Bruce Frantzis - Journey into Taoism
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome once more to conscious.tv I'm Iain McNay and my guest today is Bruce Frantzis. Hi Bruce.
Bruce: How are you doing?
Iain: Bruce is a remarkable character, full of energy and you’ll realize why I'm saying that during the interview. He's written about a dozen books. I've got three here which I researched. Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body: Chi Gung for Lifelong Health, which I think he wrote about 20 years ago. TAO of Letting Go: Meditation for Modern Living and Relaxing into Your Being: The Tao Meditation volume one. This is only a snapshot of what he does and his story if you like. We usually start at conscious.tv talking about the person's life and how they got to be where they are. And one of the fascinating things I found with you when I was researching your past was, when you were six or seven years old, you started to do a self-inquiry technique. How did that start?
Bruce: Well, I can’t tell you how it started, but the idea just kind of popped into my head, "Okay, who am I?" And so what I did is what I thought up on myself which I hate to say it, wasn't terribly original, it was Ramana Maharshi basic method. It says, "Okay, who are you?" and come up with something. Okay, I'm the kid who rode a bike. I ate an ice cream cone. I don't know. I think I go to the bathroom in the morning, whatever it is. And the second part is very simple, just ask yourself, "If that wasn't so, would you still be here?" Yeah, you’re still here. And so anyway, I got into doing this three, four, five hours a day. Some of it because I was in a...
Iain: You were doing it three, four, five hours a day?
Iain: Six or seven years old?
Iain: That's extraordinary.
Bruce: I don't know if it's extraordinary or not, but anyway, as a kid I used to read and I went to one of these boarding schools where they have like super great woods and I couldn't do sports. I mean, I was in the lowest level of physical coordination a person, or human being could have. As a matter of fact, we even were measured twice a year for physical intelligence and mental intelligence. I define the mental part, the physical part… sometime they [would] say, "You're in the bottom 5%" I almost start to whine. I would just say [to myself], "Be glad, we don't have a lower rating." I had no physical coordination. So I just walked through the woods and I [would] do whatever I did and I would do this while I would walk through the woods and I would wake in the morning, before I’d do whatever jazz and go in and just keep on doing this.
Iain: But the other kids weren't doing this, were they?
Bruce: No. But I didn't tell anybody I was doing it.
Iain: Yeah. It sounds remarkably self-assured for a kid of that age.
Bruce: That I couldn't tell you. That would be someone else's comment. It just seemed kind of natural for me to do it.
Iain: Okay. And then I gather around 12 years old, a friend of yours got quite badly beaten up.
Bruce: No. It wasn't anybody I knew. I used to collect comic books and there was this place uptown - I'm from Manhattan - up in Washington Heights [there’s a] good place to buy comic books. Buy low, sell high, all that kind of stuff. I’d collect them and buy them and sell them and trade them. Anyway, I'm walking back one time, back to the subway and across the street, some guy is screaming, "Give me my 20 bucks you." And let’s just say there were a lot of explicatives at the end of that)…I was watching - I watched him whip a guy to death. In New York, they call it car-aereo-whipping. You tear an aerial off a car and then you whip the person with it till they're quite dead. Anyway, I'm seeing this and I'm going, "Ahhh”. And I'm standing there like frozen and then finally whenever it was done and at least everybody around was screaming he’s dead, I mean I just got out of there. Because the one thing in New York City you don't want to [do is] be around when the cops come.
It doesn't matter if you're innocent or guilty. That was just the basic principle. Get out of there. Who knows what they're going to have on their mind. So this goes on and not very long later, maybe two weeks later, three weeks later, who remembers? I mean, 12 years old isn’t exactly bright memories spot for time. But in the schoolyard, and I grew up on the upper side of Manhattan, which is like in London Mayfair, it was at that time the wealthiest place on the planet. Period. And the state school, the junior high school, the middle school, that's what they call it now junior middle school I went to, it was like pretty high class. But there's [this] thing in New York where you could bus people in from different places to make it accessible to [others and do] the ‘democratic thing.’ Well, there's this one kid and he had a wise mouth and he's a Puerto Rican kid, Hispanic kid and he's really like "How much can I verbally cut this guy to ribbons?"
And the [other] guy is going, "You don't want to do that. You're making me upset. You're making me feel bad. You don't want to do that”. Well, okay, after this goes on three or four times and each time the kid is getting more and more of a wise whatever, the [other] guy just takes out a knife and slits his guts and it’s basically falling out of his shirt. Okay, good. At that moment, having been in the boarding school [earlier], I got, "Hmm, hmm. I heard New York can be rough. Hmm yeah, it can be very rough”. So then some days later, on the subway - we take subways in New York when we we're kids - and big sign ‘Judo Fear No Men’ I said, "Yup. That's me”. So anyway, my grandfather had been a wrestling champion before in Greece, before he came to America and don't ask me how I talked him into it, but I did and then I spent a couple of hours with the guy, he throws you and all. "Okay, huh? Okay. Good, huh?" [acting rough] They watch you like… and I wouldn't give the guy the satisfaction. He pounded the living crap out of me for hours. I mean, I literally had trouble walking up the stairs afterwards, but it like just ignited something. And then a little while later, I saw in a kind of store-front and open, I saw people doing karate. I didn't know what it was. That was it. So the next thing I know, I'm going into that and at that stage of the game basically I'm doing martial arts three, six, eight hours a day, every day, seven days a week.
Iain: Why did you do it for so long? Because I understand, you wanted to be in a situation where you weren't... [vulnerable]
Bruce: Okay. Wait, wait. This is the most common misconception people have. Okay, first you're doing it because you're scared.
This is different [from] “Oh, it's part of my spiritual…” After a couple of years, I wasn't worried about any criminal coming at me because I could take someone out with one shot with no problem. You know seriously, I mean as the phrase goes, "They had the problem, not me." No, but there is an art to fighting. Nowadays, we live in such a safe whatever period, but I'm only like 20 years from World War II and I'm like 15 from the Korean War that was a time when the people went into bars, men got upset with each other and beat the crap out of each other. It was a time when people going at it, was not weird, it was the manly thing to do. Anyway, that's not that way now. It's really not that way now. Now, you're an axe-murderer if you do that, you know. But back in that era it was, but also at that time, New York City had 3,000 murders a year. So let's just put it this way and a lot of it was random. But that's a different thing then fighting, or [what] martial art is. If you get passed the initial thing of defending yourself, it's not about defending yourself, it's about winning. It's about… it's an art. There is an art to fighting.
