Regular readers will have seen that I sometimes quote from the contemporary Daoist (Taoist) author Deng Ming-Dao, and as we rapidly approach the Chinese New Year it gives me pleasure to recommend his recent book “The Lunar Tao”, published by Harper-Collins in 2013.
According to the publishers:
“The lunar calendar is a main pillar of Chinese culture, encompassing many stories and festivals. Deng Ming-Dao looks to the lunar calendar and highlights where these festivals and stories coincide with Taoism, giving readers a renewed and original way into this ancient philosophy.
Each day of the lunar year is represented with a reading meditation, original translations, illustrations and illuminating facts about festivals and traditions, providing readers with the context that gives Taoism such depth and resonance.”
How to approach the book
I bought this book while on a teaching visit to Colorado when it was first published, having read all of the author’s previous books. However, once I understood the layout of the book – a day by day journey through the year in keeping with the changing seasons – I put it aside and waited until the start of the next Chinese year. Between February 2014 and 2015 I made my way through the book, and found my knowledge of Daoism (Taoism) immeasurably enlarged, and my life enriched.
I have returned to it in the subsequent years, and plan to do so again in the coming 12 months, because it is a book that is worth reading and assimilating over time, again and again.
Although each day is generally given one page, there are additional sections which fill in more detail about the cultural, philosophical and historical background of Daoism. There is also a simple Qigong exercise for each fortnight of the year. I found that working my way through the book could take from 5 minutes to half an hour daily, depending on my level of engagement. It was consistently time very well spent.
At no point does the author crudely preach or proselytise his beliefs; indeed he shows genuine respect to those other important belief systems of China – Buddhism and Confucianism – showing how they also have contributed to understanding of Dao, and highlighting the syncretic nature of Chinese thought.
Occasionally I lost track of which day in the lunar year we had reached, but Deng Ming-Dao provides a helpful calendar here on his website, which you will no doubt also find invaluable. The author further helps you keep on track on his Facebook Page which includes additional meditations and topical essays at regular intervals, and has become one of my favourite social media destinations.
As you will by now have gathered, “The Lunar Dao” provides a discursive introduction to Daoist (Taoist) philosophy, practice, and to the folk religions and cultural traditions that often go hand in hand with its history and development in mainland China. As such, those looking for a linear exposition of key Daoist thoughts (such as Yin-Yang, Taiji, Wu-Wei, the Five Phases/Elements, and so on) will need to look elsewhere.
However, these are all covered – it’s just that the book is organised to reinforce cyclical rather than linear learning, and I found this to be a powerful approach.
A Beautiful Book
The book is beautifully produced, clearly a shared labour of love both on the part of author and publisher. It includes more than 400 superb photographs and illustrations, including Deng Ming-Dao’s own artworks and woodcarvings by his grandfather, whose story he movingly tells in the book’s introduction.
What perhaps makes this a particular contrast to other books that seek to introduce Daoist thought to the West is that, while they tend to dilute the Chinese cultural background in order to make Daoism more accessible and relevant to westerners, Deng Ming-Dao here unapologetically takes the opposite approach, and in so doing proves there is no need for any artificial cultural dichotomy. His writing at once speaks to the authentic Chinese traditions while pointing to the broader universal lessons that westerners can draw from each story, tradition and practice.
And as he explains in his detailed introduction (which is essential reading, by the way) :
“The concept and tradition of Tao happen to have their origins in China, but Tao is universal. People all over the world have embraced it and study it. Tao is a spiritual path for anyone who wishes to find understanding and contentment in life.
Imagine you were reading a French cookbook. You would want to know that the recipes were authentic, and you would enjoy knowing about the background of the dishes. But you wouldn’t have to be French to cook the meals, and you certainly wouldn’t have to be French to eat them!
Taoism is the same way. Yes, it has a Chinese background; yes, it is thoroughly a part of its culture; and yes, it has thoroughly shaped that culture in return. Yet one need not be Chinese to be Taoist, and one certainly need not be Chinese to be nourished by Taoism.”
Speaking as a westerner who is indeed “nourished by” Daoism (Taoism), I can heartily concur with the author’s sentiment – and recommend this book as one that offers a particularly fine feast!
For those interested in Daoism (Taoism) this book of daily essays and insights is the perfect choice. An outstanding resource, highly recommended!