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My pet mind: how I trained it – then set it free

In Insight and Experience, Places, Travel and Retreats by LivingNowLeave a Comment

In 1981, when I arrived in Taiwan, I was almost 40. I’d been on the road for eight years, from London overland via Iran, Afghanistan, around India and Nepal, Burma, Java, and so on. I’d had some remarkable experiences… and some hard lessons. As it happened, Taiwan, still reflecting the old Chinese ways, was to change my life forever. The plan was that I’d go there to study acupuncture. In fact, I went to find my soul… literally.

Not long after my arrival in Taipei, I met a remarkable man. I had come to a dead end with my search for a way to study acupuncture. The inconvenient truth was that nothing was offered in English, sooo… study Chinese first? I just couldn’t see putting my life on hold for another six years before even starting with another six years of acupuncture. I was baffled as to what to do next. I was running out of money and trying to find work, but resisted teaching English at one of the English-as-a-second-language sweat shops dotted around the city. I knew that there had to be another solution, perhaps right around the corner. As it turned out, that was literally true.

I was staying in a crowded little hostel in the middle of town. One evening, my hope dwindling, I trudged up the stairs of the building, computing in my mind that I had enough funds for about another week. As I reached the landing, just about to open the hostel door, I noticed that, on my left the only other door on the landing was slightly ajar. During my two weeks at the hostel, I had somehow found this door mysterious and attractive. It was painted bright red, like most temples around town, and there were unusual symbols painted in the middle plus a small mirror. A mirror! What function could that have? Furthermore, I had never seen anyone coming or going through that door. Naturally, when I noticed that this door was open, I felt compelled to have a look in. Slowly and quietly, I peeked around the door’s edge, and what I saw made my heart open. Facing me on the other side of the room was a large wooden altar graced with a magnificent statue of Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion. Without hesitation, I entered and approached the altar. Finding a large bunch of incense, I lit one and offered it up, using her mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”. Closing my eyes, I prayed that I might find a workable resolution for my life’s direction; then stood for a few moments in contemplation.

Gradually, I began to experience an odd sensation, as if someone was watching me. I opened my eyes, intuitively glancing to the right, discovering that, in my fascination with this Guan Yin altar, I had failed to notice that there was another, partly hidden, room nearby. I could see a desk, and behind it was a man with a shaven head, dressed in a chang pao, the indigo robes worn by spiritual teachers in the Chinese world. He was looking at me with the most amused expression. When our eyes met, I got the most delightful tingle in my spine, all the way up to my ‘third eye’ behind the forehead. I stood there for a while, as if I were hypnotised. The man sat quite still, then, unexpectedly, he smiled widely, and extended his arm to welcome me in for a cup of tea. Thus began a friendship that was to last for the next five years.

When I settled down in the chair opposite him, he asked me, “Why did you do that?” He gestured toward the altar. I then proceeded to tell him the whole story of how I had forged a relationship with the Goddess while I was on a two-year retreat in the mountains of central Java. Since then, she had become my constant companion, as I felt her presence on that day, and indeed as I type these words, and she has shown me unerring kindness.

“Mmmm”. The man in indigo was looking at me quite differently now. He looked above my head and all around my body, appearing to scan my etheric fields. Perhaps he was seeking the appearance of Guan Yin. I knew he would find Her there. Then, abruptly, he smiled once again and poured me a tiny cup of oolong tea. We sipped the amber liquid in silence and appreciation. I could tell that he enjoyed fine tea as much as I did.

When we put our cups down, the man extended his hand and I joined in a handshake. He introduced himself as Tang Jiao Shu (Teacher Tang). As I introduced myself, his eyes seemed to sparkle. Then he quietly made one of the most precious offerings I’ve ever received. “I’ve just built a new temple in the mountains of the east coast, about three hours from Taipei. We’re going up on the weekend. Our car leaves at 6 tomorrow morning. Would you like to come with us?”

Before I could think about it, I blurted out, “Yes, of course. Thank you.”

Tang was once again smiling widely. He stood up, and I followed suit. “We’ll be waiting for you at the foot of the steps,” he said, as he put his palms together in front of his chest and bowed goodbye.

I returned to my scruffy hostel room that evening feeling great joy. I knew that my destiny had been gently touched by the goddess. The following day Tang took me to his magical temple, high in the craggy mountains of the east coast. It was surrounded by bamboo groves and looked out across the Pacific. On the ride up, one of his followers had informed me that Master Tang (as they all addressed him) was a renowned practitioner of feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of geomancy. It had taken him more than 10 years to locate this auspicious location for his temple. It was a perfect example of dragon embracing tiger, mirrored in the landscape as a rushing stream (dragon) running around the base of the mountain peak (tiger), upon which the temple was situated. For the Chinese, this is a very fortuitous combination. The dragon symbolises the power of transformation, and the tiger represents dignity and courage. After we arrived and settled down, Tang showed me around the temple. It was primarily Buddhist. I say ‘primarily’ because all Chinese temples have representations honouring of ancient Chinese deities. I was not surprised that, just adjacent to the exquisite effigy of Buddha, was an equally charming representation of Guan Yin. Immediately, I felt perfectly at home.

