VIDEO: Master Chungliang Al Huang on Living Your Own Tao

This month, Singing Dragon was honoured to host an afternoon talk by author and Tai Chi Master Chungliang Al Huang during his visit to London for the launch of his four new perennial editions: Quantum Soup: Fortune Cookies in CrisisEmbrace Tiger, Return to Mountain: The Essence of Tai Ji; Essential Tai Ji; and The Chinese Book of Animal Powers.

We are very pleased to share this edited video of that event below.

Master Chungliang Al Huang is the founder of Living Tao Foundation, an international cultural-arts network for lifelong learning, and the director of the Lan Ting Institute, a cross-cultural study and conference center at the sacred and historic Wu Yi Mountain, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the People’s Republic of China, and at Gold Beach on the Oregon Coast in the USA. He has written many classic books including the four named above, all of which are now brought back into print by Singing Dragon.

Part 1: Master Huang shares the background behind each book and demonstrates his beautiful calligraphy.


Part 2: Master Huang shares some stories about his amazing life’s journey and the larger-than-life people he has befriended along the way – including Sammy Davis Jr. and Alan Watts.

Part 3: Master Huang shares with us the essence of the Tao and how we can lead more balanced lives.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Richard Bertschinger on the legend of King Arthur and Chinese internal alchemy

Recently, Richard Bertschinger stopped by the Singing Dragon offices in London to film a talk about his book, The Secret of Everlasting Life. On that occasion he alluded to some fascinating parallels between Chinese internal alchemy and the Arthuran legend. He kindly elaborates for us here.

Click to watch the video of Richard’s talk.

Well, this is all speculation, you know! It is only that I have always been struck by the evocative image – I think we all have – of the Lady of the Lake, holding up the sword Excalibur. This is the sword with which King Arthur won his final battle. In Somerset we have many lakes that could have been the source of this legend. The idea of gentleness holding up the ultimate symbol of power and justice, I think we all have to admit, is doubly evocative.

Remember too that at the end of Arthur’s life he casts the sword back into the waters. So we have the idea of the completion of a cycle. The power returns back to the mystic waters. This is well told by Tennyson in The Idylls of the King. So we have strength returning back to its source. And let’s remember that Arthur is also called ‘the once and future king’. I think this rigmarole came from T.H.White, but he took it from the reputed Latin inscription on Arthur’s grave at Glastonbury Abbey. In some way he is out of time; he is born – but also eternal.

Now these ideas are fundamentally Taoist! Water is the source of all life in both northern European and Chinese folklore traditions. The Tao-te Ching states: ‘the greatest good in people, is like water’ (Chapter 8). It is known that much primitive life needs to return to water to reproduce – and sexuality (is it not?) is all about fluids! Fluids are the basis of life (you might remember the mad Colonel in the film Dr. Strangelove and his obsession with fluids?) But never mind. It has to be said that, along with fire, water and gold are two of the most fundamental elements in the alchemical process. You have water in the lake – and gold, that which never tarnishes, is represented by the mystical sword. The Chinese character for gold – 金 jin –stands for all metals. Interestingly enough it also stands for ‘the precious’ (but don’t get me started on Gollum and the Lord of the Rings!).

Enough to say that there are parallels, out and about, throughout all the high romance of northern European folk-lore and Chinese mystical, internal alchemy, While we are on the subject, it is interesting, isn’t it, that we wear the Golden Ring as a wedding ring? The ring is the symbol of eternity, itself. You only have to consider the idea of the snake eating its own tail, or uroboros, which C.G. Jung identified as one of his archetypes, or symbols within the ‘collective unconscious’. So with the ring (or circle) and gold we have two symbols of the unchanging and eternal.

In Chinese internal alchemy the ‘gold is plucked out the water’ – just as ‘the wood is taken out the fire’. In both cases this means that Change is arrested. It’s dramatic. It is meant to be. In the Candong Qi (The Secret of Everlasting Life, Chapter 10) comes the phrase:

know the white, but guard the black,
the spiritual light comes of itself;
for the white is the fine gold,
but the black is the water taken as basis

Let’s unpack this a little bit. The phrase ‘know the white, but guard the black’ (which incidentally is from the Taoist scripture, the Tao-te Ching, Chapter 28) shows how although we understand the white, the brilliant, ‘the fine gold’, we seek its source in the black, the dark of the waters. Indeed the ‘spiritual light comes of itself’ – this refers to Taoist non-action, or wuwei. Spirituality is no big deal, we might say. So Arthur finds his ultimate strength – that which will enable him to rule supreme and conquer every foe – given to him by a mystic lady, during a walk in the woods. Guided, some say, by the magician-shaman Merlin. Under the dark and misty trees he comes across a vision of ultimate strength, born from the dark waters.

