Energy Practices Versus Regular Exercises
Many people readily mistake energy practices, or exercises, for being essentially a form of physical exercise. And it’s only natural to think that way, since the two are comparable on a superficial level, as both promote physical health. But it turns out the two differ greatly if you get into the specifics of the techniques and approaches they employ. Physical exercise aims to foster health, and so those who do it need to engage in physical exertion and go through training routines that condition the body. The opposite holds true with energy practices. One needs to be still when doing them, and any movement that does take place is to be gentle, slow, and fluid; sometimes one is even completely motionless. So this differs much from physical exercise. And speaking at a higher level, energy practices go beyond mere health benefits to include higher and more profound facets. They involve more than the little bit about them that’s familiar to people. They are higher things, and vary in form depending on how advanced they are. These practices are far from ordinary.
Physical exercise is by its very nature quite different from energy practices. Athletes, and especially competitive athletes today, need to constantly try to push their workouts to the next level; they have to consistently keep their bodies in top condition to meet the physical demands of competition in this day and age, and stay competitive. To this end, they have to increase the intensity of exercise and ensure that there is maximal blood flow. Doing so boosts the athlete’s metabolic capacity and means that he is getting in better shape. Athletes seek to increase their metabolic capacity since their bodies need to always be in top competitive form. The human body is made up of countless cells, all of which are subject to a process which, in rough terms, goes as follows. A cell that has been newly produced through cellular division is full of vitality and ready to develop. After reaching its peak of development it will have nowhere to go but down, and it will do so until the very bottom is reached, at which point it will be replaced by a new cell. We can illustrate this with an analogy, using the twelve hours of the clock. A cell that is generated at six o’clock in the morning via cellular division would develop steadily up through eight, nine, or ten o’clock, with things progressing well all along. But by twelve o’clock the cell would have no further capacity to develop, and could only decline. So while the cell would still have half of its life remaining, it would be ill-suited for the competitive form that an athlete needs to be in.
So athletes respond by raising their level of physical exertion and increasing their blood flow, with the result that new cells are generated to replace the older ones earlier than is normal. This means, then, that the cells that are replaced don’t complete their entire life cycle and are replaced midway through. This ensures that an athlete’s body is always strong and his or her level of fitness is improving. But the fact remains that a person’s cells cannot divide indefinitely; there is a limit to how many times a cell can divide. Suppose, for example, that a single cell can undergo a total of one hundred divisions (though the actual number far exceeds a million) and that under normal conditions a person would be able to live one hundred years. Then the cells of athletes, on the other hand, would only be able to complete half of their life cycle, and so these individuals would live only to be fifty. Even so, this hasn’t had significant consequences for professional athletes so far, since the level of competition today forces many into retirement by thirty. And then they go back to a more normal routine, basically no worse for wear. The bottom line is that while physical training can make you fit, it comes at the cost of a shorter life, in principle. And this is why a competitive athlete who is in his teens may well look like someone in his twenties, or one in his twenties may look like he’s in his thirties. Athletes often give the impression of having aged prematurely. There is a consequence for every action, and we should be aware that things have both pros and cons. What I’ve described are the consequences of regular exercise.
Energy practices, on the other hand, are just the opposite. They don’t involve vigorous movement, and what movement there is tends to be relaxed, fluid, and slow, sometimes to the point of being motionless. And it’s known that the body can become so still during meditation that every aspect of one’s physiology slows down, such as heart rate and blood circulation. Many yogis in India can sit submerged in water or be buried underground for days at a time; they make their bodies completely still, controlling even their heart rates. So, if we suppose that a person’s cells normally divide once a day, then a spiritual practitioner might be able to slow his cell division to just once every two days, or once per week, half month, or even longer. This would mean that he is extending his life. And this is possible even with practices that just cultivate the mind, but not the body; even they can achieve gains in longevity. This might seem to beg the question of how someone who doesn’t transform his body could extend his life, when one’s lifespan is normally something that’s set in stone. The explanation is, it becomes possible when one achieves a level of spiritual attainment surpassing the three realms. But the person will look quite old.
Then there are practices that truly change the body. They do so by constantly storing up high-energy matter in the cells of the body. And as the density of the stored energy steadily increases, it gradually comes to inhibit, and ultimately replace, one’s normal human cells. This will lead to a qualitative change, such that you become youthful, and stay that way. Of course, spiritual development is a long process that involves significant sacrifices. Both the body and mind must be tempered, which is very trying. For example, are you grounded to the point where no one ever “gets to you”? Do worldly things hold no sway over you? It’s hard to reach that point; it isn’t something you can just will. Your mind and your virtue have to reach a certain point first.
People have long confused energy practices with regular physical exercises, when in fact the two diverge widely and are different at their core. Energy practices are only similar to regular exercises when they are practiced at their most basic level, for health and fitness, where the focus is on basic chi energy. But energy practices are altogether different at their more advanced stages. The bodily purification that happens in them has a greater purpose behind it, and higher principles have to be followed. Physical exercise, by contrast, is just an ordinary endeavor.
Thoughts and the Mind
When people discuss “thoughts” they are talking about mental processes. Here I would like to offer a spiritually informed perspective on thoughts and the mental processes that go with them, and look at the different forms that those processes (or thoughts) take, as well as how they come about. Many questions about the brain are still unanswered by the medical sciences, for the brain is not as easily understood as the outer, more superficial layers of the body. Thoughts exist at deeper planes of reality and vary in form across dimensions. But they are not as some teachers of energy practices have imagined them. These persons haven’t been able to offer a good explanation of how thoughts work since they don’t fully understand it. They believe that by generating a thought with their brains they can accomplish certain things, and believe that what then unfolds is done by their minds, or thoughts. But that isn’t in fact the case.
Let’s start by looking at where thoughts come from. In ancient China there was an expression, “thinking with the heart.” It’s a curious phrase, but there were reasons behind it. The science of ancient China was very advanced, since the connections among the human body, living things, and the cosmos were the focus of its inquiry. There were people back then who could actually sense that their hearts were thinking, while others might have sensed that it was their brains doing so. What accounts for this? They were onto something, in fact. The soul of a regular person tends to be quite small, yet ideas originate from it and not from the brain. And the soul doesn’t always remain inside the head, at the Niwan Palace—or “pineal gland,” in medical terminology. When the soul is at the Niwan Palace, a person might sense that his brain is thinking or sending out signals; and when it is at the heart, he might in fact sense that his heart is what’s doing so.
The human body is a micro universe, as I’ve said, and in the bodies of practitioners there are abundant supernatural beings, any of which might change locations. If it is your soul that changes locations, by going, for instance, to your stomach area, then you might sense that you are actually thinking with your stomach; or if it goes to your calf muscle or heel, then you might sense that you are thinking with your calf or heel. This is fully possible, as far-fetched as it may sound. And this is something you might be able to sense even before your practice has progressed very far. The presence of the soul together with your temperament, nature, and personal traits are what make you a full-fledged, unique individual, rather than just flesh. Then what does the brain do? I regard the brain of this physical dimension as simply a processing plant. The thoughts that you have actually come from your soul, though not in the form of language. What happens is that your soul conveys to the brain a type of cosmic signal which carries with it a certain idea. This signal, once received, acts as a prompt that the brain translates into some form of expression, such as the language you speak, a gesture made with your hands, the look in your eyes, or your overall body language. And that is the role of the brain. The prompting or thought actually comes from your soul. People usually think that the ideas they have are simply the result of the brain working on its own. But the truth is that the soul is very much involved, and when located at the heart, it might give the sense that you are thinking with your heart.
