by© Jacob Newell (Daoshi Gu Shen Yu)
For me Daoist practice means looking inside and going back to the original beginning. One of Laozi’s primary principles is “return” (fu, 复). For Westerners who tend to view our existential situation as “paradise lost,” return is akin to “paradise regained.”
When I started practicing meditation I initially approached it as though it was gradually washing away the stain of original sin, and I assumed this purifying process could only be accomplished after arduous cultivation and transformation.
But then I met Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn, who told me: “Without cultivation, you are already complete. If you make something, then at that moment you enter the ocean of suffering. If you don’t make anything, then no problem!”
Wow. This shifted everything around. Rather than abiding in a world of delusion with a light at the end of the tunnel, he was saying that our real situation is actually paradise itself, and it is our own tendency to “make something” which obscures our true nature.
I went back to Laozi’s Daodejing and found that although he is providing guidance for returning to Dao, he does not imply that where we are now is not Dao. In fact, he is suggesting that we stop deluding ourselves and return to where we actually are.
For Laozi, paradise is lost not by some cosmic fall from grace, but by our own struggle and strain to establish and support the false notion that we possess a separate self. Daoist practice is to relax this agenda and simply settle into things as they are.
When we do this we find that our real situation is not lost at all. Nor does it involve a separate self. As Zen Master Seung Sahn said: “sky is blue, tree is green.” Don’t make anything. No problem.
Many of my poems are slaps in the face of my own struggles and ambitions, and a reminder not to strive for, but to remain with, the original selfless paradise.
Flying across the Pacific
In search of my own nature
Laozi laughs in my face
Go back to the Golden Gate!
Relaxing my effort
Nothing is wrong
Now I can breathe easy
Abiding in the Middle Kingdom
Dressed like a dragon
I turn the light around
Passing through the mysterious gate
Mother, I’m home!
Tying up my top-knot
The myriad beings self-discover their own nature
Ten-thousand branches sharing one root
Ten-thousand creatures suckling at one teat
Eager to learn ten-thousand techniques
Sweeping the temple steps
Deepening my root
I conserve the three treasures
The river becomes broad, deep, and full
Stirring on the edge of the ocean
Jacob Newell (Daoshi Gu Shen Yu) is an ordained Daoist priest and founder of Old Oak School of Dao. He practices and teaches Taijiquan and Daoist cultivation in Sonoma County, California. His book of poetry, These Daoist Bones, is available from his website, www.oldoakdao.org.