Philosophical Daoism and the incredible splitting of hairs.
October 22, 2017
Long rages the debate of the nature of Daoism, and whether it is a philosophical exercise or a religion, or something else entirely.
I personally have penned many articles from all sides of the debate, and in each article, I have generally made the argument that Daoism has historically taken many forms and entered into many parts of society.
In this article, I would like to take a slightly different tack and suggest that the bulk of the current argument over the nature of Daoism comes from poor communication.
It has been stated by many people on the side representing the Daoist religion that there has never been an organized group who have described themselves as philosophical Daoists. This of course is true, being that there is no historical term used in ancient China to describe philosophy as distinct from religion. Having said that, a distinct, albeit long dead school of Daoism known as the Mystery Study School does fit into the definition of a philosophically inclined approach to Daoism, and doubtless there were many other such projects throughout Chinese history that were not recorded and preserved as well as the writings of Wang Bi and Guo Xiang.
This notwithstanding, the major works of Daoism such as Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi have been widely disseminated by intellectuals in China for 2000 years and anyone who has made a study of the Chinese classics in any serious way would have been familiar with these books. thus, I would like to introduce the concept that Daoism certainly existed as an extremely influential literary genre outside of the mainstream clergy and that there were many people who learned Daoist teachings without engaging seriously in Daoist religious practices.
Why is this important and why can’t we give this topic the rest that it so dearly deserves?
My opinion is that there is a great deal of exclusivity and oneupsmanship in the academic Daoist community outside of China and that to completely write off the existence of Daoism as an intellectual and literary genre is a great disservice to the countless people who have brought the principles of Daoism into their lives, while not being involved in the ritual and magical practices of the Daoist clergy.
I think it is very important as a point of fact and a point of respect to point out that Daoism is a very multi faceted study and should not be pegged down into a fully formed and single approach, since within the vast context of Chinese cultural history, Daoism really has served many functions that exist outside of the strictures of a hierarchic organized religion.
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October 4, 2017
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The nature of knowledge in the Chinese tea industry
September 12, 2017
Over the past several years the North American tea industry has taken great strides toward a renewed sense of internationalism and cooperation with traditional tea producing regions in Asia such as China and Japan.
This excellent development has also come with a renewed interest in different genres of tea such as Oolong, Pu’er, high quality green tea and so on. There are now many people travelling to Asia to learn about tea and there are many people creating media about this fascinating subject.
A serious problem with this development is that most of the information about the Chinese tea industry being published in North America as partial and sometimes out and out fabricated. The Chinese tea industry is an extremely complex place with its own standardization methods, rules, regulations, prices, and variations. The nascent North American tea media is not helping in the dissemination of accurate information about Chinese tea and often instead tends toward propagandist tactics either used to increase hits on blogs, or worse yet, to sell more tea. Blogging and selling are good things, but we should try to improve the overall knowledge about tea in North America, and not just create controversy and self serving propaganda.
A recent blog post doing its circulation online proposed that due to over farming and other regions, it was impossible to find Tieguanyin tea of the same quality available thirty years ago. This post is an attempt to address the reasons why this assertion is wrong and how we can come to understand the inner workings of the tea industry, its recent history, and hopefully how we can appreciate our tea more and talk less uninformed trash.
Tea is a really wonderful beverage and has a profound history of development from the time before even the word “Cha” entered into common use, up until the late dynasty period and modern times. Tea has always changed in character and never stayed exactly the same, in fact, the ancient tea of the Tang dynasty would hardly be recognizable to modern day Chinese tea enthusiasts.
Tea and change are inexorably connected and need to be considered when we undertake the study of the “spirit leaf.”
The modern Chinese tea industry is predicated on two big concepts:
– Infrastructural development
– inter-regional tea drinking.
To unpack these concepts a bit,
it used to be the case that most provinces had some sort of native tea crop, be it the green teas of central China, the Oolong of the South, or the flower teas of North China, each major area had its own unique style of tea and tea culture. Although inter-regional tea trade has been occurring for more than 1500 years, the face of modern Chinese tea drinking and that of even thirty years ago are totally different.
