Shamanism is the most ancient spiritual tradition known to humankind. Throughout its history, the human race has evolved significantly in both technology and science, but human nature has never changed. We all have the same primordial spiritual core that we often call our inner essence or spirit. This inner nature is not always apparent, for the wonders of technological and scientific progress tend to distract us more and more from paying attention to our inner nature as well as to the world of nature around us.
Historically, the establishment of organized religions diverted the masses from the ancient Shamanic teachings and practices. Many religious institutions have a tendency to perceive Shamanism as some sort of witchcraft deserving nothing but persecution and extermination. No wonder nowadays, there is so little remaining from the former worldwide prominence of the Shamanic culture. The resulting inadequacy of human connection with nature has been rather detrimental both to humanity itself and to all forms of life on our planet. Besides the devastation of natural ecosystems and the extinction of many species, we, humans, tend to pay less and less attention to the world within ourselves, which separates us even further from who we really are.
Who are we, really? Are we some foreign intruders trying to colonize and enslave this planet? Are we a product of the games of uncanny forces that turn us into catalysts for our own self-destruction? To answer these and more serious questions, you would need to focus more of your attention inwards. It is exactly what the Shamans used to practice when communing with the spirit world. It is also what all prophets and mystics did when they received any profound visions and revelations. This way of receiving answers to the most challenging questions has been a direct path for many spiritual masters to self-realization and awakening to the truth of our Being. This experience of self-realization is often so transcendental that many mystics who experienced it never became prophets, since they could not even start translating their incredible revelations into the language of the everyday life. Some of them did speak out and shared the remarkable sense of awakening and enlightenment as to the real source of our existence. They became well-known prophets and founding fathers of different spiritual teachings and world religions.
The Shamans of antiquity developed their acute energy awareness for personal development, healing and protection of their tribes. Through years of trial and error, some of them fine-tuned their abilities to shift attention from the outer appearances of things to their energetic nature that is called Qi in Chinese, Prana in Sanskrit, or Mana in Hawaiian. Energy is the essence of all Being, flowing through all things and manifesting in the multitude of forms. The forms of things are basically vessels for their energetic essence. This applies not only to tangible objects, but also to events, relationships, thoughts, etc. Thanks to the diligent transmission of this knowledge through many generations of dedicated practitioners, now we have a method for awakening our dormant ability to perceive the flow of things in our lives and to be in harmony with that flow.
Although origination of Bdn - Tibetan Shamanism - is traditionally attributed to legendary Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, I believe that Shamanism in general was not founded by a particular person but rather naturally evolved and developed throughout many millennia. Every Shaman had to master his or her unique and authentic ways of realizing his/her true nature. Rather than trying to copy someone else's steps, real masters created their own novel ways of self-realization that were geared to their own physique, energy and mentality. In other words, to be a real Shaman is synonymous to being in the flow.
Qigong, an ancient energy art integrating Qi - energy awareness - and Gong - the practice of mastering it, is a system of self-realization that has been practiced for more than 5,000 years. Its numerous styles and schools developed mostly along the lines of different philosophical and spiritual traditions in the pursuit of embodiment of their respective teachings. The deeper you explore the history of Qigong in search of its roots, the more apparent it becomes that all of these teachings emerged originally from the vast pool of pre-historic Shamanic practices. Most Qigong styles were organized by and for the followers of one belief system or another in ancient China, Tibet, Mongolia and Korea. Following the establishment of the main Eastern schools of thought about 2,500 years ago, Qigong eventually developed six distinctive branches; Daoist, Buddhist, Tantric, Therapeutic, Wushu (martial arts), and Kung Fu Tze (Confucian) Qigong.
Each of them developed their teachings and methods of training following the steps of their respective founders. The history of some traditions can be traced back to particular individuals who originated their schools of thought, oftentimes even unbeknownst to themselves. As Jesus Christ was not a Christian and Buddha Shakyamuni was not a Buddhist, so most original masters of Yoga and Qigong had no idea that their disciples would institutionalize their personal practices of self-realization. The masters simply followed their own inner guidance as to how to be in the flow of things in this magical world. With time, a lot of people perceived those masters as great examples of living in the flow. The consequent generations of students, however, grew further and further apart from the roots of their respective traditions by institutionalizing them.
