Today we welcome Damo Mitchell to the blog. Many magical practitioners also have an interest in Eastern systems of cultivation that they successfully integrate with their magical practice. So, I thought it would be good to speak with someone who focuses single mindedly on the cultivation side who has managed to find willing teachers and who now has a long track record of successfully passing on these teachings himself. Due to Damo’s schedule and travel he recorded a specific video just for us here at the Perseus Arcane Academy. Thank you Damo.
So, you can decide to watch the video below or read the transcript that I have provided below the video. Whichever you choose I hope you find the information here interesting and informative. Be sure to head over to Damos websites to see what he is up to, also check out his excellent books on these subjects.
Apologies for any strange phrases used or any errors in the transcript – this is a result of the software not a reflection of what Damo is saying.
The following is a transcript of the above video, edited for accuracy
PAA: Welcome to the blog. Could you provide us with a brief introduction before we dive into the specifics of your journey.
Damo: Okay, so my name is Damo. I’m a practitioner of the Chinese arts. I started out in martial arts, Japanese martial arts. When I was younger, I’ve studied since I was a kid, and these days, I’ve moved into Chinese martial arts. So specifically, what people would know is the internal arts, such as Taiji and Bagua. That’s what my martial arts training is. I also study neigong, an internal system that is very much connected to another art called alchemy, Chinese alchemy Neidan. I’m also a Chinese medicine practitioner, an author of a few books. I run a school that has branches across the world, I suppose, share in these arts, and I continue to study and practice these arts or explore as much as I can to try to get to the bottom of them. Because I believe that the Chinese arts are a lot more hidden than people might think in this day and age. So that’s who I am anyway. Perpetual student.
PAA: We can see from your public CV that you have journeyed through the Martial Arts to arrive in the presence of guides who could show you the deeper aspects of these arts. Could you share a little more about this journey, how you moved from having some itch that you needed to scratch within the Martial Arts and arriving at the deep arts of Spiritual Cultivation and the formation of Lotus Nei Gung.
Damo: Okay, yeah. So I think the journey that I took from martial arts through to spiritual cultivation, I think is quite a natural one. I think it’s normal for many practitioners to do this, or I believe, rather damagingly. It should be a healthy transition. This is the healthiest transition that someone should make. Because I think, as you’ve asked about here, I started out in martial arts. When I first started, I didn’t really want to do them. I was just very young, and I just went because my parents did. But then as I got further into the arts, they became a very important part of my life. So I started pursuing any Japanese art I could study and then any Chinese art as well. I got specially fascinated by Tai Chi Chuan and Bagua, but I also studied lots of different Chinese kung fu systems as well. Anything I could get, really, that ended up with many years traveling around China and Southeast Asia studying martial arts with different schools, traditions. So anything I could do to understand martial art. And at the beginning, of course, I mean, it was about fighting. I think that’s fair to say. As with almost anybody who comes into Eastern martial arts, to be perfectly honest, if we’re really honest about it, it comes from a place of insecurity. Most people who come into Chinese martial arts come in because they’re frightened of something, frightened of other males that are more aggressive than them, or danger on the street, or just not being tough enough, or maybe just feeling inadequate on a sort of masculine level or something like that. Or feminine if your female, I suppose. But that insecurity is what sort of spurs a lot of people on to doing these arts, including me. And then I think what happens is, if your martial arts training is healthy, shall we say it does its job, then gradually what it does is you learn to deal with that insecurity through the mechanisms inherent within martial arts training. So you get better at dealing with stress within a violent situation, albeit very controlled, learn that you’re not fragile, learn how to push yourself and so on and so on. Gradually what should happen is that insecurities should then be overcome. Now by that stage, you’ve normally been in the martial arts for a number of years generally. So what happens is you get to a stage where something else arises in you and usually you get older or you get some injuries. So therefore you sort of transition from being interested in the sort of violence aspects of martial arts through to the sort of healing or medical aspect. I think that’s quite normal. For some people it’s an injury like so. For some it’s almost like just combating the aging process, because all of us are aging all of the time. So martial arts training is always going to get difficult at some point, no matter how young you start, because the aging process kicks in. So I think your arts become therapeutic at some stage, I think as well. Sometimes you look at how you move. And I think why I can say this for me, but I think it’s the same for quite a lot of others. I started to see like, my friends, my peers that I grew up with who didn’t do martial arts and how their bodies moved and how uncomfortable they were and just generally how the aging process was a real bitch for them and started to then kind of see, okay, there’s a value to what I’m doing because my body was not following that same pattern. So I think you sort of move transition from fighting or fighting your own securities into medical or therapeutic training anyway, I think that’s natural. You should do then from there. I think the next stage is I think as you go deeper, especially with an art that’s introspective like Tai chi, as you tend to then encounter other parts of the arts like Qigong for me, Neigung or Alchemy, these kinds of internal traditions that are a little separate from the martial arts path, but you end up kind of looking at those two. And I think that you start to spend all that time looking inside and looking at the sort of associated philosophies that go with martial arts and with qigong starts to lead you towards understanding that there’s a spiritual aspect to this path as well. So it becomes meditative and then people will do different things with that. Some people will keep it at a level of mindfulness. Some people will take it further and really start to study something deeper like alchemy. If you happen to have access to a guide, a teacher that can help you with this because it’s quite difficult to find a teacher, to be honest with you. So I think that’s what you’re asking about here. The sort of transition of my training from martial arts to medical for me really becoming fascinated in the efficiency of the body’s functioning through to spiritual cultivation. I think it’s quite normal. I think it’s a natural transition or it should be. I’m always bit confused when I see a martial artist who’s like 60 or 50 still harping on all the time about how they could kill a man with their bare hands or something. It always seems strange to me that’s like a child’s mindset or a teenager’s mindset. It’s very early days of martial arts, and I think if people don’t go through that transition naturally from combative to medical, or maybe they skip medical and go to a sort of spiritual or more sort of personal cultivation side, if they don’t go through that transition, I think something is wrong. They become stunted in their growth a little bit. And funny enough, those people that don’t go through that transition, if they don’t shift from combat to medical, they end up injuring themselves. They always do. So those sort of older martial artists are obsessed with being the toughest. They’re always covered in sort of knee straps and ankle wraps and kinesiology tape and all these different things for the injuries they’re accumulating, because they’re not studying the medical side of the art. And if they’re not studying the spiritual or mental side of the art, often what happens is they become quite paranoid and then they start harping on about street defense and ninjas jumping out from dark alleys at any moment and things like this. So I think if martial arts are done well, they can naturally lead you down this path. And then the formation of Lotus Neigong you asked about as well. Lotus NeiGong is my school that I run. It came about accidentally, actually came about because I started teaching a couple of people at the request of one of my teachers. And then actually where I was teaching had a big glass window on to the high school street. So people walking past all the time in a city called Cardiff in the UK. And not the nicest city, I’ll be honest, but it was okay. So people are walking past, and they’re looking in the glass, and they’re seeing us train. So then people were just interested, so they started coming in, and then they started studying the tai chi and Qigong with me, and gradually they looked around, and one day there were 30 people. And I don’t know if the school grew out of that, really. So almost an accidental thing. It just kind of grew. But, you know, I enjoyed. So that’s good.
