The Eight Stages to Immortality and Contentment
The word Tao literally means “The Way,” and is pronounced “dow” (rhymes with how). Taoism began about 600 B.C., but its formal origins are generally attributed to the philosopher Lao-tzu and his book The Way of Power. In this text, he presents the concepts of inaction and spiritual harmony.
But Taoism has gone through many changes over the past 2,600 years. Taoism can be divided into two branches: one seeks a way to physical and social health and well being, and the other seeks a way to eternal reality and immortality. They work together, because a healthy physical self makes an excellent temple for an enlightened mind and immortal Spirit. One sect of Taoism was devoted to conforming to the Law of cause and effect (karma) while transcending the bonds of illusion and confusion. Much of this transcendence was realized through contemplative meditation, breathing exercises, and reversing the flow of energy in the body and thoughts in the mind.
Let’s explore The Way.
8 Stages to Immortality & Contentment
In The Book of Consciousness and Life, written in 1794 by Liu Hua-yang and later published in the popular Secret of the Golden Flower, there are eight stages to immortality and ultimate contentment. Liu Hua-yang begins each stage with a poetic instruction. Each contains attitudinal instructions for the mind and physical activities for the body. The overarching teaching for all of these stages is that all activity should lead to non-activity, all thought to non-thought, and in this still state one will reconnect with one’s true self, the primordial heaven from which we have all come, and rebalance the energy for eternal life.
1. Cessation of Outflowing
If thou would complete the diamond body with no outflowing,
Diligently heat the roots of consciousness and life.
Kindle light in the blessed country ever close at hand,
And there hidden, let thy true self always dwell.
“Heat the roots of consciousness and life” is both a physical and mental practice. Physically, it refers to awakening our root chakra and reversing its energy flow. Mentally, it refers to contemplation upon the genesis of our existence and our original nature. Who am I? What is my true “I am”? And How does my little “I am” correlate to the great “I AM”? As Plato posted above the entrance to his school: Know Thyself.
This Taoist poet and teacher is guiding us to “kindle light in the blessed country ever close at hand,” meaning our inner consciousness and inner body’s spiritual centers (chakras, sushumna, ida, and pingala). He instructs us that this is a hidden place where our “true self always dwells.” Fundamental to this first stage is completing our “diamond body,” by turning within to the original source of life. The diamond body is analogous to Jesus’ teaching that we must be born again. We’ve been born physically — now we must conceive, gestate, and give birth to our spiritual, eternal, true self.
2. Circulation in Conformity with the Law
If one discerns the beginning of the Enlightened One’s path,
There will be the blessed place of the West.
After the circulation in conformity with the Law,
There is a turn upward towards Heaven when the breath is drawn in.
When the breath flows out, energy is directed towards the Earth.
One cycle consists of six intervals.
In two intervals one gathers Sacred Energy.
The great Way comes forth from the center.
Do not seek the primordial seed outside!
The “blessed place of the West” is a poetic way of saying what we Westerners would call the Latter Days, the place of the setting sun, the end of an era. In other words, if we discern our enlightened soul’s path, we will see where it is ultimately headed: back to Heaven, back to the Father, as Jesus taught at the Last Supper. We’ll also see that the bodily path of the Enlightened One is along the kundalini channel, which Edgar Cayce encouraged us to awaken to and use.
“The circulation in conformity with the Law” is both physical and mental. It is a physical technique for raising the energy of our body through the kundalini pathway. This practice does not seek to simply raise the kundalini energy or life force in our body, but to circulate it. The teacher points out that when we inhale “there is a turn toward Heaven.” When we exhale “energy is directed toward Earth.” He states that it only takes two intentional cycles of inhalation and exhalation to gather the Sacred Energy latent in our body. Try this. Sit still … sense your deeper, true self and its eternal destiny. Then as you inhale, draw the energy upward from the root chakra to the top of your head. Hold your breath there for a moment; then, as you exhale, feel the energy flowing throughout your body, bathing it in raised energy, sacred energy. Pause with the lungs empty and your focus on the root chakra. Feel the stillness. Then repeat the breathing exercise again.
