- Note: This should be required reading for Heaing Tao students, as it places their path in a larger context than just Chinese Taoism or Western Taoism. You know you’ve been around for a few decades when the scholars finally start writing about you….:)
Daoism beyond Modernity
The “Healing Tao” as Postmodern Movement
by Elijah Siegler
Chapter 11 excerpt from:
Daoism in the Twentieth Century
Between Eternity and Modernity
Edited by David A. Palmer and Xun Liu
Published in association with the University of California Press
The entire book is excellent, and can be accessed for free at: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/13w4k8d4
Postmodern men and women do need the alchemist able, or claiming to be able, to transmogrify base uncertainty into precious self-assurance, and the authority of approval (in the name of superior knowledge, or access to wisdom closed to others) is the philosophical stone these alchemists boast of possessing.
I wish to present two thought experiments as a way to begin to reflect about Daoism and comparative modernity. First, here is a public statement from 1885 by a governing body of what could be called a new religious denomination, with identifying words removed:
We hold that all such —————— laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail
to impress the modern —————— with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation. —————— is a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason.
Could the blanks be filled in with the words “Daoist,” “Chinese,” and “Daoism,” respectively?
Does this sound like an excerpt from a primary document uncovered and translated by Vincent Goossaert or Xun Liu in the course of their research for this volume? In fact, this is a passage from the Pittsburgh Platform, a regularly anthologized document in American religious history textbooks. It announces the principles of a new denomi- nation of Judaism: the Reform Movement. The missing words are “Mosaic and rabbinical,” “Jew,” and “Judaism.” Reform Jews were worried their ancient religion bore too many traces of Old Europe and thus advocated an abbreviated liturgy, prayers in the vernacular, and a regular sermon. One of the founders of the movement, David Einhorn, said, “Judaism had to cleanse itself of ideas and practices antithetical to modernity and rationalism.”1
For the second experiment, imagine a new form of collective religiosity sweeping a large and troubled nation in the mid- to late nineteenth cen- tury. One present-day scholar of this religious movement described the forces that helped shape this religious “craze,” including [t]he increasing cultural authority of science and the corresponding growth of a scientific materialism that denied the existence, or at least the knowability, of spirit; a shift in the emphasis from external and empirical to internal and intuitive sources of religious experience and epistemological authority; [. . .] a transformation from an older religious (and social) order based on deference and hierarchy to a newer one which emphasized personal experience, spiritual equality, and self-reliant individualism; and the emergence of a pluralistic religious culture in which a bewildering array of ideologies and sects competed for support and religious truth seemed increasingly uncertain and relativistic.
As well, this scholar notes how members of this new religious permuta- tion implicitly repudiated “the professionalizing clergy of their society as too mechanical and too influenced by powerful social interests to exer- cise effective religious and moral leadership.” Is the scholar describing the country of China and the conditions necessary for the rise of the Daoist “self-cultivation market” and of spirit-writing groups? Perhaps these quotes are excerpted from a monograph on the modernization of neidan 內丹?
In fact, they are from a book by the historian of American religion Bret Carroll about the forces that helped shape the religion of Spiritualism.2 Part of the American metaphysical tradition, Spiritualism began in upstate New York when the teenage Fox sisters claimed to receive messages from the dead. By the early 1850s, the international craze for spirit communica- tion via séances, spirit rappings, automatic writing, and possession trances had attracted the interest of thousands, including government leaders, lawyers, and journalists. A large segment of the American public would flock to Spiritualist lectures on the lyceum or Chautauqua circuits and by 1854 ten spiritualist publications were circulating nationally.3
What is the point in this frivolous exercise? Why evoke forced com- parisons, through selective quotation, between two moments in American religious history and aspects of Daoism in modernity previously discussed in this volume? I do not mean to show some hidden connection between America and China, nor to prove any kind of essential similarity. This exercise had two modest aims, the first to demonstrate that modernity was a worldwide phenomenon, the second to help us understand that the subject of the remainder of this essay, the popular global Daoist-inspired
movement known as the “Healing Tao,” was not born ex nihilo. Let us take up each aim in turn.
Modernity as Worldwide Phenomenon
Modernity is of course a multiheaded hydra of a concept, but in its world- wide effect on religions one adequate synonym is Protestantization—of clergy, of liturgy, and indeed of the very concept of religion. We might see America and China as two fronts in a worldwide war against ritual, a war that was ultimately unsuccessful, but one with serious repercussions.
This war had higher stakes in China. Certainly America had no equiv- alent to the anti-superstition campaign that, as Lai Chi-tim’s chapter de- scribes it, forbade all Zhengyi 正一 Daoists from performing liturgy and required them to find other employment. But still, in America, Reform Jews willingly engaged in a campaign of self-transformation that involved modernization, purification, “spiritual elevation,” and, though they did not use this term, Protestantization.4
The Reform rabbis remind one of the “literati and religious entrepre- neurs” Goossaert writes about in chapter 5 of this volume, who “resorted to more or less overt anticlerical arguments, claiming that clerics were mostly immersed in performing rituals.” Similarly, the Chinese “redemptive soci- eties” that organized themselves according to new Western-inspired mod- els of religion and opposed superstition were engaged in much the same refashioning as Reform synagogues that instituted Sunday services com- plete with topical sermons and choirs.
Meanwhile, some of Zhao Bichen’s 趙避塵 ideas (also held by his con- temporary Chen Yingning 陳攖寧, as discussed by Xun Liu in chapter 6) paralleled the project of the American spiritualists. These included using a modern Western scientific discourse, attempting to balance between mate- rialism and idealism, a desire to reach a large audience, especially women, and the building of a lay-led movement.