Iain: So you went and got into it as totally as you could?
Bruce: I went into it as totally as I could. I feel like I wanted to and I did. And it's an art. I mean, it's the same drive that makes a person be a painter, or a musician.
Bruce: I mean, pick your art.
Iain: So you saw that as your expression, as your art at that time?
Bruce: I never thought of it as my expression. It's just that the more I did, the more I wanted to do. I have passion for it. That was it. I had a passion, it was like well, and once it was hit, it never stopped.
Iain: And also around the same time, you started Zen?
Bruce: Yeah. As part of this - I didn't do Zen Buddhism for spirituality. I mean, I heard it was spirituality, but I didn't even think what I did as a kid was spirituality. I just thought it was good common sense to find out who you were. Okay, that's it. That's really what I thought of that. But they have this thing...
Iain: You said something very deep: good common sense…
Bruce: Common sense, yeah.
Iain: …to find out who you were, who you are.
Bruce: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, sure.
Iain: And that to me is common sense and to you, but to most people it doesn't enter their thought system.
Bruce: Well, we live in a society that's utterly numb and a lot of the spiritual dimension is just so much blah, ba-blah, ba-blah... You're supposed to believe in this and you're supposed to be believe in that. No! There is actually a real drive to spirituality, it’s as live and living and vibrant as anything is. And I have to say there's a phrase - I wrote it in the book there, but it's a big phrase in Taoism - it's called being fully alive or being fully conscious and they take that, and reverse it. “Oh, you think it's cool to be dead? You want to be half dead, you want to be numb?” Okay, if I can sell you a weakness pill so you can be weak, ineffective, feel like you're dying at every moment, everything is a massive great depressive zone, would you buy it? I don't think anybody would.
Let’s put it this way, I don’t think anybody [who] was even marginally healthy would. They wouldn't do it. So this idea - and I always found that the things I did, they made me more alive - now this went, I was going back because I left the Zen thing. Okay, so in martial arts, there's a big thing, it's called without hesitation. You want to go, you go. You want to cut, you cut. You don't go [wondering], "Oh, should I? Oh, I can't... No, go!" Because in martial arts, you don't do that basically, you get your clock cleaned. I mean, you got troubles like you're hit, you're hurt, you're thrown. So okay, so this was the whole thing: The Japanese samurai they did Zen so they could pull their swords, slice somebody without hesitating. Okay, cool. I went to that. I wanted a better punch. I wanted a better throw. Okay, it seemed like a good strategy for getting it. So what you do in a Zesshin in Zen is, you sit for two weeks. You don't talk, eat. You don't talk.
Iain: So you look at a wall when you sit with your eyes open?
Bruce: Well, I mean, sometimes they will have you look at a wall, you're just looking in the air. I mean or you close your eyes, it depends. Bodhidharma, the original person, he looked at a wall for nine years. He could hear the ants scream. He was, shall we say slightly more intense and definitely, definitely into it about as far as you could go, but most of us don't. In the beginning, you don't go that far. But at some point, I don't know, some place past the middle, I never visualized. I don't particularly dream. I don't remember dreams.
There's about 5% of the population who don't, and I'm one of them. But in the middle of this thing, I'm sitting and my eyes are closed and it's vibrant as if I'm in a studio and all of a sudden I'm in old Japan. And all of a sudden, some guys… like I'm in a sword fight and then I get like split right down the middle and I go through the death process and I go through the whole thing. And it was incredibly vivid. You're dying, you're consciously leaving your body. It's over. It goes. Now, I came at the end of that differently. Most people will go like Ramana Maharshi did. But then realize, "Oh, I have to go into spirituality and go into a cave for 13 years…” and blah, blah, blah… which I thought was a really great thing to do, personally, but it wasn’t my scene.
I can remember I was only there until [I] learnt how to punch without hesitation. I wasn't looking for some grand spiritual [experience] or whatever. I'm 14 and I was kind of… it wasn’t really on my mind. But what I got from that is, “Wait a second, this death thing? That's the worst that can happen to you? So, okay. What the hell anything else is fine. I mean, don't do something stupid like getting yourself maimed because you got to live with it.” Basically I kind of lost primarily the fear that drives most people’s lives. I just lost it. I mean...
Iain: And you're 15, 16?
Bruce: Fourteen. I mean it wasn't that I was courageous, it became irrelevant because the bigger problem about death is not when you're dying. I've actually crossed hundreds of people over. Like they’re dying and we get them where they got to go next. But the bigger thing about it is that when anybody is afraid of death, two things: they're afraid and they're afraid of the unknown, and you don't let go and just say, "Okay, here's life. Let's go for it. Whatever it is, it is. Whatever it's not, it's not. We're going to find out afterwards", because you sure don't know when you start. And I got over that, so I had hundreds of points in my life where I missed so many things. I could have just gone, "Oh, I'm afraid I'm not going to do it. I’ll close down. I won't do it." Whatever, go!
Iain: Anyway, we have to move on a bit faster.
Bruce: Don't worry. That was the Zen thing.
Iain: And then at 18, you went to Japan?
Bruce: Yeah. After I had eight black belts and I had won like eight.
Iain: By the time you're 18?
Bruce: The time I was 18. And I had already taught a couple of thousand – by the time I was 18… 40 people who got karate black belts, my name was on the signature. I was in that field somewhat the term protégée could be used. I just would say I was a bit more talented than some. But at 18, I said, "Okay, look. But you want this thing, this Japanese martial arts. It's Zen, it's Shiatsu, you do all – where does this stuff come from? Hmm, let's go to the source…” So I went to Japan and then I did the whole thing.
Team one, the all Japan Karate, I was on that thing, I did all that kind of stuff. And so that was that. I turned down some scholarships to like the best universities in the United States, I actually had to go and make the money to go to Japan on my own. But that was okay. My grandfather really flipped out, “You're not going to go there!” Oh, brother, I'm telling you he was not happy. And he just said, "I'm not going to help." No one in my family [helped me] so I just went to make the money by myself.
Iain: You got to Japan and one of the first things that you learnt I think, was the difference between the internal and the external.
Bruce: Well, that took a little while. I had done aikido.