There is much more on this in the Chinese alchemical tradition. The sword is, of course, a sword of truth. It is no coincidence that our law-courts use the symbol of blindfolded justice holding a sword. In the Awakening to Reality poem (the Wuzhen Bian) the renown Zhang Boduan has the verse:

The Smelter Ou told to his friends
A Spell for casting a Sword
Named ‘Do No Evil’, in which
Gold and Water were evenly Matched!
Once finished, it knew
The will of the one who wore it –
Ten-thousand miles, it eradicated

Here we have a clear indication of the wondrous use of a single sword, which combats all evil. When gold and water are evenly matched the sword comes into being. Now follow this closely. This is because in the ‘cycling five’ (aka: The Five Element cycle) metal, or gold gives birth to water. (Just as incidentally ‘wood gives birth to fire’.) But in the alchemy we reverse natural process. This is extremely important. And so gold is born from water – ‘the mother hiding her little child’. This is explained in Chapter 10 of The Secret of Everlasting Life, entitled ‘Understanding the Double-Entranced Cave of Knowledge,’ which is basically all about how to find the pathway to inner knowledge. There is a wonderful line in this poem:

the uttermost real in man is fascinating,
as if there, as if not…
it feels like toppling into the great deeps,
now in the shallows, now in the depths…

This is, of course, the basic tenet of Chaos Theory, which says that it is on the boundaries of Chaos that the most interesting things (like the creation of life) happen. There is a most wonderful book to read on this by John Gribbin (Deep Simplicity).

In summary, the gold taken out of the water, the sword of truth brought up and given to King Arthur by the Lady of the Lake describes the internal alchemical process achievable by each one of us, each of us who commits to the spiritual path.

Zhang Boduan’s next stanza in Awakening to Reality states:

Tap with Bamboo, summon the Tortoise,
To swallow the Magic Jade Mushrooms;
Strum the Lute, summon the Phoenix
To eat off the Knife-point.
Soon through the whole body
A Light appears:
Not with everyone

Now the Chinese yoga and meditation of the internal alchemists get to work (‘tap with bamboo, summon the tortoise’ refers to The Book of Change or I Ching divination). As we proceed with our shamanistic ceremony (‘strum the lute, summon the phoenix’) – we uncover an Elixir which can be taken and eaten within, ‘off the point of a knife’. We only need the merest scrap of it! Then ‘soon through the whole body a Light appears’. This is the ultimate spiritual transformation.

The Chinese alchemists certainly knew a thing or two! Isn’t it interesting how a few threads of this wisdom found their way into northern European and Arthurian legend?

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Video: Richard Bertschinger on Gia-fu Feng and The Secret of Everlasting Life

This month, Singing Dragon staff were treated to an afternoon talk with author Richard Bertschinger, author of the new book  The Secret of Everlasting Life: The First Translation of the Ancient Chinese Text on Immortality.

In these videos, Richard explains the origins of this second century text, the Can Dong Qi, and talks about the careful way in which he translated it from the Chinese over two decades. He also shares memories from his time with the influential Taoist sage and Master, Gia-fu Feng, and reads some passages from the book.

Part One

Part Two

An Interview with Martin Mellish, author of ‘A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook: Spirit, Intent, and Motion’

Martin Mellish has been studying and teaching Tai Chi for over thirty years. He is a certified hypnotherapist and Yoga teacher and has travelled extensively in China to practice Tai Chi, and to explore the sacred mountains and minority cultures of Western China and Tibet. He also holds a Master’s degree in Mathematics from Cambridge University, and has published articles with both ‘Qi’ Magazine and ‘Tai Chi’ Magazine.Here, Martin answers some questions about his new book, A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook: Spirit, Intent, and Motion.

