against recommending very physical practices for people wishing to study on their own.

 

Visualization practices are an endless mire because they don't easily offer the mind to really relax and diffuse the baseline agitation nor shed the desire to imagine new ways to cut the practice short. How could it then result in correct outcomes?

 

The most difficult part really is that no instruction is foolproof for teaching how to not stir the heart, but gracefully accept even difficult emotions and thoughts that may surface and witness them with laid back awareness. If this obstacle is overcome, then the self-study has a chance to bear fruit. Some practices are more forgiving with them such that Flying Phoenix doesn't require mental stillness for effectiveness and Fragrant Qigong encourages an idle mind so strongly that it's okay to watch TV while practicing.

 

I really am recommending you to think how you would like to practice, what are your lifestyle restrictions, and what you are after. There are upsides and downsides to every practice. Some styles don't mix well with others and some require adhering to specific precautions unless you wish to get sick.

 

Video instructions only rarely feature complete exercises without withholding the internal development and lineage skills as closed secrets. These that I have found and presented below have in-built safety mechanisms that also reinforce good results, unless deliberately acted against that design. However, the characteristic feature always is simplicity and effectiveness.

 

These written instruction often are the best of complete arts that were detailed in popular booklets during the China's booming Qigong craze. These are simple enough instruction that they could be printed out and distributed.

 

You will have to seek my suggested formal practices from authoritative sources. I have linked the best I could find.

 


Video Instructions

 

Flying Phoenix - Features breath sequencing that quickly activates spinal energy, which makes its static standing exercises uncharacteristically very safe and powerful for self-learning. It also features moving and sitting meditations.


Fragnant Qigong (Xiang Gong) - Very simple movements and powerful effects, but the practice has a lot of prohibitions. There apparently are flawed public demonstrations circulating in the Internet, so it must be learned from an authentic source.


Wu Wei Qigong by George Xu - Supposedly activates an esoteric wheel in the belly to cultivate energy throughtout the day, which is similar to Falun Gong's Qigong but without its limitations.
 

 

Written Instructions

 

Relaxation Qigong (Fang Song Gong) - Relaxation as a way to deep meditation, therefore dismisses forms and takes it the easy way. For advanced practitioners it provides a cool way to do meta-acupuncture for oneself.


Longevity Self-Massage (Bedside Baduajin) - A quick and simple set of external massages, but supplements with an internal aspect that is a great way to get into Buddhist flavored Anapanasati meditation.

 

 

Final Words

 

Did you enjoy it? I sincerely hope so! I will keep updating this Internal Arts primer article if I receive convincing arguments why some certain viewpoints or practices should be included. Please bear in mind that I am keeping the bar very high and I will not include anything without careful examination. Examples of what will not qualify for self-study: Taiji Qigong Shibashi, all spontaneous Qigong styles without any exception. If you don't understand why, then read my article again and contemplate what might be missing.

 

My thanks go to  @C T, @dwai, @steve, and @freeform for their helpful suggestions and inspiration they have kindly provided.

Edited by virtue
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Posted (edited)

Speaking as an Asian who's mingled and lived among Europeans for many years, the observation is that Europeans are way more inquisitive and demanding than Asians. (Im referring to cultivation). Asians tend to be more patient, laid back, obedient enough to follow instructions to the letter, and most would have no hesitation to trust their teachers' words implicitly. Asians are also a lot more subservient. Maybe because the old masters cannot stand prickly and arrogant attitudes, and in order to gain access to the master's inner circle, they learn to accept all sorts of menial tasks, like emptying the master's spittoon, putting shoes on his/her feet, giving the master foot massages, doing the master's laundry and what not. Some westerners can dig it, enough to see the benefit of reverence and subservience, but most would have none of that. Its not a fault - just the way the Western psyche is wired. They think money talks, and so as long as they're willing to pay, they expect the exchange of goods to be mutually understood and accepted, but unsurprisingly, thats far removed from the truth, relative to finding an authentic guru or sifu. Resisting the urge to be humble enough to serve the guru is the SOP of the western psyche, so not a lot can be done, except where, once in a while, the odd westerner makes it to become a close disciple, and get to learn all the secrets from understanding the value of patience, devotion and humility within the sphere of spiritual/martial cultivation. Without the deep penetration of these 3 virtues, most western wannabe students seldom get much result from whatever they practice. Whats worse, they jump from path to path, school to school, without once realising the real impediment is not the system or the path or the school, but their own lack of understanding and self-awareness.  

