1. What teaching/system/lineage has the interviewee been exposed to?
Quanzhen school, Longmen Pai, Wang Liping lineage. Chen taijiquan, Chen Zhenglei lineage. A bit of Maoshan. Siberian and South American shamanism.
2. What form of practices has the interviewee been exposed to? (qigong, alchemy, Taiji, shamanism, magic, etc)
Taoist and shamanic arts, sciences and practices. Qigong, taijiquan, taoist meditation; Chinese astrology, divination and fortune-telling; form-compass feng shui, taoist magic, traditional healing practices; proto-taoist shamanic and folk practices; South American shamanism; modern explorations of taoism-as-science -- parallel and/or corroborating discoveries in genetics, chaos theory, fractals, the mathematical theory of fuzzy logic; the phenomena of Time.
3. What is the interviewees most recent (last few years) interest in energy arts, self-cultivation, or spiritual practices?
Taiji neigong, taoist alchemical practices, practical applications of certain universal power laws.
- Is there something in the air or water or both in Russia that fosters genius, or is it the educational system, the classical music, or what? I know quite a few Russians here and the difference is palpable.
What’s in the water, I don’t know -- what’s not in the water may play a role… e.g. fluoride…
I think the potential for genius is something tao distributes among peoples of the earth in an unbiased manner, as an equal opportunity venue for all humans. But from there, it’s a matter of values that are being supported and cultivated. Certain types of values seem to work better at helping genius emerge anywhere where they get to be recognized and accepted as such.
Simple ones, actually. Education is good, ignorance ain’t bliss. Scientific curiosity is its own reward, you don’t have to turn it off as soon as you are not paid for applying it. Art, music, poetry nourish the soul, no need to saddle them with the task of fetching fame and fortune. And, importantly, you need to know early on that you are not going to fail social adaptation as punishment for being studious, curious, and competent. You need to know that you won’t get shot down with merciless missiles of ridicule for this; won’t get in trouble with your peers the second they detect intelligence and creativity in you that might undermine the credibility of the obligatory set of “cool” things to do and to be; won’t be dismissed as a “nerd” and brushed aside by the triumphant march of “whateverism.” You need a niche for your budding ability that is livable in, and a modicum of respect for the passion in your heart even if it’s not on the list of the latest “cool” things to be passionate about.
There were times when scientists of merit were promoted and romanticized in Russia with ardor one only sees directed at movie stars and pop musicians elsewhere. There were times when a poetry reading – by a real poet, not this or that glorified voice of the lowest common denominator – would be held at a stadium, and gather crowds of thousands -- like a football match! Can you imagine?.. Of course things have changed… and it is quite possible that we will see less and less genius coming from there and more and more from elsewhere… who knows. Whoever sows the seeds of true values, reaps the fruits of human genius.
2. Can you put in a nutshell, say five short points, ways to identify Buddhist influence on the Daoist method?
It’s neither easy nor obvious, even to hardcore taoists themselves. The Taoist canon or Tao Tsang is comprised of 1,120 volumes – not pages – compiled over a period of fifteen centuries. It would take about as long to organize this material in a kind of order that would confer certainty on any assertions at all. For the bulk of it this might never be possible to do, e.g. because many of the books were written in encoded vocabulary only meant for the initiates to understand -- and the last initiate may have disappeared centuries ago. So all discussions of the history of taoism and influences thereon can only be tentative.
Here’s an example. One of the nine compartments comprising the upper dantien in the head is called Ni Huan. This term, meaningless in Chinese, was used to transliterate the Sanscrit “Nirvana.” It cannot predate the introduction of Buddhism in the first century A.D., and it’s anyone’s guess whether borrowing a name has affected the earlier, taoist-proper concept or practice. There’s many such instances where a taoist notion picks up a Buddhist label along the way – without necessarily incorporating all its Buddhist connotations verbatim.
