Three Ideas: Dreaming, a Compass, and Modular Morality

I woke up. I did not remember the dream. But at the moment of waking I had a new understanding of how to move with my arms completely empty of intent. It was an accurate refinement of a longterm movement project. I was able to put it into practice right away. Did Zhang Sanfeng just visit me?

These days my practice is like a luxuriant dream. If we think of all the directions in the horizontal plane one can attack an opponent from, it is a compass shape, a full circle. Yet most people attack from their own center directly to the other person's center. This is because they are in a social dominance mode. They are like a goat trying to establish order in the herd. They want to feel the dominance, and they want their opponent to feel it too. This mode is most effective as a running tackle. Attacking like this, directly from one center to the other, utilizes only one direction on that compass. There are 360 possible directions for attack on the horizontal plane. For the martial artist, the only one you want to avoid using is the direct attack.


Different gods embody different moralities. In the polytheistic-pantheistic religious cosmology that the Chinese martial arts come out of, morality is modular. Each cult to an individual god comes with a kind of pre-package code of conduct and an orientation towards knowledge and being. If you do not like the package, or it is not 'working' for you, switch it out with another deity. Guanyin, Guangong, Sun Wukong, Yei Fei, Nezha, Xi Wangmu, Wusheng Laomu, and hundreds of others. You can also go with an Immortal like Zhang Sanfeng or Lu Dongbin, or even a Fox spirit, since foxes are the one animal that can cultivate the Golden Elixir.

This is a perfect backdrop for understanding why the Chinese state wanted to regulate the kinds of cults were allowed to exist. The state accepted the modular nature of morality, but they wanted to manage the unruly packages. For example, no vampire or werewolf cults were allowed. A large cult was potentially dangerous. A small weird cult was potentially dangerous too. At some point in the first 300 years of the Daoist religion (before 350 CE) the state realized that Daoists were ideally suited to play this regulatory role. For most of the last 1700 years, Daoists have been the main official government regulators of religion. We might even say that Daoists are a type of celestial bureaucracy that survived across eight dynasties. They used the ideas of the Daodejing to do this. At times in this long history, Buddhists and other ritual experts took on the job too. 

Anyway, I had not thought of morality as modular before. Morality can be externalized. It can can be switched out. But probably not as easily as nihilists and existentialists think. Morality needs a package that includes precepts, an orientation towards life, and a group of people who are publicly avowing the same package. But what a fascinating idea that we could switch it up if we lived in a place with many cults.