Finally, in this stage the instructor guides us not to seek the primordial seed outside of us. It is, as Jesus and so many others have taught, within us.
3. Two Paths of Function & Control
There appears the way of the in-breathing and out-breathing of the primordial path.
Do not forget the white path below the circulation in conformity with the Law!
Always let the cave of eternal life be nourished by the spirit-fire.
Ah! Test the immortal place of the gleaming pearl.
In this metaphorical stanza, the teacher is continuing the breathing exercise while encouraging us not to forget the deeper “white path below the circulation in conformity with the Law” (as you sow, you reap; as you think, so you become). The white path is consciousness. Edgar Cayce often pointed out to highly advanced souls the need to be careful not to forget the difference between the “channel” and the “Creative Forces.” Anyone can move the energy, because the body is arranged for this, but what impelling force is behind this energy? Is it the pure white light of the Creator? Or is it self’s ego? Self, especially righteous self, is a very subtle darkness.
The “cave of eternal life” is the deeper consciousness, beyond the conscious mind and the outer self’s influence. Ezekiel told us that he could not find God in the lightning, the earthquake, or the thunder, but when he backed up to the mouth of the cave, he heard a still, small voice; and there was God. This Taoist teacher is saying the same thing. Nourish the cave of deeper consciousness with the fire of the Spirit, both physically and mentally. Then, just as Jesus encouraged us to test the spirits, the Taoist teacher tells us to test the immortal place. See that it is the pure place, white light, true Creator of all. He compares this to a “gleaming pearl,” which is a good metaphor. It is circular, as is the Sun disk, whole, the beginning and the end being one. And dealing with the irritation of life’s challenges makes this gleaming pearl in the same way that the pearl is formed around an irritating grain of sand in the oyster’s life. And it gleams when the light shines on it.
4. The Embryo of the Way
According to the Law, without exertion, one must diligently fill oneself with light.
Forgetting appearance, look within and help the true spiritual power.
Ten months the embryo is under spirit-fire.
After a year the washings and bathings become warm.
Here the teacher is giving us the gestation period for our rebirth of the true self. He encourages us to help the inner development by budgeting time for the breathing exercises (“washings and bathings” are the intentional inhalations and exhalations, circulating the energy through the body) and by filling ourselves with light. In Egyptian mysticism, Hermes guides us to experience the inner mystical illumination through meditation, and the outer through reading and studying of inspirational writings. Cayce adds that outer-life application of inner experiences brings the fuller understanding.
5. The Birth of the Fruit
Beyond the body there is a body called the Enlightened image.
The thought that is powerful, the absence of thoughts, is Light.
The thousand-pedaled lotus flower opens, transformed through breath-energy.
Because of the crystallization of the spirit, a hundredfold splendor shines forth.
Stage 4 states that after one year the embryo is ready for birth. Stage 5 is that birth. The breathing exercises and the raising of consciousness have opened the lotus flower and crystallized the spirit. Within the physical body and conscious mind are a new body and a new mind.
6. Retaining the Transformed Body
Every separate thought takes shape and becomes visible in color and form.
The total spiritual power unfolds its traces and transforms itself into emptiness.
Going out into being and going into non-being, one completes the miraculous Way.
In this stanza the teacher gives insights into how to maintain the new body, the new mind. Just as the Psalmists of Western biblical thought, he addresses the “going out” and the “coming in” as our daily cycle. This cycle is “the miraculous Way.” Day and night; wakefulness and sleep; activity and non-activity; thought and non-thought; form and formlessness; being and non-being are the rhythms that lead to reunion with a true source. Too much outer life, and we lose the Light to guide us. Too much inner life, and we cannot make enlightenment a living part of us. Budget time for both inner and outer life. Oneness will eventually encompass both.
