DREAM TRIP TO CHINA
May 19 – June 9 2012
This dream trip was conceived as a kind of pilgrimage, going back to the sources of Taoist culture to visit the places where it grew and flourished.
We were a group 36 people from many different countries, but we were driven by the same objective, to get directly in touch with this spirituality that we all live with.
Of course, we didn’t miss the major tourist attractions, but the trip was centered on temples and sacred mountains where famous ancient sages reached achievement.
Here are some pictures together with some comments.
The Forbidden City
One often comes across mind-blowing achievements in China. Here for example, the stone pavement of the Forbidden City is said to be made of 15 layers so as to make it impossible to dig a tunnel from the outside.
White Cloud Temple in Beijing
People burn incense as a way of praying.
Praying to a deity
The temple gardens are imbued with peace and serenity.
Monks taking a break to relax
Gallery ceilings are heavily decorated
The Great Wall of China
Our group practicing Primordial Qigong on the Great Wall
Dragons in Beijing airport
Hangzhou, West Lake
West Lake, Hangzhou, peaceful water scene
Gardens in West Lake
A door to Paradise? The way is open
Ge Hong Temple
Ge Hong was a famous Taoist sage.
The incense burner’s shape evokes an alchemical cauldron where the body’s energies mingle and are transformed into a spiritual being destined to become immortal.
Ge Hong Temple, Dragon on the roof
Master Ni Hua Ching explains that the dragon is a symbol for yang energy, i.e. any powerful natural force. A violent storm, a strong fire, or a powerful wind are all examples of Dragon energy, which early people were able to understand and to manage.
A person expressing “dragon” energy must possess all four yang virtues to have a plain and normal, smooth and joyful life. These virtues are being positive, creative, progressive and perseverant.
We form a group of joyful pilgrims.
The Great Water Show
As a kind of special treat, we attended a magnificent Water Show on the lake. It was devised by the artist who had produced the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics a few years earlier.
Here are four samples of this show:
Back to our Taoist pilgrimage…
Huang Shan, Yellow Mountain, offers impressive vistas as well as shelters to rest or meditate.
Many surprising rock formations
Huang Shan, the Cobra
Huang Shan, the Immortals’ Bridge that spans a deep gorge, is also a symbol for a demanding and audacious passage from one world to the next.
Sanqingshan means the Mountain of the Three Pure Ones. They stand for the powers in Heaven, and also the stages in our own spiritual cultivation (body, mind and spirit).
The mountains where Taoist spirituality has flourished have become national parks highly appreciated by ordinary tourists.
Sanquingshan, a shrine in the woods
Sanqingshan, an age-old site for prayer or temple
Sanquingshan, this ancient well offers pure and beneficial water
Sanqingshan, this old temple (11-12th century) has remained in use ever since
The atmosphere felt sacred in this age-old temple. A nun offered us small red medals engraved with a hexagram design.
The Taoist culture was discreetly maintained throughout history in times when it faced severe oppression. It now remains fully alive even though it is not formally valued in modern day China.
In fact, it is one of the most valuable human traditions. Its spiritual achievements loom gigantically, on a par with the material monuments in Chinese history.
It is probably the most profound, most ancient and most complete of world traditions.
Taoist culture began in prehistoric times, even before complex language emerged.
These human beings were able to perceive the energies around them intuitively, and they knew how to make good use of them.
There are records of stone awls for healing – an early form of acupuncture needles. Primitive shamanism connected human beings to their environment, and especially to the stars.
Human beings’ relationship with the stars is still a theme in today’s Taoism, in particular in the shamanic Qigong form based on the Great Bear. In the West, too, engravings of stars can still be seen on the ceilings of some prehistoric caves.
After the prehistoric and shamanic period, human beings continued to develop, refine and perfect their knowledge over the millennia. This was achieved through patient, perseverant study, gathering ever more new knowledge in ever widening fields.
Taoist culture thus perfected a deep understanding of the universe and human destiny. This understanding did not arise from speculation but empirical practice, meaning that it can be put to use, and proving its true value.
Initially, this spirituality gives a clear understanding of the world, making harmonious personal development possible, which can lead to immortality through internal alchemy or other practices.
It also involves an extraordinary medical culture that is practiced throughout the world (e.g. acupuncture, Qigong, herbology). Anyone needing personalized treatment for chronic, complex diseases that are difficult to treat can visit a specialized hospital online; one of them can be found at www.tcmtreatment.com.
