Daoist Cultivation in the Zhongnan Mountains

Erschienen im Journal of Daoist Studies, Volume 6, 2013


The Zhongnan mountains 鍾南山, southwest of Xi’an, are a major center of  Daoism. Not  only  do they contain  the place  where Laozi  transmitted the Daode jing, but the area also brought forth the Longmen lineage 龍門派 of the school of  Complete  Perfection (Quanzhen dao 全真道) with  its particular  combination  of  Daoist  thought,  ways  of  nourishing  life,  and internal alchemy. For over a thousand years, wise men, hermits, monks, priests,  and  healers  have  lived  in  this  Daoist  holy  land,  inspired  by  its heritage and inspiring their followers.

Meister Li Jiacheng

Master  Li  Jiacheng  李佳诚 ,  a  22nd  generation Longmen Daoist, is one of the key figures  there  today.  Receiving  Daoist  instruction from childhood, he finds himself increasingly  in  the  public  eye,  especially in  his  spread  of  the  esoteric  practices  of Jin  Dan  Dao  金丹道(Golden  Elixir  Daoism).  The  abbot  of  a  small  yet  ancient temple called Anle  gong 安樂宮 (Palace  of Peace  and  Happiness),  his  work  centers on self‐cultivation, Daoist medicine, especially  qigong  treatments,  and  meditation. He  is creating  a new  dimension of  Daoist practice today.

The Zhongnan Mountains

Southern  Shaanxi  is divided  east  to  west by  a mountain range  approximately  a  thousand  miles  long,  known  as  the  Qinling  range  秦嶺山.  Its mountains form a natural barrier and create a watershed between north and south china.  Blessed by  a  rich flora  and  fauna  as well  as ample  deposits of jade, gold, and other metals and minerals, the peaks reach up to 9000 feet: the main summit is Mount Taibai 太白山 at 11,300 feet (3767 m). The  foothills  of  the  Qinling range  begin  about  thirty miles southwest  of Xi’an,  to  rise  from  there  into  a  lesser  range  known  as  the  Zhongnan mountains.  Ranging  for  a  length  of  over  150  miles,  they  contain  many Daoist centers and have housed innumerable hermits over the millennia (see Porter 1993).

Many  important  masters  lived  and  practiced  here.  Laozi  transmitted his  philosophy  here,  at  Louguantai 樓觀台,  on his  emigration  to  the west. Wang Chongyang 王重陽 (1113‐1170), the founder of Complete Perfection, began his  ascetic career  here before  venturing  into  Shandong to spread  his  teachings.  The  Xiyou  ji  西遊記  (Journey  to  the  West)  has Faxian  stop  first  at  the  Jinxian  guan  金仙觀  (Temple  of  the  Golden  Immortal) with its terraces dating back to the Han.

Jinxian guan

The temple  is, moreover,  the root  location  of  Korean Daoism:  a  Korean monk  金可 记  reached  immortality  here  before  bringing  Daoism  to  his homeland.

Today Daoism is increasingly popular in China, in the various areas of  religion,  health  enhancement,  and  tourism.  Many  temples  are  being restored and expanded. In the Zhongnan mountains, these include especially  the  Yuquan  yuan  玉泉院  (Jade  Spring  Monastery)  at  the  foot  of Mount  Hua,  the  Zongsheng  guan  宗聖觀  (Monastery  of  the  Ancestral Sage),  occupying  several  hectares  of  a  new  Daoist  Culture  Area  near Longuantai, and the Danyang guan 丹陽觀 (Monastery of Ma Danyang), about twenty miles  west  of  Louguantai,  where the Complete  Perfection master Ma Yu 馬鈺 (aka Danyang; 1123‐1183) worked.

Danyang guan

The  Chinese  government  supports  this  expansion,  encouraging Daoist  groups to restore historic  areas  and develop new,  modern  facilities such  as  spas, hospitals, and  sanatoria,  which  increasingly make  use of  Daoist  methods  of  life  cultivation.  This  overall  development  is  also affecting smaller and lesser known temples.

Among them is particularly the Anle gong, in the early middle ages founded  as  a  Buddhist  temple  by  the  name  of  Baoning  si  寶 寧 寺 (Monastery of Treasuring Peace). It became a Daoist temple in the early years of Complete Perfection, when Qiu Chuji 邱處機 (aka Changchun 長 春;  1148‐1227),  the  senior  and  most  famous  of  the  founder’s  disciples, settled nearby on Mount Longmen.

Anle gong

Its name derives from Prince Anle, the third son of emperor Yang Jian 楊堅, the first emperor of Sui Dynasty. After many years of war, wished his son to grow up in “peace and happiness” (anle).

The  temple  honors  all  major  Chinese  religions:  its  main  hall  has  a stone  statue  of  the  Buddha  in  the  center,  with  Confucius  and  Lord  Lao on his right and left. Surrounded by mountains covered with pine trees and fresh springs, it is a wonderful place for recreation, an inspiring site to leave the world behind and turn toward the eternal path of Dao.

