The Inner Smile: Increasing Chi through the Cultivation of Joy by Mantak Chia, Destiny Books, 2005, 2008.
The I Ching is very like Chi Kung (and its descendant, Tai Chi). Both leave the student feeling that there is a lot more under the surface than what one learns in a class, workshop or by reading about them.
Mantak Chia has steadily been taking these ancient systems and explaining them in a more and more holistic way. He has also been getting more and more concise. It’s as if he had a lot of information to share and worked hard to get it all down in his earlier books. Now he’s going back and focusing on each part of his system and showing how it relates to the whole picture he has in his amazing mind.
Chi Kung healing practices
This book is nominally about conserving energy to develop a healthy body using five Chi Kung meditative practices: the Microcosmic Orbit, Healing Love, Inner Smile, Six Healing Sounds, and Iron Shirt Chi Kung. But as usual with Mantak Chia, there’s much more.
He’s continuing with the theme he brought up the 2007 book I reviewed for Daykeeper, The Taoist Soul Body: Harnessing the Power of Kan and Li. That’s the ancient Taoist pursuit of immortality. Of course, this idea is something I’ve been both skeptical and confused about. My first encounter with the Taoist concept of immortality came when I sought relief from chronic pain at the Shen Chinese Herbal Clinic in Berkeley. Shen’s Two Immortals pill did wonders for me when Western medicine failed me
But were there really immortal humans in Chinese history? Chia says “yes.”
The first two chapters of this little book explain just how that immortality works. On the opening page of Chapter 2, “The Goal of the Universal Tao,” the last sentence caught my eye: “This [performing specific exercises to expand the consciousness beyond the physical body before its demise] makes it possible to determine our future existence before leaving this life.”
I’m a person who has constantly grappled with the question of whether there is a future existence after death and if so, what it’s like? So this sentence led me to believe Mantak Chia believes in life after death. Was that what Taoists meant by immortality? I wondered.
The end of Chapter 2 told me it wasn’t. In the section, FORMING THE SPIRIT BODY, Mantak Chia informs the reader that “Practitioners of Taoist Alchemy believe that if we give birth to the spirit body and develop the immortal body in this life, we can overcome the cycle of reincarnation.” (page 20)
Now I was really worried. I’ve finally gotten to an age where I like my life, and I often can love this world fully. I’m not an adherent of one those faiths that are anxious to “get off the wheel,” even if I’m quite aware of the suffering in this life.
But on the last page I was informed that “overcoming the cycle of reincarnation” was not the end of things. “Of course not,” I thought smugly, “I know very well that the Tao is a finite and infinite circle of opposites that all need each other in order to be (or not to be)."
Chia continues by saying that after one passes through the “Greatest Enlightenment of Kan and Li” and attains a “rainbow body,” one can move on to an even higher plane. In the last section of Chapter 2 “Sealing of the Five Senses, Union of the Kun and Kan, Reunion of Heaven and Man.” we learn, “At this level the master transcends death entirely. He or she can simply transform the physical body into the immortal body and leave this world or return to it at will. This is the state of complete physical immortality.
Chia further explains “There are records in Chinese history of many thousands of Taoist immortals who reached the level of daylight ascension in the presence of many witnesses. In the Bible, Elijah and Moses also accomplished this feat. In the final stage of this practice, we can unite the immortal spirit body, the energy body, and the physical body, or separate them at will. It is then that the human being knows full and complete freedom as an immortal, where no world is a boundary.”
Ah, to be forty years younger so I could aspire to such a thing!
Still I’ve found the Chi Kung practices he describes in the next chapters of The Inner Smile to be very helpful in my daily life, especially in recycling “garbage” emotions into “compost” to gain more energy, increase the qualities Taoists call “virtues,” and reduce stress. Helping us deal with stress is a major goal of this book.
