After being on the road for three months and returning to San Francisco for just over a week, I headed up to Leggett California to join my wife Sarah at a Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Center called Rangjung Yeshe Gomde, or just Gomde for short.

Since I’ve gotten here I’ve had some time to work on my book everyday.  The retreats here taper off with the end of the September and we are staying around to help run the place for the next three months.  Hopefully this will give me a lot of time to write.  Lots of people have asked me what I’m writing about so I’ve conjured a proto-title: Obscuring the Martial Arts; how and why the arts have been cut off from their roots and what finding those roots reveals about contemporary practice.  It’s a start.

Anyway, Gomde is on the Eel River which is great for swimming this time of year and we have a canoe to paddle about in too.  We are sleeping outside in a big tent until things quiet down for the fall.  Hopefully by the time the rains start some private indoor space will open up.

 In this part of the country you have to really look where you are walking because you might step on a hippy, there are a lot of them up here.  I have deep respect for those highly evolved individuals who have developed the ability to manage incompetent people.  Blessings.

Besides my usual gongfu practice, writing and helping with whatever needs to get done around here, I’ve been playing my tabla drum and chatting with the Tibetan language experts and various Doctoral candidates in Buddhist studies.  Gomde is at the center of a project which is working on translating 84,000 Buddhist texts.  

I do plan to write about Tibetan Buddhism a bit.  I’m working up to it.  

It's Tuesday, What Religion Are You?

Travel Update: I’m in a cafe in Bozeman Montana.  There are more older people here than I expected, having been told in Boulder that Boulder, Bozeman and Bend are the three towns in America with good food and lots of very physically active people in their twenties.  After a few beers at a bar called Bacchus, I learned that the older people leave as soon as the summer is over.  Rents here are very cheap, so it is full of young people who went to college in order to get into debt.  The slacker ethic is strong, in the sense that all the people I have met work odd jobs with low pay so they have tons of time to ski, climb, mountain bike, sit in hot springs and party.  I think some guys we crossed after leaving the bar last night were trying to see if I would fight them, “Hey, look at his Captain America t-shirt, is he going to kick all of our asses?”  Sarah wisely retorted, “Only if you want him too.”  But that was the end of it.  Martial arts classes here are dirt cheap, $7 for a drop in, $40 for a month.  It is a beautiful town, the houses all have new paint jobs and maintained gardens.  Lot’s of dogs, good food, whiskey and wilderness.  I want to find people who have the time to dedicate to learning martial arts for hours everyday.  This might be the place.  But I also want some intellectual stimulation and a jumping off place for a Daoist inspired milieu to arise.  It would be nice to see a few people with thick glasses carrying around doorstop sized books.  Ah, what I would sacrifice for a land full of 20 year old librarians with an insatiable appetite for dancing and fighting.  


In the historic Chinese past, the question “what religion are you?” was not a question about ones beliefs.  It was likely to be phrased more like this, “to whom do you make sacrifice?”  Or, “what rituals are you committed to performing?”

Statements about origins of Martial Arts should perhaps begin the question, “why don’t we know the exact origins of Chinese martial arts?”  “What forces in society have made the past difficult to see? especially in a culture like China has recorded so much about the past and has so many rituals designed to create common dreams and common memories?”

It seems that historically there were many systems of Martial Arts named after people.  To the extent that these people or historic figures are too distantly in the past to have direct lineages or historic connections to present day arts, I think it is safe to posit that they were characters of the theater.  After all, that was how the vast majority  of people learned about history.  They learned it from watching history plays, usually called wu (martial) plays.

Let me pose it another way.  From what source could a man in 17th Century China have gotten an inkling about how a man from the 15th Century moved, other than through watching him in a historical performance or ritual?

The actors would have made sacrifice to specific deities like this one described by Daoist priest Jave Wu (hat tip to Julianne Zhou).  This is an example of the integration of theater and Daoism in the Hokkien speaking Southern parts of China, but also remember that the most prominent deity that actors made sacrifice to was one of the Eight Immortals, the theatrical mythic founders of Quan Zhen (Complete Reality) Daoism! Actors were obligated to sacrifice to Immortal Cao Guojiu

In the previous post I discussed martial arts as a social institutions for the transmission of values.  In the case of ritual "Chinese Opera" theater, we have values being transmitted through both fictional storytelling and the teaching of history on the stage, as well as the direct representation of gods, and ancestors.  In some contexts the actual gods and ancestors were channelled directly onto the stage through the actors as empty vessels.

