Shifu Michael’s Journal Entry – 04.24.16

Shifu Michael RinaldiniI just finished reading a second book by Professor Monica Esposito. Prof. Esposito was a prominent researcher and author in the field of Daoist studies. The two books I read are very different than other books on Daoist history that I have read. First, their titles are Creative Daoism, and the one I just finished reading is Facets of Qing Daoism. I don’t intend to go into the differences, but perhaps, to only say that Professor Esposito’s books are very dense and you almost need a background in understanding general Daoist history before attempting to read her approach to the history of Daoism. Her books are also more focused on specific time periods and topics. For instance, the book, Facets of Qing Daoism restricts itself to the Qing dynasty of 1644 to 1911. And the reason it was of utmost relevance to me was because it featured the Longmen school of Daoism, the tradition I was ordained into in 2003.

Before I move onto the main reasons for including these books in my journal, I want to say that it was very rewarding to learn about the origins of the Longmen lineage. It was not a clear-cut progression of one lineage holder passing on the rites to the next lineage holder. Professor Esposito made it quite clear that the Longmen history, and thus the history of the Quanzhen tradition of Daoism, was full of controversy. Sometimes history was invented or re-invented to satisfy objectives, which had their own reasons to be. I’m not going any further on this issue. Read the book if this sparks your curiosity.

Before I go into a brief look at the Longmen history, it is important for me to ask myself, what’s my own motive for this historical venture anyway? It seems so contrary to the majority of my journal entries. I guess my motivation is that every once in awhile someone asks me about my Daoist lineage or my qigong lineage. My response is that my claims to the Longmen lineage is through my ordination by Longmen priest, Ji Zhe Tong, a 21st generation Longmen priest. And on a more personal note, during the ordination ceremony when Priest Ji anointed my forehead and stared deeply into my eyes, I experienced a powerful radiance of energy, which connected me not only to Priest Ji, but also to all the ancestors of the Longmen lineage.

Another fact of my lineage connection occurred after my ordination in Beijing. I was brought to the White Cloud Temple, Baiyun guan, the headquarters of the Quanzhen Longmen school of Daoism, and presented to the vice-president of the China Daoist Association, the Venerable Huang Xin Yang. I especially remember the words of Master Huang, saying that he highly respected Priest Ji, who even served as one of his teachers when he was younger. That made me feel good.

Back to history. The point I want to make now is that this whole idea of a continuous lineage, in the Longmen tradition was a fabrication and not until the mid-seventeenth century was there any real continuity. Here’s Professor Esposito on this:

But when did this Longmen lineage arise? This is difficult to pinpoint, but by way of analysis of epigraphic and hagiographic materials one can see that the Longmen patriarchal tradition was probably a construction of the end of the Ming and that in its “incubation” period it was linked with the Zhengyi. At the outset it was the product of hermits who, influenced by the ancient ideal of Quanzhen, devoted themselves to ascetic training without being necessarily affiliated with the Quanzhen order.

However, the emergence of the Longmen as a school complete with a well-defined patriarchal lineage seems to have come about only from the mid-seventeenth century and the advent of Wang Changyue at Baiyun guan. The fundamental source of the early history and lineage of Longmen is the Bojian (Examination of the Bowl), a lost or possibly fictitious work attributed to Wang Changyue. (Esposito 2014, 56)

I guess I shouldn’t feel defensive about my own lineage history when the early history of the Longmen lineage is up for question, in itself. And now onto another topic which is very important for me as a Daoist practitioner in the Longmen tradition. Unfortunately, it to is clouded with mystery and it just goes to show that if you really want to follow or learn from any of these ancient traditions, the final criteria is still your own sincerity in following your heart.