Those engaged in human biological research believe that the brain issues something akin to electrical waves. Without going into what those actually are, I will note that they believe there is a physical component to thought, which suggests that what I just talked about isn’t far-fetched. Then we might ask what the purpose of the brain is. Various masters have claimed that they can use their minds to do superhuman things like moving physical objects, opening the inner eye, or doing healings. They say that because they aren’t aware of the powers they have. They only know that things happen for them at the thought of it. What’s actually happening is that their powers are acting at the command of their thoughts, which are in the brain; the mind alone isn’t making anything happen. So some of the things practitioners accomplish are due, in fact, to the powers they possess.
Supernormal powers are innate abilities of the body, only they have declined as the world has developed and people’s minds have become more complicated, with the “here and now” becoming increasingly valued and people relying more and more on the latest technology. To recover your innate powers you must strive for authenticity as you practice, become pure as you once were, and restore your original nature—or what the Daoist tradition refers to as “returning to one’s original, true self.” So what are now thought of as psychic or supernormal powers are in fact the innate abilities of man. The world is not experiencing “progress” quite as it seems, but is in fact regressing. It is drifting away from the qualities of the universe. I have mentioned the well-known image of Master Zhang Guo riding a donkey seated backwards, which might be hard to make sense of. But Zhang did that only after realizing that going forward was in fact going backward, and that man was growing further away from the qualities of the universe. Many people have become morally corrupt amidst larger changes in the universe, with people in China, as it grows increasingly commercialized, being a prime example; they are drifting further and further from the universe’s qualities of zhen, shan, ren. Yet those who have become caught up in these secular trends can’t sense how badly values are changing. Some even think things are great. Only those whose minds have elevated through spiritual refinement can recognize the woeful state of people’s values today.
Teachers of energy practices have claimed that they can “free” or “unblock” your psychic powers, which is misleading. That’s because psychic powers won’t work without first being powered up by one’s own energy. Nothing can be done for a person if that hasn’t happened. They have to first be developed by a person’s own energy and brought to maturity. And even in cases where it does seem that a teacher has activated someone’s powers, that’s not what happened. It was merely that he connected the person’s mind with whatever powers he or she had already developed, so that now they respond to his or her mental commands, and work. So those teachers have no grounds for claiming that they freed anyone’s powers. It’s just that a link-up was made, and nothing more.
The thoughts of those who do spiritual practice can summon powers to do things, while a regular person’s thoughts direct the limbs or sensory organs to do things. These activities resemble how the operations department or president’s office of a business issues directives that are then carried out by various divisions of the company. Or it’s like how in the military a commanding office might issue an order via its command post, and then troops will be mobilized to execute the mission. This is a topic I’ve discussed on many occasions with the heads of local chi-gong organizations while on the road giving classes. They have been surprised by my remarks, as they had always been trying to tap into the “potential energy” and “consciousness” of the mind; they didn’t realize that there is nothing there to tap. Their efforts had been based on a wrong assumption all along. Research into the higher functions of the human body would benefit from a change in thinking and approach, as the usual means of deduction and analysis aren’t well suited to dealing with things of a higher order.
There are several forms that thoughts might take, as indicated by all of the different terms people use, such as the unconscious, the subconscious, inspiration, and dreams. Let’s take up the topic of dreams. Spiritual teachers are reluctant to try to explain how they work. These are exceptionally complex phenomena, for at the time of your birth other parallel versions of you were born simultaneously in multiple dimensions of the universe, and together they form a complete body with you, linked via the mind; you also have inside your body a true soul, a secondary soul, and a wide array of supernatural beings, each with its own appearance; and every cell, along with your internal organs, reflects your appearance and energies in other dimensions. There has always been a question as to what accounts for the apparent randomness of dreams. The medical sciences attribute it to alterations in brain waves, which is the measurable form that it assumes here. But those waves are actually responses to signals from other dimensions. Whatever the case, you needn’t concern yourself with what happens in dreams where everything is hazy and confused, since those dreams aren’t significant. There is, however, one class of dreams that is significant and that shouldn’t be thought of as “just dreams.” These are the dreams where your own mind—i.e., your true soul—saw that you were approached by a family member, or something vivid took place, or you witnessed or experienced something firsthand. In those instances your true soul really did experience something in another dimension, since your mind was lucid and things were lifelike. What you experienced did indeed happen, only it happened in another physical dimension and space-time. And so such things shouldn’t be written off as just dreams, even if your body here in this world was asleep and doing what would be considered dreaming. But only in these cases are dreams significant.
It’s worth noting that terms such as inspiration, the subconscious, and the unconscious were arrived at not by scientists but by other intellectual figures, and they were basing their ideas on merely common mental phenomena that were familiar to them. So they aren’t very scientific. Consider what’s meant by the unconscious. The term can’t be readily explained and the concept is ill-defined, due to the fact that the energies and information from other dimensions that affect people are so complicated, and so they are often mistaken for memory traces. The subconscious, on the other hand, is something more easily explained. As the term is defined, it generally refers to a person’s doing something while not cognizant of it, or doing it “subconsciously”—i.e., not intentionally. We sometimes use the term “subconscious mind” as well. It’s easy for the subconscious mind (i.e., the secondary soul) to dictate a person’s thoughts when he relaxes his conscious mind or isn’t controlling his brain, like when he’s dreaming or seems to zone out. And it’s at these times, when he isn’t fully present mentally, that the subconscious mind might act through him. Usually things won’t go wrong, as the subconscious mind isn’t under the spell of this world and can see things as they really are; it resides in another dimension, after all. When the person wakes up or snaps out of it, he might think, “Wow, I really botched that up,” or “I wouldn’t have done that if I were paying attention.” But if he revisits the matter a few days or weeks later, he might be pleasantly surprised by how well he handled it or did it. And this is common. It was done excellently because the subconscious mind wasn’t thinking about the immediate, short-term impact; it knew that things would turn out for the best in the long run. In other cases, where there is no question of long-term impact and only the present matters, what the subconscious has the person do will likely be done in a manner that’s excellent right at the time.
Then there is another form of [“subconscious”] mental activity, one that’s usually found in people with excellent innate foundations. It is when a person does things at the command of higher beings. But this is of course a different scenario altogether, and we won’t go into it here. I want to focus on the forms of consciousness that come from our own selves.
“Inspiration” is another term or concept that was arrived at by intellectual figures. Generally, inspiration is said to have occurred when knowledge that someone has accumulated comes forth unexpectedly and spontaneously, like a spark. But this doesn’t make much sense in light of materialist theory, since it would say that an individual’s brain should become increasingly sharp as he gains knowledge and puts his brain to use throughout life, and the knowledge he has accumulated should be at his disposal at all times; there shouldn’t be any need for what people are calling inspiration. Typical examples of inspiration might involve someone pondering something until he is at his wits’ end; experiencing writer’s block, or running out of ideas while composing a song; or getting stuck while engaged in scientific research. The person might be flush with exhaustion from having wracked his brain, and the floor might be littered with debris, and yet he will still be stuck. Then finally, he might decide in a moment of frustration to take a break, and it is usually at times like this that inspiration springs up. While taking a break he relaxes and sets the matter aside, only to find that afterwards, without any effort, a solution comes to him from somewhere in the mind. [What blocked his effort previously was that] his conscious mind had been in charge, and the more that is the case, the less likely it is for other entities to come into play. And so it is under circumstances like I just described that most inspiration comes about.
