Zuowang (坐忘) – Sitting & Forgetting

Zuo-Wang_Nameless-Stream

The central practice method of wuweidao is sitting quietly and simply abiding in things-as-they-are.  This practice has been given many names throughout history, and different traditions have approached it in different ways.  Our tradition refers to it as Zuowang – Sitting & Forgetting.  This term comes from the Zhuangzi, which says: “Dropping the body and dismissing concepts, leaving appearance and removing knowledge, merging with the Great Pervasion – this I call sitting & forgetting.”  My teacher learned this method from a Daoist hermit who had been on retreat in a cave in northern Taiwan for 20 years.

The practice consists of a view and a method – the view of Zuowang as practiced in Laozi’s tradition is distinctly different from alchemical practices geared to bring about refinement and transformation.  It’s also quite different from magical practices that manipulate qi to improve auspices.  It doesn’t conflict with these practices – and in fact is often practiced in conjunction with them – yet it stands alone as something disengaged from aspirational pursuits.  Wuweidao isn’t about producing some exalted state – it’s simply relaxing into our natural condition, uncontrived by effort and intention.

Laozi’s revelation is that our nature and Nature itself are inseparable, so the method of Zuowang is not about refining ourselves into something better but appreciating our nature as we actually are.  This is why we sometimes refer to it as “Sudden-School Daoism” – a term borrowed from Chan/Zen Buddhism.  We view Laozi’s Dao De Jing as an instruction manual for how to abide in our natural condition.  But as my teacher said, the text is intended to spark conversation between teacher & student during personal transmission, as it needs to be “opened up” by an adept of the practice.

In the Tang Dynasty, as Buddhism came over the Himalayas and brushed up against Daoism, some keen-eyed monks recognized a resonance between Zuowang and the teachings of Buddha – in particular the Diamond and Heart sutras – and Chan (Zen) was born.  In particular, the Caodong Chan tradition, and later the Soto Zen tradition in Japan, took the mantle of this non-conceptual meditation, placed it into the Buddhist worldview, and carried it forward as the central method for Buddhist awakening.  Zuowang as practiced within Daoism seems to have taken on an aspirational quality at this time – as Daoists came to more concretely articulate their goals and distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary experience, Zuowang was increasingly viewed as a tool for accessing the Dao or attaining immortality, as evidenced in gradual-entry texts such as the Zuowang Lun.  Fundamentally however, according to our tradition, Zuowang isn’t geared around any such agenda, as Laozi doesn’t presume that we’ve lost anything that we need to recover.  Actually, sitting without any agenda is precisely what Zuowang is in its pure sense – simply a platform for appreciating our nature, which Laozi refers to as Dao-De.

Let’s look at the Chinese characters.

Zuo (坐) means “sit”.  The character shows people on soil.  Soil is the element or qi-phase of central equilibrium, so we can say this posture relates to Laozi’s “holding center” in Dao De Jing Chapter 5.  The idea of sitting is not only a physical posture but a qi-posture of letting movement settle into stillness. “Letting mud settle” brings the qi in and provides a stable base for natural qi circulation and – indeed – natural alchemy to arise.

Wang (忘) means “forget”.  The character shows the head & heart hiding, or the heart-mind perishing, so the idea is letting the heart-mind calm down, relaxing the qi down to the base and disengaging from thoughts & emotions.  The term suggests effortless emptying, it’s not really an active technique – thus the practice embodies wuwei.

The Zuowang method in our tradition includes several precise facets that allow the practice to unfold in an easy and natural manner.  I am not inclined to publish them at this time, as I prefer to share them in person.  It is my wish to share this practice with like-minded adepts.  If this practice appeals to you, check out Bamboo Grove, our wuweidao cultivation group.  If you would like an introduction to this practice, or if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

You can download a free introductory talk on Zuowang by my teacher, Liu Wen Ming, at:  https://www.dayuancircle.org/zuowang-introduction/, and you can purchase his invaluable translation & commentary on the Dao De Jing at: https://www.dayuancircle.org/observing-wuwei/.