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Taoist Teachings on Meditation

taoist meditation

An illustration of the “beginning the day spiritually” exercise from The Secret of the Golden Flower.

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

lao tzu meditation

A depiction of Lao Tzu. Image by widodo [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Modified.

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.


  1. The Secret of the Golden Flower. Translated by Richard Wilhelm. Online PDF version, p. 12. 

  2. Ibid., p. 11. 

  3. Ibid., p. 8. 

  4. Ibid., p. 11. 

  5. Laozi. Tao Te ching. Translated by D. C. Lau. (Penguine Classics, Toronto, 1985), Chapter 10. 

  6. Laozi. Hua hu ching: the unknown teachings of Lao Tzu. Translated by Brian Walker. (HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, 1995), Chapter 49. 

  7. Ibid., chapter 41. 

  8. Ibid., chapter 5. 

About the author

Jenny Resnick

Jenny Resnick is a researcher and practitioner of the ancient religion of the sun and the Managing Editor for The Spiritual Sun, where she also researches and writes about ancient sacred sites; spiritual texts and practices; the latest discoveries in archeology, archeoastronomy, and related sciences; as well as the exploration of various facets of the lost civilization of the sun.

16 Comments

  • I also agree that it’s a nice selection of Taoist quotes here and they give the inspiration to read more of these texts and practice their sayings.

    Thanx!

  • It’s really uplifting to read these, and helps me to put a new focus into my meditation practise. Thanks for bringing all these together Jenny, it often amazes me to think of people thousands of years ago with a such a similar psychology, though of course it can’t be otherwise.

    I particularly liked this part of the last quote: “by connecting her mind to the subtle origin she calms it. Once calmed it naturally expands, and ultimately her mind becomes as vast and immeasurable as the night sky.”

    It makes me think that very often it’s half the battle to sit down for a meditation practise. Once this initial tie to the daily fascinations is broken, the mind ‘naturally expands’, as though, if allowed by creating the right environment, it is simply attracted to its natural, higher state.
    At the same time, the emphasis on ‘sitting for quite some time’ – resonates with me! I see there’s a big difference between a short and longer practise, and giving myself plenty of time allows the mind to goes in stages into a different state.

    I also find that following the breath is my default ‘steadier’ of the mind and is the best thing to grab hold of to start the transition from ‘non-being to being’. 🙂

  • Thanks for taking the time to list just a few of the gems that lie within these two fantastic texts. It is great to have a spotlight shine on some of the phrases, showing just how magical and profound the texts are.

    It’s definitely time to re-read them … and embrace their teachings more earnestly!

    Many thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks Jenny I really enjoy the readings from the Taoism, the excerpt for the one on the night sky sounds particularly profound

  • Thankyou, the practices are beautifully described giving them a fresh and light impression. The practice on the breath will be invaluable and has given me a new goal.

  • Thanks for sharing those, there are some great excerpts / practices there!

    I really like the Taoist texts, the approach they take is quite poetic, but at the same time really practically grounded as well. The Hua Hu Ching is one of the clearest, most easily understood and relevant to modern day ancient texts I’ve ever read. It has a depth and simplicity that is really uplifting.

    Time to go outside and look up at the stars 🙂

  • I really love the one from the Hua Hu Ching about looking up at the stars in the night sky. The image that it evokes instantly reminds me of the sense of stillness, quiet, and peace that you can access through meditation, especially when using cues from the natural world.

    Thanks for sharing these excerpts. I’ve been reading the Hua Hu Ching recently but this has got me curious to look into the The Secret of the Golden Flower too.

  • Wow! Such wisdom from such ancient times.
    Thank you, Jenny, for putting these quotes and excerpts together. It’s amazing to read such clear meditation directions from thousands of years ago! Contemplating the stars and the cosmos is so beautiful.

  • Thanks Jenny and the other researchers for putting this together.

    Lots to explore here, and I’m always keen to try new practices – well new to me practices, since these are ancient 😉

    So far I tried the meditation practice for contemplating the origin of thought and the meditation on the breath and quietening the heart exercise. I enjoyed doing them both, but especially the breath meditation. I like and found it interesting with these meditation practices, that there is an emphasis on the heart, and doing/exploring the practice from the heart.

  • What a nice clear way of explaining meditation from these ancient Taoists texts – great to have them like this all in one place. Like Olga mentioned, great pearls of wisdom, bringing things back to life as we live it, and how spirituality lives in the moment, in the experience of living – yet how it can be further explored and understood through meditation. Thanks Jenny 🙂

  • Thanks Jenny all those excerpts are amazing.

    Going to do some night practices under the stars this afternoon so that last excerpt on meditation on the night sky is quite timely. The stars generally have a wonderous affect of instilling wonder and spiritual curiosity on most people to some degree, especially for myself and probably most people here. How could it not when the cosmos is the physical face of the divine; a universal infinity in its ineffable ballet.

    The night meditation practice itself though seems to equate as : look at stars, be aware :). Agitation is in itself a product of the ego however navigating out of it to a point of clarity is always difficult. This practices seems to be alluding to the stars as a map to follow internally until reaching the point of origin; that point of peace home to both the stars and ourselves. Having had some experiences with expanding awareness by removing emotions and thoughts and getting a sense of moving stars in a universe this practice will make for a very intriguing investigation.

  • This was also a great statement: ”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?”

    I love how this example really puts the ‘work of spirituality’ into real perspective with common sense, as opposed to being caught up in the talk and dreams of spiritual things.

    Access to all these sacred teachings truly gives a refreshening perspective at the work to aquire the divine throughout the centuries. Pearls of wisdom.

  • Very reflective excerpts, thank you Jenny. I like this sentence: ”Too much must not be demanded of the heart” — I find that a great tip. It’s easy to understand/notice where we can force ourselves in meditation and the like, but listening to the sensitivities and energy of the heart may in time draw in a much more nurturing and developing approach. Going against such sensitivities may perhaps cause discomfort/ disruption in our understanding to learn about and feel the thread of inner spirituality.

  • Nice to read these excerpts and to question their meaning and possible use. The Golden Flower ones are nice and simple instructions it seems, quite basic ones that seem good to get into a mode of meditation practice and out of the psyche’s normal state of some chaos and mind chatter.
    The Hua Hu Ching ones seemed more clear, coherent and deep to me. I think following those instructions in practice properly can take one really deep beyond things.

    I also personally liked the mentions of ensuring the right conditions for meditation practices. Having recently started a new program of practice I’ve noticed it’s good to make sure I’ve got some basics covered (if I’m able to) of conducive environment, relaxation, not too late in the evening, starting on a right note etc. In order to make the practices work and be fruitful.

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