Sunday, December 11, 2011

Academic studies on Taoist Meditation

In recent years, there has been quite a number of academic studies on Taoist meditation (Neidan) in the form of PhD Thesis. The trend was sparked by academics in Mainland China, followed by, as far as I know, similar studies in HK and USA. It is interesting to note that whereas some mass practice-driven Taoist groups (notably Fa Lun Gong 法轮功) have been banned in China, these "small inner group research" have been allowed or tolerated, and academics in China have been careful not to over-step their boundaries. I shall argue that they have nothing to worry about, because these publications are destined to be highly niche in nature.  I shall explain below.

Academics, in order to be successful as academics, tend to make their studies rather incomprehensible to the general reading public, in particular with their PhD thesis which aim at impressing their academic superiors and seniors. One notable PhD thesis is by Clarke Hudson, current Assistant Professor of Indian University. Thesis title: Spreading the Dao, Managing mastership, and performing salvation: The life and alchemical teachings of Chan ZhiZu. An interesting subject for the Western readers, Taoist master Chen ZhiXu (陈致虚) was a famous Taoist at his time, and he, according to our professor, had been practicing corporeal sexual chi-kung for enlightenment!

However, before a western reader can proceed further with this seemingly interesting subject, he has to climb some formidable academic hurdles. One example is as follows, our professor told us his methodology this way:

"These seven perspectives that I hold as essential for the study of inner alchemy - philological, exegetical,historical, structural/institutional, discursive, textuality, and self-reflective do not exhaust the field, of course. Other perspectives that I do not address in the dissertation include philosophy, ethics, the lived body, the sacred,psychology, metaphor theory,cognitive science, neuroscience, and biomedicine. The study of laboratory alchemy would also include the perspective of chemistry. Religion is also a necessary perspective for the study of inner alchemy, but I do not list it as an eighth perspective since it is related to all of the perspectives, especially the exegetical, institutional, and discursive perspectives."

If one wonders what the professor meant by "discursive", one should note that our professor told us that he was referring to the "discourse" approach of one modern intellectual-cum-thinker, Frenchman Michel Foucault.  In my more youthful years, I browsed some of Foucault's publications, e.g. Birth of the Clinic, and noticed that our intellectual is an expert in presenting the mentalities of relevant players in some historical era and the development of such mentalities as they changed the subject matter (like the Clinic, which Foucault gave a more fancy name: Discourse), and how the subject matter changed the players mentalities as a result. It may sound complicated, but the gist of the matter is, writing is a lousy communication means to show such changes to the general public (that's why Foucault's stuffs are very difficult to comprehend - fault of a choice of bad medium rather than the inability of any honest reader of intellect!). Nowadays, a movie will probably be a better choice.

Before falling into the academic pit myself, I am contended to rest my case here, and I shall discuss Chan's practice and Hudson's point-of-view towards his practice in some future posts.

Neidan text by Chan ZhiXu

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