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Xu Mingtang’s speech at the First International Image Medicine conference in Moscow, 2011

Transcript, translated from Russian by Ekaterina Bespyatova

Today I am going to talk about what image is, how it evolved and what it means for a Qigong practitioner. I know that you are Image Therapists, but you’re also Qigong practitioners. Any practitioner wants his or hers Qigong practice to be fruitful, and there is a correlation between images and the results of your practice.

We know how to use images for healing in Image Medicine. How can we use images for fruitful Qigong practice?

Let’s see first how we get our knowledge about the Universe. Being humans, we can’t see what’s far from us. When we look at the stars we know they are very big, but what we see directly is tiny dots of light.

How could ancient scientists describe natural phenomena without having access to any equipment? They could not see much with their physical eyes, so they used images.

Humans have the ability to perceive the surrounding world through mental images. So what exactly images are?

The evolution of images in Chinese culture began when hieroglyphics first appeared. The most ancient Chinese chronicles used pictures to tell about the happenings of that time. The Taoists used images in their practice. Buddhism – this is a very big movement now, as we know – at first was not called “the teaching of Buddha” as it is now in Chinese, but “the teaching of images”, because all the practices were based on altering the images. Now if we go to any Buddhist monastery we’ll see a lot of pictures and statues there. Many of them depict what cannot be seen with physical eyes – aura around the head, for instance. We don’t see auras with our eyes. Also a lot of statues have third eye, but we don’t see third eye on people. Why then such pictures and statues exist? Because some of us can see all this with inner vision.

We know that there are shamans in Siberia and in China, in China in ancient times they were called sorcerers. If you talk to shamans they’ll tell you that they can see specific images when they go into trance state. Again, what they see is not something that can be seen with physical eyes. You have to be in an altered state of consciousness to see all that.

Absolutely every culture has knowledge of images as means to discover and study the surrounding world. But what exactly an image is?

We say that image is what can be seen with our Third Eye. What information is contained in an image, or what an image can tell us?

When we start to study ourselves we soon realize that a lot of information cannot be obtained in any other way except through images. About health, for instance. How can we know if a person is sick or healthy? When something happens, we try to understand what it is. Look at this picture where three blind men are touching an elephant. They cannot see the elephant, they only use their hands to try to understand it, so each one of them has his own idea of what an elephant is. Same thing happens to us when we try to study ourselves using physical eyes. Our physical vision can only perceive the surface of the body, not the inside. Our eyes can only capture the reflected light, if there’s no light we can’t see. This is why our perception of ourselves is very limited. Like in this tale of three blind men and an elephant: each has his own vision, but none of them captures the essence. If we try to understand ourselves and our health with just the physical senses, we’ll get a very subjective picture. Even if we cut a human being into tiny little pieces still we will only see the surface. This is why anything we see with our physical eyes will never be the whole picture. If we want to see the world how it really is, we have to develop the ability to see images.

This ability is inherent to all human beings. Every one of you can close your eyes and see some pictures on your inner screen. When we’re asleep, our eyes are closed, but we’re getting images in our mind. When we rest, listen to music, we can also close our eyes and get pictures in our head. This proves that we have the ability to see images. With special training this ability can be developed so that we could make use of it. Ancient shamans, for instance, used the ability to see images to predict the weather or to treat diseases. Image Medicine that is developing now also uses images and image thinking.

In many cultures there exists such a notion as Third Eye. This is also an image. This image tells us that even if we don’t use our physical eyes we still can see something. You all have the experience of seeing dreams and other images. Now let’s see if an image can reflect the level of our practice.

If you see an image during your meditation, what can this image tell you? It can tell you what level of practice you have achieved so far. Now you can listen to what I say and compare what I describe with images you get during meditation or when treating patients.

When you close your eyes and there’s darkness in there, this means your ability to see images is not developed yet. That’s too bad, right? (laughs) If during your practice you suddenly see a flash of light and then some images of clouds, sky, mountains or water – congratulations. This means your Third Eye has opened. This also means you’ve reached a Pause state – your mind has gotten very calm and quiet and then everything stopped. This is the state where you can get knowledge about the Universe. The ability to see images develops only if you practice a lot and if you reach the Pause state.

So, if that was what you saw – I can tell that you’ve gotten the Pause state. First you need to learn how to relax. Then you need to enter the quiet state, only after that it’s possible to get the Pause state, and only in the Pause state it’s possible to see images.

But this is not the end, you have to practice further. Then you’ll start to see different things. For instance, you might see something that happened in the past – this means your ability to see images has gone up to a new level. You might see a star that’s getting closer and closer to you. You might ask a question: how was this star born? You’ll see the star getting further away from you, getting smaller, and then you’ll see an explosion: this means you’ve seen the past.

The ability to see images helps a lot when we need to diagnose a disease. For example, you see a wrong image. You ask a question: why is there a problem here? You see a lot of changing images and then – this person drinking alcohol. Then you know that this is the cause of the disease and this person has to stop drinking to restore health.