The spirit-writing cultists of China saw their theology as in harmony with, not in opposition to, science, even coining a term for a new aca- demic discipline, lingxue 靈學(spirit studies). Similarly, as one scholar of American religion noted, “because spiritualists insisted that theirs was a new scientific religion, they frequently compared their phenomena to the mysteries of electricity.”5 In fact, due to his connection with the discovery of electricity, Benjamin Franklin became something like the patron saint of the spiritualist movement, his spirit making appearances in trance-lec- tures and automatic writing.
Besides Franklin, other prominent visitors to spiritualist gatherings from “the other side” included “Indian chiefs” and George Washington.6 Just as spiritualism evoked these American “culture heroes,” Chinese spirit-writ- ing groups at around the same time conversed with Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓 and various military heroes. It thus may be argued that both movements were involved in nation-building.
It seems clear then, that these movements are not reactions against modernity, a rearguard action of an enchanted worldview that is rapidly disappearing. Rather these metaphysical movements echo modernity. They share modernity’s concern with purity and with origins. Spiritualism and its heir, the New Age “channeling” movement, negate the need for following living masters, substituting omniscient eternal spiritual beings.7 So too do Chinese spirit-writing cults and self-cultivation circles offer direct unmedi- ated contact with “immortal teachers” and claim access to the “pure source.”
The Birth of Popular Western Daoism
Daoism’s globalizing trajectory is conspicuously different from those of Buddhism or Hinduism. Daoism was not first exported from China by immigrant communities, nor by missionaries, but rather as an act of lit- erary imagination. One part of the story of the popular Western appro- priation of Daoism has been told quite frequently and quite well. Scholar- ship has demonstrated how popular conceptions of Daoism owe much to Victorian-era Orientalist prejudice that emphasized the philosophical ori- gins and “mystic essence of Daoism” in collusion with late-Qing dynasty literati, whom Kristofer Schipper has referred to as “Confucian funda- mentalists.”8
Thanks to this research, we know why bookstores through- out the West sell multiple translations of the Daodejing 道德經 while the contours of Daoist practice, both current and historical, are usually ig- nored, derided, and/or misunderstood.
But there is another story that needs to be told about the Westernization of Daoism, a story that ends with the creation of popular Western Daoist groups.9 The development of modern Western Daoist groups can be traced to the 1965 changes in the immigration laws of the United States and Canada, which brought more Chinese to North America. Since the 1960s, the Chinese population of the United States has been doubling every decade and by 2006 was hovering around three-and-a-half million. This growth had several effects on the development of popular Western Daoism. First, with so many Chinese living in North America, Chinese culture—from martial arts to eating with chopsticks—no longer seemed so exotic as it did
in the 1940s through early 1970s. Second, a handful of these immigrants were experienced in various Chinese religio-physical techniques and eager to teach these skills to willing Americans.
At approximately the same time, young North Americans’ search for spirituality outside traditional institutions (often called “the new religious consciousness”) led them to embrace teachers and practices from Asia. There are anywhere from ten to thirty thousand self-identified American Daoists in the United States and Canada. Typically, they are well educated, middle-class, and white. The majority first heard about Daoism in a college or high school class, was lent a book (typically the Daodejing or The Tao of Pooh) by a friend or family member, or learned about it through taiji 太 極 or martial arts.
Thus, the situation was ripe for the creation of indigenous American Daoist teachers and organizations, the first of which (in the sense of being officially recognized as a tax-exempt religious institution) was the Taoist Sanctuary, founded in North Hollywood, California, in 1970. The founder was not Chinese—though he often played one on television. Khigh Dhiegh was of Anglo-Egyptian descent and was born Kenneth Dickerson in New Jersey. Nonetheless, his sanctuary was the first comprehensive popular Western Daoist organization in America, teaching taiji, martial arts, the Daodejing and the Yijing 易經, and conducting seasonal Daoist rituals (albeit invented by Dhiegh himself).
In 1976, three students of the Taoist Sanctuary, studying Chinese med- icine in Taiwan, met a Chinese doctor who they invited to the United States. Hua-Ching Ni settled in Malibu, California, and opened a shrine called the Eternal Breath of Tao and began teaching classes privately in a venue he named the College of Tao. Over the years, Ni-sponsored organi- zations have multiplied. His private acupuncture clinic was known as the Union of Tao and Man. He also founded Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1989, an accredited degree-granting college.
Moy Lin-Shin 梅連羨 (1931-1998) founded the Taoist Tai Chi Society (TTCS) in 1970 in Toronto. This is perhaps the largest Daoist group in the Western hemisphere, though largely unknown within the American Daoist community, in part because it is based in Canada, a country that the United States often knows little about. The Society teaches “Taoist Tai Chi,” a modified form of yang style taijiquan and has taught thousands of classes in over four hundred locations on four continents. It claims to have some 10,000 dues-paying members worldwide. The Taoist Tai Chi Society’s religious arm is Fung Loy Kok 蓬萊閣 Temple, dedicated in 1981. The original temple was located upstairs from the taiji studio. Most Taoist
Tai Chi studios around the world dedicate at least a corner of their space to a small shrine.
These groups are very different in their structure and teachings, but all invariably use a scientific and anti-ritualistic discourse that shows an unac- knowledged debt to the modernization of Daoism. Thus Daoism’s encoun- ter with modernity paralleled American religion’s similar encounter, in particular the self-purifying and Protestantizing by religious elites and an emphasis on nonempirical beings as imparters of wisdom. This parallel was the precondition through which Daoism could enter the West in the way it did. Daoism had to be modernized before it could be Americanized. And America had to modernize before it could appreciate and appropriate Daoism.