Let’s look at why inspiration comes then. When a person’s brain is governed by his rational, conscious mind, there is little chance for the subconscious mind to get involved. The harder that someone thinks, the tighter the control that the conscious mind exerts. The subconscious mind is part of his body and was born along with him from the womb, and governs a portion of the body. If the person is thinking so hard about something that his head hurts, he’s out of ideas, and it’s trying for him, his subconscious mind will likewise find it hard to bear and might have a headache too. But if and when his conscious mind relaxes and loosens its grip, the subconscious can relay whatever insights it has on the matter to his brain. It can see things as they truly are, since it resides in another dimension, and so its help will allow the person to make a breakthrough and complete what he was working on.
Some people might take this to mean that they should be making use of their subconscious, as in the note that someone just passed up to me asking how to connect with it. But that’s not something you can do when you have only just begun your practice and have limited powers. At this point you’d best not try to connect with it, since it is likely an attachment that’s motivating you. Or it might be that you are thinking the subconscious could be utilized to benefit humanity and the world. But that too is out of the question, since what your subconscious knows is still limited—limited to the dimension it exists in. Its knowledge doesn’t reach beyond its own dimension. And yet the universe is extraordinarily complex in structure, with highly intricate dimensions and numerous planes of existence, among which are vertical planes containing still many more dimensions. The developments in this world are under the control of higher beings that dwell in realms above, and what happens here on earth follows predetermined patterns that have been put in place.
The events of this human world unfold according to historical patterns. So while you might wish to foster progress in some form or other, or realize a certain goal, your wishes might not tally with those of the beings above [who decide such things]. For example, it’s quite likely that the ideas of modern planes, trains, and bicycles were similarly arrived at back in the ancient world, only they couldn’t come about because it was not yet the right moment in history. By contrast, people conventionally think that the reason those inventions never came about was due to the limitations of science in the past. But the truth is, the pace of scientific development is itself beholden to history’s designs. All of which is to say, things won’t necessarily go as you hope for. There are of course cases where an individual’s subconscious does play an active role in his or her life. For example, there is a writer who says that he can write ten thousand words a day, without fatigue; the words just come to him and his work is well received. As you might guess, this is the result of his conscious and subconscious minds working together, with the latter shouldering half the task. But this is rare. In most cases a person’s subconscious won’t get involved in any way. Any attempts on your part to have it do so won’t go well, and might turn out the opposite of what you intended.
A Pure and Serene Mind
Many people have a hard time calming their minds when they do meditative exercises, and seek out teachers in hopes of figuring out why their minds are so active. Their minds are really like stormy seas, with all sorts of things churning up. And that makes it impossible for them to become still and centered. And when they don’t know the cause of it, they might think that they just need to find the right technique for it, and look for a teacher who will share his or her secrets and hopefully bring them the calm they seek. So they are pinning their hopes on others, as I see it. Yet true progress comes by looking at yourself and focusing on your mind. It is the only way to make true progress and experience serenity in meditation. And that is an achievement. Your ability to center yourself and still your mind reflects your spiritual progress.
Only those with excellent innate foundations can just quiet their minds at will; for the average person it’s simply not possible. The real reason why you can’t quiet your mind is not due to your technique, or because you haven’t found the secret to success; but rather, that your mind, or what’s inside of your heart, is not pure. It’s going to be hard to still your mind if you don’t get along with others in daily life and you do selfish things for emotional reasons, or out of worldly wants and attachments, and you can’t get over those things or take them lightly. And yet some people try to just battle through all of the errant thoughts that keep arising as they practice, and try to just will them away, rather than believe that it’s about purity. But that is what it comes down to.
One objection might be that certain teachers do teach methods that allegedly quiet the mind, such as “guarding the one,” visualizing, focusing or gazing upon the body’s energy center, or reciting a Buddha’s name. But those are more than just methods; they also involve mastery. And such mastery comes from refining the mind and progressing to higher stages of practice; achieving stillness isn’t as simple as using some technique or other. Naysayers are welcome to give those methods a try and see how far they can get while still saddled with numerous desires and intense attachments that they haven’t let go of. I’m skeptical when I hear people claim that they can still the mind just by reciting a Buddha’s name. If people think, for example, that Pure Land Buddhism is as simple as reciting Buddha Amitabha’s name, I doubt they’ve tried it. I would say that stillness is a matter of mastery, and not as easily found as people claim. It doesn’t come easily in any spiritual discipline.
While it’s well known that the Buddha taught the practice of meditation, less known is what preceded it in his teaching: the following of precepts, which are meant to bring an end to one’s desires and obsessions. And only then, by emptying oneself of everything, would focused meditation become possible. So there’s a logic to it. Meditation is a matter of mastery. His followers weren’t expected to have fulfilled the precepts on day one, however. Rather, they would gradually come to renounce all that is bad, and as they did so, their powers of meditation would rise. Chanting a Buddha’s name is similar [to meditation], in that it requires undivided attention and a blank mind. As a person repeatedly chants a Buddha’s name, all other regions of his brain are numbed; he becomes oblivious to everything else, with that one thought supplanting all others; and each letter of the Buddha’s name appears before his mind’s eye. That of course takes mastery. It’s not something achievable right at the outset, and neither is quiet of mind. Anyone who doubts this is welcome to try otherwise. But they will find that their minds run amok even as their mouths are actively reciting. They might be thinking about how poorly their supervisor treats them at work, or how they got slighted with their most recent bonus. And they might get worked up as more thoughts like those go through their minds, even as they are chanting the Buddha’s name. Then that hardly achieves the intent of the practice. This means that even the act of chanting a Buddha’s name involves mastery, and it won’t go smoothly if the mind is impure. Another example would be those who gaze with their open inner eye at the body’s energy center, in the lower abdomen, where things will be bright if the energy cluster is pure, and dark if not. But here again, stilling your mind isn’t as simple as gazing at your navel. It’s not a matter of technique. The crucial thing is whether your mind, or thoughts, are pure. Suppose someone uses that method and peers inside at his energy center, and sees a glistening cluster of energy, much to his liking. Yet shortly after, perhaps his thoughts turn to a new home and he starts thinking about which room will go to his son, which to his daughter, which to his wife and him, or how they might share the room in the middle as a living room. It’s exhilarating to him, and he might even start thinking about how to turn this dream into a reality. But calm of mind is hardly possible if your mind is preoccupied like that. Contrast that with the following view: coming to this world is like staying over at a hotel, which we quickly leave after a short stint. Yet some people are so caught up in this place that they have no interest in leaving. They have forgotten their true homes.
True spiritual practice means cultivating your mind, working on yourself, and reflecting on your role in things rather than blaming your circumstances. There is a school of practice that has taught that “Buddha is in the mind,” and there is truth to that. But some people have misinterpreted this as meaning that you are in fact Buddha, since Buddha is in your mind. But they are mistaken; it couldn’t possibly mean that. What it means to say is that the key to successful practice is the mind. It’s a stretch to think that it means there is a Buddha in you. Divinity comes through spiritual refinement.