7. Face Turned to the Wall
The shapes formed by the spirit-fire are only empty colors and forms.
The light of human nature shines back on the primordial, the true.
The imprint of the heart floats among the clouds; untarnished, the moonlight shines.
The boat of life has reached the shore; bright shines the sunlight.
Waxing transcendental, the teacher takes us into the upper reaches of infinite consciousness and life. His imagery is a poetic rendering of his personal experience with reunion to the true, the primordial, the shore of paradise.
In the final stage, he attempts to describe what cannot be described. It is the ineffable, transcending state of pure at-onement with the infinite, the universal, from out of which all life came and in which all life has its existence.
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Kalachakra: The Enlightenment
A smudging ceremony is the ritual of burning plant resins and herbs in a shell or a clay bowl while intentions and prayers are called forth. For centuries, Native American and Indigenous cultures have practiced smudging rituals to clear away negative energy, to invite in peace and harmony for individuals or environments. The smoke from the herbs and the plant resins are fanned using a feather or a hand and directed like a spiritual cleansing bath surrounding the person or the space.
The purpose of this cleansing ritual is to clear away anxieties, sadness, impurities, dark thoughts or unwanted energies that may have attached themselves to a space or an individual.
Smudging is most often performed before or as part of a ceremony to clear the environment and the people from certain thoughts or feelings that will not serve the highest good in themselves. For this reason, it is important to set a clear intention while smudging.
As the smudging ceremony is practiced, the smoke rises and so do the prayers to mother earth, father sky, to the sun and the moon, to the plants, the animals and the water. The burning of the sacred plants- sage, cedar, sweetgrass and palo santo- to name a few, support the connection to the sacred realms between the earth and spirit. Through this connect to spirit the smoke bath lifts negative feelings and energy and creates an opening for prayers and intentions to be heard, therefore bringing positive intention into practice.
What Plant Medicines are Used for Smudging?
Here are a few of the Plant Medicines used for Smudging and the symbolic meaning behind them:
Sage offers clarity, vision, strength and wisdom; it is known as a medicine for Women.
Sage is used traditionally in Native North American, First Nations and Indigenous cultures to represent the life force and maternal lineage of women. Sage can be gathered and bundled to dry in a stick or a smudge stick can be purchased already dried.
Cedar is used to heighten positive energy, to uplift feelings and evoke positive emotions.
Cedar holds the medicine to purify and return balance.
Cedar can also be used as a healing tea as it is very high in Vitamin C. It can be bundled, dried, and burned for purification and to heighten the connection to the spiritual realms.
Sweetgrass is on the of the four medicine plants used by all Native Americans/First Nations, the others being sage, cedar and tobacco. Sweetgrass is braided, dried and then burned as a cleansing ritual. As the smoke from smudging rises it is believed that our prayers too will rise up to the world of spirit to be seen, heard, and to be remembered. Sweetgrass symbolizes kindness- as this plant only bends when walked upon and never breaks – may we too remember that if injustices are done upon us may we hold kindness in our hearts and not react with hostility.
Sweetgrass is known as the hair of Mother Earth.
Tobacco is a sacred medicine plant to all North American Indigenous Cultures. Tobacco is believed to be a gateway or a bridge between the Earth and Spirit realms. Historically if tobacco is offered and accepted, then there is a sacred promise sealed. It acts like a commitment made by people and supported by the Spirit World.
Tobacco can be used as a way to thank Mother Earth or the Creator for the abundance and beauty we receive every day.
For example if you saw a beautiful sunrise or a rainbow and you want to give thanks you could leave some Tobacco upon the Earth for this gift of beauty. Tobacco doesn’t need to be smoked.
Palo Santo is a mystical tree that grows on the coast of South America and it means “Holy Wood” in Spanish.
Palo Santo looks like a small wooden stick and it’s scent is known to raise the vibration in preparation for meditation, creative endeavors and ceremony.
