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

Clarity & Stillness Scripture (Qīng Jīng Jīng, 清靜經)


Laozi says:

The great Dao is without form
it gives birth and nurtures Heaven & Earth

The great Dao is without feelings
it moves and guides the sun & moon

The great Dao is without name
it raises and nourishes the ten-thousand beings

I do not know its name
forced to name it, call it Dao

Within the Dao
there is clarity, there is obscurity

Within the Dao
there is movement, there is stillness

Heaven is clarity, Earth is obscurity
Heaven is movement, Earth is stillness

Male is clarity, female is obscurity
male is movement, female is stillness

Descending from the beginning, flowing toward the end
the ten-thousand beings are born

Clarity is the source of obscurity
movement is the root of stillness

If we can be constantly clear & still
Heaven & Earth completely return


The human spirit tends toward clarity
but emotions disturb it

The human heart-mind tends toward stillness
but desires tether it

If we can constantly banish desires
then the heart-mind will become still naturally

If we can clear & still the heart-mind
then the spirit will become clear naturally

 The Six Desires will not arise
the Three Poisons will be destroyed

Whoever cannot accomplish this
has not yet cleared & stilled the heart-mind
has not yet banished desires

If we can banish desires
internally observing the heart-mind
there is no heart-mind

Externally observing form
there is no form

Remotely observing things
there are no things

When we awaken to these three
only then do we perceive emptiness


Observing emptiness with emptiness
emptiness is actually not empty

Emptiness does not actually exist
it is not nothing, yet it is nothing

It is both not nothing and nothing
these deep waters are constantly silent

When silence is actually not silence
how can desires arise?

When desires do not arise
this is true stillness

True stillness yields to things
true constancy attains true nature

Constantly yielding, constantly still
this is constant clarity, constant stillness


With such clarity & stillness
we gradually enter the true Dao

When we enter the true Dao
this is called attaining the Dao

Although this is called attaining the Dao
actually there is nothing to attain

Serving to transform all living things
this is called attaining the Dao

Those who can awaken to this
can transmit the sacred Dao


Laozi says:

The superior adept does not contend
the inferior adept tends to contend

Superior De is not De
inferior De grasps De

Those who hold attachments
are not imbued with Dao-De

All living things do not attain the true Dao
because they have deviant heart-minds

 When the heart-mind is deviant
then we startle the spirit

When we startle the spirit
then we cling to the ten-thousand things

When we cling to the ten-thousand things
then we generate craving and seeking

When we generate craving and seeking
then we have troubles and frustrations

Troubles, frustrations, deviations, and aspirations
cause anxiety and suffering in body & heart-mind


Then we meet with obscurity & defilement
drifting on the waves of life & death

Constantly drowning in the ocean of suffering
forever losing the true Dao

The Dao of true constancy
those who awaken to it will attain our true self

Attaining and awakening to the Dao
we have constant clarity & stillness

Translation by Nameless Stream (無名川)

Related: Clear & Calm: A Look at “Qing-Jing”