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Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest

Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest (MYSHOP) is the result of more than 40 years of field experience and research, teaching, and class notes for a course on Comparative Spirituality, taught for the Religion Department at the University of Hawai’i Manoa. This text is based on personal experience with Daoists in China, Tendai Tantric Buddhist Masters in Kyoto, the Shaman of Imwangsan in Korea, possessed mediums in Taiwan, Piegan medicine practices of the Blackfoot reservation in Montana, the late Hawaiian Kahuna Ed Kealanahele, and Jewish artist/Kabala practitioner Joe Singer. The teachings and practices of these spiritual masters are structurally analyzed and compared with the four steps to the “apophatic union” form of mystic experience taught in the classical works of Ignatius of Loyola and Gregory of Nyssa.Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest

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Gyantse Kumbun: sacred art in Tibet

“Gyantse Kumbum,” Tibet’s Sistine Chapel (posted 04-28-12)

One of the most stunning, unspoiled art centers of Tibet is the nine-story Stupa known as Kumbum, in the town of Gyantse, central Tibet. Gyantse was an independent kingdom until recently. The king’s castle (now empty) towers from a hilltop, overlooking a massive 3 story Monastery temple called Pelchor, the Kumbum Stupa, and a medieval village called Gyantse.
Gyantse’s Kumbum is one of the spiritual centers of Tibet. To the east, a seven hour drive over Neji Kangsa Pass and Yamtso Lakes is Lhasa. To the west is Mt Everest, and the road south to Sikkim and Nepal. To the far west, a three-day journey by jeep, lies Mt Kailash, the Kingdom of Guge – with Separang and Tuoling temples, and Ladakh. Kumbum, which means “tens of thousands,” refers to the immense number of Buddhist images painted and sculpted in Gyantse, a genre of 15th century art unique to central Tibet.
By sealing the doors with patriotic slogans, the Pelchor temple and the Kumbum stupa were kept intact from the ravages of the Red Guard and the Cultural Revolution. Since the 1420’s the monks have preserved machig-labdron-1 (1)Tibet’s grandest collection of Statues, murals, and sacred Mandala for pilgrims to admire. It is by far the favorite place of the visitors and students, whom I have taken with me to Tibet. From mid May through mid-June is the best time to go, before the monsoons begin, after the below-zero autumn and winter cold ends. The sacred masked dances called CHAM, on Sagadawa, Buddha’s birth celebration, can also be seen during this time. The Kumbum Stupa was completed in 1427, nine decades before Michelangelo painted the Sistine chapel ceiling (between 1508 and 1512). There are in fact 27,600+ images and statues on display throughout the nine floors, in 73 chapels, shrines, and sanctuaries.


The ground floor of the stupa, not open to the public, contains in fact the basic design of the Kumbum structure, a mandala, or geometric plan of the cosmos as sacred encounter, with “Dorje Chang” (Vajra Dhara), the ultimate Buddha who purifies and enlightens all sentient beings by the use of thunder and lightning, as its focus. Above the First Floor, there are 8 more stories, containing Kumbun’s 27,600 images, as follows:
1st floor, 4 major temples, 16 chapels, using images for purification from the Kria tantra;
2nd floor, 16 chapels, with images for illuminating with the Carya tantra;
3rd floor, 4 temples, 16 chapels with Yoga Tantra images for apophasis, ie, sunya emptying;
4th floor, 12 chapels, with Anuttaraya Yoga images of Tibet’s holy monks and sages;
5th-floor, 4 major temples with images of the 5 “Salvational” Buddhas; (special permission is requird to go above the 5th floor);
6th floor, the “lower Harmika dome” with images of “father” tantras;kumbun-ozer
7th floor, the “upper Harmika dome” with images of “mother” tantras;
8th floor, the Campana, with the image of Vajra Dhara, Thunder-lightning Buddha;
9th floor, a copula, coming out of the inner dark corridors to the open sky

