Experience of teaching Daoism to Russian people
This report is based on our experience in the development of Daoism in Russia. I am not a professional in the issues raised in it, hence I kindly ask you to correct my mistakes if any discovered.
The Russian Daoist Association was founded with the support of the Chinese Daoist Association in 2014 by me - Aleksei Alekseevich Khokhlov and the like-minded people interested in Daoism.
俄罗斯道教协会（Russian Daoist Association）是在中国道教协会（Chinese Daoist Association）的倾力支持下，由本人Aleksei Alekseevich Khokhlov及一众道教同好于2014年携手创立。
This was a significant step in the development of Daoism in Russia, and now the number of regular practicing students exceeds 250 people, interest in the study of Daoist knowledge has grown greatly, and new researchers and teachers are emerging. But what led us to follow the path of Daoism?
There are 4 official religions in Russia - Christianity (Eastern Orthodoxy), Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. These great religions have great influence and deep knowledge of human nature and methods of developing the human soul towards a more spiritual and moral state.
However the experience shows that for many Russian people the knowledge they possess is not sufficient to maintain and improve their health, build good relationships with people, and achieve a harmonious and happy life for themselves and their loved ones.
If analyzed, Russian people mostly lack the following 3 aspects of Daoism:
- Attention to one's own body.
In Chapter 44 of the Daodejing Laozi teaches us that the human’s body is more valuable and closer to one than fame and wealth.
At the same time in many religions the body is often rejected as dirty and sinful, of secondary importance. Although this helps to lead a more high moral lifestyle, still the neglect of the body causes people to ignore the needs of their body, not pay attention to proper care of it, lose the harmony of the body, and therefore health, lose the integrity of body and soul, and create division between them.
The Russian people have a saying on this topic: “A healthy spirit in a healthy body.” In other words a strong, strong-willed soul with high level of morality cannot exist in a sick body.
The specific instances of providing the proper attention to one's body are:
- proper nutrition
- organization of the proper daily routine
- proper rhythm of work and rest
- healthsome interaction between human being and nature, etc.
Judging by what I see when I come to China, attention to the body is a characteristic of Chinese culture to a great extent and many of its aspects are widespread in society, but Russian people need to specifically deal with this issue a lot, attuning every aspect of proper body care in their lives.
Lack of proper care for the body leads to depletion of vitality, premature aging, illness, distraction of a human being from a happy and creative life to the struggle against diseases, and ultimately to suffering and lack of harmony of the soul.
Therefore, the Daoist idea of caring for the body is extremely important for Russian people.
- The supreme value of harmony.
In every deed that human does, there is always a task - to do this deed well and effectively, achieving benefit and avoiding causing harm.
Everyone strives to achieve the excellent result, but, even in the best scenario, one often achieves only one or several aspects, but not all of them.
- did the job well, but not effectively;
- did it well and effectively, but at the same time caused harm;
- did not cause harm, but the job was not done or not done to the full, etc.
People are always trying to break this deadlock, but they have no way to properly combine all the necessary aspects.
Fortunately, the great Daoist Laozi in the Daodejing gives us advice on what to do in many of his verses. Following are some examples:
Chapter 9. “It is better to do nothing than to attempt to fill something to the brim. If you use [something] sharp [all the time], it cannot long preserve its sharpness.”
Chapter 12. "Five colors blinds the sight. Five sounds deafen the ear. Five flavours numb the taste. Fast racing and hunting make heart become wild."
Chapter 22. “Pursuing little gain a lot. Pursuing to gain a lot leads to confusion.”
Chapter 24. “He who stands on tiptoe does not stand [for long]. He who takes big strides cannot walk [for long].”
Mainly, the answer is that it is necessary to balance all aspects of the job being done, and not to forget about the other in the pursuit of one.
Huangdi Neijing, the most important treatise in Chinese medicine speaks about the same matters:
"If one eats excess salt, then vessels coagulate.
If one eats excess bitter then skin becomes dry and body hair falls out.
If one eats excess pungent then tendons tighten and nails become brittle.
If one eats excess sour then lips become rough and wrinkled.
if one eats excess sweet then bones ache and hair falls out."