The reason you can’t become mentally still or centered is that your mind is not empty or your practice not advanced enough. Concentration progresses from shallow to deep, and is closely linked to spiritual progress. When you manage to break an attachment, you advance in your practice and your stillness deepens. So I would say that relying on some method or other equates to looking outward. And that is precisely what leads people astray on the spiritual journey and brings trouble. Buddhism goes so far as to say that you are “lapsing into evil ways” when you look for outside help or blame your circumstances. True practice is about working on the mind, and only with an elevation of thought will you be able to achieve a state of pure serenity and detachment. Only by refining your character will you become attuned to the qualities of the universe; rid yourself of all bad things such as wants and attachments; expel the bad substances from your body; and move upward. With these changes you will no longer be held back by the qualities of the universe, and your virtue, which physically exists, will be converted into higher energy. It should now be clear how closely these all go together.
So, what I just described is the internal reason why people can’t achieve quiet or stillness during practice: they can’t will themselves to do what a practitioner should be able to do. There are also external factors nowadays that stand to severely affect practitioners and compromise their progress. China has loosened policy restrictions in recent decades in an attempt to invigorate the economy, and has implemented reform programs meant to “open up” the country. Many new technologies have been imported and the standard of living has gone up. Ask just about anyone and they will tell you that it’s a good thing. But there are pros and cons to everything, and we should look at both sides of the matter. Bad things of every sort have entered China in conjunction with the reforms and opening up. Books and magazines now have sexual content added in to boost sales, lest publishers have a hard time selling them otherwise. And viewership for movies and television programs seems to suffer if there aren’t any bedroom scenes, and so they’re included out of a concern for box office sales or ratings. Much of what passes as “art” today leaves people scratching their heads as to how it could qualify as that. There was certainly nothing of the sort in traditional Chinese art, which dates back to antiquity. And I should add that the cultural traditions of China are not things that someone invented or put together. As I suggested in the discussion of cultures that predate history, everything traces back to a greater source. But now people’s values have changed and been corrupted; even what counts as good and bad have changed. Yet while humankind has undergone these changes, the qualities and standard of the universe that are the sole measure of a person—zhen, shan, ren—have not changed, and never will. A practitioner has to go by these, rather than what’s commonly held, if he is to rise above the ordinary. And along with what I just described, there are other external things that might prey upon you, such as homosexuality, sexual temptation, recreational drugs, and other unseemly things.
One can only imagine what would become of this world, having reached the point that it has, if it were to continue in this direction. But it’s not allowed to. If man doesn’t set it right, the divine will. The catastrophes that have befallen humanity have always come in times like these. I have refrained from speaking about catastrophes in my classes. But religions have taught about them, and they have become something of a hot topic. I would just raise the question of how perilous it may be for morals to have changed as drastically as they have and for people to now live with so much hostility toward one another. This means that our spiritual progress is seriously challenged by our surroundings; even out in public you are now confronted with indecent images.
The Daoist sage Lao-tzu wrote that, “When the superior man hears the Way, he will practice it with diligence.” A superior person will realize how hard a true teaching is to come by, and know to seize the opportunity and start practicing. A complicated setting like today’s world turns out to be a good thing, as I see it, for this is what it takes to produce someone really outstanding. You have to be truly solid in your practice to rise above others in a setting like this.
For someone who is really determined about practice, a complicated setting is, I believe, a good thing. You would have no way to make spiritual progress if there was no strife around you or chances to work on your character. It wouldn’t be possible if everyone got along just fine. Lao-tzu also wrote about “the average man who hears the Way.” That would be just an average adherent, who is fine with practicing or not, and who will have a hard time making it in the end. There are people right here today who find what I’m teaching agreeable, and yet once they are back out in the world, they may get overwhelmed by the lure of worldly things. As real as those things may seem, even millionaires and members of the ultra-wealthy have realized at the end of their lives that they in fact have nothing—that material riches can’t be taken with you past this lifetime, and ultimately, are empty. By contrast, what makes higher energy so precious is that it does go with you at the time of death. It’s carried on by your soul to the start of your next life. We believe in the immortality of the soul, and don’t consider this idea to be misguided or theoretical. The cells of your physical body in this dimension may be shed at death, but in other dimensions, which are made of smaller particulate components, your body has not in fact perished. It has merely molted its shell, so to speak.
All of what I have been discussing comes down to character. The Buddha as well as Bodhidharma both noted that the land of China, which lay in the East, would give rise to the most virtuous of people. This has been a source of pride for generations of Chinese citizens and monks. But it stems from a misunderstanding: they have taken it to mean that the Chinese are spiritually gifted. Many have even been happy and smug about it, thinking they are really special and that China is home to the spiritually adept. Yet most are confused about what was meant, and haven’t given thought to why it would be in China that you see such figures. As is often the case, few can grasp what the utterances of the spiritually accomplished, [like the Buddha or Bodhidharma,] mean, for their realms of thought and states of awareness aren’t familiar to people. I don’t think you need me to spell it out to get the idea: great spiritual achievement is only possible in the most complicated of settings and when surrounded by the most complicated of people.
One’s Innate Foundation
A person’s innate foundation is determined by how much of the material known as virtue his or her body carries in another dimension. Someone has a poor foundation if he has less virtue and more of the black matter, as it means karma is more present within him. Whereas someone will have a good foundation if he has more virtue, and thus lots of the white matter; karma has less of a presence. So people carry two types of matter, one black and the other white, and the two can be converted into one another. Remember that you can gain the white matter by going through hardships, or pain and suffering, and by doing good things; while the black matter comes from doing wrongful or bad things, and it is known as karma. So either of these might result from your actions. They can also come to you from past lives. This is possible because both of them build up over your lifetimes and reach far back, traveling from one life to the next with your soul. So we believe that both karma and virtue can be accumulated over time as well as passed down through the generations in a family. I sometimes recall how people in ancient China, or even older folks today, used to talk about previous generations in a family having stored up virtue, or blessings, and would speak about storing these up or losing them. What they said was remarkably insightful; there was a lot to it.
The quality of an individual’s innate foundation can determine his ability to believe. Someone with a good foundation will tend to have more faith, thanks to all of the white matter he has. That matter is in harmony with the universe and the qualities of zhen, shan, ren, without any separation. And so these qualities can manifest in his body without impediment and communicate with it directly. Someone with a poor foundation, however, will tend to have less faith. That’s because the opposite holds true for the black matter. It comes from having done wrongful things and runs counter to the universe’s qualities, and so it separates a person from them. The black matter will encase a person’s body with a field of its own if there is enough of it, and it will grow in density and thickness as it expands, and undermine a person’s faith. That happens because he is being cut off from the cosmic qualities of zhen, shan, ren by the black matter he brought upon himself. People like this tend to have a harder time believing in spiritual practice, their faith suffers for it, and karma poses a greater obstacle for them. And the more painful it is, the less they believe. So spiritual progress is very difficult in this scenario.