Amateur martial theater arts embodying both theatrical and real fighting skills, and combining emotional, intellectual, historical and physical elements, may be the most comprehensive institution created for the transmission of cultural values anywhere.  I haven’t compiled a list, but the other top contenders have their origins in Africa and Polynesia.  In Europe the closest thing I can come up with is Italian Folk dance used as training for knife fighting.  

To properly follow this line of reasoning we should ask the question, what constituted an amateur martial artist?  Simply, anyone who wasn’t born into or adopted into an actor family.  I suspect that many people who performed forms (taolu) at public markets as a way to sell medicines would be considered amateur, as would anyone in the military who practiced forms, and anyone considered a local or family expert.  Professional ritual theater was the model for a vast array of martial arts training as a method for transmitting values within families, villages, regions, and language groups.

Significant parts of the Chinese theater tradition were improvisational, but since the 20th Century trend has been away from this sort of freedom of expression, and because actor training was a form of ritual transmission without any written manuals, the extent of improvisation is hard to prove.  But I will hazard that-- where there is improvisation, there is a rebellious spirit.  (see Improvisation in A Ritual Context : The Music of Cantonese Opera, By Shouren Chen)

What were the values being transmitted to a kid learning Monkey Kungfu?  Or other comic roles?  There are so many martial heros and anti-heros in the theater traditions!  The walls of temples in Taiwan are covered in them literally floor to ceiling!  It is as if value systems were modular!  Pick a role, learn that body art (shenfa), and then be it, model it, profess it.  

Avrom Boretz deserves credit for much of this idea.  He explores the transmission of prowess and other martial values through martial rituals in his book Gods, Ghosts, and Gangsters: Ritual Violence, Martial Arts, and Masculinity on the Margins of Chinese Society .

 Again, if you follow this logic, we have to explain what happened to the martial arts in the early part of the 20th Century that obscured these origins even while they were being preserved in a new form in Hong Kong action film.

Andrew Morris, in Marrow of the Nation explains how martial arts were used to promote nationalism (it used to be called fascism) and to some extent how the arts were changed by that process.   Karate in Japan and Taekwondo in Korea also need to be understood in this context.

If we think about martial arts not just as the transmission of values and character and skills, but as the transmission of specific character types we get some shocking results.  The character types promoted by the Chinese Nationalists are mostly angry generals and cruel judges, along with some self-sacrificing young passionate heros.  That's it.  The survival of the mystical Tai Chi Daoist character role, the world transcending Buddhist monk character role, and Sun Wukong the Monkey King role, are testaments to the strength and pervasiveness of these roles as institutions for the transmission of cultural values!  They survived dispite the movement to suppress them.  (Note: more serious work needs to be done on female and gender bender roles in the history of martial arts! I still have too many unanswered questions to discuss them here.)

Since the revolution the Chinese government has been promoting “Wushu,” a from of competitive martial dance largely devoid of martial skill or character training.  Serious martial artists have been laughing at Wushu for 60 years and yet the Communist Party is still trying to get it into the Olympics.  If seen as a character type Wushu is like a lingering ghost possessed by conflicting emotions, too weak to resolve itself through a complete death!

Karate in Imperialist Nationalist Fascist Japan took on a single character type, that of a disciplined angry kamikaze!   Okay, maybe that is too harsh.  But clearly it is a character type of limited theatrical depth.  It has some of the rigid qualities of a death mask. Nationalist Korea developed Taekwondo mostly from karate and kept the same character type.  I suspect there was a reformation process after the war which changed elements of Karate.  Certainly the spread of Karate in countries all over the world has had profound effects on the values being transmitted through this particular body art.  The Karate character has proven very dynamic.  But I think that if an understanding of its origins were more widespread we would see an explosion of new styles, and cooperation between styles.  We would see an opening to character types outside the box!  Comic, crazy, loving, tricky, motherly, vixen, Mormon, etc, etc... Stoner Karate anyone?

One of the reasons I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that I think Buffy was the spontaneous arising of a new American martial arts character role.  Did you know that I teach Buffy Style Kungfu?


Are Martial Arts Taoist?

