Robert Andrew Anderson
I first met Master Ou more
than four years ago. A friend of mine—a fellow taiji
practitioner—called and said that a qigong teacher of hers was
going to be giving a workshop at her house on an upcoming Saturday
morning, was I interested in attending? I answered with a polite waffle.
Certainly a part of me was interested, the part that is always interested
in such a workshop, but there were the usual inner arguments against
going: couldn’t afford it, had something else to do, was it really going
to be worth my while? Besides, as I told my friend, my wife and I were at
that time attending a three-month, once-a-week medical qigong
course given by a respected teacher of both taiji quan and
qigong. That may be, she rejoined, but this class will change your
Her words stayed with me;
whether they were decisive or not—who knows?—my wife and I did attend,
although as we drove to our friend’s rural home that Saturday morning I
was wishing I had said no. The night before there was an art opening at
the gallery we were both members of and the “after-party” had formed at
our house, as was usual in those days; my wife had gone to bed at a decent
time but I hadn’t; I had a great time, drinking with my friends, preparing
food in our welcoming kitchen/dining room, the scene of many such
gatherings, drinking even more, and finally getting to bed around three in
I was very hungover. But I
was also used to toughing it out when in such a state (once, in Marine
Corps training at Quantico, I had gotten to bed very drunk at four a.m.,
then gotten up at six for an all-day field exercise), and that’s what I
did at the workshop. Master Ou, it turned out, did not speak English, and
the translator spoke rather softly so I had to make an extra effort to
hear through the buzzing in my mind. But what was being said, not about
the qigong exercise itself—yet—but about the teacher’s background,
experiences, and the nature of what he was going to teach us succeeded in
holding the attention of my bleary, sleep-deprived mind.
In his twenties Ou
Wen Wei had been arrested and put into some kind of detention during the
Cultural Revolution in his home province (Guangdong) in southern China,
even though up till then he had been a loyal Communist Party member. This
was not particularly unusual, as millions of Chinese were similarly
persecuted during that time.
But something else was happening to Master Ou that was particularly
unusual: in his mind a kind of supernatural being began to communicate
with him, showing him images ranging from the time of the creation of the
universe to what the world will look like in the future; this being, or
intelligence, spoke as well of how human beings should conduct themselves
in our present-day world.
Not a typical qigong
workshop. When he did get to teaching us the actual exercise, it turned
out to be rather simple in its mechanics: a series of circling motions
made with the hands as we stood in one spot (it can also be performed
sitting down or even lying down); what we were doing by making these
circles, Master Ou explained, was capturing the energy of the sun in one
set of circle-making, the energy of the moon in another set, and the
combination of these two energies in the third set of circling motions.
There was also an arm stretch in which we opened ourselves up to and then
“embraced” the universe (and its energy), and then a briefly held posture
in which we imagined our cupped palms “holding the golden chrysanthemum”
(symbol of the future). At the beginning and at the end of the exercise
we were to recite some phrases, either aloud or to ourselves, pertaining
to what the supernatural being had told him about how we should conduct
ourselves (with “kindness and benevolence” and other admirable
qualities). This supernatural being, Master Ou at one point told us, had
something to do with Pan Gu, a figure from Chinese mythology. Who was
(is) Pan Gu? The creator of the universe.
It was all very different
from the course in medical qigong my wife and I were then attending
and different as well from any other taiji or qigong class I
had ever taken, or any that I had read about. Yet I found myself
receptive to it. Mythology to me as a writer of fiction has become over
the years more and more a field for the exploration of reality. Also, I
have read with enthusiasm the philosophy connected with the practice of
inner alchemy, both Eastern and Western, and so the notion of an exercise
that synthesizes the energies of the sun and moon—gold and silver—within
our bodies was especially attracting. I left the workshop thinking, and
saying to my wife, that this Pan Gu Mystical Qigong might just be what I
had been looking for. I also left the workshop with my head quite clear:
hangover gone. So I knew, from that very first session, the exercise was
good for something.
As for the business
of receiving communications from a supernatural being: it was not the
first time I had met a person who had had such an experience. As a young
man in New York back in the early 70s, I had made the acquaintance of a
peer who had received messages that identified him as Adam; he soon
discovered he had powerful psychic-healing powers, became a healer, and,
as far as I know, is still using his energies to help others.
Later, when we lived in Boston, I attended the lectures of one who was
studying ancient Egyptian symbolism; on a trip to Egypt he had received
information about the universe “directly” while visiting a certain temple;
what he told us—his message, what he had learned about creation and the
universe—struck me as truth I already possessed but didn’t know I had.
At around that same time I was studying ancient Greek literature (in
translation) at Harvard; my teacher—the best “academic” one I have ever
had—gave us, his students, his own personal definition of mythology (after
eliciting ours): “Mythology,” he said, “is society’s way of telling the
truth about itself.”
Again, it touched a truth within me.
What happened next
was that my wife and I began to practice the exercise on a daily basis.
And what happened after that was that we both began “feeling things.”
Among practitioners of qigong these are referred to as “qi
sensations.” In my case it was strong tingling in my hands, like electric
currents, curling my fingers; also heat. Then I began having these
experiences when I wasn’t practicing the exercise. What is qi? you
might ask. It is energy, the energy that animates the universe, that is
in all of us, whether we consciously feel it or not; the energy that
acupuncturists manipulate using needles. I had had “qi sensations”
before, during acupuncture treatments and also during meditation, but what
I was experiencing now was new to me.
