Qigong Meditation: Methods of Stopping Thought (Zhi Nian)
Before you start, you should understand that there are no techniques, which are absolutely effective for everybody. It depends on the individual. It may also depend on the situation and timing. Remember that the final goal of regulating your thoughts is to reach “the thought of no thought.” In other words, to regulate your thoughts without thinking of regulating. Therefore, you must continue practicing until the regulating happens naturally and you do not need to consciously regulate your thoughts. Only when you reach this stage will your mind be free and neutral.
Stop and Look Method (Zhi Guan Fa)
“Zhi” means “to stop” and “Guan” means, “to look after,” “to investigate,” and “to take care of.” This means that after your Yi has controlled your Xin, you should concentrate on watching the thoughts as they appear. When one comes, you should stop it immediately, not allowing it to grow. You should keep your consciousness aware of what is happening and use your Yi to stop each new thought. This process is called “Zhi Nian Fa” (stopping thought method).
You will often find that, once you have stopped one thought, another one appears immediately. You stop that one, but another one pops up as if there is no end to the cycle. In order to stop this negative cycle, you must wait until your mind is clear, calm, and peaceful, and then put your Yi there before any more thoughts come up from the Xin. If you can keep your mind in this neutral state, further thoughts will be stopped. The following are methods commonly used by meditators to stop the new thoughts from appearing.
Generally, there are three steps to stopping the Xin and Nian:
1. Tie to the Origin and Stop Method (Xi Yuan Zhi). “Xi” means “to tie,” “to bind,” “Yuan” means “relationship, origin, and cause,” and “Zhi” means “to stop.” In this training you bind your Xin and Nian to one place in the same way that you would tie an ape to a post. If you can keep your Yi centered in a particular spot, you can control your Xin and Nian, but if your Yi is weak, your Xin and Nian will run wild.
There are two places, which are commonly used to center your Yi. The first place is your nose. Place your Yi on your nose and pay attention to your breathing. Gradually, the generation of new Xin and Nian will stop. The second common place is the Lower Dan Tian. Concentrate your Yi at the Dan Tian and feel and sense the generation and movement of Qi. Gradually your Xin and Nian will become quiet.
2. Restrain the Xin and Stop Method (Zhi Xin Zhi). Once you have tied up the ape, you still have to calm it down, or it will continue to run around the post. This is the taming process. Once you are able to bind your Xin and Nian in one place, you must stop the thoughts from being generated by the Xin. You need to understand the reason why the ape is still running wild, whether it is due to hunger or some disturbance, and you need to understand why your Xin is still generating distracting thoughts. If you are taming an ape, in order to keep the ape in the cage without running wild, you must understand the feelings of the ape and try to solve the problem in order to calm it down. Once the ape realizes that he will not be able to escape and will not be harmed, and furthermore, that he will be taken good care of by the master, he will gradually get used to it and calm down.
3. To Comprehend the Real and Stop Method (Ti Zhen Zhi). This is the last step in stopping thought. In this step you analyze how Xin and Nian are being continually generated. Like dealing with an ape, once you understand the cause of its wildness, you can determine how to calm it down. Only after you have calmed it down are you able to lead the Xin to understand and comprehend the nature of reality. Finally, the new disturbances of your Xin will be stopped. It is like educating the ape so that he understands that when he is staying with the master, he will have plenty of food and a nice place to stay. At this point you will not need to keep the ape tied up. Only when you are able to untie the ape (your mind) and have it stay calm and peaceful have you reached real regulation. Then the Xin and Nian, which are generated, will not run wild, and the Yi will be able to direct them effortlessly.
Three Looks to Calm the Mind
There are also three ways of looking at or investigating your thoughts. They are called the Three Looks. When your mind is calm and peaceful, pay attention to your thoughts and learn how to analyze them.
1. The Empty Look (Kong Guan). When you use the Empty Look you look at and investigate everything in this universe: how it is generated, and how it grows, changes, and finally dies. As you look at things, you discover why they happen and what their causes are, and you learn the effects they cause. Everything that happens is ultimately empty. Your experiences are vain, illusory; they gain you nothing but a feeling, which is false and temporary in comparison with the existence of the universe. When your Xin understands this principle, it will not continue to think. Buddhists believe that all motivations and desires generated from the emotional mind do not last long, and ultimately accomplish nothing. If you can see this, you will be able to stop the generation of new Xin and Nian.
