HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF COSMIC BREATHING
From all the wonderful arts we practice Cosmic Breathing is the most outstanding to me.
Whenever someone doubts the art of Bigu (not taking in food at all), I tell him that I did not breathe for about 10 minutes at an Intensive Chi Kung course with Sifu. So, when even breathing (as conceptualized by modern terms) is not necessary, why should the far less important need of eating be?
Now, I’m coming to my questions:
Sifu, is it possible to “cosmic breathe” underwater? If so, how does being underwater affect Cosmic Breathing?
Is it theoretically possible and advisable to keep “Cosmic Breathing” all day long, while staying in the phenomenal world?
Can Sifu please tell us any interesting stories about past masters’ achievements in this incredible art?
Sifu Leonard Lackinger
You probably did not breathe, as conceptualised by modern terms, for more than 10 minutes and for many occasions. In the many sparring sessions for hours during my kungfu courses, you used Cosmic Breathing unconsciously whereby you did not breath in and out through your nose and mouth as people normally do.
Cosmic Breathing is also one of my chi kung specialties. I developed Cosmic Breathing on my own from Abdominal Breathing. I did not learn Cosmic Breathing from my sifu.
My sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, taught me Abdominal Breathing as part of Small Universe. The traditional method of Small Universe was Abdominal Breathing. When a practitioner’s dan tian was filled with energy, the energy overflowed along the ren and the du meridians completing the small universal chi flow. It took past masters more than 10 years to complete the Small Universe, and they often held a dinner to celebrate it.
My sifu taught me reverse breathing to speed up my Small Universe by bringing my energy up from my hui-yin to my bai-hui. I took about 2 years to complete the Small Universe.
Later I devised more methods to speed up the process of the Small Universe in 5 stages, which are Abdominal Breathing, Submerged Breathing, Long Breathing, Forceful Small Universe, and Gentle Small Universe. It is incredible but true that now Shaolin Wahnam students take only 3 days to learn the methods of the 5 stages to activate the Small Universe. But only students who already have the necessary chi at their dan tian to complete the small universal chi flow will be accepted at the Small Universe course.
The orthodox method of the Small Universe is Abdominal Breathing. I call this orthodox Small Universe the gentle Small Universe, to differentiate it from the forceful Small Universe which uses reverse breathing to speed up the process of the small universal chi flow. Having completed the small universal chi flow in relatively shorter time, I revert back to Abdominal Breathing which generates the small universal chi flow in a gentle way.
The forceful Small Universe is not just for speeding up the small universal chi flow. It is also useful for other purposes, like for exploding force in combat for a long period.
Most practitioners do not differentiate between skills and techniques. To achieve the Small Universe, for example, they use Abdominal Breathing, which refers to both the skill and the technique. In other words, practitioners breathe in energy to their dan tian. Their abdomen rises gently as they breathe in, and falls as they breathe out.
After a few years they have a lot of energy at their dan tian, which gives them internal force. As they continue to practice, the energy overflows into the ren and the du meridians and eventually constitutes a never-ending circle of energy flow, which gives them good health, vitality, longevity, mental clarity as well as tremendous internal force.
We differentiate between techniques and skills, which makes us very cost effective — to an extent that we have to be careful not to over-train. The manner of breathing in energy into the dan tian with the abdomen rising on breathing in and falling on breathing out, we refer to as the technique. The accomplishment of having a lot of energy stored at our dan tian, we refer to as the skill. We call this particular technique dan tian breathing, and this particular skill Abdominal Breathing. When energy has overflown round the ren and the du meridians in a never-ending circle, we call the skill Small Universe. We may attain the skill of Small Universe using the technique of dan tian breathing, or using the technique of reverse breathing.
We can also attain the skill of Abdominal Breathing using the technique of reverse breathing, but it is not as efficacious as using the technique of dan tian breathing.
I may have mixed up dan tian breathing and Abdominal Breathing as the skill and the technique in my earlier writing. In other words, in my earlier writing I might have referred to Dan Tian Breathing as the skill, and abdominal breathing as the technique. Or I might have referred to abdominal breathing (with small letters) as the technique, and Abdominal Breathing (with capital letters) as the skill. As these terms are meant for convenience and better understanding, I shall let time and usage to decide whether dan tian breathing and Abdominal Breathing refer to skill or to technique. But in this answer, dan tian breathing refers to the technique, and Abdominal Breathing refers to the skill.