Buddhist influence is not doubted in all suggestions of abstaining from meat and wine, though taoists’ justifications for these practices will be quite different and the context of their application, ditto.
Some schools of taoism that were fully concerned with “Inner Gods” and “worshipped” them in the form of practices we are familiar with today – the cultivation of the three dantiens, circulation of breath and qi, etc. – declined as the Inner Gods were gradually replaced by gods that could be worshipped collectively by the masses. Not physical immortality but mere longevity was slipped in as the objective of cultivation. Before the advent of Buddhism, three out of four “streams” comprising taoist thought and practice concerned themselves with physical immortality, their main pursuit without a doubt. This decline, as some scholars suggest, was the direct outcome of the spread of Buddhism.
Buddhism introduced the concept of a soul. Buddha himself did not believe in a soul. His doctrine of anatta presented a human being as five “heaps” – the body, feelings, perceptions, emotions, and acts of consciousness. This is very similar to the Chinese view during the time when taoism developed. The Chinese considered the human personality to be a composite. The shens (whether the five, or the two with further subdivisions – three hun and seven po – or with some other differences in nomenclature but not in essence), the spirit parts, could not be reassembled into the “personhood” once they dissipated; hence the practices to prevent or reverse this dissipation. So immortality of taoism had to be physical.
The schools of Buddhism, however, which became most popular in China, taught the immortality of the soul, and the existence of the paradise and hell. Both concepts were gradually accepted by many taoist schools. Physical immortality lost its original significance. Replacing the original concern for how to survive on earth, came the concern for how to survive in heaven rather than hell (under various labels for both).
Then of course the taoist immortals, for all purposes gods – the hsien, human beings who won immortality via cultivation – found themselves up against serious competition. In the form in which Buddhism reached China, the arhat, the original Buddhist ideal, had been largely displaced by the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva (or Buddha-to-be) became a being who would help people toward enlightenment, satisfy their desires and avert dangers, and facilitate rebirth on a higher plane of existence, some Pure Land or other. He or she became a god of mercy.
The first taoist reaction was to make Immortals into Instructors who would teach the adept how to follow in their footsteps. Next they borrowed the idea of reincarnation and asserted that some Instructor-Immortals, like Laozi, had repeatedly incarnated on the earth to instruct the Sages. Then of course they went even further than Buddhists, by placing Laozi’s birth before Heaven and Earth, and positing his departure from Chaos as the cause for Creation. Hence, he received the title of Tai Chun, Lord Tao, tao made flesh. Huang-Lao Chun was now a name for Laozi in his eternal aspect. Thus the Great Mother herself got transformed into yet another Eternal Father. Just as I said earlier, it gets complicated…
3. Will you ever write a book? You have tons of material right here in the TTB archives.
I would probably have to ask the great tao for a little nudge in that direction… someone or something to convince me that this book would benefit, not necessarily “all beings,” but “enough” of them – including myself among those “beings.” I’ve thought about it…
There’s another book that is trying to emerge, seemingly regardless of my conscious intent or lack thereof, the book that keeps me awake at night with scenes and flashes and whole elusive chapters which I might fall asleep into and then wake up trying to tie together. It is a sci-fi novel, it relies on the wuxing theory for its underlying machinery propelling the plot, and it concerns itself with time travel made possible and necessary by some principles embedded in the I Ching. But this one is difficult (I mean, difficult to write, I don’t intend for it to be difficult to read) and might take a long time to fully emerge. So, the easier interim one, a bit of taoist nonfiction, is a tempting option…
4. What do you consider the three most essential books on the subject of Daoism? (books available in English)
If we are talking about taoist books, books included in the taoist canon, the first two are fairly obvious choices -- the I Ching and the Tao Te Ching (in that order), with my third selection perhaps The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. If we are talking about books “about” taoist subjects – please see the response to the next question below.
