I just got back from a Qigong workshop that I attended with my wife. Neither of us knew anything about Qigong, so we didn't know what to expect. To say that we were disappointed would be incorrect; rather, we were appalled and disgusted, not by the Qigong instruction itself, but by the instructor, Jeff Primack.
With live music & the most powerful techniques you can’t go wrong.
With the exception of music played by a duo during lunch breaks (when most people were eating lunch elsewhere), all the music was canned.
Primack is a personable young man, but he is about as spiritual as a carrot. He decided to dedicate his life to Qigong, he said, when he realized that “chi was the greatest thing since sliced bread.” There is nothing spiritual about sliced bread, nor about the metaphor he used. He refers to this incident as his “enlightenment”, but it is not that, only a decision taken about his career. He tells how his life has been directed by “miracles”, which he defines as “statistically improbable” events.
Primack found $72 in a bush one day. This he considered miraculous because he had studied the 72 names of God one week previously. But finding money is not an unusual event, or even rare. Nearly everyone has done it. The coincidence of having found $72 only becomes unusual in retrospect. This is a mystical number for the kabbalah, but if he had found $10, he could have considered that the number of commandments; if $3, the number of the holy trinity; if $9, a mystical number for Qigong; and so on, so that whatever amount of number he found, he could have discovered some “meaningful” correlation.
A second miracle he described involved looking out though the window of a house he was considering purchasing and seeing a dolphin jump from the water. Since he lives in Miami, where dolphins leap from the water every day of the year, this can hardly be construed as a miracle.
Primack lectured about spirituality and the existence of what he at first called the “true source”. His discourse was a jumble of Eastern philosophies, primarily Daoism and Buddhism, with many references to the kabbalah and Christianity. He claims to have studied with a “Siberian Shaman”, but a little research indicates that he is referring to Tanya Storch, a professor in Eastern Religions who at that time was teaching at the University of Florida. Storch does not represent herself in published literature as a Shaman. What he seems to have learned from Storch is a syncretistic knowledge of world religion with an emphasis on Daoism and Buddhism as an academic discipline. His understanding, and his explanations, are entirely superficial, however. He sprinkles his lectures with vignettes from several religions. He tells of Shaolin monks who stand “on the edge of a cliff” for hours or days; of monks who meditate for years without sleeping or going to the bathroom.
But Primack did not explain why monks might meditate for years; he only mentioned the fact that they did. Nor did he mention the great sage Bodhidharma, who is famous for having spent years in meditation and who brought zen meditation to China. Bodhidharma is also supposed to have introduced qi exercises to the shaolin monks.
Later on, Primack led the assembly in an advanced Daoist meditation. This meditation included meditation on four organs corresponding to four colors, all of which was to be visualized. He stated that this meditation was usually not taught to beginners, and proceeded to lead it without any explanation whatever. Such meditations are part of yogic teaching, but they are always preceded by exercises to enhance visualization abilities and accompanied by explanations of their esoteric meaning. Primack had three 8-hour days to explain Daoist teachings like this one, but he imparted little information on this subject. Instead, he regaled us repeatedly with slogans like “soy is not a toy... not for your boy” and “beets beat disease”.
Primack calls his Qigong style, “Supreme Science Qigong,” and intersperses his teachings with phrases like, “absolutely scientifically proven”, and with scientific-sounding words like “phytonutrients”, although he never offers any evidence of scientific proof nor an adequate definition of a phytonutrient, making it seem more mysterious than it actually is. But his understanding of science is just as limited as his understanding of religion. He claims that a man in the Himalayas lived 250 years eating goji berries, and that avocado pits are scientifically proven to be full of lifesaving chemical compounds, but he offers no proof for these extraordinary claims, nor have I been able to find corroboration on the web. His interest in these two subjects is not mere intellectual curiosity, since he is selling bags of goji berries at $20 a pound and a heavy-duty blender for $400 on the basis of its ability to pulverize avocado pits. As evidence of the healthful virtues of seeds, he cited verses from Genesis; he then quoted more scripture to “prove” that humans should be living to the age of 120. He left out the part about Methuselah's 900 years... but perhaps even Primack found that Biblical assertion far-fetched.
