Quan Zhen or ‘Ultimate Truth’ Daoism is the wider ‘umbrella’ tradition under which the vast majority of Northern systems of Daoism lay. Established by such luminaries as Wang Chongyang, Quan Zhen Daoism is ultimately an alchemical tradition that points a practitioner in the direction of enlightenment or immortality through a combination of Daoist, Confucian and Chan Buddhist teachings. Within the Quan Zhen teachings, we can say that the Daoist principles were the mainstay of the methods but this changed later through one of the seven key subdivisions of Quan Zhen, the Longmen Pai (Dragon Gate Tradition), who took these two traditions and more smoothly synthesised them into one method since they believed that both Daoism and Chan Buddhism pointed the way to one ‘ultimate truth’.
Teachings of the Quan Zhen, and most Northern Daoist sects, dictated that a practitioner should develop their body to a point of highly efficient internal functioning so that this could serve as a strong foundation for further development of the energetic matrix of the body and then, ultimately, the mind. This was explained through the alchemical model of Jing (essence), Qi (energy) and Shen (spirit), primarily through their interactions, movements and refinement. The curious things about the tradition of Daoism is that they never have an issue with seeing a phenomenon as both a ‘thing’ and a ‘no thing’ at the same time. Though this may be a tricky concept to get your head around from a more reductive stance, understanding this is key to comprehending just how Daoism uses its alchemical teachings as both a conceptual model and a very literal practice at the same time.
Xing & Ming
Within Daoist teachings, there are two very important factors known as Xing (性) and Ming (命). These two key aspects of human life are vital in understanding the wider scope of Daoist practice and progressing your arts beyond the earliest stages. Xing is generally translated to mean ‘nature’, referring to a person’s nature rather than the outside environment. Ming, however, is a little harder to translate and often terms such as ‘life’, ‘destiny’ and ‘fate’ are used.
Ultimately, Daoism and Alchemy focussed on learning to refine and then merge Xing and Ming as it was recognised these two elements formed the ‘mechanic’ behind the manifestation of human life. Your Xing, or nature, is in simplistic form your mental faculties and, in its essence, the manner in which ‘seed consciousness’ transforms into your perceptions and connection to existence. This refers to your every psychological aspect from thought processes and cognitions through to your world-views and perceptions. The Ming is more complex, manifesting into the body as your health but also as your process through life on a physical level.
The harmonisation of Xing and Ming takes place through a combination of alchemical methods, internal exercises such as Qi Gong and Nei Gong and meditative training. It is through development of these two elements that we learn how to govern our health and regulate the quality of our mind.
Laozi & Zhuangzi
Though Daoism has a huge number of classical texts, volumes of traditional teachings and a whole plethora of deities within the tradition, none epitomise the nature of Daoism to such an extent as Laozi and Zhuangzi. Both of these past masters are attributed classical texts – the Dao De Jing and the Zhaungzi Nei Pian and Wai Pian, and yet, on top of this, they also demonstrate important personal qualities that are emphasised within the tradition. Laozi is the stereotypical sage; quiet and wise in his demeanour, he emphasises humility and wisdom with his teachings based in stillness-type meditation practice. Zhaungzi is quite different in his approach, he is questioning, contradictory and always ready to disarm any situation with his sharp wit. Between the two of them, they show us the importance of balance between profound centered-ness and a joyful approach to life. If we can find these two, then the path to Dao will ultimately be easier to walk.
The ‘Tools’ of Daoism
Daoism is most certainly not a purely philosophical tradition. Though there are many classical texts and indeed many actually try to understand Daoism through a purely scholarly lens, it is very important to understand that it is primarily an ‘experiential’ tradition. It does not matter how much intellectual knowledge we may gather about Daoism, it is only through practice and direct personal experience that Daoism may come alive for us. In order to achieve this, we have a number of tools. Primarily these are energetic internal exercises commonly called Qi Gong or the more in depth practices of Nei Gong. as well as this, there are also alchemical sitting practices and meditation methods more akin to the Buddhist methods of focused inquiry. All of this methods are brought together along with the theoretical teachings of Daoism to create one integrated and very much ‘practices-focused’ art.
In the initial stages of training, it is regulation of there body’s health we seek. The body is seen as the vehicle for the rest of our practice and so for this reason we build a strong foundation here. One major beauty of the Daoist tradition is its close links to the ancient medicine of China and arguably more than any other tradition. Daoism seamlessly integrates health and spiritual cultivation. Through cleansing Dao Yin practices we clear the body of stagnant Xie (sick) Qi before we then circulate healthy Qi through the body’s channels and then fill the body with an abundance of strong and healthy Yin and Yang Qi. This then all serves as a springboard for internal cultivation of the mind and spirit. This is the way to unification with Dao outlined within the Northern sects of Quan Zhen and Longmen Pai.