Spiritual practice is easier for those with more of the white matter, for their virtue will be converted straight into higher energy as long as they embody the qualities of the universe and perfect their character. By contrast, those with more of the black matter have to go through an extra procedure. It can be likened to production at a factory. While others come to the practice with ready-made material, these individuals bring crude material, which needs an additional round of processing. And so they have to first suffer to lessen their karma and change it into white matter. And only then, once it has been remade into material virtue, is it possible for them to develop higher energy with the practice. But often these people tend to have less faith. And their faith only weakens when they have to suffer more, and they find it unbearable. So it’s harder for those with more of the black matter to practice. And this is why the teachers of Daoist practices or practices with direct spiritual lineages used to search for disciples, rather than vice versa; they would select disciples based on how much karma and virtue their bodies had.
While a person’s innate foundation does generally determine his or her degree of faith, this isn’t always the case. Some people have poor foundations and yet their home environment is spiritually rich, with many family members being religious or doing energy practices and believing in spiritual things. This can foster belief in a person who otherwise wouldn’t have much, and strengthen his or her faith. So this means that there are other factors besides just one’s foundation. And conversely, there are also cases where people with good foundations have had their ability to believe severely undermined by, most typically, the lackluster education they received in this materialistic world; it might make them narrow-minded and doubtful about anything beyond what they formally learn. And this has been even more pronounced in China in recent times, where schooling has taught people to think in black-and-white terms.
Here’s a telling case. I was once teaching about the inner eye on the second day of a class. There was someone there who had an excellent foundation, and I opened his inner eye to a very high realm. He saw many things not visible to others. He was greatly surprised by it and told people about seeing falun floating down, like snowflakes, onto those who were present at my teaching; he talked about what my true body looked like and how my aura appeared; what the falun looked like; and how many spiritual bodies were present. He also saw that I was giving the teaching across multiple planes, and that falun were mending the bodies of those attending the class. And he even saw that as I was instructing here, my energy bodies were simultaneously teaching at many other planes, and that there were angelic fairies overhead scattering flowers, and more. The fact that he could see so much suggests that he had an excellent foundation. Yet after he described all of this, he concluded by saying that he didn’t believe in such things. However, some of these things have been verified by recent science, and many more could be explained by what science now has to offer. And we have explained some of them here. The insights of energy practice actually surpass those of modern science. So you should now have a sense for how a good foundation doesn’t always translate into strong faith.
What does it mean to be “enlightened”? The term has religious origins. The Buddhist sense of it has to do with a person’s grasp of the Buddha’s teachings, and it is used both in the sense of one’s spiritual insight into these, as well as in the sense of one’s final awakening; and so it has to do with wisdom. But nowadays in China the same term is being used in secular settings for people who are clever and know how to win their supervisor’s favor. Such people are said to be really “enlightened,” since that’s what many people think it means. But things often aren’t as people take them to be, and you will discover this for yourself if you can manage to look at things from a slightly higher vantage point. When we use the term “enlightened,” it’s not at all in a worldly sense. We would consider somebody who is overly clever to be quite unenlightened. This sort of person may do his job only superficially and just be concerned with garnering praise from his superiors, and so he might end up getting himself indebted to others—who have to pick up the slack and do the real work that he neglected. His cleverness can mean that he finds ways to take credit for things and make out better, but at other people’s expense; he never gets the short end of the stick, but this means that others do. And so someone like this can get more and more caught up in worldly things, and in turn, become more small-minded, believing that material things shouldn’t be passed up. This might lead the person to think of himself as someone who’s “practical” and who gets his way.
And somehow people admire that. But I would say there’s nothing admirable about it. Living like that is more tiring than you could imagine. Someone like that has poor eating habits and neglects sleep, and probably worries about losing out even while dreaming. He is terribly petty about worldly things. It really must be tiring to live that way. What we teach, by contrast, is that you can change a tough situation just by compromising a little. But someone like I was describing won’t budge, and so his life is awfully tiring. He’s not someone to emulate in any way. People of faith regard someone like this as a lost soul, as he has completely fallen for ordinary, worldly things. He probably won’t heed any well-meant advice about becoming more virtuous, and will respond to the idea of spiritual practice with total disbelief. He would regard it as absurd, and think it’s something only a glutton for punishment—or what in Chinese is called an “Ah Q”—would do, since it entails never retaliating or responding to malice in kind, and even being grateful for it. This sort of thing isn’t comprehensible to someone like that, and he will probably think that you make no sense, that you’re foolish. As you can imagine, it’s hard for someone like that to see the light.
We wouldn’t use the term “enlightened” for this kind of person, naturally. We would consider people who are “foolish”—to use his term for it—to be more enlightened than he is. But of course, there is nothing actually foolish about how we are. Rather, it’s just that we worry little about the worldly things that people usually can’t go without and take to be so significant; meanwhile, we are still very astute with other things. We’re very much conscientious and attentive with the things we do, be it scientific research or the tasks assigned at work, and we do them well. It’s the trivial things like worldly gain or interpersonal stuff that we take lightly. You should rest assured that no one worthwhile is going to see you as being foolish for this.
And even someone who might indeed be considered a “fool,” it turns out, is just the opposite when viewed with a higher logic. Someone who is mentally disabled isn’t capable of doing major wrong in a worldly sense, nor is he capable of scheming against people; and he won’t do things out of ego. So he won’t squander his virtue. Others might give him their virtue, however. They might physically abuse him or make fun of him, both of which would give him virtue—something extraordinarily precious. As we’ve established, anything that’s gained in this universe comes at a cost. So when someone mocks a disabled person or calls him names, as he opens his mouth to do so, a segment of virtue goes over to the other party. He loses that virtue because he mistreated the person for his own, selfish ends. And similarly, another portion of virtue will be sent over to the disabled person if someone physically abuses him. And while being bullied or physically abused, perhaps the disabled person just grins, almost as if welcoming it and knowing on some level that he’s gaining virtue from it, and doesn’t want to turn any of it down. So if we look at this with a higher logic, who’s the smarter of the two? It turns out it’s the mentally disabled person. He doesn’t lose a bit of virtue through it all, while the other party is flinging virtue over to him, which he doesn’t give back and happily takes in full. “Foolish” as he may be in this lifetime, he won’t be in the next, for his soul is no fool. There is something to the religious belief that the virtuous will be blessed in the next life, for blessings come on account of virtue.
Virtue, we believe, can be converted into higher energy without needing any intermediary steps. This means that it is virtue, in its converted form, that determines your level of spiritual attainment; for it becomes higher energy. So virtue, once transformed, decides your level of attainment and your spiritual power. That means it should be cherished, doesn’t it? And it goes with you from one life to the next. In Buddhism it’s held that your celestial rank reflects your level of attainment; meaning, it bespeaks of your effort. And there is a religious belief that those born with greater virtue, or blessings, might enjoy abundant wealth or positions of high office. By contrast, those lacking in it might have little success even just begging for food, since they would have no virtue to exchange, and nothing in life is free, after all. And what someone with no virtue faces is true death, where both body and soul are destroyed.
