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Taoist Meditation: Methods for Cultivating a Healthy Mind and Body Paperback – 1 Jul 2000
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The ancient meditation techniques of Taoism encompass a wide range of practices, aiming to cultivate a healthy body as well as an enlightened mind. The texts in this book represent the entire range of Taoist meditation techniques, from sitting meditation practices to inner alchemy.
About the Author
Thomas Cleary holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University and a JD from the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law. He is the translator of over fifty volumes of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and Islamic texts from Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Pali, and Arabic.
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Most of the texts in this volume boil down the thinking behind Taoist meditation to some very clear, refreshing, graspable concepts -- and in that regard they are actually, on the whole, helpful in fostering a practice of Taoist meditation. One thing I like about the texts Cleary has chosen for this book (some are crucial, in fact; and all are important/enriching) is that they largely eschew the more esoteric aspects of the alchemical tradition. Not that there's anything wrong with alchemy per se, and I've read a lot about it myself, but they are too often couched in mystical obfuscations and rarely actually tell you how to practice it. These texts tell you mostly pretty clearly what both the theory and practice behind Taoist meditation really are. At times they gesture toward the language/symbolism of alchemy, but always with the emphasis on stilling the mind and tuning the breath, then letting most of the rest happen naturally.
I like that most or all of the six chosen texts give some practical advice on how to deal with "stirring [or random] thoughts" and the idea/s behind stilling the mind, avoiding obsession, and bringing it in tune with "true reality" or maybe even "the Way."
I also like the simplicity in the approach of these thinkers (some of whom are named, some of whom are anonymous or who perhaps deliberately chose not to seek personal fame). Where the alchemists often write in riddles and exhort the reader to seek a teacher for the sake of oral transmission of the real practice, in "The Sayings of Taoist Master Danyang," the writer actually states up-front, upon giving his basic approach, "You do not necessarily need to ask another for instruction."
Cleary's translations are direct, readable, and as far as I can tell (I don't speak Chinese) give the meaning and intent of the original without much bias.
Here are the problems with the book:
Cleary, perhaps uncharacteristically, gives very little context. There's a brief introduction filled with vague, fluffy clichés (e.g. "Taoism...is drawing increasing attention in the modern West."). Following these banal, practically useless statements about the appeal of Taoism in the West, there is only a paragraph or so each on the six texts. This volume would really have benefited from more context, more annotation, more footnotes explaining the references and key concepts. Cleary in fact does do this sort of thing in many of his other books, so who knows why he didn't here. But, as a package, this book really suffers for this lack. If you know something about Taoism already, you can get by without it, but if this is one of your first books on Taoism, you will want to do a lot of supplementary research. I would hope that if Cleary continues to do new work, that he go back to his more scholarly approach. Even for a general audience -- we're smart enough to follow your research, my friend! That said, the ideas here do still shine through; I'm just saying that they would shine even stronger with additional information.
It also annoys me (and this may be a personal bias) that certain of the texts, especially the "Treatise on Sitting and Forgetting" and the "Cultivation of Realization," when they talk about life in general, tend be moralistic and overly ascetic. At certain points, "Sitting Forgetting" actually rants against sexuality and puts forward a rather anti-woman point of view (beautiful women are supposedly temptresses, and all that kind of stuff). I could really do without that kind of thing. When it comes to Taoist morality, I'll take Li Po over the body-hating sexists (even though otherwise the writers here have a lot of worthwhile things to say).
I teach Taoist Meditation, Taiji, and Qigong, and for years I have carried this book with me everywhere. I know some reviewers here have commented it tells you nothing about how to meditate, and that is debatable. There are so many styles of meditation a how to book would be very limiting indeed! The important thing about meditation is #1 that you do it! and #2 that you have a philosophy of life. Following the Way is a lifestyle, superior people don't "dabble" in meditation!
By understanding the truths about reality we can have fruitful meditation. Without a philosophy of life meditation is worthless; worse than that is can be harmful.
These five short books that have been compiled here will give the reader some "seeds" for fruitful meditation. Of course, read Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu, and everything else you can. I have read almost every book out there on Tao, no kidding. But I have never found a book as cool as this one for just bringing all the things that we want to sort of program into our sub-conscious mind. The short chapters make for great discussions at a workshop or class. During meditations our mind will seek hidden truths that we carry within, this book is an excellent source of those truths that are packaged to be assimilated into our spirits.