About 2,500 years ago, the prominent Chinese philosopher Lao Tze presumably wrote Dao De Jing, which brought together many pieces of the ancient Oriental wisdom and formed the foundation of Daoism. The adherents of that teaching created Daoist Qigong dedicated to the attainment of great longevity and, supposedly, immortality. Around the same period of time, the followers of the famous Chinese philosopher Kung Fu Tze (a.k.a. Confucius) formulated Confucian Qigong, mainly concerned with mentoring leaders and guiding them in creating a harmonious society. Around the same time in India, Buddha Shakyamuni taught his teachings to thousands of devoted disciples, who eventually started practicing Buddhist Qigong to achieve spiritual awakening, or Nirvana. The adepts of Tantra, a mystical sect of Hinduism that spread via the Himalayas into Tibet, came up with Tantric Qigong dedicated to self-realization through the means of enlightening personal and transpersonal relationships. Therapeutic Qigong, initially a cornerstone of Oriental Medicine, is mostly concerned with the issues of health and holistic healing. Martial, or Wushu Qigong, as the name implies, is focused on effective self-defense and protection of others.
Nowadays, many Qigong styles are still confined within the parameters of their respective doctrines, while others integrate some aspects of two or more branches of Qigong. For example, Buddhist monks from the Shaolin Temple are known for both martial arts prowess and competence in Buddhist Qigong. Many Daoist Qigong masters are also great healers and/or martial artists. In fact, Tai Chi Chuan is an offspring of Daoist martial arts. By the same token, Tantra is a major part of Buddhist tradition in Tibet and Mongolia where lamas (Shamans and Buddhist spiritual teachers) often integrate Tantric and Buddhist Qigong practices.
There is one style, however, that does not merely try to reach for the fruits on the ends of the branches of the "Qigong tree," but rather goes back to the Shamanic roots of the entire tree and empowers its practitioners to stay true to the original universality of the art. Its practice allows advancing to high levels of achievement in all six applications of Qigong as a result of integrating the power and wisdom of the six branches into one. This non-sectarian tradition of Tibetan Shamanic Qigong has been preserved through the centuries by twenty-seven generations of masters who explored numerous possible applications of energy awareness in all spheres of life, from fighting to healing and sexual energy arts.
Our system has been known under several different names, depending on the culture and language of the person you speak to. In Tibetan, it may be referred to as Trul Khor, but in the States, I prefer to use the Chinese name Qi Dao, due to the issues with the Tibetan pronunciation (which really sounds like "true whore"). It originated from an ancient Shamanic tradition called Bon that existed for many millennia prior to the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet by Padmasambhava.
Historically, Tibetan culture did not exist in as much isolation as many Westerners seem to think. Both Indian and Chinese influences have been very strong in Tibet for centuries; without them there would be no Tibetan Buddhism as such. Over the centuries, Qi Dao developed into a refined distillation of the ancient Bon traditions, Indian yogic practices and Chinese energy arts. It has many similarities with a number of other systems such as Tummo, Yantra Yoga and Tai Chi Chuan.
The Mongols, who are culturally close to the Tibetans, disseminated Bon throughout Asia when Genghis Khan and his descendants created the largest empire in human history. As all empires eventually collapse, the Mongol Empire also fell apart 300 years later, and different parts of it became primarily Christian
(Russia), Muslim (Central Asia), Hindu (India), Buddhist (Tibet and Mongolia), or Daoist/Buddhist/Confucian (China). Siberia ended up as the only part of the vast empire where the Siberian Shamanism smoothly blended with the Tibetan/Mongolian traditions and survived to the present day.
During the existence of the Soviet Union, it was quite difficult to perpetuate our practice, since the Communist regime persecuted all types of spirituality and even outlawed all martial arts, fearing that the common people might experience any kind of empowerment. Being born and raised in the former Soviet Union, I experienced on my own skin the brunt of the Communist oppression. Many years ago, the Soviet KGB even gave my Grandfather, from whom I learned most of my skills, an ultimatum: "You must work for us or else..." Well, they used to send people to Siberia, but if you were already living there, what else do you think they might do to punish you for non-cooperation? Reluctantly, he agreed to train the top echelon of the KGB, including Stalin's bodyguards.
Many aspects of our tradition can be seen in the Systema - the Russian martial arts developed by such masters as Mikhail Ryabko and Alexei Kadochnikov, both of whom trained the Russian Special Forces, too. If you have an opportunity to experience that art in action, you will find it very fluid and formless, quite distinct from the vast majority of the Chinese, Japanese and Korean styles of martial arts, but very similar to Qi Dao. As you can imagine, it would have been totally suicidal to teach any spiritual aspects of our art to the Soviet spooks; that is why the most profound parts of Qi Dao cannot be found in the Systema.
Bruce Kumar Frantzis, a well-known American Qigong master, pointed out to me a few years ago that I might want to call my teachings Shen Gong (spiritual practice) rather than Qigong (energy practice), because it is ultimately dedicated to self-realization and awakening to the dream-like nature of reality instead of focusing on the cultivation and manipulation of Qi as in most styles of Chinese Qigong. My respect to Mr. Frantzis notwithstanding, I continue referring to Qi Dao as Tibetan Shamanic Qigong, whose foundational principles are the subject of this chapter.
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