This is an English translation of a blog-post by Hu Song Nian, who studied under the Master Nan Huai Jin for a considerable number of years.

Please note that my translations are amateur and you need to do your own research, do not believe what I write here and please test it out for yourselves. I welcome any corrections if you spot any.

Blogpost: Experience of the Dharma-Door of Exhaling-Inhaling & Chan Samadhi Cultivation

When Master Nan Huai Jin was alive, after he migrated from Hongkong to Shanghai, he extremely placed importance on teaching the Dharma-door of exhalation and inhalation (T/N: For convenience and easier reading, I will translate ‘exhalation & inhalation’ as Anapana from this point forth). For many years (2006-2008), he taught repeatedly the “16 Special Victories” for the Dharma-door of Anapana, deeply fearing that students cannot completely grasp it, and he gave a lot of thought to it. The reason is because when the Buddha was alive, Anapana was one of the major cultivation doors, and when the Buddha went into Nibbana, it is reported that the reason why the Four Great Arahants can continue to live in this world without dying, is using this Dharma-door.

On 30th September 2012, the Mid-autumn night, Master Nan passed away and was cremated. Master Liu Yu Hong and others continued to laboriously continue Master Nan’s unpublished manuscript, editing and proof-reading one-by-one, then publishing them. One of the books is called the “The Essentials of the Anapana Dharma-Door (呼吸法门精要)”. To describe this book, it composites Master Nan’s the essence of many years of teaching this special topic. The book is not too big, but it is a treasure-book for genuine cultivation.

The Anapana Dharma-door, apart from the Counting-Xi & Following-Xi of the Tien Tai sect’s “6 Wondrous Doors (六妙门)”, can be used by beginners who have just started to study and cultivate, and its important point is on the “16 Special Victories”. The information inside the book “The Essentials of the Anapana Dharma-Door” is not too complete. Master Nan’s two “16 Special Victories” instruction lectures, on Chinese New Year in 2007 and 2008, were not completely incorporated into the book, and have not yet been transcribed into words from recordings, which can be a reference for cultivators.

This book “The Essentials of the Anapana Dharma-Door”, investigates the matter of Gong Fu and theory. It is like empty theory, useless, not helpful at the least. It is a summary with just superficial cultivation experience, or it can be useful, no one can know.

The “16 Special Victories” are:

  1. Know Xi (息) enters
  2. Know Xi (息) leaves
  3. Know Xi (息) is long or short
  4. Know Xi (息) in entire body
  5. Eliminate all bodily saṅkhāra.
  6. Receive pīti.
  7. Receive sukha.
  8. Receive all mental saṅkhāra.
  9. Mind becomes happy.
  10. Mind becomes absorbed. (T/N: Meaning that mind is used when wanted to, and not used when unwanted.)
  11. Mind becomes liberated.
  12. Observe impermanence.
  13. Observe outward-scattering.
  14. Observe leaving-desire.
  15. Observe complete-extinguishing.
  16. Observe abandoning (or abandoning of giving-up)

In Cultivation of the 16 Special Victories, There Are Actually No 16 Steps To Walk

In any kind of cultivation dharma-door, the description of the theory has to subdivide a list of the various types of alambana (realm) of cultivation, and it can be types of steps. However, in cultivation practice, the process may not completely follow the steps, where you go step-by-step upwards – this applies too to the “16 Special Victories”. Master Nan divided the “16 Special Victories” into 3 groups. The first five are cessation (止 / samatha), the learning of samadhi. The 6 in the middle are methods of mind. The 5 at the back are the learning of wisdom.

The last group, the five observations of wisdom, starts from “Know Xi (息) enters” when you first sit. It is simultaneously existing, to the extent that it is constantly in the mind. This is the learning of nourishing wisdom, and it is not observed step-by-step.

The 6 in the middle belong to mind methods, Master Nan says: “These are all words, expressed in written language. When you do your Gong Fu, they are all continuous within one thought, without separating.” In other words, to do right cultivation, these 6 mind-method alambanas (realms), within one thought, there is the possibility of transcending. It is not step by step at a time.

