For this blog post, Daoist XuanYun Zhou asked readers to send him any questions they may have. Questions came from followers of his Facebook page, members of his private Facebook group, and students in his Boston classes.
Here are his answers. . .
About Martial Arts
Q: Do the different Wudang sword forms teach different energies? Or are they all just different skill level?
A: Each of the Wudang sword forms looks and feels different. That said, there are only so many ways to swing a sword. Everything boils down to variations on the basic strokes (draw, carry, lift, block, beat, point, spring-up, stab, stir, press, split, intercept, slice). It is impossible to say that one form is harder than the other. Practiced poorly, they are all low-level forms. Practiced at the highest level, they are all difficult.
Q: How do I manage my time when trying to ‘cement’ something that’s not coming along as I feel it should be, without feeling like I’m neglecting my core practice?
A: Your core practice should be based upon strengthening areas where you have room for improvement. This could be things you have just learned or an older technique you need to polish. I recommend keeping your practice simple. If you become very good at even one thing, it will benefit everything else you do.
Q: How can I overcome laziness in practice?
A: I see this problem a lot in the Unites States. Many people here have weaker willpower than people in China. One thing that you can try is to set a goal for yourself. For example, learn all of the movements in a form within 6 months, be able to do splits within a year, etc. If you find yourself skipping class, try to find a buddy in class. You can talk with them about practice and cheer on each other’s successes. This will make practice feel good. Helping another person will also help you meet your own goals.
Q: What are the similarities and differences he sees between the way people practice and understand Daoism in the United States and China?
In China, people practice Daoism because of their faith. Their practice is built upon that foundation. In the United States, many people practice a Daoist art, or study Daoism as an academic subject of inquiry, but there is less faith.
Q: What does Daoism say about the creation of the universe?
A: Ancient legend says that the heaven and earth were born in the shape of an egg. An old man named Pangu slept inside the egg for thousands of years. He awoke and saw the chaos around him. He chopped with his ax and the heavy Qi formed the Earth, and the light Qi formed the heavens. After he died his two eyes became the sun and the moon. His hair became the grass and trees. His blood formed the lake and rivers.
If you look at Taiji theory, in the beginning, all was chaos. As the chaos moved, the clear was separated from the turbid. The turbid came together to form the heavenly bodies. Creation came from movement.
Q: Can you talk a little about Ding 定, Jing 静, An 安 ( concentration, tranquility, and peace) in relation to Daoist meditation?
A: Daoism has different types of meditation. Two of them are Zuowang and Shouyi. Zuowang, “sitting in oblivion,” is an empty-state meditation that settles the spirit bringing about a natural sense of tranquility (静 jing). Tranquility occurs when your senses turn inward and your mental and emotional activity quiets down. There is also Shouyi “focusing on the one” where you focus on an object, a mental image, your breathing, or a point on your body. For both of these types of meditation, every time your mind wanders you just gently bring it back, which develops your concentration (ding 定). I know that peace (an 安) is a principle of Buddhist meditation. I have not heard it talked about in Daoist meditation. However, Daoist meditation brings about a sense of clarity and stillness that one could easily describe as a state of peace.
Q: In a recent blog post, you mentioned Daoist martial arts master Zhu Chengde. What else can you tell us about him?
A: I have heard that he practiced 三天门悟性气功 (Third Gare of Heaven Understanding Character Qigong). It was a style of qigong that he created while living at the Third Gate to Heaven Temple, which is on Wudang Mountain. He passed away before I got a chance to meet him. It is said that he reached a high level of practice.
About Xuan Yun
Q: In your travels, was there a particular place you liked the best?
A: I really like Hua Mountain in Shaanxi Province. There were a lot of older, more traditional Daoists. The mountain was very beautiful. If I hiked into the mountain a short way, I could find a place with no people to meditate. It was very peaceful.
Q: What is your personal favorite martial arts form?
A: It depends on my mood. I enjoy tai chi a lot. I like its comfortable relaxed feeling. When I am in a very good mood I like forms that exert a lot of force (发劲 fā jìn). I like to think about martial arts when I walk down the street. Sometimes I find myself doing xingyi movements as I walk!
Q：What is your favorite topic in Daoism? medicine, ritual, divination, etc.
A: I don’t really have one favorite part of Daoism. What I like the most is how learning about one part benefits my understanding of all of the other parts. For example, the breathing used for chanting is also a form of qigong that strengthens your body and helps with your martial arts practice. The scripture we chant includes Daoist history, philosophy, and practice methods. Each part benefits the others.