As an example, it used to be the case that the people of Shanghai typically drank Biluochun green tea from Suzhou Long Ting and Long Jing tea from Hangzhou Xihu. This is because these two regions are very close to Shanghai. In the last twenty years, the Shanghai tea scene has expanded and now it is possible to get teas from every region of china and even from places like Taiwan, which were previously not available in mainland China.
Because of the expanded choice that inter-regional tea importation has given people in terms of what teas are available and by what medium they are enjoyed, the Shanghainese tea scene is now very complex and there is much more to tea in Shanghai than just South Eastern Green teas like long jing and bi luo chun.
This trend is not just in Shanghai, it is national and even international now, with the development of large and small scale tea exportation by Chinese and foreign companies.
With this trend, there has been created a much larger market demand than previously existed, which has lead to a supply and demand problem in Chinese tea.
For instance, the viable land available to make traditional long jing tea in hangzhou is not big enough to produce all of the tea demanded by the Chinese internal market, let alone the foreign market. Thus, long jing tea is now grown in many parts of China, from Fujian to Yunnan and many place in between.
This means that certain characteristics of the standard of the tea have undergone change over the years.
As many people will know, it is possible for an expert worker to control many aspects of tea production, but one thing that they cannot change is the taste made by a specific terroir.
For instance, Tieguanyin, which is traditionally only grown in the high mountain area of Anxi Fujian, is now grown all over Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, and Hubei, as well is in other more far flung places in West China. The taste of this tea is by definition different from the traditional teas grown at the top of Anxi and as such, concepts surrounding standardization in the tieguanyin industry must change.
Traditional tieguanyin requires at least two weeks to process and round the clock supervision, but a tea industry based on demands for large yields cannot possibly live up to such stringent standards, thus, tieguanyin production practices have also changed dramatically over the years.
This does not mean that the overall quality of tea has gone down though, because it is still possible for tea lovers to find high quality, original terroir teas made in traditional ways by expert artisans. The key difference between the era of regional tea drinking and the current inter-regional tea drinking era is actually found in price.
While it used to be the case that it was once possible to obtain one pound of xinyang maojian green tea in henan for the equivalent of a few cents American, now, to find even the most basic Maojian tea, not grown in Xinyang, it now costs at least a few dollars, and high end original source tea can cost hundreds of dollars a pound, even at wholesale.
Why did the difference happen?
this difference was created by complex trends, but two that come to mind are inflation of the Chinese RMB and according higher wages for tea workers, and the development of inter-region tea markets which create much larger stresses on farmers to produce yields capable to being exported all over China and not just in the specific areas that their tea is grown.
This does not mean that it is not possible to find great Maojian tea in Xinyang which would impress even the most stubborn of traditionalists.
There is plenty of great tea in China and it is readily available for those who are willing to go to the cost and effort to find it.
The main difference is that now there is also plenty of average tea which anyone can buy, regardless of their level of discernment in the tea industry.
It is important to note here that the main use of Chinese tea in China is day to day drinking and that the number of serious tea aficionados is relatively small in comparison to people just looking for a drink. This harkens back to the old saying that there are three things Chinese people can’t do without, rice, vinegar and tea. Tea is a cultural requirement for many people and is the convoluted and gilded ceremonial culture which many western tea drinkers romanticize it to be.
Common tea drinking calls for common tea and good tea is usually reserved for special occasions, gifts, and for those who make a hobby of tea drinking.
There is a special myth in the tea world these days that there was a mythic period of tea making quality which existed before the Liberalization of China in the 1980s, and this idea is something which we need to do away with as quickly as possible.
Anyone who has seen old photos of tea production in South China and Taiwan will know that the automation of certain aspects of tea making have greatly improved the quality of tea.
for instance, it was once a requirement at Lugu in Taiwan that the tea was to be trampled by foot and rolled by hand. Not only did this make much less clean tea, it also made looser balls and a much lower standard of quality, with no real ability to control size of tea, roll, breakage, uniformity of oxidization and much more.
Automation and modern farming methods have been an overall benefit to the tea industry and have made for a much more consistent standard of tea. We mustn’t pine for something which simply wasn’t as good as it is now.
The main problem with the tea industry in China is knowledge. If you don’t know tea, you don’t know where to get tea, you don’t know what tea is supposed to look like, smell like, taste like, and feel like, then you simply can’t find good tea.
