This week we look into the fundamental axioms of Daoism and how we can use them to model life in a 21st century modern secular society.
Does Daoism have a political world view:
Does Daoism have a political world view?
This is a very important question to our pursuit of a modern Daoist rationale.
It is fundamental to deciding how we will choose to interpret the teachings of Daoism, how accurate our interpretations can be, and what, if any direction Daoism will take in shaping the ongoing philosophical discussion.
Daoist ideas are used as a rationale for the views of many groups, most notably Anarcho Communists and Libertarians. These disparate groups of people see Daoist concepts such as non cultural non interference on the part of government as a legitimization of their often radical political opinions.
It is true that to some extent, Daoist ideas such as non violence, not imposing state doctrine and other various important philosophical items from the Dao De Jing and Nan Hua Jing seem to give some credence to these anti authoritarian political movements, but as the old saying goes, correlation does not indicate causality.
So what is the political view of Daoism and how can it be interpreted for the modern world?
I argue that the political view of Daoism is historically bound and anachronistic.
It is something which is trapped into each school of thought in Daoism, just as the language of the classics is bound by the grammatical conventions of the times they were written.
Perhaps the earliest Daoist writings represent a type of benevolent monarchism, tinged by the threat of folk rebellion, enemy army incursion, and other dangers. In a sense, it is a kind of bandaid for leaders to use in order to cover the wounds created by the excesses of their rule.
Daoism is anachronistic, yet it contains a latent truth to it which is the reason why it has been so worthy of studying for the last two and a half milliard.
This latent truth is the kernel of Daost thought and the foundational kernel of the Chinese cosmological world view. It is the containment of three big principles, one passive and feminine, one active and masculine, and one which is a combination of those two, the child of the heavenly mother and revered father, humanity and being itself.
So almost regardless of the world view of Daoism, native to its own times and places, and often contradictory, there is always the most basic kernel, which is that combination of still, moving, and combined stillness and movement.
Stillness and movement are expressed in yin and yang and their combination forms the grand ultimate taiji principle. The quiet and clarity classic is thus named in order to refer to the perfect alignment of yin and yang for human use. The benefit of yin is in its quiet and stability, the benefit of yang is in its clarity and free movement. If one can long be quiet and clear, one can long perceive things as they are and be one with the Dao of nature.
Does Daoism have a political ideology?
This is perhaps beyond our direct purview, but if it does, it certainly springs from this.
The small Daoist canon has three chapters dedicated to methods of self control and how to cure oneself of the illnesses of consciousness.
The third section of this chapter contains two major lists, one comprised of illnesses and one comprised of medicines. A semi regular feature on this blog will be to post one or two illnesses and their remedies. The first two illnesses are:
xi nu wu chang shi yi bing:
the inconstancy of affection and anger are one disease.
wang yi qu li shi yi bing:
forgetting righteousness and grasping at benefit are one disease.
The medicine are:
Ti ruo, xing rou shi yi yao:
a supple body and softened consciousness are one medicine.
xing kuan xin he shi yi yao:
Vast in action with a harmonious heart is one medicine.
As you can see all illnesses of the mind have remedies and they are not overly complex. Simply being more calm, more relaxed, and in harmony with your environs is already enough to cure the first two diseases of excessive emotion and greed.
These types of practices are defined in Daoism as “Ren yuan” the practice of humanity, and are designed in such a way that the mind and the body are in cooperation at all times, not just on the meditation pillow.
This type of practice is not meditation, but it uses the benefit that meditation provides in order to maintain a more just and better life.
He who cultivates the way of nurturing the mind
must not walk too long or sit too long.
listen too long, or watch too long,
shouldn’t eat too much or become too hungry.
he also shouldn’t let his mind wander or think about worries or sadness
if hungry, then eat, if thirsty, then drink.
After finishing eating, walk one hundred steps and you will get great benefit.
Don’t eat at night, if you eat, then walk five li (Li is an ancient Chinese unit of distance), and you won’t become sick.
day and night as though you have an “encampment” mentality, not resting is the best. but do not allow yourself to become totally fatigued, or else you will not achieve great silence and no need for action.
The Classics say: streaming water does not go foul. If the window’s hing has no worms, and it can keep working with no rest.
Daoism is a living philosophy, it deals with real situations and problems and seeks to provide effective solutions based on its own unique conceptualization of existence.
Daoism as a concept is predicated on an old idea, but it is a very deep idea which is still as relevant today as it was at the time of its early inception.
Talking about the Dao in modernity, we find an already well established corpus left behind in the 20th century by writers such as Chen Yingning, Jiang Weiqiao, and Pang Ming.
These secular Daoists believed that the Virtue of the Dao was best expressed in the practice of meditation and the application of meditation to life.