Edited by C T
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Just to be clear, my post does not imply that somehow Asians are superior to their western counterparts when it comes to mastering internal arts/spiritual transcendence. Far from it. In my experience, a western close disciple who's been accepted into the inner circle tend to excel to a greater degree than his or her Asian close disciples. 

 

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3 hours ago, virtue said:

Video instructions only rarely feature complete exercises without withholding the internal development and lineage skills as closed secrets. These that I have found have in-built safety mechanisms that also reinforce good results, unless deliberately acted against that design. However, the characteristic feature always is simplicity and effectiveness.

 

I was going to but in but then you covered it.

 

What, in your opinion, is the best use for instructional videos on Youtube from the more well-acclaimed schools? Personally, I feel they are fine if treated as exercises in "feeling better", provided that they are not then misused and put into one's arsenal that creates a bastardised form.

 

I think they have good uses for those that just want to dabble...

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1 hour ago, C T said:

Speaking as an Asian who's mingled and lived among Europeans for many years, the observation is that Europeans are way more inquisitive and demanding than Asians. (Im referring to cultivation). Asians tend to be more patient, laid back, obedient enough to follow instructions to the letter, and most would have no hesitation to trust their teachers' words implicitly.

 

I think this is a cultural thing that few westerners grasp. We are all given voices from a young age...

 

...democracy can be a wonderful thing but it also allows anybody to run their mouth when they have no idea what they are talking about.

 

Then there's the whole attitude of meeting expectations if money is handed over. I can't think of anyone in my close circle of friends that I would take to my teachers. I think I'd be too embarrased.

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I think the issue is that the internal arts are usually thought of in a very mystical, magical way.

 

The fact is - these arts are like any complex human endeavour.

 

Would you expect to become a master potter by watching videos or reading texts?

 

Of course not. I mean you might be able to get your hands dirty and have some fun reenacting that scene from Ghost - but will your pottery get into galleries? Will it have books written about it? Would you have commissions worth hundreds of thousands?

 

No. Only if you dedicate much of your time, money and effort. Only if you make it your life’s work. And even then it’s no guarantee - you still need some luck and a bit of talent to get anywhere.

 

In this respect, the internal arts are no different. 

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7 hours ago, C T said:

Speaking as an Asian who's mingled and lived among Europeans for many years, the observation is that Europeans are way more inquisitive and demanding than Asians. (Im referring to cultivation). Asians tend to be more patient, laid back, obedient enough to follow instructions to the letter, and most would have no hesitation to trust their teachers' words implicitly. Asians are also a lot more subservient. Maybe because the old masters cannot stand prickly and arrogant attitudes, and in order to gain access to the master's inner circle, they learn to accept all sorts of menial tasks, like emptying the master's spittoon, putting shoes on his/her feet, giving the master foot massages, doing the master's laundry and what not. Some westerners can dig it, enough to see the benefit of reverence and subservience, but most would have none of that. Its not a fault - just the way the Western psyche is wired. They think money talks, and so as long as they're willing to pay, they expect the exchange of goods to be mutually understood and accepted, but unsurprisingly, thats far removed from the truth, relative to finding an authentic guru or sifu. Resisting the urge to be humble enough to serve the guru is the SOP of the western psyche, so not a lot can be done, except where, once in a while, the odd westerner makes it to become a close disciple, and get to learn all the secrets from understanding the value of patience, devotion and humility within the sphere of spiritual/martial cultivation. Without the deep penetration of these 3 virtues, most western wannabe students seldom get much result from whatever they practice. Whats worse, they jump from path to path, school to school, without once realising the real impediment is not the system or the path or the school, but their own lack of understanding and self-awareness.  

 

6 hours ago, C T said:

Just to be clear, my post does not imply that somehow Asians are superior to their western counterparts when it comes to mastering internal arts/spiritual transcendence. Far from it. In my experience, a western close disciple who's been accepted into the inner circle tend to excel to a greater degree than his or her Asian close disciples. 

 

 

These posts could have been taken directly out of my teacher's mouth.

There is a lot of truth here, not all easy to absorb for either Easterners or Westerners.

 

Fortunately, there are a few masters who are happy to give away the deepest, most powerful secrets for anyone who is looking and open enough to receive. At that point the main obstacle becomes, as you observe, the tendency to jump from path to path and a related tendency to be guided too much by the discursive mind that can never settle on anything, always needs something new, something more stimulating.

