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Interview with Dan G. Reid

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Interview with Dan G. Reid, author of The Ho-Shang Kung Commentary on Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and The Thread of Dao. 

 

(not to be confused with Daniel P. Reid, author of “The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity”) 

 

 

 Q&A:

 

1.    What drew you to eastern philosophy and specifically Daoism, can you describe briefly that journey and how you view your own relationship to Daoism?

 

I was always captivated by Asian culture as a child of the 80’s ninja craze, but my interest in Daoism began was when I was 15 and saw my older brother reading what I thought was a kid’s book (The Tao of Pooh).  When he explained it was about Daoism and I asked what that was, he said “You know the guys with the long beards that fly around the mountains in kung-fu movies?  It’s their religion.”  Actually not a bad synopsis. What I grasped from reading Hoff’s book was a basic understanding of wu wei and zi ran, which I found very useful in life, art, and for my own well being.

     By the time I got to University, I was enamoured with all wisdom traditions and scooped up as many books as I could find on Aboriginal and East Asian traditions. It wasn’t for another decade or so that I realized there are still Daoist schools in the mountains of China with teachers living abroad; however, growing up in Toronto and later moving to Montreal, I just tried to absorb what I could from the source texts and base my path on what these writers said to be essential. I think it was Confucius who talked about a master who could not find a teacher and so read what all the Sages had to say and combined their knowledge to create his own teacher.  That has been my goal for the time being, part of that path being the study of Classical Chinese, and now finally Mandarin.

     About 8 years ago, I started applying the same approach to learning Qigong, sitting meditation (more like 15 years ago), and the fundamentals of Taiji and Baguazhang.  Though I wouldn’t consider myself anything more than a novice in these disciplines, they certainly come in handy for a cook, which is how I support myself financially. Effortless motion, posture and alignment, stillness in movement, multi-directional multi-tasking – all very applicable and useful skills in the kitchen.

     I may eventually develop a closer relationship to a lineage, but for now I’m still working on some foundations that will help towards that endeavour.

 

 

2.    Regarding Daoism, what is your stance on the differentiation between philosophical and religious Daoism? Why do you use the term "proto-Daoism?"

 

I think that if people want to extract the philosophy from Daoism and call it Daoist philosophy, that’s their choice. It seems counter to Daoist philosophy to say that they cannot.  On the other hand, for people to assert that Daoism was only philosophical up until around 100AD is simply incorrect. The texts translated in Thread of Dao show this beyond any reasonable doubt.  The Nei Ye, which I believe was a longer treatise that developed out of the Bai Xin, Xin Shu Shang, and Xin Shu Xia, shows that energetic transformation was very much a part of early Daoism. These texts also speak about cultivating the spirit, spiritual power (shen ling), and the help of spirit beings. Further, the methods taught in these texts, to attain Daoist sagely wisdom, rely on these spiritual means. If one wishes to pursue only the philosophy, that’s their path and their choice, but they should be careful not to redefine history in justifying that choice.

     I use the term proto-Daoism because “Daoism” suggests an institution that began to develop around 100AD. This is not to say that Daoist beliefs and practices are different from those of the proto-Daoists, but the institution that developed around these beliefs and practices is what “Daoism” more correctly refers to.  So, the beliefs and practices, the precursors to this institution, I refer to as proto-Daoism.  This is different from philosophical Daoism because, of course, there was more to these traditions than just philosophy.

 

 

3.    Do you have a few favorite translators of the Dao De Jing ?

 

Knowing the original text, I like when I can see the characters in the translation, which is what I tried to do in my own translation (found in The Ho-Shang Kung Commentary).  Ellen Chen does this very well. I was recently looking at a translation by Sam Torode which gets the meaning across quite well, while veering a bit from received characters.  I also like Wing-Tsit Chan’s translation. All translations have strengths and weaknesses though. 

 

 

4.    What drew you to write your first book, a translation of the Heshang Gong, one of the earliest translations and commentaries on the Dao De Jing? 

 

I was finishing my translation of the DDJ as part of a weekly chapter study-group (on Facebook) and decided to start translating Heshang Gong’s commentary while waiting for the new chapter/week to start. Before I knew it I was about a third of the way through his commentary.  Around the same time I was dreaming about buying a concert quality guqin (sort of like a Chinese sitar, played by Confucius, and usually heard in the background of Taiji videos). My girlfriend suggested I come up with an alternative revenue source to afford it, and so I decided to start publishing.  So far, the timing has not been right to buy the guqin, but I am looking forward to it.

 

 

5.    What brought you to your second book on the Guanzi ?

 

I started translating the Bai Xin and Xin Shu about 4 years ago, knowing that they were believed to have predated the the Dao De Jing (see Roth’s Original Tao).  On looking at them closer, and with Heshang Gong’s commentary fresh in my mind, I could see that the Bai Xin, especially, had many passages that read like early versions of chapters in the Dao De Jing, including chapter one and chapter five. Heshang Gong’s commentary is widely valued in Daoism for revealing the internal cultivation metaphors in the Dao De Jing, and yet here are four texts (five counting the commentary section in Xin Shu Shang) from the 4th century BC showing these same connections – political metaphors for internal cultivation, jing, qi, and shen work, etc. They also show that Nei Gong was around long before significant cultural exchanges between China and India. Nei Ye is essentially an early term for Nei Gong, meaning “inner occupation/endeavour/cultivation/enterprising” rather than “inner work/skill (gong).”    

 

6.    How are the two works by Guanzi, Bai Xin and Xin Shu, different from the Nei Ye?

 

The Bai Xin is closer to the Dao De Jing in that, on the surface, it deals more with practical matters of concern to Kings, leaders, diplomats, etc. – how to wield power skillfully and work with volatile allies.  By the end, however, it gets more to the point of purifying the heart-mind, essentially saying that if you really want to apply these methods, you must learn “the art of the heart-mind.” It also makes clear reference to xing and ming and their connection to spirit and body, and the cultivation of longevity.  It shows that learning how to cultivate longevity in yourself will show you how to cultivate the longevity and stability of your nation. 

     The Xin Shu Shang (Xin Shu, upper volume) deals more directly with instructions in “the art of the heart-mind.”  It’s comparatively brief but also includes a commentary.  This commentary has some especially valuable early definitions of Virtue. As I talked about in the intro to The Ho-Shang Kung Commentary, the chapter fragments in the Guodian Dao De Jing do not depict De/Virtue as a force of Dao. If the Dao De Jing was still being put together at this time, it may have been the Guan Zi texts that provided this understanding.

     Xin Shu Xia deals more with the next level of the art of the heart-mind, which is developing internal energy and longevity.  It is very similar to the Nei Ye, though with some important differences in terms, and this helps to clarify parts of the Nei Ye. It seems to me that the Xin Shu Xia was the source text for the Nei Gong teachings in the Nei Ye.  As this tradition developed, the Nei Ye was written to preserve what became more commonly understood about these teachings, maybe 20 years later. As I point out in the commentary, the Nei Ye’s scribe seemed to be working with a corrupted copy of the Xin Shu Xia, and made adjustments to fit what he had to work with.

 

 

7.    In your opinion, did the internal-cultivation texts of the Guan Zi predate the Dao De Jing ?

 

We are seeing more and more recently, especially in the case of Native Americans, that these oral histories were actually accurate despite apparent evidence to the contrary. If we go by modern scholarship, the Guan Zi texts were about 100 years earlier than the Dao De Jing, and if we go by oral histories, the Guan Zi texts were also written about 100 years earlier because Guan Zi served as Prime Minister of Qi State nearly 100 years before Lao Zi is said to have served in Zhou State.  So, thankfully, neither tradition nor modern scholarship need to be dismissed in saying that the Guan Zi texts predated the Dao De Jing. After all, Lao Zi’s wisdom was largely attributed to his work in the imperial library which would likely have contained parts of the Guan Zi if they existed at the time. Either way, I got the strong impression that the authors of these texts were speaking from their own ideas, and did not have access to the Dao De Jing.

 

 

8.    Would you say that these texts, like the Guodian slips, were early manuscripts of the Dao De Jing? 

 

No. The main difference being that these were written as self contained treatises, while the chapters of the Dao De Jing are more like short poems or songs. However, if the Guodian Dao De Jing wasn’t simply a “best of” version for a Confucian scholar, and was actually a work in progress, I would say that the later chapters were influenced by the Bai Xin and Xin Shu.

 

 

9.    How do you work with these texts in your own life?

 

Translating ancient texts gives this sense of the timelessness of Humanity, like you’re sitting right there with these great teachers. It’s difficult to say how that influences a person, but it gives you a sense of responsibility to the teacher, that they’ve given you the honour of speaking with you, and so you have a duty to learn those lessons, and apply them when life sends you the opportunity.

     Primarily, these texts are companions to meditation. A lot of what is written in them just “opens up” when you sit down and start to clear the mind.  I’ve included something like a guided meditation in the back of Thread of Dao to help the reader transition to working with it in this way.

 

 

10.  At this point, do you have an idea for a third book?

 

Yes, I do have a few in the works, but would rather not reveal any details just yet.

 

From Dan to the TDB Community:

Thank you for this opportunity!  And I hope if anyone decides to pick up Thread of Dao, they will let me know their thoughts on it!  (either in thedaobums comments, or even better in the Amazon reviews)

 

 

ONLINE LINKS:

The Thread of Dao: Unraveling early Daoist oral traditions in Guan Zi’s

Purifying the Heart-Mind (Bai Xin),

Art of the Heart-Mind (Xin Shu), and

Internal Cultivation (Nei Ye)

 

The Ho-Shang Kung Commentary on Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

 

TDB LINKS:

The Thread of Dao

The Ho-Shang Kung Commentary on Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

 

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13 hours ago, dawei said:

Interview with Dan G. Reid, author of The Ho-Shang Kung Commentary on Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and The Thread of Dao. 

 

(not to be confused with Daniel P. Reid, author of “The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity”) 

 

 

 

Thank you, very interesting!

 

And thank you for pointing out that Dan G. Reid is not to be confused with Daniel P. Reid, a Golden Dawn/Crowley practitioner who writes about things Chinese/taoist from his own perspective...  

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Finding this topic very interesting, as a long time reader of Laozi and Zhuangzi. Recently have been off on a tangent with I Ching, Neidan and other materials. Sounds like Dan Ried's work would help bring me back toward my main line of study. Following his description I would have to classify myself more of a philosophical extractor but I do have strong feelings about the tradition needing to incorporate some physical aspects not just a philosophical mental exercise.

 

In the interview, itwas stated:

 

Quote

We are seeing more and more recently, especially in the case of Native Americans, that these oral histories were actually accurate despite apparent evidence to the contrary. 

 

I found this a strange but interesting statement. Is this making reference to a specific connection to Native American oral traditions ... or, is he simply using those traditions as analogy for oral traditions in general?

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3 hours ago, OldDog said:

Finding this topic very interesting, as a long time reader of Laozi and Zhuangzi. Recently have been off on a tangent with I Ching, Neidan and other materials. Sounds like Dan Ried's work would help bring me back toward my main line of study. Following his description I would have to classify myself more of a philosophical extractor but I do have strong feelings about the tradition needing to incorporate some physical aspects not just a philosophical mental exercise.

 

In the interview, itwas stated:

 

 

I found this a strange but interesting statement. Is this making reference to a specific connection to Native American oral traditions ... or, is he simply using those traditions as analogy for oral traditions in general?

 

I'll see if I can get a reply to this.  Thanks for the post !

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