Additionally, in the “16 Special Victories”, the ones with step-by-step, will be the first five. These five steps has a close relationship with the transformation of our form-body. We must know that there is no shortcut to the transformation of the body, sages of the past have also done enough Gong Fu, suffered enough before attaining accomplishments.

Gong Fu and chi channels are not the Tao. However, this principle must be known, as long as you do not get strongly attached to it.

The first few steps of the “16 Special Victories” are all emphasised on the “Know” and not the Xi (息). This “Knowing” originates from our original nature. We do not need to add another thought of “knowing”, our mind clearly understands whatever happens. In “knowing”, we do not add or subtract, we clearly understand the state of our body and mind, and are not dragged off by perceptions and feelings. It is just like a bystander. This agrees with the “Essentials of Observation of Mind” (T/N: Book by the Tien Tai sect, 观心法要). It can be seen that all methods are interlinked. If one can master cultivation, naturally we will understand thoroughly.

“External Anapana” and “Internal Anapana”

The chinese word Xi (息) does not only mean the inhaling and exhaling of air. People with a foundation of meditation and samadhi-cultivation will feel the qi of exhaling and inhaling, driving the flow of energy in the body. Therefore, the word Xi (息) naturally includes both “external exhaling-and-inhaling” (T/N: I will use external Anapana) and “internal exhaling-and-inhaling” within (T/N: internal Anapana).

I do not know if everyone has seen the stoves in the old-fashioned restaurants or blacksmiths? At the front of the stove, there is something like a drawer device. There is a handle on the drawer, called a “bellow”. When you grab the handles of the bellow and pull them open, it will draw air from the outside into the bellow. When you close the bellow, the air will compress into the charcoal fire. The charcoal fire will loudly roar, burning more fiercely. The bellow is continuously opened and closed, leading to a continuously burning charcoal fire. The bellow’s movement of sucking in of air and pushing out of air, is similar to our “external Anapana”. Also, the fire produced from the bellow is comparable to our “internal Anapana”.

If beginners are still in the stage of “Know Xi enters, Know Xi leaves”, they will probably not be able to experience the “internal Anapana”. However once they reach the stage of “knowing Xi is long or short”, the internal Anapana can be felt, becoming increasingly obvious. Chuang Tse (Zhuang-zi) once said, “A real person (master)’s Xi reaches the heels”. This belongs to the alambana (realm) of internal Anapana.

“Knowing that Xi is long or short”, apart from referring to the length of the inward and outward moving air, can also be referred to the internal. The level of external Anapana for beginners is mostly long external Anapana and short internal Anapana. When practiced to a high Gong Fu, the external Anapana becomes short and faint, to the extent of having the appearance of cessation (止). Additionally, the internal Anapana, the flow of energy in the body becomes very strong.

I think that as long as you have a foundation in chan samadhi, many people can experience the function of the ‘internal Anapana.

Energy “Opens and Closes”, Circulating Throughout The Body

Eventually, the energy inside the body becomes stronger and stronger, gradually forming and gathering into a prolonged momentum of “opening and closing”. Whether it is External Anapana or Internal Anapana, it all aligns to this strong momentum of opening and closing. External Anapana becomes as if there is and there isn’t, reaching close to the alambana of cessation (止); The energy of Internal Anapana follows opening and closing, gradually spreading through the entire body.

At this moment, the energy in the body becomes like a strong magnet, successfully gathering into the “opening and closing” alambana (realm) of the form-body. At the same time, the thoughts also subsequently unify, extinguishing the false-thoughts. The thoughts become further single-pointed, naturally and gradually entering the alambana of “knowing Xi in the entire body”.

The Crucial Point of the 16 Special Victories is “Knowing Xi in the Entire Body”

In the process of “opening and closing”, the entire form-body becomes like a huge air bag, “opening and closing”. The top and bottom of the body, from head to the feet, even every single cell, seem to react to this momentum of “opening and closing”. Both legs become warm and soft. The form-body’s aches, numbness, pain, itchiness and other discomforts, entirely disappear. Instead, it becomes light and quick, feeling happiness.

With the gathered thoughts and the form-body’s energy that is opening and closing, then we gradually enter “knowing Xi in the entire body”. This is the most crucial point in the “16 Special Victories”. Why is there such a saying? Let me describe it below.