It’s known to bring a grounded and clear feeling when burned and is related to Frankincense, Myrrh and Copal. It is used the same way as Sage and is burned and fanned with a feather to clear the air and ask the spirits for permission to perform the ceremony.
Copal is a natural tree resin and comes from the Buresa tree family in Southern Mexico. Since ancient times, Copal incense has been considered sacred to the Mayan and Aztec people. Offerings were made to the deities and the gods atop the pyramids and the sacred burial grounds. Copal is considered a medicinal tree to the Mayas and is used to clear the body of diseases.
Using copal to smudge before meditation and ceremony can assist in strengthening peace of mind while removing energy blockages from the body.
Any of these plant medicines – along with any others that you feel called to burn – can be placed in a shell, a clay bowl or the open fire. Take the time to witness the smoke purifying and rising, allow the smell of the herbs and incense to bring you into a place of pure presence. As you call forth your prayers, visions, or intentions stay curious, open and full of heart as you engage in your smudging ceremony.
How to Smudge
Smudging can be done before any kind of ceremony, house cleansing, before yoga, meditation, in a group healing circle and in nature. Before beginning make sure you have these items in place. I suggest sitting in a quiet space for a few minutes to feel the earth below you, to soften into yourself, to take some full deep breaths, and to get clear on the intentions you are calling forth before your smudging session.
- You will need either a clay bowl or a large clam shell or abalone shell
- Herbs of your choice to burn (remove stems)
- Wooden Matches
- Large Feather or your hand is fine to wave smoke
- Open windows if you are inside
- Place the herbs or plant resin in the smudging vessel
- Light the herbs with a wooden match for 20 seconds are until it catches flame
- Wave the herbs with feather or hand so the flame goes out and the smoke swirls
- Smudge yourself first, waving the smoke over your face with eyes closed, over heart and limbs, over crown of the head and under the feet
- When you smudge others begins with the front body, then ask them to turn to do their back body, ask them to lift one foot then the other
- Have a clear intention to purify with your light and love anyone whom you are smudging. This is very important
- If you are smudging a home or a studio (wonderful for clearing away negative energy or when moving into a new space) ignite your herbs if they go out and begin the waving of smoke until every nook and cranny of the space has been smudged
- Once you are finished, take the ashes of the burned herbs and return it to the Earth
A Smudging Blessing for New Beginnings
Read over this a few times so you are familiar with the blessing and the body parts, then smudge yourself while speaking this prayer. Replace any words that you feel work better for you.
I cleanse my Eyes so they will see the Truth all around me, allow my eyes to see the beauty I receive from Mother Earth and the Love I create within my family and my communities.
I cleanse my Mouth for truthful speaking. In my speaking words may I elevate my community. May I speak prayers of healing to Mother Earth.
I cleanse my ears so that I may Listen fully to the wisdom passed down from my ancestors, the creator, the Earth and my Spirit Guides. May I be open to hear the good and allow any negativities to slide off me.
I cleanse my heart so that I may be filled with compassion and gratitude. May my heart be in truth and grow with purity, balance and joy.
May I walk in beauty
I cleanse my feet so they will guide us on this life’s journey as a light and truth seeker. May my feet stay grounded and remind me of how to walk in balance, love, joy and in harmony with my family, friends, earth, sky ,water, plant and animal worlds.”
May I walk in beauty.
Smudging is a very powerful practice and can work wonders in clearing away stagnant or unwanted energies in your home, in your heart or your mind. Being intentional, mindful, and calm as you are smudging creates a portal for you to go further into your spiritual work. The ritual of lighting a candle and then smudging yourself or your space allows you to gather presence, to let go of stress and to enter into your yoga practice, meditation, prayer or ceremony with intention. Let us rise up, clean our own energy fields and feed the greatness that lives inside us. Through this state of presence, may we also inspire our communities to live in their own greatness.