The Daoist Body

The body is the pre-eminent space in which Daoist cultivation takes place, and Daoist cultivation aims to reshape the way in which energy flows within the body. The most popular type of Daoist energy practices is Qigong (Chi-kung) which became popularized in China in the 20th century. All Daoist energy practices, however, rely on an understanding of the body as a sacred space that is infinitely deep.

When watching the following four clips on the body, note down your answers to the following questions. Not every question will be applicable to each clip. Your answers to these questions will be used as the basis for discussion at the end of this section:

In the first clip, Solala Towler explains what he sees as the main difference between Daoism and other forms of cultivation.

Daoist Body-Space

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In this clip, Solala Towler makes a clear distinction between Daoist cultivation and many other "new-age" cultivation practices that might commonly fall under the category of "self-help" or pop psychology." Daoism's insistence on the body as the central field of spiritual experience radically challenges the modern Western emphasis on the mind, rational knowledge and information technology. Perhaps this is one reason for the increasing popularity of Qigong in the modern West.

In the next clip Roger Jahnke describes the physical sensations associated with Qigong.

The Physical Body and the Psychological Body

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Roger Jahnke explains the Daoist body on two levels: the physical and the psychological. Daoism treats both these aspects of the body holistically: the one cannot be separated from the other. Thus the phsyical cultivation practices that comprise a set of Qigong movements lead, over a period of time, to certain emotional and pschological experiences. The cultivation practices that were developed by Daoist monks in the 11th century and onwards place an equal emphasis on body and mind, referring to this as the dual cultivation of inner nature (heart-mind) and life (body). Thus the Daoist body should not be viewed as a purely physical or physiological entity, though it certainly has that aspect to it. The Daoist body simply refers to the totality of energy that constitutes a person, whether that energy takes what we could call a more physical form--breath and blood--or whether it takes a more ethereal form--feelings and spirit. Both are to be understood as aspects of the dynamic energy-system of the body.

The Hidden Depths of the Daoist Body

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In this clip, Solala Towler explains his view of the body is a microcosm of the universe. The organs are understood as "heavenly orbs", i.e., planets and stars, or nodes in a vast cosmic network that is available to us through our own internal somatic experience. This view resonates with, and builds upon Roger Jahnke's discussion in the previous clip about the depth of physical and psychological experience available in the body "without traveling to the Himalayas." The views of the Daoist body as expressed by Roger and Solala clearly pose a challenge to conventional Western views that have exalted the mind and the spirit over the body seen chiefly as a vehicle or a container. But according to Roger and Solala, Daoists propose that the body is much more than a container for the soul, but rather the means by which Daoists can engage in spiritual cultivation.