Unity & Diversity in the Daoist Tradition
The Four Areas of Daoist Practice
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Cover of Deng Mingdao's "The Wandering Taoist"
Photograph of the Five Peaks of Huashan (Mount Hua)
Click for video of the plank path on the sheer cliffs of Huashan
Hua Datong, one of the Seven Real People of the North, ... journeyed to Flower Mountain [i.e., Huashan] and dug out a cave in a cliff wall in which to do his practices. Once the cave was completed, however, another Taoist came to him with a cushion and said he had no place to sit and wanted to borrow the cave. So the one who had dug the cave let the other have it, and went off to dig another cave for himself. Now when the second cave was done, again another Taoist came asking to borrow it. The man who had dug the cave again let the other have it, and again went off to dig yet another cave for his own use.
Meditation Cave on Huashan
Believe it or not, the same thing happened when the third cave was finished, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth caves. Day in and day out, month after month, year after year, Hao Datong kept digging caves in the cliff to meditate, but every time he finished one cave, someone else would come and ask to be allowed to use it. By the time he had finished digging the seventy-second cave, this man, later known as the Master of Eternal Reality, had finally attained the Way and accomplished realization. (Opening the Dragon Gate, 149)
Click for video of the "Chess Pavilion"
Taoism became a complex, pluralistic system in the forty centuries since its legendary beginnings. It is concerned with four major areas: the philosophical (Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, for example), the ritualistic (temple worship of countless gods and goddesses), the talismanic (sorcery and magic to ward off evil), and the ascetic (the tradition of gaining immortality or spiritual enlightenment through elixirs or meditation). This is simply a rough division; most Taoist sects combine the four in varying proportions. Almost all orders, for example, maintained public temples that both served their constituencies and brought financial support for more esoteric practices. (The Wandering Taoist, xix-xxx)
Explain how the Daoist principle of “living in harmony with the forces of nature” is exemplified in each of these four areas of practice, supporting your argument with references to Saihung’s training in The Wandering Taoist as well as at least four academic sources. Does this principle unite the four areas of practice into a coherent tradition or is Daoism simply a general term for a collection of distinct approaches to religious cultivation? For more details, see the Essay 1 Rubric.
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Jixia Academy Gate with Laozi on the left, Zhuangzi on the right, and the Chinese charactgers for "Inward Training" (Neiye) in the middle
I. Philosophy
Ronnie LittlejohnActually, our interest in trying to separate philosophy and religion in Daoism is more revealing of the Western frame of reference we use than of Daoism itself. Daoist ideas fermented among master teachers who had a holistic view of life. These daoshi (Daoist masters) did not compartmentalize practices by which they sought to influence the forces of reality, increase their longevity, have interaction with realities not apparent to our normal way of seeing things, and order life morally and by rulership. They offered insights we might call philosophical aphorisms. But they also practid [sic] meditative stillness and emptiness to gain knowledge, engaged in physical exercises to increase the flow of inner energy (qi), studied nature for diet and remedy to foster longevity, practiced rituals related to their view that reality had many layers and forms with whom/which humans could interact, wrote talismans and practiced divination, engaged in spellbinding of “ghosts,” led small communities, and advised rulers on all these subjects. The masters transmitted their teachings, some of them only to disciples and adepts, but gradually these teachings became more widely available as is evidenced in the very creation of the Daodejing and Zhuangzi themselves.
Philosophy (Questions that may never be answered) vs. Religion (Answers that must never be questioned)
The anti-supernaturalist and anti-dualist agendas that provoked Westerners to separate philosophy and religion, dating at least to the classical Greek period of philosophy was not part of the preoccupation of Daoists. Accordingly, the question of whether Daoism is a philosophy or a religion is not one we can ask without imposing a set of understandings, presuppositions, and qualifications that do not apply to Daoism. But the hybrid nature of Daoism is not a reason to discount the importance of Daoist thought. Quite to the contrary, it may be one of the most significant ideas classical Daoism can contribute to the study of philosophy in the present age. (Ronnie Littlejohn, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Laozi (right) and Zhuangzi (left) with a gourd of elixir
Cover of Taoism: The Enduring TraditionOne of the most difficult issues in the effort to understand Taoism involves how we understand the final goal of the Taoist life, and the relationship of that goal to the conclusion of natural life processes, i.e., death. ... Speaking simply, Taoist attitudes towards death have never been reducible to any clear, unequivocal proposition. ... On another level, of course, the issue of how Taoists have understood the nature and significance of death has been obfuscated not by insufficient research, or by the murkiness or disparity of the data, but rather by the interpretive lenses through which both specialists and non-specialists have viewed the issue. For generations, most writers — both Asian and Western — maintained, often quite dogmatically, that the so-called philosophical Taoists of antiquity were — and logically must be — distinguished from the so-called religious Taoists of later times on the basis of the alleged fact that the latter were devoted to achieving “physical immortality.” That illusionary dichotomization derives from a cultural narrative intended to discredit the Taoists of imperial times, to show them as foolish, deluded, and simply the inverse of the real or imagined Taoist philosophers of antiquity. Indeed, for some writers, the only reason to examine Taoist ideas about death has simply been to show that the Taoists of imperial times were really not the “legitimate heirs” of the classical Taoists, but rather a motley gang of charlatans and fools. (Taoism: The Enduring Tradition, 172-3)
The Eight Immortals
Chinese characters for "non-action" (wuwei)Chinese character for "immortal" (xian)Confusion regarding Taoist views on life and death has been aggravated by a sometimes uncritical use of the term hsien [xian] as the common referent to the supposed goal of life in “religious Taoism.” ... The influential H. G. Creel, for instance, proclaimed, This kind of Taoism, in its varying manifestations, is marked by one constant aim: the achievement of immortality. ... The immortality in question was a perpetuation of the physical body.” Sinologists such as Creel vehemently insisted that the very notion of hsien-hood was ipso facto contrary to the essential truths” presented in the classical texts [such as the principle of wuwei (nonaction)] that, in Creel’s mind, represented pure Taoism.” ... [However,] it is now quite clear that a serious reading of Taoist texts over the ages demonstrates that the term hsien was not, as Creel insisted, central or fundamental to all the varying manifestations” of Taoism; and that Creel was utterly wrong in his claim that all post-Han forms of Taoism were marked by one constant aim: the achievement of immortality [defined as] a perpetuation of the physical body.” (Taoism: The Enduring Tradition, 182-4)
The ultimate distinction may be that, among practicing Taoists, the goal was never simply to find a means of preventing the death event. Rather, the Taoist goal — from the Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu throughout most later forms of Taoism — was to attain an exalted state of existence through diligent cultivation of the world’s deeper realities. Such attainments were generally predicated upon a process of personal purification and an enhanced awareness of reality — i.e., a process of moral, spiritual, and cognitive growth. Once one has fully completed that process, one is believed to have somehow reached a state that will not be extinguished, even when the physical body ceases to be one’s form. (Taoism: The Enduring Tradition, 189)
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Taiji Chart from The Wandering Taoist, 115