Mantak Chia and the Healing Tao
The most widespread institutional form of popular Western Daoism is the Healing Tao.10 Open to all, Healing Tao teaches a popularized system of breathing, visualization, meditation, and postures, based on the Daoist practice of Inner Alchemy (neidan). The introductory course and the pre- requisite for any further study is called “Tao Basics” and consists of sim- ple techniques to visualize the body’s “five organs” and meridians. These include Microcosmic Orbit (seeing the body’s qi flow), Inner Smile (relax- ing the organs), and Six Healing Sounds (a specific vocalization directed to each internal organ). Other introductory courses include short form taiji and “iron shirt” qigong 氣功.
The Healing Tao’s intermediate level classes introduce students to the techniques and symbolism of internal alchemy. According to a participant-observer, in the class known as “Fusion,” “prac- titioners proceed from mere channeling of energy into techniques of mix- ing energies for the purpose of producing superior, pure quality energy.”11 The advanced levels, whose techniques are not revealed to non-initiates, are “the highest stages of Taoist internal alchemy . . . attained only after many years of living the lower and intermediate practices.”12 In practice, however, an eager student could proceed from Tao Basics up to Congress of Heaven and Earth over the course of a single summer of workshops, or via audio and videotapes.
The Healing Tao was founded by Mantak Chia 謝明德 (b. 1944), a Thai- born Chinese man who was trained in Hong Kong and has a background in both Oriental and Western medicine, as well as in traditional Daoist practices. According to his autobiographical narrative, of his many teach- ers, his most influential was apparently a Daoist hermit who lived in the
hills behind a Quanzhen 全真 temple in Hong Kong. This teacher, called Yi Eng 一雲 (in English “One Cloud”), gave Chia a mandate to use the “Seven Formulas for Immortality” to teach and heal. Yi Eng had trained in a Daoist monastery in the Changbai range in Manchuria for thirty years, where a “grandmaster” taught him the “nine formulae of immortality.” After mastering these, Yi Eng was displaced by the Japanese invasion and the civil wars and wound up in Hong Kong, where Mantak Chia was a high school student at an elite boarding school. Chia heard about a mysterious Daoist master in the mountains above the city, learned from him, and was given authority to teach the formulae.
Chia systematized the various teachings he had received, and in 1974 he opened a clinic in Bangkok called the Natural Healing Center, a place where “for a few pennies people sat on a large platform, charged with a negative ion current strong enough to detoxify chronic ailments.”13 In 1978, Chia moved to New York City and opened a healing and acupuncture cen- ter in Chinatown. By 1981 Chia’s center, now named the Healing Tao Cen- ter, had attracted a coterie of Euro-American students.
Chia’s first book, published in 1983, was titled Awaken Healing Energy through the Tao: The Taoist Secret of Circulating Internal Power. But it was his second book, Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Male Sexual Energy, a year later, that, with its combination of practical advice and tit- illating expectations, “catapulted him to fame, and sold hundreds of thou- sand of copies with virtually no advertising.”14 According to the historian of American religion J. Gordon Melton, Cultivating Male Sexual Energy appeared at approximately the same time as “ a variety of new books on various teachings concerning . . . Tantric yoga, sex magick (à la Aleister Crowley) and New Age sexuality.
Thus the sudden popularity of Chia’s book may have had little to do with the American appropriation of Taoism, but rather Chia’s inadvertently stepping into another popular American subculture.”15 Chia’s book, unlike most earlier books that might be con- sidered part of “popular Western Daoism,” did not focus on the perennial mysticism of Laozi or the Yijing.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, Chia’s Euro-American students helped him organize a national seminar circuit and his Healing Tao grew into one of the largest Western Daoist groups, and a commercially successful inter- national organization, today comprising thousands of certified instruc- tors in many countries. In 1994, Chia moved back to Thailand to establish Tao Garden, an international Healing Tao center in Chiang Mai, where Europeans and Americans train to be instructors, while he continues to make regular tours of North America and Europe.
Chia’s former chief student Michael Winn currently leads Healing Tao USA. Winn spends about half of each year in his home of Asheville, North Carolina, the rest of the time giving workshops in Europe, Mexico, and leading trips to China. Since 1995, Winn has run the Healing Tao Univer- sity, which for ten years convened each summer in upstate New York and bills itself as the “the largest summer program of Tao Arts & Sciences in the world.”16 (As of 2007, it meets in North Carolina.) Winn sees his mis- sion as “teaching a full spectrum of Daoist Arts and Sciences, with the sexual cultivation and alchemy as the core curriculum.” But Healing Tao is no longer officially affiliated with Mantak Chia, even if Chia is a guest teacher every year. In fact, Winn has added several new techniques and he claims his emphasis is quite different from Chia’s. Moreover, he has also successfully developed an international network of Healing Tao instruc- tors, with currently some 1,000 certified teachers worldwide who can be found by location on a central website.
