(written for Demystifying Meditation)
Daoism is an ancient Chinese religion (roots of Daoism go back to 4BCE) that places emphasis on developing your virtue, and places special value on the values of compassion, frugality, and humility. Daoist also seek to live in accordance with the will of the Dao, which can be translated as the “way” or the “doctrine”. Another way to describe the Dao is that it is the will of the living universe, which we are all aspects of. Daoists have many ways of better connecting themselves to the will of the universe, including their ceremonies, holy texts, and meditation.
Daoist meditation also preceded and contributed to Chinese medicine and martial arts, who have borrowed some practices and share common beliefs about the human body and the universe. This system focuses on what they call the “internal alchemy” of the body. The energies inside the body must be balanced properly and there is a special emphasis on the life force, or “qi”.
Buddhist and Daoist meditation have been entwined and interrelated since ancient times, and the “Guan” form of Daoist meditation is based on the concept of Buddhist mindfulness meditation.The major difference between Buddhist and Daoist practice is what each school focuses on: Buddhist practice focuses on the mind, and Daoist practice focuses first on the mind, then on balancing the body’s energy, and aligning oneself with the will of the universe. Some some it is most easy to learn Daoist meditation after learning the Zen style, because both focusing on emptying and stilling the mind, while focusing placing more focus on the body’s posture and internal energies.
In Western society, we have been introduced to variations of most of the main aims of Daoist meditation, even if the specific practice isn’t well known. Concentration, mindfulness, contemplation, and visualization are all used in Daoist meditation, making it a multifaceted and highly compatible addition to anyone’s practice. There are three main forms of Daoist meditation: Ding, Guan, and Cun.
Ding means to stabilize, fix in place or settle down. It is the primary form of meditation in Daoist meditation, meaning you must learn this style and become proficient in it before practicing other forms. This meditation is carried out in much the same way as the mindfulness meditation that we’re currently studying. The focus is mainly on the breath – either following its movement through the nose, or the contraction and expansion of the stomach.
Guan means to watch, observe, or scrutinize. It is much the same as vipassana/mindfulness, but is also has elements of samatha, which watches the breath. The goal here is to become one with the Dao, the will of the universe.
Cun means to survive or be present, and focuses on visualizing many different aspects of oneself, the universe, and all that’s between. The Neigun practice involves visualizing one’s body, mind, and organs, inner deities and thought processes.
I am definitely interested in pursuing Daoist meditation once I have mastered mindfulness and more mainstream Buddhist techniques. It seems like there is much more information available on the Buddhist techniques, also they focus much less on tradition and ritual than Daoist forms. What I’ve learned from the Daoist philosophy that more than mindfulness should be carried over into one’s day, but also the cultivation of virtue and a desire to do what is best for others.