However, this comprehensive and universal body of knowledge also concerns other fields such as astrology, divination using the I Ching and other techniques, geomancy (Feng Shui), nutrition, the art of war, various martial arts and so on.
The remarkable thing is that this mass of knowledge forms a single whole. It is the expression of a single culture, a single civilization, a single language and a single philosophy using the same symbols, built up in uninterrupted continuity over the history of time – one could say throughout human presence on Earth.
It is unlikely that such vast, in-depth knowledge can be found elsewhere in such continuity. It is also remarkable that it continues to develop in the present day.
This means that everything humanity learned before modern intellectual knowledge has been preserved and can still be used. This preserved knowledge is exactly what our modern world needs to avoid drifting off course, as it has begun to do.
This is why we were especially moved when we visited the sites pictured above. We trod the path that our distant ancestors had followed, and their subtle presence seemed to accompany us.
Evident respect for every creature’s right to live
Primordial Qigong in the village of Sanjingshan
Jinhua, the Temple of the Golden Flower
A Taoist has a very ordinary outward appearance with no indication of his hidden abilities or perceptions or the spiritual level he has reached, apart from an impression of benevolence
Jinhua Temple (Golden Flower)
A major spiritual event took place in this modest temple. First, we attended a ceremony
Ceremony, traditional music
Jinhua Temple. A ceremony during which each member of the group was presented with a talisman
We were given tea in the Jinhua Temple
In the Jinhua Temple, we were offered a beautiful ceremony and graciously presented with talismans, and we were given tea and biscuits – but that wasn’t all… The Head of the temple also presented each of us with a copy of the Tao Te Ching, which is, as far as I know, the most important book in the world.
It was strange, the copies were printed in characters that we could not read, but we decided to keep them as a precious souvenir of this spontaneous gesture of generosity, and in the belief that this gift would surely bring us good luck, as though the incomprehensible characters written from right to left, from the top of the page to the bottom, had a secret power…
And still, that wasn’t all…
I sensed something very special in this place, and the others might well have shared this feeling too. It was an impression of transcendent peace and harmony, the impression of sharing the conscience of the nuns and monks here, the serenity of their souls, in other words, a feeling of spiritual development accomplished, the goal achieved, like a heavenly joy.
Thinking about the generosity they showed us, I said to myself, they also sent us a dose of Tao.
Obviously, we’re pretty backward in these matters, but this is how they showed us the way. This is the ineffable happiness that you should reach – keep the memory of it in your heart until you have achieved it.
Dan Fang Retreat
A pavilion at the Dan Fang Retreat (House of Alchemy)
A pavilion at the Dan Fang Retreat – the edges of roofs slope upwards to stretch towards the heavens
A shrine to a divinity, probably Quan Yin, goddess of compassion.
Out of compassion, after becoming immortal and therefore divine, she chose to remain at the service of human beings exposed to suffering.
The faithful burn incense and bow down before a statue in wood, stone or plaster, giving a strange impression of simplistic idolatry, but obviously it is an invocation to the divinity’s spiritual but authentic presence in this place.
The tangible symbol connects heaven and earth, the visible and the invisible.
Picture of symbols dating back to Antiquity (over 5000 years ago)
The Ho Tu and Lo Shu pictures have enabled the meaning of the world to be unraveled.
The many articles on the internet show the extent to which they arouse great interest as well as the extent to which deciphering them offers a wealth of meaning.
The Tao (abbreviated spelling), this mysterious energy at the origin of everything.
In Taoist thought, this invisible, inaudible, intangible power, without definition and without name, the supreme Unknown, is what begets the spirit of creation, the essence of matter and vital energy, in other words, the origin of God, of the world, and of human beings.
The cave used for meditation by the Immortal Huang.
This simple goatherd realized himself in the 4th century of the Common Era.
Inside the cave, where we had the privilege of meditating for half an hour in the dark, but not without the presence of Huang.
Leaving Huang’s cave
Inscriptions outside the cave. Don’t ask me what they mean!
The Immortal Huang
Spirituality does not depend on religion, doctrine or theology. Discovering one’s spirituality means achieving one’s destiny, in other words, becoming conscious of the energy within us. Developing this until one can feel the energy is pure happiness, pure harmony, pure positivity.
This is what meditation reveals.
In this way, one can fully become this energy and become immortal.
It is discovering our deepest nature. It is pure benevolence (sometimes called universal love), the same as that of the high spheres of the universe.
It is the best way to communicate with the Origin, with all creatures and all human beings.