PAA: Discovering this information, finding trustworthy teachers and then being accepted by those teachers is no easy task.
Damo: Yes. Finding teachers of these arts is quite tricky. Well, I think it’s probably fair to say the trickiness depends on how deep you want to go, because, say you want to divide teachers into beginner, intermediate, and master level skill, we could say, obviously, depending on how deep you go, you need a teacher that is at the right level. So, for example, if the martial arts or the internal arts like Qigong or Neidan, the alchemy practice or meditation, if you’re really doing it as a hobby or to relax or whatever for a bit of fun or socialization, you don’t really need a master teacher. You just need a beginner teacher. You need one that knows the movements and can correct you. That’s good enough. And then, of course, if you want to go really, really deep, if your aim is to like mine, to make it your life, then you’re going to need a teacher that is at a master level. And they’re very rare. Doesn’t matter how many people in the west give themselves the title master, it doesn’t mean they actually are. So I think that you also have a hierarchy with the arts. I do. So, for example, martial arts, it’s hard to find a good level teacher, a master level teacher in martial arts, it’s difficult. Despite how many martial arts teachers are around the world and how many people practice martial arts, it’s quite difficult to find a master level teacher. But you can do it, you can hunt around. With regards to neigong or qigong, I think it’s harder. I think it’s harder to find a good Qigong or Neigong teacher, a master level one, than it is to find Martial arts, easily. They’re way rarer. Doesn’t matter how many people do Qigong or how many people are in neigong classes. A lot of them are kind of medium level, but master level, yeah, it’s very difficult. And then alchemy, Chinese, alchemy. OOH, that’s tricky. You got a hunt. And I did a lot of hunting. I also did a lot of dead ends as well. I’ve spent years and years and years in Asia, China, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, India, all kinds of Himalayan areas originally, just moving around in Asia, trying to meet masters of these arts done through introductions. You know, you get an introductory letter or taken to meet someone, and most of the time, most of the time they turned out to be useful in some way, but not like. Okay. Don’t want to speak bad of them. Maybe these teachers are, like, medium level, but to find the actual masters was very, very tricky. So my process, really, for finding them was very long. A lot of hunting, a lot of money spent a lot of time, a lot of food poisoning. You spend a lot of time in aging, going to spend a lot of time on the toilet, definitely, and all kinds of things like that. But at the same time, it was an adventure. I’ve had lots of fun, and I’ve seen lots of the world and things like that, but that hunt still goes on. I have my teachers now, and I’m very grateful for that. And I don’t expect to find anyone better than these people, so I’m not looking for that particularly. But I still also for interest and personally still digging out and rooting out hidden lineages and old lineages, which there are still some around Asia, so the hunt carries on. So really, maybe as well as a martial artist and a writer, you could also say I’m a bit of an explorer and a hunter as well, trying to track down these lineages. No, it’s not easy. Trustworthy teachers. Yeah, that’s an interesting one as well, isn’t it? You’ve asked about trustworthy teachers. I mean, you can’t I would say that the ones that were misleading with regards to their skill were not necessarily deliberately doing that. So I don’t know if there’s a trust issue there because many teachers may have overestimated their skill and maybe they overestimated their skill by not knowing any of the sort of real masters, so they had nothing to compare it to. So I don’t think any of those people who led me down a dead end with their training and it didn’t quite turn out to be what I expected. I don’t necessarily think it’s their fault. What was more important with regards to trustworthy was their nature as well. Because I think one thing you have to realize is if you’re going to study, oh, I’m sure lots of you know this, I’m assuming that lots of you listening to this already have a practice of your own. So I apologize for talking as if you don’t, but maybe some of you will know that if you have a teacher that you’re spending time with, there’s something to do with not just the psychological but also the energetic and maybe the karmic. The kind of imprints that are left on you by teachers are quite strong. They’re a massive influence upon your life. Especially if you open yourself up enough, like open your heart and humble yourself before them in order to receive the teachings, then actually they’re going to have a huge influence upon your personality and your psychology and your actions as well. It’s like they kind of imprint themselves onto you. Especially if empowerment and transmissions are used as well. Which is a kind of psychic form of teaching that some teachers will use. Is that the trustworthiness of the teacher becomes very important. Or at least the quality of their nature because say they are very immoral or very mean. Or maybe they’re sexually deviant or financially deviant or into power or very insecure. Whatever it is. Negative traits. They can start to bleed down into the students as well. So just to highlight that thing with your trustworthiness, I think there’s something to be said for when you meet a teacher. There’s kind of a twofold process. That teacher is getting to know you to see if they want to teach you, they might be testing you. I’ve been tested many times, made to go through various. Hurdles jump through hoops in order to get access to that teacher. That happens, but it also works the other way as well. You know, when I’m seeing the teacher, I’m getting to know that teacher. And first thing is, do they have the skills? And okay, they got the skills. Great. Second thing, can they pass it on? Okay, they can pass it on because some people have the skills but can’t pass it on. And then the next thing is, what are they like as a person? And that’s going to dictate to me what level of interaction I’m going to have with them. Am I going to walk away? Maybe they’re too immoral? Or am I going to simply learn the mechanics of them but keep myself shut off to them as a person? Or do I feel comfortable with them so I can fully open myself up and allow those teachings to come through whenever they’re prepared to share. And I think that’s for me, I think I would highlight that that’s probably one of the most important parts of the process of exploring and hunting and finding a teacher. It’s very complicated. I think that the relationship between master and disciple is one of the most complicated ones you’ll ever have, I think. More complicated than a marriage or a family relationship or anything like that. It’s tricky. So what’s the next question you asked?