Tell us about your background – how did you come to be interested in imagery?

I was somewhat of a mathematical prodigy. My nominal research area was mathematical models of energy futures, but I spent most of my time ‘moonlighting’ in Artificial Intelligence research. Like most newcomers to AI, I soon found out that modeling our perceptual and motor skills is actually much harder than solving what we think of as ‘complex’ intellectual problems. For example, you can buy a computer program that can play world championship-level chess for less than $50, but there is still no robot that can walk down the street without bumping into people, or even distinguish a male from a female face.

So, paradoxically, it was my intellectual researches that showed me that we not only overestimate the power of our intellect, but also underestimate, by an enormous factor, the power of other, non-conceptual, aspects of our being. I don’t know if it was coincidence – it certainly wasn’t a conscious choice – but it was around this period that I resigned my University fellowship and headed out to the Rajneesh meditation ashram in India, not to return for five years, for most of which I was ‘researching’ those non-conceptual aspects of my being in an extremely intense and down-to-earth fashion.

During this period I began my study of Tai Chi, meditation, martial arts, and human relationships. All of these were pretty much new to me, and I was both extremely enthusiastic about, and spectacularly bad at, all of them. The fact that I was having to learn these skills late in life, starting from pretty far back, gave me, I think, a better ‘conscious’ understanding of what they are about than if they had come naturally to me. There are many good Tai Chi practitioners to whom Tai Chi came naturally, but I have never met a good teacher of, or writer about, Tai Chi who did not struggle enormously, and for a long time any without apparent success, as a beginner. I was no exception.

I was the Ashram’s front gate guard, and given the large size and extremely controversial nature of the Ashram, I had to use my martial arts skills almost every day. This allowed me to compare the strong and weak points of different martial arts in practical application. My beloved Karate turned out to be almost useless in practice, since it contained no methods for subduing someone without injuring them: what worked best tended to be a combination of Tai Chi and Aiki-juijutsu. I developed a feeling for what constitutes a safe application (for both parties) that has never left me. I think this feeling can only be developed by actually having to use those applications in the real world, out on the street, on a daily basis.

After 5 years the commune dissolved and I returned to the West. In India I had had the freedom to practice Tai Chi many hours a day, but a very restricted range of teachers and forms –I spent 5 years working entirely on the (very simple) 24 form, which I think was very helpful for my development since it forced me to go very deeply into the essence of every movement. In the West I had less time, but a greater variety of teachers. I started to teach Tai Chi myself, and that experience, together with the experience of studying with other teachers, showed me how effective imagery was – and, by contrast, how ineffective rational explanation was – at encouraging students to make positive changes.

Once I was ‘hooked’ on imagery and its power, I decided to train as a hypnotherapist, and practiced as one for a few years. Again, I was struck by how a simple image could have the power to enable a client to make a change, such as giving up an addiction, that they may have struggled with for many years on the rational level without success.

During this period I won several medals in national Tai Chi competitions – in fact, I did so well in the Canadian championships that the Canadians finally asked me not to come back! This not as big an achievement as it sounds, since the best practitioners do not compete – they judge. I also met my main teacher, Gao Fu, an elderly Chinese woman with an unrivalled understanding of the deep internals of Tai Chi. I learned Chinese in order to study with her (she spoke no English) and became her interpreter. She invited me to stay with her in Beijing one summer, where she introduced me to some of the best Tai Chi masters in the world as well as to her own famous teacher, Feng Zhi Qiang.

During that summer I had the interesting experience of learning subtle details of Tai Chi internals that I did not understand, in a language that for the most part I did not understand either. My learning sunk in on a level deeper than language, and showed me how unimportant ‘surface’ understanding is to the process of positive change. This was also the beginning of my long love affair with China, where I now live and teach.

How did the book come about, and where does the imagery come from?

This book owes its existence to Ki McGraw, of the Seattle Hatha Yoga Center. I was taking a Yoga certification course with her in Bali, she heard of my interest in Tai Chi, and lent me a copy of Eric Franklin’s Dynamic Alignment through Imagery. This book has its roots in the world of dance, which is another of my interests, but I found many of the images in it very useful in Tai Chi as well. I was thinking of writing an article pointing out the usefulness of the images in Tai Chi, but the more I worked on the article, the longer it became, and the more the images in Mr Franklin’s book were naturally replaced either by native images from the Tai Chi tradition, or by more contemporary images that I, or other teachers, had found useful. That article eventually turned into this book.

