Damo Mitchell Transcript

Damo Mitchell Interview

Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu where you’ll see them organized in several different ways. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there is a PayPal button on every page of batgap.com. My guest today is Damo Mitchell. Hi Damo.

Damo: Hello, how’s it going?

Rick: Good. I’ll read a quick bio and then we’ll have him tell us more about himself. Damo has studied the martial, medical, and spiritual arts of Asia since the age of four. His studies have taken him across the planet in search of authentic masters. He is the technical director of the Lotus Nighong School of Taoist Arts and teaches Nighong in various locations around the world. He specializes in uncovering and studying with rare alchemical and spiritual lineages linked to the tradition of Taoism. And speaking of around the world, he’s in Bali at the moment. He’s going to hang out there until COVID is over, he said, but he’ll tell us in a minute. So even in reading that introduction I probably lost a few people because I hadn’t heard the term Nighong until I started reading your stuff. I’d always heard of Qigong and I have friends here in town who have practiced it and stuff. They were whacking themselves with sticks and things like that. And also I would like to hear more about your personal story because I know it’s quite a lot more colorful than that brief little intro that I just read. So let’s get into all that in whatever order you would like.

Damo: Okay, sure. Well, Nighong, yes, a term it’s not amazingly well heard of at the moment. Qigong is, as you said, but Nighong’s a bit more rare and a bit more vague. I used to hear the term when I was younger and people used it to refer to a kind of very generic quality of internal skill. But then as I explored and I met people I discovered that actually it has a meaning of a process that the body and the mind are taken through. It’s essentially an enlightenment process. It’s a Taoism alchemical process to lead towards enlightenment, so it’s very systematic.

Rick: Yeah, I was just going to mention, I mean, a lot of people get into the martial arts of various kinds without any thought about or interest in enlightenment, but my whole orientation and the orientation of this podcast or whatever you want to call it is definitely about that. That’s what most of the people will be interested in. So hopefully that’s mostly what we’ll be talking about today. But we can also contrast it with the types of interests that other people may have, but our focus will be on how does this help you attain enlightenment or higher states of consciousness and all that.

Damo: Yeah, of course. Well, I mean, if something is linked to the tradition of Taoism or Buddhism or Hinduism or anything from Asia, it is about that process. That’s all it’s about. The traditions wouldn’t care if it wasn’t linked to that idea. Yeah, so you were asking about my background. I mean, I started in martial arts, I guess, like you’re saying, with no real interest in such things. But then as soon as I got older and I started reading about what was possible in the Eastern arts, then that was all I became fascinated with. In fact, it was quite frustrating because I didn’t find martial arts particularly inspiring, or the people in martial arts, I’ll be totally honest. I didn’t find it a very inspiring path, but that was all I had for a really long time.

Rick: Your dad was into it, wasn’t he? He introduced you to it? Yeah, yeah. He wrote the preface to your book.

Damo: Yeah, that’s right. There’s no great spiritual truth or meaning as to why I did these paths. I just did what my parents did, like so many other people, basically. I came along to the class because they couldn’t afford a babysitter. I ended up in martial arts and I’ve never left. It’s just kind of evolved into NeiGong and meditation and Chinese medicine. But I’m still here doing the same thing.

Rick: You’ve been doing it for, I think you said you’re about 40 now, so you’ve been doing it for 36 years or so.

Damo: Yeah, that’s right. I don’t know if you could count the early years. I mean, how much you do when you’re four? You’re just kind of flinging your arms and legs around, aren’t you? But yeah, I mean, my earliest age I can remember of really becoming aware of what I was doing is about sort of seven or eight or something. But yeah, that’s basically all I’ve done as far as I remember.

Rick: So how far back do these arts trace their lineage?

Damo: Well, you know, one of the most complicated things is unraveling Chinese history. I always think it’s quite funny that people can take sort of degrees or PhDs in sort of Chinese history. I don’t know how you manage that, because it’s so mixed in with mythology and folklore and so on and so on. So every teacher you speak to has a different opinion. So 2,000 years back, number changes all the time. But as far as I can make out, you’ve got kind of early 1900s would be the basis for a lot of what people are doing. And then very occasionally you get older practices that go back to the Tang Dynasty or something like that. But they’ve changed, they’ve been modernized a great deal. I think it would be delusional to say that things still exist in their sort of original format or whatever. I mean, Taoism evolved out of Chinese shamanism, so I mean, how far does shamanism go back? That’s a difficult question, right?

Rick: Yeah. Yeah. All right, so keep filling us in. So you know, one thing led to the next with you. You said, you know, at a certain point you began to get interested in the spiritual aspect of it, and you know, how did it go? I mean, as you went from one thing to the next, I know I heard, I listened to many hours of your podcast and I heard you say that you went down some dead ends and met some teachers that were, you know, not very genuine or qualified, but you also really persisted and found some good ones.

Damo: I mean, really, probably when I was a kid, I probably had the earliest experiences people would kind of rather crassly label spiritual or something. I kind of accidentally stumbled across them, so I didn’t really understand what they were, and I didn’t really place any great importance on them either. I actually, I was so young, I just assumed everybody had these experiences. I thought that was it. I thought that was just kind of what happened. So then as I got older and I found out that wasn’t the case, then I started reading about these things in books on Zen, originally, was where I started reading about them. So I started to try to find someone who could understand these things, and where I ended up was in Qigong classes, which became kind of frustrating, because I would read about people visiting the heaven realms and dissolving into light and things like that, and what I encountered was arm-waving and lots of discussion of sexual energies, which really didn’t really equate with what I was reading. But there was something in me, I guess, a desire, I suppose, to understand it, and so I just kept pushing and kept pushing and kept pushing until I sort of broke my way into the NeiGong lines, really, and that’s what I’ve been exploring. But yeah, plenty of dead ends. I’m very cutting, I suppose. So with regards to if I encounter a tradition or a practice, I want to know, is it useful, is it not? And some people don’t like that for sort of very black and white distinction, but I think in a tradition that has a lot of pitfalls and a lot of confusion, that’s something that I need to maintain, to keep pushing through.

Rick: Of course, things have degrees of usefulness, and some things might be useful for some people and not for others, but you were just trying not to waste your own time, I guess.

Damo: Yeah, and it felt to me that in Qigong that a lot of people were talking about a medical practice, but talking about it in spiritual terms. So to me, the study of spirit or union with spirit is a very specific thing, so I had to kind of divide out the medical practices from the meditative practice and then kind of follow that path. But I understood that medical practices are really useful for the majority of people, but I just wasn’t sick, so it wasn’t something that really appealed to me. I was very young and lots of energy, and I didn’t need to de-stress or anything.

Rick: Yeah, now my experience with Qigong here in town was just not direct, secondhand, because I had a bunch of friends who were into it, and all I gathered was that they were kind of whacking themselves with sticks and building up a tolerance for that, and breaking things, breaking through boards with their heads. And one of them opened a tea house, some kind of a Qigong tea house in town or something for a while. So I have a very sketchy understanding of what Qigong is, so probably you should fill us in.

Damo: Those are traditions I’m not involved in, I’m afraid. Yeah, those are a lot of those kind of things are sort of a subdivision of the martial arts Qigong rather than the kind of meditative or alchemical practices. And in my opinion, I think they’re a little bit beside the point, generally. I think all of this hitting yourselves with sticks and so on and so on, a bit of a misunderstanding. There’s a lot of this from China. It ranges from beating yourself with sticks to swinging weights off your testicles and all that kind of stuff. It’s not my scene. Call me prudish, but it’s not really what I’m into.

Rick: Yeah, really. I shouldn’t think that latter point would get you enlightened very quickly.

Damo: Not sure what it’s supposed to accomplish. Yeah, I’ve seen some very, I’m going to use the word impressive, but pointless things involving testicles and weights in China. It’s very popular.

Rick: Good way to injure yourself, I should think.

Damo: I think the view is that it strengthens the essence, the jing, on the base of the body, but I disagree. I’m not so sure. I think that a lot of it comes from Shaolin as well, the sort of Shaolin temples take on it, but to me, NeiGong is, I mean, it’s closer to meditation than people think, to meditative practice. So there’s a kind of opinion that when you start the majority, 90% of your work is standing or moving, and then gradually as you go deeper into it, 10% of your work is standing or moving. It should be seated practice really, as much as anything.

Rick: Now you just used the word Nei Gong, so maybe there’s two things you could do here. One is, you know, Qi Gong in its pure form, as you feel it ought to be understood and taught, but what’s that, as compared to the sticks and the testicles and everything? And then what’s the distinction between that and Neigong?

Damo: Well, I mean, every teacher defines things in different ways, of course, and I mean that’s one of the complexities. When you meet a new teacher, you have to figure out how are they using the terms. You know, I mean, it’s a mistake to say you think everybody has the same definition of anything, but to me, Qi Gong has a very specific purpose. So this Qi Gong is for your lungs, this Qi Gong is for headaches, this Qi Gong is for insomnia or whatever, whereas Neigong is a process that really leads a person towards what they called immortality within Taoism. So it’s not a very simple cause-and-effect relationship like Qi Gong has, basically.

Rick: Okay, so then what you said about Qi Gong being medicinal, sounds like it’s a bunch of practices that you would do for specific physical health problems, and whereas Neigong is more of a spiritual practice, meditative kind of thing.

Damo: Yeah, 100 percent, yeah. I mean, not all Qi Gong, but the vast majority of it is, yeah. So under that definition, I’ve met people saying they do Qigong that in my opinion, actually, they’re engaged in Neigong, and I’ve met people doing Neigong, but actually they’re doing Qigong. That little subdivision, that distinction is difficult.

Rick: Yeah, and so you mentioned immortality. What’s the aim? Does Neigong have a kind of a a roadmap of the various levels of attainment that one could achieve, and how does it go about helping people achieve them?

Damo: Yeah, I mean, if you divide really Daoism’s highest level, jumping right to the end of the process, highest levels of attainments, really, you’ve got the idea of a “Zhen Ren,” which you might call a sage, which is probably the equivalent to, a close equivalent to what we call awakening in the West, really. That would be a someone who’s awakened.

Rick: Like Buddhahood, or something like that.

Damo: That would be beyond that. That would be more in line, it would be closer towards immortality, which would be what they call a “Xian,” which is a next level above this. So Daoism really draws a distinction between awakening, which would be a pretty good attainment, or immortality and enlightenment would be closer towards immortality, but they don’t see them as the same thing. There’s very specific subdivisions of those two, of those two kind of stages of realization, basically.

Rick: Are they referring to physical immortality, or more like immortality of the soul and realization of your immortal, unchanging nature?

Damo: Immortality of the soul. So any kind of freedom from rebirth that probably also involves the consciousness moving up towards resonance with the heaven realm, as they would discuss, would be what they would call immortality. So it’s spiritual immortality. They have had accounts of people living for a really, really long time, but that’s longevity, not immortality. So they’re talking about this. But somebody who is a sage, a “Zhen Ren,” awakened, would still be subject to the cycle of rebirth, so they would not consider that an immortal, basically. So the alchemy path is really, that’s where it came in. I mean, one way of defining the alchemy path, yeah, so alchemy, a lot of people listening to this will understand that there’s something called the conversion of “Jing” to “Qi” to “Shen,” or essence to energy to spirit is normally what they translate it as. So the idea is that somebody could achieve awakening, or “Zhen Ren” sage, through inquiry methods, very similar to many other traditions. So by developing an experiential understanding of the nature of self and the observer and so on and so on, someone could awaken and become a sage. But the alchemical teachings would say, if somebody become immortal, then has to be a process of energetics underneath that kind of fuel and feed that state. So when somebody is a sage, or “Zhen Ren,” or awakened, the energetics from the alchemy feed that process repeatedly. That’s what they call nourishing the spiritual embryo in Taoism, and then gradually that awakening then leads to immortality, basically. So that’s how that process works. So if you look at the Taoist path, you have this twofold tradition. You have an inquiry process, which is very similar to what you would encounter in, say, something like Vedanta, and then you have the alchemical process, which is used to fuel and stabilize that state of being.

