Nothing could be more important than the circulation and balancing of the Chi, the Vital Force or Intrinsic Energy. Chi could truly be called the Staff of Life – when it stops circulating, we are dead. When the positive Chi and the negative Chi (yang and yin) are out of balance, sickness results, and often the circumstances of our lives suffer. Literally, we are the product of this Chi.

It may be difficult for some to understand how the outer and the inner are related and how the circumstances of our lives can be affected by the quality of the Chi. But unless one feels that all life is an accident and all events coincidental and without cause, it would be relatively simple to comprehend when Huayan, the deepest of all Buddhist philosophies (so profound that it has virtually disappeared except for the effect it has had on other sects) speaks of the Buddhism of Totality. It uses “Indra’s net,” in which all things are intertwined, as an example of the interrelatedness of all life. Zen says, “When the horse in Szechwan catches cold, the cow in Hunan sneezes.” The highest philosophy in India is that of Advaita Vedanta, Non-Duality or Not Two.

China’s Tiantai Buddhism had a great master who was asked to demonstrate enlightenment to the empress. He placed some mirrors on the surface of a table, others on all sides, and some up above pointing downward. Then he lit a candle and placed it between the mirrors. Not only did each mirror reflect the flame of the candle, but also every mirror reflected every other mirror reflecting the light, on to infinity. It was mind-boggling. It is said that the empress achieved a sudden insight by this example.

Finally, let me give the instance of the Zen master who was asked to deliver a discourse on Reality to a ruler of state. He ascended the platform, took a flute from his sleeve and blew one sharp, piercing note on the instrument. Then he descended and walked out of the building, leaving the ruler and his followers speechless and bewildered. Could anything have been plainer?

So the quality of our Chi, which makes us what we are, determines our world. There is no reason to think any two of us see the same world any more than to think that any two of us share the same fate. What we see and what we experience is determined by what we are; that is the law of karma. Isn’t it true that one person sees the world as being filled with darkness and misery, while another person experiences it as joyous and purposeful? Are there two worlds? The difference is subjective.

Chi does not belong to us individually; rather, we tend to share in this universal energy. Wen Shan Huang, the great Chinese scholar, spoke of Chi a priori and Chi a posteriori, meaning the Chi with which we came into this life and that which was accumulated during our lives. The Chinese, who have used this knowledge of the “life stuff” so well in their ancient medicine (even doing major surgery without anesthesia – something the West does not understand as yet) believe that the degree of longevity (length of life) depends on how we circulate and balance the Chi. Those who have seen spry 90-year-old T’ai Chi Ch’uan masters can well believe that this is so.

There are quite a few disciplines that deal with how to circulate the Chi, and we will study several of them in this book.

When Chi first comes into manifestation, it splits into yin Chi (negative, female, contracting, cold) and yang Chi (positive, male, expanding, warm). In moving meditation (T’ai Chi Chih and T’ai Chi Ch’uan) we feel this circulating force very strongly, usually beginning with the fingertips. Nobody who does these practices properly has to be convinced of the flow – it is readily felt.

When we begin the moving mediation, the yang Chi and yin Chi split from each other and are circulated, so it is necessary to have a brief period of rest at the end of the movements so the two can flow back together again. Both moving meditations are constructed so as to balance the yin and yang elements of the flowing Chi.

In nature, electricity is Chi, just as a thunderstorm manifests an accumulation of it. The great sage from Pondicherry, India – Sri Aurobindo – said that if the universe were to be abolished, the Prana (Indian word for Chi) would be capable of building a new world in its place. Sex energy, naturally, is the product of Chi and, as a T’ai Chi instructor, I have run across cases where the male potency has been restored by the circulation of Chi due to the practice.

When the Chi becomes too yin, ill health usually follows. Eating too many sweets brings about an accumulation of yin. Ancient Taoist practice says that it is much better to take the yang Chi down from the heart rather than having the yin of the kidneys rise. A friend, George Ohsawa, devised Macrobiotics to try and balance the yin-yang in food, though some of the theories are dubious.

Those who practice meditation regularly take for granted the shimmering field of violet blue light that appears before their eyes. This is the color of the Prana (Chi), and it is a sign that the Chi is flowing in meditation. Also, experienced meditators usually hear a persistent ringing in the right ear, a sign of the vibration of the Chi. After going to ear doctors for several years (they said nothing was wrong), this writer asked the great Indian teacher, Rammurti Mishra, what was going on. He said, “It means that you have been chosen for introspection.”

“Chosen by whom?” I wondered.

This ringing in the ear, which does not signify that anything is amiss, changes in intensity as time goes on. The sounds are frequently described in Yoga treatises, progressing from the hum of a flock of bees to the roar of the ocean waves. Shabda Yoga has a meditation in which nine sounds are successively experienced over a period of time, and progress is detected by noting the change in sounds. I believe Mishra teaches this meditation.

It would be possible to go on extensively about the role of Chi – and its emergence to conscious awareness – in Southeast Asian spiritual disciplines. Long periods of Zen meditation (zazen) are usually followed by the drinking of tea, not for social reasons but because the intense circulation of Chi (Ki in Japanese) brings about a great thirst as it dries up the aqueous excess. (Because of the caffeine, the tea also makes it easier for the monks to stay awake during long periods of sitting.) This is how the Japanese Tea Ceremony (chanoyu) first came about. It used the bitter green tea that came in caked form – the bitterness causing drinkers to place a sweet in the mouth before drinking. The stimulating effects of this tea are tremendous; if one drinks it at night, sleep will probably be impossible.

Practically all South and Southeast Asian spiritual disciplines deal with this Chi force in one way or another. In parts of India it is worshiped as Shakti (the energy that is also the female consort of Shiva). Gopi Krishna speaks of Kundalini (a form of Chi) as the agent that brings about evolution. From all this, the part the flow of the Chi plays in heightened awareness should be obvious.

I am waiting patiently for the modern medical establishment to realize the role that the heightened circulation of the Chi can play in weight control since it dries up the aqueous excess (the yin overabundance of fluid in the system) and tends to bring weight to an optimum level. One early T’ai Chi Chih student of mine lost 75 pounds over a period of four and a half months’ practice while remaining the biggest eater I have ever known. A female T’ai Chi Chih teacher from Oklahoma, a former cancer patient, says she lost 100 pounds through T’ai Chi Chih when she was counseled by her doctor to reduce her weight. Judging by the looks of her old skirts, she was telling the truth. It should be obvious that cultivation and circulation of the Chi can bring rewards in almost any direction, not the least of which is the attaining of a heightened awareness.

This article is published in Heightened Awareness.