Cover of "The Wandering Taoist"Diagram from The Wandering Taoist showing transformation of qiThe Grand Master explained [qigong] to Saihung:

“In the beginning of the universe, only qi — pure life force — existed. Qi coagulated into the Five Elements — metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. The Five Elements combined into Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang created humanity. Yin and Yang combined further to become the Grand Ultimate — Tai Ji. Tai Ji became Wu Ji — Nothingness. Nothingness became Stillness. Then the entire process reversed itself, and began again. The universe is constantly expanding and contracting.

“We are microcosms of the universe. We recreate this sequence in qigong. First your jing is brought to the solar plexus and unites with breath — the qi of the universe — to become the qi of your body. The qi drops to your dan tian, just below your navel, and becomes yin and yang. Yin and yang rise straight up to the third eye — the psychic center between the eyebrows — and become the ultimate, spirit. Spirit ascends to become Nothingness. (The Wandering Taoist, 115-6)

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Daoist priests performing a public ritual
II. Ritual
The Pantheon: The supreme Daoist deities are the Three Clarities (Sanqing), each of which rules over one heaven (for their names, see 3.4). They are associated with different pre-cosmic eras and are deemed to be at the origins of the textual corpora associated with the Three Caverns. Along the history of Daoism, the Three Clarities have been supplemented, but never replaced, by other deities that effectively might share with them the title of “highest Daoist deities”. Most important among them are Taiyi, or Great One, who represents the fundamental Unity of the cosmos in a deified form; and Yuhuang, or Jade Sovereign, the highest god of popular religion before his incorporation in the Daoist pantheon in the Song period.
Daoist priests performing a ritual in front of the Three Pure Ones (San Qing)
Several other gods, such as the “emperors” (or “thearchs”, di) of the five directions, represent cosmological principles. In addition, a multitude of deities, most of which originate from local cults and are shared with the common religion, contribute to form a pantheon that is impossible to describe in full, as it takes different forms in different places and times. To give a few examples, these deities include the Queen Mother of the West (Xiwang Mu, an ancient goddess of the immortals); the Mother of the Dipper (a deity of Indian origin, especially associated with children and childbirth); Mazu (a woman who lived in the late 10th century and was deified as the protector of sailors and fishermen, but also of women seeking children);  Zhenwu (the protector of the Ming dynasty, related to the Northern Dipper and provided with exorcist and healing powers); Marshall Wen (Wen Yuanshuai, who gave up his life to prevent “plague spirits” from poisoning local wells); and the “plague spirits” themselves, who are appeased in Daoist rituals called Plague Offerings (wenjiao). (Fabrizio Pregadio, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy — note: citations have been removed, but can be obtained from the SEP version)
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Rituals: The two main Daoist ceremonies in the present day are the Offerings (jiao) and the Merit (gongde) rituals. The Offering is performed to renovate the bond between a community — from the village to the empire — and its gods. The Merit ritual is a funerary ceremony performed to ensure that the deceased is not kept in the netherworld but may ascend to Heaven.

Offering (Jiao) Ritual
Merit (Gongde) Ritual

The communal ritual is requested and organized by the representatives of community via the local “lay association”, which is also in charge of the local temple or shrine. The main officiant is the Daoist priest, or daoshi (lit. “Daoist master”), a function typically transmitted within families. When he receives a request to celebrate an Offering, the daoshi convenes his assistants to perform the ritual. The celebration typically lasts one, two, three, five, or ten days, but arrangements (especially the preparation of the necessary paperwork) require a much longer time. While the Offering is celebrated in the temple, a festival is performed in the streets outside, with processions — the statue of the local tutelary god is carried through the neighborhood — music, and theatrical performances. In addition to this dual “outer” and “inner” aspect of the celebration, another important distinction is the one between the portions of the ritual that are public and those that are performed behind closed doors, in which only selected representatives of the local community can participate. (Fabrizio Pregadio, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy — note: citations have been removed, but can be obtained from the SEP version)
