Lineage is very important in Chinese Daoism. My “wuweidao” lineage teacher told me however that as I came to occupy the space that he handed down I would find myself less and less affiliated with any particular sect – simply open, undefined, belonging nowhere (無所). As I become more comfortable abiding in the space that he shared, I come to understand what he meant.
Wuweidao doesn’t give us any job to do or goal to achieve. We’re not climbing a path up to some mountain peak but simply occupying the space we’re in – the true space we’re actually in. This space doesn’t have any characteristics. It’s neither Chinese nor Western. Neither driven nor accomplished. It has no forms or traditions. Anything we attribute to it is wrong.
In Dao De Jing Chapter 56, Laozi says: “Cannot embrace, cannot neglect, cannot help, cannot harm, cannot exalt, cannot debase.” This is sublime, high-level teaching that slips through the fingers of practices that seek to embrace, nourish, or exalt our condition.
Bodhidharma likewise said: “It has never lived or died, appeared or disappeared, increased or decreased. It’s not pure or impure, good or evil, past or future. It’s not true or false. It’s not male or female. It doesn’t appear as a monk or a layman, an elder or a novice, a sage or a fool, a buddha or a mortal. It strives for no realization and suffers no karma. It has no strength or form. It’s like space. You can’t possess it and you can’t lose it.” (tr. Red Pine).
The space that Laozi & Bodhidharma occupy is the basis of our Daoism. Our lineage is simply sharing the continuous presence of this space. How do we do that?
Rat stirring in the dead of winter
Horse nickering in the heat of summer
My Daoist teacher introduced me to the non-conceptual space that has always been here, regardless of my aims, skills, emotions, or ideas. He didn’t give me any new aims or skills or ideas.
He used the Dao De Jing as a vehicle for transmitting the teaching, but what he was transmitting was not really captured in the words of the text in the way a scholar might look for understanding.
It was a wordless teaching, free of any dogma– although there was a requirement for daily practice to participate in his group, beyond this threshold of showing up, there was no “should” and no “must”.
“Laozi’s teaching isn’t about how we should be, it’s how we actually are.” His students always left his home silent and calm, with a full belly and no desires. No pressure and no spiritual aspirations.
Such fertile ground.
If we had to express the view-teaching of our practice as pithily as possible, we could probably just say “as we are”.
The Chinese character ziran (自然) translates as “self-so”, meaning naturally so of itself, not the product of some contrived effort or intention. Dao is self-so. For the purposes of this article, let’s translate ziran as “as we are”.
Our Daoism is not based on the concept of original sin or a fall from grace or even the idea that we need to grow and develop our inborn potential or transform ourselves into some kind of immortal being. Maybe we lose our way from time-to-time, and maybe we’d like to grow – OK, but how to get it back, and how to find our appropriate process of growth? Laozi’s essential message is to leave things as they are and to leave ourselves as we are.
Not to fixate on conditions, mind you – conditions are always changing. Things as they are means things as they go. Natural process – not our idea about how the process should go.
This view does not inspire us to reach for spiritual heights. No. It inspires us to relax spiritual aspirations. Yes.
If we take this view into our formal practice & informal conduct – whoa! what a significant shift takes place in our experience. Somehow it transforms us thoroughly.
My teacher said, “the qi comes back home”. What may have been entangled in some aspirational fantasy simply comes back into the central channel.
When we abide in this manner, regularly over a period of time, not only does the qi become more and more calm and more and more clear, it takes on a different quality. My goodness, it becomes fine and sweet.
In our tradition, view is the most important thing. We don’t want to be “methodistas”. But we do each need to put together a practice routine comprised of a suite of methods. These may or may not be “Daoist” in nature. How could that possibly matter? But forms are really helpful vessels for applying the practice.
So, whatever our suite of formal practice methods, and whatever comes up in the informal conduct of daily life, our practice is to leave things as they are, leave ourselves as we are, keeping the qi at home as the myriad phenomena continuously shift and transform – practice like this, and the ground of what we really are just may open up beneath our feet.