PAA: Can you tell us about the process you went through – were you easily accepted? How did you find them? How did you know they were legitimate?
Damo: Yeah, depends on the teacher, actually. If we just literally stick with the ones I would consider to be at a master level, very, very high. Some teachers, not some teachers. It was very difficult. A race was obviously a little bit of an issue. Being a white person in Asia is not always easiest to access certain teachings and certain doors. Some people have the opposite experience. They turn up in China or Southeast Asia or Taiwan or whatever, and then they find it because they’re white. All these doors open up to them. But to be honest, if the doors open up because you’re white, that’s not the good teachers. That’s the mediocre to low-level teachers generally that have a large business type school that see a white face and think, okay, this is a person that can make me look good because I’ve got a Western student, so I can parade them around, and then I’ll get more Western students, and I make more money. That’s what happens. So, if the doors are not shut in your face because you’re a foreigner when you’re in China and Asia, and my experience is it means that actually they’re not very good teachers. You have to prove yourself. You are an outsider. You’re an outsider culturally. You’re normally, at first an outsider linguistically. Till you get used to their language. You’re also an outsider with regards to the kind of prior knowledge you have. You don’t have the cultural background necessary. So if you are not meeting that wall, I would say that there’s something wrong. You know, I think that I hope that makes sense. Like, actually, the big part of the process is proving yourself. And once you can do that, if you get the opportunity to actually, then you can be fully accepted. In my experience. And some of my teachers, especially the ones I have now, refer to me or treat me as a family member, as a brother, in their words. But it wasn’t like that at first, and certainly not with some of the other teachers that I was with. So easily accepted? No, not really. No. I mean. Sometimes. I mean, one teacher I can think of asked me to meet him in some remote town in China. And then so I flew from what was at the time, America, I think I flew from there to China. Or I was in Europe? I don’t know. From the west to China. Got to the village in the middle of nowhere, took trains and all sorts of good sleeper trains, , and then they didn’t turn up, stood me up, and then the same happened the second year, and then the third year, they decided to meet me. And then they met me in a very convenient place for a change. So those kind of old sort of trials that you hear about, they still take place with traditional teachers, not so with modern teachers. How did you find the introductions? I mean, there’s two things. If you want to find a master in Asia, shall we say, rather than in the west, OK, so we talk about that culture. If you’re going over to Asia, and I’m a teacher, you need a couple of things. One, many years, don’t think that you’re just going to find some one off the internet, type it in, go and do a two week course in China. you’ll end up in one of the mass produced Western high schools, like Wu Dang Mountain or Shaolin Temple these days, or there’s a couple of schools down in the south, China or Taiwan has its own kind. You’ll find that, which is fine. If people want to do that, that’s great. But that’s what they are. They’re westernized corporate schools. And I think for people that just want an experience of Asia, I think that’s fine. I think they’re good places to go. But if you really want to go deep into the arts and you want to find a real teacher who can take you really deep. This is what you want to do with your life. Then you have to be prepared to be spending a lot of time there because you’re going to have to do a bit of hunting and they’re also not going to share information with you very quickly. You’re going to have to go through the early years of their basics of their system, the public syllabus, if you like, before they take you deep. So you’re going to need time. And the other thing you’re going to need is an introduction. You’re not just going to walk into China or Southeast Asia or whatever and find that teacher. Lots of people who think they have, you haven’t any more than say you live in a little village in England or a little village in America or whatever, and your local community center has a Tai chi class on or something like that. The chances of that local community center Tai chi class being the most amazing Tai chi class in the world and that’s a real master are quite slim, OK, it’s possible, but it’s is quite slim. So you’re probably going to have to hunt around to find somebody good and the same in Asia. So you’re going to need time and you’re going to need introductions from somebody who’s in the school. I would say that’s important. Initially the luckiest manner on earth. How did you know they were legitimate? Okay, well, I think with regards to Neigong and Neidan from that perspective, more than martial arts, they go on and Neidan, I think that it’s fairly easy with those arts because teachers that are a very high level have skills that they can show off. I guess you would call them sidhi. I know that’s not a Chinese word, but it’s a word most people know, like extraordinary abilities that they can demonstrate that represent being in a certain level of skill. The problem is, without me going into them too much is that for every one person that actually has one of these legitimate things that they can show to show where they’re at, there’s like 20-30 fake versions of that. So there is a bit of like trying to figure out I’ve been to many of the more well known sidhi generating let’s use that word, sort of ability generating internal arts practitioners across different parts of the world China, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Java and things like that. And the majority of them are fake. Majority a fake. There really are people who don’t realize that they’re using trickery to do it. But there are some that are real. It is tricky to know because they have to be able to demonstrate something they will show you, but then also you have to spend enough time to figure out if there’s any trickery involved. It can be complicated and I think from there. I think it’s quite clear with Neigung and Neidan now with regards to the legitimacy of what they’re doing generally as well, you find those teachers are not people that will demonstrate in public. I mean, the sort of abilities that arise from Neigong and Neidan, which can be subtle, can be very, very clear. They’re normally only shared