Iain: You're very focused on the outside weren’t you in martial arts?
Bruce: Karate, judo, jujutsu, that were swords, sticks, but then beside the fact I did aikido in America, I then studied with the founder of aikido a man called Morihei Ueshiba and then you started getting there and it really was an insight. And then I went to Taiwan and I learnt with a person…
Iain: Explain the difference between the inside and the outside. We can see it obviously in terms of yes, you're fighting with martial arts on the outside, but it goes deeper than that, doesn't it?
Bruce: Several things. You can fight based on a strong mind, based on developing your muscles and reflexes, training your motor functions and going back again. Having a strong enough mind to actually put them in action. This is not actually terribly different from what an Olympic athlete does. That essentially describe the process of becoming an Olympic athlete. Yeah, sure you have to have a tough mind but blah, blah, blah… but still your body is something outside you, they're outside you. When you start moving into the internal stuff, you start learning how you don't get your power from your muscles. You open up the energy channels inside your body and you shoot something through them and all of a sudden, you’ve got many times the power you could get physically, or even if you don't, some other things. To get this power to come from inside you, this chi, this energy from inside you, you have to learn how to completely relax.
Iain: So chi, which we hear a lot in modern society, that basically means internal energies?
Bruce: That's internal energy, yes. That is one of the translations of the word. But that's what internal energy is. To get there, to really mobilize chi at its highest level, [which is] what I do - because there are middle and lower gradations of it - you have to learn how to really relax. Now, to really relax your muscles is hard enough, then to really relax your energy, that's really harder and then to really relax the mind that's behind it, that's really [even] harder. So I ended up switching into what they called the internal martial arts that are based on that; and then that was the beginning of when I got far enough down that road. That was then a long period of real full contact competitions without much rules where people just got seriously rough. There wasn't "You can't do this, you can…” What about do anything you want? But that, I did it through internal energy because even when I was weighing in those days 150 pounds, I was taking 300-pound people out with one shot.
Iain: But you had to learn your lessons, didn't you? There were people that also seemed to be weaker than you that were taking you out, too.
Bruce: Well, yeah. I got my first hit of that in Japan with this little judo guy who was like 4 foot 11 who was tossing me around like a rag doll. Ueshiba was maybe five feet tall and he's tossing me around no way but loose. And sometimes, he can even do it like literally just having one finger on you.
Iain: And they were doing it with their internal energy?
Bruce: The judo guy wasn't. He taught me how to use your hips. Boy, could he use his hips! But with Ueshiba, it was with energy. Wong Shu Jing later on, the people I did in China, they were doing [it] with their energy. I can remember one of the first times I was fighting with Wong, he did just this light tap on the top of my head, I felt like an electric lightning bolt went through me and all of a sudden I was in a full squat on the floor and I did not even see how I got from the top to the bottom. But you learn these things; this is not any different than in yoga, real yoga. I mean, there's all this malt yoga, which is like gymnastics by any other name, because actually I did real yoga in India. I did it up in the high Himalayas. I did it with the people that did it from the whole spiritual point of view. But when they start talking about prana and they talked about opening of the channels… those little funny pictures, channels and chakras, well… you know something it's for real. But it's not for real, if you can't manifest it inside you. Then, it's a pretty picture book.
Iain: So we all have it inside us. It's just that most of us have either lost touch, or never been in touch with it in the first place. Is that correct?
Bruce: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I would say a lot of babies are in touch with it, but it doesn't take very long. They hear enough noise or whatever and they start mimicking the giants and it goes away.
Iain: Unless their parents are very aware of chi, they're not going to have any schooling if you like.
Bruce: That's right. That's right, but the question you're asking is, is it innate in human beings?
Iain: Yes, yes. And does a person's chi vary? Are some people born with a stronger chi than other people?
Bruce: Yes. Some people were born with dramatically strong chi nodes. But if you, let's say take martial arts, or people who do Qigong, or you take people who do Taoist yoga which is not hatha yoga, it's not the India trip, it's Chinese trip that this whole thing is famous with people who are incredibly sickly and weak and [with] terrible constitutions did something and then they became virtual superman or superwoman. So yes, it can be developed like anything [else]. You can develop, let's just say, intelligence to a certain degree, or you can develop muscles, but you really have to use them to develop them. It's not going to happen because “Oh, wow, that's a wonderful idea. How many people are running around [thinking]?" “Wow, Warren Buffet has got $40 billion. Wow!" "Hey, I just got to buy something and sell it for a higher price." Well, you know… but not that many people actually pull it off. So to “pull it off” as the phrase goes the joke there is, it's like the ham sandwich and the pig. You find the ham sandwich interesting, the pig is committed. I mean, you do it and you do it all, and then you pass it on.
Iain: So you have to basically nurture your chi.
Iain: Strengthen your chi.
Iain: I think we have to skip through your story because... I'm just going to highlight certain things. A few years later you were in India and you got hepatitis and almost died. There's a wonderful example in one of your books where you talk about how you realized [that] if you just lay in the bed, you'd end up dying so you forced yourself to get up, sit up I think, and do some Qigong and that got some things started going again.
Bruce: Well, to be precise what happened is that I was in this room and three of us had it and I watched the two people die.
Iain: That's a pretty good indication of what might happen.
Bruce: Yeah. And the doctor comes in basically and is saying, “If there is anybody you want to write some letter or something, I would do it now, because it is not looking like you're going to be here very long.” Okay, In other words, he gave me a death sentence.
So I'm lying on the bed and I've also worked as a doctor. I've worked with terminal cancer - let's just say I am more than vaguely familiar with death and leave it at that - and I knew one thing I'd say, “You stay on this bed, you're dead”. There's a feeling that comes over you. There's a whole consciousness… [either] do something, or leave your body, and that's it. So I got up and don't ask me how I got up and I started doing tai chi and I started just running the energy through my channels and I had to say, up to that point in my life, that is the single most painful period of time I've ever had. When you have a channel in your body that is closed and you’re sick, it's the closing of the channel that makes you sick. But when you try and open it up, that does not mean that you're trying to open up something that doesn't want to and it's going to be fun. Maybe fun, may not be fun, it's hard to say. In this case, I'm telling you it was like serious ouch, serious ouch. It's the only thing I can say, I mean really half of the time tears was just streaming down my face and I was shaking like you know… but I kept doing this, and doing this and then I fell asleep. I collapsed and three days later I woke up and then I kind of slowly recovered.