Rick: That’s great. I’ve often, for a long time, appreciated that there’s a neurophysiological basis to any higher state of consciousness, or to any state of consciousness, and that you can’t neglect the physiology. I mean, you can pull one leg of a table and all the other legs are going to come along, but you can really, if somebody’s dragging in the opposite direction on one of the legs, then it’s not going to be easy to move the table. And what that would mean is if you are sick or unhealthy or doing things to your physiology that weaken it, then you can do all the inquiry you want, but you’re not going to make very good progress.

Damo: Yeah, basically. And the view would be that everything has a kind of counterweight to it on the level of mind. So even if somebody has an awakening experience, maybe they experience that union with everything or union with whatever they might call that state within their tradition, that eventually, over time, there’s a kind of downwards motion that comes that pulls you back out of that experience. So I met teachers like this, and I don’t mean to criticize them, not at all, you know, amazing at their work, but they had had that experience 20 years ago, they had had that experience 30 years ago, and were kind of either striving to get back there or were kind of now intellectualizing that path in their teachings or something. And the view would be, from an alchemical point of view, that basically the energetics, the physiology, the chemical composition of the body, or as you’re saying, that the brain wasn’t enough to support that state, so got pulled out of it, basically.

Rick: Yeah.

Damo: So this is where it comes in, to try to sort of negate that difficulty, that error, really.

Rick: Sure, and obviously in other traditions they have this understanding, like in the Indian tradition, you have yoga and various things to culture the nervous system and the physiology, but then you also have all these subjective practices, and they’re not considered to be competitors with one another, they’re actually complementary. Yeah, I mean the closest tradition to alchemy would be some of the Indian practices, the yogic practices, there’s a huge relationship there. I mean the chances of alchemy not being influenced by or originating from India is quite slim, I believe. China is very pragmatic as a kind of part of the world, and there was a merging of Hinduism and Taoism and Buddhism into kind of one homogenous blob, and really alchemy kind of grew out of that process. So it’s not quite the same as people would understand with Kundalini or something like this, but it does have parallels, it does have parallels.

Rick: Interesting. Yeah, I wonder if the teachings originated in India and then eventually made their way to China, I wonder if it was totally natural and appropriate that they should modify as they did so, because China has different laws of nature, it’s a different culture, it’s a whole different scene, and so something that worked just fine on the Indian subcontinent might not work as well in China, it might need to be different, you think?

Rick: Yeah, I think so. There are, it’s not politically correct to say in this day and age, is it, but there are cultural leanings and differences and filters that things have passed through, so yes, I think so. I think the tradition had to change. I mean, even when the Indian monk Bodhidharma went into the Chinese small forest temple, I mean, it took him nine years supposedly to figure out how to interpret the Indian teachings for the monks in the monastery, so if it took nine years to figure out the cultural differences or spiritual differences between the people, then that would imply that there is quite a bit.

Rick: Interesting. So take us into more detail then in terms of both the meditational or subjective kind of practices and the physiological ones that build the foundation for those.

Damo: Yeah, so I mean essentially what you have here is the strength and the risk of Taoism, because as a lot of other traditions have identified, there is a bit of risk in Taoist practice, whether we like to identify it or not. And part of that, part of the reason for this is essentially you generate a lot of energy within the body, massive, especially within Neigong. It’s more energy than I thought was possible when I began. It’s kind of crazy, and when you see someone who is really a master of it, then it’s kind of incredible. But what they do is they generate a lot of energy on a really simple state. It’s a bit basic, it’s almost like rocket fuel, you know, you kind of build it up, and then what happens is it moves up and it fuels whatever state your consciousness might be in. So if, for example, somebody has managed to realize the nature of consciousness or something like this, then what will happen is that state kind of grows. It’s kind of like you build spiritual potential or something like this, so the energy converts to that. But if, however, you are a power-hungry, money-loving, food-loving, sex-loving, whatever, I don’t know, indulging in all of the kind of lower base aspects of life, that gets fueled instead. So that gets supported and pushed under by the energy from underneath. So part of the job of the teacher, really, within the traditions, was to guide the students through an inquiry process to understand the nature of awareness, and then do the work underneath to kind of support it and take people through to the right place. But in Taoism we have all sorts of stories of kind of evil saints, if you like, that went down a dodgy path or something like this.

Rick: Well that opens us up to a number of interesting topics. So I guess I have several questions based on what you just said. One is, how do you generate that energy? And then, what you’re saying is, if you lead a hedonistic life, rather than dissipating the energy, the energy you’re generating might help you become a more flamboyant hedonist.

Damo: Exactly, 100%. If we want to describe Neigong, one term that’s been used is it’s a “shit magnifier.” That’s a term that’s kind of been thrown around. It will make it stronger. Oh, sorry, I don’t know if I’m allowed to swear on your thing.

Rick: Oh, we can handle it.

Damo: Okay, that’s all right. Yeah, it amplifies whatever it is. So if you take somebody who does very sort of gentle alchemical practices, it still generates energy. It still generates some. So what you get is a gradual creeping towards that state. But if you get someone who does a very powerful practice, then that transition from amateur hedonist to professional hedonist, if you like, becomes very, very quick.

Rick: Wow. Yeah, I remember hearing, I think it was Rasputin in Russia who was notorious for carousing and drinking and having orgies all night long, and then he would next day be this brilliant guy, and that went on for quite a while. So he had this tremendous energy, but he was misusing it, I would say.

Damo: Yeah, definitely. There’s lots of stories in Taoism about drunk immortals and trick-playing immortals. They’re jokers, and they don’t behave very well. And sometimes people in Taoism have seen that and kind of used it as a way of saying, “It’s okay, these behaviors are okay, they’re no problem at all.” But what they miss is that those stories actually portray those characters as rather childish and kind of trivial people, so that the stories are to show what can go wrong with the tradition as much as anything.

Rick: There have been some teachers like that in the West, too, like Adi Da, if you’ve ever heard of him, who repeatedly had this tremendous Shakti that he would radiate and all, but then he was just notoriously indulgent in sex and drugs, and I don’t know about rock and roll, but definitely the first two. And it eventually took a toll on him. Same with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. But still, these guys were brilliant, and yet this is what they were doing.

Damo: Well, I mean, yeah, they hadn’t dealt with the most base part of their mind, I would say, on some level. And unfortunately, sometimes the human mind is capable of obscuring and kind of bypassing one very basic part of our makeup, I think, and this is where the issue comes from, as far as I can see. It’s funny as well, isn’t it? Taoism has that name, as I don’t know if you know, but Taoism has a name as a kind of the tradition of free wild, it’s the kind of Woodstock of the spiritual arts or something like that, do whatever you like or whatever. But in actual fact, the first thing that I encountered when I first went to China and I met the Longmen Pai, the tradition, sort of the main northern tradition, was just how Puritan they were in their mindset. It did not match what I had been presented with in the West. I mean, so much so that I remember one young initiate, how old was he? He was like 19 or something like this, and he’d been put in the tradition and he’d become a Dragon Gate sect member right in the middle of the tradition, close to the core. And he had a child with a girl in the local town. She got pregnant and he tried to hide it, and there was nothing sordid about it. It was a very standard relationship, but he was kicked out of the tradition immediately because they’re not allowed to take wives and not allowed to take children or anything, and he was just excommunicated. So the reality of the tradition compared to the Western presentation of the tradition just does not match.

Rick: Is there a tendency in this, for the bad boys of this tradition, is there a tendency to justify their behavior as crazy wisdom or something, and you know, to go on about, “Oh, you really don’t understand me. I’m above your petty moralistic, you know, perspectives.”

Rick: Yeah, yeah, I’m working to a bigger database than you, so you can’t understand the cause and effect, or it’s a lesson or something like this. But I mean, it’s part of the danger, isn’t it? That, I mean, there is, I don’t know, we’re going straight into the dangers. I don’t want to make the tradition sound terrifying, but I mean, there’s also a thing, isn’t that if you’re going to spend a lot of time in self inquiry, one of the traps or the near enemies would be self-justification, which I think often tends to arise if we’re not careful. And it can start with very simple things, justifying a very small habit that we have. I’ve done this a million times, justifying a very small habit, but then it’s not so difficult to see how maybe that justification could pass on to bigger acts at a later stage.

Rick: So in light of what you’re describing here, how you build up this tremendous energy but there can be a tendency for it to go awry and to cause all kinds of trouble, is there sort of an emphasis in the tradition, if you’re really practicing it in a pure and disciplined way, to be on the lookout for this kind of thing and prevent it from happening?

Rick: There would have been originally, when there was communities, the equivalent of sanghas and things within the the Taoist tradition, but unfortunately a lot of that’s kind of disbanded. Taoism is a very fractured tradition these days, a very fractured practice, so I think that those kind of things would have been there originally, especially when it was taught as an apprenticeship, an apprenticeship kind of fashion.

Rick: Yeah

Damo: definitely.

Rick: I think the reason we’re spending so long on this point is that this kind of problem is not exclusive to Taoism, and it’s a problem in many different spiritual practices and sanghas and satsangs, you know, with teachers and everything, and it’s caused a lot of trouble, a lot of heartbreak and a lot of confusion. And so I think it somehow needs to be addressed in every tradition in order for, you know, things to really progress nicely and for the tradition to live up to its hope and promise.

Damo: I agree 100%. I think that if light should be thrown on the darkness in any particular field of human life, it should be the spiritual path for the simple reason that there’s so many people with such an open-hearted faith and trust coming into the tradition that you can get so damaged. I mean, if you say you walk into a bar and and somebody is manipulative or something, you kind of half expect it because it’s a bar, but there’s a kind of mental quality that is there in the spiritual tradition that makes it so abusive. Yeah, I think it’s hideous.

Rick: I think it can be very disillusioning. Yes. All right, well, I think we’ve made that point. So let’s talk about how do they build up this energy, and how do they direct it upwards, or does it happen spontaneously, and what kind of meditative practices are they doing, and that kind of stuff?

Damo: Well, different traditions have different takes on it. This is part of what I do. So I’m very much involved in one particular line, that’s one lineage that’s, I guess, the main sat-nav of my path, if you like. That’s where I stick my direction. What does that mean, that word?

Damo: As in, I think it’s very important that people follow a tradition. I’m not someone who likes to jump around like a butterfly from tradition to tradition to tradition. I think you need an orientation through the kind of confusion and the mire of this kind of path. So this tradition serves as that for me, that is my road. But then I also go out and I study other traditions and try to unearth what other people are doing. So, for example, I’m in Bali right now, and that’s not just because I like being attacked by monkeys on a regular basis, it’s because I’m here to research a couple of particular branches of Balinese or Indonesian Neigong. They don’t call it Neigong, obviously, but they have their own term for it, but this is what it is. And I want to understudy that. So I am a very thorough cross-referencer, if you like, but I try not to be a mixer. I’m very much on this one line. So, sorry, complex intro, but what I’m implying is that there are certain shared characteristics that are very specific to our chemical practice in Asia, and one of those is understanding the yin and yang and how these two interact with one another. It becomes the most fundamental and the most complex part of energetic practice within Neigong, how to get the yin and yang to interact with one another, and this is the basis of how we generate the energy. Yeah, can I mouth the water a second?

Rick: No, go for it. So could you be more specific as to how you get the yin and yang to interact with each other and how that generates energy and so on?

Damo: Yeah, I mean it took me a long time to understand, partially because, to understand intellectually, partially because within the East, for something to be a thing and no thing at the same time is no problem. For something to be metaphorical and literal at the same time is no problem which, as an avid black and white simpleton, that didn’t really work for me. I needed to kind of understand what it is. So yin and yang can be vague in comparative terms, but with regards to the development of energy, they’re very, very literal things, and they’re two types of substance or energy within the body. Yin, essentially with regards to Neigong, it’s a form of magnetism, okay? It’s a magnetic field. So yin is described as being that which organizes, that which structures, that which gives form, and so on and so on. So essentially this is what it is, and yang chi is a form of electricity that originally, or initially moves in the nervous system, but then you’re able to generate a lot more of it within the body. So yang moves in a cyclical fashion through the body, cyclical, I think you pronounce it in American, through the system, and then the idea is that what happens is you build up this magnetic field within the lower abdomen. There’s very specific methods, and then the yang chi is directed into the center of it, and this builds something called the dantian, the sort of lower energy field within the abdominal cavity. It really is that crude, but there’s also complexities in there as well, how to actually get those two forces to operate together, and this is the root of how they build the energy within the body. Like building the dantian is the start point of all Neigong traditions. It doesn’t matter what tradition is, they want that dantian built.