The great Italian scholar Giuseppe Tucci wrote a 3 Volume description of the Gyantse temples, which can still be bought in Hong Kong bookshops (Rome: 1941; New Delhi, 1989). F. Ricca and E. Lobue published a beautiful single volume of color prints, called “The Great Stupa of Gyantse” (London: 1993), which can be found in Swindon’s bookshop in Kowloon.
Five images taken on site are posted below:
1. Pelchor temple and Gyantse Kumbum, with Michael Saso and Kunga-la

2. Machig Lobdron, Tibet’s great Woman Mystic, 4th floor “Chod” chapel

3. Milarepa, Tibet’s great mystic poet, 4th floor Guru Chapel

4. Ozer, or Marici, Light goddess, (also in Daoism and Japanese Buddhism) 1st floor chapel

5. Gyantse, Kumbum entrance of Monks into the sacred Cham dance area:kumbum-entrance



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Daoist ordination, Buddhist Abhisekha

The new, corrected 3rd edition of Daoist Master Zhuang, in Chapters 4, 5, and 6, shows in condensed format, what one must learn before receiving a “license,” in order to be a Daoist “Rites of Passage” master. It must be noted, here, that there is no such thing as a Daoist “ordination” in the western sense of the word; instead it is called “shou lu” 收錄 ie receiving a register/list of spirits’ names, summons, and appearances, and learning where to store the spirits in the body, to be summoned out and used during ritual, exorcism, and healing. The Tantric Buddhist equivalent is the “kancho(jpn)- guanding(chn)”灌頂, which is equivalently the same process as that used by the Daoist; often with the same mudra, manta, and sacred image. One must practice many years with a master who uses Chinese language in daily life, in order to learn the mudra 手印, mantra 咒文 and mandala 道場 images, AND actually see them, store them in the body, and know how to summon them forth and use them in ritual, to heal, and sanctify others. Once these processes are learned, one can go to a licensing place, such as Hieizan in Kyoto, Longhu Shan in Jiangxi, etc, and pay for a document which certifies that you paid for a license to perform public ritual, whether or not the spirits really come when you summon them. One must first go to a licensed Daoist master who knows the music, hymns, dance steps, and rituals, to learn how to do ritual meditation correctly. The reason for doing this is to learn how to perform the Rites of Passage, in a Chinese cultural and linguistic context only (there is no equivalent in the west).

When you go to a master and he or she says “I don’t know how to do it,” “I just do it to make a living”, then you have probably found a real master, and must by lengthy presence and unassuming humility learn by attending his/her rituals as a disciple, and praying with him/her, etc. If, on the other hand, the master says “I am the best, here is the fee,” or “I will give you an ordination,” such is done at modern day Longhu Shan, and even Hieizan (sixty days of physical deprivation and rote performance of rituals), and paying the $5000 to $9000 fee, one is given a license to “legally” accept money for performing rites of passage within a Japanese or Chinese cultural context. There are no equivalent rites in English, or at least no one has created them yet. Martial Arts masters, healers, TCM doctors, do not need to learn the complicated Daoist or Buddhist rites of renewal or burial, unless the goal is to perform them in a Chinese or Japanese cultural context. Perhaps we can work out a way to do this, in western languages and cultures,  on the web!

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mandala meditation

Mandala as Interior Practice
A Mandala is a patterned geometric icon, drawn to assist the person contemplating its sacred images to achieve unity (Sanskrit: Adi; Chn.: Bu-er 不二; Engl. “non-duality”) of mind, heart and body with the Absolute, symbolized in the mandala’s very center. The goal of this contemplative process, to achieve awareness of Absolute Presence, is fulfilled by the simultaneous use of the mind (by viewing the mandala images), the heart (by orally chanting the mantra “seed” words), and the body (by using mudra hand dance), while contemplating the Mandala’s images. Tantric Buddhism, the ritual meditations of Daoism, and the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, all teach that the total body (not just the mind alone) must feel, taste, and experience the “sacred” in unity, if prayer is to be effective, ie, lead to compassion, forgiveness, and empathy for others. The basic goal of contemplating a mandala, therefore, is that mind, mouth, and body experience the “sacred” by visualizing the mandala images, chanting appropriate mantra, and performing the assigned mudra, in unison.
There are two, basic mandala, in the Tantric Buddhist system: the Lotus Mandala (Gharba Datu; Chn. Lianhua 蓮花, Jpn Rengei) and the Vajra Mandala (Vajra Dhatu; Chn. Jingang 金剛, Jpn Kongo). Images of the two Mandala are shown here:




Mandala are drawn on cloth, as murals on temple walls, made into 3 dimensional gilded bronze, with statues representing the sacred figures, and in sand. When drawn in sand, the mandala is destroyed on completion; the sand is distributed to the faithful in jars, or swept away into a river or field. Whether in sand or in mental image, the mandala is always “destroyed” or emptied out of mind and body, as a third, “apophtaic” or “kenotic” step before realizing “union.” Thus, in the Tantric Buddhist, ritual Daoist, and Ignatian contemplative systems, the process of realizing “mystic” union must be done in 4 stages, ie, purification, “illumination” by means of sacred image, the emptying out of all images (kenosis), and then absolute union without image. The Daoist classic Zhuangzi calls this step “heart fasting, sitting in forgetfulness.” Only after all images, even the most sacred, and all desires, even for “perfection” or “illumination” are emptied, can absolute presence be realized. This process is described more fully in a forthcoming book “Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest,” which at last is in the final process of editing, before being sent to UH press.

michael saso 9-21-12 from downtown Los Angeles,
emptied of all sacred images of Kyoto and Beijing.

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Zhuangzi explains Daoist contemplation

庚桑楚 – Geng-sang Chu chapter of Zhuangzi:

This Zhuangzi passage explains the two functions of “DAO”, as WU 無and YOU有. WU is the Transcendent, invisible Dao, which CHU 出 “brings forth” the visible You cosmos, which is done by WU’s “ben本,” ie, basic nature; in this passage, we are told to RU 入 enter DAO through Transcendent WU’s “Qiao”, 竅an opening or gateway.”
YOU is the immanent Dao- visible because “WU” is there in it; you is lasting,長 “zhang” real, because WU 剽 (piao), causes cyclical change by beating/chiseling at it, again by its very “ben” basic nature
出無本,入無竅。to send out the visible world is Wu’s basic nature; the entry to Wu is through a (mysterious, hidden) gateway竅 .
You is real because Wu is there; permanently evolving because Wu basically “beats” it (chisels away at it);
有所出而無竅者有實。“You“ because it comes out from Wu’s gateway, is real/visible.
有長而無本剽者,宙也。(Yuzhou 宇宙 is the word for the cosmos, in Chinese; here Zhuangzi states that the Yu or heavenly part of the cosmos is real or visible, because it “chu” 處dwells in the Transcendent WU Dao.
zhou 宙the visible, earthly part of the cosmos is zhang 長 (lasting, “old”), because it is formed, beaten with a rock by Wu transcendent Dao).
“you” includes life, death, coming forth (from Wu) and returning (to Wu).
入出而無見其形 entering, coming forth, Wu sees (note that the word jian 見 is used, not “kan” 看。Ie, jian means to walk in and see by experiencing, while kan means to look on from a distance, with hand shading the eyes). Wu watches over by its presence the formation of xing 形,
是謂天門。This (the source of wu and you) is called “Heaven’s Gate.” (Note that tianmen 天門 or heaven’s gate means the trigram Qian 三, ie the northwest direction, in the I-ching/Yijing’s “posterior Heavens” arrangement of the 8 trigrams. The 8 trigrams are the basis of Daoist meditation, I-ching, and ritual. The Gate of hell or demon in the northeast is closed, and the gate of heaven in the northwest is opened, during all Daoist meditation, ritual, and nature’s process; this quote is from the wai-juan, 8th to 13th chapters of Zhuangzi; ie, it was written after the development of YY5 Element cosmology; only the 1st 7 chapters are authentically from Zhuangzi, the 8th chapter on are quotes recorded from his disciples.
天門者,無有也, The Gate of Heaven is Wu and You
萬物出乎無有。 The myriad creatures are born from Wu You.
有不能以有為有, You (by itself) cannot use You to make You   (nb, “you” is pronounced “yoe!”)
必出乎無有, It must come forth from Wu-you. (transcendent and immanent Dao working together).
而無有一無有。 Wu you is one WuYou (transcendent and Immanent Dao are one).
聖人藏乎是。 The shengren contemplative person holds this as a treasure.