But there was something
else going on as well, something more subtle and also more important: I
began to feel better. That is the best and most concise way I can put
it. I simply began to feel better. Emotionally, psychologically,
psychically, spiritually—I’m not sure which of those words or combinations
thereof would be most accurate; perhaps all of them apply. Does it
matter? My wife reported feeling better too. Perhaps in her case what
was happening can be described more specifically: she was going through
menopause and had been experiencing some tough times, emotionally and
physically; she says now that she doesn’t know what would have happened to
her if she hadn’t learned Pan Gu qigong when she did.
As I began to feel
more and more energy and to continue to “feel better,” I also had the
thought that this phenomenon was something I wanted to share with others.
My wife and I became teachers of the exercise and we also began to
practice in a very small way what Master Ou does in a big way: passing on
this energy to others in sessions that he calls “healing” and we call
“energy sharing.” I also began to work on The Path of Life. I had
had writing/editing experience of this kind before: when I was first
learning taiji quan in New York City I helped both my first
teachers with books of theirs.
I do not know Chinese and in their cases worked directly with the authors,
my teachers, who both knew some English. In Master Ou’s case I have
worked closely with Vincent Chu, a taiji master from a renowned
a fellow Pan Gu Mystical Qigong teacher, and Master Ou’s regular
translator for his classes, workshops, lectures, and healing sessions in
the Boston area. Vincent and I are now going on to the next volume to be
published in the Path of Life trilogy.
What is a reader to
make of this book? As Master Ou said in a recent talk about science and
religion and Pan Gu, it is not necessary to accept The Path of
Life as factual; read it as a novel, if you will—science fiction—or as
mythology (Pan Gu says much the same in the book itself). In the same
lecture he pointed out that there is no conflict between what is said in
the book and religion; in fact he likes to tell American audiences how
lucky we are for having our freedom of religion: how unprepared he had
been, having been brought up in a communist society, for the idea of a
Creator—much less of anything supernatural. As for what I make of it, I
must admit it is my kind of book,
presenting as it does mythology as reality (or reality as mythology): the
creation of the universe, past conflicts between heaven and earth
(including a stirring martial-arts scene), interpretations of present-day
events and people, a fantastic future world (including an earth that is no
longer a sphere). Plus it is at its most basic level the story of one man
caught up in two nets at the same time: that of the vicissitudes of a
totalitarian society, and that of his hidden, all-consuming relationship
with a supernatural power. (The story includes as well Master Ou’s
poignant love affair with his wife, Mandy.)
Whatever a reader
might make of The Path of Life, I know what I have made of Master
Ou, qigong master and healer
and my former adversary in war:
a very good friend. I have been a guest in his house, eaten at his table
with his wife and daughter (also my friends), sung karaoke with him,
drunk strong Chinese liquor with him (very small amounts: my
heavy-drinking days are no more—a side-effect, let us say, of the
qigong practice), and have experienced the energy that comes out of
his healing hands. I have listened to him many times speak openly,
honestly, and emotionally of his experiences, of his hopes for others, of
his faults, of his accomplishments. He is in some ways an ordinary
person, a “good guy,” priding himself on his rendition—in English—of “You
Are My Sunshine”; in other ways he is quite remarkable, in fact, the most
remarkable human being I have ever met (and a very good cook).
Pan Gu Mystical Qigong has
indeed changed my life, as my friend and fellow qigong teacher Mary
Beth Soares once predicted it would, but it has not taken over my life. I
am still a writer dedicated to, struggling with, and delighting in my
task, discovering truth through fiction—or through my fictional
imagination, which more and more I believe is connected to in ways I do
not understand (nor do I need to) the mythic groundwork we live in, or
spring from. I give thanks to my muse, though I have never met her. When
I work on The Path of Life I know I am not doing my work but
am assisting Master Ou (and Pan Gu?) in his work. It is hard work,
often frustrating, sometimes tedious, but it has enriched my life. I hope
I have done it justice.
This book is the third
volume of the trilogy that makes up the complete Path of Life.
It is the first volume, however, to be published in English, in accordance
with the author's wishes. We are now at work on the English version of
Volume I, the next to be published. Readers should have little trouble,
given the footnotes especially provided for this translation, along with
the introductory material, in following this fascinating story.
Da Liu, I
Ching Chinese Coin Prediction (New York: Harper & Row, 1974); C.
K. Chu, T’ai Chi Ch’uan Principles and Practice (New York:
Sunflower Press, 1981).
father—and teacher—is Gin Soon Chu, the number-two disciple of Yeung
Sau Chung, who was the oldest son and best student of Yang Cheng Fu,
grandson of Yang Lu Chan, founder of Yang family style taiji quan.
Vincent also studied with Yeung Sau Chung himself, with Ip Tai Tak,
his number-one disciple, and with Professor Fang Ning.
I speak now
of the whole of The Path of Life—all three volumes.
In May 2001
Master Ou was named “Qigong Master of the Year” at the Fourth World
Qigong Congress, held in San Francisco.