Perhaps a third of the imagery comes directly from the Tai Chi classics, a third has been either invented or substantially modified by me, and a third comes from other teachers, either of Tai Chi or of other movement forms. However, as I say in the book, ‘Everything in this book has its roots in the ancient tradition and lineage of Tai Chi. Everything in it is also directly applicable, right now, to modern life in the twenty-first century. Nothing in this book is here for historical, ceremonial, cultural, or artistic reasons: every image in this book is here because it works.”

What is ‘imagery’ in this context and how does it aid and improve the practice of Tai Chi?

Imagery is a method of encapsulating and transmitting non-verbal knowledge. It lets you know that a certain skill or learning with which you are already familiar can be usefully applied to an unfamiliar situation, similarly to the way in which computer developers ‘re-use’ code that is known to reliably perform a certain function. You can think of ‘imagery’ in this context as the software of the body – that which enables us to coordinate all our different muscles and bones without having to consciously ‘think’ about coordinating them, which is neither necessary nor possible.

Many beginners are surprised that they have difficulty learning something as apparently simple as the slow, gentle movements of Tai Chi. They frequently become depressed about their apparent lack of talent for the art, lose their initial enthusiasm, and give up. I’ve had every single student in a ten-member class come up to me, individually, and tell me they were thinking of quitting so as not to hold up the others!

The movements of Tai Chi are hard for the ‘rational’ mind to learn, since the rational mind doesn’t do ‘parallel processing’ well – don’t ask it to walk and chew gum at the same time! In Tai Chi you have to coordinate your feet, your legs, the carriage of your torso, the expression of your arms and fingers, and your breath, all at once. As hard and frustrating as this process can be if you try to ‘micro-manage’ the individual details, it can be just as simple and joyful if you coordinate your movement using an image – ‘Feel yourself throwing a frisbee’, or ‘Skate across a frozen pond’.

Why will bodyworkers and others concerned with balance and movement be interested in these ideas?

Bodyworkers, personal trainers, and physical therapists have sharp eyes and can see exactly what postural deficiencies or movement limitations their clients have. However, directly telling their clients what changes they need to make – “Don’t slouch! Keep your shoulders level!” is generally not a good way to bring about positive change. People tend to hold their posture rigid and over-controlled for a while, then return to their previous bad habit. We can’t be micro-managing our posture all the time – we need a simple and engaging idea that the body can orient itself around, that imagery provides. In fact most bodyworkers already have a fair repertoire of imagery – the advantage of Tai Chi imagery is that it is subtle, sophisticated, and fun, and comes from a long tradition and has thus stood the test of time.

An underlying guiding principle in this book seems to be ‘non-doing’ (wu wei). What does this mean and why is it important?

I teach Physics here in China, and my staff-room desk looks more like a toy store than anything else. I use so many toys for a very good reason – toys are designed to teach young children, in a very simple way, how and why the physical world around us works.

I start all my Physics classes by looking at something very simple and everyday – a bouncy ball, a length of string, a soap bubble, or a cup of tea. In the book I also use simple language and talk about everyday things –skateboards, exercise balls, cats, frozen orange juice, trampolines, bowls of fruit, and so on. I always try to keep the discussion as concrete as I can.

Esoteric Chinese terms such as wu wei (literally, ‘non-doing’) often hinder such discussion more than they help. Wu wei is not only an unfamiliar term to most people, but also a slippery one – even ‘experts’ (if there are any!) disagree on what it means, and for that reason I only use the term once, in the Introduction. But I think it’s at least possible that you are on to something, and that actually the whole book is about wu wei.

Language gets slippery when we talk about these kinds of issues, since it embodies the sometimes-biased perspective of the conceptual mind. For example, I could talk about letting go of conscious attempts to control one’s body and one’s world, and learning to trust one’s unconscious wisdom. This would be kind of a classic definition of wu wei. The trouble with this formulation is that it concedes, falsely, that the conceptual mind is the only part of your being that is ‘conscious’. An Olympic diver leaping off the high board, or a tightrope-walker balanced over an abyss, is not ‘unconscious’, but in a state of extremely heightened awareness. Trying to express that awareness in verbal or conceptual terms is not only unnecessary, but potentially a good way to get oneself killed.

