Bi Guan (闭关) literally means closing the door to worldly matters. It is a purpose- driven exercise to achieve specific results in inner alchemy. The phrase 闭关 was first documented in the Jing Dynasty (晋朝). According to Taoist practitioners, there are major retreats and minor retreats. Major retreats are held in deep mountains, while minor retreats are conducted inside Taoist temples. It is not a necessary criterion that retreats are done in seclusion. When a group of people come together, maintain silence, and explore the effects on one another, this can also be considered a type of retreat. However, contact with other human beings and the outside world is limited and restricted. During a retreat, contact is maintained only with fellow retreat practitioners. From this point of view, there are group retreats, single retreats and retreats done in seclusion.
Certain conditions and environments are necessary for a retreat. During a retreat, one of the key goals is to master the ability to freely interchange and transform the following three types of energy:
Cosmic Energy (宇宙能量),
Reincarnation Energy (转世能量),
and Existential Energy (本体能量).
More specifically, the practitioner needs to master the process to transmute Jing (精) into Qi (气), from Qi (气) into Shen (神) and finally returning Shen (神) to Qi (气) and Qi (气) back to Jing (精). If this is not achieved, then the whole process cannot be deemed to be a proper retreat. There are also different types of retreat for the Shen (辟神谷), Qi (辟气谷) and Jing ( 辟精谷).
As Taoists , we believe that retreats have to follow certain principles and observe certain rules and methods so that the practitioner can be successful. Practitioners must attain a certain level of merit, virtue and wisdom before they are qualified to participate in a retreat.The power that you can gain from a successful retreat can be misused easily, and can harm you if improperly stored and balanced within the three Dan Ti’an.
If a practitioner has liver imbalances, then, even though he undertakes fasting, he or she must consume something that will nourish the liver. Practitioners with heart problems must also do the “single stroke tree practice” (单劈掌). For those with stomach and liver issues, they are recommended to also do the “double push meridian tree practice” (双推脉).
Retreats may also be classified in the following three ways:
(i) self-imposed retreats,
(ii) master-imposed retreats,
(iii) retreats for breakthrough in practice.
For master imposed retreats, practitioners must abide by all the rules and regulations laid down by the master and participate in all temple activities. The retreat venue must have a picture of the master or his physical body present. Practitioners must be silent both inwardly and outwardly. Classic texts and scriptures are covered and on the day immediately after the retreat, practitioners have to write 3 questions on pieces of paper which are then placed in a box. The teacher will randomly draw from these questions and answer them. If a practitioner raises a question that has already been answered, then some sort of disciplinary action will be administered, like kneeling for a period of time.Yes, you are suppose to know and recall all of the questions already answered, no one said being a novice Taoist was going to be easy!
Food, if consumed, needs to be taken in a proper place like a dining hall. Practitioners typically prepare for Taoist Bi Gu (辟谷) by consuming only fruit (no grains) for seven, eight, or ten days prior to the retreat. This form of preparation also has its own rules, purposes and methods.
Taoists believe that one of the gravest acts of being unfilial (不孝) is not being able to recall your parents’ faces and voices after their passing. On one’s birthday, one should observe certain rules, fast, and engage in the practice to remember one’s parents (忆母听父). This practice is also done on the eve of Chinese New Year.Birthday celebrations are only organized on the 70th birthday. To live to 80 is auspicious and one is considered to have attained longevity.
The purpose of making journeys (云游) to different locations and sacred spots in nature is to hopefully acquire more wisdom. This requires a practitioner to select the right timing, the right place, the right people and an energy spot. The right energy spot is different for different individuals and you have to listen to your heart and experience these things directly yourself.
The Taoist Bi Gu is an important part of the overall practice and can be done before or after Chinese New Year, similar to the case of winter hibernation, which is not easy to master.
There are 3 essential types of Bi Gu.
(i) Bi Shen Gu (辟神谷):
If one fasts and is sustained with Qi but is not successful in retrieving one’s Shen, then it is not considered a proper retreat. Thus the key objective of this type of retreat is to cause the Shen to return to one’s body at will (收神, 神归己). One of the most accomplished practitioners of this type of retreat is Master Zhang San Feng (张三丰).
The Shen is divided into Shi Shen (识神) which is loosely translated as post natal Shen, and Yuan Shen (元神) which refers to pre-natal Shen. More precisely, we want to still or seal off the Shi Shen so that the Yuan Shen is brought out. This is referenced in the Dao De Jing (道德经) as sealing the Gu Shen (谷神), the Gu Shen that “does not die” (谷神不死) . When one speaks of the coming out of the Yang Shen (阳神出壳), it implies that the Shi Shen is completely sealed off and the practitioner is able to inter-change and transform the 3 different energies at will. This is the highest level of attainment in Bi Gu.
