Daoist Practice Journal by Shifu Michael

A Daoist Practice Journal
Michael Rinaldini, Published May 2013

Daoist Journal Book

This first book by Shifu Michael explores the cultivation practices of a western Daoist. His book goes into the everyday practices that make up his path as a qigong practitioner and teacher, and his practices as a Daoist priest. He covers topics like, zuowang meditation which is described as sitting and forgetting, and many other practices including reciting and studying Daoist scriptures, precepts, the value of silence and solitude, and the common Daoist practice of drinking Chinese teas, gongfu style. A significant focus of his book is based on his observations and comments on many other relevant Daoist, Buddhist and even Catholic books. A favorite subject that Michael covers is the common practices of zuowang meditation (sitting and forgetting) from the Daoist tradition and its similar practices found in the Catholic mystical text called the Cloud Of Unknowing.

So far this book has been well received by both his devoted students and by those who do not personally know shifu Michael but who have found his book on Amazon.com and Facebook.

TO ORDER SHIFU MICHAEL’S PRACTICE JOURNAL, CLICK HERE!

Below is a sample from his book ….

November 11, 2012
What does it mean to be a Daoist? I have asked this question repeatedly throughout this journal. The question of Daoist identity may turn out to be the most important topic discussed in the journal. It may be as equally important as the question of what does a modern day Daoist practice? And now, this morning as I recite the Invocation for Offering Incense (translation, Christina Barea), I read the following words, as if for the first time:

To follow the Dao, use your Heart.
To connect with the spirits, you must circulate incense.
Burn incense in the jade stove.
Maintain the Original Emperor in your Heart.
Ascended Spirits gaze down
While the Flag of the Immortals arrives before the altar.
Minister Guan speaks the command
For the way to attain Nine Heavens (2009 24).

Ah, there it is again. You are a Daoist if you feel it in your heart. Those are the same words of advice given to me during my priest ordination. And furthermore, we grow as Daoists according to how we fill our hearts with the Dao. The symbolism of offering incense points to our Daoist cultivation practices such as qigong, taichi, circle walking, meditation, silence and solitude, recitation of scripture, eating healthy, and other Daoist practices. And if we are continually growing deep in our hearts then we will attain our goal of residence in the Celestial Heavens, that is, alignment with the Dao.

November 13
What does a Daoist Practice at Night?
You go outside on a clear night and do some of your favorite qigong, taichi or kungfu. You gaze at the dark sky and reach to the stars. Silently your spirit yearns to merge with the stars and return to the Source. You are ready to leave the world and soar as an immortal. You are at peace, even if just for a short time. You are home, no, not at home because you know your true home is among the stars and the celestial heavens. This is your practice as a Daoist.

November 17
As I get closer to the end of this journal writing project, I want to be clear on what I believe are the goals of Daoist practice. For one thing, I do believe in the Buddhist goal of enlightenment, and the Daoist goal of immortality. And furthermore, I believe they are the same thing, but spoken of in different ways. From a Daoist perspective, I really appreciate the words of a contemporary Chinese Daoist of high rank who Bill Porter in his Road To Heaven interviewed. Porter asked the same question:

What’s the goal of Taoist practice?
Jen Fa-jung (Abbot of the Loukuantai Temple near the Chungnan mountains): Man’s nature is the same as the nature of heaven. Heaven gives birth to all creatures, and they all go different directions. But sooner or later they return to the same place. The goal of this universe, its highest goal, is nothingness. Nothingness means return. Nothingness is the body of the Tao. Not only man, but plants and animals and all living things are part of this body, are made of this body, this body of nothingness. Everything is one with nothingness. There aren’t two things in this universe. To realize this is the goal not only of Taoism but also of Buddhism. Everything in this world changes. Taoists and Buddhists seek that which doesn’t change. They seek only the Tao, which is the nothingness of which we are all created and to which we all return. Our goal is to be one with this natural process (1993 57-58).

Not only does Jen Fa-jung’s explanation shed light on the Daoist worldview, it also provides the philosophical background for asking, what is Not two? And Jen Fa-jung adds to his statement, “There aren’t two things in this universe,” that we are to “realize” this as the goal of Daoism (58). I would like to add that to realize this directly, beyond words, is to crack the matrix (illusion) of separation and see the unity of the entire cosmos.

November 19
In my Thursday night meditation classes, I frequently start out the session with a few reminders of our basic practice:

Assume a comfortable posture, back straight, eyes slightly open, or closed if you prefer. Briefly think of your Original Nature as already complete, needing nothing. And then you just rest in open awareness. From this point forward, whatever arises is just it. You don’t need to count breaths, make mental notes of the kinds of thoughts or perceptions you are having. You don’t even need to focus on your Lower Dantian. There should be no self-judging of how you are doing. Basically, whatever happens you bring open awareness to it. This is actually the easiest of all meditations because no matter what you experience, as long as you are aware of it, is part of the experience. We are simply re-discovering what was there from the very beginning. The emphasis is on realizing not creating something. As it says in the Daoist scriptures, we have never been separated from the Dao; we only need to realize this.

I supplement our sittings by reading some inspirational words from scriptures, which focus on taming the mind, or some other text on contemplative prayer or meditation. I provide the setting, and the encouragement, and the rest is left up to them.