 

My own teacher freely offers the most profound, most secretive practice there is in all of Tibetan Buddhism and Bön.

So secretive, there was a time when it was whispered by the master through a tube into the ear of a single disciple per lifetime.

Now, you don't even need to leave your couch and it doesn't cost a dime.

The only obstacle is us.

 

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What's a little unclear to me is "what is self-study"? 

That aside, yes the mind/ego abhors simplicity. The more complicated the task, the more the mind/ego loves it. :D 

Tell someone to stand in a single posture for even 10 minutes, and it rapidly becomes unpleasant.

 

Tell them that they have to create 7 colored pearls and move them through some imaginary channels within the body, the mind will gladly chomp it down and do it diligently. And "do it" will get done, and then some! 

 

That's why we have people so besotted with complicated things...more the mind/intellect engages in activity, the more "advanced" the practice seems. That is the nature of the mind. To go beyond the mind and its predilections is what I would call "Self-study", and all it really involves is staying with the feeling of "I am" that rises in the spiritual heart -- but easier said than done :D 

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32 minutes ago, freeform said:

I think the issue is that the internal arts are usually thought of in a very mystical, magical way.

 

The fact is - these arts are like any complex human endeavour.

 

Would you expect to become a master potter by watching videos or reading texts?

 

Of course not. I mean you might be able to get your hands dirty and have some fun reenacting that scene from Ghost - but will your pottery get into galleries? Will it have books written about it? Would you have commissions worth hundreds of thousands?

 

No. Only if you dedicate much of your time, money and effort. Only if you make it your life’s work. And even then it’s no guarantee - you still need some luck and a bit of talent to get anywhere.

 

In this respect, the internal arts are no different. 

 

I agree with all you write and yet there are self-taught artists with little or no formal training who are capable of the most wonderful craftsmanship and creativity. I personally do best with a lineage/master arrangement, I suspect I owe this to martial arts training under very traditional masters from childhood. As a Westerner, I'm one of those who has no problem with the Easter mindset regarding a teacher and single-minded practice. 

 

That said, there are those who are capable of connecting to the source internally that allows them access to the most profound teachings sans teacher or lineage. One of my teacher's most advanced students had her first non-dual experience at age 8 with no training or preparation. There is a wonderful museum in my home town of Baltimore called the Visionary Art Museum. It is truly a sight to behold, filled with the most masterful arts and crafts from those who've had little or no formal training. Highly recommended if you live nearby or visit. 

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23 minutes ago, steve said:

I agree with all you write and yet there are self-taught artists with little or no formal training who are capable of the most wonderful craftsmanship and creativity.


The difference, I think, is that the internal arts are far more difficult and nuanced than almost any human endeavour... 

 

Ive also met spiritual geniuses that have somehow accidentally jumped into Jhanna states or even gone through alchemical changes spontaneously. One of my teachers has quite a few students like that. But all of them still need to train - usually just as hard as anyone else. 

 

On the other hand I’ve seen natural ‘spiritually talented’ types cause terrible issues for themselves as well as for others. 

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Posted (edited)

I wanted to chip in from the mantra study that I have because of what I've learned, but a lot of people will say different things, so I will bring in the caveat that this is criteria and framework from my lineage and their respective system.

 

Generally speaking, making up your own mantra isn't a good idea from a Sanskrit mantra perspective under the lineage of Sadguru Sant Keshvadas. The sounds are vibration-based, not meaning, and each one is like coding the DNA ATGC code. Just like calling the wrong number, it doesn't matter how close you get to 867-5309--if you dialed 876-9309, you won't get Jenny. And some New Agers say you can just make something up with intent--doesn't work that way, you could try to call Jenny by hoping your fingers will find the right combination of numbers and still wouldn't get further than anyone with a phonebook.

 

So self-study of mantras like the internal arts is a complex human endeavor (to borrow from freeform's words! Thank you old chap!), and the study I have had came from Namadeva Acharya (Thomas Ashley-Farrand) and still had further guidance from his successor and widow Satyabhama through e-mail correspondence and soon mantra teacher training. 