Healing Tao as Modern Daoist Movement
The Healing Tao in some ways resembles Reform Judaism and Spiritual- ism, but more to the point, it resembles the early self-cultivation societ- ies described in Goosseart’s and Liu’s contributions to this volume. The Healing Tao proudly claims to reveal Taoism’s “secrets” to all by teaching them in public and publishing them in plain, demystified, language. “Mas- ter Chia sees that the age has come when the public needs and deserves a clear teaching of this healing power, which was shrouded in China by the same secrecy that surrounded medieval alchemy in Europe,” writes Michael Winn.17 Winn credits this openness to Chia’s Euro-American stu- dents: “Editorial collaboration by myself and other senior students with Mantak Chia resulted in the conversion of what had been a one-to-one ‘ear-whispered’ transmission in China into an open and detailed curricu- lum of progressive courses that Westerners could pay for and take when they were ready.”18
Ironically but perhaps unsurprisingly, despite Healing Tao’s claim to offer its teaching freely and openly, it markets itself through the appeal of secrecy. As we saw, Chia’s first book’s subtitle and his second book’s main title both contained the phrase “Taoist secret.” Some twenty years later, the strategy has not changed. One of his most recent publications is Secret Teachings of the Tao Te Ching.19
Chia’s books are also products of modernity inasmuch as they use sci- entific language to substantiate their claims. For example, Chia’s 1986 book,
Finally, Healing Tao’s modernizing tendencies include a disdain for superstition and ritual. Healing Tao formulates its Daoist identity not as a religion but in counterpoint to religion—which it opposes to esotericism. As Chia puts it: “The Taoists referred to in this essay are the masters of Taoist Esoteric practice, whose traditionally secret methods were studied by Master Mantak Chia. This is not to be confused with the Taoist reli- gion, whose priests combined elements of Buddhism, Esoteric Taoism, and Chinese culture (folk beliefs, confucianism [sic]) in order to maintain a popular base.”21
Michael Winn explicitly uses the discourse of purity and origins that is a hallmark of modernizing religion, arguing that American “Daoism is taking a different form, not necessarily a religious form, than it is taking in China, with temples and uniforms, and the state religion and all that stuff, that’s its history. In the West it’s taking more of the form of personal belief and identification with the Dao and the struc- tures of the Dao, kind of like getting back to early Daoism, before all that existed in China.”22 But to examine the Healing Tao solely as an example of Daoism in modernity would be to diminish its importance and miss its most important qualities. Healing Tao can be most productively viewed as a postmodern Daoist movement. The rest of this chapter generates a pro- file of postmodern religion and then shows how the Healing Tao conforms to this profile.
What is postmodern religion? First, it must be made clear that postmo- dernity does not negate modernity: “Post-modernity is a kind of interim situation where some characteristics of modernity become scarcely rec- ognizable as such, but exactly what the new situation—or even whether any new situation can become ‘settled’—is unclear.”23 All the conditions of modernity are still operative today in postmodern religion.
Postmodernity is hard to define, in part because it is still in the pro- cess of unfolding. There is no need to enter the theoretical quicksand that championing one definition of postmodern religion over others would entail. Here I offer five generally accepted and interrelated traits of post- modern religion.
First, postmodern religion is notable for its eclecticism (hybridization is another current term). Jean-François Lyotard famously defined the post- modern situation as the collapse of all metanarratives.24 Applying this def- inition to religion, Paul Heelas sees “the claim that truth provided by the exercise of reason and the transmission of tradition is—at least in mea- sure—weakened, even abandoned” as leading to deregulation and a com- bining of religious systems.25
If modernity’s metanarrative, as we saw in the American and Daoist examples, is impersonal, scientific, instrumental, progressive, and techno- logical, then the wreckage of that narrative constitutes postmodernity. The wreckage has been used to create what theorists refer to as “pastiche” or “bricolage” of new narratives. Postmodern religion forces us all to choose from a dizzying variety of choices; we are all heretics, in Peter Berger’s formulation; put another way, we are all eclectics.
Globalization is the second characteristic. The eclectic range of choices in postmodern religion is forced upon us in part because the world seems to be shrinking. Religious traditions become deracinated and deterritori- alized; new religious movements have multiple origins from many parts of the word. The scholarly spotlight now shines on diasporic and transna- tional religions. As the American scholar of global religions Mark Juer- gensmeyer puts it, “scarcely any region of the globe today is composed solely of members of a single strand of traditional religion. In an era of globalization the pace of cultural interaction and change has increased by seemingly exponential expansions of degrees.”26
Eclecticism and globalization create a climate where shallowness pre- vails over depth, creating the conditions for the simulation of religion. In Jean Baudrillard’s famous formulation, the postmodern embraces artifici- ality and surface. He wrote of new iterations of information and technol- ogy moving us from a productive to a reproductive order, where simula- tions and models constitute the world. Baudrillard saw this leading to the erasure of the distinction between reality and image.27 Scholars note the proliferation of religions that exist only in cyberspace or in the media- sphere, or of “fake” religions that become real. Self-parodic religion not- withstanding, virtual or image-dependent religion insists all the more for being simulated on its own authenticity and purity.
A fourth characteristic of postmodern religion would be consumerism. Postmodern religion reconfigures the religious subject from a believer or a congregant into a consumer. The theorist of postmodernity Zygmunt Bauman sees the rise of “self-improvement movements that train our con- sumerist potential” to be a hallmark of postmodernity; these movements
package and sell “peak experiences,” which were “once the privilege of the selected” but now “put by postmodern culture within every individual’s reach [. . .] relocated as the product of a life devoted to the art of consumer self-indulgence.”28 Others have noted that for these postmodern spirituali- ties, consumerism itself is “the new esoteric knowledge (disguised as ‘New Age’ spirituality).”29
Finally, postmodernity entails the growth of subjectivity. Modernity did its job in diminishing the importance of collective religiosity, but result was not the hoped-for rise in collective rationality. Rather, we are now in the period of the postmodern expansion of the individual. In other words, the privatization of religion resulted in sacralization of the self.