with senior students behind closed doors. That’s generally what they’re doing because the point of them is simply to help people develop a longer path. So that’s how you know that legitimate. Usually I don’t go for this whole I mean, I have lineage, I have very clear lineage that I’m initiated into. But actually, it doesn’t mean anything to me. Not really like the amount of teachers you meet to go, oh, this is authentic because you learn from this person. This and this person doesn’t mean he’s any good. I think it’s important that there is a connection back to the source of a tradition, but it should be secondary to whether the teacher actually has any skill or not. Can he actually do anything? And I think, like many teachers as well, if you want to know a legitimate teacher, don’t fall for their outfits. Definitely not. Cosplay is a large part of the Chinese arts. I don’t know if it is in the Western alchemy that a lot of you guys are doing, I’ve got no idea. But in Chinese alchemy, certainly cosplay is massive. So you have to see beyond the uniform and see beyond the words people are saying as well. Sometimes people can just read enough, sort get the idea from Vidanta books and learn the right words and that can give the idea that they know what they’re talking about, but not really. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have direct experience or the ability to transmit that experience. So, a long answer maybe I apologize, but simple answer. It is complicated. It is tricky, yes. PAA: How would describe the idea of Chi to someone who has no experience of it or someone who is skeptical of the idea of Chi, Cultivation and Spirituality. Damo: So first of all, if someone is skeptical about qi cultivation and spirituality, to answer the second part of the question, I wouldn’t actually do anything about that. I don’t particularly wish to convince people who are skeptical. Doesn’t interest me. I think it did when I was younger. I think when I started out in these arts, especially when I first encountered people who could actually do things with qi and actually prove, I suppose to me that it was a real thing, then I was more keen on making sure everybody I knew about this amazing thing I did. But as I got older no, I don’t care. It doesn’t make any difference to me. There’s enough people that want to come and learn that I’m happy to work with and happy to teach, but if someone is skeptical, that’s their business. I don’t mind. I think sometimes when people are trying to convince skeptical people, it’s an insecurity in themselves. I think it’s a projection of not fully believing yourself. I think, like similar to if somebody truly believes in God and you say to them, god is not real, they don’t care. I mean, they know God is real. So you’re an idiot for thinking that. One odd thing to say. It’s as offensive if you tell me that sky is luminous yellow and I know it’s blue, it’s an illogical thing. So don’t bother. But if someone is not that sure of whether God is real themselves, and then someone comes up and says God is not real, then it triggers something in them, and then they feel they have to prove that. They have to defeat the skeptic, and really they’re just convincing themselves. So I’d say, for that reason and. I don’t have that sort of insecurity in me around qi cultivation or spirituality. So I don’t ever bother trying to convince the skeptical. Many of my friends outside of the school situation I’m in don’t have any interest in what I do or the chi or the cultivation. And they would be skeptical, I guess, but I just don’t talk to them about it. It’s not relevant. But then how would I describe the idea of chi to someone who has no experience? Well, that’s relevant to the people I’m teaching, I think. With regards to qi or energy in general, within the Chinese arts, one of the biggest errors is people say it can’t be defined. Now, the problem is that’s kind of half true, because really you have to have a working definition. You do. You have to have a working definition in order to train something. Otherwise how do you know what you’re training? But there has to be room for that working definition to adjust and change over time. So what you understand to be at the beginning will change, will evolve as it goes along. So Chi is a flexible word in that way. So generally when people are starting out in Qigong or neigong or alchemy, when we talk about it, we explain it almost in a medical way, talk about it this way with regards to your own vitality and the energy producing your cells and things like that. But then as people go deeper and they start to encounter the actual practice of Neigong internal development of qi, we talk about it in two broad categories yin and yang qi, yin qi being a form of magnetism, and yang qi being a form of electricity that moves in the nerves primarily. So a lot of the development of the body energetically is to do with the balance of this magnetism and electricity in something like Neigong or neidan. And that becomes the basis of how people work for a long time. And what we do is through training, it is we take that experience of that chi to a very high tangible level. So it’s very clear. Like, it’s not subtle. I don’t like the imagination. We don’t use the visualization. Like, imagination and visualization are barred in my school. We do not use them. Our philosophy being that if something is not actually happening and manifesting in the physical realm, then it’s not a thing. Like, maybe it is, but it’s too vague for us to know, so we don’t worry about it. So our opinion is that the chi has to be so strong, and it’s like someone slapping you around the face. You know it’s there. So we spend a lot of time developing this magnetism and electricity and how they relate to each other within the body at the beginning, and then that kind of gives access to a more subtle level of chi. So then the translation and the definition changes as time goes on. But those kind of definitions and understandings are for. Students within the school and practitioners, they’re not for the skeptical, not really like it doesn’t matter. I would find it surprising someone who was skeptical of the existence of Qi trained with me for very long because I’m not very like, I have no worries about just using the term and talking about Chi in that sense. I don’t shy away from it, so I probably wouldn’t be a good teacher for them, to be honest.
PAA: It is easy to fool ourselves with all these things and build an entire universe where we think we know the reason for something. So how can we build some rigor into these practices? Words like cultivation, what are we cultivating and how do we know these practices have some impact on what happens to us after death?