Rick: Are the practices to build it kind of subjective, so you could be sitting there with your eyes closed doing this and no one would know what you’re doing, or is it more physical, overt, observable?

Damo: No, it’s overt. Yeah, there are very specific methods. So you could kind of think of it like, I don’t want to get a name for this, but I got a name as the kind of wet blanket of the kind of Taoist arts, as in I generally kind of rain on everyone’s parade, but I don’t mean to, it’s not the aim. I just like clarity and I like to know what things are and I like how things work. And the dantian was one of those things, because when I first started out in the tradition, the assumption was that everybody had one. You just kind of, it’s there, there’s a dantian and you can kind of put your energy in it, but it’s not true, you don’t have one.

Rick: And dantian again is that location in the abdomen where you build up this energy.

Damo: Okay. Some people call it the hara within Japanese arts.

Rick: Oh yeah, that’s more familiar to me. Yeah, something like that, but you don’t begin with one. Essentially you can think of it like this, like you have this field when you were younger, when you’re growing, but it disperses as you age, normally around sort of seven or eight years old, and it kind of spreads, so it loses its power.

Rick: Does it correlate with the chakra system at all?

Damo: No, no, it’s different, no, it’s different. They share a common horizontal location within the body, but they’re different things. The dantian is much more crude, chakra is much more refined. So this thing spreads, this field spreads, and one of the earliest stages of practice is to get it to regather or reconsolidate. So the analogy I’ve used to try to explain it to people is, if you’re trying to put water in a bucket, you have to have a bucket first. So one of the first things we have to do is reconsolidate that dantian. So it’s done through a combination of breathwork, manipulation of fields within the body using the hand, and then mental exercises as well until it builds. And then generally what will happen is it will guide the yang chi into this space.

Rick: Are there qualifications for being able to do it? I mean, are certain people just not capable or, you know, able to do it?

Damo: I think that, from what I’ve seen, I haven’t met anybody who hasn’t been able to gather the dantian. I have met people that can’t fill the dantian, I would say would be the distinction between the two. But the people who can’t fill the dantian, it normally comes down to mental qualities that they’re struggling rather than physical qualities. So it’s not like people struggle because of their lack of health or anything like this. It’s more they struggle with their mind.

Rick: I heard you in one of your podcasts, you were mentioning how if you have bad habits, that’s going to kind of undermine your efforts, and you’ve got to deal with that in order to make progress.

Damo: Yeah, habits erode the will is the basis of how we kind of view them. So, alchemy and Taoism has one very interesting facet to me, or the part that I found the most fascinating was that this goes back to this idea of thing and no thing at the same time. That will, your actual willpower, has an actual substance to it within the body, kind of reflection of it, which is related to your jing, something called the jing. So if you wish to build up certain energies in the body, you can refine your mental qualities. So for example, someone who has very good concentration, very good stability of mind, very good discernment, very good clarity, will generally have a very, very good energy system. It just kind of happens, like the mindset brings that on. That’s why if you meet some of the Arahats in Southeast Asia, their energetic work is incredible without ever focusing on it because it just comes as a byproduct of the mind. But at the same time, you can also build the energetic qualities to develop strengthening of the mental qualities. So it’s kind of like a backdoor, if you like, a kind of way into developing certain – it’s not enough to, you know, lead someone to enlightenment, but it’s enough to build certain mental qualities to a strong level. So we have certain mental qualities that are counterproductive for one another, and habits are counterproductive for will, because they erode free will because you’re running on autopilot. So habits become our biggest enemy because they deplete the essence, the jing, making energy work very, very difficult.

Rick: Yeah, also many habits are innervating in and of themselves. If you’re taking drugs or drinking or doing certain things to excess, you’re going to be dissipating your energies by anybody’s understanding.

Damo: Even a habitual emotional pattern or even a habitual way of viewing something or an habitual way of reacting to something also erodes will. So Taoism takes it to an almost anally retentive level. So if, for example, you don’t think when you turn the light switch off, it’s just a habit about how you do that, that also erodes willpower to a certain extent as well. So there must be complete absorption of the awareness into every single action and process that you do, so that that kind of autopilot is kind of moved to the background a little bit. It’s kind of Taoism’s version of mindfulness, if you like.

Rick: That’s interesting, kind of reminds me of the Carlos Castaneda books, where his teacher was just advocating impeccability and very close attention to what you’re doing. If you stumbled over something or stubbed your toe or something, he would consider that a symptom of inattentiveness.

Damo: A hundred percent in agreement with that, yeah, definitely. Taoism just calls it listening. There’s a high process of listening, ting, that needs developing in everything that you do. You listen until your awareness absorbs into the action so that habit is eradicated. And interestingly, I mean, that for me, some of the people who view this will kind of have an idea of this, that if you understand that process, you understand how to build the essence and how to build the jing. Because people often make the mistake of thinking you build the jing through refraining from sex for 30 years or through swinging weights off the testicles, if that’s your thing, whatever. But actually, the strongest way to build jing and build essence is to eradicate running on autopilot, the habits, essentially.

Rick: So I asked you about, you know, whether certain people are not qualified to do this or able to do it and so on. Let’s say, so those who are able to do it, if they, and we’ll get on, there’s a few follow-up questions to this, but if you start this practice, do most people notice some kind of benefit or influence fairly soon after beginning, or does it usually take a long time?

Damo: Yeah, I mean, there’s a whole process of opening and transforming of the body in the early stages. So one of the first processes that people know is a transformation to their literal vitality and to the way that the body functions. That’s clear. It’s not subtle enough to be a subjective experience either. Like, you have a lot more vitality right from the beginning, and then afterwards the consciousness changes are quite clear as well for people to experience. I think that, I mean, if you forget anything profound, forget anything transformational or life-changing or anything like that, I think even the first thing that people notice is an inability not to be light-hearted, that just naturally arises from Neigong at the beginning. You basically have a community of people that, well, you wouldn’t want them running a large corporation or something like this. They’d be useless. The ability to compete for something would be completely pointless to them. So those changes are quite quick, and then after that there’s the controversial subject of Siddhi that arise from the practice. It is a Siddhi-based path which a lot of people don’t like. I understand, I get it, I know why they don’t like it. I think Siddhi-based paths often attract

Rick: You better define the word, I understand what it means, but some of the audience might not.

Damo: Yeah, I mean, at certain stages it develops abilities that are beyond what people would consider possible or normal, basically, super abilities which are used as markers of where you’re at in the process.

Rick: Have you seen that actually happen much in your own experience, either within yourself or in others? Yes, yeah, I live in that world, yeah, I mean, constantly. What kind of Siddhis have you seen or actually done yourself?

Damo: Well, I’ll talk about the ones I’ve seen if that’s all right, but yeah, I mean, in the early stages when the yin and yang builds, the first thing is a mastery of electricity and magnetism, so the ability to issue electric current out of the body into someone else from the dantian is one of the first things that arises. A magnetic ability to control matter, very light matter, things like sand and small bits of paper and things like that. I’ve seen people transform the molecular quality of water in different ways through the practice.

Rick: In a measurable way? Something you could actually, yeah, yeah, yeah, somebody actually check the alkalinity of it or something or more than that.

Damo: Someone took the actual bottle of water and took it to a lab, somebody I know and tested it, who works in a university, and there was a, I’m not very scientific, but a whole different molecule that had been produced in the water from the issuing of qi, energy into the water, yeah. Yeah, I mean, this is the thing, right? This is not a path of imagination, and I always tell people that, like, if the experience doesn’t slap you in the face, put it down to your imagination. Like, subtlety should just be thrown out the way, because subtlety can too easily be mixed up with delusion. So, no, the processes are very, very strong. Pyrokinesis, things like that, these are all part of the path of nature.

Rick: That’s like starting fire? Pyrokinesis?

Damo: Yeah, with your mind, yeah, with your mind or your hand, yeah, it’s a very literal skill.

Rick: Like the X-Men?

Damo: Basically, yeah, yeah, yeah, and for every one person who can do it that’s real, there’s 10 fakers, of course, especially in this part of the world, where there’s a kind of a long tradition of circus and theatrics and performance and things, so they’re kind of mixed into it. But yeah, these things are real, yeah, definitely.

Rick: Yeah, you know, now obviously this kind of stuff could become a sideshow, and it could be distracting for the people themselves, they could go to their heads and they could begin to think they’re special and all that stuff, so there could be pitfalls. But on the other hand, if this stuff could be demonstrated and if people could maintain their humility, it would be very interesting, because there are a lot of scientists like Dean Radin and others at the Institute of Noetic Sciences who are trying to demonstrate that consciousness is fundamental and that the mind is not merely a product of brain chemistry and stuff, and they’re trying to find ways of measuring this and demonstrating it, because it could really change the paradigm and change the culture. So it seems to me you ought to collaborate with people like that and help them prove what they’re trying to prove.

Damo: The thing with it, yeah, I agree. The thing with all of these abilities is they’re not the aim, they are byproducts, they arise, the marker on the path. It’s interesting seeing how people react to them when you watch people. So for example, if you are with a teacher that demonstrates the production of electricity or something like this, which I’ve met like 12, 15 people who have this skill now in different traditions, if you watch a lot of people, you can see all of the kind of insecurities about how inferior they felt at different parts of their life, all of a sudden go, “Oh, there’s a band-aid that could possibly fix that thing inside of me,” and I think that’s where the unhealthy side of it comes from. Whereas I think that what happened is I have a kind of irrelevance to most things in life.

Rick: Irreverence or irrelevance?

Damo: Both. A kind of mix of the both. I find the whole of life completely ludicrous and unimportant, so I’ve always had this kind of part of my nature. I’m very, that’s how I am, and I find everything kind of amusing. So when I first saw these things, I was so nonplussed by it that actually one of the teachers afterwards spoke to me and asked, “Are you bored?” But that’s just how I am, that’s just my nature. So I think because I presented like that, I think that was part of the reason why I got brought into these traditions and some of those other people got removed from the traditions very quickly, because I think being nonplussed by them is the key to them.

Rick: So in other words, you were kind of a safe one because you weren’t going to sort of put on a Superman shirt and go on TV, doing things or whatever?

Damo: No, no. The thought of having power over other people is terrifying, because ultimately it just means you’ve got more responsibility, and I hate responsibility. So no, that doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. I heard you actually say that that you observe some degree of levitation. You observe somebody that they could sit and you could pull a paper out from under them, or that if they’re sitting on a scale, you could notice the weight actually changing.

Damo: Yeah, yeah, but those things are too easy to fake, so therefore not so interesting to me. But you have to remember that every tradition talked about these things, right? I mean, how many minor miracles did Buddha perform? I mean, there was a lot, especially the Mahayana texts. There’s loads of them, I mean, in Jesus and certainly lots of Hindu saints and things like this. So they were always used, I mean, they used it publicly in the classics, aren’t they? But what they were used, what they’re used as now is for a master, a teacher, whatever, to show the disciple or the student where they are, and then the same way that there are tests for the disciple or the student to show where they’re at. They’re not really things that are, well, they’re not presented widely. Some of them are, they’re even on YouTube. They shouldn’t be, but they are.

Rick: So you’re saying that the ability to perform a certain siddhi would be a sort of an indicator of a certain level of attainment, kind of like a way of grading the students or something?

Damo: Basically, yeah. Similar to, you know, stories of how it’s been used in the Buddhist tradition. Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Rick: Yeah, okay, maybe we’ve covered that point enough. People can always send in questions from the upcoming interviews page on Batgap if they’d like us to elaborate on anything we’re talking about. But, yes, please.

Damo: One final point on it. One thing I’d like to clarify is I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m not majorly interested in those. They’re not the thing that appeals to me. What appeals to me in alchemy is the direct and objective path that leads towards awakening and enlightenment, as people would understand them in the West. Those things are just, yeah, I think they’re on the edge.

Rick: They’re only useful insofar as they help to cultivate enlightenment, I would say. If they have a value in that, great, but if they’re a distraction or you know, or whatever, then not so great.