As we will see, the Healing Tao is a perfect example of, as Peter Beyer puts it, “the ‘subjectivization’ of religion, the idea that religiosity is less and less located in authoritative and ‘outside’ religious institutions and more and more within the ‘internal’ control and consciousness of individ- uals.”30 New Age spirituality, in particular, places “emphasis on the indi- vidual as locus of religious authority and authenticity.”31
These categories (overlapping and self-reinforcing as they may be) enable us to conduct a deeper examination of the Healing Tao—find it to be the preeminent example of postmodern Daoism.
Healing Tao as Eclectic and Global
We have already explored how Mantak Chia uses Western scientific lan- guage. The Sinologist Douglas Wile sees Mantak Chia as a “product of cross-cultural influences” who “uses Western scientific theories exten- sively to support and even to express his own teachings.”32 As an example, Wile mentions Chia’s conflation of acupuncture points and the endocrine glandular system. More recently, Chia has been peppering his lectures with references to research on embryonic stem cells. He sees Healing Tao as activating the regenerative power of embryonic cells housed in the lower dantian 丹田.
Chia’s use of Western scientific language should not be seen as an example of the scientizing modernity seen in Liu and Gooseart’s cultiva- tion groups. Analyzing Chia’s daily lectures at a weeklong training session at his center in Thailand, one quickly realizes that his discourse is a true postmodern pastiche of Daoist lore, science, and popular culture. Chia’s references to science are more associative than methodical. For example, he referred frequently to cloning through references to popular film— The Sixth Day, Jurassic Park, Star Wars—as examples. A further exam-
ple: Chia stated that when in the United States, he buys magazines such as Scientific American and Popular Mechanics. Here the point seemed to be that Chia approved of, and was interested in, Western science, rather than any larger message.
Along with more mainstream science, Chia weaves in endorsements of fringe science, such as Dr. Masaru Emoto’s controversial theory that water can absorb the emotional charge the people who handle it. Finally Chia makes liberal use of such buzzwords of alternative health marketing as “nutri-energetics health system” and “emotional stream integration.” Eclecticism is truly his hallmark.
As much as the content of his lectures, Chia’s biography reveals his eclecticism. With his training and outlook he is anything but tradition- ally Daoist. A biographical account mentions his expertise in Thai box- ing, Aikido (a Japanese form of hand-to-hand combat), Kundalini yoga, and a martial art known as “Buddhist palm”; interestingly, the biographi- cal note published with his first two books states that “the author Mantak Chia is himself a Christian, but has used the traditional Taoist methods to help thousands of people heal or improve themselves.”33 The disclo- sure of Chia’s Christianity was dropped in subsequent biographical state- ments.
Chia is said to have begun self-cultivation at the age of six, study- ing Buddhist meditation, martial arts, taijiquan, and Kundalini yoga.
Chia’s eclecticism quotient only increased with the first of his American collaborators. Chia’s breakthrough book, Taoist Secrets of Love, is credited as “written with Michael Winn,” who also contributed the introduction. Winn claims that he wrote the entire manuscript, since as a former profes- sional journalist he could craft idiomatic and engaging sentences. Describing the success of Taoist Secrets of Love, Winn writes, “The book was written in my sophisticated Western literary voice, infused with insights from my years of Tantric practice, posing as Mantak Chia’s voice, the Daoist trans- mitting his oral tradition.”34
Before meeting Chia, Winn had had much experience practicing Kun- dalini yoga and Westernized Tantrism, and Winn describes how over sev- eral years he used the techniques that he learned from Chia to undo the damaging effects of Kundalini. “This shift in my practice led to my writ- ing collaboration with Chia, which over time produced seven books on qigong and neigong 內功 (“inner skill”). Chia taught me the techniques he knew, and I would test them out on myself before writing about them, often under his name.”35
Meanwhile Gunther Weil, involved for a long time with the human potential movement and transpersonal psychology, wrote the foreword
By the late 1980s, Healing Tao had become a global movement. Chia travels frequently—in spring 2008, for example, he taught in Germany, Poland, France, Belgium, Romania, and Russia. Tao Garden has a Thai sup- port staff, but the overall atmosphere is of a refuge for international expa- triates. The Instructor Training Workshop that Chia offers each year truly exemplifies globalized Daoism: he teaches Chinese neidan techniques to some twenty French, Italians, Germans, and Brazilians in a center in Thai- land, managed by Germans, with alternative health services provided by Italians, Swiss, and Thai. English was the lingua franca of all but the pri- mary tongue of none.
Meanwhile, participants in Michael Winn’s annual or biannual trips to China, to be discussed below, are mostly from the United States, although a growing number of Mexicans have joined in the last few years. Any given trip finds an eclectic assortment of “Dream Trippers.” In 2004, for example, a Turkish woman educated in Belgium, a Japanese woman who lived in the Netherlands, and a Romanian who immigrated to Canada joined the trip. Religious or spiritual backgrounds are similarly diverse. Some, though by no means all, participants had experience in qigong or other “Daoist-inspired” techniques; virtually none practiced more tradi- tional forms of Daoism. Instead, eclecticism was the common thread. A short list of background experiences would include New Age energy heal- ing, Yogalates, Sufi dancing, dowsing, and shamanic drumming.