Damo: Yeah, I mean, the biggest enemy of the cultivator or the internal arts practitioner is delusion, especially self-delusion. So we need a great deal of clarity and discernment. I think that, as I was saying on the other last question, that one of the most important things is to take the energy work that we’re doing and transfer across to the physical realm. So what I mean by that is well, put it this way. In Qigong Neidan or Neigong, what we talk about thickening the energy. So a lot of people are working with thin energy at first in Qigong, meaning that you feel a tingling on the skin or in the nerves, and those kind of things are irrelevant to me. So what do we do is we thicken the chi till it starts to affect deeper parts of the body, till it starts to pull the tissues, pull the fascia, pull the bones, really sort of create physical change in the body at the beginning. And this enables us to develop at least a little bit more clarity and the same when we’re starting to build the dantien, which, if you’re not familiar with that, as a large energy center in the abdomen, is that that Dantien has to build to such a stage that it starts to affect physical matter and affect the physical realm. So we’ve we have these ways of making the subtle clear that’s very important for our practice and that’s kind of a rule. For beginners that we have to bring the subtle through to the manifest. That’s how we know it’s there. And then again, no imagination, no visualization whatsoever. And then on top of that, a healthy level of questioning. So we have to understand that we have a conceptual model that we work to, but if we are not questioning that conceptual model, they may get stuck in dogma. And dogma is the enemy of the cultivator. Dogma is the friend of the religious practitioner who wants to practice the rituals. And especially in the Chinese arts, you get lots of westerners doing cosplay. Once again they got a top knot and a chopstick through their hair, wearing the blue outfits, holding the red scrolls, chanting in front of the Jade Emperor and stuff like this. To me, it’s all just religious dogma. It’s not the same thing as someone who’s actually trying to cultivate connection to something more profound or something else. I think they’re slightly separate things. So that might be a slightly unpopular view. But I believe that people should question to escape the dogma combined with staying away from visualization or imagination and instead building practices that we manifest in the physical realm to give us a sense of clarity. That’s how we work. And is it perfect? No, definitely not. We can all get lost in flights of fantasy, but it’s the best we can do. And on top of that, guidance from someone who’s already been there. I’m always surprised when people try to go out and use arts with no teacher. Like, how do you do that? I don’t even think that’s possible. You have to have a skilled teacher that’s been further down the line than you have. Even if you ignore things like empowerment or transmissions which are required for these arts. Yeah, I don’t understand why people go it alone. So the teacher should provide some clarity and rigor for your practices as well. So words like cultivation, what are we cultivating, and how do we know this practice is okay, so what are we cultivating? We’re in the Chinese arts. I can only talk for the things I do. It really depends what level you’re at. Some people are cultivating themselves psychologically. What I would say is self-development. So that’s what? Self-esteem, maybe confidence, making themselves happy, dealing with something like depression or whatever. I think a lot of people are cultivating on that level, and I think if you look at a lot of, what should we say, new Age or alternative writings, they say it’s about the spirit, but it’s not really. It’s about psychology. It’s how to be a better person on how to be better with yourself, how to be happy with yourself. So I think at the beginning, what we’re cultivating is that we’re cultivating the self. Okay? That’s got to come first. Yourself has to become stronger. You have to be a capable, efficient yeah. Decent, upright human being that you can live with. You have to live with yourself, you know? And then the next stage after that is we’re cultivating the ability to then let go of that self. It sounds almost like a little bit of. Contradictions like the self has to be built up enough that it’s strong enough to let go, you know, and that’s what we started to cultivate. So then we move beyond this idea of self for something that was more constant after. This depends on what you want to do. Some people want to cultivate different things. Some people, that’s enough. Some people just want to cultivate more energy so they’re better at what they do. Maybe they’re better at their Chinese medical practice or better at their martial arts or whatever. For other people, they want to cultivate connection to the divine, you know, enlightenment, immortality, concepts like this. So it really depends. I think it’s individual. For me, when I’m teaching, I generally just divide, say, look, there’s a difference between self development and spiritual development, both are slightly different things. So we need to understand that one is needed before the other. But they’re different categories. And how do we know these practices have some impact on what happens to us after death? We don’t, not really. I mean, we have the words of past masters. We have scripture. To me, that could run into Dogma very easily. We also have there’s various evidences, I suppose, to to what the arts can do after death. But still, with regards to what you see, I’ve only ever seen what people are achieving while they’re alive or in one case, at the point of death. But I still don’t know what happened after death. But I have to say it’s not something I consider. I don’t really care. Like, I don’t mind. I mean, I think if someone is constantly worried about what happens after death, I would ask, what’s wrong with life? Like, I think you have to learn to be comfortable and live with life first. And then many of those kinds of questions, what happens after death? Kind of fade away. They’re not so important. There’s perhaps the kind of background thought that if you cultivate as best as you can, then your death will be better, and then you’ll find out what happens after death. We’ll all get there. We will all find out at some stage.
PAA: You teach both Daoist and Buddhist Internal Energy Work. How do these methods differ and is it possible to do both long term or at some point should one path be chosen over the other?
Damo: Yeah. Taoist and Buddhist energy work is not quite the same. I primarily teach Taoist work because it’s what I’ve got the most experience in. Actually, it’s what I’ve been longest in. It’s the one I understand the most. But I also practiced and teach to some people, Buddhist energy work as well. They are different. Yeah. I don’t think it’s wise to do both equally at the same time, as I don’t ever think it’s wise to do two arts with an equal level of importance. So for me, I spent a long time in one tradition till I had a very solid pillar. And only then, when I felt very comfortable with that particular branch, did I look to others. So to me, it came after. I think that’s the only way to really practice things. More than one art. You have to be really good at one before you even consider looking at the other. So for a long time, I was very single minded in my pursuit of what I was doing and then gradually relaxed a little bit and looked outside. Also, I would say, the teachers I met, I mean, I’m not someone who woke up one day and thought, I want to be Taoist. I’m not Taoist. I didn’t wake up and say, I want to be Buddhist or I want to be Hindu. I just met teachers that happened to practice these things. So the first teacher I had that was very good was Taoist. Second teacher I had that was very good was Buddhist. And so I learnt what their systems offer them. But if that teacher had been. I don’t know. Whatever Christian I’d have done that, like, it doesn’t make a difference to me. I don’t have a particular connection to one of these traditions. They’re not exotic to me. They’re not interesting to me. I don’t feel a pull towards them. And I think that that’s how people should work. Rather than looking for a system, look for a master, look for a teacher and do what that person did to get to where they are. They are different. You asked me about the differences. Yes. I mean, Taoism weirdly. Taoism is a lot more subtle, actually, and a lot more soft, whereas Buddhist energy, where all the stuff I practice is actually quite intense and very heavy. It’s not what people would think. People have been surprised by that because they would assume that the energy work in Taoism is a lot stronger than the Buddhism. That’s not true. Like, okay, here’s an easy model. What’s the martial arts you associate with Taoism? Tai chi. What’s that based on? Release. Letting go. And then what’s the martial arts associated with Buddhism? Shaolin. It’s based on sort of refining steel within the body, isn’t it? And the energy work is no different, really. They kind of match what you’re seeing in those two arts. So I think that’s probably the easiest way to describe the difference between them. They’ve certainly shared methods at certain stages, but yeah, they definitely have their own flavor, that’s for sure. But as I said, I think people should choose the path that the teacher they’ve met does. You’ve met someone if you’ve met someone who inspires you and they’ve achieved something that’s very high level, then I want to know how they did it. And I’m not going to go, how did you do this? Oh, you use Buddhist methods. I’m sorry. I’m really only interested in Taoism more clearly, I wouldn’t do that. So I think that that’s probably more important than worrying about particular systems.