DVD: Bored in Heaven (Oesterle Library: 394.26951 B64d; chapters 4-5, "Taoist Rites" and "Spirit Possession"
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Cover of "The Wandering Taoist"Concurrent with all the festivities were daily rituals. The most important ritual was the Dance of the Big Dipper.
       This ceremony was performed in stages over forty-nine days, in a specially consecrated courtyard. The purpose of the Dance was to integrate humanity with the cosmos, a fundamental Taoist concern, by calling to earth the gods who live in each of the Dipper's seven starts.
       The stars were perfect worlds, and it was improbably that the gods would have voluntarily left their spheres to come to the human world. But the priests, by performing the dances and chanting invocations, could summon them, and the gods came to bestow blessings and provide divine aid. Only with the gods themselves present could the festival truly have spiritual power.
       The priests fasted for seven days in order to purify themselves. they erected three poles and an altar before the main temple hall. Incense burners, red candles, flowers, oil lamps, and offerings were placed on the altar, and a large circle inscribed around it. Within the circumference of this circle were marked seven spots in the shape of the Big Dipper. Only then was the temple ready to receive the gods. ... Surrounding the perimeter of the circle, the pilgrims pressed in closely to view the dance, one of martial movements and swordplay. The abbot stood in turn on each of the spots that represented the stars. Holding the plaque before his face because mortals were unworthy to gaze at the gods, he chanted long invocations and called each god by name. (The Wandering Taoist, 14-5; cf. Chronicles of Tao, 18-9)
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III. Talismans
The Chinese Taoist Talismans Called “FU” in China are probably the most powerful enchantment tools. Each talismans power are different, and so is the way to activate and use that power. Fu’s and incantations can be used to manifest psychic or spiritual energy. It is the intent’s behind that Fu’s that determines whether its white or black magic. For illustrations, can be used to invoke gods, deities, protect a household, improve your business, attract wealth, enhance relationship, cursed or hex an enemy, dispelled sorcery, activating good “Chi”, dissolve a bone lodged on throat, arrest bleedings, prevent burglary, prenatal protection, etc... The talismans are usually drawn for various purposes. Each practitioners from different lineages of Taoist schools has their own way of drawing talismans, activating talismans, rituals to perform, and their form of talismans which is usually handed down from their past lineage of teachers. These may comprises of various Mantras, Mudras (hand gestures), rituals, and invocation to empower and bless these talismans.
Most of these talismans are guarded secret which are never revealed to the uninitiated. As they are so sacred. And some of these Talismans and rituals are so deadly that it can caused harm, injury, insanity and even death when use upon their enemies. These practitioners from the “Tao of the Left” or practice “side doors” are well versed using talismans to control ghosts and spirits to do their biddings. With talismans they can use to bind the ghosts and spirits, some of them keeps numerous numbers of these entity to help them . Taoist Talismans are extensively use during the Pre Han dynasty for illness such as fever, headache, for stopping bleedings, gynecological problems, toothache, mental illness (believed caused by spirits) and etc... Until today Taoist talismans plays an important role to the Taoist communities, talismans are highly revered as a protection, when carried. Drunk to heal illness, and carried to enhance relationship between spouses! (taoistsecret.com)

