Deliberations of a broken leg 3

Today a little change of pace whilst I organise and do other things from my bed.

I wanted to post something I have been thinking about that will inform some things I intend to write in the future and that I have already to some extent touched upon. So today no big news, just some thoughts on a specific topic called nature and its place in Daoist philosophy (as things evolved and I received comments from friends, what was planned to be a short specific post grew and went in directions of is own).

Now I am no expert in these things but my method has always been to use writing to try and sort out my thinking at a particular time. Thinking and subsequently writing has never then been for me something solid and fixed. It is way simply to order my thoughts as I go along pondering the world.

A Comprehensive Guide to Daoist Nei Gong is the main text book of the Lotus Nei Gong school. It includes an overview of the process involved in our training. It looks at the Dan Tian, the nature of Qi and the variuous exercises involved in authentic Daoist alchemical work.

– A comprehensive description and step-by-step explanation of the Nei Gong internal alchemical process also explaining its philosophical basis. Essential reading for practitioners of Nei Gong, Qi Gong, martial arts and Chinese medicine. –

“I urge anyone interested in the internal arts to read this book. You won’t get standard regurgitated descriptions of Qi or Qi gong. Nor will you get exotic tales of secret rituals in dark caverns. What you will get is a truly comprehensive sharing of profound information in an accessible format. Damo has not only dedicated his life to cultivating ‘gong’ but also to understanding the processes involved (somatically and intellectually) so that others can benefit.” — Dr Cindy Engel, Associate Lecturer, The Open University, U.K

I have been thinking about something Damo Mitchell said on a podcast I recently found on the the Qiological website (there is another interesting podcast here with Damo speaking about the trouble with men). My initial hesitance on hearing what he had said was on reading and contemplation cleared up and I think my confusion in the first place came from the fact that you need to think about this from different perspectives, most of which I would suggest (as a young man in this world) are valid and complementary.

Damo’s perspective on the podcast was based upon the relationship of nature specifically to the internal arts. Daoists didn’t sit in a cave somewhere and ponder a grasshopper and from that deduced one or other form of nei/qi gong or taiji. They were in this part of their lives looking inwards, going inside. Nature in this sense is going inside the material and spiritual (although I’m not sure where I sit in that latter word yet) body.

I don’t think this means that in the broader aspect of Daoist philosophy nature played no role. Putting aside questions of the complete meaning of Ziran, for the Dao De Jing is full of references to nature that are also about that thing in different ways. The Dao De Jing is at much a political treatise and critique of Confucianism. In the same way that Buddhism was a political response to the Hindu caste system, or the teachings of Christ were a political response to Judaism. If these things aren’t political on one level or another why are the adherents of the various religions at the fictional National Politics University in Beijing in Yan Lianke’s Heart Sutra questioning the introduction of tug of war (a metaphor for the Society of Competition) to their campus?

將欲取天下而為之,吾見其不得已。天下神器,不可為也,為者敗之,執者失之。故物或行或隨;或歔或吹;或強或羸;或挫或隳。是以聖人去甚,去奢,去泰。

(Taking no action)
If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to effect this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed. The kingdom is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active doing. He who would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it in his grasp loses it.

The course and nature of things is such that
What was in front is now behind;
What warmed anon we freezing find.
Strength is of weakness oft the spoil;
The store in ruins mocks our toil.

Hence the sage puts away excessive effort, extravagance, and easy indulgence.

In Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China, vol 2 Ch 2, he observes and cites references to support the view that the Daoist retreat to live as ‘recluses/hermits’ was in effect a consequence of Confucianist repression or attacks. This was a retreat to nature and to live and work in accordance with nature as opposed to the Confucionist position that the ‘intellectual’ should work and dedicate themselves to the State and Government. Jason Peng has an interesting video class on  Yu Lang Fung’s History of Chinese Philosophy that touches on Daoist recluses in this context.

This I think is why Alan Watts and Jason Gregory (with slightly different conclusions) both make remarks comparing Daoism to Kropotkin’s form of anarchism and his ideas of mutual aid. And in this sense Henry Thoreau is a kind of modernist American Daoist of sorts with his withdrawal to nature to ponder the politics of his time.

Wu Wei (sometimes, as above, translated as no action) in this sense is acting in accordance with (a politics based in) nature and its way as opposed to the Confucionist politics of the time – or even the industrialist/monopolistic politics of Thoreau’s time, or for us whatever you want to describe the current global miasma as. [Wu Wei of course also has an influence on contemporary geopolitics informing the PRC’s international policy of peaceful coexistence and non-interference in the affairs of other countries.]

So I guess where I’m at now – note above about my method – is that Daoism operates at an internal level as we rightly focus open at the Internal Arts Academy, but that it also operates on a personal. political and, let’s say for now, ecological level amongst other things as well. As Lao Tzu says everything comes from the Dao. It’s not a refusal to engage with the world but a injunction to engage with it in a particular way which they called nature.