Iain: So by doing that, you got your chi moving again and your chi could help with the healing process.
Bruce: I opened up the channels. Channels of body open: healthy, strong, happy. Channels of body closed down: miserable, sick, weak.
Iain: Yes. And there was another quite dramatic example, many years later again you were in Denver and you had a bad car accident.
Bruce: New Mexico actually. I went 15 feet up in the air and came down the hard way.
Iain: Yes. And two of your vertebrae were quite seriously damaged.
Bruce: Basically I was diagnosed with a broken back. They wanted to fuse it and do the whole thing. But the term broken back is always a bit tricky because most people think it's a severed spinal cord from which there is no way back. No, I just had all the vertebrae cracked wide open, which is commonly called a broken back.
Iain: Yes, which not only is very painful, it's very restricting as well.
Bruce: You could say that.
Iain: Yes. So how did you approach that? Because I know that took you on quite an emotional journey as well in terms of how you...
Bruce: Now, I'll take this from the spiritual perspective because I wear many hats. I am a martial art master and in China, I'm pretty much recognized as that and when I was a healer, I did 10,000 patients. I did like interns -- energy medicine. I did like the more far out miracle stuff. But then also meditation as you said, I started when I was a kid, but I became a lineage holder in Taoist meditation which means you know it. You know whatever it is. Let's not go into what it is, but whatever it is, you know. When that happened, there were two stages to it. Before that time, I had a specialty for at least five years.
I was a real wiz with working with nerves. For example - one of the things… and we’re really good, me and a few other people did it - someone had been in wheelchair for 10 years and never gotten up, we got them walking, which is skill. That's serious skill because you've got to go in every little channel and the way it connects with… It's complicated and let's just leave it at that. So anyway the least of that is, all sorts of people have all kinds of accidents. I knew what the reality was. So it wasn't actually right after that, I did that for the book. But it was like two or three times, I had a couple of destabilizations and then finally, when my back just finally and totally gave out - I'm lying there and I'm in bed and I can't feel anything from the waist down which I have to tell you does not make you happy - but at that moment, I said one thing, “Do Qigong and open up these channels, otherwise, you are in serious trouble” I did not want to be one of those people in the wheelchair. Doctors wanted to fuse my back, the whole thing and I said, "No." Because I also knew that if they fused my back, I would be diminished for life and there would be no way back from [that]. There's no return. So I'm now spending a couple of weeks until finally I can just get some moving in my upper body and until finally I got something to go down there. And then it took another couple of weeks before kind of things would start returning. Okay, so that's from the physical point. And then I got up and let's just say it was a couple of rough years. I mean, you'd be surprised how much pain a back can give.
Iain: Let's go into this more because it wasn't just the physical pain, but it was also...
Bruce: That's where I'm going next. That's where I'm going. Now, that's not the spiritual part, that is just called the deal with your body, or your body will show you just how much suffering you can go through. Okay. But something else happened. At the time that occurred, I'd done all these trainings to be able to control my energy to such a finite degree. In my family - let's just say one of the people who raised me and let's keep this non personal, was mad as a hatter. I mean, mad as in mental institutions where they are friends. And some of the lot of stuff they did to me, as a youth, was rather rough. Nothing to do with me getting into martial arts, I was just pissed off in general, but I didn't get into it for that. I was into the art of it.
But I had all this stuff… think about every control mechanism you have for the demons in your unconscious, all of them, and all of a sudden we opened it up, “Pandora. Come out, come out, wherever you are.” Now to say that I went through a couple of years of not just emotional, not just mental, but psychic turmoil and I opened up the doors of karma full flush, no filters, I took it full bore on, fighting a human being is one thing, fighting that, oh, boy! That's all I have to say. That was really trippy. But not to say that it wasn't rather miserable because it was, but it forced me, and I also was up for it because I had done like years of meditation, I've spent cave time and all these kind of weird stuff. I was interested in waking up, that was the most important thing in my life. Period.
And I did a lot of other kind of fun stuff, too. But I took it on and I really took it on and then I go to Beijing and my teacher who was like - what in the West you would call a living Buddha and Taoist [would] call spiritual immortal. He just said, "Oh, oh. You want to know who you are? Are you sure?" He said, "Think carefully and make sure you're sure. You may find it more difficult than you think." So in other words… this is what happens, as an example. One time things were going on and he gave the bit [talk] about you know, the Buddhist bit because I mean, Tao was Buddhist. There are certain things that are in common in China, in Chinese culture. He's telling all about your mother and… "What…?" You know, about how you should love your parents. “What?” I mean, seriously because I hated them. It was a love-hate relationship. I make it a joke but it's not. That's how strong it was. It's a good thing it was illegal to kill your parents when I was kid. I might have done it. I mean, the things that happened were like… let's not discuss grim. I mean, really… we're still on the light end of the thing, really crazy stuff.
So anyway, after nine months of things… so many things happened that were too much. I met people who had been through stuff that there's no way I could take what happened to me that seriously. I had one unit of grief, they had a thousand. Because [how] the culture revolution in China was, made Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia seem like a party. We in the West don't know about it. That is probably the darkest, egregious, nastiness humans can do to humans that has existed in the history of the earth and the West knows nothing about it. Nothing, because they didn't hear their dirty laundry and why… because they didn’t lose to anybody. They weren't the enemy. Nobody even knew what they were doing over there. They kept the doors closed. But anyway, nine months I’m done with my mother. Done! Like nothing, like nothing. Like I could remember it happened… [but no effect].
Iain: So I just want a little bit more details on...
Bruce: Let me just [continue] and I will… Then sometime in next year - because who in God's name can remember time - I'm sitting in Canton and I found out who I was from the classic thing of Ramana Maharshi saying “Who are you?” And my teacher just said, "Ah, you've made some small progress. That's good at least that particular question that was bothering you was over. Now, this stuff is even more important.” And that's when we begin the process of internal alchemy. That's about the universe. That's not about me and this thing we all run to.
Iain: When you say you found out who you were, that's so far a more intriguing thing. How was that, to find out who you are?