5. Likewise, your top three authors (specifically on Daoist subjects or maybe two -- list one Daoist and one wide open)
Joseph Needham, for a deep foray into the “overall picture.” The rest I just can’t organize into any “top three” or “top two” – it depends on the subject… I prefer books and authors tackling specific aspects of taoist arts, sciences and practices, not pontificating about this or that metaphysical vision they happen to favor. “It all” is just too huge, and I’m convinced that the inroads into “The Way” are smaller “ways.” Taoists don’t make a big deal of any particular cognitive Big Bang (though these happen too, but they are not viewed as “destinations…” Notice that the next to last, Hexagram 63 of the I Ching, is known as “After Completion,” but the last one that follows, Hexagram 64, is “Before Completion!”) They prefer a series of not excessively dramatic, steady, ongoing “bangs” that give existence its rhythm and music. So, if the author offers any which “general theory of everything” not rooted in a specific hands-on, mind-on, “everything I am must participate” traditional taoist routine, chances are I won’t be interested. If, on the other hand, it’s about the way taoists do Chinese calligraphy – a book on that subject may omit the word “taoist” but if you’ve traveled other “ways” they’ve traveled, you’ll recognize the landmarks – I’m game.
So I might offer “top three taoist subjects” instead, with no preference for authors except that they have to be lineage practitioners, not “researchers,” of these subjects. And even this can’t really work – things taoist just inherently resist being organized into hierarchies of “top threes,” refuse to build a pyramid.
My advice to anyone who would undertake learning things taoist from books would be, choose a practice – taiji, classical feng shui, Chinese astrology, qigong, traditional medicine, etc. – and read all you can find about that practice, written by its practitioners, while practicing. It may eventually lead you elsewhere… and, should that happen, just repeat the process. The Way is fluid, and all those inroads into taoist consciousness eventually combine into the great watercourse spontaneously and naturally, just like smaller streams combine and flow together to form a great river.
6. What's your favorite color? Favorite food? Favorite music? Favorite favorites?
My favorite is often a combo of two colors – blue with white, black with gold, green with brown. Come to think of it, these pairs are comprised of members of the Generative phases of the wuxing.
My favorite food is a variety of traditional fares. I don’t like commercially processed foods and have no appetite for junk whatsoever. Other than that, anything goes – I’m a curious and adventurous eater. Things I’m partial to change – I still miss many berries I grew up with, but on the other hand, I’ve discovered oysters…
Favorite music – this changes too. I grew up with classical music, then rock, then eventually discovered and came to love all kinds of traditional music, folk, tribal, and this keeps getting strange for someone who used to play Bach and now prefers Mongolian throat singing and African drums and the didgeridoo. Of course from time to time I discover someone or something new or previously overlooked to like in the world of music closer to home too.
Favorite favorites – well, I’d say, life on Earth. Live phenomena. I think our earth once was, and I hope will be again someday, the best place in the universe, the place not only of the “ten thousand things” but of ten thousand ways to be thrilled, to be happy, to be alive. My vision of what this planet could be, should be, might be, is one motivator for taoist practices. Who would bother with self-cultivation quests if life itself was to give up, to give way to some unfeeling wonders of its un-animated semi- or fully-synthetic successors?.. Instead of cultivation, why not opt for implanted technology instead, why not self-improve by plugging into the Matrix and letting it decide how exactly to improve you?.. Why bother with those homespun, obsolete, human ways?.. But those ways are my “favorite favorites” – the feeling, sensitive and responsive, intensely personal, intensely interpersonal ties with people and things of the live kind.
7. What does Chinese Astrology say about the year 2014/2015?
I won’t say anything about 2015 for now – this is for a bit later. And of course 2014 is already in full swing… So far it’s been swinging the way Chinese astrology told me it would – I wrote about it before its beginning at least twice – so what I can add at this point might as well be a quote from Lewis Carroll: “what I tell you three times is true.” I will expound a bit though.