On Chinese New Year in 2008, Master Nan taught the 16 Special Victories and said, “When knowing the Xi in the entire body, all of the qi channels, five viscera and six bowels, are all opened. It is as if there is no need to exhale or inhale. Inside every hair pore, there is its own movement, there is the activity of birth and death, similar to exhaling and inhaling. …What aching legs! Aching and painful buttocks! Aches, pains, swelling, numbness and itchiness, all of these disappear. There is nothing else but Qi filling the entire body.”

According to my own view, the body’s qi channels, not only do you have to open the front channel (Ren-mai), back channel (Du-mai) and center channel (Zhong-mai), even the qi of the four limbs must be opened. Especially from the waist down to the tailbone, then through the buttock nerves, both knees, down to both feet. It has to be opened until it is warm and soft, comfortable and light, then it can produce a happy feeling. If the body cannot produce happiness, then do not talk about this stage.

The hindrance to cultivation, is mainly in the “body view” and “me view”. When reaching “knowing the breath in the entire body”, basically the “body view”, more than half (most) of the karma is eliminated. There is no shortcut to eliminating the hindrance of “body view”. Every cultivator must cultivate hard over years before they can be something more, there is no one who is an exception. When the “body view” is gone, then the hardest part is half-over. The remaining half is the hindrance of “me view”. “Me view” is purely mental, the following path can be much faster, because you might have grasping in your mind without being able to let go, but if you can catch the trick, you can jump many steps ahead in an instant.

According to my view, the hindrance of the form-body is the hardest to overcome. When the Anapana dharma-door reaches “Knowing the Xi in the entire body”, the form-body can then be put down. The cultivation after, is yet another distance to pass. Thus, “knowing Xi in entire body” is the most crucial point of the 16 Special Victories.

“Cessation (止)” Must Cease “After Maximum Exhalation (出息住)”

When you reach “know Xi in entire body”, the body’s qi channels gather into the momentum of opening and closing, the qi in the form-body becomes fuller and fuller, eventually reaching a saturation state, close to cessation. Cessation is also Anapana temporarily stopping, this is still not counted as completely stopping, it is just extremely faint and not easy to sense.

When we inhale in and exhale out, there are two points of time where it does not enter or go out. One is when you inhale completely, waiting to turn into exhalation; The other is when you exhale completely, waiting to inhale. When the typical person breathes, in this two points of time, it is very quick, and it will not feel like they exist. However, to someone who has foundation in cultivating samadhi, during cultivation, there may be a phenomenon where the moving-breath stops (stays). If this phenomenon of the stopping breath happens during maximum inhalation, we call this “Ru Qi Zhu” (入气住). However, if this stopping breath happens during maximum exhalation, we call this “Chu Qi Zhu” (出气住).

Master Nan repeatedly explained when he was alive, wanting us to especially focus on “Chu Qi Zhu” (meaning stop after exhale) when we are cultivating Chan samadhi. There is a deep principle here. In our ordinary life, if we can carefully watch an infant or adult sleeping soundly, after a phase of even breathing, often there will be a short period of time where there is a state of stillness, no exhalation or inhalation. At this moment, it is real rest, and this moment of stillness comes after maximum exhalation, and not when inhalation is full.

This is a natural phenomenon. When we cultivate samadhi, we must also follow this nature, not like the typical training of qigong where you deeply breathe and hold the breath. Rather, we should expel out all the qi and let go of everything. Only then can this be for a long time, because the power of ‘Emptiness’ (空) is far greater than ‘Having’ (有)! Therefore, “Chu Qi Zhu” is the important point of cultivating samadhi or cessation. The ancient sages all seldom raised this point, but Master Nan was very compassionate by especially instructing this, so this is our great fortune.

The Checkpoint of the “Four Dhyanas & Eight Samadhis” is in First Dhyana

(T/N: Note that whenever the translation of Dhyana is used, this is the Sanskrit term of the Pali word Jhana, which is often used in the Pali Canon.)