© Michael Rinaldini 2013

TO ORDER SHIFU MICHAEL’S PRACTICE JOURNAL, CLICK HERE!

 

Review of Shifu Michael’s book

I have read A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh With Me twice. The first time I read it was before I signed up for this teacher training. I wanted to get a feel for shifu Michael to see if I resonated with his teachings, so I purchased the book. When it arrived at my home, it sat for a few days on my desk. I didn’t pick it up until I got sick. I was so sick– five full days of non-stop fever, sinus inflammation, sore throat, watery eyes, loss of appetite, loss of taste & smell, body pains, and congestion so great that I could barely breathe. My husband Philip was as sick as I was, and we spent those five days sleeping, trying to take care of our son, drinking water, moaning, and sleeping some more. But in between our napping, moaning and dozing, I discovered Michael’s book. And what a blessing it was. Philip and I managed to pass Come Laugh With Me back and forth between us for graceful diversion throughout those challenging five days– and both of us agree that reading Michael’s journal was the main thing that lifted our spirits during that time. The book was healing. Philip even cried at one point, so moved by Michael’s words. And he rarely cries.

Reading it the second time has been a very different experience, but also quite profound. I began re-reading it at another low point in my life: Philip was away on retreat for four days, which was the longest time he’d left since our son Noah was born 4.5 years ago. During this time of taking care of my son with Philip away, I was feeling mostly calm, but at times quite uneasy– especially at night after I tucked Noah into bed. It was in this state of discomfort-in-my-solitude that I remembered Come Laugh With Me. And what a soothing companion it was.

Why does reading shifu Michael’s journal have this calming affect on me? Why do I find it in my darker hours as a healing beacon, a nourishing comfort?

I believe it is because of shifu Michael’s tone. Truly, there is a gentleness. As much as I feel Michael’s yearning to discover Not Two, I never feel him pushing himself in a harsh way. He is curious and open-hearted in his searching. I feel his genuine quest for truth without the need to prove himself, show off, or make himself small. This is not an easy path to walk, and to feel into how he is walking, is a blessing for me.

I would like to point out a few examples of how I perceive Michael walking his Daoist path in a genuine way. One example is when he realizes that the Chi-lel practices he worked so hard at for a year were not for him, he doesn’t shame himself or criticize the qigong form. He writes: “Shortly after becoming certified to teach these forms, I stopped practicing them all together in favor of other qigong forms, which placed more value on the quality of the qigong state” (8). In other words, he sees, accepts and moves on.

Another example is when he acknowledges he’s been “feeling kind of lazy and half-hearted” (16) in his Daoist practices, but he doesn’t condemn himself mercilessly. He accepts and re-starts.

Even when he sees that he has “talked too much, lost much qi, and acted foolishly with others” (34), he accepts his behavior and recommits to his path. He doesn’t waste time in judgment of self or others, shame, self-hatred, depression, anger, or rationalization– to name a few possibilities.

This kind of acceptance feels key to walking the difficult Daoist path. Mistakes, lethargy and distractions are a part of the way our minds work, and are bound to arise. Therefore, having an appropriate attitude toward them will allow the Daoist path-walker to continue on the path. A similar idea arises when Michael discusses zuowang. From Livia Kohn’s lecture on Zhuangzi, he wrote, “The mind is what changes. The features of the mind in the state of oblivion: spontaneous, relaxed, non-critical, no self-consciousness or critical awareness” (12). I see Michael bringing in conscious awareness to his life– for example, he realizes that the Chi-lel forms are too focused on performance– but he doesn’t add self-consciousness and criticism. In other words, he doesn’t spend hours thinking about what a lousy form it is, how it is wrong, how he was wrong for practicing it, how he’s lost precious time to reach some imagined goal, etc.

By avoiding self-consciousness and criticism, he limits the amount of time he spends in a state of separation. For example, if Michael spent days thinking about what an idiot he was for spending so much time studying a practice that is no longer serving him, that would be days spent in a “split” consciousness of blamer and blamed. His consciousness would divide into two roles, thereby denying him access to the zuowang state and the Dao.

Seeing how shifu Michael is both earnest and gentle in his approach helps me to understand the question and answer that is addressed at the beginning of his book: “How do you make progress as a Daoist? ‘You progress as a Daoist in your heart’” (xii). The heart has no need for worry, criticism, expectations, preferences and judgments because these things are divisive. The heart can only grow and transform by contacting direct experience in the present moment. We “fill our hearts with the Dao” (121) through our Daoist cultivation practices such as qigong, taichi, circle walking, eating healthy, etc. The image that occurs to me now is that the heart can’t fly if it’s wings are in disagreement, a state of duality. The heart can be free to expand only when it’s wings are coordinated as One.

To close: My heart feels full of longing for the kind of gentleness and earnestness that Michael reveals in his journal entries. I long to be free of this internal split of judge and judged / this and that / right and wrong / good and bad. What a lot of energy it would free up in me to release this back-and-forth dynamic in which I’m entrained. I feel very blessed to have been given the opportunity to read this Daoist practice journal and find some relief from my self-created prison. This book really has been a light for me in the darkness. My longing is to walk my own spiritual path with as much clarity and kindness as shifu Michael has shared.

Qigong Certification Student (November 2014)

Leave a Reply