The Simulated and Consumerist Tao
Jane Iwamura’s article “Image of the Oriental Monk in American Culture” astutely analyzes the simulated quality of the Asian spiritual teacher. Iwamura argues that Western popular culture depicts the monk in a vari- ety of roles, from actual Asian monks such as the Dalai Lama, to fictional characters such as the wandering martial arts master Caine from the tele- vision series “Kung Fu.” She writes, “We are always able to recognize him
as the representative of an alternative spirituality that draws from the ancient wellsprings of ‘Eastern’ civilization and culture.”38
Iwamura ties together figures as diverse as popular intellectual D.T. Suzuki and “New Age” healer Deepak Chopra by showing how “recogni- tion of any Eastern spiritual guide (real or fictional) is predicated on their conformity to general features paradigmatically encapsulated in the icon of the Oriental Monk: his spiritual commitment, his calm demeanor, his Asian face, and often times his manner of dress.”39
To see how Mantak Chia’s self-presentation conforms to Iwamura’s tem- plate of the Oriental monk as a transmitter of Asian secrets to the West is to understand the Healing Tao as simulation. Chia has changed his image over time. The author photograph for Chia’s first two published books shows Chia wearing thick glasses, a tie, and a pin-striped suit, smiling (and referred to as a Christian.) In a more recent picture found on Chia’s web- site, he wears a silk jacket, gazing serenely into the camera, conforming to the image of Iwamura’s Oriental monk.40 Beyond this, the illustrations in Chia’s books are another way he evokes an ancient, mysterious China. Here, attractive couples with Asian features, embracing on Chinese style beds, with fans and silk slippers by the bedside, recall the long tradition of “Oriental erotica” popular in the West.41
Chia’s appeal is based on a free-floating link to an “ancient” and “mys- terious” China. The successive names of his organizations seem made to evoke a “feeling” of Oriental spirituality based on changing market consid- erations. His first center, Bangkok’s Natural Healing Center, had a rather neutral, descriptive name. Only when he reached America did he include the word “Taoist” as in the “Taoist Esoteric Yoga Center” (Did the word “Taoist” have less resonance for Bangkok residents?) Later, of course, his organizations’ names, the Healing Tao and Universal Tao, along with other American Daoist groups, such as Abode of the Eternal Tao, the Living Tao Foundation, and the Union of Tao and Man, testify to the allure of the word “Tao.”42
It should be clear by now that as a fee-for-service operation, the Heal- ing Tao is subject to market considerations undreamed of by modern self-cultivation groups or spiritualists of nineteenth-century China and America. Healing Tao’s survival is based on merchandise sales and attract- ing new students. The large number of books, booklets, oils and creams, CDs, and DVDs in Chia’s online Universal Tao catalog demonstrate this clearly.43
Michael Winn’s organization is, if anything, more explicitly commer- cialized. Of course, Winn’s revised Healing Tao program is also available
on audio CD and DVD. Here is how Winn describes them: “Each Qigong video, book, or audio course will assist your authentic Self to fulfill worldly needs and relations; feel the profound sexual pleasure of being a radiant, healthy body; express your unique virtues; complete your soul destiny; realize peace—experience eternal life flowing in this human body. Now 100% RISK-FREE.”44
Winn’s annual summer program also employs highly commercialized language to describe the benefits of cultivation practices. According to the brochure, students will be able to “to learn the science of inner sexual alchemy, and self-generate a feeling of ‘whole-body bliss,’” “permanently ‘breathe’ 6 to 10 lbs. of fat away each week with weight-loss chi kung,” and “leave feeling younger, healthier, and more enlightened.”45
Winn may feel that such commercialized language is necessary because of the competition within alternative health circles. Michael Winn makes his home and teaches weekend seminars on Healing Tao techniques in the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is home to a bevy of alternative spiritualities and the people who seek them—an East Coast version of Sedona, Arizona, or Boulder, Colorado. Of course, Winn’s pop- ular Daoist techniques must compete with techniques derived from Sufi, Native American, Celtic, Buddhist, and a variety of other traditions (all similarly simulated and consumerized, I might add) that are available in any given weekend in Asheville.
I believe that subjectivity is the most important characteristic in demon- strating the postmodern nature of the Healing Tao, and by implication, showing how postmodern Daoism differs from the traditional and modern iterations. Analyzing the environment and interviewing the participants at the Tao Garden facility in Thailand on the China Dream Trip shall pro- vide powerful examples.
What did attendees of the teaching training session at Tao Garden feel were the most important aspects of their experience? Through interviews and follow-up emails, I was initially expecting many comments about the place itself.
Tao Garden is a carefully constructed tropical paradise that Chia built from the ground up and is now beginning to compete in the international luxury health spa market.46 It markets itself with the slogan “good air, good water, good food, good chi, good heart, good mind.” An Australian journalist (and holistic health practitioner) wrote an article about Tao Gar-
den in which she stressed Tao Garden’s exotic sensuality: “The 80 acres of organic gardens fragrant with tropical fruit trees, flower canopied cabanas and gently flowing rivulets. The sensual seduction continued as I paused to inhale a heavenly lotus before following a vibrant butterfly over the palm fringed bamboo bridge.”47
The luxurious charm applies not only to the vegetation and but to the services offered. Visitors and students alike can experience Thai or Ayur- vedic massage, colon cleansing, acupuncture, and a huge variety of alter- native medical diagnostic and therapeutic techniques, as well as hair and beauty services.
Tao Garden is located in Northern Thailand, outside of Chiang Mai, the heart of the Thai “traditional culture” industry, a region that supports itself based on tourism devoted to traditional Thai dance, art, architecture, cooking, massage, and Buddhist meditation.
