For an added appraisal of our initial post in this series, Livia Kohn defines Zuowang thusly:
Zuowang 坐忘, “sitting in oblivion,” signifies a state of deep meditative absorption and mystical oneness, during which all sensory and conscious faculties are overcome and which is the base point for attaining Dao. I translate wang as “oblivion” and “oblivious” rather than “forgetting” or “forgetful” because the connotation of “forget” in English is that one should remember but doesn’t do so, or—if used intentionally—that one actively and intentionally does something in the mind. None of these holds true for what ancient and medieval Daoists were about. This is borne out both by the language and the writings: the word wang in Chinese consists of the character xin for “mind-heart,” usually associated with conscious and emotional reactions to reality and the word wang for “obliterate” or “perish.” The implication is—as indeed described in the sources—that one lets go of all kinds of intentional and reactive patterns and comes to rest in oneness with spirit and is ready to merge completely with Dao. (ibid, pg. 1)
While concurring mostly with her evaluation, I still need to add the wàng 忘 variable as stressing forgetful. Back in the early 80’s while living in South Florida this notion became all too familiar for me. While in meditation I was beginning to experience “an endless array of forgetfulness.” Nothing in the created order could interfere with this “as seeing through a glass darkly” period in my life.
In point of fact it still remains with me to this day—a sort of protective dark mantle that keeps all outward phenomenalizations in check. While the noun oblivion presents intimations of being oblivious to all else whilst in one-pointedness of mind—it can also prove to be detrimental. When entering into what I prefer to designate as mental quiescence it is imperative that no vacuities in mind present themselves. Otherwise it’s just sitting like Mara’s dull mannequin with an idiotic expression on one’s face. Recollect that the unattended mind can drift off into laziness thus creating a form of mental stupor that can be equated with oblivion itself. By way of contrast when entering into quietude, one’s spirit and mind needs to be fine-tuned and one-pointedly focused, letting-go of all outer and inner vexations so that no-thing stands in the way of Recollective Union with the Unborn.
The qi-factor within Daoism does offer a different dimension to meditative equipoise:
The method works with an intricate network of subtle energy channels, centers, and passes that need to be opened and activated and ideally leads to the emergence of a new spiritual dimension, through which the adept can communicate and ultimately become one with the divine. (ibid, pg. 6)
This “new spiritual dimension” offers a wealth of opportunities for becoming merged with divineness. Our Lankavatarian Book of the Dead series highlights such a union:
The ancient Daoists (I prefer the spelling with a D because that’s how it’s pronounced) have procured methods that heighten the balanced energy-signatures between Spirit, Mind, and Body. One of these methodologies is known as Primordial Qi (pronounced Chi) Gong (pronounced Kung). Qi is that essential “life-force energy”, that vital, primordial-breath and spark of energy from which all life flows. The phrase—Let there be Life—essentially means let there be Qi! Gong is the method that cultivates this essential circulating agency of life-force energy. So, Qi-gong works well in conjunction with Primordial Spiritual Methodologies like Unborn Mind Zen—it’s like a hand-in-hand development of the undivided awareness faculty of one’s True Primordial Nature. Speaking from personal experience, I know what it’s like when too much emphasis is placed on Spiritual and Emotional elements of one’s life to the neglect of the Physical and Mental components. The Qi becomes lodged in disharmonious patterns of the inner-meridians (pathways for the Qi to flow) within the human mechanism and illness can result. Balance is essential. Spiritual-Mental-Body equilibrium is vital.
The Classical notion of Zuowang as oblivion does have its merits and I can see why Khon chose this as her main emphasis:
The oldest documentation of zuowang, as well as the first mention of the term, appears in the Zhuangzi 莊子(Book of Master Zhuang). The classical passage is part of a dialogue of Confucius 孔子and his disciple Yan Hui 顏回, the latter reporting that he is “getting better” at attaining Dao. When Confucius asks what he means, Yan Hui says he has “become oblivious of benevolence and righteousness,” two essential Confucian virtues that, according to the Daode jing 道德經 (Book of the Dao and Its Inherent Potency; ch. 18), 5 form part of the later unfolding of culture and thus represent a step away from Dao. Confucius tells him that this is good, but that he has not gone far enough. At their next meeting Yan Hui says he has left behind “rites and music,” taking aim at the fundamental Confucian ways of relating to the world, which are similarly denounced as betraying true humanity in the Daode jing. When Confucius tells Yan Hui that he still has a ways to go, he leaves, then reports again:
“I’m getting there!”
“I can sit in oblivion!”
Confucius was startled: “What do you mean, ‘sit in oblivion’?”
“I let my limbs and physical structure fall away, do away with perception
and intellect, separate myself from body-form and let go of all knowledge,
thus joining Great Pervasion. This is what I mean by ‘sitting in
oblivion’.” (ibid, pg. 7)
This “Great Pervasion” is a testament to the Daoist means of shredding all phenomena in the face of the One and Unborn; in the process nothingness itself is jettisoned in favor of resting and nesting in the fullness of The Void wherein all is consumed in Absolute Suchness.
As practical use is concerned, one such bedtime implementation is offered…
Every night after bedtime, lie down flat on your back and close your eyes, then calm your spirit and stabilize your spirit souls, reaching a state of oblivion ready for creative imagination. Next, exhale deeply two or three times, then twist quickly to the right and left and raise [and lower] the hips. Focus your mind on the navel to create a shadow personage three or four *cun tall. Next, let the shadow figure divide into several million and see them exit from your head. Allow them to penetrate the room and rise up, moving into the heavens and filling all the dharma worlds, thinking: “All these are my body-self.” (ibid, pg. 11)
*Cun (Chinese: 寸; pinyin: cùn; Wade–Giles: ts’un; Japanese: sun; Korean: chon), often glossed as the Chinese inch, is a traditional Chinese unit of length. Its traditional measure is the width of a person’s thumb at the knuckle, whereas the width of the two forefingers denotes 1.5 cun and the width of four fingers (except the thumb) side-by-side is 3 cuns.
A good meditation for the manomaykaya to manifest and traverse through numerous dharma-worlds unimpeded. Through this primordial lucidity, it can actually shape-shift and even transform the surrounding Sambhogakayic environment (dharma worlds) at will. This is good, because a side-benefit in all this is that some karmic-residue in the Alaya is becoming erased. What is actually occurring here, of course, is that the Awareness Principle is becoming self-perfected as it recognizes that ALL IMAGES ARE MAYA—totally illusionary. (from the Lankavatarian Book of the Dead.)