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Exorcising heart and mind 心齋坐忘

The Daoist solution to worry and bad thoughts, is “fasting in the heart” and “sitting in forgetfulness” 心齋坐忘,literally keeping all desires for anything or any goal out of the heart, and all images of any sort out of the mind. Though this is “easier said than done” in the western healing tradition, it is very much a part of the Daoist centering form of practice, and has deeply changed/influenced the coming of Zen and Samatta-vipassyana to China and the rest of Asia. All 3 methods are basically the same, ie, focusing all of the body and mind’s attention on the belly, or rather, the body’s actual (ie physical) center of gravity. That is why Zen, Tantric, and Daoist meditation all fold left hand (under) and right hand (over) each other, then press the 2 thumbs against the navel. The centering position is from 3 to five inches in, (depending on one’s weight) halfway between the 5th lumber vertebrae and the lower folded part of the hands. Athletes, artists, and Taiji/Bagua experts do this automatically; the rest of us learn it by watching the breathing process, ie, seeing air breathed into the lungs, circulated around the body, then exhaled, carrying with it any thoughts and desires we may have stored inside us. Or, put the thoughts and images into a rocket ship, and see them blasted off into outer space. Or, tie the mind like a “monkey” to the shore, and sail away in a boat. Then bring the mind and heart down into the belly, as if on an elevator; once in the belly, burn away all images, until nothing is left. I taught this over a 2 year period to people in the mental ward of Tripler Hospital, in Honolulu, Hawai’i, with good results; the nurses invited me back 2x – 3x a week. Another way to do this is to offer an “Agni-Hottra” fire ritual, write down all our good and bad deeds, good and bad images, on a piece of paper, and burn them. This can be done in reality by a real bonfire, and in our imagination after that.

The last, and perhaps best method to eliminate all unpleasant, demonic, and evil thoughts from our consciousness, is to place a sacred image between us and the evil image, person, or threat. For Tibetan Buddhists, Mahakali (Palden Lhamo) is the most powerful. For Daoists, Marishiten or Doumu (Mother of the Pole Star, who gives birth to thunder and lightning) is used. Best of all, however, for Christians as well as all people who have her image, is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady of Guadalupe is most effective, because the rays of the sun emanate from her, while she is pregnant with Baby Jesus.

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The Yijing (I-ching) and Daoist Keyi ritual 易經和道教科儀

Master Zhuang’s teachings on the YIjing will soon be published innew book entitled “MYSTIC, SHAMAN, ORACLE, PRIEST” (SAIA): 2012
The Dao of Change: the I-ching 易經 (Yijing)
The Yijing is an ancient book written to help early Zhou dynasty kings keep their people in harmony with nature.The word for “King” (Wang) pictures a person who connects the three worlds, ( 三 ), by drawing a line connecting heaven, earth, and underworld ( 王 ). In ancient times, the king was the person who ruled by connecting humans to the three lines, called “trigrams,” in the Yijing, (易经) Book of Changes. The original three-line “trigram” messages, found in the I-ching (Yijing) , date from the early Zhou dynasty, 1050-760 BCE.