In 2014, the Year of the Horse in the Hsia calendar, the energies of the world are governed by Wood sitting on top of Fire (Wood in the Heavenly Stem and Fire in the Earthly Branch). One can see this also as Wood thrown into Fire from the top or Fire burning Wood from below – continuously. Both, moreover, are yang.
Normally, Wood-Fire is a productive Mother-Child relationship, and many optimistic forecasts I’ve seen were based on this superficial understanding. Mine was essentially a dire warning instead – that’s because the Productive position of wuxing (Five Phases) is challenged by a reverse dynamics of the Stem and Branch of the greater Spacetime. As a result, the Earthly Branch is found in a Destructive relationship to the Heavenly Stem -- Fire under Wood. Yang Wood is strong, stubborn, and sticking to its principles, while its Horse nature of 2014, also very powerful, is, in addition to Fire below, in itself inherently fiery, and is associated with explosive energies.
If that wasn’t enough, within the Yang Wood Horse there’s yin fire, emotional, flickering and unstable; below it is yang fire, strong and continuously amplified. Historically, e.g., the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on a day that had this type of qi.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. This is a creative, energetic year, and some of the new energies to emerge may, in the long run, bring about viable and beneficial things, events and trends. Some businesses will do well – particularly energy business, air travel, sports, entertainment, restaurants. We also have Peach Blossom luck this year, so many can expect an influx of romantic opportunities. As an extension of this love-friendly energy into more precarious territory, we’ll have some heartbreaks and, in the public domain, some scandals too.
Try taking extra care of your health and in particular watch out for all manner of inflammatory and epidemic disease, problems with blood circulation and the heart, and (because Horse is in conflict with Rat, the Water sign) kidney, reproductive, unrinary, and immune system problems.
The civil wars I predicted on the eve of the Chinese New Year didn’t wait too long to break out in some of the old (Iraq) and some brand-new (Ukraine) locations; here in California we’ve had some early, out of season, and pretty extensive wildfires already in mid-May; in other words, so far the world behaves in strict accordance with classical Chinese astrology. The most challenging and dangerous of the remaining months will be August and September. Please protect yourselves, and be safe.
8. You mention the phenomena of time. Like air, it’s easy to be unaware of it. How should we reframe our relationship with time?
We could start learning to notice and apply the taoist concepts of the great cosmic process – Conception, Growth, Fruition, Consummation. We could gain a lot of confidence and lose the need for a “savior” if we understand – not in the head, deeper – that “the way of tao is motion and the pattern of this motion is Return.” We could benefit from developing a habit of seeing all phenomena around and within as processes rather than objects, dynamic rather than static. A mountain is a process, not an object. A word spoken in truth or un-truth is a seed we drop that will grow into a forest, in time.
We could also learn, from fascinating taoist sources, that all Time is not created equal – time is as colorful and varied as space. We can tell a desert from an ocean in space, we can learn to be able to in Time as well. The moment in time when the desert is the desert – happened before, will happen again, but won’t stay put. In between there were times of forests, oceans and skyscrapers. A different time will come and sweep them all clean. The kind of time, the shape, flavor, quality, opportunity it brings or removes – that’s what taoist sciences of time are concerned with. That’s what they study. If you know winter is coming, you’ll buy a coat. If you know more about this winter – much more – if you know that not only the weather will get colder but the shape, flavor, quality, opportunity for every process will change, and know how exactly… you are turning into a taoist sage who gains freedom by way of such knowledge. You buy a coat, but freedom is also available in the next department, for the coat purchase you have to know “where,” for freedom, love, opportunity, self-realization, acts of kindness that make a difference, acts of courage and wisdom that can benefit one or all, you have to know “when.” Taoist sciences of Time are about this “when” while also implying an understanding of “how” and “why.”
9. You talk about ganying. Which feels to me a little like luck. How do we increase ganying or synchronicities in our life?