I continued to practice Abdominal Breathing and sometimes Small Universe using the technique of dan tian breathing. After a few years I noticed that instead of energy coming in through my nose down to my dan tian in Abdominal Breathing, or continue the small universal chi flow in Small Universe, cosmic energy spontaneously flowed into my dan tian as I breathed in and flowed out into the Cosmos as I breathed out. Initially I called this skill Dan Tain Breathing. Now I call it Cosmic Breathing, as I literally pulsate with the Cosmos.
Bigu, i.e. not eating food, is true. I tried bigu for about 20 days more than 30 years ago (in 1980s). For the first two days, I took some chocolate, then I did not eat any food at all except on the third or fourth day when my wife, not knowing I was experiencing with bigu, specially cooked me a delicious dish I like, curry prawns. It was not a wise thing to tell my lovely wife who cooked a delicious dish specially for me that I was not going to eat it. After that I did not eat any food.
The bigu experience did not affect my daily life. I continued to teach kungfu and spar with my students, and was energetic the whole day. In fact I found bigu give me more energy and more mental clarity.
I ended bigu because of a graduation dinner of a chi kung class in Sepang, a small town about 500 kilometres from my home, and where the Kuala Lumpur International Airport is now situated. I found it inappropriate to tell the organiser, Ai Foong, that I would not attend the dinner due to bigu. Incidentally neither she nor the chi kung students and all other people knew I had not eaten for 20 days.
At first I thought of teaching bigu to people who did not have enough money to buy food. But I was wise enough to give up this foolish idea. If you realise that even sick people suffering from so-called incurable diseases do not want to learn chi kung from us to recover, despite the abundant evidence of our successful cases, you may realise how foolish it is to teach people bigu so that they need not eat. It would be better for economists to teach them how to manage their resources, or to tempt them with delicious food so that they may earn money to buy it. But I am sure many of our instructors and students, including those who love to eat, can attempt bigu successfully for fun.
Theoretically it is possible to use Cosmic Breathing under water, but in practice I have not tried it. I am sure there is energy under water, otherwise fish would be unable to live. In Cosmic Breathing, a practitioner exchanges energy that is inside his body with energy that is outside, without having to go through the normal breathing process with the nose and month.
I reckon deep sea divers use Cosmic Breathing, though they may not have heard of the term. They probably developed Cosmic Breathing through years of experience.
When a practitioner is above water, if he accidentally breathe with his nose or mouth, it is fine. He can’t do that underwater. But I presume it does not matter much. As soon as he realises his mistake, he reverts to Cosmic Breathing.
In theory it is possible to keep Cosmic Breathing all day long in the phenomenal world, but it may not be advisable. In principle it is the same as the possibility of a high-level master creating water from thin air, but it is easier to get water by turning on a tap.
Nevertheless, we have not actually explored the potential benefits of Cosmic Breathing, other than specific needs like sparring for hours or expanding into the Cosmos. If the benefits are enormous and it is easier than normal breathing through the nose and mouth, some masters may choose to use Cosmic Breathing all day long while still in the phenomenal world.
Jean, the Chief Instructor of Canada, once told me a theory that an individual is given a number of breaths, and when he has used up this number of breaths, he dies. If this theory is true, Cosmic Breathing may enable practitioners to live forever, or at least prolong their life.
In my younger days I was intrigued by stories of Yogis being buried underground for a few days, then emerged alive and kicking. Later I realised that they used Cosmic Breathing.
Some kungfu and chi kung masters lived long lives. Zhang San Feng, for example, live over 200 years in the phenomenal world. It was not mentioned in records, but I guess they used Cosmic Breathing. But it was recorded that most of them practiced the Small Universe. It was likely that their dan tian breathing, the technique they used for their Small Universe, developed into Cosmic Breathing.
By the way, the term Cosmic Breathing was my invention. It was not used in the past, though pulsating with the Cosmos was sometimes mentioned in some classics.
The above discussion is reproduced from the thread 10 Questions on Cosmic Breathing in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.
Courses and Classes