Golden Elixir Practice

The Anle gong today is the home of Li Jiacheng, 22nd  master of Longmen lineage.  Born  in  Xi’an  in  1964,  he  spent  his  entire  life  in  the  region,  receiving  Daoist  education  since  childhood  and  especially  training  with Master Zhao Jiaohua 赵教华 in the practice of the Golden Elixir. He has been  charged  with  bringing  this  practice  into  the  open  and  making  it available to the general public. As part of this effort, Li worked for several decades as a qigong teacher, spreading Daoist practice in China, Korea,  Europe,  and  Canada.  More  recently  he,  together  with  Master  Ma Fanpu  马钒镨,  is  explaining  his  experiences  in  lectures  and  systematic teaching, spreading the traditional Jin Dan Dao system with its particular path of internal alchemy more widely in modern society.

Jin Dan Dao training proceeds in three stages, applicable equally to practitioners, patients, therapists, and teachers. The basic class serves to build a theoretical and practical foundation, using exercises to purify the Three Treasures (sanbao 三寶: essence, energy, spirit), providing methods for  physical  well‐being,  and  teaching  techniques  to  enhance  life  on  the psychological and spiritual levels. The second level teaches how to cultivate  concentration  and  enhances  spiritual  training,  focusing  on  an  indepth application of the various exercises and techniques. It also teaches a deeper way of strengthening qi. Level three provides an in‐depth study of the theoretical principles as well as powerful control of the body and its energies; this allows practitioners to awaken their subconscious powers and tune into resonance with the universal origin.

The system works with several qigong exercises which clear, purify, and strengthen qi, then open ways to make this strength easily available on a daily basis. They are all embedded in the traditional concepts of the Longmen lineage.

The initial, preparatory practice is Dantian qigong 丹田 (Elixir Field Practice),  a  form  of  sitting  meditation  which  first  calms  the  mind,  then calms the heart. After that practitioners take the calm mind‐and‐heart to the  lower elixir  field  and  focus  it  there,  imagining  it  as  a  golden  pill. Here  the  calm  empty  mind  resides  and  the  qi  will  gather.  This  is  explained as shen gathering qi and, with time and practice, becoming jing or essence.  Since  this  is  the  foundation  of  all  other  alchemical  processes, takes time to consolidate.

The  other  part  of  Dantian  qigong  is  standing  meditation.  This  includes  small  movements  to  give  outer  form  to  the  inner  guiding,  done with  hands  held  before  the  Dantian  and  mentally  focusing  on  the Laogong  points  in  the  palms  of  the  hands.  A  connection  is  felt  to  the lower  Dantian,  making  the  hands  more  sensitive  to  energy  flow  and fields.  Other  postures  focus  on  the  approach  to  the  lower  dantian  from the back and the top. The main point of the practice is the intention (yi, directed  mind  connected  to  spleen)  combining  with  the  will  (zhi,  the mental aspect of the kidneys) and the empty spirit (shen, residing in the heart) to center on the abdomen—in an area that is the largest cavern for the gathering of qi in the lower elixir field. Breathing is natural and regulates itself.

The practice overall serves to increase primordial qi and centers the person’s energy in the lower elixir field. Only when this is strong as the physical  and  energy  center  of  the  person  can  the  meridians  be  fully flooded with qi. When the reservoir is full, the channels cannot dry out.

First level practice is Yibu gong 一步功 (First Step Practice), a set of standing  postures  and  small  movements,  which  also  includes  one  form of  sitting  meditation.  The  practitioners‘  sensitivity  is  already  subtler, with  an  increased  awareness  of  energy  fields  and  flow.  Beginning  with emptiness  by  standing  in  stillness  or  Non‐Ultimate  (wuji 無極),  they  intentionally  work  their  qi  by  shaking  the  wrists  and  creating  a  vibration throughout the whole body in the position of the Great Ultimate (taiji 太 極).  The  following  postures  work  intentionally  release  liver‐qi  through the eyes and strengthen of the phase earth in the Middle Heater, i.e.. the digestive system. The arm movement in these postures simply reflects of the inner movement of the guided qi.

Another  step  at  this  stage,  is  to  open  the  Penetrating  Vessel  from Hundred  Meeting  (Baihui  百會)  at  the  top  of  the  head  to  Meeting  Yin (Huiyin 會陰) at the pelvic floor through guided imagination. In addition, several postures play with qi.

The  deeper  meaning  of  Yibu  gong  that  we  intentionally,  with  the help of our hun 魂 (heavenly soul) let go of selfish, egoistic thoughts. Reflecting the mindset of mind over matter, this signals to the body and the po  魄  (corporeal  soul)  that  we  intentionally  accept  mind  and  matter working  together.  Thus,  both  hun  and  po  find  their  needs  fulfilled – expressed by phrases  like  “Tiger  and  Dragon mating“  (longhu jiaohou fa, 龙虎交姤法).  Working  with  postnatal  essence  (houtian  jing  後天精),  this allows the qi to flow freely and strengthens the earth aspect in the human being.  As  practitioners  retrieve  the  “middle,”  emotions  move  into  balance  and  the  intention  becomes  more  vigorous.  Intention  and  imagination direct qi. With a strong earth aspect, practitioners can accumulate qi without restraint and their bodies produce ample blood.