I hope that makes sense.

Addendum

I hadn’t expected this post to be so controversial in some quarters. Or maybe I did but had hoped that it might be taken as a good faith contribution to discussion. Nevertheless I received some messages which were, well, let’s say ‘antagonistic’. What I think this reflects is a number of things.

Firstly, the most pitiful response was “Watts was CIA and an alcoholic“, to which I think “so what!?“. This kind of response is a sad symptom of our times and of what we might call ‘cancel culture’. It is like the attacks on Julian Assange that we saw a few years back “he’s a rapist” an allegation at the time and subsequently disproven, but with the inference that this somehow negates any good he had done, or excuses the British authorities holding him and clearly doing everything they could to destroy hs health. I have not time for this kind of nonsense. It displays not only an inability to think through issues but it is also something that destroys what we might have once thought of as solidarity.

On that point (solidarity) there is an interesting article Intersectionalism, the highest stage of western Stalinism? (intersectionality and cancel culture being intimately related) that considers that “intersectionality “is at the end of the day derived from the People’s Front policy of the 1930s Comintern, as modified by late 1960s–1970s ‘soft Maoism’, and then adopted in the late 1970s–1980s by the political representatives of US capital as an ideological colouration for the growth of economic inequality under financialisation. In the result, the project is self-defeating, giving way to ‘white identity politics’ and similar formations“. Identity politics as its has transformed into its current guise has a lot to answer for. But enough of that for now.

Secondly, there was a response that said “I disagree, Daoism is X“. I find this kind of response troubling for other reasons. I am fine with people disagreeing and having different view on something but when it comes to “D is X and cannot be Y” I start to wonder. Especially when the subject is this one. Deleuze and Guattari argue for a thought that instead of proceeding “A or B” operates as “A and B and …”.

I reject the idea that one can’t mix up things from different systems to create something new. I used to get shit from academics for mixing up and using in the same argument, for example, different philosophers. I remember an angry email I got once from an academic who after reading an article of mine in the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law wrote “what has Deleuze got to do with with Agamben. You can’t mix them together!“. People and academics especially are more interested in what separates different thinkers than finding things that they have in common and creating something new. I never thought that was particular productive. I have always thought we must mobilise texts to create something of our own or that moved things in one way or another.

The other aspect of this “I disagree, Daoism is X” style that troubles me is that it is often a personal perspective only. I am interested in X so it cannot be Y. Surely one of the lessons of something like the Dao De jing is that we should be open to others and their ideas? And that one thing necessarily includes other things, especially its opposite. This latter point seems lost on some when they argue in respect of Needham’s point above about Confucionist attacks on Daoism “that can’t be right because C contains some elements of D” or vice versa. Now I don’t profess to be a Daoist, I am just interested in the text and its meanings, but if everything, as it is said, comes from the Dao, then shouldn’t our thinking about ‘everything’ use Daoist methodology? This point seems lost on some who might only be concerned about their own discrete domain. To make this bloody-well-clear if C is the opposite of D, doesn’t it follow then that C necessarily includes, or is able to potentially include aspects of D, or the reverse? To deny this would constitute being trapped in the kind of strict binary thought the West thrives upon, something totally alien to most Eastern thought and particularly Daoist thinking.

Being and non-being create each other. Difficult and easy support each other. Long and short define each other. High and low depend on each other. Before and after follow each other. 

It occured to me that there is another way of looking at this as well. One argument, which I think is totally valid, that was put to me, is that the Dao De Jing is a coded text that deals with the inside  (microcosmic) aspect of the internal martial arts. I agree with this interpretation and for example the related interpretation that the painting known as the Neijing Tu is an explanation of the processes of the internal art of Nei Dan.

Neijing Tu

But that does not mean that the painting does not operate as macrocosmic landscape as well.

It is widely understood, for example, that Australian Aboriginal Art operates on a number of levels (as does any text). Aboriginal Art whether traditional/classic or even modernist such as the works of Albert Namatjira can be read in this way. What might look like (AND IS) a pretty painting of a magpie goose or central Australian landscape  (macrocosmic) is also (AT THE SAME TIME) a work that contains an inner/inside (microcosmic) meaning only known to initiates or those that have studied the relevant corpus of knowledge.

The point of all this I guess is to try and illustrate that the text in question above, like most texts or artistic works, operate and affect us in different ways, and at different times. We are taught in nei gong that the acupuncture points and their names, for example the ming, have a different meaning in chinese medicine, nei and qi gong and tai chi. This does not mean one is the pure ming and another is not. It is all about context and reading things in that context. Those different affects or meanings do not negate the other, as I said they co-exist. They are all equally valid, and dare I say, all exist within the Dao.

天下皆知美之為美,斯惡已。皆知善之為善,斯不善已。故有無相生,難易相成,長短相較,高下相傾,音聲相和,前後相隨。

All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another. 

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