PAA: You recently did an impressive presentation in Bhutan. Can you discuss firstly how this came about as I think it is really impressive that they invited you and very open of them to have you speak about Taoist practice in the midst of all these Vajrayana practitioners. Was there a lot of discussion comparing notes before and after in regard to specific methods.
Damo: Yeah. Yeah. So I was asked to speak at the fourth annual Vajrayana Conference in Bhutan. Really? Because someone who’s been aware of my work, named ASA, known and about my work for quite some time. So he’s been watching my talks on Alchemy in Neigong and Taoism, and he is involved in the organization of the conference. So he invited me to go. That was really how I got there. Oh, yeah. Sorry, And apologies for the change of scenery. I had to answer these questions in two batches because I had to move from one country to another. So I moved from the city out to here the jungle, you can’t see, but I’m actually outdoors. So if you hear any animals like that, you have to excuse me. I’m in Bali at the moment. So I was invited to go speak in Bhutan. It’s actually as a conference, it’s a four day long thing. Three, four days, something like that. And they have a lot of speakers speaking about different things. The vast majority of the talks are about Buddhism. I think. I was the only one representing Taoism. Maybe every other talk was on Buddha was from Buddhism of some sort. Maybe there wasn’t anything else. Yeah, maybe I was the only non Buddhist there. I didn’t even don’t even think yeah, I went in and they asked me to talk about the differences or similarities or whatever between tummo from the six yogas that most vajrayana practitioners would work on at some stage, and the firing process, I expect, of alchemy sort of beginning of the (unclear) stages of training. So I did, but I didn’t really want to talk about tummo too much, because I was aware that most people have dedicated their life to tummo practice in that room, and I haven’t. So what I did was I talked about alchemy specifically, and what I did was I kind of chose the bits of alchemy that I know have similarities to that and let them draw their own conclusions. So, yeah, I talked about that. It was only a short talk. It wasn’t very long, but it was a little bit nerve wracking, to be honest. I mean, I’ve been public speaking for many years, and I’m okay standing in front of a group of people. No problem with that. But there was something unusual about standing in front of 300, 400, 300, I don’t know, several hundred people in a room. And when you look out, instead of seeing the usual faces, you see a sea of orange robes, and there’s all these monks and lamas and rinpoches that other people there. You can see the other Westerners, because about a fifth to a quarter of the people there were westerners were non Asian. As you can see, they’re kind of wide eyed at who the people were, but I was quite embarrassed. I didn’t actually know who any of them were because I’m not involved in the Dharma world at all, so it was all lost on me. But I did recognize that the fanciest Shiniest outfits were probably the most senior, but it was a bit strange. Even though I didn’t know who they were, it was unusual for me to look out and see all of these people in orange. Who have dedicated their life to internal practice. It was an unusual place for me to talk, so I did feel nervous for about the first. 30 seconds or something, and then, you know, it’s like, once you start speaking, it’s okay. So I told some jokes, spoke about Alchemy, that kind of stuff. What we’re asking is it was well received. Yeah, I mean, on the whole, there was one guy who walked out, actually, he looked a little bit offended, I think, especially when I talked about the lack of visualization, because Alchemy and Taoism does not favor visualization or imagination at all, which obviously there’s a little bit of a clash there between the methods. So he got a little bit offended. But other than that, actually, everybody was yeah, the talk was well received. Afterwards, I had lots of people coming up to shake my hand and ask about alchemy, and I got, actually, invites to teach in various places. I got invited to teach in monasteries in India and also back in Bhutan. The invite man to teach alchemy in Bhutan and somewhere else, or Taiwan, was it? I don’t know. I got in some invites to some places. I took lots of business cards and things like that. I don’t know if I’ll take people up on that offer, because these days I don’t want to travel quite as much as I used to. I’m quite happy settled here in Bali, actually. But it was nice to be asked. So yeah, actually, I did receive it quite well, and I learned a lot about Vajrayana while I was there. I got to speak to lots of longtime practitioners and learn things that I didn’t know. So it was a very beneficial experience for me. I was surprised how little anyone knew about Taoism, actually, while I was there. There wasn’t really much knowledge on it. I guess that kind of makes sense out in Bhutan, a country that’s been kind of isolated from the rest of the world for a long time that they wouldn’t do. But then there was people from Tibet and India, China, like, all over Asia turned up to this conference. Yeah, real lack of knowledge on Taoism, really, beyond the kind of contemporary stuff that isn’t really true, that people tend to believe. Yeah, very good experience. If you ever get the chance to go to Bhutan, I really would as well. the town that you land in is a very beautiful town. Huge amount of history there, and obviously quite unique, being sort of last country to really sort of hold Vajrayana close to what it is.