Bruce: Well, I was in Canton, coming from Hong Kong and back in those days there were no radars. We were grounded. There was water [rain]. You couldn't fly because they didn't have the technology that enabled you to take off and land in that kind of rain. So I'm like in this Chinese dormitory because I was living pretty close to the bone and there were like eight beds in the room, or something and I just had nothing to do and so I just started meditating. Well, for about three days all I do is meditate. I didn't do anything and at one point, it just happened. That it's funny, everybody thinks they are their personal history: this happened, that happened… Some people like to get egregious, "Oh, in this life I was this and that person". But regardless of what this life, that life, this time and that time, you think all this stuff that happened to you, everything you think, everything you've seen whether it's a television program, or it's your deeply rooted philosophical beliefs and you think that's who I am. I just kind of really got it. In one sense, there was always an image that after this was over, I thought of it, it actually wasn't like that at the time, a bit like everything just floating in this giant suspension thing and all of a sudden, you saw what it was suspended in it and not all the jazz that was in it. It was like all of a sudden boom, you really aren’t anything. No, and there's this thing that is there, but this isn't anything in particular. It isn't a big deal. It's no big "Wah", the great event and no fireworks and no LSD colors, just that's what it is and that's what's at the bottom of all of it and everything is actually just attaching to that. And it never changed. It wasn't like it happened and then next week something else happened. It was that way. It's always been that way. And I mean, I write in my books, I write about what that technically is in terms of Taoism because they've been doing this for thousands of years and this happened to a lot of people. So it's not like it's a unique event. Of course, what happens to you it’s a unique event to you, it's unique because you're like you, and nobody else is you. But the fact that it matters to get that, just call it… not even the word ‘space’ encompasses it.
It's space and that's the kind of space you operate in. That's your - as they would have said - that's your vibe. The analogy I use for it- which I think is a good one in the sense that it's actually what they're dealing with in Tibetan Buddhism - they have all these Deities, pictures of how they looked, all these Tongka, all these pictures and the Deity this and the Deity that; the Deity is having sex with someone and Deity sitting by itself, the Deity got a nasty face and standing on somebody's head… These are just different ways a person's energy could manifest in the entire universe. And okay, you got whatever is yours, or call it a cell in your body. Okay. A liver cell is not the same thing as the brain cell, or a stem [not the same as a] foot cell. Well, excuse me… they're all stem cells at the end of the day. Well, you find out what your stem cell is and that still isn't -- you could say that is not your potential that is just the basic carrier wave you ride. And then the whole process of alchemy is learning how to change each of those into another kind of cell, another kind of cell until what the Taoist is saying - this I only can take on hearsay because I sure can't do it - that when you go through enough of the universe, all of a sudden, you get what the universe is. But you sure got to have some idea of what your own particular thing is. So in a sense if you're not separate - you're separate and you're not separate - everybody is a stem cell but that's a different matter than you actually get what the universe is as a whole in all places, times, dimensions. That's kind of a bit of a jump beyond who are you.
Iain: Okay. Thank you. I was also very intrigued by the relationship between the nervous system and chi because as I understand it from reading your books, when a nervous system gets jammed up, gets constricted, that is constricting the chi and the chi basically needs the nervous system to be open to flow well. Am I simplifying there, or is that the basic?
Bruce: I call it partial. Okay. Let's put it this way. Chi, everything, electricity has got to travel through something. As if fiber optics, as is radio waves, it's got to travel through something. So, let's just say chi is electricity and then it has to travel through different things in order to express itself and receive and give. In a human being, in terms of a practice that you can do, in terms of gaining access to it rather than it's just there, you have four - you have several - levels of chi. The primary one and the biggest way it travels through your body, let's leave your mind out of it for a bit because some of that isn't physical. It's not local so it doesn't really much matter. Your brain only interprets; it doesn’t actually know where it's coming from. But if you look at this, it's fluids of your body and your nerves.
Okay. Now, your blood, your lymph, your cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that flows between your cells, interstitial fluid and then it's your nervous system. Now, in our modern times, in this period of time, the chi system that is under massive attack and [it is] the one that is the easiest to get into, so you can recognize what's traveling through it. So you can recognize that it's in your nervous system.
Iain: Okay. So that's the one where it's the most obvious.
Bruce: And given that stress is the whole thing that the modern life is about, stress is first hitting your nerves and then it hits your fluids.
Iain: Yes. So then the lymphatic system will all get jammed up, so things stop moving and waste clearing.
Bruce: Again, that's fluid.
Iain: And the blood doesn't circulate so freely around your body.
Bruce: Sure. Yes, either the fluids can affect your nervous system - but today given just the nature of how our society is, it's much more about the nervous system is affecting the fluids. Given all your anxiety, given all your, shall we say hyper adrenaline, that's all flowing through the nerves.
Iain: Okay. So the bit I'm trying to understand, the pieces I'm trying to put together when you had this really difficult time after the car accident and you were in all this pain. And then you were talking about all these memories came up in your body, or the programs came up that [were] stored in the cells of your body... is that correct?
Bruce: Let me put it to you this way, the experience you had it's in your cells, it's in your nervous system, it's in your fluid, it's in your ligaments, it's in your fascia.
Bruce: Oh, you couldn't tell where it was going to come from.
Iain: Because people think well, bad memories are in my head, but that's not as simple as that, is it?
Bruce: No, no, no. What's in your head, if it doesn't translate through your body, you'll never notice it. I mean, when you're noticing something going on in your head, you're not noticing your brain. You're noticing your nervous system, you're noticing how it's hitting your body in different ways. It's just that it's attached to thoughts because people then start thinking weird stuff and they start thinking, "Well, okay, if I [have] a thought, that means it's coming from my brain." No, it just could be that your brain is being catalyzed by it, or it goes both ways. I mean, if you could not feel pain, why would you care if there's pain? Why would you care if it's only thought? I had to go through opening up those channels where - and it was really obvious - opening up the channels [means] have less pain. Don't open up the channels, get more pain.
But we have something where… my family is Greek, okay. Long, long time ago Byzantine Empire all that kind of stuff, we were kind of big shots in there, which doesn't mean much today. I mean, running a restaurant [is] really not much different if you come right down to it. But if you look at that, there was the idea back to the old days and Athens and all that, of a sound mind and of a sound body. The only trouble is that the sound mind became the fact that you were thinking. You have thoughts that were reasonable, ordered and then you have like probably good muscles. The Taoist thought takes what the body and the mind are, way further. They started actually getting, "Okay, wait a second. What is actually going on here? What are the layers?” So that in one sense - a bit like an engineer or a scientist - it's not enough that something is poetically happening, which is also true, metaphorically happening, but then how is it actually happening?