On Sunday, just before we returned to Taipei, Tang asked me “Do you like it here?”

“It’s magnificent”, was all I could say.

“Would you like to live here as the caretaker?” Tang’s matter-of-fact manner took me by surprise. I hardly knew how to respond, but I knew where my heart was.

“Yes! Yes, of course!” There was no doubt in my mind.

Tang smiled wider than before, then showed me a quiet little room near the kitchen. “There’ll always be plenty of food in the fridge”, he reassured me.

I’d already noticed the large veggie garden just outside. “This must be the Pure Land”, I mused.

On the following weekend, I loaded my old pack, containing all my worldly possessions, into Tang’s car and we trundled off to the mountains once again. I spent the next five years as the sole caretaker of the Temple of Pure Light (Pu Ti Guan). I tended the vegetables, swept the terrace, looked after the dogs, and ‘fed’ the effigies sandalwood incense three times a day. My reward was food and board, and being able to consult with Tang when he came up on the weekends.

During the initial months of my stay at the temple, I got to know more about Tang. He had a large following in Taipei. He had translated several Buddhist classics into Chinese, notably “The Diamond Sutra”, one of the most profound of all Buddhist texts. This was the basis of all his lectures. From his ‘inner circle’ of followers, I also learned that he was a renowned master of Nei Gung, the internal alchemy of Taoism. For many years, I had yearned to find an authentic master of this esoteric style of mind training. Thus, I resolved to take my earliest opportunity to ask Tang if he would be willing to train me in this ancient hidden art.

Tang was a very busy man – so I had to pick my time. I waited until the time of the mid-autumn festival, a big date in the Chinese calendar. He would be up at the temple for almost a week and I hoped to get an audience with him. It was frustrating, however, as his band of followers was always crowded around him like a school of hungry minnows. The festival came and went. With just a couple of days left, a cloud of futility gathered within me. On the morning of the last day, I was standing alone out on the front terrace, looking down on the ocean. Tang had taken a large group on a hike up the mountain. It seemed I’d now missed my last chance of talking with him. As I was quietly reconciling myself to this fact, I was  suddenly startled by the sound of someone directly behind me clearing his throat. I whirled around to find Tang several feet away, with a grin on his face.

“You need to pay more attention”, he said in a mock scolding voice. “If you want to know about Nei Gung, you need to first train your mind. Come, let’s take a walk.” He turned abruptly and led me to the orange grove that surrounded the temple. We soon entered a small, hidden path. As we continued, I had time to sort out my thoughts and feelings. I felt quite surprised that Tang seemed to have read my mind. That was the first time I experienced his awesome psychic powers. Later, I learned that he had many more skills up his sleeve, some of which he imparted over the years.

After quite a while of treading small meandering paths through the bush, we came to a small clearing surrounded by bamboo.  In the middle was a rustic table constructed by a thick slab of wood supported on large flat stones. On either side of the table there were a couple of these stones for us to sit on. Tang extended his hand exclaiming with pride, “Nature’s tea house!” He took off his backback, opened it, and brought out a small flask and two small cups. We enjoyed the tea in silence. I had a wonderful warm feeling in my body as it was filled with life-giving chi (vital energy).  Part of Tang’s magnetism was his infectious energy. He seemed to always be happy, always cracking jokes, always reaching out to help others. He was like a godfather to all his followers.

My ruminations were interrupted by Tang’s offside comment, “Thanks for looking after our temple dogs. I’ve noticed that you understand dogs.” He paused, nodding his head in approval, then continued, “You know that dogs should not be kept on leashes unless they are out of control. All dogs may be subdued by loving kindness. If you leave food lying around the kitchen, then dogs are likely to create a mess. You need to feed dogs well, but not too much.” He paused to let his words sink in. He poured another cup of tea, and as I began to drink, he looked at me carefully to make sure I was attentive, then re-commenced talking, “Educating the mind is like looking after dogs. There is no reason to restrain the natural curiosity of the mind, but if one becomes infatuated by fantasy, it is necessary to put the mind on a ‘leash’ of practice. Since most people live in fantasy most of the time, we must begin by the practice of restraining the mind, only to redirect it to what is ‘real’. You can know what is real because it never changes; it is always, already real. Fantasy is ever-changing.” He paused while I scribbled his words in my journal, feeling grateful to myself for remembering to bring it.

