Livia Kohn on Daoist "Sitting in Forgetfulness" vs. Chan/Zen Emptiness vs. Inner alchemy




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Livia Kohn on Daoist "Sitting in Forgetfulness" vs. Chan/Zen Emptiness vs. Inner alchemy

From: Michael Winn
Subject: Philosophy
Date/Time 2006-10-29 12:09:32
Remote IP: 66.32.121.172

Message

I am posting below an email exchange between myself and Livia Kohn, one of the top Daoist scholars in the world. She is also a long time practitioner of vipassana/insight meditation, and has explored many other cultivation approaches as well, including lots of qigong.

from Winn:
--------------------------
Dear Livia,

Debate on my Healing Tao forum often centers on the question, if one follows the Chan/Zen method of simply sitting and forgetting/letting go, without specific concentration methods, will one achieve spontaneously the same kind of immortality sought by neidan practitioners?

I note in your first book, Seven Steps to the Tao, that "sitting and forgetting" (zuowang) is considered by early Daoists to be the preliminary practice to other alchemical practices that involve more concentrated shaping of the Qi field.

I understand that this may not necessarily be a black and white issue. Wang Chongyang, the founder of Complete Perfection daoism in 13th cen., was clearly syncretic, and mixed elements of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. I noticed in your student Louis Komjapthy's PhD thesis, that Wang included over 30 "doing" neidan methods in his Jade Lock/Gold Pass treatise. This suggests to me that he did not think that sitting in emptiness was final realization, even though he does seem to incorporate a more chan-like approach in the quanzhen final "waiting 9 years for the embryo to mature".

One question that arises out of this debate of "to sit and do nothing vs. sit and shape the life force" is:

How does the literature in China address this topic? Are the attainments of these different practices considered to lead to the same result? If you have any thoughts on your general sense of it, I would also be interested to hear them.

-----------------
LIVIA KOHN REPLY

Dear Michael,

As for the difference between zuowang, chan, and neidan, I see it in historical terms.

Zuowang appears in the 8th century, under clear influence of Tientai Buddhist insight meditation (samatha vipassana) as a form of consciously reorganizing one's perception of self and world. It is not really, at the time, a sitting and doing nothing. I suspect that it becomes that gradually as it evolves in the 9th century. It is then that we also see the classic Zen radicalism of "meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha" and the rejection of all conscious content and aspiration as well as energy work. This continues in the Song dynasty in Buddhist circles and also spreads over into Daoism.

Neidan evolves as a separate branch of all this, using longevity techniques, breathing, qi-work, and zuowang-style insight meditation, and combining these methods into a complex system that also uses alchemical vocabulary and a lot of I-ching symbolism. The energy work done in neidan, with however many methods, is thus both similar and different to the zuowang and chan methods.

As with all Daoist practices, a lot depends on where the individual practitioner is coming from and what his/her specific strengths and needs are. You may find some quite expert at letting the mind go who need to focus more on physical transformation and whose practice will look completely different from chan/zuowang/insight. You may have others who have a good grip on qi transformation and cirulation who need to work on opening their conscious minds to the Dao and on letting go of preconceptions, whose practice will accordingly be more zenny in style.

Are the end results the same? My inclination is to say no, since the underlying concepts of what the end result should be are so different. The chan immediacy is different from the immortal existence in zuowang which is again different from the ultimate neidan transformation. Each technique will get people to where it is geared to go. Krishnamurti is strong on emphasizing that point and working by leaving all techniques aside.

I hope this helps.

Best

Livia





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