Clear & Calm: A Look at “Qing-Jing” (清靜)

Today I want to discuss one of the most common and important terms in all of Daoism: “qing-jing”.

Laozi first used this term in Dao De Jing chapter 45: “Qing-jing rectifies all under Heaven”.  Zhang Dao-Ling included it as is one of the nine “mandates” of the Tian-Shi Daoist tradition (2nd-century CE), and the Qing-Jing scripture, written during the Tang Dynasty, is recited by Quan-Zhen Daoists today.

To understand the phrase let’s look at each character individually first, and then look at them together in the context of meditation & qi-cultivation.

The character for qing (清) includes the radical for water and the character for natural bluish-green color, so we can translate it as something like “clear blue water”.  It’s the opposite of muddy water.  So it is often translated as clear or pure.  But the character is not only a noun, it can also be a verb or adjective, so we can also say it is to clear something out or to have a clear view.

The character for jing (靜) includes the same character for clear blue water and also the character for contention.  The meaning is to calm down contention – the image is like turbulent rapids coming to rest in a pool.  So it is often translated as stillness or tranquility.  It essentially means to be calm or to calm down, to settle, or to maintain a calm demeanor.

Together we can consider qing-jing to mean to clear out murkiness and calm down agitation.  Clarity relates to shen (spirit), while calm relates to qi (energy).  We want the processes of clearing shen and calming qi to happen together, like mud settling down and leaving the water clear.  Of course we all know that to let mud settle we have to leave it alone, not hasten to push it down.  That’s wuwei.

So the initial method in Laozi’s Daoism is called jing-zuo – “calm-sitting”.  It involves important points of posture, letting the breath be natural, and resting in open awareness.  This method allows mud to settle.  As our qi calms down and our spirit clears up, we invite the great qing-jing to come visit.  As it turns out, our context is already clear & calm – great clarity, da-qing (大清), is wide-open space; great calm, da-jing (大靜), is the ever-present stillness underlying all movement.  These are also called Heaven & Earth.

Clarity is opening the upper dantian.  Calm is settling into the lower dantian.  Calm relates to heat, clarity to light.  When the upper dantian opens, the clear water lets in sunlight.  As the 4th-century BCE Neiye says, “great clarity perceives great luminosity”.  Some Daoist schools discourage open meditation because it may leave us vulnerable to possession.  I think they are correct if we have not established stability in the lower dantian.  The Neiye also says, “if you can calm the heart-mind, you will naturally establish stability”.  Calm provides a stable base that grounds out incoming energies – this allows us to enjoy open luminosity while protecting us from possession.  Grounded stability is really important for this practice.  Love the mud.

The reason calm-sitting is considered initial is not the method so much as the view.  We generally need to calm down in order to enter into Laozi’s practice.  But really qing-jing is not a goal – it’s an aspect of our nature.  So Laozi’s sitting is not really a method to clear the shen and calm the qi – it’s a platform for appreciating Heaven & Earth.  In our sitting, if our method is correct, we will come to notice a feeling of stability below and openness above – like dropping the anchor and opening the sunroof – this is qing-jing.  It’s not a concept, it’s an energetic experience.  I hope you experience this great open stillness.  Laozi’s adepts enter effortlessly, relying on da-qing & da-jing.

Indeed Heaven & Earth continue to generate murkiness & agitation.  Like a stream going from pool to riffle, pool to riffle.  Of course this is not a problem, it’s just how things are.  So the next step in Laozi’s practice is to abandon the quest for clarity & calm – just rely on Heaven & Earth and let things come and go naturally.  That’s non-dual wuweidao.

What are we to do?  Let’s abandon rumination and just sit calmly for a while every day.