Here is a letter I recently sent him:
I was delighted to attend your Taoist Yoga weekend at the Marin Bay Club last month and Iâ€™m just getting around to writing you a paragraph about the Daodejing so that I might receive a certificate.
My training is in Dance and Martial arts and Iâ€™ve always found yoga sort of silly; the same way I feel about weight lifting. Whatâ€™s the point if you are not expressing an idea or a feeling, whatâ€™s the point if there is no â€˜applicatio next day. However I convinced myself that I would at least go back to the Bayn?â€™ So the first day of your workshop I went home thinking I wouldnâ€™t come back the Club on the second day and take a steam bath. Then my feelings changed.
One thing is that I noticed Don, doing the video. We used to dance in a troupe together many years ago, and I wanted to tease him about all his work as a porn star.
Another thing that changed my mind is that I started thinking about the whole teaching you received and itâ€™s context, not just the limited focus of the class.
I teach traditional Chinese martial arts, and what is now generally referred to as qigong. I have spent a fair number of years studying Daoism. The five central practices of Zhengyi Dao (Orthodox Daoism- the oldest and most traditional/central) are zouwang (sitting and forgetting), jindan(golden elixer), ritual, daoyin, and dream. I noticed an alter for the "Three Pure Ones" on your website, so youâ€™ve probably heard this before.
Although I do not teach it, I also learned a very traditional form of daoyin. It seems like it would fit very snugly with the material you teach. Although I didnâ€™t learn them, I was told that daoyin also includes animal postures that are used with â€˜fixed staringâ€™ to develop the four phases (not five, this material was said to pre-date the five phases standard). The system I learned is small enough that it can be done in a tea crate or a small cave. My understanding is that it is for long solo retreats. It involves repeating vigorous sets of stretching, rolling, bouncing, pounding, flicking, rubbing slapping and sitting still.
Iâ€™m intrigued by what appears to be the combination of this hermit Daoyin with performing arts. I have the strong sense that it developed to peek the interest of children. Since I teach a lot of children I immediately experimented with teaching some of the animal postures and movements you taught. Children do indeed love them. What would it take to get you to make a video for children? I imagine it would emphasize the different types of â€˜animal walks.â€™ My sense is that if you showed each animal in an animated way first, some children would be enticed to do the practice necessary to get â€˜there.â€™
All this raises an interesting question. Daoism, is a religion which does not proselytize. Daoists have been known to share and teach widely, but it would really be a violation of precepts to try to convince someone to become Daoist. Yet, as a performer, someone might be able draw students to them with genuine interest in Daoism and offer something healthy or entertaining to a general audience.
There are specific Daoist precepts against Clowning as a profession, still I find it plausible that in the interest of keeping the true depth of Daoyin alive through the ages, Daoists decided to create a Daoyin lineage of performers who could make a living â€˜in town.â€™
I have chosen to comment on Chapter 5 (Wangbi sequence) also known as Chapter 49 (Ma Wangdui sequence):
"Heaven and Earth are not humane but ruthless.
To them the ten thousand things are only straw dogs.
Likewise the Adept is not humane but ruthless.
To the Adept all living beings are but straw dogs.
The space between Heaven and Earth is very much like a bellows.
Empty yet Inexhaustible.
When pressed it puts forth great supply.
Great Learning leads to exhaustion.
Far better to remain at the center."
This is the chapter that Hanfeizi used to justify the first ever strong central government (Qin), and because of that it is impossible to imagine a China with out it.
Xiangâ€™er says this about chapter 5: "The Adept models himself on heaven and earth. He is humane to good people, inhumane toward evil peopleâ€¦.Thus people should accumulate meritorious actions (gongfu) so that their jing and shen communicate with Heaven. In this way, when there are those who wish to attack and injure them, heaven will come to their aid. The common run of people are all straw dogs; their jing and shen are unable to communicate with heaven. The reason for this is that, as robbers and thieves with evil intentions dare not be seen by government officials, their jing and shen are not in touch with heaven, so that when they meet with dire extremities, heaven is unaware of it."
I interpret this to mean that most people are so careless with their bodies that they experience life as an internal battle. With in this battle they are in retreat, thus they avoid experiencing things as they actually are. This commentary has a real â€˜smackdownâ€™ quality to it, yet it also tends to â€˜hit the nail on the head.â€™
The straw dog replaced the black dog as a sacrificial form of communication (supplication, exorcism, or renewal). The black dog replaced larger animal sacrifices (elephant/bull), which were practiced in an earlier era where humans were also sacrificed to the gods as a form of communication. Shang Dynasty battles usually ended either with the enslavement or sacrifice of prisoners. Virgin girls were offered to the great rivers that facilitated the creation of Chinese civilization.
So the chapter says: All living things are locked in communication with heaven & earth, the same way a bellows functions only because it is part of the entire atmosphere, which is itself a sort of bellows. Just like a straw dog has accumulated all the past history, stories or myths which give it meaning as a sacrificeâ€”so too, all living things accumulate a story which gets carried along. "We are all just a story and a body" (Yang Chu from the Leizi). Daoist Adepts recognize the difference between a body and a story-- and in this sense they are ruthless!
The last line, about Great Learning, is repeated in other chapters of the Laozi. I take it to mean: Life is not a struggle and the world is not in crisis.
I have read all the books on your reading list and thought you might enjoy a copy of the a reading list on the same subject I recently gave out to students. (I have included it as an attachment)
More importantly I would like to hear your thoughts on children and Daoyin. I was surprised and intrigued to hear that you only practice daoyin twice a week. What does that mean? Are you doing no daily practice? Or are you doing some other practice? I love my life in the city and I find it hard to imagine life on a ranch with out ranching.
Scott P. Phillips