Did you know that the first “religious” Daoist community came up with a list of nine principles that summarize the entire Dao De Jing?
In the year 142 C.E., a certain Zhang Dao Ling had a vision of Laozi and subsequently established the Tianshi Daoist tradition – the Way of Celestial Mastery. Attributed to him is a text called the Xiang-Er (想爾), which I like to translate as “missing you”. In addition to a commentary on DDJ chapters 3-37, as well as numerous rules for Tianshi adepts, the text includes 9 mandates that distill Laozi’s key teaching points to guide adepts into Laozi’s fruition. As such, they contain essential guidance for how to comport ourselves in formal meditation & qi-cultivation, as well as in informal conduct (daily life).
According to orthodox Daoism, the mandates are guidelines for how we conduct ourselves when we are fully in touch with our nature. They are, importantly, not a list of moral rules or commandments that we impose upon ourselves – they are simply the way we actually are. If we find ourselves out of touch with our nature (“missing you”), these mandates help to bring us back.
My teacher said “if this was all you had, it would be enough.” In our school, we use these mandates as precepts and recite them in our daily ritual practice. We also have unpublished commentaries about what each of these mandates mean with regard to meditation & qi-cultivation. But it’s not really enough just to read the mandates or a commentary – they are intended to trigger an exchange between teacher & disciple that in turn triggers a process within.
I’m a little hesitant to post them without a personal discussion – these translations are provisional and need to be unpacked in the context of formal practice, but they are published in different translations anyway so here they are:
Remain soft & weak (róuruò, 柔弱)
Preserve the feminine, do not initiate activity (shǒucí wùxiāndòng, 守雌勿先动)
Remain nameless (wúmíng, 無名)
Function with competence & benevolence (zhūshàn, 诸善)
Relinquish desire (wúyù, 無欲)
Cease with sufficiency (zhīzhǐ shīrènwéi, 知止师认为)
Relax aggression (tuīràng, 推让)
With gratitude to Zhang Dao Ling. Let’s keep his teaching alive.