One of the reasons I started this blog was to answer the question, how can a martial art be Taoist?  Over the six years I’ve been writing I’ve attempted to answer that question. The question actually comes in many different forms.  For instance: Are some martial arts part of Taoism?  How did martial arts influence Taoism? Is there a reason why a Taoist can not practice martial arts?  Are there specific Taoist practices which are embedded in the martial arts?

In this post I will attempt to offer a grand summary of the issue.

First off, let us look at Daoism* on a 3D grid.  John Lagerwey went to Taiwan in the early 1970’s where he became a Daoist priest and wrote a book called, Taoist Ritual in Chinese Society and History, in it he describes Daoist Orthodoxy as a continuity of “view” passing back in time for 2000 years and permeating music, movement, mythology, individual conduct, life, death and social institutions.  At the same time, Michael Saso, and Kristofer Schipper  did the same thing.  They each went to different communities in Taiwan and became Daoist priests and they each wrote books making the same point about Orthodoxy and continuity.  Except the content of those books is actually quite different.  The expression of that “view” in each community was profoundly unique.  In one community the main job of Daoist priests is to perform funerals, and in another community Daoist priests performed many different rituals but were forbidden to perform funerals.  Was Orthodoxy an illusion?

John Lagerwey went on to publish in Chinese, a thirty volume encyclopedic record of the incredible variety of Orthodox Daoist traditions concentrated exclusively among the Hakka ethnic group in Northern Taiwan.  In his most recent book in English, China: A Religious State, “Daoism” is conspicuously left out of the title.  That is because it puts Daoism in a historic context where it played many different roles over a long period of time within a much larger culture of state ritual.  And then in the second half of the book he looks at the role of Daoism in local ritual culture as an ethnologist and finds enormous diversity of expression.  This diversity had elements of continuity like the use of talisman or the Daodejing, but single defining signifiers are almost meaningless because talisman and the Daodejing are not exclusive to Daoism.

So that is the first axis of our 3D grid, call it infinite orthodox diversity.  

Many books and articles on Daoism start out by explaining that the English term “Daoism” doesn’t actually exist in Chinese, that there are three or more terms which are conflated:  Daoshi (official of the Dao), Daojiao (religion of the dao), and Daoren (a person of the Dao).  But these terms are themselves quite mushy.  Daoshi most often means “priest” but it can mean “monk” or “hermit” and in some regions it is more likely to be understood as “traveling magician.”  Daojiao, is mainly used to distinguish other religions like Buddhism, state ritual, or Islam--it seems to have developed as a default category rather than a self-identifier.

Daoren has come to mean a person who tries to live a life consistent with the teachings of Laozi and Zhuangzi, which, because of those book’s centrality in Chinese culture have remained readable and in print for 2300 years.  But Daoren can be used more generally to mean an artist or artisan whose work is modeled on the natural world.  Or even someone who appears to accomplish tasks in an effortless way.  

So that is the next axis of our 3D grid, the infinite influence of the Laozi and Zhuangzi spreading out into every aspect of “normal” peoples lives.  We’ll call it the Daoren axis.

The third axis of our grid is equally difficult to pin down, it concerns the identity of the practitioner.  Because of things like political intrigue and ethnic conflict, at various points in history, people practicing Daoism suddenly decided to start calling what they do Buddhism.  And likewise various sorts of shaman, trance-mediums or Buddhists decided to call themselves Daoists.  

The same goes for magicians, hermits, poets, artists, performers, and urban eccentrics, sometimes they decided to call themselves Daoist when they really weren’t, and other times they decided to hide the fact that they were Daoist by calling themselves something else.  So this category is all the different ways one can be a Daoist, including the better known categories of priests, hermits, and monastics, but also including poets (the most famous poet in Chinese history Li Po, was a Daoist initiate), performers and the super unique like urban-hermit-insect-eating-exorcists.    

As you can see, Daoist 3D space is a little bent.  With one end of the Daoren axis meeting up with the identity of practitioner axis.  And just to show how outside the box one needs to be to even have this discussion, our 3D grid actually has a 4th axis!  A fourth dimension we will call the Methods axis.