The Foundation (or Primack) makes a hefty profit on the sale of each blender, probably $150 or more. It is repulsive to see a man who claims to be interested in spiritual enlightenment demonstrating of a blender on stage during a Qigong workshop one day, and the next day beginning his lecture by taking a drink of his concoction and musing, “I wonder what they're eating for breakfast.”
Primack's commercialization of religion is crass. He repeatedly told his audience that they don't need to take notes, because everything he says is in the manual; he sells this “manual”, a set of printed powerpoint slides, for $45. In point of fact, he had a lot of merchandise for sale, all of it grossly overpriced ($95 for a cd; $145 for a book)-- and he managed to mention every item, at least once.
Another “smart” business move Primack made involves the way he got 2,000 people to enroll in his seminar. He used his Master's Degree in Eastern Religion to set up a “class” in Qigong, then invited Florida's Licensed Massage Therapists to take the class under the auspices of the state regulatory board. So 2,000 people came to his event, but many, perhaps most, of them were only interested in getting cheap credits to continue working in the state. This must have been disappointing to Primack, who claims to have trained 600 instructors nationwide, for with that number of instructors, including 130 at the event itself, surely more than 1,000 devotees should have shown up to take a workshop from the master? Even those most impressed by the energy of the convention must doubt how sincere a group of disinterested therapists can be, especially when they are subjected to sales pitches for food products which have no relationship to the course they signed up for. Prices were high and sales were slow, but then massage therapists are not wealthy.
Speaking of other conventions I have attended, I don't recall being confined in a large hall with 2,000 people and little else. Sure, there were tables where we could buy Jeff's merchandise (and only Jeff's merchandise). The floor was bare concrete and pretty unforgiving when covered only by the yoga mats we brought with us. The music was constant, and constantly loud and rhythmic, not what I consider conducive to meditation. Perhaps Primack could have spent a little more of the $200,000+ that the foundation grossed from entry fees to put down a few carpets and have a few “optional” events in smaller meeting rooms, which were available but not used. In fact, the event used less than half the space available, curtaining off the rest. This caused friction at times between people who wanted to place their mats in the same general location.
One corner of the hall was carpeted, with cushions and a shrine, but this corner had room for no more than 10 people and was always full. The people in it may have been seeking solitude or refuge. I recall them looking out with wide, sad eyes.
Since Primak does not believe in starting on time, the people had to wait for 1 to 2 hours at the beginning of each day, and since Primack does not like to stop talking when he has a captive audience, his final presentation of the day ran over from 30 minutes to an hour. He also enjoys keeping people from eating lunch at noon, one day waiting until nearly 3 pm before releasing us for a one-hour break: just enough to get back to the hotel room, eat, and get back to the convention center.
Although many of the people there were new to qigong, the exercises were intense and long. Primack reminds me of a personal trainer who keeps saying, “just one more rep, just one more!” We did not sign up to be abused, however. The long group exercise at the end of the third day, using the “nine breath” method was particularly excruciating. Since we were all holding hands, we felt compelled to continue, despite discomfort and, for some, a strong objection to the prayers that Primack was reciting pretentiously during the exercise. The nine breath method, according to him, is an advanced method that is usually taught only after several years of instruction. There are reasons for teaching subjects in a certain order. It is irresponsible for a teacher to give instructions to novices that may harm them.
On the first day, Primack was careful to speak of the “true source”, by which I supposed he meant the Dao. By the third day, he was directing each prayer to divine father, divine mother, or God. As a long-time student of Asian religions, I was offended by this. My wife took extreme personal offense to being constrained to listen to his “directed prayer” routine. Neither of us is Christian and neither wanted to be part of someone else's religious fantasy, especially since it seemed designed to offend nearly everyone.
On the way out, after the prayer circle was over, I spoke with others who were disconcerted by the event. I saw a couple of women who were too upset to speak and others who were simply discussing their reactions. My wife and I left and did not return for the fourth day of the event.