Daoist Learning (dàoxué, 道學)


This essay is a transcription of a recorded talk from our Wuweidao Cultivation Group; you can listen to the talk here:

Daoist Learning

This is Jacob Newell of Old Oak School of Dao, and I want to say something about Daoist learning.

Dao De Jing Chapter 48 says, “In learning daily accumulate.  In Dao, daily diminish.  Diminish & again diminish – that’s wuwei”.

So, when we enter the path of Daoist practice, in the beginning maybe we don’t know too much (or maybe we do know too much), but there’s a broad array of information and practices – protocols – that are part of the Daoist tradition.  If we are not careful, we will approach our path as a Daoist practitioner from a largely accumulative view.

Laozi, the pith teaching of wuweidao, clearly says Dao is not at the end of a path of learning.  So this teaching should moderate our appetite and the kind of aggressive, compulsive, aspirational acquisition of information about Daoist concepts and Daoist practice methods.  That’s a scholar’s path – that’s a scholar’s path, it’s a different direction from Dao, according to Laozi.

Laozi does not say don’t study, don’t learn, don’t grow, don’t develop.  He does, however, say that is one direction, and Dao is the opposite direction.  So, diminish & again diminish.  We should also understand that this diminishing direction, sometimes called alchemy (learning is what my teacher sometimes called chemistry – generation, moving in one direction, alchemy is moving in reverse) so, diminishing is removing something – we say forgetting.

Zuowang is our formal practice method.  It means to sit & forget – not to practice techniques, not to engage concepts – just forget.  So simple, non-accumulative – it is diminutive.  But Laozi goes on to say, “diminish & then diminish again” – so diminish even diminishing.  So this is where Laozi reveals what we call “sudden-path”.  So our practice of forgetting is letting go of concepts, letting go of methods, and this letting go, releasing – there’s a gradual aspect to it – a qi-aspect that takes time to release and grow and stabilize.  But Laozi moderates that view as well.  Diminish & then diminish diminishing.

So also relaxing this idea that Dao is hidden away behind all of the stuff that we have accumulated.  So, his teaching is kind of multi-dimensional here, so in one respect he certainly says, yes we need to release and let go – we already have too much.  But then he goes farther and says this does not mean that we need to get rid of everything, and at the end of that process then we will arrive.  Actually, all of this stuff that we have accumulated is not really – not in fact obstructing anything.  If we open up into this field – we call Dao – then all this stuff is just like content in a wide-open field.

So the path of learning is, “give me more content, give me more content, give me more content.”  We should not be lazy learners – we should be driven, even some aggression is okay in learning.  Organized, consistent, persistent.  Learn, learn, learn.  But in this sitting practice it is “relaxing learning, relaxing learning, relaxing learning, relaxing learning.”  Both of those have a qi-direction, right?  Accumulative & diminutive.  But this diminutive path of Daoist meditation – we call it method – again, it opens this field which is actually neither generative nor alchemical, neither accumulative nor diminutive – it is constant.  Constant.  This is the way Laozi describes Dao – as constancy.  Unbroken, uninterrupted presence.  This field is the context in which we appear & disappear, grow & decline.  It is not a fruit of learning.

– Transcribed by Joshua Laurenzi

Zuowang as Refuge


This talk looks at the practice of Daoist meditation in the context of living in affliction.  The religious movement of Orthodox Daoism founded in the Han Dynasty recognized that the era of high antiquity was long-gone, so “Chinese Daoism” arose as a practice to rectify humankind and purify polluted spiritual dimensions.  Centuries later, Buddhism influenced Daoism in its concern for human suffering, and Daoist tradition further embraced the idea of practice as refuge.  Although we can perhaps relate to such a view, this talk presents an older view of meditation not based on the need to solve any fundamental problem.  A glimpse into our approach to Zuowang.

Zuowang as Refuge