Part of Tao Garden’s appeal lies in its references to religious Daoism. Names for the buildings include the Eight Immortals Practice Hall and Laozi Meditation Hut, while images of these and other Daoist worthies are hung on walls throughout the facility. A small outdoor shrine, at the center of the resort, honors the Three Purities (sanqing 三清), the supreme Daoist divinities.
Which of these three senses of place (as a luxurious spa, as a center for traditional Thai culture, or as a home for Daoist deities) appealed most to the students at the teaching training workshop? In talking to me about their experiences of at Tao Garden, respondents made absolutely no men- tion of any of these aspects. The students did not seem to care about the luxuriousness of the surroundings. No effort was made by the staff or stu- dents to connect to Thai culture. I never saw anyone enter or hear of any- one mention the Daoist shrine, nor remark on the Daoist images on the walls of many of the buildings.
Instead, students mentioned the effect Tao Garden had on the their body’s subjective space. For example, a French woman wrote to me in part:
What my vacation brought me: only good, nothing to throw out, every day was one step forward and one more treasure in my energy body. The richest? Always always condensing energy in my dantian with one goal: the opening of the heart, always more and more . . . which would permit me to become and remain as big as the universe. This retreat reinforced my connection to the universe.48
Other participants mentioned their fellow students or the energy of Mantak Chia as the defining experience. (A French man: “When Master
Michael Winn leads a group of Westerners on a three-week China Dream Trip that includes, in addition to visits famed tourist destinations such as the Great Wall and ample time for shopping, the opportunity to perform Healing Tao practices at Daoist sacred sites, to reside in Daoist monasteries and caves carved out as shrines and meditation chambers, and to converse with Daoist monks.
The itineraries are fast moving and intense. The 2004 cohort, for exam- ple, began their two weeks in Beijing and flew to Lhasa for three days, followed by a stay in Chengdu, including two days at in a monastery at Qingchengshan. Next, the group flew to Xi’an, then stayed at monasteries or caves at Huashan.
Clearly, the trip could introduce participants to a great deal of geo- graphic, historic, cultural, and religious features of China. But what Winn stressed in promoting the trip was the idea of China as subjective body- centered space, not as external actuality. As one might expect from a leader of a high-end specialized tour, Winn emailed the thirty-seven “China Dream Trippers” (most of whom had never been to Asia) a series of recom- mendations and preparations. All of them concerned the practice of qigong. For example, in an email with the subject heading “Health Tips for China Dream Trip,” Winn wrote:
What’s the secret to staying healthy in China? Do chi kung [. . .]
every day. If you are the really busy type, at least do lots of the first movement, Ocean Breathing, to open your dan tian (belly) power. The chi flows from there into every meridian in your body, and that is your best defense against any sickness. A daily meditation practice also helps to integrate your immune system. . . .Do chi kung at the airport just before getting on the plane. This improves chi circulation and opens your joints, which will get stiff from sitting. I usually do some small movement chi kung on the plane as well. After he recommends meditation to prevent jetlag, he closes with “finally, don’t worry too much in advance! Worry weakens your stomach/spleen.”
One might expect the leader of a group trip to China, especially a trip that highlights mainly religious sites, to give participants a list of recom- mended background books or at least websites on Chinese history, culture, geography, or religion.49 There was only one item Winn sent everyone to
At each Daoist temple, monastery, or mountain visited, the group prac- ticed wujigong en masse to experience the energy of that particular place. But what made that place (mountain, monastery, temple) special? Nothing inherent in the Chinese landscape or history itself, but the “energy signa- ture” produced by generations of qi-practitioners. Many of the “Trippers” I spoke with mentioned they felt the presence of so many people having done body cultivation. It was this “presence” that made the trip so special, not the specificities of religion or landscape.
One response that illustrates this: “This trip again gave me the incred- ible opportunity to connect with the land and people in places of the world where there has been an ancient and continuous presence of powerful med- itation practitioners. The result of this has been that I have developed a deeper connection with my inner self through the inner self of many other people (as well as the earth self) as a collective experience” (italics added).
Interviews revealed that the participants who were most familiar with Daoist-inspired techniques of energy cultivation, and had their own inten- sive regime of practice back in North America, were the least interested in Daoist history, liturgy, or religion. For the Western “Dream Tripper,” the subjective experience in one’s own body is the only source of authentic- ity transmitted by the energy signature of previously present (deceased) bodies. Lineage and place are explicitly rejected. At its most extreme this rejection is expressed in highly Orientalist and chauvinist language, such as this respondent: “The Chinese are more lost than Americans. . . . I’m no fan of the Chinese now. The Daoists there for the most part (except Hua Shan) are far far behind us ‘practitioners’ in the west & they don’t seem to care. The Chinese people do not have any reverence for the sacred sites we visited. We went there & showed them what they could be again.”50
It is subjectivity that unites the globalized clientele of Tao Garden, the China Dream Trip, and the Healing Tao in general, with their eclectic inter- ests. It is subjectivity that provides the underlying “reality” to the simu- lated play of images and associations such as “Tao” and “ancient China” and it is subjective experience that all the consumerist language is really selling, more than any book, DVD, or class.
Lee Fongmao asks at the end of his essay in this volume whether Alchemic Taoism could be of benefit to other societies. Will it take its place with Zen meditation and yoga as “universal knowledge and culture of body and mind” or will it remain a kind of “local knowledge”? Lee’s wish that
alchemical Daoism might “nourish life but also cultivate and bring forth the full human potential” is shared by Michael Winn and Mantak Chia. And yet what does Lee the scholarly historian-practitioner have in com- mon with Winn and Chia the spiritual entrepreneurs?