Damo: They can be used medically as well, I suppose. That is a point of them. A lot of people put them into medicine.

Rick: I was going to say, actually, when you start generating all this energy and you mentioned that you start feeling much more vital and it must have a really good effect on your health. Some health problems must drop off.

Damo: Yes, it can do. I mean, that’s always a tricky subject, isn’t it, to talk about, but you can’t guarantee it.

Rick: You can’t guarantee it.

Damo: There’s two processes. One is the ability to generate more vitality in the body, which ultimately means your body functions on a more efficient level. Everything from the cellular respiration through to metabolism functions better. But then there’s another process, which is Song, which is letting go, which is a major teaching of Taoism. And when the two are combined with each other, that’s where a lot of the transformation takes place with regards to people’s health. One thing I try to get people to understand is because Qigong and Neigong have a name for being medical, is that the medicine should just arise as a byproduct of the practice. And sometimes people, when they go to the arts, they have the wrong focus, and this kind of gets in the way. So, for example, say you’ve got asthma and you come along and you’re, “I want to practice Qigong or Neigong to cure my asthma.” I guarantee your asthma will not go away. It will not cure at all because you’ve got too much of a mental attachment to that particular condition because aversion or attraction are both clinging. So, rather, with regards to this process, rather than focusing on specific ailments, what we do is we just improve the efficiency of the body and the mind’s functioning in general, and then this enables the body to make any changes that it needs. It sounds like splitting hairs, but it’s a major sticking point for people quite often within these arts, I think, how they should.

Rick: And I taught meditation for many years, and very often people would come and their motivation in learning was they had insomnia or they had headaches or they had high blood pressure or something. And I would say, “Yeah, fine, go ahead. It’s a good reason to start, and it might help. It’s helped a lot of people. There’s research on it.” But then what you’d find is after a while they think, “Yeah, okay, I’m feeling better. I’m sleeping well, but oh, there’s more to this, isn’t there? There’s this whole enlightenment thing. Now that’s interesting.” You know, so it would be kind of an intro hook, and then later on they’d move on to other motivations.

Damo: Yeah, yeah, 100% definitely. And as a teacher, the quicker I can get people, I can lead people out of that mindset of obsessing on this injury or sickness or thing they have, the faster that process unfolds.

Rick: Yeah, and of course, I mean, if you do have high blood pressure you might die, and then you’re not going to be able to practice Qigong, or if you have bothersome headaches or insomnia or something. So it’s good to get rid of that stuff, if you can.

Damo: Well, death is counterproductive for practice, definitely. The sooner you can get that out of the way, the better.

Rick: Yeah. So, is this the kind of practice that you have to really have an unusual lifestyle in order to, in other words, like a lot of free time on your hands? Or could somebody be working an eight-hour day or raising children or something and manage to squeak in half an hour twice a day or something like that and get some significant progress out of it?

Damo: I think the same thing applies to almost any of these traditions, that that depends on how far you wish to go into it as much as anything. And sometimes, I mean, there’s no justice there because we don’t necessarily choose how much time we have. But yeah, I mean, if somebody wants to go all the way, for want of a better term, then yeah, you have to adjust your life. You can’t have a nine-to-five or something, but at the same time, somebody who, I have a lot of students who do work that kind of schedule, and yeah, they derive all sorts of benefits from it, masses of benefits from it, of course.

Rick: So you can get started with it, at least on the nine-to-five, and then maybe you have vacation time during the year where you could take a retreat or something and do more?

Damo: Yeah, of course. Yeah, totally. Yeah, absolutely. But I mean, at the same time, I would never want to lie to people. And I think that if somebody is really this is all they want and they want to to master the tradition, then yeah, it has to become a full-time lifestyle. But at the same time, it’s a bit of a false economy because I’ve known many people who had nine-to-fives and then something changed in their life. They all of a sudden had a windfall or they got lots of money or they’ve inherited something or whatever, and then they’ve quit and then they’ve become full-time practitioners. They weren’t full-time practitioners. What they ended up doing was wasting a lot of time and then doing the same amount of practice as they did when they had the job. So there’s even a kind of, I don’t know what you might want to call it, a karmic life thing, a personality thing, I don’t know, that gets involved as much as anything. So practicality is one part of it, but I think that who you are is equally a part of that process. Yeah.

Rick: But it’s like anything, you know. I mean, if you play a little tennis on weekends or practice the violin every couple of days for half an hour, you’re not going to become a professional in those things, you know, as if, you know, as compared with somebody who just does it all day, every day, and gets really good at it.

Damo: You get the outliers, because I think with any rule in life, it probably only applies about 95% of the time. There’s always exceptions, but generally, yeah, generally, those annoying ones who don’t seem to put any effort in, who still get it.

Rick: Yeah, well, you know, that gets us into the topic of reincarnation, maybe, which I’ve heard you talk about, which, you know, a person could have done a lot of spiritual practice in previous lives, and then they come into this life, and they just take off like a shot with very little practice.

Damo: Yeah, yeah. There are some traditions in parts of Asia, not ones I’m involved in, actually, but ones I’ve encountered, that won’t even teach you until they’ve checked your past lives and check you are, at least at the stage of, I guess, maybe what you would call a stream mentor or something, but sort of equivalent to that. They wouldn’t even take you as a student, so they’re very picky on such things. But yeah, I mean, if we want to look at what these arts are for, I mean, if you want to break it down to its core, even the kind of basis of it is they were to escape the reincarnation cycle. That’s the basis of all Eastern arts, isn’t it? Whether they’re used for that these days or not is a little bit of a question, but that’s what they were looking at originally.

Rick: So I presume they check your past lives through some kind of spiritual insight that the Master would have. He can read your aura or something, figure out what your past lives were.

Damo: Yeah, no machine-like Scientology or anything. No, it’s happened to be a there’s a certain level of attainment that is beyond my personal understanding that they would use.

Rick: Yeah. Do you feel motivated yourself by the hope of getting off the wheel and not being a scientist anymore?

Damo: No, I don’t care at all. I actually really enjoy life. I love Samsara. It’s a gilded cage that I’m quite happy to be in, but at the same time my personal motivation is I’m completely fascinated by the arts and I will go as far as I can within the arts and whatever happens, happens. I’m in this for the love of the art. That’s it. I mean, it’s fascinating. So I don’t have this deep existential crisis that I seem to see with a lot of people. It does upset me, actually. I have to say I’m quite a sensitive guy on a weird level, on some level. So I get students come and sometimes they’re so young. They’re like early 20s or something and there’s this desperation. They have to escape the reincarnation cycle as quickly as possible. I just think, “What a shame.” Like, that’s terrible, but no, I’ve never felt like that.

Rick: Well, you know, I felt like that in my 20s and 30s also, but I wasn’t as happy as I am now. And now it’s like, whatever, you know, whatever God wills. I’m happy to not come back or come back or whatever serves the higher purpose.

Damo: It’s just a state. It’s nothing. It’s nothing worth worrying about. I think that past lives are the least important things people should worry about with regards to their existence. I think they should just find something in the practice that brings them joy, and if they happen to step out of samsara, more power to them. Excellent. I think with reincarnation as well, the most damaging thing I see is, I don’t like it actually, when therapists diagnose your past lives and they say, “You have this because of something that happens in a past life or something like this.” And I think traditions get too hung up on that. And I think that for somebody, I’ve had somebody read “Tell Me What Mine Were” or whatever, and actually they’re all rather boring. I’m not someone that would worry about something that happened in a previous life because it’s just a thing. But I’ve known other people get very, very hung up on a very disempowered state, where all of a sudden, three lives ago, their head to head cut off, and this is why they can’t do this in their life, but they’ll never fix it. So it becomes a little bit of a trap in its own right anyway.

Rick: I’d be rather skeptical of anyone who claimed to be able to know such things. I mean, you know, I’d take it with a grain of salt. I’d take it as an interesting hypothesis, but who knows what they can really know.

Damo: I’m skeptical of 99.9% of people. Yeah. There are exceptions.

Rick: I’ve met people who were claiming to be psychic or channeling or whatever, and I just have this nagging suspicion that they’ve got a very fertile imagination.

Damo: I am one of life’s greatest cynics and skeptics, and I also believe that the mind has an amazing ability to produce a paradigm for us to understand that we can interpret some kind of information and we interpret it wrong. So yeah, I agree.

Rick: Where does God fit into all this, in those traditions? Is there more of a sense of divine intelligence or all-pervading intelligence or some such thing? Not God in the old man in the sky with the beard sense, but just some kind of orchestrating intelligence that pervades the universe.

Damo: Specifically in Taoism or in Neigong? Because there’s different ways. Both. I wanted to just elaborate a bit on you know.

Rick: Well, Taoism takes the easiest cop-out to such questions you could possibly imagine, because if you want to define Taoism, it would be question-markism. That’s ultimately what it is. I mean, the whole tradition of Taoism said, “We can’t know, we can’t define, so we won’t even bother.” So they didn’t even come up with an effort. So I would actually define Tao in that way. So Taoism doesn’t have a stance on such things. But Neigong, obviously interpreted in different ways. For example, here the Indonesian Neigong is very, very much mixed in with their kind of local Hinduism and everything. So they would adopt the idea of Godhead, the sort of consciousness that pervades and filters through everything, definitely. Yes, but it’s not a major part of the path, not really. It’s certainly not a concern for me. I have to say that I was born, I mean, I was brought up anti-religious, actually. I was brought up very anti-religious, with a kind of deep resentment for the Catholic Church and Protestantism and everything. And that’s how I was brought up. You know, never trust a religious person because they’re probably going to reach under the choir boy’s frock or something like this. It was just kind of how I was brought up. So I was that. That was me. But then gradually, as I developed and aged, I would say that I am now religious. But my religious views are separate really from what Taoism or Neigong believes.

Rick: Yeah. Are you religious in terms of like believing stuff, or would you say more that you’re spiritual in terms of kind of a deeper experiential orientation to it?

Damo: My definition of religion is that I try to give myself over to and up to and dedicate everything I do to something higher that I would equate with God. But my version of religion does not mean being in an organized, structured religion, because I don’t feel that I personally need such things. But the term “spiritual” to me I find strange, because I think it’s kind of vague. I think it’s a vague term. I agree most people wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. But my take would be, say you follow a path. Okay, so say you’re a Tibetan Buddhist or a I don’t know, Theravadan, or you follow Hinduism, or you follow a Taoist path, or you practice Neigong. To me, you are by definition religious, because you are now following a teaching that has been passed on down a series of generations that goes back to a connection to source. That would be how I would define religion. So that’s why I would call myself religious. I think that’s safe to say. But if someone is spiritual, I think that’s cool. I think that’s great. That’s how I defined myself for years. But in my experience, the majority of people who call themselves spiritual, what they mean is guessing, generally, often by having a crystal, and they got a dream catcher on the window, and they went to a yoga class a few times, and they’ve been to see the Dalai Lama give a talk or something. I don’t know, there’s a kind of mix of everything. So I’m aware that that’s not a popular definition, but my definition of a religious person is somebody who’s actually found a path that leads to a source that they’re going to follow. So that would be why I would define myself.

Rick: It’s important to define words, because you know, obviously a lot of these words, you say a thing and people hear a hundred different things according to how they’re defining the words. What you just said sounded kind of spiritual, like how I would define spiritual, just sort of this appreciation of a kind of a higher something, and that you really have more of an experiential orientation to it, rather than just something that you ought to believe in, and there’ll be some benefit down the line, maybe when you die, if you believe in it.

Damo: Of course. I think that that’s the thing, right? If there’s any advice I ever give to someone who is new, who is going on the path, is first of all, forget definition of the terms, and more importantly, find out how does your teacher, the person you are learning off, define that term? Because if you don’t know how they are defining the terms, you’re going to carry across all the definitions you might have from somewhere else, and that becomes very, very complicated. So in almost every tradition I went to, every teacher I encountered, the first thing I asked them, when they said, “Any questions?” “How do you define even the simplest of terms?” Because that’s what I wanted to know, I want to know what we were talking about.

Rick: Yeah, perfect. So I think it’s important. So is there a universal definition of every term? No, but I think each individual teacher has one, definitely. Or they should do.

