Meditation and Qigong are increasingly popular in our high-pressure society. Many people think that meditation can bring more tranquility to daily life, or that practicing Qigong will give them abundant energy and healthy life.
Meditation and Qigong look like they are very easy, but it is actually very difficult to be able to quiet the mind, properly enter into a meditative state, and enjoy the happiness that meditation can bring. In fact, the greatest dangers in meditation are the types of hallucinations it can produce. If we enter too deeply into these hallucinations, it can cause harm to our bodies and in serious cases can damage the brain and nerves. In Neidan (“inner alchemy”) practice the technical term for these hallucinations is “demons” (mo 魔), and encountering problems with them is called Zuohuo rumo 走火入魔 (literally “rushing fire, demons enter” sometimes translated as “Qigong deviation” or “Qigong psychosis”).
Hallucinations of this sort include large mountains, rivers and streams, heavenly spirits, ghosts, and monsters. One can also hear different sorts of sounds. The most commonly encountered are those of ghosts, monsters, and heavenly spirits. In meditation, one is strongly advised against becoming afraid of these ghosts, monsters, and heavenly spirits, because fear can cause harm to the gallbladder, the kidneys, and the Qi. In serious cases, it can lead to mental disorders.
Why do people experience these hallucinations during meditation? From the perspective of eastern religions, there is in addition to our world another place where human spirits go after death. These spirits are called “ghosts” (Gui 鬼). Because some people have weak physical constitutions or insufficient yang Qi in their bodies, their brain waves can easily “tune into” this other world when they close their eyes to meditate.
Defining these hallucinations as “demons” is to express that they disrupt our quiet sitting, and distract from our cultivation. At the same time, it also is a kind of training for our heart-minds, as it helps us take a calm and undisturbed perspective on many things.
When I was learning through cloud-wandering (“cloud wandering to seek the way,” YunYou fang Dao 云游访道), I encountered a few examples of problems that can emerge in meditation. When I was at Wudang mountain I met an old woman who enjoyed meditation and religious culture. She did not have a teacher, but he had built a thatch hut for herself on the mountain. One day at about 2 in the morning we were all woken up to go and put out a fire. This old woman had set the trees around her hut ablaze. Fortunately, it was the summer rainy season. The Daoists asked her what was going on, and she responded that there were ghosts and monsters in the forest that wanted to eat her.
There was a 28-year-old woman whose father brought her to a temple seeking a cure for an illness. Her father explained that she had been reading books on how to meditate at home and that when she closed her eyes to meditate she saw an old woman staring at her. Later on, every time she closed her eyes this woman would appear in her mind, making it impossible to sleep.
How do we dispel hallucinations during meditation?
We should choose a bright, clean, and tidy place to meditate and practice Qigong. It is ideal to arrange a room specifically for meditation. It should never be underground, at a gravesite, damp, or have strong yin qi.
When meditating, only slightly close the eyes without shutting them completely. If you prefer shutting your eyes and can only enter into a meditative state this way, then do not pay any attention to hallucinations if they arise, and especially do not be afraid of them. After a while, these hallucinations will naturally go away. If you hear sounds or smell fragrances, you also should not pay attention to them. After you have cultivated so that your Zheng Qi (“righteous/correct Qi” 正气) is sufficient these hallucinations will all naturally dissipate.