At one time I would have simply defined methods as either orthodox or unorthodox, with the orthodox methods being zouwang (sitting and forgetting), jindan (the elixir practice), ritual/liturgy, dream practice, and daoyin (exploring the outer limits of movement and stillness); with the unorthodox encompassing all other methods. But now I’m more likely to avoid the orthodox category and think in terms of the transmission or discovery of daoist “view.”  I want to avoid sounding cryptic so let me offer some examples.  Someone who practices Buddhist meditation can discover the kinesthetic experience of stillness being infinitely and constantly available everywhere.  A person practicing the zouwang method of sitting could just as likely not have that experience.  The transmission of the experience from teacher to student also does not guarantee that the student has the experience.  Even the experience itself does not guarantee that it will be valued or cultivated in different contexts.  

So this 4th axis is made up of any method which attempts to transmit or accidentally transmits daoist “view.”  This axis is also infinite and simply bends down as the ‘view’ within the method becomes more defuse.  Take for example this website explaining daoist talisman.  Go ahead and read about the talisman which attracts beautiful women to you.  It transmits Daoist “view” in a sneaky way.  While most young men want to have the power to attract women to them, this talisman works in the opposite way, it gives the power to the women to see you as attractive.  All you have to do is wear the talisman and wait.  It doesn’t require any male assertive action.  You don’t even have to believe in it!  If you see a beautiful woman you can just stop and see if it works.  No crude one liners, no posturing, you don’t need to offer to buy her a drink, nothing.  Just wait and see what happens!  This talisman tricks guys into not doing!  Also known as wuwei or non-aggression, the most central of all daoist precepts.  


Alright, now that we have a 3D grid for Daoism, let's make a grid for martial arts. On the first axis we have all the possible reasons and ways someone might optimize training the skill of fighting.  This axis includes dueling, banditry, militia, assistants of the courts (police, bailiff, guard etc..), body guard, crop guarding, home defense, child self-defense, rebellion, military weapons, drilling with gong and drum, competitions, merchant escort services, etc... 

The second axis of the martial arts grid is all the ways we can optimize training for performance, display and ritual.  Think everything from staged fights, to martial opera, to exorcism, to games, to militia displays, to self-mortification performances, to shows put on for the gods, to trance possession by fighting gods.

The third axis of the martial arts grid is self-cultivation.  This includes all types of personal ritual, the most common being health, fitness and prowess.  But it also includes practices for the purpose of instilling virtue, naturalness, kindness, or any of the darker types of attributes like cruelty, invincibility, or to see the future.  This particular axis can easily be applied directly to daoism because it can incorporate daoists methods or daoist precepts.  For example here are the Xiang’er Daoist precepts from the 200 CE:

Lack falseness or pretense (be honest)

Cultivate weakness and flexibility

Practice being like the feminine

Do not seek fame

Participate in meritorious actions

Cultivate clarity and stillness

Cultivate emptiness and desirelessness

Practice stopping when a thing is complete

Discover wuwei, yield to others

Any activity, including martial arts, can be practiced to express or nurture one or all of these precepts.  Would that make a martial art daoist?  Hold on, you don’t need to answer that question, we’ll get to it in a minute.  But consider here that if following these precepts were the only measure of whether or not a martial artist is Daoist, then not many martial artist would fit the bill.  


So now we have a 4 dimensional grid encompassing Daoism, and a 3 dimensional grid encompassing martial arts.  All we have to do is put them together and see what lights up!  Wherever there is an overlap we have a magical confluence of Daoism and Martial Arts!  

We can also look at the spots that don’t light up, like Daoist priests that have specifically taken a precept to never practice martial arts.  Or women who read the Daodejing and like to knit.  Or hermits who never leave their cave. Oh, but we have a problem there.  See there are hermit practices of internal ritual alchemy that involve kinesthetically visualizing demon troops doing battle, or martial deities dancing with a sword.  

See the academic question we posed, “Is a given martial art Daoist?” is tied up in answering questions of authenticity and authority.  So take note if you are academically inclined, I have just answered all the questions about authenticity and authority for the general case of the question.  It is one gigantic infinite multi-dimensional light show.  Now the question remains, how do we deal with authenticity and authority in any individual or particular case?


My own experience is that the apophatic kinesthetic revelations of practicing daoyin are totally integrated into my martial arts practice, both internal (Tai Chi, xinyi, bagua) and external (Northern Shaolin, Lanshou).  Then again, integration is the name of the game.  Jindan, the differentiation of jing, qi and shen in stillness is practiced inside of zouwang, sitting and forgetting, and daoyin.  The words of the Daodejing are the source of Daoist precepts, years of chanting them has embedded them in my movement and my dreams.  It is as if the sacred texts of Daoism are written on my bones.  