 

Some of the ridiculous mantra teaching came from Osho, who said you could just make a neurolinguistic association with a phrase like "coca-cola" in Sex to Superconsciousness I believe, and that was a mantra. That is not how the methodology of chanting works according to what I have learned, and like dear Shixiong freeform has said before about people doing LDT focus meditation, there are no easily noticeable kinds of damage for the untrained, but there is damage to them. Likewise, as you are working on karma, the vibration of the wrong mantra practice can actually burn you instead and dial the wrong "individuals" so to speak

 

So working with mantras by making your own is not good, and getting pronunciation right is important for Sanskrit. Obviously there are regional dialects and pronunciation varies, but we are strict with ours based on observation of people who are part of this practice. 

 

Perhaps @dwai or @steve can speak more about their respective views and training on mantra in contrast to this? 

Edited by Earl Grey
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1 hour ago, Earl Grey said:

I wanted to chip in from the mantra study that I have because of what I've learned, but a lot of people will say different things, so I will bring in the caveat that this is criteria and framework from my lineage and their respective system.

 

Generally speaking, making up your own mantra isn't a good idea from a Sanskrit mantra perspective under the lineage of Sadguru Sant Keshvadas. The sounds are vibration-based, not meaning, and each one is like coding the DNA ATGC code. Just like calling the wrong number, it doesn't matter how close you get to 867-5309--if you dialed 876-9309, you won't get Jenny. And some New Agers say you can just make something up with intent--doesn't work that way, you could try to call Jenny by hoping your fingers will find the right combination of numbers and still wouldn't get further than anyone with a phonebook.

 

So self-study of mantras like the internal arts is a complex human endeavor (to borrow freeform's words, thank you old chap), and the study I have had came from Namadeva Acharya (Thomas Ashley-Farrand) and still had further guidance from his successor and widow Satyabhama through e-mail correspondence and soon mantra teacher training. 

This is very true. Not everything can be a ‘real’ mantra. The word ‘Mantra’ literally means ‘that using which the (compulsive) patterns of the mind can be transcended’ (mananam trayate iti mantrah). 
 

The other aspect is that mantras (Sanskrit — I think most eastern mantras come from Sanskrit ones) are composed of the phonemes of the Sanskrit language (50 in total) — and there is an entire school of tantra (Kashmir Shaivism) that deals with consciousness , creation and sound ( matrika chakra). So we shouldn’t take mantras lightly.

 

Quote

 

Some of the ridiculous mantra teaching came from Osho, who said you could just make a neurolinguistic association with a phrase like "coca-cola" in Sex to Superconsciousness I believe, and that was a mantra. That is not how the methodology of chanting works according to what I have learned, and like dear Shixiong freeform has said before about people doing LDT focus meditation, there are no easily noticeable kinds of damage for the untrained, but there is damage to them. Likewise, as you are working on karma, the vibration of the wrong mantra practice can actually burn you instead and dial the wrong "individuals" so to speak

 

So working with mantras by making your own is not good, and getting pronunciation right is important for Sanskrit. Obviously there are regional dialects and pronunciation varies, but we are strict with ours based on observation of people who are part of this practice. 

Yes. From a Hindu perspective,  the meter (rhythm) and pronunciation and intonation are all very vital. The sāma Veda is all about this. 

Quote

 

Perhaps @dwai or @steve can speak more about their respective views and training on mantra in contrast to this? 

Shared my two cents worth. I was first ‘officially’ initiated into mantras when I got my sacred thread. There is an entire system of practice among Hindus that deal with what is called ‘brahmopadesham’ (transmission into the knowledge of Brahman/Self realization). 
 

I received two other mantras at different stages of my life in dreams/in between waking and dream states which I believe was a result of past life karmic fruition. 
 

Only one mantra I took up myself, based on my personal deity of choice. If we have devotion towards a deity then it is okay to pick up a simple mantra and practice with full dedication and love. 
 

PS: I need to mention that mantra chanting also has rules — the number  of times to chant in one sitting, as well as how many times to chant overall for it to bear fruit.

Typically the number of syllables in the mantra determine how many times to practice. For e.g., if your mantra is “Om NAMAH SHIVAYA”, it is a 6 syllable mantra — so if someone undertakes its practice, one has to practice every day, at least 108 times in one sitting and 600,000 repetitions as one “full cycle”. Sometimes the teacher will tell us to do more than one cycle. It is a serious responsibility. 

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7 hours ago, Rara said:

 

I think this is a cultural thing that few westerners grasp. We are all given voices from a young age...