Mr.Chen Yingning believed in first attaining physical health through Daoist practices and then attempting to break the human shell and become a spiritual immortal. His Immortality Study school gained great prominence in the 1950s and again in the 1980s and 90s, when his head disciple, Hu Haiya worked on the board of directors the Beijing Daoist research association. Chen’s method is practical and based on ancient precedent and Chen himself commented on many different Daoist texts in order to create a unified meditation theory which spanned religion, and the secular world and was available to all people wishing to study the path of the Dao.
Jiang Weiqiao attempted to combine Pavlovian psychology, the study of physiology, Daoism and Buddhism to create a scientific, modernist approach to meditation, and his three books on the subject are indispensable reading for the modern meditation student.
Pang Ming probably had the most pragmatic views on Daoist theory in modernity and created the concept of “Free social virtue of the dao” which attempts to reconcile modern social conventions with the spontaneity of the Dao of nature.
Each of these people had a different view of the value of the Dao in modern society, but one commonality between them was that the virtue of the Dao ought to be practiced and then applied to society, rather than applied without a basis in practice. This practice also ought to take the form of realizing the essential nature of the void mind and how the void mind is mixed with the natural energy of the world. That is to say, our original primordial energy and the original primordial energy of the world should be brought together in practice and after achieving these things, we could emphasize a healthier and better life style.
Although Chen Yingning and Jiang Weiqiao are no longer with us, and the influence of Pang Ming on Chinese culture has waned since the hay days of Qi gong practice in the 1980s, we are still left with a functioning corpus of knowledge relayed in their written work.
We ought to ask ourselves, regardless of whether we are secular or religious practitioners of the Dao, what should be the place of Daoism in the 21st century and how should we continue the development of Daoist Virtue into the new problems which face our world?
We are left with a very important questions, that is, is there any place for Daoism in the discussion of global political ideas and if so, how should this discussion take place.
Many Daoist bloggers, especially those with religious pretentions have recently written articles about their stances on all manner of modern political issues and have not been afraid to conflate their own political beliefs with Daoism as a whole, but no one has yet created a rationale by which the political theories of Daoism can even be applied accurately to our modern global context.
What does Daoism have to say about things like globalism, immigration, climate change, Liberal politics, democracy, Racial tensions, international conflict, or virtually any other major problem affecting the world today?
Remember, your opinion on this subject is not guaranteed to be reflective of Daoist philosophical ideas, so it isn’t as simple as just saying “I believe this therefore this is the Daoist way of thinking.” Many people have fallen into the logical trap of historical presentism, the means by which we judge the morality of history against our modern day understanding of the human landscape. Daoism is used as a rationale for politics movements as diverse as Libertarianism to Anarcho Communism, and many shades in between, and yet, there is nowhere in any of the Daoist classics in which these views are clearly espoused.
The problem of the Dao of modernity is worth thinking about seriously and collaborating on. This is both a Chinese and international project and scholars, practitioners, and students of the Dao alike should all come together and open a discussion on how the Daoist idea can be brought out of the dust of antiquity and into the living world to once again use natural virtue to guide us away from calamity and toward a balanced and peaceful existence.
Middle men in the tea industry are a topic that is near to my heart.
To put it simply, tea is a commodity product which has a distribution system that starts with the farmer who grows it and then goes through several other stages before it reaches the customer.
The number of stages that tea has to go through before reaching the end user is variable based on demands of the marketplace and economies of scale.
That is to say, small scale farmers often act as independent vendors with direct clients who travel to their farms and purchase tea for personal use. They often also sell to regional stores and sometimes regional distribution centres.
Medium sized and large farms typically sell only to shops, wholesalers, and factories which distribute the teas to other businesses down a longer distribution chain chain.
The largest farms only sell to private companies who are then able to either distribute their teas to their own stores, or in a large wholesale model.
Operation size and distribution format are essential concerns when considering the overall quality of tea and should not be ignored by shop owners, or serious tea drinkers.
Basically, although small farms do not always make high quality tea products, it is much more common to find good tea from small distributors than large companies. The reasons for this are simple, small farms often use more involved processing practices such as hand making, and more subtly controlled machine production practices. Larger farms often do not have this advantage, since their output is such that there is not enough skilled labour available to undertake the making of the highest quality of tea leaves.
Even in cases such as that of Nepalese Oolong makers, who make much of their tea by hand rolling, the scale of farming required there makes it impossible for artisan tea workers to undertake the work on their own. Artisan tea makers are generally educated in the art of tea making by other artisans and often follow a family line back hundreds of years, keeping in tact parts or the whole of the traditional processing methods of their families.
As a result, artisans make the best tea, but it is also common for their yields to be small and as such, it can be difficult to find artisan made teas outside of the geographical areas in which they are produced.