The tea industry is not set up for hopeful foreigners to just walk into and take away the highest grade crops and most amazing knowledge. It is a commodity business which has internally consistent standards, prices, variations and is quite complex and hard to study.
I see a big trend in tea media these days to find some aspect of Chinese tea agriculture and write dark criticisms of it without having really done any serious research into how tea is standardized and sold in China.
If we want to develop a high quality approach to Chinese tea in North America, we need to improve our knowledge and understand tea from the perspective of the Chinese tea industry, rather than from the perspective of our own romantic inclinations and desire to appear to have secret information passed down by mysterious Chinese friends on far away mountains.
A Confucian interpretation of non action.
September 10, 2017
Motivated to govern in virtue, an example is the north star.
It rests and all the stars coalesce around it.
Gong is pronounced as gong, and can also be supplanted as the character gong (implying an offering made to a superior or ancestors).
The character Zheng (meaning to govern) is actually referring to being upright (upright in governing). So people taking action to make others be upright is not upright. Virtue is speaking of the achievement of something, it is grasped by the heart and not lost.
The north star is the polar north, the centre of the sky, it always rests there and does not move.
Together refers to direction and is speaking of the stars of the four corners rotating around and returning all along.
The govern with the will of virtue means one will practice non action and the world will return itself. Its image is like this.
Cheng zi said: to act in governance with virtue , one can then be without action.
Cui shi said: to govern in virtue means to not move and thus transform. Do not speak, but be honest, and non action will be born.
If one can protect this and act in simplicity,they will control that which annoys them. Those who can discipline themselves and arrive at stillness can control movement. He who can serve in this way and can arrive at simplicity and can clothe all people
– Zhu Xi.
Using Daoist deities to explain philosophical concepts in Daoism
September 9, 2017
Is Daoist religious practice really Daoist?
This questions seems to be endlessly circulating on the English language internet of Daoism and no matter where one turns, it always seems to be the the case that many experts are willing to come out in a denial of any significant relationship between Daoist religious practice and their imagined conceptualization of the vague historical Daoist philosophy of 2500 years ago.
Aside from the fact that we have very few Daoist texts available from the earliest periods of the development of the Daoist school of though, and that many of them such as “The Teachings of Classifying the immortals” have specifically religious connotations, it is quite evident that Daoist religion shares more in common with the core texts of the Dao De Jng and Nan Hua Jing (Zhuangzi) than differences.
In this brief post, I would like to discuss some Daoist Deities and how they represent core concepts in Daoist thought, and hopefully why you should learn to respect the Daoist religion as one of the myriad manifestations of Chinese Daoist culture.
Without mincing too many words, lets jump right into the subject of deities of the Dao:
In Quanzhen Daoism, the three most central deities beyond the great Dao of Non Polarity (Wu Ji Da Dao) there are three great deities known as the San Yuan, or Three Originals.
The San Yuan are:
– Yaun Shi Tian Zun (the venerated heavenly elder of the original beginning),
– Ling Bao Tian Zun (the venerated heavenly elder of the spirit treasure),
– Dao De Lao Jun (the Gentleman of the Dao of Virtue).
Together, these three deities comprise many different Daoist and Chinese cosmological, spiritual and cultural ideas.
to name but a few:
– The Three deities together make up the Chinese concept of “San Cai,” which means the three levels of heaven, humanity, and the earth. in Chinese and Daoist thought, heaven and earth are the purest forms of yin and yang and humanity is the only creature which is able to fully absorb the lessons of yin and yang and their transformation. In this case, The Venerated Heavenly Elder of the Original beginning refers to the heavens, open, vast, and constructive, he has no form, but contains all within him.
The Venerated Heavenly Elder of the Spiritual Treasure refers to earth and the ability to sustain life. In Daoism, this deity is often associated with the concept of “Jing” essence and the ability to become alive.
The Gentleman of the Dao of Virtue represents humanity and is the heavenly and eternal incarnation of Laozi, the human who delivered the Dao teachings to humanity via the Dao De Jing.
On another level of analysis, these three deities represent the concepts of “Yuan jing, Qi, and Shen” or the original essence, energy, and spirit of living things.