Rick: We spend a fair amount of time doing that, I think, on this program. You know, someone will say, “Well, I’m awake, I had an awakening,” and I think, “All right, what does that mean?” Because it could mean so many things.

Damo: But exactly, completely. And I get people that disagree with me a little bit, because they think that I am not engaging with the abstract part of the mind or the soul or something like this by doing such things. But my counter-argument would be, “Well, how do we learn? We have to have a shared language in order to teach somebody.” And later, when that definition serves no purpose anymore, let it go. Like when it doesn’t serve a purpose, let it become abstract and conceptual and experiential. But right now, at the beginning, we need a clear clarification for every term. Strip the art out of everything. Take the poetry out and let’s define the love.

Rick: That’s good. I mean, otherwise, you know, we’re just working at cross-purposes. You know, you can completely misunderstand each other, especially if you’re working with a teacher. You don’t know what he’s talking about if you don’t understand what he means by his terms.

Damo: I’ve spent many hours in classes where I’ve got no idea what the teacher is talking about until I’ve gone and defined the terms with them, yeah.

Rick: Yeah, yeah.

Damo: It’s very easy for us to overlay our own meanings onto something.

Rick: Yeah. And again, I think that’s true in this whole world of spirituality that anybody watching this show is interested in. There’s three stages in the sort of Vedanta approach. What is it? How does it go? Well, firstly, there’s sort of listening to a thing, and then there’s pondering it, sort of, you know, thinking about it, and then there’s kind of deeply, experientially exploring it. And all three things are considered important. You can’t just sort of have experience without understanding or understanding without experience. It’s unbalanced, it’s like a stool with two legs or something.

Damo: Yeah, I agree completely. That to me would be the most important part of the inquiry process. There has to be a conceptual model to lead you in and then an experience of it, but there has to be a contemplation of your reaction to that experience in order for it to unfold.

Rick: There was a passage in your book which I jotted down. It’s a big book, five or six hundred pages. I didn’t get a chance to read the whole thing. As I was reading, this jumped out at me. I thought it might be interesting to talk about. I’ll just read your passage. “Visualization and generated mental imagery are not part of the system I teach. Self-development is essentially the practice of developing the self, whilst spiritual development is actually the ending of self. In the earliest stages of our training, we need to strike a healthy balance between these two practices, cultivating the self and the spirit, but it will reach a stage where they are actually directly conflicting processes.” Let’s talk about that a bit.

Damo: I’m quite inflammatory, aren’t I? The way I write, I’ve never really noticed.

Rick: It’s okay.

Damo: Yeah, what I’m talking about there is that I want to distinguish two things from each other. One is psychology and the other one is spiritual growth, which to me are not the same thing. So in the early stages of—okay, let’s explain this another way. Say you want to move beyond an identification with the kind of acquired layers of self. If this is something that somebody wants to do within a tradition, there is something that happens to a lot of people, myself included, that there’s a kind of kicking and screaming of the self that takes place. It’s got its fingernails dug into the doorway and it ain’t going, and it wants you to keep identifying with those kind of things that are problematic for your development. So there’s a process where the self has to be built up first. It has to be developed. It’s like it has to be strong enough to leave. It’s kind of like there has to be enough self-esteem in order to walk away from that relationship that you have with that part of your mind. So this is what I’m implying with that. But a lot of people, when they talk about— this comes back to these terms again, I’m going to sound like a complete term Nazi, I don’t mean to— but it comes back to that thing that a lot of times when people are talking about spiritual growth or spiritual development, I think they’re often talking about psychological development, which is a slightly different thing. Psychology. Things like the shedding of trauma or developing a sense of self-esteem or something, these are psychological things that almost need dealing with before that can step out of the way to access Spirit, to access the light that we’re searching for in alchemy. So this is a twofold process. You could call the first part of the process maybe an empowerment process, and the second part of the process a realization process. But the empowerment process becomes counterproductive to the realization process after a while, because if you strengthen the self after a while it becomes something you can absorb into more, if you understand what I mean.

Rick: Maybe a better word than strengthen would be the word “health” or “healthiness” or “integration” or something. Like we spoke earlier about people who would build up a lot of energy but not really have their psychological act together and would become sex addicts or egomaniacs or something like that, and there have been so many examples of that in the spiritual field. So it seems to me there just has to be a certain psychological healthiness, which has to be not necessarily that you have to totally perfect that before you can get on to spiritual practice, but somehow it has to come along apace with spiritual practice so that you don’t get waylaid.

Damo: It’s very difficult to shed something if you’re still struggling with it, would be my take on it. And this, I suppose in the other part of that section you wrote out was that I don’t use visualization at all. That’s absolutely key to the entire of Taoism, it really is, because it links up with a principle called wu-wei, which means to “non govern” or “non control” or “non action.” People define it in different ways, and people think often that it means with regards to what you do, your activities, so you’re supposed to become sort of fat and lazy or something, which is not the implication at all, definitely not. It’s a very hard-working tradition. The idea is that your mind is not supposed to govern or engage, not supposed to govern or control anything that takes place. So we basically, the tradition is based upon awareness and applying attention to something rather than intention. So as soon as somebody uses some kind of visualization or mental object, ultimately it’s a kind of intention rather than attention, which is directly clashing with the key principle of Taoism of applying awareness to what you’re doing. So I try to get people to understand that visualization may help you psychologically, you know, like basketball players who imagine shooting a hoop and get it many times, or someone who imagines a deity that maybe has some kind of consciousness or emotional qualities they would like to imbue within themselves, but that’s still not the spiritual path. It’s still only psychological. It’s not really going to assist someone with moving towards the highest parts of the tradition. So this is why I try to take visualization out of the way, but you would not believe how much visualization takes place in the Qigong world. It is the most pervasive error through the entire of the tradition, so much so that you will be hard-pressed to find class that you walk into where the first instruction isn’t “imagine a waterfall raining down over your body” or “imagine a white light that’s here” or “a lotus flower” or “a farting unicorn,” whatever. They have these visualizations that are not going to help you to move towards this state of wu-wei. So this is what I was implying within that.

Rick: Yeah, I’ve never been a very good visualizer myself. Whenever there’s some kind of guided meditation and people are asking me to visualize stuff, it’s just like, “I just don’t do that.” But it does have a value. Like when you mentioned a basketball player, I remember watching the Olympics and watching Lindsay Vaughan getting ready to ski the downhill, and she’s standing at the beginning of the slope and she’s kind of going through all these movements, and you can see she’s actually visualizing every single gate that she’s got to ski through all the way down the slope. And then obviously I think she was able to actually ski it better having visualized it. So it has its application.

Damo: Yeah, yeah, totally. For things like that, completely, or for, like I say, psychological development, sure, but I believe that it’s counterproductive on the spiritual path beyond a very certain stage. I mean, we use it in martial arts, definitely, because the nerves will fire up as if you’re doing the actual act, even though you’re only imagining it, definitely so. But I would not, another controversial thing, I wouldn’t consider the martial arts a spiritual path, though. So, yeah.

Rick: That’s good. You know, I like the fact that you’re willing to be a little controversial and and open yourself up to taking flak from people, because I’m sure you ruffle some feathers sometimes when you say these things, but you know, you’re doing it in a kind way. You’re not yelling and screaming about it.

Damo: You don’t take flak, you take negative comments on social media, that doesn’t count as flak. It’s nothing.

Rick: Water off a duck’s back. Actually, there’s a fellow in New York named Michael, who’s a dentist but has done a lot of practice in this kind of area, and he sent in a bunch of questions beforehand, and I’ve already sent them to you so you’re familiar with them. But the first one is what we were just talking about, the wei wu wei doing until you reach the stage of non-doing. Yeah, that’s a good distinction he’s made there. Yeah, that’s a good distinction. He brings up that famous quote of, you know, “Awakening is an accident, but practice makes you accident prone.”

Damo: I don’t know where that quote comes from, but I like that, I’ve never heard that before.

Rick: Yeah. I think it might, I forget the guy’s name.

Damo: I don’t know how much faith I have in a dentist who’s talking about being accident prone anymore.

Rick: Maybe, well, yeah, but you know what I mean. But anyway, this whole thing about non- doing, I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about that sometimes, because at a certain stage of development, and perhaps you can elaborate on this, one’s subjective experience is that even though you may be engaged in dynamic activity, there’s such a deep inner silence that the sense is that, “I’m not doing anything.” You know, I might be like playing tennis or riding a bike on an obstacle course or something, and yet there’s this silence and that’s where I reside, and this other stuff is happening on a more manifest level.

Damo: Yes, yeah, and there’s also another use of the term, actually, that’s very Wei wu wei is very directly applicable to meditation. And I didn’t understand it for a long time, a really long time, until I actually picked it up from talking to people who had had full awakenings, and what I found was universally within their stories, the same thing happened. The story was always the same, that I was doing nothing and then all of a sudden it hit me. So no one ever achieves awakening during meditation, like it just doesn’t happen. Meditation practice, when did that ever happen to anyone? You’ll never find that in a story. They always say the same, “I practiced for I was living in a mountain in a shack in the cold, and then one day I decided to walk into a town and boom, it hit me.” So sometimes that leads to the mistaken concept, I think it’s mistaken, of saying that there is no need to practice, which is not true, I don’t think so at all. I don’t think, I think to say there’s no need to practice is almost an insult to those people who spent 50 years in the Himalayas practicing a little bit. But what happens is during the practice you are doing, so you are wei, you are doing, so you are actually trying to govern something, even if it might feel like you’re not, maybe you’re just observing the breath, you’re still governing something because you’re still giving an instruction to your awareness to stabilize into the object of the breath or whatever you’re doing. But then when you are not practicing and you’re non-governing, that’s when the realization can come. So at that stage what it means is that meditation practice is directly counter to the ability to awaken, and this is what the phrase “wei wu wei” is pointing to. But it’s because, as far as I can see, within every tradition, excuse my very mechanical way of explaining it, I apologize, but I’m a very simple fellow who likes to keep things down to earth, is that whenever it’s tradition you have a series of tuning forks within your consciousness, is the way I understand it. So these are mental qualities that are required. So different traditions will have different mental qualities, so they’ll have their precepts, they’ll have their practices, they will have their divine mental qualities that people use to access the tradition. So say you have mental qualities like concentration, humility, compassion, kindness, discernment, clarity, whatever. Different traditions will have their different qualities they think are important. The practices are the way, they are the doing. So what you do is you practice till you develop those qualities, and then when you relax and you are non-doing, then whatever qualities are habitually within you will then lead to the results. So there’s no such thing as a meditation exercise, meditation meaning to enter jhana or to enter a state. There are only exercises to develop the qualities that when you are non-doing may lead to a realization of that state. This is kind of what the phrase is implying wei wu wei within Daoism. So they have a saying that you must walk the path, but then at a certain time you must step off of the path because the path is not the real path, implying that the path is the work you’ve done to develop the qualities so that when you then relax, they innately rise within you and the cause and effect is that you lead to awakening or something like that.

Rick: Something like that happened to Adyashanti, if you know who he is. He was doing Zen meditation and he was practicing like a son of a gun. He was really gung-ho. He said, “I am going to achieve this, enlightenment or bust.” And he was pushing and pushing and really going at it. At a certain point he was on some retreat and it began to occur to him that if he kept pushing this hard he was going to crack up. So he left the retreat and he went home and he just had this attitude of surrender, like I give up. He went and sat in his little meditation hut in the backyard and boom, had this awakening when he finally just relaxed.

Damo: It’s the same story that I have had recounted to me time and time again by all of the Masters, for want of a better word, that I’ve gone to meet around the world. Because one thing I always try and do is I try to get a one-on-one meeting with them. I try to sit down and try to discuss what they’re doing. And I always want to know about that process, and yeah, it’s universal. That story is universal across the board.

Rick: Yeah, but the mistakes some make, as you just said, and as I heard you say in one of your podcasts, is that the awakening seems so natural when it finally happens and there’s this realization like, “Oh, this has always been here, how could I not have seen it?” And so a teacher might make the mistake of telling students, “It’s already here, you know, you don’t have to do anything, you just be it,” or something like that. And that, as you say, is a mistake. It’s kind of like, I don’t know, an example, if you’re riding a bicycle race or something and you’re pedaling for miles and miles as hard as you can, then you reach the finish line, you could stop pedaling and you’ll just coast across. And you might say, you know, I’m kind of slaughtering this example, but you might think, “Oh, I could have just coasted the whole time, I didn’t have to pedal.” But it was actually the pedaling that got you to the finish line.

