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:
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
“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
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.
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:
- No Murdering
- No Stealing
- No Sexual Misconduct
- No False Speech
- No Taking of Intoxicants
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.