It occurred to me recently that it might be a good idea to make a post or two about xing and ming gong in order to introduce some general concepts about them and why their practices work in the way they do. I will probably make three posts in total over the next week or so, starting with this one, moving next to xing gong, and finally to xing and ming dual cultivation.
The practice of pre natal Qi:
Ming in Daoist thought is the idea of life energy.
This concept of life energy has been thought about in various ways throughout Daoist history, but I personally like Wang Chongyang’s interpretation of Ming as Pre Natal Qi energy. Some other texts identify Ming as Pre Natal Jing essence, which is also a fine interpretation. The reason I like Wang’s interpretation is because he understood that pre heaven Qi has the innate prerequisite of pre heaven Jing already existing, so his assertion that Ming is pre heaven Qi also means that it uses Jing, which is the building block of life in order to manifest itself and give animation to the body.
So basically, regardless of who’s interpretation you like, it is fair to say that Ming is the essential “Animus” which gives rise to our ability to take action as living beings.
Chen Yingning and Hu Haiya (20th century Daoist reformers) believed that Ming was like the oil in an oil lamp, it gives people the fuel that they need to live.
My own concept that Ming is the basic building material and animus of the body is basically a consolidation of these concepts into a working theory which recognizes that Ming is a principle used to explain how the central systems governing the body function in order to bring life to us.
Just like any major idea in Daoism, there are practices associated with Ming and this post will attempt to illustrate some basic ones.
Early Daoist books separated Ming gong and Xing gong (the practice of consciousness) quite clearly and there are many different schools of thought on how each of them are cultivated.
Usually Ming gong is practiced by quieting the mind and causing the consciousness to seem to vanish. In a sense, this is like sleeping while awake, and only enough intention is required to keep the mind from drifting off, but not so much attention is needed that the mind would be artificially made alert. This natural quieting of the mind, such as that practiced in “Zuo Wang” sitting and forgetting meditation is believed to allow the body to move to the maximum of yin energy, ultimately causing the jing essence transform into Qi and circulate in the body. The explains much about the reason why so many early meditation texts in Daoism advocate that the body and mind must be kept completely still during meditation. This complete stillness is believed to convert the body and mind completely to Yin energy and mimic death. Because Daoism follows the reverse course, instead of the typical concept that life is the origin of death, Daoist meditation masters who focused on ming gong believed that imitating death could be the root of life, so therefore that assuming an unmoving, unthinking, and totally still and silent attitude in meditation could stir the life energy of the body and cause the body and mind to become illuminated and bright with vitality. In effect, this type of Ming gong is the opposite of Qi Gong, which requires the body to be in movement in order to cultivate post heaven Qi.
In the next post, we will discuss Xing gong, or consciousness practice, and in the final post we will discuss Xing and Ming dual cultivation, so please stay tuned.