Ganying is certainly an important component of “luck,” but “luck” is, in and of itself, a major notion of traditional taoist thought -- and a separate science, an application of certain universal relativistic, stochastic principles to personal human concerns. Ganying is understood as a kind of resonance, a fractal of reflections of events and phenomena into different scales and dimensions which on some level appear “similar,” “related,” “patterned on each other” and on some other level, blatantly “the same” – like the sound produced by plucking a string is the same sound of the same string whether you hear it from within one inch or one foot or a hundred feet away from the source. Whether there’s an amplifier in between or a soundproof wall.
To learn to discern ganying, resonating meaningful relatedness of phenomena that don’t appear related to a superficial analysis by inadequate methods -- “coincidences,” “similarities,” “sameness” of phenomena -- one needs to learn to listen. It’s like with music – you recognize a melody, and then a style, and then a performer, and then an emotional or creative or mood-affecting, heart-affecting, etc., impact of music on your life, by listening, paying attention, and internalizing the patterns. Perhaps you can even learn to play an instrument. Perhaps you can become a true virtuoso if you practice daily and put your body and soul into the practice. Then you won’t have to rely on luck to hear your favorite guitar piece or violin concerto – you can produce it, anytime you like. That’s the relationship between ganying and luck.
10. Here's a big one. What are ghosts? Do they matter; have any effect on the world? Should we fear becoming one?
That’s a big question indeed. Ghosts have often been described and occasionally defined in all traditions, taoists used to get special training to deal with them, and did it either as a public service or as a source of income, or both. The taoist priest with a gourd bottle for capturing unwanted rouge entities would be the specialist to summon if a house or a village experienced difficulties from the spirit realm. There’s many varieties of ghosts – the dead outnumber the living… though not all ghosts are, technically, “residual” manifestations of the once-living entities, some are projections of entities living “elsewhere,” in some other realms, into this one, where they can’t manifest fully. But the most common ghosts of taoism are the “hungry” ones – the deceased with unresolved issues from a life lived that they attempt to resolve in an afterlife, typically by trying to get what they need from the living.
A traditionalist might anticipate and try to prevent these developments by taking care of the immediate deceased relatives, e.g. by implementing yin feng shui (safeguarding auspicious resting conditions for the dead), by installing an ancestral altar at home and making regular offerings of food, drink, incense, and remembrance. This is supposed to prevent hunger and privations in the other realm, and help maintain a good relationship with one’s ancestors, which is thought of as crucial for a family’s well-being regardless of whether those ancestors are alive or dead.
There’s also ghosts that can’t be defined or even described, which are known by their effects on the living – one such Chinese entity is the “heavy ghost,” which might sit on a sleeping person and do nothing, just get heavier and heavier. It’s a dangerous one. The custom suggests professional intervention in such cases. In general lay people were discouraged from trying to interact with unknown spirits if they could help it. Some ghosts have the ability to materialize, occasionally seducing and thwarting the living. Not just humans but animals are suspected of this activity, notably foxes, who are thought of as capable of taoist cultivation but do not necessarily cultivate toward the same goals as humans; also turtles, whose cultivation and materializing-dematerializing abilities have been studied and, on occasion, emulated by taoist adepts; and some others. Some ghosts are raw manifestations of particular phases of qi (wuxing), and of the Twelve Animals of the Earthly branches, who can occasionally make the incomprehensible transition from the metaphorical to the material and show up in the human world. In the traditional worldview, even metaphors, alliterations, ideas themselves can manifest as entities under certain conditions.
Should we fear becoming ghosts ourselves? Fear is not the most productive attitude I think, but some healthy precautions couldn’t hurt. E.g., according to “The Secret of Everlasting Life” (Can Tong Qi), “One Yin and one Yang are what is meant by the Tao. Being determinedly Yin or determinedly Yang is a disease!” This disease, if contracted in one’s life and, especially, cultivation, endangers one’s chances of avoiding further manifestation as either a yin ghost or a yang ghost with no access to the balancing opposite and the resulting parasitic dependence on getting it from the living.
