Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Djed Column everyday: Tantra and Fong Zhong Shu

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

If all the world's sacred scriptures and mythology actually consist of stories in which the motions of the celestial spheres take on the personalities of men, women, gods, goddesses, angels, demons, monsters, djinn, and other mystical creatures (and they most certainly do), then we are left with a very important question: Why?

I believe the answer certainly includes as a central feature the profound teaching embodied in the Great Cross of the Year, formed by the solstices and equinoxes, and associated with the concept symbolized in ancient Egypt by the "casting down" of the Djed column of Osiris and the subsequent "raising-up again" of the same: an esoteric concept which depicts the entire nature of human existence as a divine soul thrown down into incarnation, while voyaging through, reflecting and in some mysterious way embodying the infinite universe at the same time -- a universe which is itself composed of both a visible realm and an even more important and subtle invisible realm.

Recent posts and videos which have attempted to outline this critically-important central teaching (found, I believe, in virtually all of the world's sacred traditions in varying depictions and disguises) include: 
and many others.

Those discussions presented evidence that the concept of "raising the Djed" conveys a powerful message regarding the long process of our realization of the infinite divine sleeping within ourselves and indeed within every atom of the living universe around us, a process which takes place during the entire cycle of our earthly existence and perhaps over the course of many successive "existences" -- but it is also (we saw) a message which appears to urge upon us the practice of "raising the Djed" every single day, through the practice of blessing, through the recognition and elevation of the divine in ourselves and others, and through the special form of spiritual elevation leading to the state of ecstasy or ecstatic trance, in which our perception actually transcends the physical body and makes contact with the invisible world (for more on ecstasy and trance-conditions see also herehere and here, among many other previous posts).

And, while the entry into the ecstatic state is perhaps the most intense and most transcendent of the forms of recognizing and reconnecting with and calling forth and raising up the infinite divine spiritual realm which is always present, around us and within us, we have also seen evidence that in addition to incorporating techniques of ecstasy into our lives on a regular basis, we can also practice other forms of "raising the Djed" into our lives as well, even when we are not in the ecstatic state (since it is not possible to exist in a state of ecstasy at all times). It seems likely that consciously incorporating more than one of these into our lives is quite possible and probably beneficial -- and that they are not at all "mutually exclusive" (incorporating one does not require that we renounce all the others, although there is obviously a limit to how many we can choose to really pursue seriously).

In order to simply provide a very cursory pointer towards some practices which have been developed in different cultures from very ancient times, for those who may wish to learn more about them on their own, I started a short "mini-series" of posts discussing a few such practices which seem to fit into the general category of "raising the Djed." The first one we mentioned briefly was the practice commonly called qigong or chi gung, which clearly involves contact with "the invisible" in some way (the "invisible within," the "invisible without," or both), and which enables its practitioners to directly and tangibly experience the fact that we are made of more than just physical substance.

The goal of this little mini-series is not to try to teach these practices, or even to point to specific teachers or resources where people can learn more about these practices, but rather to simply make people aware of the existence of these many different disciplines which fit into the general category of "raising the Djed" and which some readers may find very beneficial if they choose to pursue them. Many of these practices, while extremely ancient, are not well known in "the west" -- that is to say, in the parts of the world in which the ancient esoteric knowledge was largely replaced by a literalistic rather than esoteric understanding of the ancient sacred stories and myths.

Another discipline which clearly falls into this same category is the practice of techniques known in some cultures (especially India and Tibet) as maithuna and usually known in China and Taoism (or Daoism) as fong zhong shu or 
The above calligraphy shows traditional characters, but in simplified characters the final character above is changed to 术 (which is present in the middle of the traditional version of that character) and so the same phrase would be rendered as
In either case, the three symbols stand for "bedroom - within - skill" (pronounced fong zhong shu in Mandarin and fohng jung seuht in Cantonese) and are usually rendered into English using the phrases "bedroom arts" or "art of the bedchamber" and corresponding very generally to what is often referred to in the west as "Tantra" (although apparently that word actually encompasses a much wider landscape of transformative disciplines involving meditation, mantras, mandalas, visualization, and other practices in addition to what most people in the west today envision when they think of Tantra).

In general, these related arts involve transformation through sexual ritual, a practice which can be seen to have been highly developed in ancient China, ancient Japan, ancient India, ancient Tibet, and many other cultures around the world, including some Native American cultures. There is some evidence that the spiritual potential of this aspect of human existence was also developed in "western" cultures in various forms prior to being largely rejected or suppressed with the advent of literalist Christianity.

Although still perhaps not so very widely known, excellent books on Taoist fong zhong shu have been available in English for many years, including the work of Daniel P. Reid and Mantak Chia, among others. 

Additionally, some of the ancient Chinese texts that traditionally formed the foundation for the preservation and development of the knowledge of fong zhong shu have survived in varying degrees of completeness.  

Of these, perhaps the most important, and almost certainly the most often-cited and well known is the Su Nu Jing, or 素女經.

The title is often translated as "Classic of the Plain Girl," but the three characters actually stand for "natural-colored [often used to describe natural-colored or undyed silk]" - "woman" - "classic or canonical text" and because the first word can also mean "plain" as in "unspotted" or "without markings" or simply "white, pure, or undyed," the same title is also sometimes translated as the  Classic of the "Immaculate Woman" or the "Pure Woman."

This figure appears in some aspects to be a goddess or divine figure, who is in some cases associated with grain and hence may connect to the celestial figure of Virgo (this would not be a surprise). Interestingly enough, this would also connect her to the Greek goddess Demeter, whom Plutarch uses as part of his powerful argument against the consumption of animals for food, and the same word and symbol sometimes translated "Plain" that is used to describe her in China is can also be used to mean "vegetarian." She is sometimes depicted as giving instruction to the Yellow Emperor or Huangdi (sometimes spelled Huang Ti), whom Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana identify as a Saturnian figure in Hamlet's Mill.