Original Jing, Qi, and Shen are formless and are associated with the development of a new life in the womb, with the body coming from the original essence, the vital energy coming from the original qi, and the mind coming from the original spirit or consciousness.
Different Daoist thinkers have placed these deities in different order, but the two most popular interpretations are that Yuanshi Tianzun represents either the original spirit or original essence, Ling Bao Tianzun represents original essence, or original spirit, and Dao De Lao Jun represents original Qi.
Regardless of these interpretations, these three deities are literally manifest in each of our bodies and are the most essential components of our existence, from physical material (jing) to our animating energy (Qi), to consciousness (shen). Daoists view the body and mind as sacred and thus the three greatest deities of the Dao are seen as being the patrons of these aspects of self.
Finally, Yuanshi Tianzun literally refers to the concept left behind in Liezi of “Yuan Shi” or original beginning. This beginning is what Laozi calls “at the beginning it was without name,” and refers to the incubation of created reality by the empty and nameless Dao.
Ling Bao tianzun refers to the possibility of life, and Dao De Tianzun refers to the energy of life. Together they make up Laozi’s three pillar concepts of Xi, yi, and Wei, or subtle, hidden, and minute.
So regardless of other interpretations of these deities and their attendant rituals, the San yuan actually represent a huge amount of very real theory from the Dao De Jing, Nan Hua Jing, and Lie Zi.
Other deities such as the three officials represent aspects of nature, the body and the mind, but this is enough for today.
I think it is quite important that we don’t closed mindedly reject Daoist religious teachings out of a romantic sense of some mystical philosophical era in ancient Chinese history. It is better to understand the practical interpretations of these beliefs and then come to a more informed judgement about them which doesn’t lead to cultural bigotry and chauvinism.
translation of Zhu Xi commentary on the annalects of Confucius
August 16, 2017
Today we are looking at a section from the first chapter of Zhu xi’s commentary on the analects of Confucius. Zhu Xi was a Song Dynasty Confucian who believed in the idea of combining Confucian and Daoist philosophy to create a new self cultivation school which was steeped in both Confucian ideas about social propriety and Daoist ideas about self development through meditation and cosmological philosophy.
We will now review a comment on a piece of original text from the Confucian analects.
You zi said: “those who have the quality of being filial and fraternal and loves to become angry and aggressive are few.
Those who do not like to express anger and aggression and like to commit themselves to wildness do not exist!
Zhu Xi comment:
“di” and “hao” are pronounced with a leaving tone. “Xian” and “Shang” have a falling tone. You Zi is the disciple of Confucius, his name was Ruo.
Those who commit good acts for their parents are called filial, those who commit good acts for their siblings are called fraternal.
Anger and aggression is committed by people who find it easy to become angry.
They are few, as to be considered very fresh.
“committing wild acts” refers to being malicious, going against, fighting and quarreling.
This refers to people who are able to be filial and fraternal must be harmonious of heart and smooth in action, so few of them can become aggressive, and they cannot, as such, engage in wildness.
“the gentleman takes on work as his basic,
when the basic is set upright, the way can be born. Filial and fraternal, this can be considered to be the root of humanity.
Zhu xi comment:
“yu” has a flat tone. “work” refers to using strength.
“basic” refers to a root.
“humanity” refers to the principle of love and the virtue of the heart. To engage in humanity also refers to going forth in a humane fashion.
The person meeting with this, if questioning the edict (of parents and senior siblings) should humbly step back and not be so brave as to speak about the essence of the subject. The gentleman always uses his power to establish the basic (the basic needs of the family) and when the basic is set upright, the correct way will be born of its own accord.
The above article about filial and fraternal piety is actually the root of humanity. He who studies this must take it as his work and then the way of being humane will emerge of this.
Cheng Zi said: “filial and fraternal is the virtue of smoothing, thus it isn’t easy to beome annoyed so who could return to going against the principle (of virtue) and engage in any wild action on a regular basis?
Virtue has its root, its root is made upright and thus the Dao becomes vast and connected. The filial and fraternal child acts for his family and then achieved humane love for all beings. Thus he becomes a fatherly figure and acts humanely toward all people.
So people who act humanely take filiality and fraternity as their core principle. Speaking of its nature, humanity must take filial and fraternal piety as its root.