What are the original Longmen teachings on self-cultivation practices and theory? There seems to be a clear definition of it in Esposito’s book:

As a consequence, Wang regarded the cultivation of innate Nature as the fundamental practice of the Incomparable and Supreme Great Vehicle and saw this vehicle as congruent with the original meaning of Quanzhen, an orthodox meditative path that regards “purity, tranquility and non-action” to be the key to self-cultivation. Compared to this, various alchemical techniques are seen as belonging to the “small vehicle” or the “small path” as they fail to provide insight into one’s own Nature. Wang criticized alchemical methods and their language because they are prone to be misunderstood by masters and adepts who take their symbols as reality. Rather, before devoting oneself to a practice, one must let go of the deluded mind, and before sitting in meditation one must reflect on one’s affective attachments; otherwise, one will persist in “cultivating without insight and engaging in blind sitting.” (2014, 152-153)

I wish I could now present some actual techniques or methods of cultivation presented in Esposito’s book on Longmen. That would be nice. I believe I did mention in a much earlier journal entry about one of the early Longmen patriarchs who practiced zuowang meditation. See entry XXXX. For now, let’s be content with this final quote:

All different methods can thus be used according to practitioners’ affinities, but they are only skillful means for understanding the true meaning of the joint cultivation of Nature and Vital Force, that is the encompassing non-duality of mind and body. (2014, 172)

In an attempt to bring this topic to a close in my journal, I feel the need to wrap up a few loose ends. The first one is the lineage question. It is pretty certain to say that the original founder of the Longmen-Dragon Gate sect was Qiu Chuji (sobriquet, Changchun, 1148-1227). Qiu Chuji was one of the “Seven Realized Ones” a direct disciple of Quanzhen founder Wang Zhe (sobriquet, Chongyang, 1113-1170) (Eskildsen 2004, 3). And then the second important fact to realize was that there was a major revival within the Longmen sect with Wang Changyue (?-1680) becoming the seventh Longmen patriarch and the first Longmen abbot of the White Cloud Temple (Baiyun guan) in 1656 (Esposito 2014, 13).

I wish I were done but unfortunately, I have two more issues to mention. The first is that another major upheaval occurred in the history of the Longmen lineages. The eighth Longmen patriarch Tao Jing’an (1612-1673) who was ordained by Wang Changyue in 1658 founded another subsect known as the Longmen Yunchao branch of Mount Jingai (2014, 162). The only reason I am mentioning all this is because this new Longmen branch promoted a different orientation to practice than the teachings of the reformer Wang Changyue. As a Lu Dongbin follower, Tao Jing’an introduced the teachings of the Secret Of the Golden Flower, among other alchemical and magic rituals, much like the other Daoist traditions favoring excessive rituals and esoteric practices. This was a major change from the path of meditative practices favoring calmness, purity and non-action promoted by Wang Changyue.

And so once again, why am I bringing all of this information into my journal on modern day practices of a western Daoist. Be prepared. There are many contemporary Daoist teachers who are promoting their views on Daoist practices as if their practices and views are the only legitimate ways of being a Daoist. All you have to do is research the controversial history of Daoism and you’ll find out that there is no one true story of Daoism. Perhaps the history of Daoism is more akin to the popular belief that to be a Daoist you just have to go with the flow.

I have finally come to my last point. And thankfully so, as this last point takes me out of this discourse on the history of Daoism and Longmen lineage and brings us back to the practice of qigong and circle walking.

In Prof. Esposito’s explanations on the subsects of the Longmen, she opens up a discussion on the meridian channels and the Eight extraordinary vessels. She quotes from a doctrine which “points to a supplementary channel inside the body as a superior tract for a sudden alchemical transformation.” It is “located between the Control Channel (dumai) and the Function Channel (renmai), this Yellow Path becomes a key-word of the Longmen branch of Mount Jingai. Thanks to it, one can in a flash realize the genuine principle of inner alchemy” (2014, 174). Thus, through certain practices, the Governing and Conception vessels are opened and with the addition of the Central vessel opened and transformed the opportunity for immortality arises. Prof. Esposito quotes the source: “For that reason it is officially labeled ‘the path of the immortals’”(2014, 176). I am leaving out some of the discussion here; it even touches on the topic of Anterior Heaven, one of my favorite Daoist concepts. But this is the jumping point back into my on-going talks on circle walking and the benefits of the different postures.

copyright 2016 Michael Rinaldini

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