Dan Fang Center, a place which celebrates Huang’s memory
Xian, former capital of the Empire
The Muslim Souk in Xian, the end of the Silk Road
The bazaar (souk) at night
China, a modern country with a rapidly-growing economy
Concrete apartment blocks have sprung up like mushrooms
Thousands of hollow terracotta sculptures of soldiers accompanied their emperor into his tomb. A game among visitors consists of trying to find a face resembling their own because all the figures are individual and different.
The lump on the sage’s forehead represents wisdom, but it probably also contains the spiritual being created by his work with alchemy, the mystical child who survives him in other dimensions after his earthly demise.
Luckily, half the ascent is by cable car, as it was for the two other mountain ranges we visited
There are thousands of padlocks tied onto the guardrail with red ribbons, probably signifying a wish or an attachment – a locked padlock like solid love that holds fast
The remaining ascent of these granite peaks is exhausting, but we climb enthusiastically, borne by the site’s high energy
The vertical cliffs of the Huashan Mountains rise over 2000 meters with vertiginous precipices
We climbed all this way!
The ascent is an amazing feat, like climbing interminable stairs up 300 flights without an elevator
We use our hands as much as our feet…
The descent isn’t much easier!
Absolutely everything is carried by porters
The acrobatic promenade along the planks above the void
Descent to the promenade
Your traveler finds himself on a narrow plank above a gulf of several hundred very sheer meters
The boardwalk is not really dangerous, but highly-charged emotions are guaranteed and we were very proud to have achieved this little exploit.
(Joke: it is also to experience directly what “the void” means)
It was also on Mount Huashan that we experienced the most moving, most dignified moment of the entire trip, the Taoist wedding of our tour organizer Michael Winn and his beloved fiancée Jem.
The simplicity of the ceremony and the majesty of the site left us speechless with emotion – on a summit of the Earth, yet bathed in the evening sky that enveloped us like the precipices around us.
Michael Winn’s website is an abundant and varied source of information about Tao:
As happy events are rarely isolated events, the blissful wedding of another couple from the group had been planned on the sacred mountain the next day!
Huan Shan is Chen Tuan’s Mountain
Huashan Mountain means “Flower Mountain” as it has 5 peaks, to the north, the south, the east and the west, and one in the center, forming the petals of a flower
The meditation cave of the hermit Chen Tuan, a renowned alchemist and sage who refused any honors and made this his retreat (871-1089)
Chen Tuan is famous for having carried out his meditating by sleeping for several years which enabled him not to be disturbed when people came to look for him
West Peak Monastery, (17th century) that gave us accommodation for several nights.
Conditions are quite tough in the monasteries. Beds are made of mattresses 2 centimeters thick on a wooden plank… sleeping rough!
Decoration in sculpted wood in the monastery
A huge cellar carved into the granite – we are no longer surprised by what we see after a while!
Qingkeping Monastery, run by women and dedicated to Quan Yin, the goddess of compassion. The last monastery to receive us for a night during our descent.
The hospitality is warm but Spartan – no hot water, apart from a few bowls to have a quick birdwash
The last picture of these sacred sites permeated with happiness.
The trigrams are in pre-heaven order.
At the Dan Fang Retreat hang banners reading “Carry Forward Taoist Culture! Serve a Harmonious Society”
We have experienced at first hand how this culture lives in peace and harmony rooted in both the material world and the spiritual world.
It is clear that they possess the keys to evolving towards a better world simply because they know the way.
But Taoist culture does not claim ownership of the way; it is universal. In their caves and their monasteries, hermits and monks have learnt fundamental facts that are crucial for our world.
These facts belong to everyone, just as the discoveries made by scientists in their laboratories become universal and are owned by everyone and just as medical knowledge is shared.
Instead of seeing only a tradition attached to its symbols and its spiritual vision, these days it is better to see that this Way is the Complete Way for humanity, and that it belongs to all of us.
We felt the extent to which this path, this WAY, corresponds to the nature of our soul, which is the nature of the source of the universe.
Discovering our true nature means going beyond a world of animal competition and becoming true human beings, entering the dimension of universal benevolence.
The way that this tradition offers us does not involve stirring up revolutions, but instead consists of spiritual self-development. This is the fundamental way to improve the future of humankind.
People who manage to change their own lives bring hope for everyone else.
We felt this in the spirit of the nuns and monks we met.
Let’s hope that this benevolent mission living without ostentation in the forests and caves of the sacred mountains we visited can spread beyond all the political, mental and ideological borders to connect with what is happening elsewhere in a similar vein.
Amen, as they say.
It is time to close our book.
What we experienced will remain with us forever.