 

...democracy can be a wonderful thing but it also allows anybody to run their mouth when they have no idea what they are talking about.

 

Then there's the whole attitude of meeting expectations if money is handed over. I can't think of anyone in my close circle of friends that I would take to my teachers. I think I'd be too embarrased.

In the Hindu traditions there is something known as ‘adhikara bheda’ (literally meaning differentiation based on qualification). It implies that not everyone is entitled to knowledge simply because they were told that the world is a democratic place,  and that all people were created equal. :) 


Being tongue-in-cheek here. While I do believe that all have the right to the same knowledge (by that I mean highest spiritual knowledge), not everyone is qualified to wield it. Knowledge of certain kind is fortified in tradition for a reason — that it doesn’t fall into the hands of the unqualified. The rules for qualification are often wrongly attributed to race, caste, religion etc. But really it is about how ‘ready’ is the student to have his/her world torn apart by the truth :) 

 

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I agree with everything Earl Grey offers. We cannot create mantra. We should not take it lightly. We cannot create it with the mind or from desire or ego, and as beginners it is far better to adopt time tested mantras handed down by those that have gone before. It is good to trust those.

 

And if we are connected to the source, mantra can also spontaneously arise. That mantra is not made up but is, in the deepest sense, self study. You can trust it fully, but only if you are truly connected to the source. Because the mantra is the song of the source, it is the source itself speaking in its own language. Not the language of the mind.

 

All indigenous traditions include mantra and often we need to discover it on our own in these traditions, while some are standardized and handed down. In many traditions we find our own songs of battle, of death, of prayer...  As we moved away from the hunter/gatherer who needed to know each aspect of life to the agrarian community that divided responsibility we seem to have lost, or given up the ability, the confidence, and the knowledge to find it ourselves. So we depend on our shamans and priests to give them to us and that is not a bad thing, particularly as most of us are not able or ready to find our owns 

 

My teacher brought a new melody to an ancient mantra of our tradition. Not everyone is comfortable with that, not even me at first. But I believe it came from a deep and personal place connected with the source and, as such, it does have the power of mantra. As I open more to it, I connect to it more deeply.

 

So we must first have that connection, know where to look, and be open and quiet enough inside to hear and recognize. And until we reach that point, which is quite subtle and elusive, we are far better off connecting with and trusting a tradition that can guide us in the right direction. If we do the work and it is effective, then is the time to create... for me. I can only speak for me, from my experience, and from my heart. We each need to find that in our own way.

 

And I see there’ve been a few replies while I’ve typed but I’ll post this first.

 

 

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2 hours ago, dwai said:

What's a little unclear to me is "what is self-study"? 

That aside, yes the mind/ego abhors simplicity. The more complicated the task, the more the mind/ego loves it. :D 

Tell someone to stand in a single posture for even 10 minutes, and it rapidly becomes unpleasant.

 

Tell them that they have to create 7 colored pearls and move them through some imaginary channels within the body, the mind will gladly chomp it down and do it diligently. And "do it" will get done, and then some! 

 

That's why we have people so besotted with complicated things...more the mind/intellect engages in activity, the more "advanced" the practice seems. That is the nature of the mind. To go beyond the mind and its predilections is what I would call "Self-study", and all it really involves is staying with the feeling of "I am" that rises in the spiritual heart -- but easier said than done :D 

And easier done with patient, daily remembering...

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, freeform said:


The difference, I think, is that the internal arts are far more difficult and nuanced than almost any human endeavour... 

 Perhaps because the internal arts are the investigation of the root of all human endeavor, the investigation of the mind, body, and spirit.

Edited by steve
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On 3/16/2020 at 6:01 AM, virtue said:

The problem with self-study is two-fold: it typically hinders cultivating the peace of heart and body correctly. Without confessing these as the primary way there is no true cultivation or satisfaction happening, but the genesis of agitation.

 

It's an evergreen fare on this forum that people come looking for practices as a means to satisfy some fixed personal desire. Often this fixity is then channeled as meeting some whimsical aim and urge to take forceful control that deviates from the laid back wisdom of true contemplative and peaceful heart. Therefore there's a lot of room for creating errors.

 

Not only are many people dissatisfied with simple and efficient exercises, but also they want to modify what they have previously seen or create their own brand new fad methods in order to evoke a sense of external mastery. Some are more modest and publicly only claim high mastery in kungfu or meditation without making alterations to established standards. All these are signs of self-initiation, which is in contrast to an open minded and respectful self-study.