The ritual practice of visualizing a deity and his attributes before me, and then floating him up and around and then inside of me, and then moving him to a specific location in my body and then inviting him into action while leaving emptiness behind--this practice is to me the same as practicing taijiquan or baguazhang or xinyiquan.  The visualization part of the method itself is not essential, but the changes in perception are how the internal martial arts function.  There is an order of action.  A procession of jing, qi and shen.  

Even the external arts, when practiced as empty forms, are identical to the effortless intrinsic tonifying structural flow of daoyin.

This is true whether the art is "identified" as a Muslim art, like Liuhe Xinyiquan, or a Buddhist art, like Shaolin Quan

Another way one could ask the question is, can martial arts have daoist fruition?  Does practice result in spontaneity (ziran)? effortlessness? healing? a return to baby-like simplicity? potency? awareness? 

Lastly, as a teacher looking at what I teach, if I am encouraging students to hold a specific type of intent or intention then I am teaching trance, not wuwei.  Likewise, if I am teaching students to assert themselves or improve themselves, then I am teaching pretense; not things as they actually are, not the discovery of constant virtue (daode). 


*Note: I inelegantly use Taoism in the title and in the first paragraph to be searchable on Google and then I use Daoism in the rest of the article to be consistent with contemporary scholarly standards.  


Stating the obvious.

There are three basic types of temples in Taiwan (Excluding explicitly Buddhist Monasteries, Christian Churches, and Muslim Mosques).
The first are female quasi-Buddhist temples (because Buddhism is associated with compassion and these deities are all compassionate).  The big ones are Matzu and Guanyin.  Matzu it the biggest single god cult in Taiwan.
The second type are Wen temples.  Wen means culture or literature, and by implication also means political office.  These includes Rua (Confucian Temples) and altars to Wenzi, Wen Chang, Wen ...etc....  People make sacrifices here when they want to do well on tests, and when they want a promotion (based on merit?), and perhaps when they have to confront corruption (I made that up, but it’s logical).
The third category of temples are those dedicated to Martial Gods.  These temples are by far the most numerous and probably the most diverse. These temples are absolutely covered floor to ceiling with elaborate carvings and images of fighters and battles legends and weapons.

But actually, Matzu and Guanyin always have fierce protectors with weapons around them, even if they aren’t on every wall.  And Wen Chang is always flanked by military figures too.

So here is the obvious: Martial arts is the religion of Chinese people. That wasn't obvious to me before visiting Taiwan.

God of Accounting! God of Accounting!

Back in San Francisco, most Chinese businesses have a statue of Guangong on an altar up high in the back of their stores, with offerings of incense and fruit.  He wears armor and carries a halbred, he has a red face and usually his liver is somewhat protruding to show his fierceness.

In Taiwan I learned that he is the god of accounting! The story goes that general Cao Cao (a very important figure in the spread of early Daoism) imprisoned General Guangong for a time.  During that time in prison, Guangong kept precise records of how much food he was given and upon his release he paid it back in full!   Thus, he is watching over the shop to make sure all transactions are accounted for!

For years I've been asking what this guy stands for, so just because I finally got a good answer, should not imply that your average shop keeper is going on the same information.  After all, martial gods are simply good for business.

On the floor of a business there is usually a smaller altar to Tudi, the god of the Earth, who is thought to be the first lease holder of any given business, thus some of his merit has accumulated on the spot.  It's kind of like if, a long time ago, there was a famous shop where your shop is today and perhaps someone (dead?) might come looking for their favorite (noodle? trinket?) shop--you could have some commemoration of that handy for them.  And hopefully still get their business.


In Tainan I saw a Tangki (Mandarin: Jitong) at the Tian Tan Gong (Alter to Heaven Temple).  He was wearing shoes, and all yellow cotton clothing.  He was doing a treatment/exorcism on a man in a wheel chair whose legs looked a little swollen, they both looked to be in their late 40’s.  They were directly in front of the gods, in the center of the temple in a small space between a giant incense burning and an altar table.  For the Tangki to dance around the man he had to wheel himself forward and backwards about a foot, which kept him involved while he sat there.

