Mantak Chia-20th Century Taoist Master
by Mackenzie Stewart
Throughout the United Sates and Europe, there is scarcely a person alive with an interest in Taoism that has not yet heard of Master Mantak Chia. Since his arrival in the West nearly thirteen years ago, Master Chia has traveled around the globe tirelessly conducting classes and workshops in the previously highly secret methods of Taoist Internal Alchemy. People who have studied with him now number in the tens of thousands; it is highly likely that Cha has taught the Xiao Jiu Tien (Microcosmic Orbit Meditation) to more students than has any Taoist master in history. Master Chia began to attract attention in America in 1982, when his first book, Awaken Healing Energy Through the Tao, hit the book stand. Prior to that time, even the concept of Taoist internal Alchemy was know only to a handful of Taoist scholars, martial artists and Chi Kung student, and to those who had read vague references to Chi Kung in popular writings on Taoism.
In China as well as in the rest of the world, the real secrets of energy work were kept close under lock and key; only a select few were personally initiated into the esoteric Taoist oral teaching of self-cultivation that had been passed from master to student in an unbroken lineage over the last two thousand rears. While numerous masters from India and Tibet had begun to openly teach their ancient esoteric yogic practices of Hinduism and Buddhism to a widening audience of serious devotees around the world. Taoist yoga still remained shrouded in mystery.
Many people seriously questioned whether the Taoist teaching were even still alive, or whether the living lineages had been destroyed and the Taoist masters purged in the anti-religious movements of the Cultural Revolution. In this climate, with fu dearth of authentic in-depth information on Taoist practices, Chia’s book landed with impact. Awaken Healing Energy Through the Tao was unlike anything that had previously appeared, with fu profusely detailed analysis and instructions on the Microcosmic Orbit Meditation, coupled with its precise outlines of higher Taoist Internal Alchemical practices. It was a godsend for chi kung student who had struggled with the ever-elusive mysteries of chi for years, and who finally had available to them clear, palpable. no-nonsense instructions on how to feel and circulate their internal energy flow. Chia began receiving alls from all over the continent, not only from chi kung students and martial artists, but also from students and teachers of psychology. Hatha Yoga, TM, Zen. Kundalini, and from healers of all disciplines from Western M.D.s to acupuncturists.
The book attracted criticism as well as praise. Some traditionalists were outraged that their secret inner teaching were being offered to the public, and accused Chia of capitalizing on the Tao for personal profit. Other teachers, realizing that the “cat was out of the bag” decided that the time had come to teach their chi kung practice more openly as well; they looked at the state of the world, and reasoned as did Chia, that the time finally arrived for the Tao to be openly shared with a wider audience for the benefit of humanity. Mantak Chia was born in Thailand to Chinese Christian parents in 1944. At the age of six, he was taught meditation techniques to still the mind by Buddhist monks, as was the tradition in Thailand, the quiet sitting methods did not appeal much to the energetic young Chia, who found his interests lay more in the active discipline of martial arts. He studied Thai Boxing with his uncle, a professional trainer, and later began studying with Master Lu, who taught him Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido, and Yoga. Young Chia enjoyed reading the comic book stories of the Chinese martial arts masters, and was captivated by the descriptions of their marvelous feats of power resulting from their mastery of chi, the mysterious life-force energy that flows through the acupuncture channels in the body. It was the Taoists who were most renowned for their knowledge and development of chi, and so Chia went and visited several Taoist temples asking for instruction. The Taoist temples were religious in orientation, and replied that of Chia wanted to receive the esoteric Taoist teachings on chi, he would have to be formally initiated as a Taoist. As a Christian, Chia was unable to bow down to the Taoist gods, and so he left, empty-handed. Later, when he was a student in Hong Kong, he voiced his interest in chi to a classmate, Cheng Sue Sue, Cheng listened attentively, and said to him a few days later, “I think you would like to meet my master.” Chia readily agreed, and soon he was off with Cheng to meet his teacher, the White Cloud Hermit, the Venerable master I Yun. I Yun was of the lineage of the Chang Bai Shan (Long White Mountain) Taoist hermits, The mountain Taoists often lived in caves in remote regions in the mountains outside of Hong Kong. Unlike the city Taoists, they were unconcerned with serving the faithful parishioners through officiating at wedding, ceremonies, and seasonal rituals; instead they spent all their time in meditation and Chi Kung training, intensively practicing the system of Taoist Inner Alchemy that eventually lead to the attainment of Tranquility. As he approached his meeting with I Yun, Chia was filled with excited anticipation, but also had some apprehension that this master, like the other Taoist master, would turn him away if he did not bow down to the Taoist divinities. However, when he was introduced to I Yun, the master looked closely and deeply at Chia, and then simple said, “You want to learn? All right, I’ll teach you.” Chia describes the mountain Taoist lineage he was to inherit from I Yun: My master’s teacher, the grand master, had studied under Taoist masters in the temples for 40 years. When this grand master understood enough, he retired to a cave to practice in solitude in solitude. He could not duplicate the environment of the temple in a cave, however. There were no statues, and no one else was around to appreciate such things as rituals or ceremonies. [So he turned inward, and discovered that it was all inside of him.]
