What is the origin of the term turning the light around? It began with the skillful Wenshi (aka Guan Yizi 尹喜, a legendary Taoist in the Zhou dynasty). When the light is turned around, the energies of heaven and earth, yin and yang, all concentrate and solidify. This is what is called “refined thought,” or “purified energy,” or “pure light.”
When you first put this technique into practice, there is seemingly nonbeing within being. Eventually in the course of time, when the practice is completed, you will come to a point where there is seemingly body beyond the body, being within nothingness.
Only after carrying on concentrated work for a hundred days will the light become real; only then the fire of spirit comes into view. After a hundred days, a dot of true yang energy naturally emerges from the light – a millet pearl is born, just as an embryo engendered from the intercourse of a male and a female. Then you should attend it calmly and quietly. The turning around of the light is the “firing process.”
In the original creation, there is yang light, which is the dominant energy. In the material world it is the sun; in a human being it is the eyes. Spiritual energy can waste away through the eyes. So the Way of the Golden Flower is practiced completely through the method of reversal.
Turning the light around is not just turning around the light of one body, but turning around the very essence of Creation. It is not temporarily stopping wandering thoughts, but ultimately emptying the cycles of samsara for all time.
Therefore each breath corresponds to one year of earthly life; and each breath corresponds to a century drifting in the ninefold darkness of ignorance.
The majority of people end up pursuing superficial objects and coming to age in conformity with life, without ever looking back. Once their yang energy fades and disappears, they then enter the ninefold netherworlds. The Surangama Sutra says, “Through purified thought one can fly; through emotions one can only fall.” When people are not mindful of their thoughts and emotions, they sink into lower ways. Just by observing clearly and breathing quietly, you can attain perfect enlightenment. This is application of the method of reversal.
In the Yin Convergence Classic it says, “The eyes hold the key.” And in the Plain Questions section of The Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor it says, “All the essence of the human body flows upward and fills the empty apertures of the space (between the eyes).” If one gets this, one has the key to attaining immortality and transcendence of earthly life. This is a shared belief and practice prevalent in all three major philosophies – Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
The light is everywhere, both inside and outside the body. Mountains, rivers, sun, moon, and the whole earth are all this light, so it is not only inside the body. All the operations of intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom are also this light, so it is not only outside the body. The light of heaven and earth fills the universe; the light of one individual also naturally extends through the heavens and covers all mountains, rivers, and earth. Therefore, once you turn the light around, everything in the world is turned around.
The essence of the body is concentrated upward into the eyes; this is the great key. You should reflect on this. If you do not practice meditation every day, this light flows and gets lost, stopping who knows where. If only you can just sit quietly for a quarter of an hour, you resolve ten thousand kalpas and disentangle a thousand lifetimes. All phenomena revert to stillness. Truly inconceivable is this sublime truth.
Nevertheless, the actual practice proceeds from shallow to deep, from crude to fine. Throughout, it is best to be consistent. The effort is the same from beginning to end, but its experience during the process is personal and only known to oneself. You have got it only when you attain the state where “heaven is open, ocean is unbounded, and all things are just as they are.”
What the sages throughout history have passed on is not departed from ONE thing – internally turning the light around and gazing at it. Confucius calls it “attaining omniscience.” The Buddha calls it “observing the nature of mind.” Lao-zi calls it “inner awareness.” It is all about the same thing.
Anyone can talk about turning the light around, but no one can master it if they don’t really know what the words mean. It means turning away from the discriminating mind and returning to the origin of spirit, the primordial mind. It means using my six-foot body to attain the infinite body of heaven and earth. Nowadays people sit only one or two hours, immersing in their discriminating thoughts, and already they call it “reversing the light” – how can they attain anything!
The founders of Buddhism and Taoism teach us to look at the tip of one’s nose. They do not mean that one should focus the mind on the tip of the nose. Nor do they mean that while the eyes are looking at the tip of the nose, the mind should be concentrated on Dan Tian, the Elixir Field. Because wherever the eyes look, the attention follows. How can one’s mind go to different places at the same time? If you don’t realize this, you are taking the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.
Then what does it really mean? The idea of focusing on the tip of the nose is truly clever. It is using the nose as a berth for the eyes, but the nose is not the point here. If you open your eyes too wide, you tend to look into the distance and scatter your attention around. If you close the eyes too tight, you are prone to immerse in reveries and get lost in sleep. It is only when you lower the eyelids halfway, just enough for the tip of the nose to be seen, that you are doing it properly.
The key is to lower the eyelids just enough, letting in the light naturally. No special effort is needed. The tip of the nose serves as a guideline only at the beginning of meditation, once your focal point is directed, you simply let it be. It is like a mason hanging up a plumb-line. Once he has it hung up, he goes about his work accordingly without looking at the plumb-line.
Stopping and observing is a Buddhist method that was revealed originally. One sits upright and relaxed, looking at the tip of the nose, and paying attention to Dan Tien, the Elixir Field. It is not necessarily the center of the head, but a point that lies somewhere between the eyes. Light is something fickle and erratic. You just slightly fix the attention on a point between the two eyes, the light will naturally go there. Do not force anything. The words above have summed up all the essential teaching. As for the rest, the prelude and the aftermath, matters of entering and exiting stillness, one can check the book Small Stopping and Observing for further reference.
The words focus on the center are very delicate. The center is omnipresent; the whole universe is within it. It indicates the inner workings of Creation – through concentration you enter the gate. To focus means to focus on it as a hint, not to become rigidly fixated. The word focus has life to it; it is very subtle.
The words stopping and observing are inseparable, meaning concentration and insight. When a thought arises, you should investigate it: what is this thought? Where does it come from? Where does it go to? Repeat the process until you realize it cannot be grasped; then you don’t need to trace it any more. I have pacified your mind for you.
This is right view; the opposite to this is false view. Once you realize that thoughts cannot be grasped, you continue to practice stopping and follow it by observing, and continue to practice observing and follow it by stopping. This is the double cultivation of stopping and observing. This is turning the light around. The turning around is stopping; the light is observing. Stopping without observing is called turning around without light; observing without stopping is called having the light without turning it around. Remember this.