So it is asked: “if the root of humanity is found in filial and fraternal piety, does it mean that if one is filial and fraternal, they have achieved humanity?”
The answer no.
If someone acts humanely, they take filial and fraternal piety as the beginning. Filial and fraternal piety are one activity of humanity. So in order to act with humanity, they should have this as their basic. They cannot expect that this will automatically make them rooted in humanity.
if they have humanity as their true nature, then filial and fraternal piety is how they manifest it. From the centre of their nature they have humanity, law, courtesy, and wisdom, all four together. They can experience how this works through being filial and fraternal. The work of humanity is controlled by love, and there is no love as great as that of the family. Thus it is said that one who is filial and fraternal has the root of humanity.
The Joy of Confucius.
August 3, 2017
Tonight I saw something while reading the Analects of Confucius that I hadn’t previously thought about.
The first chapter of the Analects says:
“Study and constant review, will not this be a pleasure?
Friends who come from afar, is this not a joy?
People don’t know me and I am not angry, is this not the mark of a gentleman?”
Upon reading this, I suddenly came to the realization that Confucius is discussing the philosophy of happiness.
People who are already quite clear about Confucianism doubtless aleady know this, but anyway, I was surpised.
So why was I surprised?
To be honest, the quality of Confucian study in the west is a bit lacking in comparison to Daoism. Maybe the mystique of Daoist philosophy and religion are more appealing to the western mind, I don’t know for sure. In any event, many people outside of China look at Confucian thought incorrectly.
This is especially true among people who are interested in the Daoist philospher Zhuangzi. I have heard many people say that Confucius is too serious and too conservative, so even if they haven’t looked at Confucius, they already know he isn’t good. When they look at it, they have already formed a stubborn opinion and won’t change it.
I like to think that I’m not so stubborn, and certainly I like Confucian thought very much. Even though i haven’t sought out a teacher of the Confucian arts, I’ve still spent considerable time with the classical literature and explanations of the genre.
But today I saw something that surprised and pleased me, and I would like to introduce it below:
the first passage of the Analects says “Study and constant review, will not this be a pleasure?
Friends who come from afar, is this not a joy?
People don’t know me and I am not angry, is this not the mark of a gentleman?”
originally, I thought the meaning was that Confucius was suggesting three life habits:
1: focusing on study will make your life more beautiful.
2: being generous when you receive fiends will make your life more full of love.
3: being a humble person will make you into morally superior human being.
“悦” “乐” “不恼”.
I still think these three points are correct, but today I also stumbled across one new meaning in the text.
This meaning is found in the following words:
“pleasure,” “joy” and “not angry.”
So what are these words trying to convey?
“pleasurable” and “joyful” are meant to indicate a happy psychological world view. “not angry” suggests that we don’t find it easy to be bothered by the events around us.
These three things together illustrate a happy life, so Confucius must have been a happy and joyful person.
Also, he put his philosophy of contentment right at the first passage of the fist section of his book, so we must assume that his most fundamental teachings all spring from this philosophy.
I still think that my original idea about it being important to study well, be generous with guests, and to be a gentleman are right, but how should we interpret them now?
Simply put, these are the basic practices of a happy life.
Confucius believed that in order to be a contended person, you must first cultivate good habits.
So here is what I think:
This world has people who are good at study and people who are not. There are people who are gracious with friends and people who are petty and small. There are people who go forth trying to understand others, and those who are only greedy to gain their own benefit and fame. In our world, we have every kind of person, and often, all you have to do is look once to see who is happy and not happy.
In life, our habits and our lifestyle are inextricable things.
If you don’t have good habits, you won’t have a good lifestyle.
If something nasty happens, life won’t be perfect and you will find it easy to become embittered.
If you have good habits, then you will have mastered the basics of life. After this, it doesn’t matter if you are lucky or not, you already have the most basic ability to engage in beneficial activities, so how could you live anything other than a happy life?
The first Chapter of Confucius is simply telling us that cultivating good habits is the way to be a delighted gentleman, and that is just great!
什么是丹田/what is the dantian?
