Mahavairocana Buddha seated on a golden lotus flower , by Unkei, 13th C, Japan

4. Turning Around the Light and Tuning the Breathing

1.Master Lu (Dongbin) said, the doctrine just requires that one practices with a pure heart. One does not seek verification; that will come by itself.  

2. Generally, beginners suffer from two problems: oblivion and distraction. There is a solution to get rid of them, which is simply to connect the heart to the breath.

3. The character for self (自) and the character for heart (心) make up the character for breath (息). When the heart is stirred, there is movement of energy. Energy is basically transformed activity of the heart. Our thoughts are very fast. When a wandering thought takes place in a moment, inhalation and exhalation respond to it. Therefore inner and outer breathing follow each other like sound and echo. Daily we draw ten thousands of breaths and have an equal number of wandering thoughts. As the clarity of the spirit leaks away, one becomes like a withered tree or dead ashes.

4. So should one have no thoughts? To be without thoughts is impossible. Should one not breathe? It is impossible not to breathe. The best way is to find medicine for this illness, which means to have heart and breath rest on each other.

5. Therefore, turning the light around is connected with tuning the breath. This method only uses the brightness of the ear. There is light of the eye that is the united light of the external sun and moon. There is also light (brightness) of the ear, which is the united essence of the internal sun and moon. Essence is where the light congeals and settles. Essence and light have the same origin but have a different name. So clarity (of hearing and seeing) is just the result of spiritual light.

6. When you sit down, lower your eyelids, establish your intention and then let go. However, if after you let go, you are not able to achieve your intention, then be attentive to the sound of your breathing.

7. One should not be able to hear one`s breathing; just listen to its silence. Once it`s audible, the breathing is coarse and superficial. Then be patient and breath lightly; the more you let go, the subtler it becomes. The subtler it is, the more quite it becomes.

8. After a long time, all of a sudden this subtle breath will be interrupted, true breathing manifests and the mind-body can be discerned. If the mind is light, the breathing is subtle. Once the mind is unified, it moves (controls) breath-energy. If breathing is subtle, the heart is light. Once breath-energy (气-qi) is unified, it moves (controls) the mind. Stabilization of the mind must be preceded by cultivating breath-energy, because it is difficult to control the mind. Therefore breath-energy is used as a handle, and this is what is called maintaining pure breath-energy.

9. My fellow students, you may not understand the nature of movement. Movement here refers to making something move by pulling its strings, and is only another name for control. If one can make the mind move merely by pulling, should one not also be able to bring it to rest by pure tranquility?

10. The sages who observed how the heart and breath-energy are connected, set up this method in order to benefit later generations. In the Book of the Elixir it is said: "The hen can hatch her eggs because her heart is always listening". This is an important magic spell. The way a hen gives life to an egg is through giving it warm energy; warm energy can only warm the shell, but cannot penetrate the inside. Therefore she conducts this energy inward with her heart. This is the act of listening with single-minded attention. When attention penetrates, the energy enters, and the warm energy brings life to the egg.

11. Even when a hen at times leaves her eggs, her head is always inclined to listen and the attention of her spirit is never interrupted. With the attention of her spirit never ceasing, the warm energy is uninterrupted day and night, so that the spirit comes alive. The awakening of the spirit is accomplished because the heart has first died. When a man can let his heart die, then the original spirit awakens to life. To kill the heart does not mean to let it dry and wither away, but it means that it has become undivided and gathered into one. The Buddha said: "When you fix your heart on one point, then nothing is impossible for you". The heart easily runs away, so it is necessary to purify it by means of breath-energy. Breath-energy easily becomes rough, therefore it has to be refined by the heart. If you do this, how can the mind fail to stabilize?

12. Generally speaking, the two afflictions of oblivion and distraction just require uninterrupted daily quiet practice until (the heart) spontaneously comes to complete rest. If one is not seated in meditation, one will often be distracted without noticing it. When you become aware of it, it is the time to get rid of distraction. Oblivion of which you are aware and oblivion of which you are unaware, are a thousand miles apart. Oblivion of which you are unaware is real oblivion; oblivion that you notice is not complete oblivion, because there is still clarity in it. Distraction comes from letting the mind wander about; oblivion comes from a mind that lacks clarity. Distraction is easy to cure but oblivion is hard to cure. Using the metaphor of illness, one that involves pain or itch can be treated with medicine, but oblivion is a symptom of paralysis, where there is no feeling. Distraction can be counteracted, confusion can be straightened out, but oblivion is a state of darkness and stupidity. Distraction and confusion at least have some direction, but oblivion means that the lower self is in complete control.

13. In distraction there is still some presence left of the higher self, but oblivion is ruled by pure darkness (yin). If you become sleepy when you practice quiet sitting, 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 true breathing can also depend on it. Whenever you sit, you should quiet your mind and purify your energy. How can the mind be made quiet. It is done by using the breath. Let only your heart know the inhalation and exhalation, not your ears. If it is not heard, then the breathing is light; then the mind is clear. If it can be heard, then the breath-energy is rough which means the mind is cloudy. Cloudiness means oblivion, and one becomes sleepy. This is the way nature works.

14. (This is the way nature works), even so, it`s important to understand how to focus the mind on breathing. It is focusing without focus. One should maintain a subtle looking and listening. This sentence has a profound meaning. What is looking? It is using the light of the eyes to illuminate the Self; the eyes are 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 hearing? It is using the brightness of the ears to listen to the Self; the ears listen inwardly only and do not listen to what is outside. Not listening to what is outside yet being alert is inward listening; it has nothing to do with listening to inner talk.

15. This kind of listening means listening to the sound of silence. This kind of looking means looking at the invisible. When the eyes do not look outside and the ears do not listen outside, they are closed off and have a tendency to race around inside. However, only by inward looking and listening can you prevent being distracted by the outside world and prevent inner racing through which one enters oblivion. This is the united essence and united light of the internal sun and moon.                                                 

16. When you sink into oblivion and become sleepy, you should stand up and walk around. When the spirit has become clear one should sit down again. It is best to sit in the early morning when you have free time, for as long as it takes to burn an incense stick. After noontime when there are many things to do, it's easy to fall into oblivion. Also, there's no need to fix the length of time of meditation; it is only essential to set aside all entanglements and sit quietly for a while. In the course of time you will attain absorption and not become oblivious or sleepy.