Damo: Yeah, yeah, definitely. It’s like, if enlightenment is winning the lottery, say, for example, you can win the lottery with one ticket, but it’s not likely. But if you buy five million tickets, you’re far more likely to win the lottery, right? And practice is like this, the practice is accumulating all of these tickets. You still might never win, but that’s life. And unfortunately, some people do it with few tickets and then claim that that should be the same for everybody, but I don’t think that’s true.

Rick: Yeah, and when you say the word accumulating, actually, you know, you’ve talked about this a little bit already, but there is an actual sort of energetic accumulation that takes place in your practice, in your tradition. Which, you know that phrase from the in the Old Testament, “My cup runneth over,” I kind of get the feeling like it is referring to something like that, where the inner, whatever you want to call it, has built up to a point where finally it just overflows.

Damo: Yeah, you have no choice. This is always the idea. It should be such a momentum that is built that the potential is there. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, these are really important concepts for Taoism that are explained in the Tao Te Ching, the kind of the core key first text. Isn’t it the most translated book after the Bible? I’m not sure, but it’s kind of the most important Taoist text, and it’s all outlined there in the first few verses. It’s like Taoism is just told to you right there, but often greatly misunderstood, I think, unfortunately, these phrases.

Rick: I think another related misunderstanding is that some teachers will say, “Well, ultimately there is no self,” and so if you’re making some kind of effort, then you’re only going to reinforce the sense of a self. Or if you’re practicing, you’re going to reinforce the sense of a practicer, and so it’s contraindicated.

Damo: Yeah, “You can’t rise above what you can’t do” would be my counter-argument to that. So there has to be a lot of effort, and this whole idea of no self, there is no self, was for me personally one of the most destructive things that anyone ever told me when I was younger. Not emotionally or psychologically, but just simply I fixated on that idea, so what I did was I passed all spiritual teachings through that filter, and anything I did, “Well, there’s no self,” or something like that. And then, yeah, the best thing I ever did was drop that idea, because I think that those things, when you see those writings from the past masters and they’re left behind, I often think that probably when they said them, it was relevant to the person who was in that room at that time, who wrote that thing down, and it was a little nugget they gave them. And then there’s little old me, who’s only been involved in the spiritual arts for five minutes, who already knows that there isn’t a sense of self, but I haven’t realized it, it’s because somebody has told me. So it’s kind of that, it becomes a little bit problematic, or it was for me, it was problematic. I had to shed all of the things I knew, and just kind of go with experience.

Rick: Did you pick that up from some teacher in the UK? Oh yeah, I won’t name them, but yes, one of the earliest courses I went on when I was very young was this kind of whole idea of anything you do is pointless, there is no self.

Rick: There’s a few of them over there that beat that drum.

Damo: There is no self, when you get to that stage where there is no self, I would imply.

Rick: Yeah, all right, here’s a question that came in from someone named Johnny in Illinois. “The core of my spirituality is working with non-physical energy, such as Reiki or meditation. I have trouble explaining the validity of anything non-physical to atheists or those leaving religion. They seem to be hung up on physical evidence and throw out what they call anecdotes or pseudo evidence. How do I get through to people who refuse to even look into what they consider ‘woo-woo’?”

Damo: I would say, why bother getting through to them?

Rick: Well, what if it’s your family member or your good friend or somebody like that?

Damo: Oh, I still don’t worry about it. I’m not fussed at all. I have family members who really are not direct family members, but I have just some families who are not interested in what I do and not believing, but I don’t feel that that matters. So it’s a difficult question for me to answer because I’m never that worried about it. I think that people will come to their own conclusions when they’re ready, but if you wish to make people realize that it’s real, I mean, you’re going to have to develop a lot of skill, because there is a densening process, if you like. So say you’re in the early stages. One of the early stages of practice is you can feel the chi, if you like. Why? Because there is an increase of movement through the nervous system. That’s really what it is. Anything you feel is through the nervous system. But that is for you. So what will happen is, as that energy gets denser and denser, if we use that as a model, you’ll be able to feel it more and more and more, but that doesn’t mean that anybody else can. So what happens is you have to keep going until your energy gets to a point of density so that you can then almost force the somatic experience onto somebody else. That would be the only way I would say that you ever consciously convince somebody that something like that is real, but that would be really hard work. You’d have to be very, very skilled to do such a thing. Generally, I find people have experienced it for themselves and they want to understand it, and that’s why they come into these kind of things. But as for convincing people, I always wonder why bother. There’s a similar thing in acupuncture, actually. There’s a similar thing in acupuncture, because I do that. I run an acupuncture college, and one thing that always strikes me is everybody always wants to prove acupuncture is real, which I find a really strange kind of concept. They want to do double blind, study this and that and prove. I always say why, because if you ever prove that acupuncture is real, well, the first thing they’ll do is they’ll stop you practicing it, because they’ll move it into hospitals, and then the surgeons will do it, the doctors will do it, and little old you who runs a clinic will never be able to do it. So the greatest freedom you have is that nobody believes your therapy is real. They’ll leave you alone, and I think that that applies to almost all of these arts. In Taoism, they call it being like a useless tree. No one will cut you down, is the idea. So I would say to Johnny, I feel your frustration, because I remember being frustrated, because I desperately wanted other people to understand this beautiful thing that I did, but then I stopped caring, and actually it made it easier.

Rick: I was kind of an obnoxious proselytizer in my earlier years, and I think it’s symptomatic, I think, of a kind of an inner doubt, you know, that you feel like you need others to do what you’re doing in order to kind of justify what you’re doing, or to kind of, you know, it’s like all the Christians who come pounding on your door, you know, it’s not like they really want to save you. They really want to save themselves from the doubt that nags at them, because they don’t have really the experiential verification of what they believe.

Damo: If you really believed in something, beyond belief, if you knew something at its deepest level, you would not be upset at all by other people disagreeing. So, exactly, if I tell somebody the sky is green, nobody ever gets upset, they just think you’re mad. If I tell them their god is not real, they get furious. I would say that the reason is because they’re not sure of themselves.

Rick: And related to this whole topic, there’s a Bengali saying which is, “If no one comes on your call, then go ahead alone.”

Damo: Yeah, well, life is made more complicated by other people, so yeah, I would agree with that. Yeah,

Rick: I remember when I first got into meditation back in the 60s, and I wanted my sister to do it, and she did it for a little while, and then she said, “You know, I don’t want to be different than my friends, different from my friends,” and so she stopped doing it. And I just dropped all my friends, I mean, they were all doing drugs anyway, and just, you know, walked the dog down to the beach every day for a few months, and eventually I started accumulating new friends. But I could see what the life my friends were living was doing to them and had been doing to me, and I thought, “All right, well, if they don’t want to come along, I’m heading out on my own.”

Damo: You know, it’s funny, I take the opposite stance. I take the completely opposite stance, because I spend so much of my life in communities or on courses or meeting teachers or like this, trying to explore a line, that I really like my friends to not even have the slightest interest in this path whatsoever. So I love hanging out with people that have no interest in spirituality whatsoever, just kind of ground me a little bit.

Rick: Oh, I have friends like that too, for sure, and I don’t discuss this stuff with them, but in those days those friends were starting to do heroin and, you know, just getting pretty messed up, and so it wasn’t healthy for me to hang around them.

Damo: Okay, yeah, that’s a little counterproductive. Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Rick: I just want to wrap up a point that you mentioned earlier, when we were talking about not striving or not practicing or anything like that, and some teachers saying that might be counterproductive. There was a teacher named Papaji, who you may have heard of, who is in Lucknow, and a lot of people studied with him, and he was famous for saying, “Give up the search.” And I wonder whether he might have been speaking contextually, as you suggested, where he’s speaking to the people in the room here, who, you know, “Hey, you’re here with me now, give up the search. This is a place where you’re going to find something.” But I don’t think he necessarily meant “give up all practice” or any kind of spiritual, you know, discipline.

Damo: Well, there’s two things there for my take on it. First of all, all teachings are only relevant to the person the teacher is speaking to. That’s just a fact. Unless they made it so generic that it would be kind of weak, you know, but those kind of teachings, yeah, they’re for the people in the room. So it means that spiritual books full of quotes are good, but can also be kind of counterproductive if you hang on to those a little bit too much. And the second thing is, you have to strive your ass off in these arts. You have to strive and push and everything. It’s just, where is that striving coming from that’s more of an issue? So if my striving and my pushing and my search is from that existential anxiety-based “I’ve got to make my life better,” I think that’s problematic. If it’s that I’ve got to strive because I’ve got to develop X-Men-like powers like we discussed, that’s problematic. If you’re striving and striving because this path is really fascinating and you just want to see what’s possible with it, I have more power to you. I think that’s an absolutely perfect reason to strive. If you just have an innate striving within you, you don’t even know why you do it, but you just have to keep pushing and pushing these arts, that’s okay too, like no problem at all. It’s the it’s always the motivation behind it that is the problem rather than the act. And I think sometimes those things need clarifying a tiny bit and separating, because I’ve met plenty of people striving from a place of fear or worthlessness or whatever, like something is going to get better if they push down this path. And often it gets worse because I mean it’s probably one of the most difficult things on earth you can do. It’s not easy, is it? Like it’s not very simple. So if you’re coming from a place of feeling slightly inadequate and worthless and you’re going to push and push on this path, all that is going to do your constant failure to be enlightened is just going to keep underlining to you just how insecure or inferior or inadequate that you are. So I think that’s where it becomes problematic. I always try to instill in anybody I teach, look, approach all of this with a good sense of humor and a certain degree of irreverance and just see where it goes.

Rick: Michael, the Qigong dentist, there’s a list of questions he’s sent in. Do you still see them there on the side of your screen, Damo?

Damo: I can click on this chat thing, can’t I?

Rick: Yeah, click on the chat thing. So scan down and let’s, you might feel that some of them are too esoteric or irrelevant to the general audience that we have here, but are there any that jump out at you that you’d like to address?

Damo: I have a rule, I’ll answer anything or I’ll tell people I don’t know the answer. Nothing’s too esoteric for me. Let’s have a look. Well, it’s not the top. Maybe good to get into some of the philosophical aspects that are somewhat known but maybe understood like Dao, Wuji, Taiji and Yang in the different element. Okay, so was it Peter? Was it Peter? Was it Michael? Michael, Michael, sorry. So Michael’s asking for definitions or meanings behind some of the philosophical concepts like Dao, Wuji, Taiji, Yin and Yang and what they mean. I mean, those are phrases that come up constantly in these arts, but the first thing we understand is it depends on the context that it’s being used. So for example, if I’m talking about Dao, Wuji, Taiji, Yin and Yang in the context of feng shui, it’s going to have a different meaning from Chinese medicine. It’s going to have a different meaning from from Neigong. But with regards to practice, these are really referring to levels of their states of mind. So Dao, the term Dao means one of two things. One, it means question mark. We can’t define it. So Daoism is question markism. And the second one would be ultimately Dao you could kind of link with the word yoga, union. So it is essentially unifying with the original state. Wuji means without projections or without limits. So essentially with regards to your mind, when you’re in a state of Wuji, what it means is there is no separation between object and observer. So because there’s no distinction, there’s no separation, there is no Ji, there is no projection within that space. So it means to be free of sense perceptions, ultimately on some level. Taiji is the next one. So Taiji is the movement that comes from within Wuji. So Taiji means essentially it’s the process of something moving from within that space. So as soon as you have a separation into thought, a separation into action, then that is Taiji. So those three are kind of philosophical terms to describe states of realization or states of mind. And then yin and yang within practice, as I already mentioned, are a lot more dense. So yin and yang in philosophy are comparative terms, the sunny side of the hill and the shady side of the hill and so on and so on, and that nice swirly symbol that looks like the top of a coffee cup when you stir it. But yin and yang in practice are referring to the two types of energy, the magnetism and the electricity within the body that we manipulate in order to support the mind and its ability to move through those philosophical states. That would be how I would define those terms with regards to Neigong, anyway.