Feng Shui
As far as religion is concerned, the most influential pseudoscience was that of “winds and water,” the literal translation of feng-shui. ... Feng-shui constitutes a system of divination for determining the auspicious citing of human dwellings — for the living or for the dead. ... [The] fundamental thing is to place the grave or  home properly with regard to the functioning of yin and yang ... [for] in the Chinese view the earth is no different from the heavens in pulsating with the breaths of the two primal forces. (Chinese Religion: An Introduction, 19-20)
Chinese characters for Feng Shui
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Cover of "The Wandering Taoist"The lizard slithered into the pool and swam across. Rearing up before the sacred circle, she hissed loudly and flicked her tongue. But though she lunged terrifyingly at him, she couldn't penetrate the power of his sutra.
       Saihung was miserable with fear. His hands were wet with perspiration, his robes were soaked. He recited continually. To break his sutra was to lose everything.
       The lizard disappeared abruptly, and all was temporarily quiet until a dot appeared in the sublime darkness. It expanded into her face. The once beautiful visage was now a cruelly laughing woman; he soft hair now writhed like snakes around her. She darted at him. Each time she reached the perimeter of the circle he felt a blow in the pit of his stomach. His body broke into a fever as she maintained the attacks for an hour. Mournful sniffing sounds and pitiful wailing filled the air. He was close to nausea.
       She disappeared. He did not dare stop reciting. A howling wind blew on him, extinguishing the torches, and knocking over his oil lamp. The glass broke, and the oil flashed into an uncontrolled fire.
      A darting flame rose and sped around the cave like a bat on fire. It fluttered maddeningly around him and struck his psychic shield repeatedly. He noticed that her attacks were closing in. He was hysterical and almost on the verge of tears.
      The flame exploded before him and her face was there once again, her hair rooting itself into the nocturnal air. She laughed mockingly and opened her mouth. She edged toward him and the mouth grew in size. She would devour him.
      Saihung heard the temple bells almost inaudibly; dawn was coming. She pressed toward him. He could feel her hot breath, as her lips and teeth opened.
       A ray of light edged through the rim of one of the skylights and struck her face. She retreated and reappeared in the beautiful form that she first had come to him. The grotto brightened, and she faded with a moan.
(The Wandering Taoist, 227-8; cf. Chronicles of Tao, 152)
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Click for video of Wudang Dragongate Master engaged in meditation/qigong exercises
IV. Ascetic Practices
Within Daoism we find constellations of symbols, ideas, and ideals that throughout Chinese history channeled spiritual energies and elicited profound emotional responses. In many instances that translated into commitments to ways of life and systems of spiritual practice that met genuinely felt religious needs, which often brought about far-reaching personal and communal transformations. Daoist teachings encapsulated multifaceted systems of meaning and value, which found concrete expressions in colorful rituals and other patterns of sacral behavior that reinforced group cohesion and a sense of belonging, but also opened avenues for individualistic quests for personal development and transformation. (Introducing Chinese Religions, 63)
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Zhuangzi and the Butterfly Dream
Mystical Practices in Early Daoism
Cover of "Original Tao"The practices of self-discipline advocated in Inward Training and its companion texts parallel practices advocated in other textual sources of early Taoism. In fact, they are not altogether unlike those found in many other mystical traditions throughout the world. They are essentially apophatic — that is, they involve a systematic process of negating, forgetting, or emptying out the contents of consciousness (perceptions, emotions, desires, thoughts) found in ordinary experience based in the ego-self. This systematic emptying leads to increasingly profound states of tranquility until one experiences a fully concentrated inner consciousness of unity, which is filled with light and clarity and is not tied to an individual self.
       Some sources imply further that this condition of unitary consciousness is temporary and that upon returning to normal differentiating consciousness the concerns of the self that had previously characterized one's conscious experience are no longer present. Therefore the sage thus transformed becomes selfless, impartial, unmoved by common passions and prejudices, and singularly able to respond spontaneously and harmoniously to any situations that arise and to exert a numinous influence upon them. (Original Tao, 125)
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Gourd with liquid elixir and dish of elixir pills
Inner & Outer Alchemy
Neidan & Waidan