 

Yes, it's entirely possible to train energy in a multitude of different ways, but not all of them are beneficial in the long term or fostering fair character development. Safety is another factor that can't be neglected especially when learning on your own.

 

 

 

Static standing exercises like Zhan Zhuang in internal martial arts offer simplicity and stability, but finding the correct beneficial physical alignment on your own can be very difficult, and especially so if starting when in ill health and a tense body. There are simple moving exercises in many Qigong styles, but even in these people may err while learning on their own or forget to foster adequate physical relaxation. Also, this forum has witnessed many occasions where a disgruntled practitioner lashes out against his teacher because the physical movement apparently invites overtly critical examination and experimentation. Therefore I have a bias against recommending very physical practices for people wishing to study on their own.

 

Visualization practices are an endless mire because they don't easily offer the mind to really relax and diffuse the baseline agitation nor shed the desire to imagine new ways to cut the practice short. How could it then result in correct outcomes?

 

The most difficult part really is that no instruction is foolproof for teaching how to not stir the heart, but gracefully accept even difficult emotions and thoughts that may surface and witness them with laid back awareness. If this obstacle is overcome, then the self-study has a chance to bear fruit. Some practices are more forgiving with them such that Flying Phoenix doesn't require mental stillness for effectiveness and Fragrant Qigong encourages an idle mind so much that it's okay to watch TV while practicing.

 

There are upsides and downsides to every practice. Some don't mix well with others, some require adhering to specific precautions.

 

Video instructions only rarely feature complete exercises without withholding the internal development and lineage skills as closed secrets. These that I have found have in-built safety mechanisms that also reinforce good results, unless deliberately acted against that design. However, the characteristic feature always is simplicity and effectiveness.

 

Written instruction often are the best of complete arts that were detailed in popular booklets during the China's booming Qigong craze. These are simple enough instruction that they could be printed out and distributed.


Video Instructions

 

Flying Phoenix - Breath sequencing that quickly activates energy, which makes its static standing exercises uncharacteristically very safe for self-learning
Fragnant Qigong (Xiang Gong) - Very simple movements, but apparently there are flawed public demonstrations circulating in the Internet, so it must be learned from an authentic source
Wu Wei Qigong by George Xu - Supposedly activates an esoteric wheel in the belly to cultivate energy for the practitioner, which is similar to Falun Gong but without its limitations

 

Written Instructions

 

Relaxation Qigong (Fang Song Gong) - Relaxation as a way to deep meditation, therefore dismisses forms and takes it easy
Longevity Self-Massage (Bedside Baduajin) - A quick and simple set of external massages, but supplements with an internal aspect


I will keep updating this list if I receive convincing arguments why some certain practice should be included above. Please bear in mind that I am keeping the bar very high and I will not include anything without careful examination. Examples of what will not qualify for self-study: Taiji Qigong Shibashi, all spontaneous Qigong styles without any exception. If you don't understand why, then read my article again and contemplate what might be missing.

 

I bow to your generous spirit!

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On 17/03/2020 at 12:38 AM, dwai said:

Knowledge of certain kind is fortified in tradition for a reason — that it doesn’t fall into the hands of the unqualified. The rules for qualification are often wrongly attributed to race, caste, religion etc. But really it is about how ‘ready’ is the student to have his/her world torn apart by the truth :) 

 

Is that based on dogma, with regards to reincarnation?

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35 minutes ago, Rara said:

 

Is that based on dogma, with regards to reincarnation?

No dogma wrt reincarnation :) — it is as real as night and day ;) 
 

 No, this ‘gating’ is based on the state of mental clarity of the seeker. The quest for Self-realization is so subtle that it cannot be undertaken without a pure/still/tranquil mind.

 

All meditative practices are preparatory steps to take the individual into stillness (samādhi).

 

Without stillness the knowledge of the Self cannot be known directly. 

 

 

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Posted (edited)
On 3/16/2020 at 9:01 AM, virtue said:


I will keep updating this list if I receive convincing arguments why some certain practice should be included above. Please bear in mind that I am keeping the bar very high and I will not include anything without careful examination. 