The next best grade are teas that are made by skilled workers who are overseen by high level artisans. These teas have the touch of a skilled human hand and are also carefully controlled so that they don’t wander from the standard of the farmers who originally designed the production process used on that farm.
A lower grade of tea would be those which are made with larger industrial tea making machines and have less “hand made” involvement. These teas are especially popular for international sale to tea shops and as locally available affordable teas in their countries of origin.
Finally, the lowest grades of tea available are those which are produced by share cropping and standardized into broken, ground and powdered types. These teas can still taste very nice, but they have none of the subtlety of teas which have a direct human control throughout the entire production process. The comparative advantage of such teas is that they can follow a standard which can be reproduced every year, because the standardization process combines tea grades from many different factory farms and sometimes even teas from several different seasons of years of harvest, meaning that standards are kept up by mixing and blending of leaves and as such, the taste of the tea does not change from year to year.
Tea artisans are however restricted to the relative weather conditions of harvest season as well as things such as humidity levels at the time of harvest, and all kinds of different possible conditions during production and storage, so tea artisans are very much bound to accept the prices available to them during seasons in which the highest quality of tea was not produced. Tea artisans also often suffer from the problem of not being able to secure constant wholesaling agreements and have to work very hard to secure customers, meaning that it is often possible for small tea farmers to experience a great deal of economic hardship.
Because of the basic conditions of standardized and unstandardized teas, there is also a proclivity on the part of distributors to prefer to buy from larger tea companies, factories, and share cropping situations, meaning that the supply chain is necessarily made longer through the profiteering activities of an industry which favours quotas over tea quality.
Small wholesalers and store owners who buy farm direct often have better tea and even have competitive pricing for grades of tea which are significantly better than the standard commonly available through larger firms and wholesalers. The issue of course is that small tea companies are also at a disadvantage because of the higher risks involved in personal overhead costs and the difficulties of working within the confines of often confusing and difficult to arrange certifications, shipping arrangements, health standards regulation (for stores which serve tea), and regional taxes, as well as issues of recognition when compared to larger companies, meaning that small tea shop owners have a much harder time getting their teas to market and staying in business.
Long story short, support small tea shops and artisan farmers. They have better tea and work harder to bring you a genuine product with seasonal variation, rather than another imitation industry standard.
The Three Gates are a Daoist conceptualization of how energy moves through the back from tail bone to skull. These three gates are called “San Guan” and are made up of
– the Wei Lu Gate: this runs from the tail bone to just under the kidneys and relates to the lower Dantian in the front of the body.
– the Jia Ji gate: this gate runs from the kidneys to the base of the neck and relates to the heart and middle dan tian on the front of the body.
– the Yu Zhen gate: the jade pillow gate runs from the base of the neck to the back of the skull is the entrance to the brain.
Daoists believe that in order to cultivate Qi from the lower body and cause it to enter the brain, it must first pass these three gates. The three gates also make up a major part of the Du meridian pathway, which is the meridian related to the kidneys, water, and the rise of Yang energy up a yin path.
The three gates are symbolized in Daoist imagery as being made up of three animals, a goat, a deer, and a bull. The goat is pulling a small cart full of coal, the deer is pulling a cart made of wood, and the bull is pulling a cart full of a mysterious substance.
This is a way of discussing the relationship between the strong and stable nature of the lower dan tian and wei lu, which carries the essence of the body (jing), the nimble and light middle dan tian and jia ji, which carries the Qi energy of the body, and the powerful and slow, but mysterious feeling of the yu zhen and upper dantian, which when the qi arrives there seems to take a long time to open, but when the yu zhen is open and the qi moves to the brain, produces a mysterious spiritual result.
These concepts are predicated on the idea that in order to have the energy move in the three gates, first, the lower dan tian should be developed fully. The lower Dan Tian is like a goat in that it has lots of power and can move quickly, but it stubborn and hard to tame. Meditating on the lower Dan Tian is very difficult for beginners and it is hard to harness its power,
The Deer in the Jia Ji and middle Dan Tian area represents something that is not commonly seen, since it is so fast. When the Qi moves in the Jia Ji gate, usually it moves so quickly and lightly that you won’t notice it at first (especially in the early stages of self cultivation).
The bull in the Yuzhen gate represents the very strong feeling of energy when it arrives at the back of the skull. It often feels as though the energy is pushing the posture upright and can feel very intense before the Yu Zhen opens and the Qi moves to the skull (if this happens, make sure you relax),
These three gates make up a very important part of the Daoist energy body and also the path along which energy moves and is transformed in the Du Mai meridian of the book. It is important to understand the theory deeply and not try to practice the gates independent of the lower Dan Tian, since the lower Dan Tian is really the key to accumulating strong energy to save in the body. Any of the other aspects of the energy anatomy without the lower Dan Tian are not very useful.