Iain: I’ve just got a quote from your book here… where you talk about, “It was amazing how many layers of defined nerve pain I found in my body. For example, feelings of failure came up, primitive emotional trauma many from early childhood had to be released.” So when you say these layers of defined nerve pain…
Bruce: Try thousands.
Iain: Thousands of layers of… so this is where we've got memories, we've got trauma that's stored and it stored one on top of the other. Is that how it works?
Bruce: Let's put it this way. Yeah, metaphorically, they were on top of the other. They're all there at the same time, but they surfaced as though they were stacked.
Iain: Right. To be clear on the emotional level, it's very much on the energetic level as well as the psychological level, or maybe not as well as -- but anyway, energetic level, it's necessary to get in touch with that trauma…
Iain: … or that memory. You don’t have to process the whole thing as such do you, in terms of understanding?
Bruce: You just have to release it.
Iain: You have to release it. Okay.
Bruce: [That’s] the classic phrase in Taoism. We live in a psychological society, we live in an educated society so that means that you know the cause, you know the reasons and therefore, you should be able to do something with it. Knowing why something is going on, does not say you can implement any change about it. It only says you recognize it's there. Okay, I recognize Warren Buffett is a billionaire; it doesn't do me much good about becoming a billionaire. What you have is that the phrase they've used in Taoism for thousands of years about human suffering, and the millions of ways you can have it. It is very simple. If you're on a torture table, the Chinese tortures [have] always been perfectly cool with Chinese governments throughout history, okay, just like it was in the Middle Ages in England. Kings without a torture chamber - they're out of business. That's all there is to it. So anyway, if you're on a torture table and they're really torturing you, would you rather know why you're on a torture table? Would you like to know what the torturer had for breakfast? Would you like to know how the instruments that are torturing you were made? Would you like to know exactly how they produce pain, or would you rather get off the table?
Iain: We all know the answer.
Bruce: Yeah, but what I'm saying is the Taoist always go right for the chase of how do you resolve it? Recognizing is a first step to resolving. Otherwise, you have no idea what you're trying to resolve. But you need to have an implementation process to resolve it. That method through which got me past my parents, which got me through more things in my life than I can count about. Things that shatter most people… inner dissolving.
Iain: Okay, can you just very briefly explain inner dissolving. I realize it's got to be only a brief over view of it.
Bruce: Very simply, if you can recognize what's going inside you - if you're not totally numb and in which case, it doesn't much matter - you can't do it anyway. There are four conditions which will give you an idea that your chi is blocked. You don't have to understand any of it. Until you can recognize what blocked chi is for itself, then it's like that. It would be like if you had a child who is a virgin; they can see books, they can see the internet, they can see this, they go in sex, this and this and that happened. But you don't really quite get what it is until you have sex, because it's not exactly the same as the pictures. But okay, the four conditions: strength, which ultimately can become stubbornness, or put it this way, that's the ego.
What we call in the West ego is you just feel strong in a position and so we say, “Someone who has an ego." Tension: two things fighting inside yourself. That could be any one of a billion things inside you. This is the hardest one in many ways. Something that doesn't feel quite right but you don't know what it is. A simple example, take what happened to you in your mommy's tummy, take what happened to you, everything you took in while your mother was pregnant, all the things you have taken in without even recognizing they were happening because they were happening inside you. Okay. So you don’t know what it is, but it's really bothering you. Okay? It's really bothering you. Nowadays, okay, we'll open you up. We'll put little chip inside and you will be tortured all day long. But if you weren’t awake when the chip was put in, you won’t know where it's coming from, but believe me you know that you're hurting. And the last one is contraction. In many spiritual traditions especially Indian ones, the nature between enlightenment and un-enlightenment is often described as your mind, or your soul, or your being is contracted, or it opens up to all and everything: non-separation. Contraction means there is separation. There are no two ways about that. Different metaphors are used. These four things give you an idea of blocked chi.
Okay, we got blocked chi. We start with that. So you recognize. Now your mind, the totality of your being and I will say that it really helps if you can go in the fourth time which is beyond past, present and the future. It's not the eternal now, it's just something that ain’t those things. And there is another thing that's there and it is not the now, but it is beyond past, present and the future. In Sanskrit for example, they call that Turiya it is the fourth state, but you can stay in that kind of time because that's the only time that you really can resolve things in. Because the idea [that] things are sequential is just actually nonsense. It's only their appearance it's not actually how they work. This stuff is all going on at once. Then, your mind goes into that blockage, it stays on and then you start trying to release it. Those four conditions… you want to relax, you're completely willing for it to give over and let go, but no demands. You're a bit like a hawk, or a cat that’s just waiting for that mouse to come on and when it releases, he's on it, but until then he just waits. But it's active waiting. It's not passively waiting for it because when it comes, it's only going to exist for a few microseconds. That's the only access point and you got to be ready for it. So you go into that and you keep releasing and as you start doing it, you start going and, at a certain point, your motion starts becoming inward and it is as though, when you start moving inside yourself, you just move into a bigger and bigger place.
So this is where you are going inside. Forget about what's out here. That's outer dissolving, that's another method. But this is the actual meditation and this going in can take you into the deepest recesses of your karma, your psychic body, your emotion, your mental body. The physical one, you don't need that stuff for. That outer dissolving will take care of that. But when we start to learn about the real stuff that bothers people, the stuff that spirituality is about, the stuff that goes on even after you die and you get it again, this you have to go on and you release it and the point is that you release it. This is the Taoist method and they had this thousands of years before the Buddha ever showed up. You resolved it to emptiness and I'm not going to go [into] what emptiness is because there's a whole lot of ways you can look at that and it kind of has stages until you finally actually really get it. And when something goes to emptiness, it releases, it resolves. The basis upon it existing is gone. That's what emptiness does. You think you exist? You really find emptiness, you're going to get you don't. You think anything exists? But let me not take this too far because I can sound… like too intellectual. But you have to get to where you feel the release and then inside of you opens up into a dramatically bigger space.
Iain: But can you find out who you really are without going through this process?