PAA: Now let’s look at the Martial Arts, specifically arts like Tai Chi and Bagua. What, if any, crossover is there between these arts and the cultivation practices of Taoist and Buddhist origin.
Damo: Okay. Yeah. So the crossover between martial arts and cultivation yeah, I mean, most people would associate Tai Chi or Bagua with Taoism specifically, I guess Shaolin martial arts people would associate with Buddhism on the whole. But actually it’s not quite that cleaner distinction because Taiji has adopted some Taoist principles, but it’s not specifically a Taoist art. Actually, in Bagua Zhang, I would argue the same. I know people say it’s the only Taoist martial art because it’s based on I-Ching, but, I mean, different. There’s confucian commentaries on Nietzsche and things like this. I think that they were separate originally from Taoism, although influenced by Taoist cosmology. But then lots most Taoist practitioners that I know at some stage have studied Taiji and Bagwa to a certain degree, sometimes to a very high degree. So I think even though they don’t have the historical route that some people would like them to have in the kind of Wu Xia Chinese fantasy kind of way, they don’t have such a combo as people like, but they’ve merged. They’ve definitely merged. So most Taoist practitioners will practice some form of Taiji or Bagua have done for some time. And Buddhism. Obviously, Chan Buddhism and (unclear) are very intertwined. I have some controversial theories on Buddhist martial arts that I won’t share because they will upset a lot of people. But definitely (unclear) and Buddhism have a close connection. So, yeah, I think that there’s a reason that spiritual practitioners adopted martial arts training, or many of them do, either historically or in a contemporary setting. And that’s because martial arts are very, very good for lots of different things. I would say the first thing is that you can divide cultivation practice into self cultivation and spiritual cultivation. And I think probably from those terms, most of you listening can understand what I mean by that. But I think that there needs to be a great degree of self cultivation before spiritual cultivation is even relevant. It’s kind of like your sense of self and your sense of identity has to be is so comfortable and strong that it serves as a satisfactory or sufficient launching pad or foundation to move into spiritual practice. If you come into spiritual practice from a state of being very uncomfortable with yourself, Full of fears and full of difficulties and all those things. And spiritual coordination is very difficult. So before we even look at the deeper aspects of martial arts, I think that can be very good, you know, because martial arts training is very good for building your confidence and your strength and getting over your fears and learning to push yourself and all those kind of things, things that build the self to create a foundation strong enough to spiritual practice. I do find that when people try to engage in spiritual practice, meditation, cultivation of some sort, and they don’t have a good sense of who they are, like a good, strong center, and they’ve dealt with a lot of the issues and a lot of things we have to confront about ourselves, then their progress is very limited. So I never think it’s wise. I generally advise people if they’re coming, okay, you really want to study spiritual practice, you need to deal with the self first. It’s like you have to reach the starting line of the race before you can join the race. If you want. Other Taichi and bagua you’re asking about here are very much obviously for me, they’re the main arts I study, actually, and more tai Chi, actually. Bagua to me doesn’t go as deep as Tai Chi, and I know some people won’t like that, but I think the Tai Chi’s principle of being based upon release and song and letting go actually makes it almost is bottomless with regards to the depth that it can reach, and perhaps by the same. Yeah, maybe. I mean, bagua is also based a little bit on letting go, but not to the same degree. Okay. There’s more addition, and addition always maxes out, whereas release does not. It’s always kind of bottomless. So that’s a very Taoist principle there. So I think Tai chi is the one that’s most closely connected to cultivation, in my opinion. I think that some people would disagree with this, but maybe that’s a longer discussion for me to actually explain the difference between Tai chi and bagwa with regards to cultivation. Maybe I’ll do that another time, but for now, I’ll talk about Taiji. So people with Tai chi moving meditation, I don’t agree with that term because literally, meditation would be (unclear) or Jhanic states. You can’t really achieve those through Tai chi. I think more accurately, Tai chi would be moving mindfulness, which is a precursor to meditation or required quality for meditation, both from Taoism and Buddhism, and would talk very much about sati and mindfulness, and Taoism would talk very much about listening or ting or absorption of the mind into the body. Very similar qualities that Taiji is very, very good at providing for you. Tai chi is also very good. Because it enables you to transform and reconfigure the inside of the body according to the release of the tissues and the movement of chi, which basically gives you a kind of somatic feedback loop into whether you’re actually successfully releasing or not. Whereas, say you’re trying to do something pure like alchemy or meditation, sitting dead still, trying to release, it’s very hard to get feedback because the mind is very much there to trick you, to delude you. Whereas with tai chi, you have a very clear marker. Are you releasing properly? Because Tai chi, as a martial art style will start to work, or you push hands for work, or the body will transform in the right way. So I think that for cultivation, tai chi can be particularly useful. Bugwatu but, folks, on this one, tai chi can be particularly useful because it gives you feedback as to what you’re doing. And then once you’re in that door, like, you know, okay, this is actually released because it does something. This is not released because it doesn’t do something. You develop discernment, discernment between the true and the false process that’s going on. So then when you start to practice spiritual practice, meditation, you’re discernment plus your release processes to a higher degree. So that’s why I think tai chi is useful for cultivation practices.I hope that made sense. Wasn’t too garbled.
PAA: For those people already involved in these arts like Tai Chi, Bagua or even Xingyi what could they add to their practice to ensure they are training in a way that will bring long term benefit and at the very least support their cultivation practices.
