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How to Follow the Dao (without a master)
21Jul10 Comments
How to Follow the Dao (without a master)
Zhou Xuan Yun July 21, 2016 10 Comments

How to Follow the Dao (without a master)

How to Follow the Dao without a Master

Many people are dream of  finding a master, living in a temple, and realizing spiritual truths.  But in modern times, most people have financial obligations and commitments to their families that determine their lifestyle.  The good news is, it is possible to practice Daoism without leaving home.  Here’s how:

 

Meditation

The most common form of Daoist meditation is called Sitting and Forgetting (坐忘 zuò wàng).  It is an empty state meditation effective in quieting the mind.

Resources: Sitting in Oblivion by Livia Kohn, Daoist Meditation by Wu Jyh Cherng, Decoding the Dao: Nine Lessons in Daoist Meditation by Tom Bisio

 

Seclusion

“Entering the Mountains” (进山 jìn shān) is the Daoist practice of finding seclusion in nature.  Use your vacation or weekend to go camping or rent a small cabin somewhere quiet.  If this isn’t possible, try taking walks alone in nature. When it is safe to do so, leave your technology behind!

 

Diet & Fasting

Many religions use special diets as part of spiritual development. Some Daoists practice a type of fasting called “abstention from grain” (避谷 bì gǔ).  Others do not drink alcohol, are vegan, and avoid anything from the allium family (garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, shallots, chives). Once you make your choice about diet, a dietitian in your area can help evaluate your plan and can even provide shopping lists and recipes.

Resources: Daoist Dietics by Livia Kohn

 

Ritual Practices

Many Daoist ritual practices require special training.  However, there is no reason you can’t set up an altar in your house, make incense offerings, and try some simple chants.

Resources: Taoist Chanting & Recitation: At-Home Cultivator’s Practice Guide by Stuart Alve Olson

 

Connection to the Daoist Community

Connecting to the Daoist community in China can be difficult because of the language barrier, and many western Daoist communities are still in the fledgling stage. But, there are many resources, on and off-line that can help you.

Resources: Britain, France, Italy and Brazil have active Daoist Associations.  You may also find people who can help you in communities online like the DaoBums website, or Daoism groups on Facebook.  There is also the International Daoist Studies Conference, which is held in a different location every year.  Of course, you are also welcome to join the Daoist Gate community.

 

Study Daoist Scripture

Almost everyone has heard of the Dao De Jing, and the Book of Zhuangzi.  But, they are just a small part of the Daoist Canon (道藏 dào zàng) which contains over 1,500 sacred texts that discuss Daoist history, philosophy, and practice methods.

Resources: Here is an introduction to the Daoist Canon.  Many of the best known Daoist texts are available in English and can be found through a simple web search. The Journal of Daoist Studies is another excellent reading for an aspiring Daoist.

 

Moral Code

Daoists refer to our practice as 修行 (xiū xíng).  The word is made up of two characters: 修 meaning “fix” and 行 meaning “actions”. Proper action is an important part of any spiritual path. There are stricter vows for Daoist priests and nuns, but the five common precepts for lay Daoists are:

  1. No Murdering
  2. No Stealing
  3. No Sexual Misconduct
  4. No False Speech
  5. No Taking of Intoxicants

 

Dao -ish

Many other traditional Chinese practices are rooted in Daoist tradition.  These include martial arts, qigong, feng shui, divination and reading the Yi Jing, using Chinese medicine, and environmentally conscious “green” living.

 

Belief in the Dao

The Daoist practices mentioned above are a means to an end. They are the finger pointing at the moon. Do not mistake them for the moon itself. They may be your path to the Dao, but are not the Dao itself. First and foremost, Daoism is a religion. Belief is a necessary part of religion, and what Daoists believe in is the Dao. Although the Dao can not be described in words, I think of it as the formless, limitless aspect of the universe that underlies all of creation. Daoists experience and find unity with this cosmic force.

Your spiritual practice is not limited to the techniques listed in this article. In fact, all of your life is an opportunity for spiritual practice. How you interact with your coworkers, friends, family, and strangers can all reflect your beliefs. The most important thing is that you act appropriately and choose to do good.

Replies (10)

jie wei July 22, 2016 at 2:09 am

Thank you very much for this interesting article.

Denise July 27, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Xie xie, Xifu…of all the spiritual and religious teachings out there, I do find Daoism to be closest to my heart/spirit/shen. Thank you for your words of wisdom as I travel the path of xiu xing.

June Lea July 28, 2016 at 12:49 pm

I am a Christian, but I am also a Daoist. Some may find that there is a contradiction here, but it works for me. I believe that God is a limitless universal energy that is too big for we mere humans to grasp. Religion is our attempt to limit that force so we can understand it, experience it without actually being overwhelmed by it. We are defined by our limitations. Infinity scares the hell out of us. Our individuality is an illusion. If God is Universal, then everything, including us, is God. I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus was more conscious of that condition and lived as an example of how to be with each other. “love thy neighbor” is the essence of Christianity, even if so many so called Christians can’t seem to grasp it. I hope we can start a dialog for discussing these things, I have no one who even has an interest in these sorts of discussions in my life. I did have with my Sifu, but he retired and moved away. Blessed Be, June Lea

    Frederick Lindemann November 28, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    I like your comment June Lea, I feel it is sincere and i share your Chistian backgound and general views. I do not see any basic incoherence between Jesus’ teachings and the Taoist life philosophy:. For me the essential part is to find your own balance and interior peace while living in harmony with nature and humans. Have a nice path in your life.

    Chigetsu January 6, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Im not a Christian, but don’t think Daoism is incompatible with anything. There is actually a book I once read called “Christ The Eternal Dao”. Written by an Eastern Orthodox Monk based on the writings of his teacher who was also an Orthodox monk, but used to be a student of Daoism.

Josh White July 29, 2016 at 11:55 am

Very enjoyable piece. Thanks.

Margaret October 10, 2016 at 9:35 pm

Thank you for some practical tips for learning and living the daoist philosophy …

Michael April 25, 2017 at 1:15 pm

I find the concept of “Xiu Xing” to be very interesting. I was raised in a Jewish home, and in Jewish cosmology, there is the concept of “Tikkun Olam.” This means literally, “Repairing the World.”

It has been said that at the beginning of things, creation was shattered. That is reflected in the story of Adam and Eve. But it is then said that God tasked mankind with finding those fragments of creation and putting it back together in partnership with Him. Another version of the creation myth says that when God created the universe, He deliberately left a portion of it undone, so that mankind would have the opportunity to finish creation. And it is said that this is accomplished by, of course, following the commandments, but more specifically by pursuing Peace, Justice, and treating one’s fellow men as oneself would like to be treated.

So I like the phrase “Xiu Xing.” I understand it refers to correcting one’s actions; but to me, it also sounds like a command to “Go and Fix.”

    Zhou Xuan Yun April 26, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for sharing about Tikkun Olam. Some of my classes are held in a Jewish temple. I have really enjoyed getting to know about my students’ faith.
    -Xuan Yun

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