What you're seeking for is where you're seeking from.
Beginning learners should first understand the stabilization of the furnace and setting up of the cauldron: be careful of your activities, moderate consumption, regulate temperature, minimize slumber, collect body and mind, be sparing of vitality, be sparing of energy, be sparing of spirit; make the body peaceful, the spirit complete, and the energy strong, and then this body and mind can be the furnace and cauldron into which medicine can be put. Without this preparatory work, the furnace and cauldron will break and leak and will not be suitable for use; if you try to put medicine in there, you will have trouble.
Yu Yuwu had a saying, “If you have medicine and carry out the firing process, then metal will be pressured by fire to leap up to the heart chamber, where it turns to water and then subdues the fire so that there is no problematic overheating. If you carry out the firing process without medicine, then empty yang will rise aggressively; you will only burn your body.”
First, prepare a quiet room.
The quiet room does not have to be in the mountains or the woods. It may be in the city or in the provinces. As long as you have a place that’s useful for the purpose, it doesn’t matter where it is. The room should not be too bright, for that would hurt the yang soul, and it should not be too dark, for that would hurt the yin soul. There should be no objects in the room but an incense burner and a bench.
Second, develop will.
In this endeavor, unless you concentrate on developing your will on account of birth and death, you are highly likely to give up along the way. Therefore you must have unbending determination, persistent thought, and unflagging energy; first let go of yourself, then let go of your holdings, and be unfazed by sickness or even death. Only then have you any hope of success.
Alchemy doesn’t work if you are inconsistent. If you work on it when you are in the mood, but then get distracted by things and slack off when this mood wanes, then your spirit is influenced and your energy taken away when you are not practicing, just like someone with no accomplishment at all. Even if you get into the mood to work again, it will be like lacing with too many missing strings—it won’t be effective
What you must do is bury your past: cut off the time that has already gone by and don’t ask about it. Just rouse your vigor from this moment on, working consistently with all your effort whether or not there is anything to deal with, whether the situation is pleasing or displeasing: a day like an hour, a year like a day, a millennium like a year. Then there is no day or night, no noon or midnight, no dawn or dusk, no end or beginning of the lunar cycle, no partiality or completeness, no opening or closing; you do not hope to ascend to wizardhood and do not set up a limit, except for this whole lifetime. Only thus do you gain a little bit of accord.
Taoist study cannot have any externals burdening the mind. If you are preoccupied with family affairs, political or professional affairs, social intercourse, charms and spells, curing and divining, literature, riding, music, martial arts, gambling, or handicrafts, all of this will inhibit your mind and confuse your essential nature, so you should be very wary of it.
Fourth, practice sitting.
When you sit, spread sitting mats thickly to prevent physical discomfort and pain. Loosen your clothing and belt to prevent stagnation of energy.
To sit in the lotus posture, first put the left foot on the right thigh, then put the right foot on the left thigh. In the half lotus posture, the left foot is on the right foot. Either way will do. Next, put the left hand in the right palm, such that the thumb tips are propped up against each other. Slowly lift your body up and move from side to side to achieve a proper balance of relaxation and tension.
Then sit up straight, such that your waist, spine, and neckbones support each other, ears aligned with shoulders, nose aligned with navel, the tongue against the upper palate, lips and teeth touching. The eyes should be slightly open; they should not be completely shut, for this is the “ghost cave in the mountain of darkness,” where it is extremely easy to become oblivious and unseeing, and it is also possible to become possessed.
The body should be straight, like Buddha, not leaning to the left or right, not tilting forward or backward. Don’t lean against a support, lest you become lazy. Sitting should be relaxed and natural. The shoulders should not be too erect, for if they are too erect it is hard to persevere.
Practice should not be too intense, for if too intense it will be easily interrupted. The essential thing is to find the mean. The breath should pass through the nose. Respiration should not be coarse, should not be forced, should not be suppressed, and should not be stopped. Inhalation and exhalation should be smooth and gentle, but you should not fix your attention on this.
Once your physical posture is steady and your breathing is tuned, relax your abdomen and do not think of good or bad at all. When a thought arises, notice it; once you become aware of it, it is not there. Eventually you forget mental objects and spontaneously become unified. If you get this, you will naturally feel light and fresh; this is what is called the method of comfort.
For those who have already awakened, this is like a dragon finding water; for those who have not, just develop your will, and you will not be cheated.
When you come out of concentration, move your body slowly and get up calmly and carefully. Preserve the power of concentration at all times, like taking care of a baby, and the power of concentration will be easy to perfect. As it is said, to search for a pearl it’s better if the water is calm; if the water is agitated, it will be hard to find. When the water of concentration is calm and clear, the pearl of mind appears of
~Exerpt from Practical Taoism, Translated by Thomas Cleary
The first paragraphs are telling us about our state of mind upon entering the work; mindlessness, as opposed to mind-full-ness, is the way. Do not focus on any contents of the mind, future or past. Cutting through this and returning to the breath upon experiencing any undulation is a major foundation stone of the practice.