“After about ten years of studying in the Taoist temple, my master decided to apprentice himself to the grand master in the cave. But like many adepts of his time, the grand master lived a secluded life in a very inaccessible place. It was even difficult to carry enough food for the journey. Eventually my teacher made his way to his master’s cave, but after a short period of introduction, the grand master left his body during meditation and didn’t return to it for weeks. My master ran out of food and had to leave. “The next time he was smarter. When he went to the cave, he took more food and a brush. He dusted off the grand master’s body, which was in a state of suspended animation, and he protected it from predatory animals. The grand master would occasionally come back, open his eyes, and see that he was being taken care of before he’d go out of his body again.
“Finally, when the grand master came back and realized that he would soon be leaving for good, he began to teach the system to my master who stayed with him for about three years.” Once Master I Yun accepted Chia as a disciple, Chia began his studies of the Taoist way of life in earnest. From I Yun, he learned the Taoist Inner Alchemical Meditation formulas of the Microcosmic Orbit, Opening the Six Special Channels. The Fusion of the Five Elements, Developing the Immortal Fetus, Enlightenment of the Kan and Li, Sealing the Five Sense Organs, Congress of Heaven and Earth, and the Reunion of Man and Heaven (Fig. 2). It was I Yun Who authorized Chia to teach and heal. One day, I Yun also gave him some advice that was eventually to revolutionize Chia’s approach to teaching. The master said to him: “The Westerners have much knowledge of the human body that can benefit us in our understanding of Inner Alchemy practice. I am too old to learn their ways myself, but you are round and have time. You should study Western anatomy.” So, caking the insights of his master to heart. Chia spent two years studying Western medical science and anatomy. During this time he created several novel methods of dissection because he needed to explore the human body in new and uncharted ways to understand how some of the Taoist Internal Alchemical changes could physiologically take place.
At the same time that he was pursuing his studies, Chia worked as manager of the Gestetner Company, a manufacturer of office equipment, and became well acquainted with the technology of offset printing and copying machines. This knowledge would later dive him the foundation to form his own publishing company in 1985, Healing Tao Books. In his early twenties, Chia continued his studies of chi kung and martial arts with other masters. He studied with Master Meugi in Singapore, who taught him Kundalini Yoga, Taoist Yoga and Buddha Palm. Master Meugi also taught Chia External Chi Kung Healing, the technique of how to pass life-force energy through one’s hands for healing patients. Master Meugi had Chia work on the master’s patients to perfect this technique. Later, Chia studied with Master Cheng Yao-Lun, who taught him the Shao-Lin Method of Nei Kung (Internal Power) and the closely guarded secrets of Xi Sui Jing (Bone Marrow Nei Kung, the organ, gland and bone marrow exercise) and Yi Jin Jing (“Strengthening and Renewal of the Tendons”). Master Cheng Yao-Lun’s system also combined Thai Boxing with Chinese Kung Fu. At the same time, Chia studied with Master Pan Yu, whose system combined Taoist, Buddhist, and Zen teachings. From Master Pan Yu, he learned the teachings of Taoist sexology, the methods of exchanging Yin and Yang Power between men and women, and how to develop the “Steel Body.”
