The amazing Taoist master Wang Liping is someone whose name will come up a lot on this blog. His biography,Opening the Dragon Gate, is a treasure trove for anyone seeking to understand the path to real personal resilience.
In Northeastern China in 1962, three old men came to the door of the Wang family house asking for food. Wang Liping, the boy who answered the door, knew immediately that there was something different about them.
They were the three lineage holders of the Dragon Gate sect of Taoism, and for the next several years, Wang Liping would study with them in remote and mountainous places.
Opening the Dragon Gate follows the path of the young disciple as his masters systematically transmit to him the tools of self-mastery.
The book is a spiritual adventure, gripping in style, endlessly fascinating in its details, and uplifting in its view of human potential. There are any number of useful principles and techniques to pull out, but here are just a few, and they should sound familiar:
Sitting: Wang Liping’s first prolonged exercise involved sitting for long periods of time and remained the most important kind of exercise. Sitting in this sense “requires that the mind be still as a mountain all the time, whatever you are doing, in action or repose.”
Stillness: The Taoist teaching of stillness requires not allowing external influences of any kind to disturb the mind. “Whatever you are doing, always strive to overcome perceptions, cognitions and feelings, and you will have no afflictions.”
Cultivation: Life is something to be cultivated with care and deliberation. Most people, as the Taoist masters observe, do not know how to do this systematically. This is the main theme of the book, and so I will encourage you to read it rather than recapitulating the whole thing.
Cultivation ranges from sophisticated energy work through theoretical education to such basics as diet. One of the first things the three masters do is to teach Wang Liping fasting and eliminate such harmful substances as grains from his diet. Of course, there are many higher realms of refinement which we will leave to the book.
Everyday Tasks: None of the above effort is any good without exerting the effort to live differently, to clean up the inputs and outputs, as it were, of daily life. That is where “everyday tasks” come in.
There are two sorts of these tasks. The “external” tasks include avoiding envy and jealousy, avoiding malice and the desire to overcome others, not watching for other people’s faults, not boasting, and not talking about likes and dislikes.
The “internal” task is basically watchfulness, monitoring your inner state to eliminate doubts, fears and harmful desires to achieve a state of clarity and inner freedom.
Even though these are some of the most basic methods, they are by far the most indispensable. This is the foundation that allowed Wang Liping to take his studies to the highest levels, and is indispensable for anyone starting out in any authentic tradition.
On first reading the book, I was struck by the changes that come to Wang Liping’s body, mind, and capabilities as his organism is slowly returned to its natural function by the old masters. All authentic ancient traditions understand that the human organism as we commonly understand it has very little in common with the organism of the fully-realized person in terms of its functions and capabilities.
Wang Liping is taught how to cultivate his faculties for many purposes, ranging from healing remotely by energetic means to altering the weather to subduing threatening wild animals with the power of his voice. His organism is transformed on every level as it begins to reverse the pollution which enters into human nature. Even the border between life and death is crossed and re-crossed.
At one point, the three old masters first walk their young apprentice into the ground, and then, pretending to send him on ahead while they rest, greet him already resting ten miles ahead. The secret was a Taoist walking technique. Other traditions have also reported phenomena which involve walking long distances in a short time. At the time, those old masters were around 80 years old!
Wang Liping’s relationship with the natural world also changes. We see that events from the past remain in the Earth’s energetic field and can be reviewed by those who have cultivated sufficient inner power and know how to access the information . Animals, plants, weather patterns, are all seen in a different light, and interaction with the natural world changes and becomes nuanced.
Human beings are seen as microcosms to the universe’s macrocosm, and it is in this light that the significance of nature for personal cultivation and of personal cultivation for the natural world is examined. Everything is seen as part of a living system, everything effecting everything else.
The tradition of the Dragon Gate sect is remarkable because it is so obviously a highly developed scientific tradition, with a long legacy of experimentation on the human condition and the natural world on which to draw. The emphasis of this science is not on a mechanistic understanding, but a holistic one. It seeks the amazing and under-explored capacities of the human organism and the hidden properties of nature, improving the function of both.
Even though the Dragon Gate had traditionally been sustained in the mountains, the old sages saw that a time was coming when the world would need the resources of their tradition. That was the destiny of Wang Liping, as it has been for cultivated people from many traditions in recent times. Wang himself was deeply concerned with the esoteric and concealed nature of many useful teachings, and looks for ways to disseminate them more widely.
This book is highly recommended for anyone looking for sources on personal resilience or self-cultivation. Enjoy!!