The eight stages of “Four Dhyanas and Eight Samadhis” is also the same principle. In theory, there is no choice, there must be categories to differentiate, otherwise it will be harder for people to understand. However in cultivation practice, it is not step-by-step upwards. “Four Dhyanas and Eight Samadhis” is the name for the Form-Realm’s four dhyanas and the Formless-Realm’s four samadhis, and include:

  • First Dhyana
  • Second Dhyana
  • Third Dhyana
  • Fourth Dhyana
  • Samadhi of Boundless Space
  • Samadhi of Boundless Consciousness
  • Samadhi of Omnipresent Nothingness
  • Samadhi of Neither-Thought-nor-Non-Thought (or Neither-Perception-nor-Non-Perception)

This is merely a rough classification. In reality, the samadhi realms are many, and may not follow this order, varying from person to person.

As the name implies, the form-realm’s four dhyanas have already been separated from the desire-realm, and most of the hindrances of the “body view” have been eliminated. The four dhyana alambanas (realms) have a common foundation which is tranquil mind, an absolutely one-pointed alambana (realm). From this alambana comes the First Dhyana, attaining bliss and joy (喜乐) that transcends the body, liberating from the impurity and heaviness of the form-body, as if it is a bird leaving a cage – light and free, happiness in the mind, and blissfulness in the body. The Second Dhyana reaches “steady joy and bliss”, advancing one more step in joy and bliss. The Third Dhyana is when joy disappears and bliss becomes splendid, you have not left the bliss of the body. In the Fourth Dhyana, joy and bliss are completely let go of, and it reaches “letting go of thoughts into purity”.

When First Dhyana goes to Third Dhyana, the body’s feelings are still there. However, they are all at different levels of blissfulness. Aches, pains, swellings, numbness, itchiness and other sensations no longer exist, and only bliss is felt.

Now, comparing the “16 Special Victories” as described earlier, the “Knowing Xi in entire body” is when the form-body’s qi channels become unobstructed, the qi spreads to the entire body, the body turns warm, soft, blissful, and the hindrances of the form-body are mostly eliminated. Therefore, we can then recognise, that this “Knowing Xi in the entire body” is when we have reached the alambana (realm) of First Dhyana or Second Dhyana. For many theories in Buddhist cultivation, due to the perspectives and emphasis being different, naturally they form different logical categories. We cultivators have to join them together when doing our cultivation and penetrate into the essence.

Since this is the most crucial step, this means that the First Dhyana is the most crucial step in the “four dhyanas and eight samadhis”. The principle is the same – If we cannot eliminate the body’s hindrances, how can we attain “joy and bliss that transcends the body” The hindrances of the form-body, the hardest to step over for cultivators, has no shortcut. However if you can really pass this, the path behind, which is purely mental, its speed will not be fixed. It can be that you do not improve forever, but if you have a sudden solution, in that moment you can transcend it.


Beginners who have not entered this Dharma-door, who are still counting Xi, can consult the teaching of counting Xi in the “6 Wondrous Doors (六妙门)”. It is not any special trick, so I will not speak much about it here.

According to my view, the most important in cultivating the Anapana dharma-door, is how to reach “Knowing Xi in entire body”. To do that, firstly you must expel the hindrances of the form body, which involves the problem of qi channels in the human body. Here, I must emphasise that the qi channels themselves are not the Tao, however, in the cultivation process, we must know this principle. We must not however, cling onto it, if not we will have problems. Why do we emphasise training qi and its channels? The answer is easy, it is to forget the body. If you can really forget the body, the “body view” will vanish, and cultivation will go into the next level to enter dhyana and samadhi.

Therefore, if you cannot go past “knowing Xi in the entire body”, the Anapana dharma-door will forever stop at this beginner stage. We cannot even talk about the other dhyana and samadhi alambanas (realms).

This Anapana dharma-door can be compatible with other cultivation methods. As long as we can breathe, this dharma-door can be used. My main purpose here is to target the beginners, my wish is that it can be helpful to them.

The description of all the alambanas (realms) in the article, comes from my own personal experience. It may not be absolutely this, I can offer you this reference, because everybody has their own alambana (realm) which may be different.

With this article, may those with fate make an effort together.



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