Wu Wei, in my understanding, is trusting that you already have the wisdom to respond appropriately to the situation in front of you, and that you do not need either to micro-manage it or to think it out. It takes courage – in the beginning your conceptual mind will scream at you that it, and only it, can handle things. Sometimes it might even be right – your more instinctual mind has many resources, but it’s not infallible, and it learns partly by making mistakes. In developing wu wei you may sometimes need to take your lumps – ‘invest in loss’, as Chen Man Ching used to say.

In my experience of wu wei, it is actually not so much the doing, but the doer, whose apparent absence can be unnerving. I remember a period when I was working for Microsoft, and practicing opening the Jade Pillow (upper neck) which is a very good way to access ‘non-doing’. I was quite extraordinarily productive, and my work was of exceptional quality, but I was always scared to submit it because I never had the feeling that I had done it, and I had no idea whether it was any good. Similarly, after my best hypnotherapy sessions I would always feel like a fraud taking my client’s money, since I felt that either the client had done all the work, or that no-one had and the results had just arrived by Grace.

Does the usefulness of imagery depend on experience?

I think experience is less important than passionate interest. For example, Married Love, the famous 19th-century sex manual that transformed the lives of thousands of women, was written by a virgin. That said, I do believe that actual experience can add depth to the usefulness of an image, For example, I have always loved the classic Tai Chi image of imagining that you are riding a horse, but I used to experienced the image in a more or less static way – until I learned to actually ride a horse. There’s a certain dynamic fluidity to your ‘seat’ as you ride a horse that is very beneficial for any type of movement practice and that I learned the hard way, trotting and cantering along mountain trails.

Much of the classic imagery of Tai Chi refers to skills, such as riding a horse, or cracking a whip, that every medieval farmer would have had, but that are much less current now. Cracking a whip is an excellent way of thinking about the dynamics of a Tai Chi movement, but these days the actual experience of using an old-style whip is more or less confined to equestrians and certain, shall we say, minority interests. One of my motives in writing the book is to supplement such images with others that draw more directly on out daily life.

 Copyright © Singing Dragon 2010.

The Yang Tàijí 24-Step Short Form – An Interview with Singing Dragon author James Drewe

James Drewe is Vice-Chairman of the Longfei Taijiquan Association, a member of the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts (BCCMA), and is a registered instructor with the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain (TCUGB). He currently teaches Yang, Chen, Sun, and Wudang styles of taiji, including various sword and fan forms, and is the author of Taiji Jian 32-Posture Sword Form, published by Singing Dragon.

Here he answers some questions about his new book, The Yang Tàijí 24-Step Short Form: A Step-by-Step Guide for all Levels.

How did you come to practice Tai Chi?

Back in 1975, I was running back home because I was late for something, and banged into a guy who was coming out of a betting shop. He’d obviously lost rather badly, because he ran after me. When I slowed down for a breather he caught up with me, grabbed me by the front of my shirt collar, and was probably only stopped from thrashing the daylights out of me because I turned into a gibbering wreck. I decided that I didn’t like how that felt and should therefore do something about it.

Within a few weeks of this meeting with the unsuccessful gambler, I took up Kung Fu, which I ended up doing for 5 years. There was a t’ai chi class that followed after the Kung Fu, and I joined this the next term as well.

I didn’t do the 24-Step until many years later. I was very impressed by its succinctness and by its clarity. I was teaching the Yang Long Form at this point, and realised that the 24-Step was a much more approachable form for beginners.

Why did you decide to write this book, and who is it for?

I wrote the book because I enjoy teaching, I enjoy trying to describe how to move, and from a more practical point of view, because I’m always being asked to recommend a book for the 24-Step.

The book is for several levels, and is divided into a ‘Brief’ description, a ‘Detailed’ description, and there are then ‘Notes’ at the end of every movement.

A beginner will possibly find the ‘Brief’ the most useful – this acts as a reminder only of the movements.

As you might expect, the ‘Detailed’ goes into slightly greater depth, explaining the coordination of the movements, angles of the limbs and body, etc.