(ii) Qi Gu (辟气谷):
If one fasts but is not able to be sustained by Qi, then this is not considered a proper retreat. This Qi is mentioned in the Dao De Jing (道德经) and Master Zhang Zi Yang (张紫阳) is perhaps the best in this
type of Qi practice. Sealing off the external Qi means to shut off the Cosmic Energy from the body and sealing off the internal Qi is to turn the body into a receptacle for Cosmic Energy. The next stage is to become independent of the Cosmic Qi and internal Qi. At this stage, you will develop certain abilities to perform real work. In reality, the three types of Qi – the external Qi, the internal body Qi and the Qi that is projected outside from within the body – are continuously being inter-changed and transformed during one’s spiritual development. Each type of Qi is represented by a different Chinese character although they have the same Chinese pronunciation.
(iii) Bi Jing Gu (辟精谷):
This is also referenced in the Dao De Jing (道德经). Master Lv Zhu (吕祖) said that not consuming food in itself is not considered Bi Gu. There is internal Jing and external Jing. External Jing refers to external food that is introduced into the body, e.g., grains, food. And these foods can be categorized according to the 5 elements (5 tastes) that will ultimately nourish the corresponding internal organs. From this insight, we will be able to nourish our Qi (for purposes of Jing Qi, Shen Qi or physical stamina). Internal Jing is further divided into 5 types, so the practitioner is well positioned if he is sensitive enough to know which meridian to work on, which meridian to seal off and which meridian to open up.
Actually, these 3 types of Bi Gu are inseparable. If you do not consume any food, then your Shen needs to rule and be in charge. Our Shen regulates the function of our internal organs and the movements of the meridians so that the internal organs produce more internal Qi. If we have sufficient internal Qi, then we will be able to overcome feelings of hunger and greatly reduce the possibility of any potential problem. Therefore it is important for one to be aware of these things and to consciously conserve the internal Qi the day before the Bi Gu starts. The following day, this internal Qi can be released and inter-mingled with the cosmic energy before being retrieved back into the body. In the beginning this is accomplished by the Shi Shen since the Yuan Shen is not yet at our beck and call. So we need to initiate with the Shi Shen to activate and lead the Yuan Shen.
The character Gu (谷) in Bi Gu originates from the Dao De Jing (道德经). Gu Shen ( 谷神) does not refer to the commonly known definition of a mountain valley. Here it means no sound or complete silence. The Dao De Jing (道德经) also describes a particular scenario where, “within the mountain valley, the Qi is full so any sound can travel very far”. There is movement in everything, even in states of extreme quietness and stillness. Even at the deepest places we can still perceive sounds. Master Lv Zu (吕祖) says that even falling leaves emit a sound and an accomplished practitioner will be able to perceive these subtle sounds.
The symbolism of the character Gu (谷) is that the practitioner attains a state of extreme stillness and becomes capable of doing certain things. So we have to Bi (辟), used as a verb here.
I believe that our present bodies are an illusion and a transitory vehicle. Whether you choose to be buried or cremated after you die makes little difference because the physical matter of our body will eventually be completely disintegrated with the passage of time. Our physical existence is really very short. A hundred years is equivalent to roughly 30,000 plus days. However, based on the evolution and development of the human species – the human structure and metabolism – every person should have no problem living to 150 years, provided that their existence is in total harmony with nature. If one does not live in accordance to the rhythms of the Dao, then their physical life will be greatly shortened. Even though Master Lv Zhu (吕祖) pointed out that our bodies are an illusion, it is a reality that all of us also possess a little amount of Ling Qi (灵气) inside our body. This Ling Qi is like the Gu Shen (谷神) found within the deepest mountain valleys and it moves within our hearts and bodies. We do not hear her and cannot see her, so we cannot determine where she is, just as our physical internal organs and skeletal systems are very real and exist within us, yet most of us have no awareness of them. And this total lack of self awareness is the root cause of why we take our bodies for granted and abuse our bodies on a daily basis. It is a great tragedy that we do not hear her or know what she is doing or when she begins her rhythmic movements (regulated or not regulated). The moment she stirs, opens up and moves is when the mysterious gate of the heaven and earth (玄牝) appears.
Source : the blue book from Jinhua 2012 by B K Wee
I will cover more on Bi Gu in my next post. I’ve been working hard on my Chinese, and know it is very rough and that I’ve made a number of mistakes on translation, to any of my readers who know better then I, my apologies.
stay gold everyone….