I don’t know what God was possessing the Tangki, or even if he was possessed, perhaps not, or only a little bit (I did not see him “fall” out of trance at the end).  He did a martial arts like dance holding a bunch of incense in one hand.  It was already going when I entered the temple and continued for about 10 minutes.  Using the incense, at times he appeared to be writing Chinese characters in the air around the body of the guy in the wheelchair while making sword fingers with the other hand.  Sometimes he held a posture while pointing his sword fingers at his own abdomen.  Sometimes he touched the man, at one point he pushed vigorously on the back of his head.  He shook and did fajing (explosive power release) a lot.  His breathing was somewhat erratic and audible.

Toward the end, the Tangki had someone bring him a paper cup of something, probably water, and he pointed  at it (concentrating his qi into it?) and danced with it for a while before giving it to the guy and having him spill it and spread it around on his legs.

When he was done he went over to the side and sat down on a bench, he was pouring sweat.  Then the guy in the wheelchair jumped up and started dancing.  Just kidding.  During the ritual I talked to one of several people who were watching, a young man who seemed upset and said the man in the wheelchair was his uncle.

There are many similarities between the Qigong master I saw the other night and the Tangki.  Both are self taught.  Both are called.  Both discover their gift.  Both poke and prod.  Both are doing mysterious healing on someone else.  I believe Tangki’s will accept trivial donations of money, but they essentially, accept a life of poverty along with the job/role of being Tangki, they both express the importance of keeping money out of the ritual.

Frankly, the gongfu performance I saw in the park the morning in between the two had some similarities to the Tangki exorcism too.  The dancing around in martial postures, the importance given to breathing, and the fajing.

The blended ritual I saw is not in these two videos, but a lot of other Tangki stuff is, and Youtube is amazing:

Also, to continue with my stating the obvious jag; There is an enormous wealth of video about Chinese ritual on youtube or google video search if you use Chinese Characters. ?? (Tangki)

Burning Money

The word-processing icon on my laptop is a pen with a cup of coffee.  Do you really think the archaeologists and historians are going to be able to figure that one out in 800 years?

In many ways my project is about stating the obvious.  Obvious to me that is.  Unfortunately what is obvious to me is sometimes my imagination.  And sometimes, it’s just hard to know.

In my first week here, late at night across the street form my hostel, I saw a group of well dressed women standing out on the sidewalk burning large amounts of hell money in a big metal burner that looked a bit like a burned out trash can with holes.  I asked what was going on and a woman said, “ We are burning money so that we will do well in business, we always do this at the end of the day.  We want to make a lot of money!”  I noticed that their business was a beauty parlor.

I thought to myself, they are ritually and symbolically paying off emotional “debts” they have accumulated from dealing all day with people who vainly wish they looked better that they do.  That night I saw a few other small groups of people burning stuff in front of their businesses, and evidence of many others.

I brought this up with a local in Kaohsiung and she said, “No, no, they don’t do it all the time, only on the new moon and the full moon.”  “Why are they doing it,” I asked.  “Every business does it.”  “Really?”  “Yes,they do it twice a month at the end of the work day, and they put out offerings on a table too.”

So I had to throw out my perfectly elegant theory about emotional baggage and vanity, and look for another one.  I theorized that this was some kind of deception meant to take place in the unseen world, in hell perhaps, where it would appear that the business was loosing money hand over fist.  Demonic forces hate commerce and are trying to destroy successful businesses using underworld bureaucratic tyranny at every chance they get; however, when they see that this business is already losing money, they don’t bother with it.

Alternately we could see this ritual as paying bribes to smooth the business through that bureaucratic hell realm; or as extortion payments, again with the goal of getting local demon elites off your back.

This created several questions.  What do 24 hour stores like 7/11 do?  Do foreign owned operations like Starbucks also burn hell money?  Since I’m not in Kaohsiung anymore I don’t know if my informant was correct about what happens there, but here in Taipei only about 15% of businesses are visibly participating in the New moon ritual.  7/11 and Starbucks did not put on a show.  Still 15% means there are altar tables on every block.  The increase in smog may effect the ability of demons to see and breathe.

(How come Youtube doesn't have a Business or a Religion category?  I filed this under "How To.")