August 1, 2017
This article is the first attempt at what I hope to be an ongoing series of articles about daoism, tea and other subjects written both in English and Chinese. Chinese is not my first language and so this series of articles is also meant to be a chance for me to practice writing in Chinese in hopes of eventually being able to write coherent and interesting Chinese language articles.
As such, please feel free to critique my writing, as it will help me to make progress as I develop this skill.
Recently some classmates studying the immortality school of meditation asked me
the question “what is Dantian?” (the elixir field). It gave me pause to think about
how to answer them.
In the Chinese Daoist arts, Dantian has many different meanings.
If we want to talk about the real meaning of Dantian, we must first be somewhat
specific about the field of study under discussion.
Every type of art in Daoism has its own interpretation of Dantian, and when first
studying basic methods we might think they are different from one another.
For instance, people who practice the martial arts might believe that dantian is a
collection of muscle in the centre of our waist, just under the belly button. This is
what we might call the physical aspect of the lower Dantian.
People who practice the martial arts need to use this area of the body to help them
connect the upper and lower aspects of their bodies while executing movements.
However, people who do Qi Gong might believe that the Dantian isn’t something
that we find in the physical centre of the body, rather it is associated with the
energy of the physical form.
This energetic body could emerge in many different places, or it could be the three
major centres of the head, chest, and lower abdomen which make up what are
called the “three elixir fields.”
These Dantian in Qi Gong are all correctly defined as such.
As a final consideration, let’s take the internal alchemy school as an example.
People who practice internal alchemy seated meditation have many different
interpretations of the word dantian. Maybe the Dantian is the same one practiced
in martial arts and Qi Gong, or perhaps it refers to the entire energetic body of
humanity and the universe. The different ways of interpreting it are tremendously
So understanding exactly what a Dantian is is really not that simple. Dantian
seems to refer to too many different things!
However, there is one completely correct interpretation of Dantian and after saying
it, all of our classmates and friends ought to be totally clear about its true meaning.
Dantian refers to energy and wherever there is energy, there is dantian. Wherever
there isn’t energy, there also isn’t dantian.
So what is energy?
Don’t spend too much time complicating your thought processes over this. Energy
is the core characteristic of all living things in nature. If you have energy, you can
live, if you don’t have energy, you will die.
Therefore if we want to study dantian, qi, or life, we must start from the
term “living” in order to understand the basic concept of our study. Life
isn’t an organism and it doesn’t have a specific shape or form. You can’t
isolate it and look at it or perceive it, but it is contained in the basic spirit
of all living things. Anything that is alive, has a body, a person, a plant or
anything all have this basic energy. The more that something has it, the
more it seems to grow healthy and luxuriantly.
Even though you can’t see its basic energy, you can still see quite clearly whether
someone does or doesn’t have very much spirit.
For instance, a young child with bright eyes will often be called clever, while a tired
looking, dull child seems to have a dis-spirited look.
So when we think about what dantian really is, we can’t forget that the quality we
are trying to identify isn’t part of the body, it is a type of formless, imageless
energetic strength and we all have it in our entire bodies. So we shouldn’t ask
“where is dantian,” we would be better to ask where it isn’t.
This question is very important because anywhere that doesn’t have dantian
doesn’t have life.
Researching where life comes from and what is dead is the central concern of the
study of life, longevity, and every major type of scientific research.
If we can discover where our vital energy comes from, then we may be able to
grasp every living person’s deepest wish, to be a long living person who does not
become feeble with age and to protect our fundamental essence, become
enlightened and ascend the mundane realm.
please share this to help friends and classmates find their direction and live a
better, happier life.
Fist stanza commentary of “the classic of entering medicine.”
July 28, 2017
Below is the first passage of the classic of entering medicine, originally by Cui Xifan, commented on here by Hun Ranzi, a Daoist master of the Yuan Dynasty period.
Pre heaven qi, post heaven qi, who grasps this will long seem drunk.
Pre heaven qi is the energy of the original beginning. This original qi is in the exact centre of the heaven and earth inside of people’s bodies. Hanging from the high point of the life door, secet window. It is also the heart of the heavens.
Spiritual immortals who cultivate this should stop and pluck up the pre heaven one energy, which is also known as the mother of elixir.
Post heaven Qi is one out and one in breath, one going and one coming, the energy moving within.