The medicine is lost during the menses for women, during orgasm for men. Feeding the senses with your attachments, stress and illness can also damage the medicine.
The first step is obvious. The more we have in a room to distract us, the more our mind will try to grasp onto sense objects. At a certain stage, we will be beyond this consideration, but it will still aid us in our more sensitive state, to prepare a space. Consecration is a key technology to drastically assist and decrease the amount of time and effort needed to achieve results.
The second step is the same major foundation stone mentioned above, from the practical side of developing the strength necessary to cut away all the nonsense and distraction. Trataka and other techniques to develop will is absolutely key; if you cannot hold your awareness in a focused yet relaxed way on the object, you have no hope for annihilating either to achieve oneness (dhyana). Dharana (pure concentration) is the intermediary stage; our degree of will determines whether or not we can pass through this threshold to enter unity for true meditation.
All work prior to dhyana is preparatory, please realize this! Many have thought they have attained something just because they have quieted the mind, or achieved a mild bliss sensation that they can trigger at will. Fellow practitioner, this is the beginning, the laying of the foundation period! We should not think that we are adepts; adept at what, exactly? Dissolve focus and enter the uniformity of existence; then we can consider ourselves adepts of form and formlessness.
The third step is key for any who would hope for quick liberation; a divided consciousness is a divided house, so if you have other arrangements that divide your focus over the work, consider your approach to take several lifetimes to achieve it. Once you gain a foothold in the work, you can dominate other spheres of experience. For now, utter devotion is demanded of us, to prepare our way for advanced practice.
The fourth step indicates that we should put aside the bodily demands, and regulate the physical form for refinement into the ultimate. We cannot expect the body, which has been trained by the mind to enslave itself to the senses, to come along willingly with this sort of retraining, but over time, the body submits itself to the mind. If the mind is focused and pure, the body will acquiesce to enter stillness.
We will end with a short passage that summarizes the whole of the work:
“All you need to do is to congeal spirit in the energy aperture.”
“Congeal Spirit” > Fix awareness with will and intention upon:
“The Energy Aperture” > The Furnace
Are you prior to removing the barriers? Focus on the furnace with awareness and intention, heat it up, and move to the barrier to dissolve it.
Are you working after removing one or multiple barriers? Focus on the furnace to heat up the fire, and rise it through the middle column.
Are you moving and combining the red and white dew? Focus on the furnace to heat up the fire, drawing it to melt the dews.
For the beginning work to the final liberation, the furnace is utilized for the primal fire. Why is it called ‘the energy aperture’? Because, unlike the hermetically sealed chamber which sublimates its medicine to the energy, the furnace is like a hole through which the light travels.
The eye is an aperture that can open or shut to control the flow of light. The furnace is an aperture that can open or shut to control the flow of energy. Their function is identical. Bellows breathing relaxes the furnace and stimulates the flow of energy to be perceived by the conscious observer. Not that it is not always flowing, but one in accord holds absolute awareness over the entirety of the process.
Devotees of life science all talk of cultivating vitality, cultivating energy, producing being from nothingness,forming an infant that, born of the energy of
sacred father and spiritual mother, is empty and effective, unlike a living human being. This doctrine is false.
Zhang Huangju said, “Creation gives life to people; its coming is subtle and simple, its ultimate extension vast and stable. If the infant actually had physical solidity, it would shortly be as solid as a living person–how could it be a spiritual subtlety?”
The Master of Eternal Spring said, “The ‘infant’ is our individual soul, our true essence, pure positive energy without adulteration. It is not that there is actually an ‘infant’ in the belly.” He also said, “If there is the slightest confusion of thought, the spirit is not purely positive.”
The Master of the White Jade Moon said, “As long as people have no mind in mind and no thought, this unadulterated clarity, immaculate, is called pure positivity.
Qing-an said, “The unique transcendental experience is to be sought outside of words. If you encounter it everywhere, realizing it and penetrating it, then returning to the perfect light of the absolute, the radiance of awareness pierces without resistance, penetrating effectively. Essence and life are both cultivated; body and spirit are both sublimated. When you are one with cosmic space, it is not hard to stand shoulder to shoulder with Wizards and Buddhas.
“Real people plunge into the abyss; floating buoyantly, they keep to the compass center.”
~Excerpts from Practical Taoism,
Translated by Thomas Cleary
I’ll leave with one other gem from this text. The whole of the work can be achieved gradually, or in a single shot:
The three passes (barriers) from effort to effortlessness constitutes the gradual method; cultivating the upper pass so as to include the lower two passes is the sudden method. Now you should directly practice refinement of spirit back into emptiness: when you reach the state of utter emptiness and silence, vitality spontaneously evolves into energy, and energy spontaneously evolves into spirit. This is penetrating the three barriers with one shot. This is simplest and easiest, most direct and quick; those on the Way should thoroughly appreciate this.