Nature’s changes take place in eight steps, called Ba Gua (八卦 8 trigrams), as Dao moves from pure yang to pure yin, and back again. The 8 Trigrams of change rule the inner body, as well as outer nature. Inside the body (三) the top line of the trigram is for head-heaven, the middle line for heart-earth, and the lower line for belly-water. Daoist Meditation harmonizes us with these eight changes, from Pure Yang to Pure Yin and back. (See appendix 1, “Ho-tu and Luo-shu” Ba Gua 八卦 illustrations).

The 8 Trigrams teach harmony with Dao when nature is changing (you-wei有为), and when it is at rest (wu-wei无为). The 8 trigrams are arranged in two sets, to explain this. The first set, the Trigrams of the invisible, Primordial Heavens 先天八卦 are pictured as a circle (the Neolithic 璧 bi jade). The Prior Heaven Trigrams unite us with Wu wei Dao, when the mind and heart are free of judgment and images. The moving Dao,
Yu-wei有为 之道 is square (the Neolithic 琮 cong jade) . It represents change in the visible world. It later was given the name Trigrams of the Later Heavens 后天八卦 and teaches oneness with Dao’s moving cycle of change, in the body, and in nature (See diagram #3, in the appendix, for these two arrangements of trigrams).

To help us find a more precise harmony with the Dao, the Yijing (I-ching) author multiplied the trigrams, 8 x 8, into 64 “hexagrams” (two trigrams written over each other). The 64 hexagrams, as used by Daoists, are spiritual as well as practical guides to Dao’s cyclical changes. The key to using the Yijing (I-ching) is simple. Nature always changes in four steps: spring, summer, autumn, winter; — birth, puberty, maturity, old age/death; – dawn, noon, sunset, midnight, always in a cycle of four.

To teach us how keep in harmony with nature’s four stages, the ancient Yijing (I-ching) scientists used four mantic (i.e., “coded”) seed words, which appear at the beginning of each hexagram. They explain how to respond spiritually to the 64 possible changes inside our hearts, as well as the world around us. The four “mantic” code words, explained below, are contemplative guides to Daoist prayer.

The Four stages of Daoist meditation

The Yijing’s 4 coded meditation words are: yuan 元,for nature’s rebirth in spring, when Dao ploughs and purifies us, implanting new Qi 炁 energy in the inner and outer Cosmos; heng 亨 for summer, when Dao sits like a hen on this Qi energy, to nourish and ripen it; li 利 for autumn (qiu 秋) when Dao cuts or harvests, by emptying our minds of words and our hearts of desires; and zhen 贞 for winter, when Dao writes on our bones and heart (贝), with a fiery brand (卜), as we meditate on Dao’s inner presence (贞). Note that the Yijing uses the 64 simple statements, written at the beginning of each hexagram, as a coded way to respond to external change, and keep our hearts in harmony with nature.

Daoists teach that 49 (7 x 7) of the Yijing hexagrams describe the Moving Dao, (you wei zhi Dao有为之道), while 15 (8 + 7) statements relate to the “Wu wei non-moving Dao, “wu-wei zhi dao 无为之道.” Each of the 49 hexagrams of “change,” yu-wei Dao, begin with one, two, three, or four of the sacred mantic code words. They teach us four ways to respond to change in nature. When ancient kings sought counsel of the Yijing, and one or more of these mantic words occurred, the kings behaved in accord with the meaning of the four sacred words, as follows:

. yuan 元 , purify the fields, and the mind, by plowing and planting (spring);
heng 亨 nourish and ripen the heart (summer-kataphasis) by “meditating;”
li 利 harvest, or “cut away” all images and judgments, (autumn-apophasis);
zhen 贞 rest – contemplate; be one with Dao presence in the belly (winter).

When consulting the Yijing, and one of the statements without a code word (16, 20, 23, 35, 43, 44, 48, 54) or negating them (12, 29, 33, 38, 52, 61, 63) occur, then the ancients knew that the Wu-wei, Dao of “apophasis” was present. It was time to do nothing, except, as Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi) recommends, sit in forgetfulness, and perform heart fasting meditation. The Yijing is a manual leading to a four step, contemplative form of prayer and ritual meditation, in accord with the brief readings at the head of each hexagram.5 Images of the Yijing trigrams are found everywhere in Daoist Jiao 醮festival and Zhai 齋 burial liturgy.