Professor Yeh met with me again last night along with one of his graduate students in anthropology, Yves  from Holland.  Yeh seemed stunned by my knowledge of Daoism, even though he disagreed with half of what I said.   During dinner he started badgering me to explain the mechanism by which talisman are efficacious.  After that he had me work on the translations into English of the museum’s Daoist artifacts.

So, if burning hell money twice a month is good for business, what is the mechanism?  Perhaps it is somehow linked to cleaning? or accounting? or community expectations of what a good business does?  Perhaps it is like moon rituals of an earlier era in which everyone participated in the public renewal of precepts and commitments.  I think this is likely.  Standing around a pot of burning money with your business colleges must imprint the metaphor in language and image.  If you don’t do your part and consistently look for ways to improve the business, you will find yourself staring into a pot of burning money (real money this time).

What do you think?

Between Theorizing and Storytelling

I've got 45 Million blogs to write and only a limited amount of time.

I'm in Tainan, which is the old capital of Taiwan, meaning it was a place of early settlement. I get the sense that governance was not universal until about halfway into the Japanese occupation, say 1920.

My first night here I met up with a friend of Professor Hsieh named Sharon Lee, who generously offered to translate for me.  We went to Luzhu to meet a Qigong master who was treating people for free at a steel bolt factory.  Sharon is getting regular treatments from him.  I watched him treat several people with a minute long vigorous painful massage which was heavy on the vibratory poking side of things.  We then sat in an office and drank tea for over an hour.  The tea was good.  I got to ask a lot of questions, but there were about 10 people in the room and most of them were asking questions too.

If I got the story right, he did begin studying with a Daoist teacher in the forest but he then went on to do his own practice which is a sitting still practice of some sort.  At a certain point he realized he could heal people and so naturally he started studying Buddhism as that is the biggest cult here which has a doctrine of compassion that involves fixing/curing people.

However, he side stepped Buddhism too, after realized that he found it impossible to memorize Sutras.  At some point after he had been treating people he looked into Chinese Herbal medicine and found it easy to understand.  He soon began writing long herbal prescriptions.  Interestingly he doesn't actually write the prescriptions himself, he channels Yao Wang (Medicine King) a Tang Dynasty God who does the prescriptions for him.

A Standard "Nuggie"

But besides this, he said no gods are involved in his healing ceremonies.  He is a vegetarian and encourages others to be also, he often tells people to skip dinner, and he does not allow payment for healings.  He does drive a fancy German car however, so he has some big donors.  While he says he can not teach what he does, he holds ceremonies for an inner circle at his home, which has some sort of altar.  At these ceremonies he has other people read the Heart Sutra.

He said I have a kidney problem which is manifesting in my chest.  He is clearly from what I would call the "Structure School" of Chinese medicine.  I don't know if he thought my problem was acute or chronic, but that's how he operates.  The heat in Southern Taiwan undoubtedly has given me an acute kidney problem, but I recover instantly in the presence of air conditioning, which by the way he says is bad for everyone's health.  He didn't give me a full one minute treatment, I got only the 15 second version on my sternum, but that was three days ago and I can still feel it.  Last time I had a treatment like this I think I was 13.  Back then we called in a chest "nuggie."

My long time readers know that I call this kind of guy a Qi Jock, and I'm generally not impressed.  But as a student of religion I think he has an interesting take on what a body is.  He refused to be pinned down on any definitions of things like jing, qi and shen.  He does have the idea that in stillness jing and qi differentiate and that leads to an extraordinary type of freedom.  I think he is fulfilling a real need in people's lives.

The orthodox Daoist in me says don't get in the way of other people subordinating themselves with the idea that they need extraordinary powers of healing.  I can make this point very simple.  At the end of the day, after violating the most basic of Daoist precepts--"don't waste jing and qi"--a person wants to give in to something.  Some people rent "Die Hard 3" and fantasize about being Bruce Willis, others go and get a Qigong treatment.  Which is more effective is a question of perspective and circumstance.

UPDATE: I must have temporarily blocked this out. In addition to saying I had a kidney problem he said, "Ni shi tai peng." (You're too fat.)

Walking into the Wilderness

If your feet are completely relaxed, you are on a precarious mountain path, and you are walking slowly because you are weak and need to conserve energy, I think your walking would look a lot like bagua mud stepping. When I am bagua mud stepping I often feel as if I'm walking forwards at the same time as I am walking backwards. As if I were making no muscular progress, in some sense, traveling without going anywhere.
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