11. How do you see from a taoist woman perspective the whole taoist male sexuality and the issues we encounter periodically here on Taobums with semen retention and in general?
I think highly of healthy manifestations of male sexuality, which I believe is unfortunately quite rare these days; and I don’t see semen retention as a useful practice. Of course human sexuality in general has plunged into murky waters a long time ago, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this or that taoist sect deviated into ideas and practices that, at best, strike me as literal and “gross” interpretations of certain much more subtle concepts of taoism and would require a very different approach to be implemented productively. E.g., understanding jing as “semen” is akin to understanding “modern computer technology” as “hardware” and consequently trying to conserve your “computer power” by turning your computer on but disconnecting it from the screen and the keyboard.
The real traditional cultivation via the sexual venue, known as the Arts of the Bedchamber, or the Dual Cultivation of man and woman, is based on entirely different principles. One of these is maximizing pleasure without compromising health. The holistic experience of healthy pleasure is thought of as a better teacher of human excellence in any endeavor than pain and suffering and repression which are touted as soul-refining in many other traditions. Another one is healing – for self or partner or both – there’s therapeutic techniques of using sex as one would use qigong, to normalize the system and alleviate or cure a host of health problems. Yet another has to do with alchemical processes and is meant to complement what’s deficient and diminish what’s excessive in order to obtain the alchemical reaction between yin and yang forces by facilitating a certain equilibrium. Usually men have more yang and women, more yin; in sexual cultivation they may be encouraged to reverse their roles so that the woman masters some yang principles and functions, while the man acquires the much-needed balancing yin from her. It’s all about exchange, flow, modulation, developing sensitivity, expanding perceptions of self and partner, in some respects it’s not unlike a non-combative taiji sparring. Love is also a big deal in the traditional view of sexual cultivation, since it amplifies one’s ability to connect to the primal forces of creation, immortality, life itself. And so on. Whereas retention strikes me as a manifestation of greed…
12. What do you feel are the most important daily energetic practices?
I’d say it’s individual, but in most cases, the important thing is to maintain a healthy balance of the moving and stillness practices, not to overemphasize one at the expense of the other. The masters I know who could be great role models because of their even and balanced but not limp and numbed-out emotionality, their optimism and compassion, competence and ease of tackling problems as they arise, excellent health, and usually success rather than failure in undertakings that matter to them – perhaps heralding some greater, existential success – tend to be versatile, interchanging vigorous practices with deep meditation, participation with seclusion, activity with passivity – they are flexible, and go this way or that based on their set of developed sensitivities to their own needs, the needs of others, the needs of the moment. What I could perhaps suggest is to choose a master whose personality, skill, attitude you admire, and do as he or she does. “We become what we admire.”
13. You mentioned some interesting things about "dual cultivation of man and woman" in your previous Q&A thread. Can you tell us some more of your thoughts on bedroom alchemy? Did you learn from a teacher or a particular text? Is there any book or other source in English which you find useful?
I partially answered this in #11, please see above.
I learned some from a teacher; some from books, of which I found particularly useful the excerpts from the few surviving classical texts included in Yang Li’s “Book of Changes and Traditional Chinese Medicine”; and some, from contemplating and integrating other sources.
14. What’s your current routine or focus in practicing?
The main current routines are taiji neigong (not “taiji and neigong”) and Longmen Pai practices.
The main focus is rather modest – I want to get better at what I’m doing, and I want to feel this “better” in all areas of my life – such as health; emotional well-being; the capacity for compassion of the kind that generates useful action in the world rather than useless heartache in the compassionate; embodied rather than thought-policed optimism (the kind you wake up to when you know today is your fourth birthday and there’s going to be presents and guests and the cake and everybody will be kind to you); an increased mastery of my circumstances, ideally of any circumstances… stuff like that.