Daoist alchemy is divided into two broad categories: inner and external. The first focuses on internal processes of transforming the life energies within the body, while the second involves the chemical preparation and ingestion of elixirs that supposedly effect the gestation of an immortal body. Ge Hong was a prominent advocate of external or laboratory alchemy, the earlier of the two, mentions of which already appear  in records from the early Han era. In his Master who Embraces Simplicity we can find descriptions of various substances — such as cinnabar, gold, and mercury — and chemical processes of purification and transmutation that were involved in the concoction of elixirs of immortality.
Two alchemy charts with details (in Chinese) on the process of Inner Alchemy (Neidan)
Some of the substances he and others used had toxic properties (e.g. mercury). That made the experimentation with them a precarious enterprise, since when used improperly or ingested in large doses they could be dangerous, even fatal, as can be seen from documented cases of seekers of immortality dying from poisoning. While aware of such dangers, alchemists like Ge Hong believed that the creation of an elixir — perceived as a perfectly pure substance that corresponded to the original pure element that emerged at the point of cosmic creation — was a goal that was well worth pursuing; it held the promise of transforming the body to a primordially pure state that ensured immortality. (Introducing Chinese Religions, 78)
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Daoyin exercises from Mawangdui chart
Chinese characters for qigongEarly morning in most Chinese cities a curious ritual takes place. In parkways, on sidewalks, in private courtyards and public squares, people congregate in groups as small as two and as large as two hundred or more. They stand and swing their arms in circles, drawing the morning air inside themselves with sweeping gestures. Here, a group follows a leader through a cycle of movements that repeat again and again. There, on the next corner, a smaller group practices seemingly randomly. Yet there seems to be an internal coherence. Sometimes there is music. Often they practice in silence. ... In recent years, qi gong has been gaining an enormous popularity in China, as it has around the world. Practitioners consider it the dao of preserving life, a treasure from ancient times. Contemporary masters claim followings that number in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Not only are the followers of such masters legion, so are the myths and legends that have grown up around individuals supposed to possess “special skills.” In numerous schools of qi gong around China, something from the country’s ancient cultural past is alive and flourishing. It is as if the magic of the ancient shaman reemerged in the midst of China’s headlong rush to the twenty-first century. (A Brief History of Qi117-8)
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Qi gong is a generic term that is used to describe a considerable variety of schools of thought and approaches to the practice of developing the qi. ... The origins of qi gong are not precisely known. ... It is conceivable that among the Chinese there have been practitioners of some form or other of qi gong since the dawn of civilization. The oldest coherent system of exercises designed to guide and cultivate qi, however, date to before the beginning of the imperial era of Chinese history. ... [In the Ke Yi chapter of the Zhuangzi, ] there are clear references to this early systematic method of developing the power of qi and harnessing its life extending potentials. “One who practices dao yin [exercise to lead and guide the qi] to preserve one’s health seeks to be like Peng Zu who excelled at longevity.” (A Brief History of Qi, 118-9)
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“The special quality of tai ji quan,” according to the great twentieth century tai ji master Cheng Man Ching, “is its ability to sink the ch’i  to the tan t’ien.” For the past several decades, the art of tai ji quan, or “yin yang boxing” as it is sometimes called, has been rapidly and steadily growing in popularity outside of China. ... The system of postures and movements which was highly developed by the Chen clan in Hebei Province during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries incorporated the fundamental principles of Daoist philosophy into a regimen of exercise, meditation, qi gong, and martial techniques. The entire system depends upon a comprehension of yin and yang, for the name, tai ji quan, literally means “tai ji boxing.” Tai ji is the term used to describe the interrelationship of yinyang. (A Brief History of Qi, 154-5)
Image showing the three "dantian" (cinnabar fields) in the human body
Recall that the dan tian is a special point in the body, located approximately one and one-third inches below the navel in the interior of the body somewhat less than half-way behind the front of the lower abdomen. Its name reveals an important aspect of its significance. The word dan comes from Daoist alchemy. It is a name associated with the long-sought-after internal elixir [See Chapter 5]. The Daoists believed that an elixir of sorts could be fashioned without the use of herbs or chemicals through the concentration of qi and jing (essence) within the body. ... Tai ji quan, springing from Daoist sources, incorporates the dan tian as the focal point of the entire exercise. ... Indeed, tai ji teachers who agree on little else can generally be found to be in accord on this one fundamental principle of the art: only by concentrating the qi, the functional power of the body, in the dan tian can the student make real progress. (A Brief History of Qi, 157-8)