How Daoist ritual uses the Yijing (I-ching)

Yijing symbols (not the book itself) are used everywhere in Daoist ritual, as well as in meditation. When performing rites of renewal (Jiao 醮), or burial (Zhai 斋), we ritually “close” the trigram Gen 艮 , (see appendix) the northeast “Gate of Demon” (Guei Men鬼门). We do this to purify all sacred places set aside for meditation and ritual. Then we “open” the Gate of Heaven (Tian Men 开天门 ,乾, 三) , in the northwest, to make Wu-wei 无为之道 Dao present. We do this to heal, bless, and renew, during the entire cycle of life’s change. Daoists must first be “one with Wu Wei Dao,” by inner cultivation. Only then, can we provide Rites of Passage, to renew and heal the communities in which we live. (Daoist Master Zhuang, 3rd edition, Los Angeles, 2012, Ch. 5, explains this process more fully).

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Teachings of Daoist Master Zhuang

“Let me re-state what I most hope to pass on to you, i.e., the importance of the words of Lao-tzu in the opening lines of the Daode Jing. I.e.., the Dao has two related aspects: “You有” and “Wu无.” The Dao of “You” change, which is written in the oracle bones as a hand holding onto a piece of edible meat, is called by later Daoists the Dao of the “Posterior” or “visible” heavens; it is represented by the Eight Trigrams which cause change in the “Posterior Heavens” (Hou-tian zhi Dao, 後天之道 ). It is the “later” or visible, i.e., named, able-to-be-conceptualized and put-into-words Dao. This is the Dao of You-wei 有为 (n.b., author’s note: Daoist “kataphasis;” pronounce “Yoe-wei!”). It is continually working in the farthest reaches of the cosmos.

The apophatic, transcendent, or non-changing aspect of the Dao, is called “Wu-wei 无为 (apophasis).” It is to be found interiorly. It is rooted in the belly, the “lower cultivation field.” Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu) taught us that only when we practice “heart fasting” and “sitting in forgetfulness,” can we focus on Dao as Wu-wei presence, without word, motion, or action, in fact, transcending knowledge. This is called “The Dao of the Prior Heavens,” (Xian tian zhi Dao 先天之道), which means in practice, awareness of Dao as present, from the lower cultivation field (xia dan tian 下丹天), the womb of meditation, the source of inner cultivation. When we say, “keep the One,” (shou-yi守一) we mean to always “return to” Wu-wei Dao present in the belly, by stopping all of the mind’s judgments, and the heart’s desires.
Qingwei Thunder and lightning registers are used to purify heart and mind, so we can always remain aware of Dao presence in our belly, the center of the microcosm.”清微五雷法用為心齋坐忘能於道合一。

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contemplating the lower cinnabar field

All three Daoist “cinnabar fields,” mind, heart, and belly, are connected. The best way to understand their roles in human consciousness is to see the mind and its judgments, as diminishing “Qi” (nourished by no image, no judgement), at which time the upper cinnabar field, ie Pineal gland, gestates healing purple ( 炁 Qi). The will, and the power to love/hate is lodged in the heart (center cinnabar field), the location of “shen” 神 spirit; when freed from desire, the heart becomes a bright gold aura. Zhuangzi in Ch. 4 confirms that by turning off heart and mind 心齋坐忘 (done by putting Qi and Shen into the lower cinnabar field, and refining or emptying them therein), one is able to awaken the intuitive powers, or “jing”精, a bright white light, aka primordial awareness of Dao Presence 於道合一,於道合真。These three meditations are performed by Daoists who are Grade 5 (wupin五品)and above, during Jiao 醮 ritual meditations of renewal. Qingwei thunder vision 清微雷法is used to purify Qi, shen, and Jing during this contemplative process.