Paulo P on the Taoist Map of Bruce Frantzis
Here's a short summary of a Taoist model of stages of enlightment presented by Bruce Frantzis in his book “Relaxing into your Being”:
Most of the taoist tradition is about energetic and physical practices. This one is no exception to the rule, but as far as I have searched, it’s the closest approach to buddhism and so interesting to compare. This model was taught by Liu Hung Chieh (circa 1905-1986). He was declared enlightened in Mahayana Buddhism by Tan Hsiu Fa Shr, the head of the Tien Tai School. Latter he learned Taoist Alchemy from different meditation masters of Western China during a 10 year period.
Liu Hung Chieh (LHC) taught about two different approaches in Taoism, the fire method and the water method. The first one is the most widely known, specially in the West, and involves forceful opening of energy channels through neigong (breathing, standing and moving practices). The second one was made public so far by him and his disciples, and involves a gentler “dissolving method”. It covers standing, sitted and lying meditations, with body scans, but instead of just noting and moving on, the focus is on detecting and dissolving any blockage found. In order to dissolve, one has to deepen into the blockage, feel the sensations that conform it and let it dissolve. The transformation is “from ice to water to gas to space”. As far as I can understand, it’s a mix of vipassana and samatha practices, no just the former as there are visualization aids to feel the “granularity” of blockages (the term is mine) and later moving energy through meridian channels. Also, there seems to be a mixed bag of samatha jhanas and vipassana jhanas, related to the energy bodies described below.
LHC identifies eight energy bodies (like a matryoshka doll) with different vibrating frequencies, which also define the stages of progress towards enlightment.
1. physical body 2. chi (etheric) body 3. emotional body 4. mental body 5. psychic energy body 6. causal body 7. body of individuality 8. body of the Tao
The physical body stage is about getting consciousness of it with increasing levels of depth. The chi body vibrates vibrates at a slightly higher frequency, and fuels the physical body. These stages involve breathing methods, moving and standing practices. In my opinion, these stages are related to the first and second vipassana jhana. Besides energy circulation and energy releases, there are some odds experiences I could mention like viewing the outside from the tantien (as it is the primal point of concentration), stepping lightly as if walking on water, and feeling your body enlarge and/or shrink tied to the breath cycle.
The emotional body cover what chinese call “ghosts” or “demons”, negative emotional residues from childhood or later experiences that are dissolved through sitting meditations. I would relate the stage to the third vipassana jhana. Work on the mental body enhances the mind’s ability to discriminate between what taoist call “the real and the false”, the capacity for clear, instantaneus decisions without the laggage of negative emotions. It’s a stage I relate to Equanimity, the fourth vipassana jhana.
Then, at the 5th and 6th stages, there’s a shift towards samatha jhanas. The psychic energy body is about developing the powers and the perception of the spirit world, and seems to whirl around the fouth samatha jhana. The casual body is also related to psychic powers, but involves understanding of “time and space” and thus seems to refer to the fifth samatha jhana, and probably the sixth too.
The body of individuality is where the taoist said that “The Great Stillness” ocurrs, and Frantzis explicitly relates to “enlightment”, that is stream entry. "It’s a stage where the separate energies of the first seven bodies become unified. The energy of the ego first reaches its full potential and then completely dissolves". The body of the Tao cover the the later paths (don’t know if third and fourth only or second too, as taoists see everything as an ongoing process) , towards joining the human consciousness to the whole of the universe. This last stage is where taoist alchemy is introduced, which involves visualization and vibrational sounds practices.
It’s a widespread belief that taoist meditation methods appeal to those inclined towards kinesthetic processing of information (NPL). I would add that there’s a trade-off in this approach: it’s an easy going softer method that probably is easier to integrate with daily activities, but at the expense of shallower insights, (much) lesser concentration skills and with a longer process from day one to stream entry.