Out meets with the root of the heavens. In meets with the root of the earth. Out is the dragon singing and riding on the clouds, in is the tiger growling on the gusting wind.
Gradually and without pause it is thus contained, returning to the original energy with inner and outer blended together. Thus it collects and changes to elixir.
自覺丹田火熾，暢於四肢。如癡如 醉，美在其中。此所以得之者常似醉也。《道德經》云：谷神不死，是謂玄牝。玄牝之門，是為天地根。綿綿若存，用之不勤。《易·坤卦》云：黃中通理，正位居 體，美在其中，而暢於四肢，如斯之謂也。
You should feel that the Dan Tian is being heated by flame, and mixing with the four limbs. As though dull and drunk, the beauty is in its centre. This is thus why it seems that one who has grasped it is in a drunken state.
The Dao De Jing says: the valley spirit never dies because of the mystery goddess. The gate of the mystery goddess is the root of heaven and earth. Continuously unbroken is it contained, its use is never forced.
The yijing earth trigram says: yellow’s centre is connected in principle, its true placement rests in the body. Its beauty is in the centre, and mixes togethe with the four limbs. This is what its (the text) meaning is supposed to be.
the dog that attacked its own tail.
July 20, 2017
The Dog that Attacked its own Tail:
the problem with money in Daoism.
The monastic structure of Daoism has often been noted to have certain rules which preclude religious leaders from demanding payment from new disciples of the temple who wish to join the clergy.
Recently, a post about this by a prominent and very respected scholar made me have pause to think about how economics and religion have a problematic and difficult relationship.
Before getting to the main feature of this article, I want to state outright that I believe economics and large scale religion are inseparable and that it is a fantastical error to assume that it is possible to divorce religious orders from money in society. I also must iterate the point that Daoism as a cultural phenomenon is much bigger than the component parts of the Daoist religion. Daoist ideas comprise a very large field of Chinese cultural study which has touched virtually every part of classical Chinese culture, the monastic system, and every area of Chinese aesthetics and life, so in many ways I am in disagreement with the purist scholars who wish to make the Daoist religion the only point of consideration in Daoist issues.
Now for the dog who bites its own tail…
Have you ever seen a dog attack its own hind quarters?
Surely it is a very comical sight and can remind us that often in attempting to pursue the things we are interested in, we can also hinder ourselves.
This reminds a great deal of an epistemological problem that scholars of religion face when dealing with the complex problem of religious economics.
Just like any other organization, religious groups require the support of their communities to continue to exist and provide the service they offer.
As such, religious leaders are always torn between the concept of sanctity of practice and economic pragmatism. How can the doctrine be spread without accepting some form of payment?
From the perspective of the ancient Daoists, this problem could be simplified in various ways. While it is true that many temples either accepted patronage or even engaged in the sale of items such as tea in order to maintain themselves, there were also self sustaining hermits and communities therein who could subsist on their own via small scale agriculture or the acceptance of alms.
Beyond this, Chinese culture has a long and historied culture of students providing for the economic well being of their teachers, whether it be through donations of money on various important days of the year or by inviting a teacher into the home and providing for their welfare as such.
In any event, tradition allows for the master teacher to be supported in various ways by his or her followers, this is not only logically consistent, it is an obvious solution to the self imposed poverty of religious leaders. We could refer to this type of behaviour as the social negotiation of the terms of self imposed poverty.
This type of social negotation also allows for the clergy to keep its hands clean when dealing with new disciples who are being indoctrinated into the order. The new disciple also engages in the same set of agreements as the already existing clergy and as such is not required to make any form of monetary donation to the order (although Daoist history fans will be aware that the original heavenly teachers sect required a donation of grains in order for the members of their cult to be protected under the banner their theocratic state). This of course is also compounded by the unsmall number of fraudulent “half immortal” pseudo Daoists who have historically practiced various forms of incantation and other forms of magic in order to appease clients wishing to receive various types of blessing or divine intervention on the part of the Gods. Even today Daoism has no shortage of frauds who sit outside of temples charging money for fortune tellings and other types of bogus magic.
Thus, we feel vindicated in making the point that the ecclesiastical tradition does not accept money for ordination and we have a point of common agreement.