As  more  and  more  qi  fills  the  lower  elixir  field  and  the  channels, adepts next  undertake Wuxing  gong 無形功 (Formless  Practice) to clear the organs and fill them with qi. Here practitioners direct the clear mind to  the  yin  and  yang  organs  to  enhance  their  internal  awareness.  Outer movements are just to bring the hands in front of the respective organ to increase their sensitivity. In this form practitioners work with metaphors regarding the five phases, such as “The dark cold waters of the north fill our kidneys and clean them; the eastern breeze refreshes our liver,“ etc. This  harmonizes  the  internal  processes  and  enhances  the  quality  of  qi. From here it is only a small step to the point when not only the meridians  and  organs are cleared  and  filled  with  energy, but this  energy  even spills over into the extraordinary vessels.

Meister Li with Zhang Mingrong and Gerhard Milbrat on Huashan

Higher Levels

From here practitioners proceed to the second level of training, known as Erbu gong 二步功 (Second Step Practice), a set of standing postures with movement of the arms and torso while working with more precision on the inner pathways of qi. They envision an energy line from the third eye (Tianmu 天目/  Yintang 陰堂) on the  forehead through  the  skull  and the pituitary gland all the way to the back of the Head, to the ancestral mirror (houtian jing 後天鏡). They also continue working on the Penetrating Vessel, from the head through the throat, the heart, the digestive center, and the lower Dantian all the way to the perineum. This opens the middle  and  upper elixir  fields.  It  also  serves  to  improve qi accumulation by strengthening the lungs and opens the Governing Vessel that runs along the spine.

This,  next,  leads  to  the  practice  of  Xiaozhou  tian  小周天(Microcosmic  Orbit).  Guiding  the  cleared  qi  through  the  Governing  and  Conception Vessels with conscious attention, practitioners condense and move it between  essential  energy  centers  and  extraordinary  vessels.  This  is  the beginning  of  true  internal  alchemy  as  it  begins  to  work  with  prenatal (pre‐Heaven) essence.

Once adepts have cultivated this step, moving, leading, and directing qi in the body in different ways, they learn Faqi 發氣 (Releasing Energy)  and  Caiqi  菜氣  (Absorbing  Energy).  Releasing  energy  is  done  by knowing how to gather qi, guiding it through the body’s pathways, and then projecting it outward through the Laogong 勞宮 points in the palms. Like  the  other  forms,  this  requires  intensive  training  for  two  to  three hours  every  day;  more  specifically,  it  also  involves  training  to  increase sensitivity toward outside energy fields, preferably using a tree.  This, in turn  leads  to  the  application  of  qi  in  different  fields,  such  as  life  care, medicine, and the martial arts.

On  the  third  level  of  training  adepts  learn  Kai  Tianmu  開天目 (Opening  the  Heavenly  Eye).  They  compress  the  golden  essence,  the golden embryo, or the red pearl. This is the combination of highly clear yang—yi  意  (directed  mind/intention),  strong  zhi  志  (will/volition)  and an empty shen 神(intentionless or unselfish mind) — with the most refined yin,  i.e., jing 精  (essence)  gathered through the various  earlier practices. This leads to an integrated body‐mind experience that words cannot do justice to. It leads to a state where practitioners can go beyond ordinary physical limitations. They are able to see or sense deep inside themselves, feel  or  sense  energy  in  the  body  of  a  patient,  recognize  illness‐causing blockages  of  qi,  and  feel  or  sense  an  opponent‘s  intentions  before  any overt movement during martial arts combat.

A  supplementary  practice  that  accompanies  the  different  qi  exercises  on  all  levels  is  Zuogong 坐功 (Sitting Exercises). This  includes  different  kinds  of  meditations,  such  as  those  described  above.  It  is  more quiet and meditative than the various standing exercises, which all have a  component  of  strengthening  the  body.  Standing  still  for  an  hour  will strengthen the legs; holding the arms in a certain position in front of the body  strengthens the  shoulders  and  upper body.  All standing  exercises are  done  very  slow  and  last  at  least  15‐30  minutes.  Together  with  the meditations they ultimately lead to oneness with Dao at the origin of all life.

Daoist Medicine

All these exercises are fundamental forms of Daoist cultivation and nourishing  life  (yangsheng 養生).  They  form  the backbone of the  increasingly popular  field  of  Daoist  medicine,  a  way  of  enhancing  health  and  aliveness  for  everyone.  Practitioners  benefit;  teachers  spread  the  potency  of Dao;  therapists  apply  the  exercises’  power  and  skills;  patients  release their ailments and suffering.

A Qigong Treatment

Master  Li  works hard  to  further  develop this system and  spread  it widely,  giving  lectures  at  international centers, Chinese medical clinics, Daoist  conferences,  workshops,  and  symposia.  He  also  takes  good  care of his Chinese and international master students and acts as a consultant for quality management for the board of several branches of the school‘s organisation  in  Asia  and  Europe.  More  and  more  therapists,  teachers, and practitioners are coming to his center and attending his workshops, making this a form of Daoist cultivation that is truly international.


Porter,  Bill.  1993.  The Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits. San Francisco: Mercury House.