A number of texts from ancient China’s Taoist tradition contain instructional excerpts about different forms of meditation.
The Secret of the Golden Flower, an advanced ancient Taoist text, offers several meditation techniques, including an excerpt on how to best prepare for meditation in order to attain “a state of quietness” within:
“When one begins to carry out one’s decision, care must be taken so that everything can proceed in a comfortable, relaxed manner. Too much must not be demanded of the heart. One must be careful that, quite automatically, heart and energy are coordinated. Only then can a state of quietness be attained. During this quiet state the right conditions and the right space must be provided. One must not sit down [to meditate] in the midst of frivolous. That is to say, the mind must be free of vain preoccupations. All entanglements must be put aside; one must be detached and independent. Nor must the thoughts be concentrated upon the right procedure.”
– The Secret of the Golden Flower. Translated by Richard Wilhelm.1
In another part of The Secret of the Golden Flower there is an explanation of how it’s possible to begin the day on a spiritual note with a meditative exercise:
“If there is time in the morning, one may sit during the burning of an incense stick; that is the best. In the afternoon, human affairs interfere and one can therefore easily fall into indolence. It is not necessary, however, to have an incense stick. But one must lay aside all entanglements and sit quite still for a time. In the course of time there will be success without one’s becoming indolent and falling asleep.”
– The Secret of the Golden Flower. Translated by Richard Wilhelm.2
This text also provides a meditation exercise for contemplating the origin of thought, which can give insight into the nature of thoughts, where they come from, and how the mind works:
“Only one must not stay sitting rigidly if worldly thoughts come up, but one must examine where the thought is, where it began, and where it fades out. Nothing is gained by pushing reflection further. One must be content to see the thought arose, and not seek beyond the point of origin; for to find the heart (consciousness, to get behind consciousness with consciousness), that cannot be done. Together we want to bring the states of the heart to rest; that is true contemplation. What contradicts it is false contemplation. That leads to no goal. When the flight of the thoughts keeps extending further, one should stop and begin contemplating. Let one contemplate and then start fixating again.”
– The Secret of the Golden Flower. Translated by Richard Wilhelm.3
Lastly, this text also contains an exercise of meditation on the breath and the quieting of the heart , as described below:
“While sitting, one must therefore always keep the heart quiet and the energy concentrated. How can the heart be made quiet? By the breath. Only the heart must be conscious of the flowing in and out of the breath; it must not be heard with the ears. If it is not heard, then the breathing is light; if light, it is pure. If it can be heard, then the breath-energy is rough; if rough, then it is troubled; if it is troubled, then indolence and lethargy develop and one wants to sleep. That is self-evident.”
– The Secret of the Golden Flower. Translated by Richard Wilhelm.4
Similarly, the Tao Te Ching, a book said to contain spiritual guidance from the legendary sage Lao-Tzu, also describes a meditation on the breath method in order to achieve inner silence:
“In concentrating your breath can you become as supple
As a babe?
Can you polish your mysterious mirror [i.e. the mind] And leave no blemish?”
– Tao Te Ching. Translated by Darrell C. Lau.5
The Hua Hu Ching, also attributed to Lao-Tzu, is a collection of verses passed down through oral tradition. It too contains a number of excerpts that can be used for meditation. The excerpt below describes a meditative way to reach inner stillness and clarity:
“Thinking and talking about the Integral Way neither are nor the same as practicing it. Who ever became a good rider by talking about horses? If you wish to embody the Tao, stop chattering and start practicing. Relax your body and quiet your senses. Return your mind to its original clarity. Forget about being separated from others and from the Divine Source. As you return to the Oneness, do not think of it or be in awe of it. This is just another way of separating from it. Simply merge into truth, and allow it to surround you.”
– Hua Hu Ching. Translated by Brian Walker.6
Another interesting meditation practice from the Hua Hu Ching is the exploration of the duality of the mind, where the contradictory nature of thoughts is explored in order to “dissolve all ideas into the Tao” — “the Tao” in Taoism can refer to the higher spiritual reality and the source of creation.
“Good and bad, self and others, life and death: Why affirm these concepts? Why deny them? To do either is to exercise the mind, and the integral being knows that the manipulations of the mind are dreams, delusions, and shadows. Hold one idea, and another competes with it. Soon the two will be in conflict with a third, and in time your life is all chatter and contradiction. Seek instead to keep your mind undivided. Dissolve all ideas into the Tao.”
– Hua Hu Ching. Translated by Brian Walker.7
Another excerpt from the Hua Hu Ching describes a meditation on the night sky to calm and quieten the mind by contemplating the starts and seeking a connection with the universe:
“Do you imagine the universe is agitated? Go into the desert at night and look out at the stars. This practice should answer the question. The superior person settles her mind as the universe settles the stars in the sky. By connecting her mind with the subtle origin, she calms it. Once calmed, it naturally expands, and ultimately her mind becomes as vast and immeasurable as the night sky.”
– Hua Hu Ching. Translated by Brian Walker.8
Jordan Resnick, Justin Norris, and Vida Norris also contributed research to this article.
The Secret of the Golden Flower. Translated by Richard Wilhelm. Online PDF version, p. 12.