There was once a master of chi-gong whose level of attainment was quite high when he first taught publicly. He later got caught up in fame and fortune, however, and so his teacher led away his secondary soul; his practice had been carried out by the secondary soul, in fact. Prior to this, when his secondary soul was still present, what he did was dictated by it. An example would be the time when his workplace was allotting housing. His supervisor announced that anyone who needed housing could come and describe their circumstances and needs. While everyone proceeded to do so, this person didn’t say anything. Then, when it came to decision time, the person in charge concluded that he was in greater need than others and would be given the housing. Others objected and insisted that it should go to them, and went on about how great their needs were. This person’s response was simply, “Then one of you can have it.” People might normally call someone “foolish” for responding like that, but some who were present knew that he engaged in spiritual practice, and asked him what on earth he would want, if even free housing didn’t appeal to him. He responded, “I’ll settle for whatever people don’t want.” He didn’t say that because he was foolish, but because he cared little for worldly things and believed in going with the flow; he had a perfectly good head on his shoulders. People pressed him for an example, as they couldn’t imagine something that people “don’t want.” He replied, “I’ll settle for the stones on the ground that get kicked around and that nobody wants.” To the average person that might make no sense; his or her plane of thought, or level, wouldn’t be adequate to grasp the idea. Of course, this man wasn’t about to start picking up pebbles. Rather, he was stating a principle, though the common man wouldn’t realize it: not to seek after worldly things. And let’s talk about stones. You might be familiar with how religious scriptures describe everything in heaven as being golden—from the trees to the ground, birds, flowers, to dwellings, with even the bodies of the higher beings there, by some accounts, being fashioned of glittering gold. There, stones are a rarity, and so it’s said that stones are used as currency, in fact. Now, it wasn’t that the man I was describing planned on bringing stones there with him. Rather, he was hinting at a higher truth along these lines, but which wasn’t understandable to the average person. A practitioner will surely not be occupied by the wants that normally consume people, and will place little value in worldly things. What he will have in his life, however, are higher things that people ordinarily can’t have—even if they come to know about them and want them.
So this is one sense of the term “enlightened,” and it has to do with the realizations people come to during their spiritual development. Yet in China the term is now being used in secular ways, the opposite of how we use it. However, enlightenment in the truest sense goes further than I’ve described. It has to do with whether a person of faith can, when he meets with adversity, hold fast to the guidance of his teacher—be it in whatever practice or belief—and remember that his is a spiritual life, see the situation for what it is, and embrace it and handle it in the manner set forth by his way of practice. Some people can just never believe in such things, though, and think that there’s more to gain by being worldly. What makes it so hard for them to believe is that they aren’t willing to open their minds. For example, some people are only here for healing and get put off when I explain that that’s not what this kind of practice is for, and then the rest of the time they won’t be receptive to anything I say.
In some cases people don’t act very enlightened, such as when they go and make notes in my books. People whose inner eyes are open have seen that this book is bathed in brilliant colors, and emanates golden light, with each word having a spiritual body of mine behind it. And you can be sure that I am not making this up and trying to mislead you. Each mark someone writes in there is dark. I think that if you are clear on what this book is doing—that it is taking you to greater spiritual heights—you won’t even consider doing that. You should be more thoughtful about certain things. Shouldn’t you treasure a book that can guide your practice? And yet by contrast, you might be so reverent toward the religious images you have at home, being careful not to so much as touch them, and praying to them daily, even when all that worship doesn’t amount to genuine practice. Yet you would desecrate these profound teachings of Dafa, which have the power to truly guide you in spiritual practice.
More properly used, the term “enlightened” should be referring to how well someone understands the things that happen in his spiritual development or the guidance that was imparted by his teacher. Yet this isn’t to be considered being fully enlightened. For someone to become fully enlightened, he will have to, from the day he begins his practice, utilize the years left in his life to strive to constantly progress and remove attachments, wants, and desires. And as he does so, he will gain more and more higher energy until eventually he arrives at the final stage of practice. At that point all of his material virtue will have been converted into higher energy, and he will be at the end of the path his teacher designed for him. All of what had locked his body up until that moment will be blasted open. His inner eye will reach the highest point of whatever plane he is at, and he will be able to see into all dimensions existing at his level; see matter as well as the supernatural beings that exist in each corresponding space and time; as well as see the Truth of the universe. He will have miraculous powers at his disposal, and be able to see and have access to higher beings in many realms. I think you would have to agree that at this point he is an “enlightened” being—someone who has achieved awakening via spiritual practice. In the terminology of ancient India, he has become a “Buddha.”
The form of enlightenment I just described is one type of full enlightenment, known as “sudden enlightenment.” In cases of sudden enlightenment, the person is locked during his years of practice and doesn’t know how much energy he has or what it’s like. He will not sense anything physically, as even his cells are sealed up. Any energy he develops is locked away and kept from him. It continues like this all the way until the very last stage of his practice, at which point his energy is unlocked and his senses are opened. Practicing in this manner is extremely trying, and only someone with a great spiritual makeup can succeed at it. The person has to go from being simply a good person to someone who constantly works on his character, suffers, makes spiritual progress, and raises the bar for himself—yet never being able to perceive the higher energy he is gaining from it. His is the hardest path, practicing for so many years without any sense of his achievements, and so it takes a great spiritual makeup.
There is another form of enlightenment, which is referred to as “gradual enlightenment.” Many practitioners can sense the falun turning in them right from the outset, and I open the inner eye for everyone, even if some can’t manage to see initially; eventually they will come to have visions as well, and with increasing clarity, as they learn to use the eye over time and their levels of attainment rise. Psychic powers will also come about for this group as they perfect their character and whittle away their attachments. And they will be able to see or sense the changes they undergo along the journey, for the most part, as well as the transformation of their bodies. They will progress in this manner until the final stage, where they will have reached the highest point they were meant to, and the Truth of the universe at their level will be fully revealed to them. With this, their innate bodies will have been transformed and their powers strengthened to a considerable extent. So all of these goals were met gradually, in their case, and thus the designation “gradual enlightenment.” There is nothing easy about this approach, either. For example, for those who may still harbor attachments, there is the temptation to show off and a good chance of doing wrong, given the powers at their disposal. And if they succumb to that temptation, they will lose the higher energy that they worked so hard to obtain, and they might even end up in ruins. Or those who have visions might perceive supernatural beings from other planes, who might try to goad them into doing certain things or have them become followers of their practices. But those beings would have no way to guide a person to true divine standing, since they haven’t achieved it themselves.
What’s even more challenging about it is that the entities in higher dimensions are all at least semi-divine, and capable of expanding to an enormous size and making impressive displays of their powers. And if you fall for it, you might end up going along with them. But doing so would spell ruin for your practice. Even if those beings were full divinities, you would still have to begin practicing anew, from scratch. The multitude of beings found throughout the [three-realm] heavens are just transcendent figures, ultimately. They haven’t reached the highest levels of achievement or met the ultimate goal of practice; they have yet to break free of the three realms. But to a regular person they really do come across as towering, imposing, and almighty, even if they lack true divine standing. So it remains to be seen whether you can stay poised when signals or energies from other dimensions come to you, or visions that tempt you start to appear. And this is why we say that practicing with an open inner eye is difficult. The challenges to your mind are even greater then. The good news is, it’s likely you won’t begin gradual enlightenment and gain such powers until you reach the midway mark on your journey. Though I do open the inner eye for all of you, many powers aren’t made available at first; they are blasted open only later, after your character has developed sufficiently, your mind has become steady, and you have gained self-control. Gradual enlightenment will only come to you upon a certain level of attainment, and by then you should be able to exercise self-control in regard to the many powers that you gain. And then you will carry on practicing, in this manner, until eventually all of your powers become available to you. Many of you belong to the group I’m describing—where gradual enlightenment begins midway. So you needn’t be anxious if you have yet to experience visions.
