Painting by Chen YuLian

The Mogadao Monastic Path

The Life of a MogaDao Daoist Monk

Zhenzan Dao is the first MogaDao Daoist monk, and it is not necessarily their intention to create a monastic lineage, though within the paradigm of the practice tradition of MogaDao it is perhaps necessary to imagine that others might wish to follow a monastic path. Zhenzan Dao has always been drawn to monasticism, but never found a monastic context, in the East or the West, that combined meditation and prayer, religious and philosophic scholarship, artful manual labor and highly refined physical practice, cultivation of sexual vitality through qigong and Internal Alchemy as the refinement of the creative force in life, compassion, selflessness, and community service, radical simplicity and the necessity for action in the face of injustices to the human and more-than-human world. For these reasons Zhenzan Dao has harkened back to an imaginary “moment” in time—perhaps early in the Tang Dynasty—when the vastness of meditation and the necessity of compassion, as well as the spirituality inherent in careful manual labor and artistic expression, may have commingled seamlessly with Daoist naturalism and the attention to energetic patterns of the Way. The practice tradition that supports these spiritual ends they call MogaDao: The Way of Complete Harmony. What, then, characterizes the life of a MogaDao Daoist monk?

The life of a MogaDao monk is framed by three meditations a day, each ranging in duration from 30 minutes to an hour (unless they are teaching or otherwise serving during their usual hours of meditation), and regular periods of silence and the abstinence from communicative technologies, a practice that Zhenzan Dao has called Inward Honing, which they practice on every Sunday, with rare exceptions often associated with teaching. They spend roughly one-third of their waking hours practicing the 5 MogaDao disciplines in order to bring a supreme refinement of this training to the lay world, or to commune through practice with natural forces and so cohere the human and more-than-human world as a vocation. They study sacred and scholarly religious and philosophical texts daily and practice some form of fine, patient, creative labor. (And in the particular case of Zhenzan Dao they write—poetry and fiction and exegetical works—as a sacrament of being.) They wear the same outfit every day: specially designed practice pants strong enough for rigorous training and for manual labor, and invariably a simple work coat.

The primary colors of the MogaDao monk’s clothing are black and indigo blue, black being the color of simplicity and focus, and of cosmological power, as black contains all colors, and indigo being the color of compassion and spiritual understanding, and of contemplative life that is open to, and grateful for, community. They take only one meal a day, at mid-day, unless they are teaching or serving in some other capacity during the mid-day hours, or if they are invited to share someone’s food.

They wear a “míngjìng 明鏡,” which means “a clear bright lens.” A MogaDao míngjìng is a broad, durable cloth pocket that they sew themselves and wear on their chests, inside of which are two sets of vows, communal vows that are unchanging and common to all MogaDao monks, and personal vows that the monk makes on the last Sunday of each month, which is always a day of “Inward Honing,” a period of silence and the abstinence from communicative and information technologies. They devote themselves to humility and gratitude three times a day, in prayer after their meditations. They seek with all their words and actions and thoughts, and in every circumstance of their lives, to celebrate the inestimable gift of life and time—the miracle of Being itself—and to heal trauma, suffering, and isolation in the human and the more-than-human world, in whatever ways they can.

On The MogaDao Monastic Path ~An Excerpt from Zhenzan Dao’s Journals

On The MogaDao Monastic Path

~An Excerpt from Zhenzan Dao’s Journal

“When I was younger, I thought that listening carefully to inner rhythms, and then living accordingly—eating when I was hungry, practicing when I was strong—or weak—reading and writing when my mind was sharp—I thought this was refined understanding. Now I am older, and I am interested in distrusting my understanding, and overwhelming my own sensibility by surrendering to a rhythm of life that, although it of course includes me, is also larger than me—by which of course I mean understanding myself all the more deeply. For to understand the self is to understand what the self wishes to commit to, in order to reveal itself. And that revelation does not always come immediately to the sensibility or to the so-called “understanding.” And for this reason one makes vows, which means that one lives not only according to what one feels at any given time, but in relation to the ultimate scope and purpose of one’s life, which is always within and also seemingly just without one’s reach—and so one reaches a little more.

I imagined a monastic tradition in which meditation was a constant embracing frame, a life replete with the attention to nature, in a location that demanded the utmost in simplicity, a life of quite literally chopping wood and carrying water, and weather that, like the gods, changed on a dime and put the beautiful, fragile grain of sand that is my life into proper perspective.

I sought a life of study, of silence, of vast distances, of the writing of poetry and fiction and exegetical contributions as a sacrament, of the sound of wind, of bracing and artful martial and fitness training, of deepest qigong and flowing and powerful hatha yoga, of prayer for others, and for myself. But I no longer could embrace Daoist reclusiveness. I’ve grown suspicious of pious isolation. A monk’s life would have to turn toward the community, with all the resources gleaned from the literal and figurative “mountain.” And those resources would in turn bow to the even greater resource of a simple human face turned, even for a second, toward my own.

And the body could never be denied. Sexuality could never be denied, for to deny sexuality is, to me, to deny birth and death, and everything in-between. It is also, I believe, to deny destiny. For sexuality, the life-force essence called jing in the language of the ancient Chinese, holds—in my interpretation of this essence—the particulars of our desire. And our desire, if we know ourselves well enough, leads us to the truthful, the destined and necessary relationships of our lives, whether or not we choose to consummate these with lovemaking. All that is powerful that moves through us is here to be refined—this is my faith in being. This faith—that all that is powerful that moves through us is here to be refined—is the core faith, or perhaps what might be called the moral force and credo behind the entire practice tradition of MogaDao. And so it is with sexuality.