Bruce: Let's put it this way, maybe someone else knows, I don't. That's how I did it. That's the Taoist [way] that's the only thing [I know]. Try to understand, from the age of six until I was somewhere in my mid 30s, I also at one time for example spent ten and a half months in a cave where I was doing tantric and kundalini practice all day long! Every waking second! That didn’t dent it. This is the only way I know how to get there although, I must say, that if we look at -- especially in Tibetan Buddhism which has incredible parallels to Taoism, specifically the Dzogchen and Mahamudra traditions as opposed to the tantric tradition - I think they probably came from the same place because their methodologies are just too close and there are too many points of confluence. Even they, both say they came from that direction. The Kunluns and all that in China. But I know one way it can be done. I know the Taoist way, that's why I am the Taoist lineage holder and in all the things I've tried previous to that, I didn't find anything that can do it, which is not to say other things couldn't do it, I just can only talk personally.
Iain: Okay. I'm looking at the clock, we've got about eight minutes left and I want you to really use the last eight minutes to just explain for people… I think most people that watch conscious. tv have done some meditation, they may have done some tai chi, they certainly read stuff, watched stuff and they have a few basic elements there. If they want to take their search deeper, what would be your suggestions for them?
Bruce: Well, first of all, this is a classic question it’s been asked for thousands of years because there's always been - in cultures who have meditation - multiple methods of doing it. I’d say a couple of things: If you are slick enough to do it on your own then you don’t need to study with anybody. Now since generally it's pretty much agreed by virtually everybody lots of luck ain’t going to happen, the next thing is that, you need to find someone who is actually been there and done it. Because they then at least have some idea, okay. So that goes further, if your interest is of let's say a lower or a middle depth, I mean we're talking about drive now, we're talking about commitment, we're talking about ambition. I mean, it's no different doing it with spirituality as it is for doing it with anything else. If your interest is not that great, I say don't beat yourself up about learning with someone who is really just kind of… not doing stuff that is very deep because that's really all you want. And if that's really all you want, why in God's name you're getting in front of someone who is really, really good unless you want to open yourself up to the possibility. If you have a middle level, I would say in the West, this is the fact of most people. There are the believers. They just want to believe in somebody. In other word, excuse me I’m going to be sarcastic, "Mommy, mommy, mommy" [opens arms wide] I want to feel [held]. If that's what you want, there are plenty of people who will satisfy that desire. They will be big mommy, they will be big daddy, they will try and make you secure.
If you actually have a very deep interest in meditation, the last person you want to find is someone who makes you secure, because what's going to happen if something makes you really, really secure? It is going to give you every opportunity you ever need to skive. You're just going to figure out a way to really not do too much. So now, let's just say I really only speak for people of a higher level of interest because that's what I do. I just don't do that other stuff and [it is] not my thing. I mean, really I don't mind if other people do it. But I don't want to do it.
The first thing is that there are people who have the basic mentality, they need to kind of understand what's going on and I teach, I'm always showing how something works because there is a chunk of people like that and I also do it because the real nature of spiritual teaching really happens through mind to mind transmission. It doesn't happen through knowledge. Knowledge is of the mind. That's intellectual, that's of the mind and you're trying to get beyond the mind and it's not going to work. So it's really done through transmission. My teacher for example in Beijing trained me to do that. I was trained and taught how to do it. Just the same way it's kind of at the deeper levels of Tibetan Buddhism, they teach people and some people find it naturally when they do satsang and they have it and they just kind of get it.
But we would train how to do it to an incredible level of precision because the Taoist whom have been described by Joseph Needham for example, described him as a scientist of ancient China. That's how they look at everything. They really are precision freaks. They want to get how it can replicate with the greatest consistency. To do that you have to understand what the hell it is because if you don’t understand what it is, you're dancing around. Some people get it, some people don't. That's it. But you got a low yield. It's like an investment that gives you one percent a year, it doesn't make you happy. Okay. They like to go at least ten. So if you look at this, okay, so you find someone. Now, when you find someone, there's a relationship that come up and you have to look at what they do carefully. Don't just do it because someone has some piece of PR. Look, I mean, do they actually get what's going on? Next, look at the people around them, are they actually shifting? If they're not shifting, then all you can really say is, I don't know how much is going on here. But if they're actually shifting, then if you think you can trust them and you don't have to trust them like, "I have to love you like my mother" although some people like to do that. "I love you like my father." Do you think they actually know what they're doing? And [if] this person does and then like anything else, if you got a good mentor, well, bloody listen to the person. Then, here is the even more important part: practice what you hear! Do it! Don't think about it, do it!
Iain: It's the commitment, isn't it? That's a great start if you really commit.
Bruce: If you call doing it commitment, yeah. I'm sorry, if you want any food, you look at the food, ”Oh, wow! It's magic…” If you don't eat the thing, what good does it do you? Unless she likes looking at pictures of food; there are people who like gourmet magazines, but if you want to do it, you’ve got to taste it. You got to taste it, you got to taste the food and to do that you have to practice. There’s a classic phrase I think in Chinese, the Taoist phrase [speaks in Chinese] which means, ‘the teacher takes you into the gate’. That means like the gate of knowledge, because everything in Chinese there’s a gate, you go. On the other side, there's whatever there is. But the success comes from your own practice. [speaks again in Chinese] It means your heart, your efforts, all of it. The Buddhist same thing, [they] say, "I show you the path, you have to walk it." Nobody can give it to you. What they can do is they can take you and show you. What if you do it that's how everybody in history has been able to do it. So that's what I would recommend. I'm not saying come to me, come to him, come to this one, come to that one. That's the burden of being an adult.
Iain: And how often do you practice now?
Bruce: Practice what?
Iain: How often do you practice what you are?
Bruce: You don't practice what you are. You are what you are or you're not.
Iain: Yeah, that's not a very good question.
Bruce: I don't. Let's put it this way, I'm always practicing meditation. There is no time I'm not. If you talk about how much do I practice martial arts or Qigong, I don't know I mean, I've been running chi through my body the whole time while we're having a conversation. I'm kind of… the phrase they have in Chinese is [speaks in Chinese] ‘form no form’. I kind of did so many forms for so [long] I kind of past the point where it's very spontaneous in me. Because whereas it took me years of practice to get this, to get online, now I can have anything going online instantly. So there is now, now it's about the flow of life.
Iain: Okay. It's a great place to finish. Now, it is about the flow of life. Bruce, it's been fascinating the time has been far too short, but we were always faced with the challenge of having a finite period to do the program. I'm going to show again, three of Bruce's books. I think he has written 12 in total. There's Relaxing into your Being, The TAO of Letting Go and Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body.