From his study and practice with several great masters, Chia came or realize that over the years the Taoist system had become somewhat fragmented through its emphasis on secrecy. Although chi kung practices proliferated everywhere, they had often lost touch with their origins, and many of the practices seemed to lead nowhere. Through the in-depth knowledge and experience of Taoist Internal Alchemy and its Immortality practices that he had inherited from the White Cloud Hermit, Master I Yun, Chia saw how the many seemingly different practice of Taoist meditation, sexual yoga. Tai Chi, Chi Kung, and Chi healing, were all integrally related parts of the path. With this foundation, he was able to piece together and rediscover the full richness of the Tao; by understanding the roots of Taoism as the refinement of chi toward the goal of Immortality, he had a new insight of the real meaning of the various branches of Taoist practice. Out of this revelation, he arranged the practices and methods he had learned from his various master into a systematic order, and called this new synthesis The Healing Tao System. He began training other teachers to communicate his system, and soon established the Natural Healing Center in Thailand. After five years he decided to move to New York, where, in 1979, he opened the first Healing Tao Center. Initially he limited his teaching to the Chinese community in New York but eventually he began accepting Western patients and students. Word of both his abilities as a healer and teacher spread quickly, and eventually there were not enough hours in the day to teach his growing student body one on one. One of his student suggested that he begin teaching group workshops, and so his current teaching format was born.
Today the enrollment at Chia’s weekend workshops range from sixty to two hundred participants. Many of his early students were psychologists, healers or teachers of Chi Kung, Tai Chi, and meditation in their own right, who were seeking deeper understanding of their respective practices. Chia decided chat if the System was going to grow, he had to train new teachers. With this in mind, as well as the desire to provide a retreat setting for more in-depth teachings, the Healing Tao Annual Summer Retreat was born in 1983. Each year eight different week-long retreats are offered by Chia and his senior instructors in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York including three weeks of teacher training basic, intermediate and advanced aspects of Taoist practice Chia’s Universal Tao System has grown steadily over the years, largely by word of mouth. Because people quickly experience the practical benefits of his Taoist practices, from improvements in health, more harmonious relationships, and greater financial stability (as their Chi flows more strongly, many people have commented that money also seems to flow co them more easily), his student have enthusiastically passed the word along to family and friends. In 1990, the International Congress of Chinese Medicine and Qigong named Master Chia the International Qigong Master of the Year. Many members of the nominating committee noted that although they had not previously met Chia personally, they knew him through the positive healing results that many of their acupuncture patients had experienced through attending his workshops or reading his books, and doing the practice. They described him a: the most powerful healer they knew, largely because he taught people how to heal themselves, and because his methods really work.
Chia comments on training: “I studied with many masters. I have to say that many of the techniques that I learned didn’t work. If it works, I do it; if it doesn’t work, I don’t do it. So from my teachers, I took what worked and built the Healing Tao system. Because I had learned a whole system from I Yun, from beginning level to advanced practices, I knew how and where different practices should into the system.” Unlike many “gurus” and masters of Eastern spiritual systems, Master Chia has never sought the road of power and control over his students. Instead he emphasizes that the Healing Tao is a way of achieving spiritual independence, and that you have everything you need within you to achieve health. His view is that statues, temples and cathedrals, incense, chanting and ceremonies are designed to stimulate and activate certain internal processes that lead to spiritual development. However, if you understand the basis of what is happening, you can direct these processes yourself through your mind alone. Although he sees nothing inherently wrong with external religious methods, he also observes that the power invested in those religious symbols can often tempt those who wield them to corruption. The more money going into building the big temple, the less energy goes into the people. Because of this, Chia made the landmark decision to share the formerly secret Taoist teaching openly, with no strings attached. Outside of retreat, Chia divides his time between his family at his home in Huntington, New York, his own chi kung practice, his busy workshop and retreat schedule (nearly 50 workshops and retreats a year), supervising the staff of his publishing company, and writing. Master Chia’s groundbreaking books on Taoist Chi Kung including nine titles to date, have been translated into nine languages ranging from French and German to Japanese and Serbo-Croation, and his international teaching tour includes Canada, Switzerland, Germany, England, Australia, Japan, and Thailand, in addition to workshops throughout the United States. In the midst of such an incredible schedule how does he find time for practice? “I practice all day, all the time,” says Chia. “I wake up in the morning and practice Tai Chi, sword, broadsword, spear. If I feel a little tired when I’m working at the computer, I get up and do Iron Shirt Chi Kung for a few minutes. Then I feel relaxed and full of energy again. I practice meditation and Testacies Breathing all the time: late at night and early in the morning, or when I am on the plane between workshops, or even if I get stuck if traffic. Until you can practice all the time, no matter where you are or what you are doing the practice is really not a part of you yet. When you can practice anywhere, anytime then you know that the Tao is with you; it is really part of you.”