Damo: Okay, so if you’re training tai chi, Bagui or Xingyi, and you want to add something that will bring long term benefit and support your cultivation process, it’s really what I’ve already kind of looked at. Is that, okay, this is the most important process for me in the internal martial arts. Excuse the rain. I hope you can still hear me. It’s quite loud. I’ll carry on is that your mind has to absorb, like, fluid through your body. So if you think of your body like a sponge and your attention or your awareness like water, that water has to soak all the way through to the sponge, getting to every little nook and cranny of your body. So you can think of your mind as, like, it occupies a space, and that space is your body. Now, to put your mind into the body is actually quite difficult because it’s blocked. It’s, like, sealed up, and you can’t get in. It’s like your sponge is not porous. So for a long time, we must open the body and relax the body and release the tension and create space so that the mind has somewhere to flow. And the mind sounds horribly mechanical, but it does really work like that. It’s like when people start with (unclear), the body’s is not fully open, so the mind can’t get into certain regions. You’re kind of patchy and get into this bit of body and this bit of body and this video body, but all this is dead. The water can’t get into that bit of a sponge. So we have to spend a lot of time songing or releasing and letting go and soaking the mind through the body till it fills the body up. So the mind, the mental fluid called qi and the body occupy the same space. And when they do this, then you have mind body integration. And this is really where the skill in something like Tai Chi or bagua can come from, because what we then have to do is understand that the processes you’re trying to do in your body are done with your mind. So, for example, I wish to release a mobilized to the right. It’s done by filling the body with my mind and then releasing the mind and letting the mind fluid flow through that space. And then the body changes as a byproduct of that. This is one of the most elusive triggers, I think, within the internal martial arts world. Lots of people miss this, that the triggering and the development of the processes that you do is done through your mind, not through your body. So too many people in Tai Chi or Bagua i maybe, are trying to learn new techniques, new methods with the body. What can I do physically here when actually. It is true that you need certain postures and you need certain principles, need certain techniques. That’s true because your martial art has to look like the martial art. But actually after a while when your mind gets through your body, everything is done with your mind, not your body. As alluded to within the Taichi classics as well. So if you can do this, obviously, or your mind has a great degree of malleability and ability to release, that doesn’t change with the aging process of anything, I might say it increases if your cultivation is good. So then longevity will go up. Longevity in your practice, longevity in your health because you can release from deeper inside the body and then that also assists with the cultivation process because meditation, obviously mind body connection and release is going to help with that. And then with regard to energetic practice, it’s actually going to create more space and open the channels on the inside of the body so there’s less risk of blockage, which is the big enemy of energetic practice. So I hope that answers that.
PAA: On Perseus we have a lot of people involved in Western Magic and Alchemy (Lab and Internal). Is there any similar practices you can talk about with the traditions you teach or have seen magical or alchemical practices while on your travels? Possibly in talks with the Vajrayana practitioners?
Damo: Yeah. So it’s hard for me to talk about this one because I’m not a magic practitioner, a magical practitioner. Magic doesn’t really interest me, to be honest. I actually don’t think it’s directly useful for cultivation. I think it’s a bit of a side path. That doesn’t mean I’m against it, not at all. If people want to study it, that’s cool. But I’m very single minded in my training and if I think about cultivation being a line like this, magic to me is a little deviation off of that path. Most hours would agree. Doesn’t make it bad, just means it’s like going to look at the scenery rather than going to the destination. So for that reason, because a very black and white. Sort of directive person. I’ve always avoided the magical side of Taoism apart from very, very basics of it. So that means I’m not really I’m not the best one to ask. You probably better off asking somebody from within a Mao Shan tradition or something like this that’s more involved in that kind of stuff. And obviously, internal alchemy is a large thing that I study, which I’ve studied within Taoism. But then I’ve also had interest in the Buddhist versions of alchemy, which do exist outside of Vajrayana as well, that exists within China. And then I’m interested in also the Southeast Asian Indonesian lines. The Burmese lines as well. Myanmar. So I’ve had some, but I think the kind of magic and alchemy you’re asking about is not really within my remit. I’m mostly the alchemy that’s linked to meditation that I study. So I can’t really answer that question successfully. I apologize. I’m aware that many people on this forum, on this platform a magical practitioner, so maybe that’s an unsatisfactory answer. I apologize. I’m sure you know more about it than I do.
PAA: For those who want to get into serious practice, perhaps eventually both short and longer term retreats, how should they approach this in regard to your current courses and seminar schedule? I see you are working on the Bali projects, will this be open to everyone?
Damo: Okay. So, yeah, I don’t normally like to talk about what I’m doing because I think people can just if they’re interested, they can find me. But just in brief, what I’ve done is I’ve just moved to Bali, which is somewhere I spent a lot of time in the the past. I’ve left Europe up for good. This is where I’m now settled in Bali and Indonesia. I have a school here. It’s a full time. I have two schools actually. Weird. They’re running full time that I oversee. And then there’s eight of us teaching here. And we have people staying here between a month and five years studying full time. Taichi, bagua, Neigong, alchemy, those kind of things. So that’s what I’m doing at the moment. But other than that, if you can’t make it to Bali and you can’t come and see us, no problem. Because I still teach in the summer. I teach in Sweden and America. But also we have many, many people that I’ve trained up that have been with me for years who are more than capable of teaching. People teaching in America and Europe and probably other places too, which you can find just by going to our website, look up me or Lotus Negong, my school, and go on there. And you’ll find there’s all kinds of things we’re doing. There’s teachers all over the world teaching this system now, and they’re all very good. So come see me or go see them.
PAA: For people wanting to learn more about you and what you offer where should they go?
Damo: Where should they find me? Yeah, so just go to Lotusneigong.com to find me. Lotusneigong.com or damomitchell.com my name if you want to join online training. But yeah, you can find me. If you look me up online, you’ll find what I’m doing. Okay, so hope I answered those okay. I apologize if I didn’t. I’m also sorry for the change of scenery and if I’m a little out of it. It’s been a lot of travel lately and I kind of answered these questions amongst all the other stuff I was doing in the travel and set up the school in Bali. So sorry if I come across as a little tired. It’s been a heavy period of time. Thank you very much for having these questions for me and asking them. It was nice to make contact with you guys, and good luck with everything you do PAA: Thank you very much for taking part.