Why is it, I asked, that monks in antiquity could train in the fighting arts in order to sublimate violence into beauty, as a way to commune with nature, indeed to become nature, but that sexuality, an equally powerful force, had to be shunned and not in a like way sublimated? Why is it, I asked, that the work of refining one’s sexuality into joyful specificity and child-like (by which I mean imaginatively unimpeded, not childish) faith in life and fecundity is not also the work of piety? It is, I answered.

So I made a life of dedicated routine, one that I felt gave homage to existence itself, and I took vows that were permanent, and vows that I made anew each month, according to places in my spirit where I knew myself to be in need of spiritual growth. And I wore these inside a strong pocket on my chest so that I would not waste the precious last half of my life by not existing as the person that I am. For that’s what a vow should do: help us to be the people we were born to be. I celebrated my faith in the body as a religious rite and a natural responsibility. I made of that faith an ethics of wakefulness and sensibility. For the heart is that part of the body that remembers every living thing as itself. And the mind is that part of the body that perceives. In the silences I let my soul move out to others’ suffering, for there is no mountain pass, I have realized, to walk across; there is no world to leave. The world one leaves is the selfsame world that lies before one. And one is not one: one is two, and three, and an infinitude of others. One is always looking for the ones who are looking. That is my Daoist interpretation of the Buddhist Bodhisattva, what I might call the secret mystery at the heart of that sacred trope: that enlightenment consists of returning to where one already is. The net of Being is made of Eternity. Therefore disillusion can never be pious. And so that legend of the legendary founder of Daoism must be wrong, even as a mythology. For Laozi could never have grown weary of the world. For how can a sage be disillusioned? I was late to learn this, and I beg the patience of anyone I have ever met in my life for every moment that I was disillusioned or tired of the so-called wrong-turning of the world. For the world is always right. Even when it’s wrong it is right, for we dispose our hearts as worlds, and make worlds—or we do not.

And so I became an apprentice; I gave myself a year to live like this, in order to ascertain my soul. But already, long before that year is through, I am more joyful than I have ever been. And the miracle is this: even the idea of isolation has lost all purchase on my soul. I can’t wait to go to town to teach, to share my small portion with those who wish to study with me, those who seem to me now like graces—and I am ceaselessly amazed that there are so many. For my students are my wilderness too, just as much as the mountain where I live. And they, too, are my sanctuary, just as much as the cliff-top cabin which is my monastery. For their attention to what I hold dear makes me dear. My students are for me, I have finally realized, precisely what they think I am for them.

Becoming a MogaDao Daoist Monk

There may be a few individuals who, in the near or far future, might wish to live the life of a MogaDao monastic. (The term “monk,” within the tradition of MogaDao, applies to all genders.) As of the present writing—May 2017—there is no communal monastic residence planned for MogaDao monks, though it is quite possible that in the future there could be such a residence. At present, and at least in the near future, MogaDao monks would be independent, highly self-disciplined individuals who live alone, or, because celibacy is not a requirement of a MogaDao monk, with their partners, companions, or families.

The first requirement on the path to becoming a MogaDao monastic is to become a MogaDao Sifu. At that point, one can embark on a year-long apprenticeship as a MogaDao monk. (Zhenzan Dao is currently engaged in just such a year of apprenticeship, from January 2017 to January 2018). In order to prepare for this year of apprenticeship, the aspirant would meet with Master Zhenzan Dao to discuss their spiritual interest in a monastic life, plans for their self-guided MogaDao training program and Empty Sky Embodied Meditation regimen, the two sets of vows—communal (unchanging, common to all MogaDao monks) and personal (private and renewed monthly)—the sewing of their mingjing, the chest pocket for their vows, the trajectory and tenor of their spiritual and religious and philosophical study, their clothing requirements, their dietary schedule, their vision(s) for their particular style of manual relation to the material world, and their anticipated service to the human and more-than-human world.

If, upon completing the year of apprenticeship, the aspirant decides that they wish to continue on and become ordained as a MogaDao Daoist monk, they are further required to pass a month in Inward Honing. “Inward Honing” is a phrase conceived by Master Zhenzan Dao to describe the practice of the abstinence from speaking and, simultaneously, the abstinence from all communicative technologies (computers, televisions, radios, and cellular phones, etc.). MogaDao monks, although they engage sanely and circumspectly (and gratefully) with current technologies, will practice Inward Honing on Sundays, with rare exceptions, and for other extended and various lengths of time in order to realign themselves with their most fundamental purposes, sharpen their sensitivities and sensibilities, and heighten their awareness of numinous reality, immanent and/or transcendent. Additionally, the last Sunday of each month, during Inward Honing, is the day on which a MogaDao Monk renews (rewrites) their personal (monthly) vows. The initiatory practice of a month of Inward Honing, for the monastic aspirant, will be guided and supported by Zhenzan Dao. Upon completion of a month of Inward Honing, the monastic will be ritualistically ordained by the MogaDao practice community, all other MogaDao monks, and Master Zhenzan Dao.