The Quest for Power (Part 2)

The Orthodox Daoist take on the quest for power that I related in the previous post likely grew out of a context in which Shamanic and Trance-medium practices were the dominant form of religious expression.

Shaman and mediums use a long list of techniques to reach an altered state which takes them on a journey, or entices a deity to take over their body. Dancing frenetically or for a very long time, altered breathing patterns, chanting and singing, drinking or taking drugs, fasting or eating extreme foods, staying outdoors in bad weather; these are all used by Shaman and Mediums to enter altered states of consciousness, often to the point of passing out.

Shaman and Mediums come back from these performance "trips" with special knowledge, and often special powers which appear to be conferred on them through these experiences.

Orthodox Daoists came to view these practices as journeys toward death. These practices deplete qi, and tend to dramatically shorten life-span. The quest for this type of power entails giving up a part of yourself, a self-sacrifice in exchange for power.

Orthodox Daoists then began to see parallel characteristics in all quests for power. Power begets sacrifice.

A great deal of exercise is framed as a quest for power, they tell you to give up something now for a super body in the future. Push yourself through the difficulty and the pain, put your money down, and you will be rewarded with beauty, recovered youth, or superior abilities.

Often times, quests for power are remedies for the side effects of other quests for power. Working too hard at a job 60 hours a week? Try yoga! That back hurting from the long commute and the all the time in front of the computer? Join our fitness club and we'll not only fix your back, we'll even improve your sex life!

This happens to be the way people are, so the first covenant of Orthodox Daoism is to not get in the way of peoples pursuit of power unless it involves the direct taking of life (blood sacrifice).

Daoism does not reject the pursuit of power. The first line of the Daodejing, (sometimes translated "The Way of Power") suggests that we can have an experience which is unmediated by words, ideas, images, or metaphors. Like power, words are not rejected.

Recognition of the mechanism by which words define and limit our experience does not stop us from appreciating them. The mechanism by which we accumulate power is a fascinating part of human experience, even though it limits our experience and has a tendency to shorten our lives. We have the option of putting on those "power" shoes or going barefoot.