Only balance allows one to maintain the health.
Another example from the Huangdi Neijing:
"Long-term lying injuries the qi.
Long-term viewing injuries the Shen spirit.
Long-term standing injuries the bones.
Long-term sitting injuries the flesh.
Long-term walking injuries the tendons."
Only the proper combination and balance among them allows one not to become ill.
The same in deeds - even if we want to do a job well, we must not forget about thrift and saving resources. If we want to be efficient and prudent, we must not forget about achieving the goal, and so forth.
It is often very difficult for people to master sufficiency in their deeds. Sufficiency is the moment when further progress towards the result leads to a sharp increase in disharmony. Daoism teaches in such case to stop the action, restore harmony, and only then continue the action, trying not to lose it again.
The extreme significance of this Daoist concept lies in its universality. It applies to absolutely everything in life.
But it is also very difficult to master in practice. Although the idea itself is quite simple and logical, in doing deeds it is very easy to lose the correct balance and lose harmony, this often happens unnoticed by a human.
It takes many years of work and training to achieve an understanding and sense of harmony and to develop sensitivity to its loss for instant correction if necessary.
- Yin and Yang.
The idea that everything in the world is divided into two opposite principles - light and darkness, spiritual and material, Yang and Yin - has been known in the diffirent cultures since ancient times. But it is in Daoism that it is worked out in maximum detail and is used everywhere in Chinese culture.
Russian people, although they know about it, know how to use it very little. Nonetheless the proper use of Yin and Yang allows to learn to achieve harmony, adhere to it and restore it in case of loss.
In Daodejing, the Yin-Yang principle is used throughout.
Chapter 36. “In order to compress something, you must first expand it. In order to weaken something, you must first strengthen it. In order to destroy something, you must first let it bloom. In order to take something away from someone, you must first give it to him.”
Chapter 39. "The lowly are the basis for the noble, and the low is the basis for the high."
Chapter 40. “Transformation into the opposite is an action of Dao, weakness is a property of Dao. In the world, all things are born in being, and being is born in non-being.”
Chapter 42. "All beings carry within themselves Yin and Yang... things are elevated when they are humbled, and humbled when they are elevated."
Chapter 78. “Weak overcomes strong, soft overcomes hard.”
Experience shows that the most important principles arising from the famous Yin-Yang scheme - “the limit of Yin gives birth to Yang, the limit of Yang gives birth to Yin”, as well as “inside Yin there is Yang, inside Yang there is Yin” are often not obvious to people, but at the same time they have an extremely wide application and can bring great benefits to people in their lives.
Therefore, the study and proper application of the Yin-Yang law is extremely important for the Russian people.
All this knowledge must be both studied theoretically and learned to apply in practice, in various spheres of life, and in order to gain completeness this knowledge must be also learned directly inside the human body through Daoist practice.
For 9 years the Russian Daoist Association has been conducting the following activities on the study of Daoism:
- Daoist practice is taught in regular groups for more than 250 people (the total number of people trained over the entire period is thousands of people).
- Training on the theory of Daoism is provided, at the moment we are translating and teaching more than 10 weekly courses on important texts of Daozang on Daoist alchemy, IChing, medicine, general Daoist knowledge, as well as martial arts.
- Quarterly events are held with the participation of more than 100 students for joint intensive practice and discussion of Daoist topics.
- At the beginning of the pandemic we were able to quickly introduce an effective model of joint practice and study of theory through modern tools of online video conferencing, which allowed students to continue studying Daoism. There was no break in classes even for a week.
- There are special groups for teaching students in English in the Russian Daoist Association that have been successfully conducted for several years; we welcome sincerely interested people from other countries, not only from Russia; students in such groups achieve excellent results, no worse than those of Russian students.
- A land was selected taking into account Feng Shui and purchased in a mountainous area and construction of a favorable Daoist place for meetings and practice of students of the Russian Daoist Association has been started.
Inspiring examples of the great Daoists of China are the greatest value for us; Russian Daoists will try to match and widely spread the Dao in Russia and the world!Thank you.