Welcome to part two of learning Daoism! If you havent read part one, it can be found here.
Here is a quote from Dr. David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School:
The Chinese medical system is based primarily on Daoism, which claims that it’s not just your physical well-being that determines your health, but also your behavior toward others. The doctor was part priest, part martial artist, part scholar, and part empirical scientist. But most of all, he was a teacher. And he not only taught you about diet and exercise, but also guided you psychologically and spiritually to become a better person, because that would shape your health. The doctor tried to teach people the best way to live their lives.
When a westerner asks me what I do, I respond that I help a person live with kindness and heart.
But the work I do is as Dr. Eisenberg states: is a blending of many elements, but most especially teaching in a way to help a person discover kindness towards their own life.
Daoism is simply a practice of trying to live a kind complete life.
If you need facts, you can take quite a bit of time exploring hundreds of texts explaining what it meant to so many different teachers and practitioners.
If you need to explore, you can go to countless temples and talk to priests and hermits alike for their angles into Daoism.
If you need, desire & require material answers, well then it’s up to you to create, paint, build, beat out a path to compliment your inner essence.
The reality of it is: I would say we have a handful of key concepts such as the Three Treasures, Wu Wei, De, Essence and a few others.But these concepts merge into how we live life and then burst against & into the fullness of life. Becoming the 10,000 little things we each embrace and juggle in our life.
I re-say it, re-phrase the lessons, twist them around and about so each student can grasp the simplicity. The goal is releasing into the heart. Then with kindness, you practice and expand into a fuller nature again.
Have fun finding it.
Don’t forget to play along the way. Then keep repeating the play until what you do is effortless.
Secrets of Teaching Daoism
My physics/math /engineer background are quite useful for what I do as a Daoist teacher. When starting to teach a person, I will often use physics, which we all naturally move with as physical beings, to illustrate terms that often elude clear words to describe. As a result, I offer a bridge to different worlds for many people who would consider spiritual practices not to be real nor sensible.
The basic trouble is once you mention the word religion, people make it all be about god. Ironically, this process is about something different.
It’s all about how we each try to hold the unknown within our life.
Balancing the unknown is tricky. I just help people not trip over that gap of the unknown that we each have within our hearts at times.
It’s just that most religions use God as the cup holder for the unknown.
We all embrace the unknown in our heart (in that we are all part of what religions would call God)
Think about this:
- Daoism teaches how to accept the gap of the unknown
we each feel in the empty spaces of our heart. We call that Dao.
Many religions use “god” to bridge the unknown spaces, but in reality, it is faith that bridges the gap of the unknown in life. Many people try to use facts, or science to bridge the unknowns in life, and then come up short when realizing yet another unknown awaits it all.
No matter how the bridge is built, it is a bridge of faith in the end that carries us across the gap and into the next day.
This all means when talking about Daoism, don’t think in terms of religion or philosophy. Instead: think regarding what it is that you desire to become in life. Daoism teaches lifestyle.
Religion and philosophy are just categories people place on teachings, to limit and control others. Daoism doesn’t limit itself to defined boundaries. Instead, it just dives into issues of the human heart and teaches it all openly.
Daoism uses language that crosses over religion, philosophy, and science because in being alive, these are references we have in our life to use. As a result, Daoism over thousands of years has accumulated countless different practices, techniques, mysteries, teachers, truths.
If you wonder why: well Daoism as a practice of being oneself also means each practitioner brings in their blend of truths into the practice. Over time a framework developed which includes aspects of philosophies (rational thought), religion (faith), science (facts), and even seemingly magical (perception) practices. And Daoism is not only a single framework, but Daoism consists of many frameworks which are all of the “Dao”.
So what is the proper “way” to learn Daoism, when it embraces human nature in all of our ways? The answer to any student is:
The Meaning of Dao
The true meaning of life is allowing meaning always to evolve, shift and then match to where you are at any given moment. To illustrate this: Once Dao was Tao and then times changed, and people began to spell Tao as Dao. Life changes, all the time in small and significant ways.
Meaning shifts! Humans make a mistake to think the focus at any one moment is the meaning. It’s a trap to force meanings to be literal and unchanging.
That is why when using open-ended terms such as the three treasures (kindness, modesty, and nonjudgement) we must match the teaching in Daoism to the people rather than force it in a literal manner to what was practiced 2000 years ago.
Better yet, when following the three treasures at some point, your need to have any meaning at all goes away, and you simply are content in living life itself. This is Dao.
It’s a nice way to live and not complicated as one might think.
Faith in Dao
In uncertain times. The unknown is apparent every day.
In normal times, people fool themselves into thinking the predictable replaces the unknown.
The unknown is always around us. What differs is how a person approaches it through their faith. Sometimes people use faith in predictability to ignore the unknown. This is not a wise path: since the unknown will always surprise and test the unprepared at the worse moments.
Faith in the Dao, is faith in the unknown. As a result, a Daoist will not be surprised by seemingly random events. More importantly a Daoist couples this faith of the Dao & the unknown with confidence in themselves. So each day they can move against the unknown with a grace of their own life choices.
In uncertain times, it means to embrace faith in oneself.
Faith in Defending Dao
A few days ago I answered this question for a student.
Can Daoism be defended? When I try to explain what Daoism is to others they tend to get this “huh,” look on their faces.
To defend something suggests that others are passing judgment on something.
No one has the power to judge Dao. As a result the Dao never needs to be defended.