So, Su Nu Jing means "Pure-Undyed-Silk Woman Classic" in Mandarin, and would be pronounced Seuh Neuih Ching in Cantonese, and the last word in the title (Jing or Ching) is the same word found in the title of the Tao Te Ching. It is certainly at least as old as the Sui Dynasty (AD 590 - AD 618) and may be even older, perhaps originating in the Han Dynasty (221 BC - 207 BC) -- and the knowledge it contains may of course have come from an even earlier source.

As explained in Sexual Life in Ancient China: A Preliminary Survey of Chinese Sex and Society circa 1500 BC till 1644 AD, by R. H. Van Gulik (1961), no complete original text of the Su Nu Jing nor of several other ancient Taoist fong zhong shu texts has survived. However, much of the text of the Su Nu Jing was preserved in a different text that quotes large portions of it, which is called the Tung-hsuan-tzu and which may have been written by the scholar Li Tung Hsuan in the 7th century AD.

The text of the Tung-hsuan-tzu begins as follows (as translated in 1961, when conventions were slightly different than they are today -- the modern reader may wish to mentally substitute "humanity" for the general "man," which in previous decades was generally used to mean all of humanity and not specifically men to the exclusion of women; they also seem to have been more tolerant of what is sometimes today called a "comma splice"):
Master Tung-hsuan said: Of all the ten thousand things created by Heaven, man is the most precious. Of all the things that make man prosper none can be compared to sexual intercourse. It is modeled after Heaven and takes its pattern by Earth, it regulates Yin and rules Yang. Those who understand its significance can nurture their nature and prolong their years; those who miss its true meaning will harm themselves and die before their time. 135.
This introduction is extremely significant, and author R. H. Van Gulik notes that most of the more ancient Taoist sexual texts also begin with an expression of the cosmological aspect of human sexuality, which was seen to "model Heaven and [. . .] Earth."

Later, we reach a portion of the text in which the Su Nu Jing is quoted extensively. In the introductory chapter, entitled "The Supreme Significance of the Sexual Act," the Plain Girl declares that in sex:
Woman is superior to man in the same respect as water is superior to fire. [. . .] The union of man and woman is like the mating of Heaven and Earth. It is because of their correct mating that Heaven and Earth last forever. Man, however, has lost this secret, therefore his age has gradually decreased. If a man could learn to stop this decline of his power and how to avoid ills by the art of Yin and Yang, he will attain immortality. 135 - 136.
Here we again see the explicit "macrocosm-microcosm" understanding that the motions of men and women on earth mirror the motions of the great cycles of the heavenly objects, and also mirror the motions of the earth which contribute to our interaction with the celestial mechanics in the heavens above. We are also introduced to one of the central concepts in Taoist fong zhong shu and related disciplines, which is the inherent superiority of the woman to the man, in that she is already capable of multiple, progressive, and basically unlimited orgasms (leading to the raising of chi, prana, or the kundalini, and ultimately to ecstasy), while the man must learn to achieve this capability and does not usually obtain it without the cultivation of fong zhong shu, primarily through the ability to separate orgasm and ejaculation and achieve multiple orgasms without ejaculation. 

Without going any further into the specifics of that subject, which interested readers can pursue for themselves, it is worth noting that in this ancient text, the Natural-Silk Woman or Immaculate Goddess uses the expression "as water is superior to fire." This phrase is loaded with esoteric symbolism, as we have explored previously in the post entitled "Fire and Water," where we saw that the concept of fire plunging into water is an esoteric metaphor for the process of incarnation itself, by which the divine spark of spirit is plunged into and submerged within the physical material realm and a physical material body.

Because of this understanding, we can then gain a better appreciation for the insistence in these ancient texts that human sexuality itself somehow "models Heaven and Earth" and becomes an esoteric symbol for our incarnation itself . . . and for our ability to be spiritually transformed and elevated by our experience in a physical body, an experience which ultimately leads to transcendence of the physical nature. 

Rather than being extinguished by and completely subsumed within the material nature in which we find ourselves, our task is to hold on to the spiritual, call it forth from within this physical world, and ultimately to transform both matter and spirit together -- "raising the Djed." It can readily be perceived that the arts that are often referred to as Tantric are esoterically and experientially involved in just this very purpose as well. 

Just as the myths themselves "bring the stars down to earth" by depicting the sun, moon, stars and planets as human beings and as gods and goddesses walking among humanity, rituals which we undertake that mirror and embody the motions of the heavens and the earth (as the Plain Silk Girl tells us that fong zhong shu most certainly does) connect us to the motions of the universe, and "bring the heavenly motions" down into the human realm, the microcosm reflecting and embodying the macrocosm of the infinite cosmos.

Finally, it is worth noting that here that, as in so many other places where the esoteric ancient wisdom has somehow been subverted, a practice and a body of knowledge which is clearly intended for the elevation and liberation and positive transformation of individual men and women has instead been turned too often into a negative force for degradation, dehumanization, oppression, and powerful feelings of shame, hurt, and alienation. 

The fact that, as we are told by the Immaculate Woman, in the bedroom "the woman is superior to the man as water is superior to fire" can lead to tremendous insecurity and resentment on both sides, when these ancient practices are not known and understood -- but when they are understood and put into practice, they can lead to tremendous security and empowerment for everyone involved.

This subject provides yet another example of how vitally important it is to understand what the ancient texts and the ancient treasures which were entrusted to humanity are actually trying to tell us, and how we can learn to incorporate them into our lives on a very practical level -- and what a great tragedy it is that this ancient inheritance imparted to the human race has somehow so often been turned completely upside down.