I highly recommend learning the beginning Chi Kung meditations in this book. They can be done almost anywhere you go. Even if you know them, the book is a good review and might expand your knowledge of them.
The I Ching connection
In my first review of a Mantak Chia book, I discussed Kan and Li, the two I Ching trigrams (3-line geometric patterns) that he uses to explain the initial process of becoming immortal. In the present book, Chia talks about achieving final immortality through the union of Kun and Kan. Kan as you might recall from the previous book review (read here) is the element, water. Kun is the element earth. The two trigram elements at the end of the immortality process are water and earth.
The energy of both trigrams is compatible when they unite. The energy of both flows downwards. Unlike Kan (water) and Li (fire), where water can extinguish fire, water flowing onto earth merely nourishes it, and at worse, loosens it to flow as freely as the water (hexagram 8, Holding Together [Union]).
On the other hand, earth flowing onto water creates hexagram 7 The Army [collective force]. Hexagram 7 symbolizes the ground water stored within the earth. This is like the “chi” energy that Mantak Chia talks about building up within the body in order to create a healthier, longer life and ultimately, immortality.
Kun, or earth, is the companion trigram to Ch’ien, the trigram signifying heaven. When doubled, the trigrams Ch’ien and Kun form hexagrams with the same names, an indication of the importance these two trigrams and hexagrams have within the I Ching system. Ch’ien is also called The Creative. Kun is also called The Receptive.
In the back of Wilhelm’s I Ching commentaries under Indexes: “An Index of the Hexagrams,” you’ll find a hexagram sequence showing how you can start with the hexagram Ch’ien and by changing each hexagram one line at a time, go through all the other 63 hexagrams to wind up at the hexagram Kun. You can then go backwards through this sequence of 64 hexagrams from Kun. Other books show this sequence as a circle.
Going back and forth along this circle between The Creative and The Receptive is a process similar to what Mantak Chia describes when he talks of immortals going from one state to the other: from life to afterlife, then backwards from afterlife to life, back and forth as often as the immortal chooses.
The sequence in the back of Wilhelm’s book is just one of two Universal I Ching circles. The other Universal Circle is the one formed by King Wen’s order of the hexagrams. This is the order of hexagrams found in nearly every commentary on the I Ching that’s been translated into English.
King Wen began his Universal Circle with the hexagrams, Ch’ien and Kun. He ended it with two hexagrams made from unions of the trigrams Kan and Li. These last two hexagrams, when combined and broken apart, transform visually into Ch’ien and Kun, the first two hexagrams of the Circle. In this way you start over again at the beginning when you finish the Circle.
Wen’s Universal Circle is similar to the idea of reincarnation that Mantak Chia mentions in The Inner Smile. Here, you go through the hexagrams to After Completion (hexagram 63) then Before Completion (hexagram 64) and on around again, beginning with The Creative (hexagram 1) and The Receptive (hexagram 2), the two primal energies that give birth to the rest of the hexagrams in the Circle. You could go around in this circle forever.
Just as Mantak Chia breaks down the quest for human health and immortality into many parts that need to be understood as a whole, so King Wen, while in prison, broke down all facets of human society and the personal skills needed to lead others and hid them in his system of I Ching hexagrams and I Ching circles. Wen too had an amazing mind.
Legend holds that Wen’s son took his father’s “book” (the 64 hexagrams with a brief commentary about each one and the key to the I Ching circles), and used them to defeat the emperor who had treated his father so badly. He honored his father with the title “king” for his work, for with the help of the I Ching, the son created a Chinese dynasty that lasted for over a millennium.
For those interested in ancient secrets, Mantak Chia’s The Inner Smile, with its Taoist practice of “smiling to the organs” to promote deep relaxation and internal health in the body is the perfect complement to smile used by the “Law of Attraction.” Now popularized as “The Secret,” The Law of Attraction uses an “outer smile” to facilitate attraction with people, events, and things in the world. Using both systems together, who knows what you could accomplish!