Winn and Chia know little about the contemporary neidan groups in Taiwan that Lee writes about, nor about the resurgent academic and gov- ernmental interest in Daoism on the Chinese mainland and in Taiwan; meanwhile Lee might find it difficult to take the Healing Tao seriously. Lee might not have had the Healing Tao in mind when he wrote his hopeful conclusion.
But ultimately I believe that Lee’s ambition cannot be fulfilled on its own terms. Lee is expressing a modern wish in a postmodern situ- ation. Whatever benefit a nonsectarian, rationalized inner alchemy-based iteration of Daoism might have for the world at large, postmodernity dictates it could only exist in an eclectic, simulated, subjective, and consumerist form.
Chapter 11 Footnotes:
The epigraph comes from Bauman, “Postmodern Religion?” 68.
1. Diner, The Jews, 120.
2. Carroll, Spiritualism, 2.
3. See Trimble, “Spiritualism and Channeling.”
4. Reform Jews were not the only minority religious group in America
to Protestantize. Japanese-American Pure Land Buddhists named themselves Buddhist Churches of America in 1944.
5. Isaacs, “The Fox Sisters and American Spiritualism,” 101.
6. Carroll, Spiritualism, 69.
7. For discussions of the two most prominent contemporary “channeled
entities,” see Melton, Finding Enlightenment, on the former Atlantean war- rior Ramtha channeled by J. Z. Knight, and Siegler, “Marketing Lazaris,” on the incorporeal spirit known as Lazaris.
8. See, among others, Russell Kirkland, “Taoism of the Western Imagina- tion”; Bradbury, “The American Conquest of Philosophical Taoism”; Girardot, The Victorian Translation of China; and Clarke, Tao of The West.
9. Whether these groups are “authentically” Daoist or not is a question
for Sinology. Here, I will stipulate there is something called “popular West- ern Daoism.”
10. Now called Healing Tao USA in the United States and The Universal Tao elsewhere, the name Healing Tao will be used in this chapter for the sake of simplicity.
11. Belamide, “Taoism and Healing in North America,” 263. 12. Ibid., 270.
13. Michael Winn, “The Quest for Spiritual Orgasm.”
15. J. Gordon Melton, personal communication with author, July 28, 2003. For more on the milieu of the 1970s (though with no mention made of Dao- ism), see Urban, Magia Sexualis.
16. Healing Tao University and Heavenly Mountain Retreats Catalogue, www.healingtaoretreats.com, accessed February 1, 2008.
17. Michael Winn, foreword to Chia, Awaken Healing Energy Through the Tao, viii.
18. MichaelWinn,interviewwiththeauthor,VashonIsland,WA,May12, 2001.
19. Chia and Huang, Secret Teachings.
20. Chia, Healing Love Through the Tao.
21. Chia, Awaken Healing Energy, 141.
22. Michael Winn, interview with the author, Asheville, NC, November 6,
2004. The Healing Tao’s modernizing position that the ritual and “folk belief” aspects of the Daoist tradition are inessential and that at the core of Daoism lies esoteric teaching and mystical philosophy recalls the positions of the famous twentieth-century scholars of religion Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin, who made similar arguments about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, respectively. See Wasserstrom, Religion After Religion.
23. Lyon, Jesus in Disneyland, 7.
24. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition.
25. Heelas, Religion, Modernity and Postmodernity, 4–5.
26. Mark Juergensmeyer, “Thinking Globally About Religions,” 4.
27. Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation.
28. Bauman, “Postmodern Religion?” 70.
29. Carrette and King, Selling Spirituality, 23–24.
30. Beyer, Religions in Global Society, 283.
31. Ibid., 280. For a book-length exploration of how the New Age move-
ment, of which the Healing Tao can be seen as a part, looks to the self as a source of authenticity and is thus quintessentially modern, see Paul Heelas’s now-classic The New Age Movement, esp. 18–27.
32. Wile, Art of the Bedchamber, 64.
33. Chia, Awaken Healing Energy, vii.
34. Winn, “Spiritual Orgasm.”
36. In 1994, he founded the organizational consulting group Aspen Con-
sulting Associates. Weil’s biographical information comes from the organiza- tion’s website at: http://www.aspen-consult.com (accessed on February 1, 2008, defunct as of this writing).
37. MichaelWinn,interviewwiththeauthor,VachonIsland,WA,May12, 2001.
38. Jane Iwamura, “The Oriental Monk in American Popular Culture,” 26. 39. Ibid., 27.
41. See, in particular, Chia, Healing Love.
42. For details about these groups, see Siegler, “Chinese Traditions,” 257–80.
43. http://www.healing-tao.com/tao-garden/universal/en/;accessedMay6, 2008.
44. http://www.healingtaousa.com/index.html; accessed May 6, 2008.
45. Healing Tao University Catalog.
46. To Chia’s credit, Tao Garden chooses to remain at a competitive dis-
advantage: food is served only in the dining hall and the entire Tao Garden is tobacco, alcohol, red meat, and white sugar free.
48. Personalemailcorrespondence,September7,2005.Myowntranslation. 49. See, for example, the China trips offered by Tauck Tours, a high-end
general interest tour agency, at http://www.tauck.com. The recommended reading list for this trip consists of five books, including a general travel guide, a literary essay on Hong Kong, Jung Chang’s memoir Wild Swans, and an introduction to contemporary Chinese politics and economics. The full list is available at http://www.longitudebooks.com/find/d/410/pc/Tauck%20World %20Discovery/r/TT/mcms.html.
50. Personal email communication, August 17, 2004.