Tang finished his cup of tea, looking into the bamboos as the metallic afternoon cicada song whirled around us. I was just about to ask him about his sweeping statement regarding fantasy and reality when he continued, “When you are in the process of throttling the mind’s habit of needless thinking, you must do so gently. Actually, it is not the mind that’s the problem; it is the thought forms. When you pet a dog, he wags his tail doesn’t he?” I nodded. He continued, “You’d be surprised to see the tail wag the dog, wouldn’t you?” (laughter) “But, sadly, this seems to be the innate condition of humanity, whereas the ‘tail of thoughts’ wags the ‘dog of mind”! So, to train the mind, one must train the thought forms. We can also call this fasting the mind. But be careful, and be gentle, because if you fast the dog too severely, he will become mean, or even run into the bushes and become feral! Therefore, the right approach is to proceed gradually so that the dog won’t know that there’s a little less food each day. Eventually, you’ll have a lean, keen, compliant dog, on a perfect diet. That’s the condition we call the dog that wags the tail.” He continued, with gusto, “If you leave food lying around your kitchen – in other words, if you casually expose your mind to temptation – you’ll end up with a mess! By nature, the mind is a scavenger. Great distraction will occur if you indulge it with titbits in between meals – titbits like popular media and recreational drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. Media also intoxicates the mind, and the intoxicated mind will soon become addicted, craving more media. (There was the potential temptation of a small TV at the other end of the temple. Tang didn’t know how much I abhor ‘the box’!) He continued, “There’s no end to idle curiosity. Don’t feed it, or you’ll soon be back to the tail that wags the dog!’ Summarising, he raised his voice, ‘So, avoid titbits. Stick to meals. Give your dog only nutritious food, and no titbits. Health will naturally follow!”

Tang paused again to let me catch up with my journalling. As soon as I was finished, he concluded, “Now you’ve just been fed a good meal… let’s see how you digest it! If you really want to learn Nei Gung, first you’ll have to fast off non-essential thoughts. Remember, stay off the titbits, and you’ll be fine.” With these words he returned his flask and cups to his pack, standing as if to go. “Stay sitting!” he exclaimed, turning to face me. His eyes tilted up and closed half way as he straightened his posture. “Now, close your eyes.” I complied, and shifted my weight to be more comfortable. Soon, I could feel the heat in my sacrum, then gradually it moved to the spine. This was a much more profound feeling than that initial ‘tingle’ on the first day we met. As it travelled up the spine, the heat expanded to all the muscles along the sides of the spine. By the time it reached my head the warmth was also radiant. I could see it with my inner eyes, bright, like the sun, and continuing to expand out. Certainly, there was no space left for thought forms! All was still and in perfect equilibrium amidst that radiant cloud of chi. It was exhilarating. All time seemed to coalesce into this one bright moment.

Gradually, I noticed that the cicadas had resumed their chanting, but it was now an ear-piercing evening cacophony. My breathing changed, and eventually my eyelids fluttered open. The day was quickly fading. Tang was looking into my eyes. His mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear his words above the cicadas. Nevertheless, on the inside his message came across loud and clear: “This is your initiation into the inner art of Nei Gung. May the radiant chi be with you.” Tang turned and beckoned me to follow him back to the temple.

That night, I had the most unusual ‘sleep’ of my life. Actually it was a state far beyond sleep. I went to bed just after sunset. Shortly after my head hit the pillow, I realised that I had resumed the state of consciousness I had experienced in the bamboo grove just a short time ago. There was only radiance, vast and seamless, without even the hint of a thought. It seemed but a second later that I heard the tinkling of breakfast preparations in the nearby kitchen. My eyes opened wide. The details of my little room came streaming into consciousness as though I was dreaming them into being. In that moment I understood that this experiencing was far too precious to be exposed to the sterility of analysis. Besides, even the first thought would be far too effortful. No need to try… not to try anything, rather just let everything simply unfold in the now. After all, when else could it unfold?

Remarkably, this ‘radiant mind’ still persisted. Mental clarity prevailed. No need to think during breakfast. Just the eating, just the enjoying. As I completed eating, I heard the car starting out front. Tang and his small inner circle of devotees would be leaving soon. I went out to help with the carrying of parcels, bags, and oranges – mounds of oranges from the surrounding orchard. Finally, after all the kind words and hand pumping, everyone piled in… except Tang. I looked around toward the temple. Just at that moment, Tang strode out the front door with a haze of smoke around him. He had been making his final offerings.

Tang walked directly over and turned to face me. He looked into my eyes for a moment, making his final offering to me. The radiance in my head intensified. It became spontaneously obvious that this state we were sharing was not ‘his’, nor was it ‘mine’. We were simply participants in the natural intelligence of just being. ‘The search’ was over; the Essence revealed itself moment to moment. Tang cleared his throat, “That’s right! Now you know, because you are that presence.”  He paused to let that percolate down beyond the mind into the core of my being. Then he continued, “I’ll be gone for a month. When I return, we shall take the next step. Meanwhile, don’t bully the mind not to think; just refrain from unnecessary thinking. This is the way of the Tao: Let life ripen… and then fall.” He paused again, bringing his palms together, and bowing his head in goodbye, then turned to join the others. Just before entering the car, he turned to me with a smile. “Remember Mas – no titbits!” Laughing, he took a seat and motioned the driver to be off. In a few moments only the dust of his presence remained, yet inside my being our soul connection had been indelibly stamped on the veil of consciousness.

Read part 2 here.

 

Mas Rogers passed away in Melbourne on 3/1/2011. His gentle nature will be remembered by all his friends and workshop participants and his contribution to the holistic niche is substantial.

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