So, if you’ve seen something from the past this means you’re now on the second level of seeing images. You need to practice further. Then you’ll be able to see how a specific event has a specific consequence, in other words you’ll be able to see the future. This result that you see is not something you’ve deduced from hearing someone talking or seeing something with physical eyes. If that’s the case – this is not your own ability. If you hear it in your head in your native language – it’s not your own ability. Now here’s the question: before people started talking, how were they communicating? How could they predict the results of specific actions? Language is several thousand years old. How many tens of thousands years old is Life? Or is it billions of years? Before languages were created people communicated through mental images, with image thinking. Since that time we used images to understand ourselves and the Universe, this is why I say that everyone has the potential to do this.

This potential ability will become the more developed the more we get into Pause state. What use can we make of the images of the future? We can see what disease a person will get in a number of years. Heart attack or stroke, as you know, happen very suddenly. We may not know we’re in danger until it happens, and after it happened it greatly affects our life. So, if we see that a patient may get a heart disease in future we will recommend a special therapy for strengthening the heart to prevent this potential problem.

When we get the ability to see both past and future, we’re able to know all the consequences of what’s happening in present. We know the cause and the effect and how they are connected, for example, how the current disease will be progressing, or what will be the result of an action taken now.

This is why we say that images you get in meditation reflect your level of practice. If you continue practicing even further, you will be able to see the essence of all things. If you see that someone’s disease is a result of something bad this person has done in the past, you’ll be able to tell the reason why the person did it. Continuous practice will bring you to the essence of things. Then someday you’ll understand the essence of existence – you’ll see the absolute, not the relative.

The dynamics of images shows us how our practice progresses. But how should we practice in order to make progress? Let’s talk about how we use images in our practice. When we visualize the ball in the lower Dantian – this is also an image, right? If we repeatedly put an image of a ball in the lower Dantian, eventually the ball appears. We use images – of a tree, of a dragon – in other exercises too. We become a tree or a dragon. If you imagine that you are a Buddha or another spiritual teacher, one day you will become him. If you always imagine that you’re young, beautiful and eighteen, it will happen one day. The mental image will affect the physical body. If you practice Level 4 you understand even better that images are something we use all the time and that helps us grow. This work with images is part of Image Medicine too, but before we use it in Image Medicine we have to learn how to do it in our practice.

So, what images can facilitate our practice? Different images have different effect. You have to think of your goals here. If you want to improve your ability to see, visualize the red ball, picture it illuminating your body from the inside – or you can just close your eyes and imagine that nothing exists, that everything is empty. If you want to help other people improve their health, you can imagine that you are Guan Yin, or a famous doctor that you know of.

If we want to be absolutely healthy with no diseases whatsoever, what mental image should we create? I, for example, have to practice every day to stay healthy. What should I be imagining to help me with this goal? Big Tree? (laughs) I don’t know about health, but I guarantee you that in a hundred years you’ll be a tree. So, what’s the image? Healthy person? Do you know a healthy person, who’s that?

Let’s think: what is the image of a healthy person? I can tell you. This is an image of emptiness. When a person is healthy, there’s no pathologic images for us to see. So the way of practice is to just sit, close your eyes and imagine that you are transparent, empty inside, that you don’t exist. The word “Kundawell”, for example, consists of 3 parts, “kun” means emptiness, “da” means to achieve, and “well” is derived from the English word “wellness”. Thus the meaning of Kundawell is “to completely empty oneself to achieve wellness” – something that many of you didn’t realize. To be healthy yourself you have to imagine that you are transparent, empty. To heal someone you have to imagine this person being empty. We have specific methods for changing mental images. We have methods that allow us to see images. Modern medicine uses MRI, PAT scan and other technology to get images, and to assess the health condition based on that. Then the treatment is implemented, and another assessment is made afterwards – based on another set of images received with the same technology. The images “before” and “after” are compared, and if the bad image has disappeared, this means the treatment was successful. Image Medicine uses the same assessment principle as modern western medicine. The difference is that modern western medicine uses physical images as evidence, whereas Image Medicine uses mental images – and also changes images.

And the most important thing for us is to make progress in our spiritual practice with the help of images. Let me ask you this: how do you think you need to practice to become a Buddha? You don’t know? You think this is impossible? This is how you practice: you transform yourself into what you want to become. If you are a follower of some religious or spiritual movement and want to achieve what the founder of that movement had achieved – become this person.

Difficult, perhaps? (laughs) And if you want to learn everything I know, what should you do? What image should you create? Yes, you should imagine that you are me, Xu Mingtang. Is this an effective method? Scientists have researched this – it really does work. Knowledge can be attained not only through studying something, there are other ways of transmission. You’ve heard about this experiment, when people taught monkeys on one island to wash bananas before eating, and then monkeys on another island, who we not taught, also started washing bananas. This shows that there are other ways of transmitting information and knowledge.

Let’s say you’re learning to drive a car. First some images arise in your mind, you think about what you are going to do, and then you do it. You drink when you’re thirsty. First you have the idea, the image of a water bottle, and then you reach for it. This means, image always comes first. First there is an image, and only after that – an action. Why don’t you see the images other people see in their minds? Because you’re not those people. If you could become me, you would be able to see what I see, to think what I think. People can use this way of transmission to learn new things.

Now we will practice. Relax and change your image. Imagine that you are me.

Xu Mingtang
Moscow, 2011

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