Rick: Okay, good. Yeah, that’s good. So we’ll just run through these. I mean, no one’s going to remember these terms, but it gives us an insight into some of the things that this tradition deals with, right?

Damo: Sure.

Rick: So then the next one is dantian, what it is, where it is, how does it function, and the alchemy of creating it.

Damo: This is what I was talking about earlier, the magnetic field and the

Rick: Oh, sort of the abdomen area and how you build up. Was that the dantian?

Damo: Yeah, yeah. Actually, dan means elixir. It’s the cinnabar. It’s like a red ore of mercury, but really what they’re implying is that there is a substance that can be generated alchemically within that part of the body that will transform the functioning of the body and the mind. So that’s the dan, and it’s built in the field, the tian. So the tian, the field, is really what you’re building for a really long time. You can kind of forget the dan. That’s kind of like the highest aspect of what you do in there. That’s the end, the end of the process. So we build the field of this magnetism and electricity in abdomen. When the two are built and then they combine, that’s something called yin yang gong, meaning the skill of yin and yang coming together and being crushed to generate the highest level of dan tian development. It’s a fascinating practice to build the dan tian, very, very complex, very, very intricate, an art form in its own right. And when you’re moving through that process, it’s both beautiful and terrifying, I would say. But yeah, the dan tian is the basis of our practice.

Rick: Incidentally, how popular is all this in China or elsewhere? In China it’s illegal.

Rick: Is it really?

Damo: Yeah, it is. It’s a little bit freer now. But you had the cultural revolution during the late 50s, early 60s, late 60s, early 70s. I’m not very good at history, but you had the cultural revolution which involved a lot of Chinese culture being destroyed and a lot of records being destroyed. But then after that, what was more problematic was you had qigong fever, which is where the Falun Gong controversy came in and everything which people might have heard of, where qigong was basically outlawed as a practice in China because they were afraid it was going to send everybody insane. So qigong is now all over China, but qigong in China still has to be very closely watched, it’s very closely supervised and monitored. And I know of only two actual Neigong schools in the entire of China, and that’s from someone who’s traveled to every province in China apart from one. I know of only two actual Neigong schools there. Most of the Neigong survives in Southeast Asia from the Chinese communities that left. If you’ve never been to China, for anybody listening, I don’t want to, I love China, there’s a lot of fun to be had there, but it’s a highly paranoid nation on the level of the government and the level of scrutiny is massive. And I think unless you’ve been there, growing up in the Western world, I mean right now everybody thinks they’re being scrutinized by Facebook and WhatsApp and I don’t know whatever that strange nerdy guy who runs Facebook’s called, whatever he’s called, Zuckerberg, yeah I’m sure he’s listening in or something like that. If it’s true or not, who knows, but it’s nothing compared to China.

Rick: Oh yeah, I mean we’ve seen the news stories about these monitoring cameras on every street lamp and every building and everything and there’s facial recognition and if you jaywalk they recognize who you are and it’s all tied into your phone and you can’t purchase anything anymore if you misbehave. I mean the whole thing is really incredible.

Damo: The Communist Party does not like spiritual development, so a lot of those kind of things have been eradicated quite well in China. So I spent a lot of time in China, a lot of years, and most of the practices that you meet or encounter, meet, that sounds weird, but most of the practices you encounter are very, very watered down and very, very sanitized, I would say.

Rick: Why do you spend so much time there if it’s so suppressed?

Damo: Trying to find something real. I’ve spent a lot of my time following dead ends and dead paths and stuff like that, but most of my time is in Southeast Asia these days.

Rick: Meaning, what countries in Southeast Asia is it more lively in?

Damo: Malaysia is a hotbed for it, Indonesia, Thailand has a fair bit, Myanmar is quite difficult to penetrate the culture, it’s quite closed, but if you can then there’s a lot going on in Myanmar as well. Yeah, most parts of Southeast Asia. I never had much luck in Vietnam, I have to say, but the rest of the places in Southeast Asia, there’s a lot of lineages that survive there.

Rick: So does it tend to be a resurgence of this? Is it gaining momentum or is it kind of like dying out?

Damo: It’s gaining momentum of interest, I would say, but the momentum of interest is in the West, and this is one of the most difficult things, is that in Asia people are practicing it but it’s not… You’ve got to remember, Asian arts aren’t exotic to Asians. You know what I mean?

Rick: Yeah, yeah.

Damo: So even the terms aren’t exotic, it’s just what they do. So there’s not a… There is some interest, there’s almost a respect for it rather than an interest, I would say. So everybody’s amazed by it but nobody wants to do it. In the West there is no respect for it, but there is a great interest in it. So there’s a kind of surge of people wanting to do it, but it’s very, very difficult to penetrate some of the traditions. It is quite hard. So a lot of people are trying to learn on Facebook, which is not the easiest place to get authentic teachings. Zuckerberg’s listening anyway. [Laughter]

Rick: I heard a statistic the other day that there are many days in the week where Zuckerberg makes more money than the most famous movie stars make in their entire career.

Damo: Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised. The man’s a evil genius.

Rick: Do the tattoos on your arms have any special significance?

Damo: No, not even slightly. They come from a misspent youth of ecstasy and alcohol and getting drunk and passing out in tattoo parlors. No, they mean nothing. No, no, no. I was a troublemaking teenager. I do have some magic tattoos done with chanting and what have you on my back, but no, the ones on my arms are nothing.

Rick: Now that’s interesting what you just said. So even though you got under the the age of four and you’ve been doing it more or less your whole life, you went through a period of debauchery it sounds like.

Damo: Oh yeah, yeah, you got a little. Yeah, I rebelled against it. I still practiced weirdly. I used to go into, I remember being in martial arts classes completely hung over and still in altered states of consciousness from the night before. It wasn’t safe for the people around me, definitely not, but that kind of that behavior fell away when I moved deeper into the spiritual practices and the internal practices. But yeah, while I was doing martial arts I was a complete waster. Yeah, I was a wreckhead.

Rick: Interesting. So how many years did you go through that diversion?

Damo: Most of my teenage years. Yeah, that’s typical. Probably most of my teenage years. Yeah, I like to do things as much as I can, so when I encountered intoxicants I wanted to see how far I could get with that as well. Turns out it was bad for your health.

Rick: Yeah, Janis Joplin used to talk about wanting to do the super hyper most, and so you can see where that got her.

Damo: Yeah.

Rick: Well, you made it past the age of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison all died.

Damo: Oh, they were professional wreckheads. I was just an amateur. I see. I’m very clean living these days, very clean living. Well, you look it. No, it’s good. I’m a dull character.

Rick: Yeah, I mean that was my realization too. In fact, it was a Zen book that kind of turned me around. I was sitting there high on some psychedelic and, you know, couldn’t sleep, and I picked up a Zen book and started reading it, and I thought, you know, these guys are really serious, or were really serious, and I’m really screwing around, and where am I going to end up if I keep going like this? So I thought that’s it, I’m quitting drugs, starting meditation, you know, just kind of.

Damo: I think the most amazing thing of that story is you managed to read a book on psychedelics. That’s incredible.

Rick: No, I wasn’t. I was reading a book on Zen while I was on psychedelics.

Damo: That’s what I mean.

Rick: Yeah, yeah.

Damo: Yeah, you were more focused than me. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of people. I mean, I’m not anti-drugs from an ethical standpoint, whatever people want to do with their own body, but it’s not helpful for the path. Yeah. It was a false thing to follow, yeah, false economy of practice.

Rick: Now, there are some actually really good therapeutic uses going on at Johns Hopkins and NYU and places like that, but right, as a recreational thing it probably tends to do more harm than good for people.

Damo: Yeah, and you know, I’m very austere in my approach. I’m really separate in the psychology and the spiritual growth and the healing of trauma and awakening or enlightenment are very different things to me. They’re very different paths. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be parallel with each other a bit, but they’re not the same thing. So I think, yeah, use of those to help people therapeutically, great.

Rick: Actually, one of Michael’s questions here was, “Does chi deplete?” And perhaps drugs would be one of things that deplete it. I mean, what would drugs … maybe talk about that a little bit, not just in terms of drugs, but depletion of chi and maybe whether drugs do have a depletionary effect on …

Damo: The main reason chi depletes, I mean, chi is produced by the body.

Rick: And chi again means sort of vital energy?

Damo: Yep, I mean, let’s define chi first. So as a practice, in terms of practice, chi is something that is produced in the body. So one of the mistakes people make is that they think they can pull chi down from the stars, from the trees, from the earth, from the gods, from Atlantis. I don’t know, they try to draw it in from different places. It’s not going to happen. Chi is produced in the body, and it is produced by how efficiently your body functions. So the main place your energy is produced is within your cells that we use in the practice. So a lot of practice is to make your body function at as an efficient level as it possibly can. So your chi will deplete. It’s not like you have a certain amount that it runs out. Chi depletion would be more your body is not functioning at an efficient enough level to produce the energy that you require. It would be more of a way of looking at it. So naturally as you age, there will be a depletion of your body’s ability to produce chi, and this is what we try to counter. And then we do try to store it in the dantian, to argue with myself, but the most important function of chi is how much energy can your body produce. And you’ll be surprised just how efficiently you can make your energy production in the body. It’s crazy if you can really take it to a high level. So with regards to drugs, anything that causes the mind or the body to function less efficiently will deplete the chi. So drugs will be one way, so will burgers and pizzas, so will overwork. Like anything that’s going to compromise that system, yeah, it’s got impact upon it.

Rick: A question came in from Kyra in KYRA in a place called Felton. I have no idea where Felton is.

Damo: It’s a nice name.

Rick: She asks, or he, I’m not sure, “After 20 years of Tibetan Nyingma and Native American meditation practices and ceremonies, ayahuasca came to me.” Hey, we were talking about drugs. “Ayahuasca came to me. Is there an explanation that helps those who are navigating these combinations of traditions? I have a Western medicine degree and am Native American as well.”

Damo: Okay, so sorry, the question was how to navigate those practices.

Rick: Yeah, I guess he or she is saying she has this Tibetan practice, Native American meditation practices and ceremonies, and then ayahuasca came along, and of course, certain kinds of hallucinogens are traditional in those cultures, but I guess she wants to, and she has a Western medicine degree, so she’s a doctor of some kind, or he, and wants to somehow learn how to balance or integrate all these things.

Damo: Well, I would say I don’t want this to be taken the wrong way because people sometimes mishear you, and I don’t wish to be disparaging of that. I think it’s great to have access to all these things, but I would say that somebody who’s doing that, like I was when I was younger, has not yet been fully grabbed by a path. So I would say that they haven’t yet found their path because once, you know, if every one of these traditions, Native American, Tibetan, ayahuasca, the other one, whatever that was, has a kind of gravitational pull to it, if you like, at some point, one of those gravities is going to grab you and drag you onto that path, and then naturally all of the other paths are going to fall by the by, they’re going to fall by the wayside. So the question of how to navigate it is almost a bit of a difficult one because there should be an automatic absorption into one of those lines when it’s gravity. So I would say if you’re still experimenting with all of those things, you haven’t yet found your path. So I’ve not yet met anybody who I would say has successfully realized a great deal who is involved in multiple paths.

Rick: Yeah, maybe if we use the metaphor of digging multiple wells, you know, a foot deep rather than one well 10 feet deep, you know, maybe we could play with that metaphor and just say, well, you start maybe with 10 wells, but then you find, well, over on this one the ground is softer, I’m actually getting deeper more easily, and then forget these other wells, I’m going to go deep in this one.

Damo: And then if we add to that analogy, at some point something reaches out of one of the holes and drags you in, and you don’t really, you know, the only thing I would say in the meantime is if you’re going to use ayahuasca, again, nothing against it ethically or anything, but if you have other practices, especially Tibetan practices, separate the two from each other for a little while. So say you have your meditation practice or your ritualistic practice, whatever line you’re in, I would give it a few months before and after each ayahuasca ceremony, just because ayahuasca, I have my own views on it, but it can be very, very strong, and sometimes it’s not the best mix with certain other practices. So if you’re going to use the two, have a little bit of a gap between them just to make sure you don’t cause yourself any problems.