15. What annoys you the most about Taoism?
The application of the label “taoism” to ideas, practices and processes that aren’t. And on the flip side of this counterfeit coin, a failure to see ideas, practices and processes that are taoism as such.
This is the doing of “researchers,” “experts,” “theorists,” and lay armchair interpreters who are invariably on the outside looking in yet, instead of undertaking to learn from those inside, don’t hesitate to pontificate to them, to assume condescending stances toward them based on their very own learned-parrot ideas about the “right” and “wrong” approaches to taoism. This, they will tell you, is folk superstition (to despise all things “folk” is one of their favorite instruments of establishing their own superiority), and that, they will tell you, needs to be proved by “modern science” or else it’s invalid (“modern science” is a mysterious ultimate authority figure some like to defer to whenever they seek the upper hand in a cognitive brawl… the imaginary big daddy who will set everyone straight in the playground… an unmet infantile need, this one).
Their opinions vary – some will tell you that you aren’t doing the “right” taoism if you observe the ritual because taoism is a philosophy, not the ritual; while others will tell you that you aren’t doing the “right” taoism if you don’t observe the ritual because taoism is memorizing and repeating the poem of your school, end of story; and yet others will tell you some other nonsense. Opinions are a dime a dozen, and often the only thing their holders have in common is that they’ve never had a genuine teacher, never engaged in a traditional practice, and never applied taoist principles to their own everyday life. So, the annoying part about taoism is, in my opinion, its being poorly protected from the impostors. Alas, too often, fully legitimized, institutionalized impostors. To get to taoism proper past these and past the fortifications they’ve built to defend their positions is quite a challenge…
16. What was the hardest part to get, or most crucial threshold for you as a beginner?
Two things. One is a clear understanding of the fact that in relation to taoist arts and practices you never stop being a beginner. The Jade Emperor himself, who started out as a mortal man, is said to have cultivated for millions of years before he advanced to his current status. Think about it: for millions of years, he was a beginner! Perhaps this is what’s necessary to accept in order to become what he became.
In ordinary pursuits, you get what you’re after and you can rest on the laurels if you like, or come up with a new pursuit. In taoist cultivation, the more you advance, the better you understand how laughably little you have accomplished. This may cause one to start seeing as pointless the setting of goals, any goals, other than “do what you can, see what happens.” And this is hard for a modern person – we are conditioned to have clear “objectives…” How do you reconcile this with Laozi’s “muddled, confused, unclear,” even, in some translations, “dumb?” You’re after something elusive. You know, normally, when “the mountains are no longer mountains,” this is supposed to mean you have transcended something ordinary, something mundane… and then with taoism, the next thing that happens is, the mountains are mountains again, you’ve transcended your transcendence, you’re back to normal, to the ordinary, to the I Ching’s “sameness with people” – which you were working so hard on trying to leave behind – so, now what?.. Now that your “next level” is all backward?..
It’s just one example, all of it is tricky like that… And the second difficulty is, of course, discipline. You can stop anytime, you can slack anytime. If you’ve accomplished something that you and others find useful, why not rest on those laurels? And if you haven’t, why bother?.. Why don’t you take it easy, the voice of inertia whispers. Why don’t you just stagnate and, down the road, embrace gradual, steady, friendly, easy degradation, like normal people do. Why don’t you find self-satisfaction in whatever you are and leave it at that?.. So, finding discipline to counteract this pull of entropy -- complacency, weariness, frustration, whatever – that’s not easy. I think the only thing that can help a beginner overcome these hurdles is a sense of destiny… if you find that you will not be at peace with yourself unless you keep it up with your taoist cultivation, this may be a sign…
17. What is the hard part of continuing and advancing in your practices?
This, too, keeps changing as you continue. But I would say the most difficult parts are the ones that don’t change readily, the overall setting of modern-day cultivation. When you went to school, ordinary school or college, your teachers were there every day (whether you enjoyed learning from them or not), your peers shared your lifestyle (whether you chose it or not), in other words you had a semblance of community that created a practice milieu that was not only tangible but also implied, you were permeated with a sense of being part of something – whatever it was, you were not alone in the endeavor. Taoist cultivation, in the West, in the modern world, can be a lonely affair. Learning to do your thing without the habitual reliance on it being “part of” a whole stratum of practices, without as much feedback and reality checks as you might want or need – that’s hard.
But, like with everything else, whatever is hard in cultivation is also its aspect. You learn to overcome, handle or let go of worrying about, as the case may be, the very hindrances and annoyances and deficiencies that are part and parcel of the process. The idea that it all could have been, should have been, undertaken in a different setting, e.g.. You learn about the flow of difficulties and your own resources in overcoming them – you learn things about yourself you wouldn’t know, let alone master and put to good use, if it was all somehow made perfectly easy for you… Cultivation in the modern world is not streamlined – you are in charge of creating that stream, that flow.
18. My question:
Shen to Chi to Jing.
You talk about this but I don't know about anyone else.
Why? Lost in translation? Intentionally obscured?
Where did you learn about it? From a teacher? Text? A "missing pattern" in the taoistic body of work?
Far as I’ve been able to discern, shen to qi to jing is a bona fide “taoist-immortalist” practice, a reflection of Laozi’s paradigm of “followers of life” (and also a stage of the process in alchemical taoism without which it simply can’t work). The substitution of the opposite, “taoist-sublimator” ideation, is the outcome of the overall life-defeating, afterlife-oriented, body-negating, humanity-derising trend, the turning of all human concerns and priorities on their head, toward the head and beyond – away from exploring the fullness and richness of life on earth, away from viewing the process of aliveness as a true value. So, yes, it’s probably intentionally obscured originally, and then lost in translation too. Many times over.
I learned of it from a teacher, yes, as an actual practice. But I also gleaned the picture for myself from many sources and experiences and meditating on these and contemplating our plight in general. I think it’s a matter of choosing a direction, in a sense – and Laozi’s “followers of death” are simply looking in the opposite direction… so we see different things.
19. What are the most important aspects of feng shui that taobums could realistically apply to their homes, in your opinion?
One important thing to understand is that there’s real feng shui and bogus feng shui, and people would benefit from educating themselves on the difference.
As for real feng shui, it’s hard to tell what’s realistic for “everybody” to implement. Feng shui deals with individual situations, there’s few universally applicable rules. I can mention some of these though. Many moons ago I asked a very high level feng shui master the same question, and she told me, “unclutter everything, repair everything that doesn’t work or else get rid of it, and keep everything clean. Feng shui starts with common sense.”
So, this is realistic for the taobums in their entirety I reckon. Someone who already has this generic but all-important base covered may want to start looking to feng shui for solutions to otherwise intractable problems. Feng shui is, to a great extent, about “prevention and treatment,” and then, once this is in place, it can get more ambitious and add the goals of the practitioner’s choosing. In Chinese history there’s many stories about people setting such lofty goals as, e.g., for a family to produce a king two or three generations down the road. How “realistic” such a goal would be for any given taobum, is not for me to speculate. But in classical feng shui, this is doable…
By the way, a Taiwanese friend told me a story about Chiang Kai-shek repeatedly sending spies to the birthplace of his adversary, the future Chairman Mao, in order to find that “king-making” site where he was beginning to suspect Mao’s ancestors were buried, for the purpose of destroying it so as to destroy Mao’s chances of advancing to power. Apparently the villagers refused to cooperate, pointing out all the wrong spots instead, which were then diligently blasted with dynamite by the nationalist troops… to no avail. Instead of the spies, Chiang might have changed history if he sent advanced feng shui masters there, who may have been able to locate the right spot!
Edited by Taomeow, 29 September 2015 - 10:50 PM.