May 31 2012

The Tao I’m Speaking of, is not the Real Tao, by Default

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Taoism is probably my favourite Asian religion / philosophy.

I’m not going to go too far into explaining the ideas behind Taoism, because there are 150 million resources about it online, I’m sure. When I first studied Taoism in college, I’d learned that there were two forms of Taoism: Religious, and Philosophical. These seemed to follow the usual exoteric/esoteric split. Taoism as philosophy, and way of living, versus Taoism as religion, with the usual gods, hopping vampires, marauding ghosts, rituals, and traditions.

Personally, I’d considered myself a Philosophical Taoist, though I have to admit that rituals, kung fu, and methods of combatting hopping vampires in an entire genre of Hong Kong action flicks really looked cool.

What I hadn’t been taught, was that there was a third form of Taoism, which for lack of a better term, I will call “Alchemical Taoism”. This is more of an occult form of Taoism, and is intriguing in its own right. The other thing I hadn’t been taught before, was the extent to which the three forms intertwine with each other.

Philosophical Taoism (efficient power):

goes a little somethin’ like this.

It is relatively unorganized. It is reflective. It has “active” vitalizing programs, but they’re about as formalized as the concept of “physical fitness.” Its similar to self-help programs, involves teachers, but they act more as coaches, than “masters”. It tries to conserve te (power), by expending it efficiently. Its an attitude towards life. Of all the forms, its the most “exportable”, and has the most to say to the world at large. Mostly associated with the teachings of Lao-Tzu, and Chuang-Tzu, and the teachings of the Tao Te Ching.

“To live wisely, is to live life in a way that conserves life’s vitality by not expending it in useless, draining ways, the chief of which are friction and conflict.”

Philosophical Taoism also touches on the concept of wu wei, which literally translates to “inaction”, but in a Taoist sense is “pure effectiveness”. More on wu wei in a bit.

Alchemical Taoism (augmented power):

Not content with mere conservation and managing their allotments of the Tao, the Alchemical Taoists sought to increase the Tao.

In accounting terms, the Philosophical Taoists wanted to cut expenses, the Alchemical Taoists wanted to increase gross profits.

This is where the idea of ch’i comes into play.

ch’i literally means “breath”. In Taoist terms, it is “vital energy”. It is used to refer to the power of the Tao that is experienced coursing through us, or not coursing through us, if there is a blockage.

To maximize ch’i, the Alchemical Taoists used three approaches:

  • Matter: They tried to eat everything, basically. They wanted to see if ch’i could be augmented nutritionally. Inadvertantly, they managed to develop an amazing pharmacopia of medicinal herbs, but this was incidental. They weren’t interested in a cure, they were interested in an increase and extension of life force, hoping to find an “elixir of life”, and immortality. They also experimented with sex, including semen retention. By diverting their semen back into their own bodies, they thought they could absorb their partner’s female yin, without the loss of their male yang. There were also breathing exercises, as well.
  • Movementt’ai chi chuan gathered together calisthenics, dance, meditation, yin/yang philosophy and martial art into a synthesis that sought to draw ch’i from the cosmos and dissolve blocks to its internal flow. Accupuncture also sought to dislodge blocks to internal flow of ch’i, as well.
  • Mind: Meditative practices, shutting out distractions and emptying mind to where the Tao might bypass bodily filters and enter the Self directly. This is similar to raja yoga in Hinduism, which I was very neglectful about, I know, and apologize. The Chinese put a little twist on this though, in that they felt that the ch’i accumulated by the yogis could be transmitted psychically to the community at large to enhance its vitality and harmonize its affairs.


Religious Taoism (vicarious power):

Basically said that reflection and health programs are all well and good, but they take time, and the average person doesn’t have that luxury. Yet, the average person still needed help dealing with epidemics that needed to be checked, marauding ghosts, hopping vampires, rains needing to be induced or stopped, and what have you. The Taoists decided to step in and help.

Basically, Religious Taoism stepped in and institutionalized a lot of practices already being done by shamans, psychics, soothsayers, and practitioners of folk religions. This all took place around the 2nd Century, A.D.

The Religious Taoist pantheon included three originating deities (including Lao-Tzu). From these, sacred texts were derived, and since they were of a “revealed” nature, they were accepted without reservation.

Religious Taoism is incredibly murky, and looks like crude superstition, on its surface. Ultimately though, we must remember that we have little idea what energy is, how it proceeds, or the means by which (and extent to which) it can be augmented.

Religious Taoist texts contain many rituals, which if exactly performed, will have magickal effects.

Put Into A Bowl And Stir:

Though these three flavours of Taoism would seem to have little in common, there are similarities, and common threads.

First, all are concerned with maximizing the Tao’s animating Te.

Second, the specifics of each, actually fall onto a continuum:

The continuum begins with an interest in how life’s normal allotment of ch’i can be deployed to best effect (Philosophical Taoism). From there, it moves on to ask if the normal quotient can be increased (Alchemical Taoism). Finally, it asks if cosmic energy can be gathered and deployed for the benefit of others (Religious Taoism). While the Three Flavours Of Taoism are a nice academic distinction, in reality, they all co-mingle, as currents in a single river.

To know something, to be something, and to be capable of something, is to rise above the superficial. A life has substance to the degree that it incorporates the direct wisdom of gnosis (Philosophical Taoism), the profundity of mysticism (Alchemical Taoism), and the productive power of magick (Religious Taoism)..

This should sound 75% reminiscent of something that I’ll get back to in a moment.

Let’s return, briefly, to wu wei.

wu wei, we defined as “inaction”, and “pure effectiveness”. It is also defined as “creative quietude”. A combination of supreme activity and supreme relaxation.

This isn’t necessarily contradictory.

One method of creation is through following calculated directions of the conscious mind. The results are usually not that impressive, and usually appear as “sorting” or “arranging”.

Genuine creation come when the more abundant resources of the subliminal mind are tapped.

(Use The Force, Luke!)

For this to happen, a certain dissociation from surface self is needed. The conscious mind must relax, and let go.

I would argue that this might be somewhat representative of Seth’s concept of “inner senses”, and where “reality creation” transpires, but that’s a whole other big long post that I don’t feel the urge to research at the moment.

So. To recap, we have:

To know something, to be something, and to be capable of something, is to rise above the superficial. A life has substance to the degree that it incorporates the direct wisdom of gnosis (Philosophical Taoism), the profundity of mysticism (Alchemical Taoism), and the productive power of magick (Religious Taoism).

And wu wei, or “creative quietude”.

Put ’em all together, and what do you get?

Eliphas Levi, in Transcendental Magic, speaks of the Four Powers Of The Sphinx:

“To attain the SANCTUM REGNUM, in other words, the knowledge and power of the Magi, there are four indispensable conditions–an intelligence illuminated by study, an intrepidity which nothing can check, a will which cannot be broken, and a prudence which nothing can corrupt and nothing intoxicate. TO KNOW, TO DARE, TO WILL, TO KEEP SILENCE–such are the four words of the Magus, inscribed upon the four symbolical forms of the sphinx.” 

(there’s a whole lot more to this, but this will suffice for now)

To Know (Philosophical Taoism)
To Be / Will (Alchemical Taoism)
To Dare / Be Capable Of Something (Religious Taoism)
To Be Silent / (wu wei)

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