The ‘Notes’ are more advanced points, often showing variations (not everyone teaches it exactly the same), and explaining how the body functions within each movement – rotations of elbows, knees, connections between the joints, the opening and closing of the limbs and torso, rotations of the centre to produce the movements effortlessly, etc.

Who is the ‘modern tai chi student’, and how does your book cater to them?

The ‘modern’ tai chi student is the person who is trying to cram a thousand things into his/her week, whilst holding down a job, and possibly a relationship/family.

The longer forms take up to 20/25 minutes to perform, and many years to learn, so the 24-Step form is great for those with less time to spare, but who would still like to do some t’ai chi.

The book caters for them because it explains the movements, and hopefully will serve as a reminder after learning the moves in a class.

Grounding, posture, balance, etc. – which areas usually require the most practice and attention for new and for experienced practitioners of the Yang Tàijí 24-Step Short Form?

This is a very difficult question, because everyone is different. Some people are naturally well-grounded, others have a natural grace of movement, others could balance on one toe if necessary, some are tense, others relaxed.

For beginners, the most common problem is coordination of the arms and legs with the torso – for example, a movement may require the left foot (which is already placed ahead of you) to move back alongside the right foot, at the same time as the body turning to the right, the right arm bending at the elbow, whilst the left arm pushes down towards the floor. Beginners find this difficult.

More experienced practitioners may well be able to manage the limbs successfully, but find that making the movements come from the centre is particularly difficult; many experienced practitioners are ‘disconnected’, in that their joints do not operate in a coordinated way with the rising and falling, turning left and right, and opening and closing of the centre.

This book tries to covers all of these aspects as far as it is possible with words. What is particularly hard to explain with words is the feeling of the various movements; I have tried to do this by using analogies, but am aware that this very much depends on the reader. For example, if I use sailing as an example, this might not work very well for those who haven’t had the experience of using the wind to move a small boat; on the other hand, some people have vivid imaginations, so….maybe it will help!

What do you mean when you say that thai chi is “Understanding the Absolute by practising in the Relative”?

For me this is what t’ai chi is about. If everything in the world is a microcosm, then ‘life’ should reflect Divinity, and anything that happens in our lives (any skills that we learn, all interactions, etc.) should reflect Divinity and ‘life’. Therefore, t’ai chi should be able to explain 1) Divinity, and 2) how the structure of ‘life’ operates (although, these are probably the same, as it’s arguable that ‘life’ is ‘Divinity’ in process), and how best to function within this structure of ‘life’.

It is said that we live in a world that is ‘relative’; everything is relative to something else (i.e. we have yin and yang – up/down, left/right, deep/shallow, yesterday/tomorrow, etc., etc. …the list is endless), and that, in order for us to be able to experience, this is the way that it has to be. In other words, without those opposites, experience is impossible.

It is also said that, in a state after death, we cease to experience in the same way – time no longer exists, and neither does up/down, in/out, forward/backward etc. We are just in a state of ‘being’ – the ‘Absolute’.

So, to understand the ‘Absolute’ (God/Heaven), you need to study the ‘Relative’ (Earth), and in order to understand both Heaven and Earth (i.e. the way that God ‘functions’ and the way that ‘life’ operates), you can study t’ai chi because it is a microcosm.

Having said that, I think you can probably study absolutely anything and come to the same conclusions. Mine just happens to be t’ai chi, and writing music!

In the book you talk about different kinds of teachers. What kind of teacher do you aspire to be?

I’m not a performer, and in fact have absolutely no desire to be one; but I would like to be a good teacher. I trained as a teacher (class music) in the 70s, then taught music in schools for 11 years, and very much enjoyed the challenge of explaining, and trying to understand the way in which individuals learn. Whether it is music or t’ai chi, the challenge remains the same; different people have had different experiences, and therefore will learn in different ways. Trying to find the right way of explaining something is like searching through a bunch of keys to find the right key for the lock. Hopefully the book will help some people!

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2010.

The 12 Chinese Animals: Singing Dragon author Master Zhongxian Wu on the complexity of Chinese astrology

Since 1988, Master Zhongxian Wu has instructed thousands of students, both Eastern and Western. He synthesizes wisdom and experience for beginning and advancing practitioners, as well as for patients seeking healing, in his unique and professionally-designed courses and workshops.