2. The False Look (Jia Guan). “Jia” in Chinese means “false, imaginary, not real.” In this method, when you find yourself in a bad situation, perhaps stuck in traffic, you look into the past to see how the traffic jam may have come about, and you look into the future to see how it will surely clear up. You look into the past and future to help you control your Xin in the present. However, since the past and future are not the now, they are false. In this method, you are looking at false things and using them to help yourself let go of unsettling feelings and control your Xin.
3. The Centered Look (Zhong Guan). After you have used the other two Looks and your Xin comprehends the nature of emotional disturbances, you will have seen through every emotional feeling and desire, and you will understand that they are all only temporary. Since your physical life is so short, you should not be bothered by empty emotional feelings. Once you have realized this, you will keep your attention on (look at) only the here and now. Your mind will now be centered and neutral. All of these Looks use your Yi to lead the Xin to understand the truth about emotional feelings. Then Xin will not bother the Yi again.
For example, if you are driving somewhere and suddenly get caught in a traffic jam, do you get upset? Most people would, but if you stop to think about it, what do you gain from getting upset? Will the jam disappear or will the cars start moving faster? What do you gain from getting upset, and what do you lose? If you understand all of this, you will see that there is no benefit derived from getting upset, and you will use the time more gainfully, perhaps by just enjoying the music on the radio. If you can do this, then your mind is centered and regulated.
The Behold and Think Method (Guan Xiang Fa)
“Guan” in Chinese means “to admire, to look up to, or to view someone or something” as an example. “Xiang” means “to imagine, to think, or to meditate.” In this method, when you meditate to regulate your Xin you hold an image or idea in your mind of a person, such as Buddha, or something, such as moonlight, which occupies your attention. If you concentrate on this image, your Xin will be steady and calm, and, consequently, your mind will be regulated. The person or thing upon which you concentrate is the source of the power, which encourages and enables you to conquer your emotional mind.
The Guan Xiang method is widely used by Buddhists. When Christians meditate on the image of Christ to lead their minds into a steady, calm state and finally regulate their minds, they too are using the Guan Xiang method. In Daoist and Buddhist meditations, a Buddha is usually used as an image, and a poem or verse written by the Buddha will be read to help the Xin be steady and peaceful. People use other things as images too. Sometimes people will use the moon, because it is peaceful, gentle, and calm, and can help you to lead your mind into a deep meditative state.
The One Point Spiritual Enlightenment Method (Yi Dian Ling Ming Fa)
“Yi Dian” means “a point.” “Ling” is “the supernatural part of the Shen.” “Ming” means “enlightenment.” In this technique you focus on the highest, most refined level of your Shen. You are looking to enlighten the supernatural Shen, or Ling, and focus it on a tiny point in your Upper Dan Tian (i.e. the third eye). When you are doing this, your thought will have a target. This effort will regulate your Xin and redirect it into a peaceful and calm state.
The Large Hand Stamp Method (Da Shou Yin)
“Da Shou Yin” literally means the “Large Hand Stamp.” Large Hand means the fingers, and Stamp means pressing the fingers together. The Large Hand Stamp meditation method originated with the Indian Buddhists, and was later widely adopted by the Tibetan Buddhists. After a thousand years of study and practice, this method has become a major meditation technique in Tibetan Qigong practice.
In this practice, you press your fingers together in specific ways. The fingers of one hand may press fingers on the other hand, or on the same hand, or the fingers may be interlocked in certain ways. Your mind concentrates on where you are pressing, and at the same time your concentrated mind leads your Shen to a higher state.
Leading your Shen to a higher state is the key to success in regulating. When your Shen is raised, your Yi is strong and the Xin will be controlled. Frequently people will generate a sound or else shout to awaken and raise the Shen and stop the generation of distracting thoughts. For example, when you meditate you may discover that your emotional mind bothers you and you cannot stop it. If you open your eyes and look fiercely and utter the sound “Ha”, you will stop the emotional thought and lead yourself to a new stage of meditation.
Religious meditators will often regulate their minds by raising their Shen. Another method is to concentrate the Shen, rather than raise it. When the Shen is focused, the Yi will naturally also be focused, and the Xin will be controlled. Often a gong is used to help the mediator focus his Yi and Shen.
(This excerpt is from The Root of Chinese Qigong: Secrets for Health, Longevity, & Enlightenment, by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming)