A compassionate and contemplative tradition for the pariah?

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I've spent most of my life as agnostic, leaning on atheist, but recent circumstances and my lack of progress in therapy have me reevaluating my spirituality. Religion and philosophy has been an interest of mine for a while, but had not been compelled to practice since adolescence. But the more I read, the more I feel an affinity for Daoism out of all the religions I've made myself familiar with. Many I have to eschew practicing wholly out of principle seeing as they view my born, innate identity as either hell condemned sin or otherwise inherently spiritually deficient. Daoism feels the closest to having a framework that accepts or is adaptable to the behaviors and beliefs that have made me healthier and has ideas that resonate with me strongly but have struggled to internalize.


But I feel a deep disconnect with Daoism as I understand it and from the commentaries of practicing monks and priests that I've read, against the ethic and practice of most Western Daoists. I find what I see to be a kind of extreme and callous moral relativism and practice that feels centered wholly on experiences of qi in Western Daoists, rather than seeing these practices as, say, "little tricks" as Chen Yuming, former vice abbot of Yuquan Yuan said, to aid in developing your virtue, the highest virtue seemingly being a kind of selfless compassion. That without it, the Heavens will not abide in you, and these practices would therefore be useless. That it's developing that virture, that compassion, that is really what is so difficult, that it requires a lifetime of devotion to maintain your physical, mental, and spiritual health, in this universe that sees its creation as "straw dogs." The sage, the zhenren, may therefore also see the people as straw dogs, no longer "useful" after they have played their "roles", but that does not mean he does not love and care for them anyway. Perhaps even because of this. I am deeply puzzled and dismayed by the degree of moral relativism displayed by many English speaking Daoists I've encountered in the face of lines from the Dao De Jing like


The sage has no mind of his own.
He is aware of the needs of others.

I am good to people who are good.
I am also good to people who are not good.
Because Virtue is goodness.
I have faith in people who are faithful.
I also have faith in people who are not faithful.
Because Virtue is faithfulness.


The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much
and give to those who do not have enough.
Man's way is different.
He takes from those who do not have enough
to give to those who already have too much.
What man has more than enough and gives it to the world?
Only the man of Tao.


When the court is arrayed in splendor,
The fields are full of weeds,
And the granaries are bare.
Some wear gorgeous clothes,
Carry sharp swords,
And indulge themselves with food and drink;
They have more possessions than they can use.
They are robber barons.
This is certainly not the way of Tao.


The sage never tries to store things up.
The more he does for others, the more he has.
The more he gives to others, the greater his abundance.
The Tao of heaven is pointed but does no harm.
The Tao of the sage is work without effort.


And so I am not interested in learning rote qigong forms, meditations or neidan visualizations from either a smarmy capitalist huckster or a deadhearted Machiavellian who has mistaken their coldness for enlightenment. Interesting as it sounds, I don't particularly care about developing any kind of mystical power besides the power to change myself and the lives of the people around me, something that feels so elusive and difficult to me it may as well be magic. I understand fully that begins with working on myself, that I must practice efficiency if I wish to be generous as the DDJ would say. But those are merely my means and not my ends, and I do not want to be in an environment and under a teacher that has only energetic self development as their ends.  


I feel like this country is killing my compassion. Compassion used to come easy to me. But I spend so much time feeling psychically attacked and in bodily danger that my compunctions against hurting innocent people to get what I need for me and the people I care about to not suffer is loosening. I understand the necessity to think and act like this under certain scenarios unless you are truly flippant about life, which I do not believe anyone should be, but it is still nothing less than unvirtuous, if not outright evil. And then how much more so are those that build a society that creates people who have no recourse but to hurt others to survive while they hold so much more than they can use in even a hundred lifetimes? I do not feel in good company with people who think too little of death, either in killing or dying. I do not want practices that will make me feel okay with that, nor do I want to practice under anyone who feels okay with that. I am sick to death of people like this and I am despairing of myself to turn into it. I want some peace and my soul back, and I do not see it reflected in humanity anymore. It is why I am now finally turning to religion. But I do not see any such teacher anywhere accessible to me, and certainly not in the middle of this pandemic. Scriptures are often so vague and cryptic about practice, and it seems like most people that try to write plainly about practice in English do so in a pseudo-scientific language too divorced from either the science or the religion for it to make any damned sense, and worse yet don't really make any effort to categorize said practices under any kind of order of progression or goals. What do I do?

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Hello Dachungzi, It does seem the open heart gets crushed.  Maybe the way to protect it is to pull in your circle.  Love, respect and take care of yourself.   If you can do that, open your heart to family, friends.. neighbors.  Ignore the news, don't worry so much about people outside your circle.  Practice a metta meditation and/or let them know you're there to help, that you care, that you'll share a cup of coffee and find out how they're doing.  


Nobody can give you peace.  You get it from dropping the rage.  That's particularly hard these days.  I'd recommend stop reading the news; its a concentration of all thats wrong in the world.  The worst rage and anger is the impotent kind, all the things you can't do anything about.  So quiet your mind, stay away from your triggers and find things, even small things that you can do something about.


Work on the inner circles cause we can't do much for ones further out.  We help the world by improving ourselves and helping our families and neighbors.  In truth that's enough, but if you want more, pick a cause, any cause and work on it, not lip service, but real work.  Slow and steady.  Don't bother with other evils, find a cause and do some good.  I give out flocks of chickens (through Heifer.org), 1 or 2 flocks a month theoretically to families around the world in need.  It's not much but its nutritious eggs, occasional chicken soup, a few less bugs and some manure for growing stuff.  Imperfect, but something.


If you don't want namby pamby qigong, then I'd point you towards The Wim Hof method.  In his latest program, beyond the difficult breathwork and cold showers, he has you sticking your hands in ice water.  At first for a minute then longer.  Pure torture.  He says at some point there's a release and the hands warms, that never happened to me but there was an important lesson in observing my reaction to pain and staying with it.  The lesson is repeated during the cold showers and long breath holds.  Staying with pain, without anger.. letting it settle.




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Thanks for the advice, I'd been applying a lot of it to some benefit the past month or two. Recently found a tiny bit more benefit in simply dieting. Rereading Daoist texts and academic texts about Daoism a bit obsessively the past two weeks and the characterization of those that eat a lot of grains as being clever or cunning and how fasting can help bring a state of "stillness" struck me as a keen primordial understanding of carbohydrates' role in the brain, and I considered how limiting it and other calories while I've been so sedentary could maybe help quell the excessive internal chatter "monkey mind" I have going on, that is usually at least playful or too farfetched to take seriously, but lately likes to give me panic attacks with plausible and vividly imagined scenarios.


It's not that I think qigong is namby pamby, though Wim Hof is certainly an interesting figure. I actually have some experience with qigong through TMA, but I had honestly personally interpreted it for a long time as a kinesthetic model of learning movements that generate power or effect through physics and/or subtle body control, nothing "magical" per se, though I would still often visualize things as they were explained and found it effective. But I can't say I still haven't had something like an enchanted experience with it and I have respect for it and am not entirely unwilling to accept a more spiritual work at play as well. Actually I'd had even more "enchanted" experiences unwittingly doing zuowang as a young child, but that's a longer and more uncomfortable story, though not as to the results of the meditation, but more what drove me to do it.


I guess the stick in my craw that I'll admit is probably too firmly lodged is that so many English speaking Daoist institutions seem to me primarily concerned with blissful and health cultivating qi experiences and practices, don't seem super concerned with thought or goals, or even dao sometimes in that cultivation. I have goals and I feel like Daoism strongly suggests the purpose of cultivation is to do something meaningful with it. Namely, keeping yourself in the best condition to then uplift the people you can touch. And I guess further than that, I am more interested in cultivating and better controlling my mind, and I suppose perhaps my shen. I understand that involves my body too, I have a vague grasp of the jing -> qi -> shen transition in alchemical thought, I see even a pragmatic psychological/psychiatric wisdom in gaining keener emotional regulation, meaning lower stress, which means better health, better cognitive function, etc, through more subtle intuition of the body and its responses to internal and external stimuli. But the goal never seems to be this, it's blissful qi experiences, become an energy healer, etc. I simply want to be a better person than I am, that I know I can be, and talk therapy and such aren't cutting it. When I look at modern evidence based therapies it seems like a grab bag of different "Eastern" religious practices, and I'm wondering anymore if I wouldn't actually be more receptive going to the source.



Edited by dachungzi
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