The problem is that in many senses, the argument of economics in Daoism goes beyond the problem of ecclesiastical culture and street corner imposters.
One of the first major problems we must contend with is that of modernity and the expedience of free market economies in the development of religion.
The biggest problem that comes to mind here is that in a modern market, the survival of a church comes not only from the ability of its patrons to build and maintain buildings, as well as feed to clergy, it also comes from the ability of the church to remain relevant in a competitive market.
Surely this was also a historical problem, and the ongoing relationship between clergy and government shows us just how competitive religion was in Chinese history, but today, the situation is exasperated by the need to reach a larger audience via new media and to attract ever greater numbers of travellers to enable to existing religious infrastructure to maintain relevance in the eyes of rent collecting entities within government and private corporations who may feel the need to encroach on areas of economic significance.
In this way, we can begin to become more clear as to why the leaders of Wudang and Shaolin have felt it so important to incorporate martial arts into their public offerings. While there is virtually no veracity behind the idea that either place was very important to modern empty hand civil martial arts, there is great expediency in the promotion of these arts to people who might otherwise be completely uninterested in what the religious offerings of these temples.
Thus, it is possible for a lay practitioner to become a disciple of Wudang without ever spending the time required to learn the fundamentals of the Daoist teachings they are most famous for.
This sense of expediency should not be scoffed at either, because it is required for religion to change with the times and only the most staunch of traditionalists would say that the nature of religion must remain pristinely as it was one thousand years ago.
Changing with the times may require ideological modification in order that the order not be made irrelevant in light of social change.
If a historical comparison is needed to illustate this point, we could compare the martial arts of Wudang to the ancient Buddhist and Daoist tea industry, which also served as a means by which temples could ensure their survival as tourist areas. In this light, we see more potential continuity than discord and might be drawn to making the conclusion that very little has changed.
So if martial arts are off the table, what about things like Qi Gong and meditation?
I think it is fair to say that since the advent of modern Qi Gong is largely secular, then Qi Gong as taught by temples should fall under a similar category to martial arts and we cannot judge payment for Qi Gong as anathema to the ongoing zeitgeist of religious economics. Meditation may be a more thorny issue, but seeing as Daoism does not have the final say on meditation, since methods similar to those employed by the Daoists have been used by Confucians, Buddhists, folk religious groups, and secular practitioners throughout history, then it is not fair to assume that meditation methods should fall solely under the domain of monastic culture and thus, no individual or organization may lay claim to them. At this point, the argument becomes more related to the morality of individuals and organizations and although certainly criticism is a required part of any reasonable discussion, the issue still remains a matter of personal values.
Now, the most problematic issue, that of whether initiates should not be charged money.
As we can see, this issue is far from settled and while the the criticism of money for entry into a religious order is well placed, it is also foundationally difficult to say with a clear conscience that monetary payment is somehow different than any of the other major routes of entry into the graces of the church, especially in light of how many payed services the church offers to its lay patrons.
This brings me around to a thorny and often overlooked issue (especially among academics whose livings require them to report on religious society), what to say about the colleges in which religion is studied for academic dissemination?
Surely prominent religious scholars must see the precarious position they are place themselves in when they abandon objectivity and “go native.” Because in so doing, they create an internal ideological conflict which in turn requires them to respect the rules of the religion while at the same time making their living from its dissemination.
This is one of the major reasons why anthropologists generally view themselves as observers rather than participants and it is a key conflict in the dissemination of religious information at a secular academic level (not to mention the conflict of Christian scholars who enter religious colleges with hopes of making a living as a representative of the faith).
Should the casual observer not be excused for feeling a certain confusion at the sight of a scholar who both claims membership in a non corporatized ecclesiastical community and at the same time makes her entire living as its written representative?
And yet somehow, this conflict of interest never enters the mainstream debate surrounding corporate spirituality, and still tenure at an acclaimed university must surely be seen as one of the better stations that such a promoter of the religious message might hope to attain for themselves.
Thus, we are left with the image of the dog who attacked its own tail.
In its excitement at uncovering the subject of its aggression, the dog spins about in a fury of biting and barking, not recognizing that the very thing it is attacking is its own back side.
In the words of Laozi:
“if not going forth to meet its front, it cannot be followed to meet its back.”