Bruce: And the next one that is coming out in November is Taoist Sexual Meditation which is effectively the fourth volume. And to the best of my knowledge, it's the first time Lao Tse's tradition of sexual meditation has ever appeared in print in the West.
Iain: Great. Thanks again Bruce and thank you everyone for watching conscious.tv and I think you will agree, it was a fascinating program. Thank you. Good bye.
Tao Meditation - Guided Session
My name is Bruce Frantzis and what I'll be showing you is the method of meditation that is central and somewhat unique to Lao Tse's method of meditation in Taoism. Lao Tse was 2500 years ago and what he's most known for in the West is a book he wrote that's called Tao Te Ching: The Way and its Power. I am told that it is the second most translated book in the world. Many people read it and many people find it fascinating, but this is the actual basic meditation method that Lao Tse did, which does not appear in any of these books and which is not very well known. I learn this studying in China for many, many, many years.
First sit up, do your best to sit in a way that's comfortable. Do the best so that your back is straight rather than leaning, or clumping in some fashion and just sit either on the floor or with your feet flat on the floor. Adjust your breathing until it's smooth and regular so it's not being spasmodic, so you're not holding it, just relax your breath. Take three deep breaths and the first time just inhale and then exhale and relax your breath. Now, relax your breath on the inhale and relax it more on the exhale and then relax it as much as you can with both your inhale and your exhale. Let your mind simply settle down. Let your eyes close if you like, or keep them open and just let yourself sink into and become present to your body.
As you exhale, let your mind dropdown towards your belly and feel your body. Feel your body. Let go of all the events of the day and if thoughts come in to your head, just feel your mind regardless of what the thoughts are, just feel your mind. Feel your nerves. Keeping your feet flat on the floor become aware of four conditions: strength; you feel strong, people feel strong when they’re angry. There's a certain kind of strength you feel when you're right. There's even a certain kind of strength when you're depressed and you feel somehow at least secure. When people feel strong, they feel secure.
Now just recognize what that feels like. Don't do anything with it. Don't change it. Just recognize it for what it is. And now tension: two things fighting with each other, but feel for this. Don't think about it. Don't make a picture of it. Feel it. Tension is two things fighting against each other. Maybe just a blood vessel that's in spasm, maybe it’s thoughts in your mind, maybe it’s one emotion, maybe it’s another emotion, but the sense of the tension will be the same regardless of the millions of causes that could be causing it. So don't worry about the cause, worry about the effect. Now, feel for something where something doesn't feel quite right, but you don't know what it is and especially you don't know what it is. Don't feel you're supposed to understand it. Just recognize that something that's not right is happening inside you.
And now, simply focus on contraction. The mind closing in on itself, the sense of the body closing in on itself and now recognizing this, you will have a feeling, or an energy. Go for the top of your head and just move down your body and wherever you feel one of these: strength, tension, something that doesn't feel quite right especially if you don't know what it is, let your mind simply stop and rest on that place. Feel it. Experience it. Don't try and figure it out. Anything you think it might be, anything you judge it's good or bad, anything you say, "Oh, I understand why." Forget it. You may or may not understand it and it's not important to understand it. Recognize it and the same with contractions, it doesn't feel right and tension and strength. If any of those things show up in any way, you could remotely imagine, then just let your mind settle on that spot. Now let out as much of your awareness as you can, start moving into that place and be willing without a demand, I would like it to release; it should release. They will be gone. Let it just soften. First, just soften. As it always will be hard. Let it soften and begin to start moving inside of it and if then you find something else replaces it, but still it has the feeling of one of those four conditions, keep softening it and continue to do so. Soften and relax like ice turning to water - hard to soft.
Now this is usually as far as most people get in the beginning, but who knows, fortune may shine. Keep on going into that again and again and again until it maybe that at some point, at some undefined time, it will suddenly release, but when it releases, it will be as though all the energy has released and this is what in Taoism they call them going into emptiness. And you'll know if you reach that emptiness because it will be as though that space inside you just gets bigger and bigger. If that space inside you felt like a dot, it will open up into a room. If it felt bigger, you'll feel like you opened up to a internal space as big as cavern. Just stay there until at some point on its own, without you making it happen, or stopping it from happening, that space will return to the normal space it was before you went inside of it. At that point, just go down to the next place that's blocked. Now, this is the best case scenario if it happens, but there is a second case scenario that happens quite commonly. People can't release in emptiness in the beginning. It takes some practice. But if you find yourself in a place where you feel the energy blocked, but it won't release, there will come a point, there will come a time, there will come an awareness or recognition, you're going to get that it happens. You're going to feel as though, “If I do this for the next five minutes or 5,000 years, it's not going to shift, not going to shift. It has hit as far as it's going to go” and with your mind move the chi that's in that blockage to the next place moving down in your body that feels as though you have tension or strength, something that doesn't feel quite right or some type of contraction and do it again.
Only when you go from the one to the next one and dropping down in your body, take all the energy that you could feel in the point that could not resolve and just take it to the next lower point in your body. There are more ways this is done and they get a little bit more precise, but this is a big overview. Then again, those two energies combine and again, you do your best - ice to water, water to space. When you finish doing this, whether you do it for five minutes, or you do it for hours on end sometimes energy can get stuck in your head and this is something that's useful whenever energy get stuck in your heard whether it's working [in front of] a computer, or it's doing some sort of meditation. Rub your palm [vigorously], your hands get warm, take your hands and just bring it down your face and you take the energy out of your head and bring it back into your body which is always a problem in the modern time because people get too much energy stuck in their heads. Then whenever you feel you're done, open your eyes and wait until the inside of your body - if your eyes were closed - regularizes with your outside environment until they're smooth before you get up and do something different.
Well, thank you very much. I was taught this method by a direct lineage holder, who traces his lineage back to Lao Tse and I know that because there were few times when literally for a month he’d say “…and from him, it went to him, to him… And this guy did this, next few people did not do too much, but then this person did this…” and it’s literally going back not through generations, [but] going back through hundreds of generations. So anyway as much as I understand, this is the original tradition of Lao Tse. It's the only meditation I teach and I consider myself very fortunate to have ever learned it and I hope it helps you. Thank you very much. Until we meet again.
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