Thursday, August 25, 2016

On the Nature of Ritual and Qi

The other day I posted a Youtube video related to the subject of ritual, in the context of the Bhagavad Gita:

Now, this video is not part of the Yi Fa Curriculum. But the subject of 'ritual' is very significant to the Yi Fa work.  As the video points out, ritual is not meant to be something done automatically, or even as such for some kind of ulterior motive: it is its own reward.

This brings to mind the question of 'what is ritual'?  We tend to think of ritual in terms of being some kind of ceremony meant for religious or magical purposes.

But in Chinese thought, ritual or "rites" (which is called "li") means not only religious ceremony, but also it encompasses all the notions of 'proper conduct'. It can be understood as including customs, manners, etiquette, 'proper form', etc.  We could call it "rules of art". It is tied to the Virtue of harmony; both in the sense of good harmony within our own being (balance), but also harmony with our world, our fellow human beings, and society.

Another of the Confucian Classics, aside from the I Ching, is the "Book of Rites".  If you look at that book, you will find that it is not some book of magical rituals, but rather a wide-ranging guide to all kinds of standards of etiquette and ancient customs (from the Zhou dynasty, the dynasty that wrote the I Ching).

In relation to Qi Gong, the practice of the forms of Qi Gong (including Yi Fa Qi Gong) are certainly a type of ritual. It is important to further clarify what this means in the context of Qi.  There are many people talking about the "Qi Gong" of other activities: how painting can be Qi Gong, or writing, or dancing, or all sorts of other things (even "Qi Gong Golf" or "Qi Gong Cooking").  In some cases, this is interpreted in some kind of very esoteric way, like as if you are doing some very special mystical technique. But this was not really the purpose of this concept, it is actually just the opposite.

Let's further define an intentional act, and a ritual act. In western esoteric magic, we are told that "any intentional act is a magical act", and that magick is "the art or science of causing change to occur in conformity to the Will".  We can thus surmise that any intentional act is an act where you are directing your will.  
So what marks the difference between an 'intentional' act and a 'ritual' act is that a ritual act is to direct the will within a certain form.  Any practice that has a technique is not only an intentional act, but a ritual act.  This is how to understand 'rites' in the context of Qi Gong. 

What this means is that if you get up in the morning and brush your teeth, and the practice of brushing your teeth is done in a certain way (you stand in front of the sink, you fill a glass, you lift the glass to your lips and slosh some water in your mouth, then spit it out into the sink; you grab your toothbrush, open the toothpaste, put a bead of toothpaste on the toothbrush, put the toothbrush in your mouth and scrub in a certain fashion going from one part of your teeth to another, then rinse your mouth again, wash off the toothbrush, etc.) then you can say that you have a "technique" of brushing your teeth.  But this is not a ritual, unless you are also doing it as an intentional act.  As soon as you are doing this exact same technique, just as you always did it before but now as an intentional act, it becomes the Ritual of Brushing Teeth.

It is the same with countless other things you do in your ordinary life. You have techniques for all sorts of ordinary things in your life. Often, these are done mechanically, specifically as a way to avoid paying attention while you are doing it; you can be on 'automatic' because of how familiar you are with these techniques.

In Qi Gong, Qi is a measurement of the direction of your Will. It is treated as a substance, and thus we understand Will not as some invisible thing or only a mental effect but as a part of our material existence. When we do anything as an Intentional act, we are directing Qi. So if we are doing some technique in a mechanical way, we are not directing Qi into these activities. But as soon as we do that technique in an intentional way, we are directing Qi into them: a mechanical activity becomes a Ritual activity.  This directing of Qi does not really require any special effort on our part aside from intention; just like in Yi Fa Qi Gong you do not need to do anything mentally to 'move' the Qi, it naturally happens just by performing the practices with intention.

If we are trying to brush our teeth, or paint, or play golf, or prepare breakfast or any other thing, through some technique, whether it is ordinary or somehow fancy or ceremonious or unusual, it is NOT Qi Gong, if it is mechanical.  But it can be said to be "Tooth-brushing Qi Gong" or "Painting Qi Gong" or "Golfing Qi Gong" or "Cooking Qi Gong" if we are doing it with a technique and form AND we are also doing it intentionally!

This is why I say people often understand it the opposite way of how it is intended: it is not about reciting some kind of mantra or visualizing something or doing some unusual movements or mentally directing something, while you are doing these ordinary things. It is about doing these ordinary things with order and structure, with harmony and balance, and with the Active Consciousness, with intent. The point is not to try to mystify ordinary activities, but to understand that that all sorts of ordinary things can be mystical, can be part of cultivation, simply by doing them consciously.

And we have to conclude, by this same reasoning, that it is not that Qi Gong is something separate from the ordinary, but very much part of the ordinary.  Our ordinary life does not need to be integrated into our cultivation practice; rather, our cultivation practice needs to be integrated into our everyday lives!  We do not need to separate ourselves from ordinary existence to find the magical, we have to unite our Will to the ordinary

There, in the Manifested, is where the Great Work is to be found.

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