Daoism as a practice can be defended but only when accepting yourself fully. Otherwise, the judgment of others introduces doubt and question into how you hold yourself.
Daoism teaches not to judge others or answers but to accept others as is! This is part of holding onto to truth lightly!
Daoism has been around for thousands upon thousands of years. It has survived the larger judgment of humanity as a way of thinking and way of life. I teach and show it from one perspective. How I teach won’t be right for everyone. That’s why many schools of Daoism exist. This is also why humanity creates so many tales, philosophies and versions of religion to keep each other entertained 🙂 in life.
Don’t worry about what others say or re-act. It’s more important to determine what it means to you and then come to terms of acceptance of that first.
Part of the problem is the use of fear and expectation to drive western culture is opposite of core values in Daoism. This makes it harder to describe Dao in a way that doesn’t draw “huh” looks.
The good thing is when you get one of those huh looks, is to switch your perspective then. Ask the person what their faith is in life, and then find the common way to explain the Dao from that angle then.
Explaining Dao to others will help you explore your practice in a fuller manner.
Don’t get trapped in your own perspective, open up the viewpoint to better answer questions when you or others get stuck.
Give me Some Hard and Fast Answers!
People confuse a “Practice” to be a path.
A practice is just a collection of helpful hints to aid a journey.
People confuse “Knowledge” to be a destination.
Knowledge is merely a stepping stone.
People confuse “Answers” to be truth
Truth is merely a single view point.
A person starting to learn Daoism will ask for all of the above.
Daoism clearly removes all of these constructs to free a person.
If I were to weave ancient magical spells, proclaim powerful words, show you profound truths and prance about to baptize you in a show of belief: I could create a spectacle worthy of any Las Vegas Show. However please keep in mind any such wonder you do experience:
… is already in your heart.
… and that is Dao also.
Daoism is a primarily an oral tradition at its core, Within the Daoist tradition, a Daoist keeps their journal of life in the heart. More importantly, any writings are merely metadata (That is: information is relative to conditions used for transitions between one stage of our experience to another). It’s a strange mix in that regard. Daoists don’t embrace the written word as truth. Instead, written words are only a tool to aid transitions toward acceptance and nothing more.
As we live, our perceptions revolve in a spiral of different stages.
At different times, a person can take in various truths, different aspects of their life.
So a Daoist’s oral teaching is always relative to one’s needs. Teachers are important in Daoist tradition; a Daoist Master helps a person transition smoothly as an outside resource to help gauge what advice is best for a person. Daoist teachings are relative to each other. In books, in using the written word, people make the false assumption that it’s possible to use the written knowledge at any moment in your life. Daoists know instead it’s only metadata: dependent on where you are in life.
So when diving into written materials: know to embrace only the words that call your heart. Never taking what doesn’t make sense in the now, since other information ends up as a distraction or can even lead one backward in their path.
It’s incredible how much Daoist scholars have written in the past. The majority of it being lost or destroyed over the years. More importantly, most of it’s never even seen by most Daoist’s as it’s genuinely immaterial. Since to a Daoist, the truth reveals itself naturally as we live. It doesn’t bother us, that our temples have been destroyed to dust, that books were burned away, that “history” merely fades to the whims of society …
We are the breeze
No dam ever stops our flow
No net ever captures our essence
No destruction truly touches our eternal nature
We always flow to the truth of our life.
I shed my bones once long ago and yet in the now I still happily wander in wonder. Life meanders to where I should be.
Don’t worry about what Daoism might or might not be.
Just be, be yourself.
I teach Daoism with a twist. I add in modern references to make sure students today can also apply Daoist thinking in a way that both uses current language and takes into account changes to contemporary culture.
Daoist dogma embraces change: if how we teach cannot change over time, then how can we stay to Daoism?
Much of Daoist teachings are poetic, which allows for the teaching to change relative to each person. However, many nonpoetic Daoist texts do exist. When people take Daoist texts literally, it can cause problems.
- Because many times the texts are written in Daoist code which cannot be read literally.
- Much of it is in context to a different culture and different time.
One of the areas where Daoism gets misunderstood is the concept of walking away.
No matter how I answer this, I will be sure to upset some people due to emotional baggage attached to this issue. I spend quite a bit of time helping people who have been left behind, or who have to leave. No simple single answers exist!
I always have to find the answers that work to a person’s heart. No one size answer fits here. People will read Daoist Stories and think there is a single right answer and to walk away from their problems altogether.
In Daoist literature you will find stories of Daoist hermits who left family behind. Many people being literal, take those stories out of context, not considering the culture at the time that literature was written. In other words: 1,000 years ago in China, divorce wasn’t an option due to the family structure being much tighter / restrictive in the social protocol. 1,000 years ago Chinese society didn’t have mechanisms in place to help people leave and start fresh. So instead, Daoists left (often faking their death or going to a monastery), as it was the only cultural option open to them.
In our current culture, many additional options now exist: we have divorce, counselors and legal system in place to help people change.
For a person to move on: please also consider kindness to those connected to you.
In other words: Running away is an option, but if you do so, do it in a way that helps those connected to you move on also!
There is no “right” path.
However, there are always options.
When considering the options, balance in kindness your actions to those connected to you.
If not, then it will create negative Karma, which will lengthen the spiritual journey.
When reading materials ancient, also consider the context and how things exist today to help temper the information.
While people don’t change: a person today would be emotionally similar to someone 2,000 years ago. Cultures do change, and a person needs to reflect against that in some degree when reading older texts.