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Turning yin-yang symbol
Professor Hoffert having his pulse taken by a traditional Chinese doctor at Song City Theme Park

Medical Diagnosis
“Song City” Theme Park

Copy of the diagnosis from the above diagnosis
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Cover of "The Wandering Taoist"Saihung looked deeply into himself. He was completely immersed in that which was inner. Inner became everything. Inside and outside became one. Plunging deep within, he came to the perfect realization. Inner and outer became one in infinity.
       He was a focus.  A pinpoint in the cosmos. A place where infinity had congealed into one mass of movement and experience. Qi had become the Five Elements, had become Yin and Yang, had become a human being. He was a microcosm of eternity.
       Saihung imagined the Big Dipper Constellation.
       Silence. Space. Everything was real. Nothing was real. Both were equal. Time and space doubled back on each other in serpentine layers and lost their distinction. What went beyond duality?
       The Big Dipper descended.
       Humanity was a microcosm of the universe. They were one. One was everything. The organs were planets. The psychic centers were novas. The meridian points were stars. The meridians were pathways to heaven.
       The Big Dipper came to him. He called it. He willed it.
       He entered it, and it lifted him past the highest clouds, through the sleek canopy of the azure sky into blackness. All was dark save the scatter of stars. The universe was night, but day exploded and burned in its folds.
       He hung there floating. It was soundless. He had projected the stars into himself and now he himself was projected like a star. He was a body in space. Like a planet. A meteor. A sun.
       But there was a deeper state. He still was a body. Why was it here, but not over there?
       His body expanded in a silent explosion. His perfect mechanism unwound and shot itself in a thousand directions. The body was gone, but an intention still lingered. A memory, distant and shimmering
— a strange streak of individualism still floating in space.
       The streak dissipated. Beyond stars, planets, and dimensions, beyond any kaleidescope of reality, piercing infinite layers. Gone. There was only Nothingness.
       Saihung sat in the cavern. He felt small. Humble. He was the speck that was everything and nothing.
(The Wandering Taoist, 230-1; cf. Chronicles of Tao, 154-5)
Venn Diagram showing three dimsensions of religion: belief, practice, and experience
From Three Dimensions of Religion
to Four Dimensions of Daoism
Venn Diagram Showing Four Areas of Daoist Practice