Email: Qianfeng Daoism and the Hua Tou (Ch’an) Method (7.8.2017)


Dear J
Thank you for your email.
Master Zhao considers ‘religious’ (i.e. ‘jiao’) Daoism to be ineffective and premised upon imagination. This is the school that encourages flying through the sky and visiting divine realms, etc. Philosophical Daoism (of which the Qianfeng School is a part), by way of contrast, specifies a set of inner exercises designed to build jing, qi and shen (i.e. ‘neidan’). The mind must still be ‘calmed’ before these methods work, regardless of lineage. However, Zhao Bichen considered his main masters to be two Ch’an Buddhist monks (who together passed on the Wu Liu Daoist lineage to him). Their input added the Ch’an method of ‘hua tou’ to the Daoist practice. This allowed the Daoist practitioner to ‘settle’ their mind quickly – and penetrate the empty mind ground (shen). Without the hua tou (such as ‘who is looking?’), Daoists follow their breathing or jing-qi circulation to settle the mind – but this takes a very long-time to be successful. This is very similar to the Theravada method of early Buddhism – but within early Buddhism, monks and nuns lived in quiet and idyllic environments, which automatically calmed the mind and body for further development. These slower methods certainly work if a practitioner lives apart from everyday society, does not have a family or has to earn a living. Many philosophical Daoists also live in the remote hills and are able to calm their minds and attune themselves with nature. However, Zhao Bichen was a laymen who lived in society and worked for a living. He was also a very famous martial artist who fought and won many challenge matches (working for a time as a bodyguard and salt tax collector). He found that the hua tou method was perfect for ‘cutting through’ the confusion and emotionality associated with everyday living – and this is why he retained its use in the Qianfeng School.
Peace in the Dao

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