Master Wu is the author of several Singing Dragon books, including his latest title, The 12 Chinese Animals: Create Harmony in your Daily Life through Ancient Chinese Wisdom. Here, he answers a few questions about the book.

How did this book come about?

I grew up in a traditional fishing village in southeast China, and for my entire upbringing, I saw that people commonly used astrology to help make decisions about important events (finding a spouse, setting a wedding date, building a house, opening a business, health issues, etc). Because our village had no electricity, pipe water, or roads larger than a foot path, we all lived very closely with the rhythms of nature.

Chinese astrology is the art of living in harmony with the hourly, daily, monthly, and yearly cycles of life. When I was young, my mother always consulted the people living in the local temple when she needed help. I was astonished by the accuracy of their advice and their ability to predict outcomes. I became interested in learning more about astrology and its connection to Chinese medicine and the Yijing prediction system. My main focus is teaching Qigong, Taiji and the Yijing to help others to create harmony in their life. Through over 20 years of teaching these ancient Chinese wisdom practices, I realised that Chinese astrology is a great tool to help guide people through their life and their inner cultivation.

Chinese astrology is far more complex than most people realise. What accounts for this misconception, and how does your book contribute to a deeper understanding?

In the West, most people think Chinese astrology is only about their yearly animal sign. The knowledge of Chinese astrology system is extremely complicated, and I think perhaps difficult for most people to understand. In China, we call astrology BaZi (8 characters) or MingLi (principle of your karma), but only a small amount of people actually understand how to put together and interpret a chart. Most Chinese have to find an expert to help them, and finding someone really qualified and skillful can be challenging. Of course, you may easily find a fortuneteller on the street, but they are usually not very accurate.

I think the misconception in the West is mostly for convenience sake, to make it more simplified, more available for the general public and more for entertainment value. The yearly animal sign is a small percentage of what influences your entire chart. In my book, I also discuss the monthly and daily animal sign, which will help people develop a fuller understanding of their chart. It is important to realise that the 12 animals is just one aspect of Chinese astrology – creating and understanding a whole chart for the sake of prediction is a much more complicated process.

Most people do not realise that the 12 animals also relate to the 12 tidal hexagrams of the Yijing. The Yijing, of course, is a method of understanding the rhythms of nature and of life. When I wrote this book, I wanted people to get a little taste for the complexity behind the Chinese astrological system.

What does it mean to have an energetic month, day or year?

The energetic day, month and year are based on the rhythm of the sun and moon, which is different from the Gregorian calendar. For example, the energetic year is not from January 1 (the Gregorian new year) or the first new moon of the first lunar month (the Chinese new year), but rather, it the begins at the time where the sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 315 degrees, which usually occurs on Feb 4th or 5th in the Gregorian calendar.

How does understanding one’s Chinese animal symbols help them make better choices?

The use of Chinese animal symbols is a key to understanding the principles of your life and of your karma. They can help you understand your strengths and your weaknesses. Becoming conscious of your own patterns will give you information about how to cultivate your gifts and refine your challenges, which will help make your life flow more easily, with less struggle, and bring you success in your pursuits.

In the final chapter of the book, you discuss the Daoist concept that ‘life is not controlled by fate or karma alone’. What does this mean in the context of astrology?

If you want to change your karma, you have to know what your karma is.

A good understanding of Chinese astrology doesn’t only help you understand your karma and predict the future. The purpose of the reading is to guide you to make changes in your life, from daily lifestyle habits to larger life decisions that will allow you to change your karma, to help you remain centered when something unexpected happens, to steer clear of trauma, and put you on on the path of health, prosperity, and longevity.

How do you integrate your Chinese animal symbols into your own daily life?

I use the practices to guide my inner cultivation in order to balance and strengthen my astrological chart (which varies depending on the hour, day, month, season, year, or external life event), so that I feel more harmonious with my self, my family, and with nature. For example, I will check the Chinese calendar to pick out dates for travel or signing a contract. Based on the animal symbols, I also chose special colours for home and office in order to create the right fengshui for those environments. My wife and I make meals according the the principles of the Chinese animal clock to create a healthy daily rhythm for our family.

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