Zuowang and Surpassing Pu

In 1998 I was practicing Zuowang meditation with a Tuina and qigong teacher of mine when I had a very interesting experience. It was during one of the regular weekly Zuowang classes that an interesting inspiration came to me with regard to a teacher, student and “pu” 樸 – the uncarved wood. During my meditation a vision came info my mind where I saw my teacher transform into the image of a knife and myself as piece of wood. After leaving class that night I contemplated the image of my teacher as a knife and I as a chunk of wood. I began to feel like it was about the teacher doing the work to shape the student into something. How wrong this point of view actually was.

Years later when reflecting on this image the conclusion that I have arrived at concerns the Daoist concept of “pu.” This concept is about relating a person to the uncarved block of wood that has not been touched or changed by the hands of people or society and its constructs. Pu is the wood in its natural state – ziran 自然 – just being wood. We are essentially like this block of wood and being in our natural, raw state is our goal. Our natural raw state is to be at one with the Dao. So, where do modern Daoist practitioners go with this? When we find Daoism and a teacher, no mater how young we are at the time, we are no longer an uncarved block. We have shape and color from our lives. How then can we return to this uncarved state?

We normally consider the carving of the wood to take us further from the Source/Dao or the state of pu, but there is another way that we can view this. Going back to that night of my meditation and inspiration with the student as the block of wood and the teacher as the knife there is a lesson and some inspiration for us. It can be said that the teacher is the sharp knife that the student uses to shape, or carve, themselves into something. Or in the case of properly taught Zuowang meditation as a practice, the student can be carved into nothing. A teacher cannot do it for the student, the teacher is just a sharp knife, or a way for the student to learn about what must be done and how to get there. The student puts in the disciplined effort with the knife to carve their block of wood.

Since we are already long since a carved block that has been shaped by our life’s experiences we truly are not able to return to an uncarved and natural state no matter how hard we try. But, we are still a block of wood, we still have a teacher/sharp knife, and personal effort to begin carving at ourselves. The carving technique we were using that night in class was Zuowang meditation. Using disciplined Zuowang meditation we are able to get somewhere (or actually nowhere) which is even better than the state of an uncarved block of wood. We are able to whittle away at ourselves little by little, slowly forgetting all that differentiated us as a carved, or even uncarved blocks of wood. Eventually we whittle away every grain of ourselves until we have returned to the void, to nothingness, to the place the Zuowang Lun calls de Dao 得道 or Obtaining the Path. Teacher, self, method, and effort all being an integral part of this process. One could argue that the most proactive way to reach the Dao is to diligently practice Zuowang.

Rather than longing to return to the form of uncarved wood, which is still a form – you wei 有為- we can use the practice of Zuowang meditation to sit and forget about it all – wu wei 無為. Now it is 17 years later and I see that the simple meditation practice we were doing in the basement of that church, the same one we focus on in the ADGL, is the method to take all of the guidance imparted by our teachers to carve away our form until we have achieved a state of “Not Two” that exists before that of the uncarved wood and obtain the Dao. Diligently sit and forget.