Sudden-School Daoism

Today I want to talk about “sudden-school” Daoism.  I’m not sure this term has been used before so maybe I’m coining it now.  But historically there was a lot of debate in Buddhist circles, particularly Chinese Zen (Chan), about whether awakening was a gradual process or a sudden event.  In the end, the sudden-school won out, and gradual-schools were deemed lesser, incomplete paths.

Daoism is a little different.  We must not deny the role of gradual progress.  Laozi observed that a large tree starts as a tiny sapling.  If we are undertaking qi-cultivation of any kind, be it Taijiquan, calligraphy, or Daoist ritual practice, there is a lot to learn, and there is absolutely no such thing as suddenly mastering such arts.  Qi doesn’t work that way – it grows gradually.

However, we have options in how we view this growth.  If we are looking for some grand award or release when we compete our development, then in fact we are practicing a lesser, incomplete path.  I would call it a dualistic path because we’re distinguishing between our present “lesser, incomplete” condition and a desired, refined condition.

Another option is to view our practice not as a means toward an end but a way to engage and express the ever-present Dao.  This shift in view puts everything in a different perspective, and indeed it is sudden, not a gradual shift.  It’s not really something we can work toward – it’s not like we need to do a bunch of gradual practice before our view can open up.  No.  Let’s view our nature as it is right now.  Your next move expresses the ever-present Dao.

This shift isn’t really a grand event, it’s more like “oh, yeah, that’s right” – and suddenly now we’re engaging everything in a totally different manner.  Let’s proceed to engage our practice methods so they can gradually bear fruit.  But let’s not burden the sapling with the false view that it is incomplete and will only realize its nature once it touches the sky.  It’s already touching the sky.  Let its growth be a gradual expression of the ever-present Dao.

Welcome to “sudden-school” Daoism.