You might be familiar with how Zen Buddhism makes a distinction between sudden and gradual enlightenment. The sixth Zen patriarch, Hui-neng, believed in sudden enlightenment, while Shen Xiu, of Zen’s Northern school, believed in gradual enlightenment. The two approaches have long been the subject of debate among Buddhists. But the debate isn’t that meaningful, as I see it, because what the two figures were referring to was just an individual’s degree of insight into the teachings as he practices. Some arrive at insights in a sudden flash, while others arrive at them more slowly, over time. But either should be fine, as in both cases the person does enlighten to something. Naturally, it’s better to do so instantly, but gradually is okay too; in either case the person comes to a new understanding. So neither approach is wrong.
The Spiritually Adept
It takes more than just a good innate foundation to be worthy of being called “spiritually adept.” Spiritually adept individuals are rare, and historically have been few and far between. As you would imagine, for starters they have to have abundant virtue. They are sure to be individuals who can suffer beyond the normal threshold, who have superior self-control, who are able to make whatever sacrifices are needed, who don’t squander their virtue, and who are spiritually discerning, among other things.
Let’s explore what it means to “suffer beyond the normal threshold.” There is a Buddhist belief that human beings are fashioned to suffer—that as long as someone is human he must inevitably suffer. They believe that the beings in other dimensions don’t have bodies as humans do, and are free of ailments as well as the routine miseries of life; so they aren’t subject to the pains that we are. And as beings of other dimensions, they can float about effortlessly and are weightless, which is just wondrous. Whereas normal human beings, saddled with the bodies that they have, are burdened by heat and cold, thirst and hunger, as well as fatigue, on top of which there is the cycle of birth, aging, sickness, and death. In a word, it’s not pleasant.
I recall a news report about survivors of the devastating earthquake that once hit Tangshan city. Those who nearly died but were resuscitated were surveyed and asked about any near-death experiences they may have had. Surprisingly, those who did, consistently described something extraordinary: at the time of death they had no sense of fear, and to the contrary, they had a feeling of liberation and a sense of excitement. Some described being suddenly freed from the bonds of their bodies and enjoying the incredible experience of floating about freely, and seeing their own bodies below while doing so. And some described seeing otherworldly beings in other dimensions, while some told of traveling to otherworldly places. In all cases they described how at the moment of death they became free of pain and experienced a sense of joy over the freedom they suddenly felt. This suggests that the human body is an instrument of suffering, only we don’t realize it since we were all born into the world the same way.
So I would say that human beings have it the hardest. The other day I indicated that space and time are different here, in the human world, from those in other, larger dimensions. What is two hours here, for instance, might equal an entire year elsewhere. This means that whoever manages to practice here, in this painful setting, is just exceptional; it indicates that he has the Way in his heart, that he wants to develop spiritually, and is truly special. He hasn’t lost the innate divinity within, even here in this trying place, and wishes still to make himself worthy of heaven. And so unconditional help can be extended to someone like this. When higher beings behold this kind of person meditating through the night, for example, they hold him in high esteem. Remember that a couple of hours here may equate to a year in another realm, and so a night of meditation might equal six years elsewhere. This is an exceptional setting.
Then consider just how hard it may be to suffer beyond what’s normal. Suppose someone goes to work one day, only to find his company not doing well financially, and that there are more employees than jobs. The company has to reform and start contracting work out, and so excess employees are being let go. This person is one of them, and suddenly finds himself unemployed. We can just imagine how stressful that would be. He has no source of income to support his family now, and no other skills to land a job. So he goes home, terribly dejected. Upon returning home, he learns that his elderly parent has become seriously ill. He goes to great lengths to borrow enough money to check his parent into the hospital, and rushes them there, feeling anxious and upset. Later he goes back home to get a few things for them, only to have his kid’s teacher show up at the door, informing him that his child injured someone in a fight, and that he, as the father, had better quickly come straighten things out with the other kid’s parents. After taking care of all this he returns home, sits down, and then a phone call comes from someone telling him that his wife is having an affair. Now of course, you shouldn’t expect to go through the same. Most people wouldn’t be able to take it, and might think there is no reason to go on, or even try to take their own life in desperation. My point is that you may have to go through some of the most trying ordeals imaginable. They could take any of a variety of forms. The scheming that goes on between people, the things that test your character, and the cutthroat nature of society are no less trying than the scenario I described. Some people, for instance, find the pain of humiliation to be so great that they take their own lives. This means that to practice in a setting as complicated as this, we need to be able to weather the most trying of storms and have outstanding self-control, or ren.
And what does that look like, in practice? For starters, a practitioner should be able to hold back from retaliating, and patiently endure. Anyone who succumbs to retaliating could hardly be called a practitioner. Those who have bad tempers might think that this is too hard for them to do. But I think they simply need to work on their tempers, as practitioners should be able to stay composed. Some people lose their tempers when disciplining their children and get all worked up. But it needn’t be like that. You shouldn’t genuinely get angry. You have to be calm and rational for your child to be reared well. Do you really think you could develop higher energy if even little things get to you or cause you to lose your temper? I recall someone once telling me that he could take getting publicly humiliated as long as nobody he knew was there to see it. But that’s not good enough. You might one day get slapped in the face and disgraced right in front of those whom you would least want to see it. How you handle it would be revealing and show how composed you are. To really make the grade, you would have to not only keep your composure but also not let it get to you. Remember that a saint would never let anything affect him or her emotionally; worldly things simply don’t occupy a holy person’s mind. And they will always be pleasant and upbeat, however badly they might be treated. If you can genuinely be like that, then you are already a saint to some degree.
People might worry that they will come across as cowards or pushovers if they exercise that much patience. But there is nothing cowardly about it. The older generation and those who are more cultured can practice self-restraint and not stoop to arguing with others. So all the more so should we, as practitioners. It could hardly be called cowardly. I would take it to be a sign of great composure and willpower. That kind of self-restraint is what defines a practitioner. There is an old Chinese saying that, “The common man will answer insult with his sword.” It’s only to be expected that the typical person fights back. And that’s what makes him ordinary, as opposed to a practitioner. To do what I’ve described means that you must have good willpower and self-control.
There was a well-known figure in ancient China named Han Hsin, who was extremely able; he served as a chief general to the future emperor Liu Bang and was instrumental in creating his empire. We should note what set him apart. It’s said that from a young age he was different from others, and there’s a well-known anecdote about his willingly enduring the indignity of crawling, on hands and knees, between another man’s legs. As the story goes, when he was young he was active in the martial arts and carried a sword on him, as was customary. He was walking down the street one day when a thug blocked his path, standing with his hands on his hips. The thug challenged him, saying, “What are you carrying a sword for? Do you have the guts to kill a man? Let’s see you prove it by cutting off my head.” And with that said, he bent over and stuck his neck out. But Han couldn’t see any point in beheading the man. And like today, doing that would get you reported to the authorities and cost you your life, so it wasn’t something to do rashly. When the thug saw that Han wasn’t about to kill him, he declared, “If you want to get past me but don’t have the guts to kill me, then you’ll have to get on your hands and knees and crawl.” And that is just what he did. We can see from Han’s exceptional composure that he was different from others, and therein lay the key to his success. Thinking that honor is worth fighting for is a misguided, worldly notion. A life that revolves around pride, as you can imagine, is going to be tiring and painful, and not worth it. As people who seek spiritual transcendence, we should be still better than a Han Hsin, who led an ordinary existence, after all. Our goal is to rise above the ordinary and make strides toward higher realms. While we won’t go through what Han did, we will face insults and humiliation as we practice in this world, and they might be every bit as challenging. The strife that you experience with others may really grate on your soul, and be every bit the equal to what Han went through—if not harder.