Rick: Yeah, there was a young woman who was actually on this show, one of the first few people I did 11 years ago, and she was very bright and seemed to be doing well, and she ended up getting into ayahuasca. I didn’t hear all the details, but she has not been right since. There’s just been this mental unbalance and it’s very unfortunate. So this stuff can be very powerful, and if it’s approached at all, it should be approached with tremendous caution. Plus, going to South America to do it, there is a kind of a market down there these days, a cottage industry, and you don’t really know the qualifications or ethics of the people you might be getting involved with. So caution.

Damo: I think one of the greatest mistakes we can make is thinking one thing is going to work for everybody. There’s so many variables involved in who people are. So some people would take ayahuasca and have life-transforming experiences. Other people would take ayahuasca and then next thing you know there’s all sorts of hellish things going on in their mind. There’s so many variables, and it doesn’t even matter if you have the most skillful practitioner or ceremonial guide in the world. There is always going to be some variables that are involved that are difficult to see. But the counter to that is everything we do has risk. So, you know, if you’re an adult and you understand the risks, then that’s your right to take them, I think. I have a funny story with ayahuasca. I don’t know if you want to share it. Do you want amusing stories or something?

Rick: Yes, please.

Damo: I’d heard all these things about ayahuasca and obviously it’s not part of the Chinese traditions. So everyone’s coming back talking about these amazing things and I thought, “Well, I’ve taken lots of hallucinogens, but everyone says ayahuasca is different.” So I have this theory that ayahuasca actually was working because of the ceremony people do around it. They put you in a certain mindset and it will create that, which, you know, amazing. So I took ayahuasca. I went and I went through the ceremony. Actually, I did it quite recently. I did it quite recently because I just wanted to know. I thought I’d see what it is. So I went and…

Rick: Were you in Peru or someplace?

Damo: No, here in Southeast Asia. I took it in Southeast Asia. So, you know, probably not the most authentic, but I was just curious. So the first time I kept an open mind and did it and yeah, I mean it was… I can see how for a lot of people it would be transformational. For me, it was just more mental stuff, so I wasn’t that fussed, but I can see why it would. So then the second time I took it, I thought, right, I’m going to penetrate through what is auto-suggestion. So I watched a load of cartoons on YouTube before I went along. And you know what? I sat there for going through the whole process, vomiting and seeing Smurfs and Mickey Mouse and everything. All the crap I’d filled my mind with.

Rick: So whatever impressions were in there, that’s what got stirred up? Yeah, the mental chatter, the mental clutter just played through it. Now, I don’t want to say that that’s what all Iowa School is, because that would be an incredibly arrogant thing to disparage an entire shamanic tradition, but for me personally, the experience I had, yeah, that’s what happened to me. And I will say I had more fun on the second trip.

Rick: Watching the Smurfs.

Damo: Yeah, definitely.

Rick: Papa Smurfs and us.

Damo: I don’t think it was spiritually useful, but yeah.

Rick: That is funny. Here’s a question from Dana in Wakefield, Rhode Island. “If you could give some basic or general hallmark markers to your students that give them general insights as to what stage they are at with their evolution of more pure consciousness, I would love to hear more about this.”

Damo: Of pure consciousness?

Rick: She’s wondering, how do you gauge the level of spiritual evolution, if you want to call it that, of your students? Yeah. And she considers pure consciousness to be kind of essential quality that would, the clarity of which would develop as one evolves spiritually or progresses.

Damo: Well, we take a different take on it within Neigon. So you’re going to have what maybe you could call mundane realizations at the beginning. I suppose they’re quite mundane, but they’re profound at the same time. So the first thing that I would explain to students is that there should be a comfort that arises at all times. And this is not something that other people of necessary light, because they think that comfort is too much of a kind of menial word for it or trivial word for it. But earlier stages, you should be, you will find that you naturally become comfortable with all and any situations. That’s the first step. So this would be the platform upon which anything else is built. So if you are still uncomfortable with things that are going on emotionally on some level, then you still have way to go. You’d not put your first foot on the path. That doesn’t mean you have to become apathetic to things at all, but it doesn’t throw you off of your center. So even though that’s a very, you know, sounds very mundane, that’s where I would begin. And then beyond that, as people move into that process, then, you know, because we are a path that combines energetics and consciousness, it’s really easy for us, because there are certain Siddhis that arise. So there are no, there’s no room for delusion, because I have realized the state of complete oneness, and I am now existing in an enlightened state. Okay, show us this. And then if that ability has not arisen, then that state is not yet there, because the two go hand in hand, because the energy builds, and then the mental state combines with it, the causation leads to a particular quality that is there. So we have those, but I’m aware that by talking about that, a lot of people won’t like it, because there’s such a negative feel towards those kind of skills or those kind of abilities, or the hunt for them, or the search for them, but my view is that they give us the greatest degree of clarity.

Rick: Yeah, it’s interesting, you know, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there are four chapters and the third chapter is all about siddhis. And a lot of people say cities are a total distraction, nobody should have anything to do with it, but I always wondered, well he wrote a four-chapter book and one whole chapter is about siddhis, if they’re just nothing but a distraction, why do you devote a chapter to them? And this thing about a litmus test or a way of demonstrating a certain level of attainment might be a legitimate purpose for them. I’ve been to temples all over Asia where people far higher levels of achievement than me had to prove that they’re stepping over the gateway into the stream by placing their hand into the rock face and leaving a handprint. And you saw them do that? I’ve not seen them do that. I’ve been to the place where the handprints are actually, I’ve seen many Siddhis, but I’ve never seen that one, but I’ve seen the results of it, I’ve seen the handprints in the walls, and even down to one, the detail on one, where was that? I can’t remember where that was. Oh, that was in Malaysia outside Kuala Lumpur, and you could see almost the lines, the fingerprints. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s not just like a rough handshake. So if those things were going on, what is that if not a litmus test, as you call it, you know, and I always think that the spiritual teachers that said you shouldn’t strive for the frustrated siddhis are the ones that don’t have any, which is kind of convenient. Yeah. I was born in the year of the monkey, so I’m perpetually the monkey, so I like to tease, but I do think of such things.

Rick: That’s why the monkeys attack you, because they see a kindred spirit.

Damo: I think they’re trying to give me a very violent and thorough hug, actually, that’s how I define it.

Rick: Yeah, a couple more questions here, and then we should wrap it up. Here’s another one from Wesley in Salem again. Some teachings, Adyashanti for instance, talk about gut awakening. Adyashanti talks about head, heart, gut as being stages of awakening. There is a primal existential clench in the hara area, and when it lets go, a powerful and irreversible death of any sense of separate self occurs, and it brings about a deep and embodied level of awakening. Does this correspond to any experience in your path?

Damo: I can only say that I’ve never heard of that description before now, so obviously this is first thoughts in drawing parallels, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of my parallel drawing right now. But there is a similar thing, yes, when the… I mean, essentially what happens is there is a practice where the dantian is kind of the manifestation of that clench, and then it’s released, and then the energy rises up through the body to stimulate the mind. I would assume that there were some parallels there, but yes, I would say there is a similar practice, yeah. But because I’ve never heard of that phrase by Adyashanti before now, I couldn’t say with any accuracy.

Rick: Are there dangers in any of these practices or of the Daoist path in general?

Damo: Yes, definitely. There’s a danger in every single path. There’s people who’ve practiced mindfulness and gone insane because they’ve looked inside and realized, “Oh yes, I am really miserable.” You know, there’s dangers in all of these things. The public answer would be, “Yes, there is, so practice safely.” The non-public answer, which I’ll share publicly, would be, “Dangerous often means effective.”

Rick: So, not ventured, nothing gained kind of thing.

Damo: Yeah, exactly. There is a risk to things, and I think that the skill as a teacher, not even claiming to be a really skilled teacher, but the skill a teacher should have in general, is knowing what practice is wise for what student, because obviously the risk of a practice is mitigated by how prepared are their mind and their body for the process you’re about to take them through. So, most of the danger comes from an unprepared person engaging with a practice that’s not right for them, generally. Yeah, so, and the occasional fluke. I mean, sometimes the causation is complex, and some people get problems.

Rick: So, two final questions I want to ask you. One is in terms of what you teach and to whom, and how people could get involved in it. And also, what kind of benefits might one expect? What kind of benefits are you seeing in the lives of your students? How has it transformed their everyday lives or enhanced them in some way?

Damo: Well, I run two schools, somehow. Yeah, so I’m, basically, I teach the arts that I study in my school, but I also run a Chinese medicine college as well, so I got these kind of two branches. Is it all online or some physical location? Well, pre-COVID has a physical location, but right now, who knows? But yeah, at the moment I’m teaching online, but it’s easy to find me. People can hunt me down if they’re interested. I’m typically British, we don’t like to do the sales pitch, so people can find me if they like it and whatever. And what was the other thing? The benefits.

Rick: Well, the benefits, you know, what kind of transformations do you see in the lives of students? And also, I’m going to ask you for a bit more detail on your courses, but go ahead and answer that question.

Damo: Well, I see a great increase in their physical, mental, psychological well-being, and a nice growth in eccentricity, which I think is an added bonus in such things. So they become more sort of, what’s that British comedy troupe that did “Life of Brian”? Monty Python, they become more Monty Python-ish in their demeanor.

Damo: Yes, basically. There’s definitely a lightheartedness that comes, a joy of life that arises from it.

Rick: That’s good. I mean, that’s an important thing right there, just sort of joy of life. I mean, what are we here for? And it seems to me that more joy would be a good benchmark of the effectiveness of a thing.

Damo: Yeah, don’t bother trying to escape life until you’ve mastered it and learning to enjoy it. That would be my stance. Okay, and so you have a website. I’ll show it on the screen here briefly. There it is, I’m showing it, and there you are looking very serious, not so joyful in this picture. I’m a serious.

Rick: And if people go there, then they can poke around and find out what’s going on, right, what you have to offer, how much it costs, how time-consuming it is, and all those kinds of things.

Damo: Yeah, they can hunt me down and find me, yeah, definitely. And I’m all over YouTube, they can listen to my ramblings for hours.

Rick: Yeah, I listened to quite a few while out skiing in the woods.

Damo: Okay, I hope I didn’t ruin your skiing trip.

Damo: No, it was nice. We’ve had some snow, I love it, and we’ve had some snow here, best snow we’ve had in a few years, so I’ve been huffing and puffing, going around through the woods. Perfect, the opposite of here. Yeah, really.

Rick: All right, well, it’s been great getting to know you, and not just me in the last two hours, I mean, you know, this listening to you for hours, that’s how I prepare for these interviews. I really feel like I get to know the person by listening to quite a few hours of them beforehand. You kind of tune into their personalities, and so it’s been fun because you’re such a joyful guy, and you’re unassuming and unpretentious, and you know, kind of humorous, and so it’s been fun getting interacting with you.

Damo: Well, thank you ever so much, and thank you for the conversation. It’s been nice chatting with you. Thank you.

Rick: Yeah, and thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching. I appreciate your watching these live ones. It’s always good to have a little bit of an audience. There’s an upcoming interviews page on Batgap where you’ll see the ones we have scheduled, and we keep revising that as new ones are scheduled. And there’s a little thing off to the right where if you click on it you can add it to your calendar, whether you use Outlook or or Google or whatever, and it’ll send you a reminder when the live one is coming up, and that way you can, you know, tune in and watch it live if you like. All right, and there’s a bunch of other things on the website if you poke around and subscribe to the newsletter and, you know, sign up for the audio podcast and all that stuff. So feel free to do that, and we’ll see you for the next one. The next one is a woman named, I think she pronounces it Helane Wabe, and she is a scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences who has been studying channeling and what channeling is all about. My most popular interview is with a channeler, Daryl Anka, or Bashar he calls himself, and a lot of people are fascinated with that, and, you know, so anyway, that’s what we’re going to talk about next week. And so stay tuned, see you for the next one. Thanks, Damo.

Damo: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Rick: Good spending time with you. Don’t let the monkeys get you.

Damo: ; I’ll try and survive.

Rick: When I was in India, they would be very aggressive sometimes. If you had any food or anything, they’d try to grab it from you.

Damo: Oh, yeah, yeah, they make it more fun here, yeah, definitely.

Damo: Yeah, thanks very much.

Rick: All right, stay in touch.

Damo: Okay, thank you.