On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

March 13, 2006

The Secret of the Golden Flower – Part II

Lu Yan (829-874)

Turning the Light Around and Tuning the Breath

This doctrine just requires single-minded practice. One does not need to seek experiential proof, but experiential proof comes of itself. On the whole, beginners suffer from two kinds of problems: oblivion and distraction. There is a device to get rid of them, which is simply to rest the mind on the breath.

The breath is one’s own mind; one’s own mind does the breathing. Once the mind stirs, then there is energy. Energy is basically an emanation of mind. Our thoughts are very rapid; a single random thought takes place in a moment. Inward breathing and outward breathing accompany each other like sound and echo. In a single day one breathes countless times and has countless random thoughts.

So should one have no thoughts? It is impossible to have no thoughts. Should one not breathe? It is impossible not to breathe. Nothing compares to making the affliction the medicine, which means to have mind and breath rest on each other. Therefore turning the breath should be included in turning the light around.

When you sit, lower your eyelids and then establish a point of reference. Now let go. But if you let go absolutely, you may not be able to simultaneously keep your mind on listening to your breathing. You should not allow your breathing to actually be audible; just listen to its soundlessness. Once there is sound, you are buoyed by the coarse and do not enter the fine. Then be patient and lighten up a little. The more you let go, the greater the subtlety; and the greater the subtlety, the deeper the quietude.

Eventually, even the subtle will be interrupted, and the true breathing will appear whereupon the substance of mind will become perceptible. This is because when the mind is subtle, breath is subtle; when mind is unified, it moves energy. When breath is subtle, mind is subtle; when energy is unified, it moves mind. Stabilization of mind must be preceded by development of energy, because the mind has no place to set to work on; so focus on energy is used as a starting point. This is what is called the preservation of pure energy.

Buddha said, “Place the mind on one point, and everything can be done.”

If the mind tends to run off, then unify it by means of the breath; if the breath tends to become rough, then use the mind to make it fine. If you do this, how can the mind fail to stabilize? 

Generally speaking, the two afflictions of oblivion and distraction just require quieting practice to continue unbroken day after day until complete cessation and rest occur spontaneously. When you are not sitting quietly, you may be distracted without knowing it; but once you are aware of it, distraction itself becomes a mechanism for getting rid of distraction.

As for unaware oblivion and oblivion of which you become aware, there is an inconceivable distance between them. Unaware oblivion is real oblivion; oblivion that you notice is not completely oblivious. Clear light is in this.


Distraction means the spirit if racing; oblivion means the spirit is unclear. Distraction is easy to cure; oblivion is hard to heal. Using the metaphor of illness, one that involved pain or itch can be treated with medicine, but oblivion is a symptom of paralysis, where there is no feeling.

A distracted mind can be concentrated, and a confused mind can be set in order; but oblivion is unformed darkness, in contrast to distraction, which still has some direction.

Oblivion means the lower energies are in complete control, ruling in negativity and darkness. When you are sitting quietly, if you become drowsy, this is oblivion. Repelling oblivion is simply a matter of tuning the breath. The “breath” in this case is respiration, not the “true breathing.” Nevertheless the true breathing is present within it.

Whenever you sit, you should quiet the mind and unify your energy. How is the mind quieted? The mechanism is in the breathing, but the mind alone knows you are breathing out and in; do not let the ears hear. When you don’t hear it, the breathing is fine; and when breathing is fine, the mind is clear. If you can hear it, the breathing is rough, which means the mind is cloudy. Cloudiness means oblivion, so it is natural to feel sleepy. Even so, the mind should be kept on the breathing.

Just maintain a subtle looking and listening. What is “looking”? It is the light of the eyes spontaneously shining, the eyes only looking inward and not outward. Not looking outward yet being alert is inward looking; it is not that there really is such a thing as looking inward.

What is “listening”? It is the light of the ears spontaneously listening, the ears only listening inward and not outward. Not listening outward yet being alert is inward listening; it is not that there really is such a thing as listening inward.

Listening means listening to the soundless; looking means looking at the formless.

When the eyes do not look outside and the ear do not listen outside, they are closed in and have a tendency to race around inside. Only by looking inward and listening can you prevent this inner racing as well as oblivion in between.

When you sink into oblivion and become drowsy, get up and take a walk. When your spirit has cleared, sit again. It’s best to sit for a while in the early morning when you have free time. After noontime, when there are many things to do, it’s easy to fall into oblivion. Also there’s the need to fix the length of time of meditation; it is only essential to set aside all involvements and sit quietly for a while. Eventually you will attain absorption and not become oblivious or sleepy.

Lu Yan (829-874)

Excerpted from Secret of the Golden Flower Translated by Thomas Cleary(1991)

For the readers new to meditation this excerpt gives some direct and useful hints to explore. For those who have practiced a while there are some fine points included to refine your sitting.  Some people have a set time of meditation with a set length. Others are comfortable paying attention to what is “right” for the day. Being able to adjust to avoid falling into mindless repetition is a key; to keep practice fresh and vital is a skill we attend to daily no matter how many years we have been on the cushion.

Many of these points are places to start from to explore on your own. Reading and comprehending the meaning of words can never be the same as the direct experience felt deep in the bones. To maintain an open mind about practice over years along with the ability to adapt to the present is one of the most valuable gifts we can receive.

“The kensei comes to see that the light within 
  and the vision of the sages
  are essentially one and the same thing.  
  The way of action emerging from
  stillness is the non-action of the sages.”

http://amzn.to/2gX0QMeLight of the Kensei

The teaching of the Golden Flower contains a number of meditation techniques and is pure poetry to read at times.

Inwardly turning,

Elana Scribe for Daily Zen

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