You also need to be able to forgo the things that people normally long for and are attached to. This takes time to accomplish. It’s not something that can be done overnight, any more so than becoming holy. But you shouldn’t take a relaxed approach just because we know it takes time. It’s a problem if you take my words to be license for being lax. To follow a sacred path requires the ultimate dedication and effort.
You also need to preserve your virtue, maintain your integrity, and refrain from acting impulsively. You can’t simply do whatever you would like to; you have to uphold your character. It’s common in Asian culture to believe that you can “make merit” by doing good deeds. But as practitioners we strive to preserve the merit, or virtue, we have, rather than seek to gain more. People often strive to gain virtue or blessings by doing good works, and hope to secure a better next life. But from our perspective, the next life isn’t a concern for you, since you will be freed from reincarnation if you achieve enlightenment. A second reason we opt to preserve virtue is that the two kinds of matter carried on our bodies weren’t built up over just one lifetime, but trace back over many lives. And besides, you could scour an entire city and not find even one genuinely good deed to perform—even if you did this daily.
Then there is another facet to this. The seemingly good things that people do in an attempt to gain virtue could prove to be bad things; and the apparently bad things that you see people do could turn out to be good things. That’s because there are underlying reasons for events, which may not be evident. There are ordinary laws in place in this world to regulate human affairs, which is as it should be. A practitioner, however, is someone who operates on a higher plane. And as a higher being you should go by a higher logic; you mustn’t always look at things with an ordinary lens. You are apt to mishandle things if you intervene, since you may not know the underlying reasons for them. So this is why we subscribe to the doctrine of “non-interference,” and say that you can’t simply jump in on an impulse. Someone once tried to reason with me by saying that he got involved in things because he really just wanted to “see justice served.” My response was that he’d best join the police force, in that case. But I’m not telling you to turn a blind eye to life-threatening situations if you see them. I’m talking about intervening in the fights that people have, be they verbal or physical, since your stopping them might mean that the parties involved can’t work out a past debt that was to be settled. And then in that case they would have to wait until another time before going through it again. So my point is, you are likely to mishandle situations and lose virtue when you can’t see the reasons for things.
You can’t criticize ordinary people for getting involved in other people’s affairs, since they have their own ways that they follow. But you should go by a higher logic and refrain from getting involved unless you come upon something like a terrible crime. To not do anything in those circumstances would reflect poorly on your character, since a good person would respond. If you don’t even care when someone is getting murdered or there’s a fire, then what would you care about? But I should say that such events serve little purpose for us, and might not be part of the plan for you, or something for you to see. What we strive to do is preserve our virtue by not doing wrong. In many instances it would be wrong for you to get involved and take action, even if just slightly, and would cost you virtue. And the stakes are high. A loss of virtue will mean it is that much harder to advance in your practice and achieve your ultimate goal. So it takes good judgment to determine when to intervene in things, and this might result from a good foundation or good influences.
I believe that the world will be a better place if we can each work on ourselves and look at our character, or thoughts, to identify the source of any problems we experience, and then make a point of doing better next time and try to always be thoughtful towards others. Morality will improve, people will become more civil, and the world will be safer for it. Perhaps a police force wouldn’t even be needed; people would be policing themselves, so to speak, by becoming self-reflective. What a world that would be. Yet today, even with a legal system that’s become quite comprehensive, people still do wrong in the face of the law. That’s because laws cannot change the heart, and so people still commit wrongful acts when nobody is there to stop them. I believe the world would be a different place if everyone were to work on themselves, like we do, and nobody would need to think about intervening and righting wrongs.
This is as far as I can go with my teaching, as anything higher must be left to you to arrive at as you practice. Nor can I spell out all of the little things in life that you might like to ask about, as then you would have nothing left to work through. You have to do your own practice and arrive at your own understanding of things. There would be nothing left to work through if I spelled everything out. But you can take heart in knowing that the teachings of Dafa I have made available can serve as your compass.
I am likely going to stop giving classes soon. In anticipation of that, I am planning to make my genuine teachings available to all [in book form], so that everyone can have them to guide their practice. From the start I’ve been motivated by a sense of responsibility to all of my students as well as to the world more broadly, and this continues to be the case. The public’s response should be a good barometer of how we’ve done, so I won’t say more. I made this practice public so that, for one, more people could benefit from it, and secondly, so that those who are sincere about spiritual growth would have teachings to guide them. Along the way I’ve also spelled out what it takes to be a good person, and hope that after my instruction at the very least you can do that, if not become a practitioner—to the betterment of the world. You now have the tools in your hands to be a better person. And I am confident that after the class you will be.
Not everything has gone smoothly while giving my teachings, as there have been a variety of disruptions. The classes have gone truly well nevertheless, thanks to the great support from the sponsoring organizations and the leaders from different segments of society, along with the efforts of our staff.
Everything I have taught has been to help you succeed in your practice, and I have disclosed things never made public before. What’s unique about my teachings is that they incorporate modern science and the science of the body in order to make things more accessible, and yet the teachings are very spiritually advanced. This is done mainly in hopes that you will, with time, truly embrace the teachings and get somewhere in the practice. That is my purpose. We have come across many people that find the teachings agreeable, but think they will be hard to put into practice. But I think it really depends on the person. For the average person who isn’t interested in spiritual growth, it’s going to seem hard, or quite a stretch, and not like something he will succeed at. So it will seem hard for someone like that, who’s not interested in spiritual development. It’s like what Lao-tzu wrote: “When the superior man hears the Way, he will practice it with diligence; when the average man hears the Way, he will sometimes believe and sometimes doubt; when the inferior man hears the Way, he will laugh at it. Were it not derided, it would not be a true spiritual path.” Those who are sincere about practicing will find it very much doable and not some impossible task. This has been borne out by the many among us who have progressed to great spiritual heights through the practice, some of whom are present today. I hadn’t revealed this previously for fear that they might become proud or attached, which would affect the growth of their spiritual power. The practice isn’t hard so long as you are sincere about spiritual growth, are willing to go through whatever it takes, and can come to look upon the material things of this world with detachment and indifference. The practice only seems hard to people because they still hold on to worldly things. So there is nothing inherently hard about the practice or advancing to higher stages; it’s simply that people are held back by attachments. The difficulty lies in the allure of worldly things, which are so tangible and immediate, and hard to forsake. Another likely pitfall is the anger people experience when there is a falling out, which might get the best of them if it’s not kept in check. Back in my days of practice, more than once a teacher told me, “Nothing is truly unbearable or impossible.” And it really is so. It’s an outlook you only stand to benefit from. So the next time you are going through a real trial or tribulation, try to keep this in mind, and see if you can bear it. Or when faced with what seems impossible, and even if others say so, try to keep this in mind, and see if it might just be possible. I believe that if you can do that, you will always find that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
It might be hard to remember everything taught here, with all that’s been said. So here are my main hopes, in closing: that you will really become a practitioner and do spiritual practice in earnest; that both veterans of the practice and those new to it will one day be spiritually perfected through Dafa; and that from today forth you will really make the most of your time to practice.