 

Hi virtue, I appreciate you doing this. While many will be quarantined or retreating from society, this is a great opportunity to work on ourselves. I am not going to make any effort to convince anyone of anything, no arguments here either for or against. I'll add some links below to practices that have profoundly changed my life for the better. I discovered these Bön practices after about 13 years of intensive practice of Daoist meditation, neigong, qigong, and internal martial arts. The Bön practices can be easily learned online with video guidance. These practices can be extremely powerful for clearing obstacles of body, energy, and mind. We all resonate differently with different practices so I think it is good to try things on and see how they fit. 

 

One way to approach this is through a two part self-paced home study program you can find at the link below.

It teaches basic breathing, body movement, and meditation from the Bön dzogchen path.

It is free but you need to create an account. 

https://ligminchalearning.com/starting-a-meditation-practice/

 

Another option is to look at the other courses available on the same website.

These are guided online programs for a fee.

One I highly recommend is The Five Elements: Healing with Form, Energy, and Light.

It is rooted in the Bön shamanic and dzogchen traditions.

https://ligminchalearning.com/

 

Warm regards to everyone.

I hope and pray you all stay safe through these unprecedented times.

 

PS - I don't see any links to videos in the OP, am I missing something?

Edited by steve
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Here's my list of practice recommendations.

To develop discernment between the Self and not-self --

Spoiler

 

Lectures and meditation on identifying the unchanging background to the changing universe 

Spoiler

 

 

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There are several types of mantra practices.  Some mantras are actually breathing techniques that create a different rhythm inside you.

A second type is simply to fully occupy the "mind", so that you might if you are lucky feel your real self, and so is similar to Vipassana.

A third type is when the mantra is a technique to aid in the transmission of a state of awakening, often represented by a symbol like Siva.

A fourth type is when any energy of the lower domain is accessed giving rise to all sorts of impure experiences that fools love so much, energies man.

Perhaps there are more.

If you are doing a mantra that is meant to be a breathing regulation, then you must vocalize it ... or it won't work.

etc... these practices are often handed down with no understanding of what or why they are doing, and so might be done wrong.

 

On cultivation :   The false self of the ordinary human is always collecting things.  Money, fear, prestige, friends, mates, cars.  You can remix this by collecting Qi or even FaJin.  But it is the same false self doing it, for the same reason, just with a little extra sensitivity of the energy dimension. 

 

Remember, Laozi says to become "The Valley of the Universe".   Not to accumulate FaJin.

Laozi, Buddha, Jesus .... they had no lineage, they followed no one.

So for spiritual seekers ... it is good to reread their lifestories and comprehend what their choices would mean in your life.

Not that cultivation or ima doesn't have value ... but you have to discern what it is you are doing, and why.

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Posted (edited)

Thank you for your thoughts @C T. I think we can all agree that there's truth to your experience. It made me realize that certain types of wisdom studies in vein of Confucianism are particularly well suited for opening the hearts of Western people. These days many people are too disconnected from human affairs and their own family in particular even though we spend our lives interacting with them. I will be adding thoughts about this later as a new section.

 

Thank you @Rara for your contribution. I have no idea what you mean by "well-acclaimed" in this context. Completeness of the art transmitted and the practitioner's genuine commitment are critical requirements, so dabbling around is not what I would endorse as a way of getting ahead. Besides, there are dabblers everywhere and topics catering to those interests on this forum, so this train of thought will be ignored now.

 

Thanks to @dwai, @Earl Grey, and @steve for bringing up mantras and other cool stuff. I have also considered your points of view for self-study of wisdom and I am also going to add thoughts about Dharma materials among other things. Then I will also take some time later to review the video links you have graciously provided.

 

Thank you @rideforever for stopping by. Unfortunately, I find much difficulty in relating to what you are saying. The latter half of your post reads like a confused stream of thoughts and I find your four descriptions about mantras very disagreeable and imprecise. Spiritual cultivation is science, not a guessing game. Others have already pointed out well that a mantra is very much like dialing to an enlightened mind for blessings, which is also my experience.

Edited by virtue
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Posted (edited)

@virtue  If you want a practice or self study I have started putting one together, in the fourth post in the following thread.  The ones with the title "Tien Shan chi Kung".  This is safe as long as you don't mix it with the wrong types of shi kung.

 

 

Edited by Starjumper
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Its both things.

 

1. Its unfair to tell people to avoid or not bother with spiritual practice, everyone has a chance to have a shot at something.

2. Spiritual practice is hard and deep and is not for everyone. There are many pitfalls that will stop people and sometimes for their own good.

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