In episode one of This Daoist Life, we discuss some of the possible meanings of the first chapter of Laozi’s Dao De Jing classic and how it can be applied to our understanding of the world.
This Daoist Life is a new podcast from Robert Coons which will focus on all things Daoist from philosophy, to religion, meditation, culture,and modern interpretations of Daoism.
Pang Ming is the founder of the Zhi Neng (wisdom ability) school of Qi Gong.
and a modern secular Daoist thinker. He originally created the Zhi Neng method of Qi gong by combining many ancient techniques from Daoism and modern scientific ideas about the body.
Zhi Neng Qi Gong specializes in developing the ability to combine the energy outside of the body with the energy inside the body, and is based on the concept of allowing the mind to merge with the environs of the natural world.
Beyond this, Pang Ming also gave many lectures on his ideas about health cultivation practices, society, and Daoist cultural ideas.
One particular lecture he gave in the 1990s was on the subject of Dao De in nature and society. Dao De is the Daoist philosophical concept of the way of the world, and the virtue of the way. It is a very complex and difficult subject to unpack, but essentially, Dao refers to the unchanging way things are and it is the root of all things. It is the unnamed origin of the universe which exists at all times and in all places and yet cannot be seen, heard, felt, or understood. It contains both empty and full, yin and yang, the five directions, the eight gates, and every other phenomenon, and yet is not in and of itself one of the myriad phenomena.
De is the virtue of the Dao, it is the point at which humanity may become aligned with the Dao and the way in which the will of nature manifests itself. The Virtue of the Dao is also simply how things happen in nature, so in this sense, the Dao is the non active elements of creation and the De is the element which breathes action into this nature.
Dao De is the principle common to all Daoists and the one which all Daoists seek to emulate and achieve in their lives. Regardless of whether one perceives it from a philosophical, religious, or practical vantage point, Dao De is the most important concept in Daoism and one that is never left in practice.
Pang Ming discussed two different aspects of Dao De, the first being the natural Dao De and the second being the Social aspect of Dao De.
He used the image of the child to discuss the Dao De of nature.
Young children are born without any sense of propriety, they are natural and simply accord to their own natures without considering morals, ethics, or really anything other than their needs. Pang Ming suggested that if a child is hungry, it will simply eat, it really doesn’t matter if the food is yours or mine, since the child has no theory of property, or the public and private realms. He also discussed how two children playing with one another might get into a fight and cry, but five minutes later are back together playing with no long term animosity toward each other.
Pang Ming suggests that this is the natural virtue of the Dao and that it is the way the world organizes itself before culture is established in the minds of humans.
He also says that this is the underpinning of Marxist philosophy, since it accords to the theory of “to each according to his ability and to each according to his needs.”
This Dao De of course is paired with the Dao De of society. This society is more complex, since we already have the distinctions of you and me, public and private, good and bad, and all of the other dualities that are invented by the fight for survival that all humans must learn to undertake to be successful in this world.
The virtue of the way for society must thus be interpreted through sets of social conventions and rules so that we do not injure one another through adherence to our every desire and whim.
These social rules are expressed in Chinese culture through the Confucian paradigm, and Confucianism as a philosophy in China is most concerned with the way in which society organizes itself according to rules and structures of the family.
In his lecture, Pang Ming discussed how we can use self cultivation and realization of the natural virtue of the way to inform us in how to practice the social virtue of the way. That is to say, he uses the Daoist concept of “changing age back to youth,” as a way to reconnect with what it means to be a natural individual, but at the same time, using the wisdom that is afforded to us by our social development to continue engaging society in a fair and just way that is beneficial for all people.
Pang Ming said “instead of becoming an immortal, why don’t you become a balanced person first,” which is a way of thinking also discussed by the Immortality Study school of Chen Yingning and Hu Haiya. Pang Ming suggested that in modern society, it is already very difficult to attain a sense of balanced lifestyle of health and happiness.
To attain this sense of balance, we should combine the need to live a socially reasonable life with the practice of directing the mind back to nature through our meditations, and sending the body back to health through our healthy lifestyle.
This type of Dao De is what Pang Ming called “Hun Yuan Dao De” which is the mixed and original virtue from which both society and our animal natures spring from. He combined this concept with his Qi Gong practices in order to develop a complete philosophy of lifestyle practice which can be applied at all times and is much more than just a set of exercises to promote health.
It is very useful to reflect deeply on these concepts and try to find out how to achieve this “original mixed, natural social virtue of the way.”
Cultivating the body will make the world be at peace. Losing what is real will surely cause a world in chaos. – Huang Yuanji , Dao De Jing Chan Wei.