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Great Taoism Books For Beginners

Introductory Books For New Taoist Practitioners

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Awakening To The Tao and The Secret Of The Golden Flower were, for me, the books that initiated an engagement with Taoist practice. I loved the poetry, the mystery, and the simple deep wisdom flowing from their pages! All nine texts introduced below are appropriate for someone brand new to Taoism; and most have a kind of "timeless" quality that makes them valuable also to the most seasoned of Taoist practitioners. If you know of another beginning Taoist book that's not on this list -- something that has inspired you, perhaps -- please feel free to add it, using the "Reader's Response" link at the bottom of the page.

Opening The Dragon Gate, by Chen Kaiguo & Zheng Shunchao

Opening The Dragon Gate: The Making of a Modern Taoist Wizard by Chen Kaiguo & Zheng Shunchao (translated by Thomas Cleary) tells the life-story of Wang Liping, the 18th-generation lineage-holder of the Dragon Gate sect of the Complete Reality school of Taoism, offering a fascinating and inspiring glimpse of a traditional Taoist apprenticeship. Woven into its various chapters -- each a delightful example of masterful story-telling -- are cogent introductions to numerous aspects of Taoist practice, from qigong to meditation to acupuncture and herbal medicine.

The Book Of The Heart: Embracing The Tao, by Loy Ching-Yuen

Loy Ching-Yuen's The Book Of The Heart: Embracing The Tao (translated by Trevor Carolan & Bella Chen) is -- like the Daode Jing -- composed of short verses, each a meditation on some aspect of Taoist practice. For instance:

The power of the sword lies not in anger
but in its unsheathed beauty:
In potential.
The marvel of chi is that, internalized,
it radiates in flow like a golden shaft of light
anchoring our spirit
with the universe.

I love this little book, and often will open it to a random page, for inspiration, guidance and delight.

Taoist Yoga & Sexual Energy, by Eric Yudelove

Eric Yudelove's Taoist Yoga & Sexual Energy is a well-written and accessible manual for Inner Alchemy practice. It unfolds as a series of lessons, each including a specific practice for cultivating jing (creative energy), qi (life-force energy) and shen (spiritual energy). This book is appropriate for beginners to Inner Alchemy/Taoist Yoga practice, as well as for more advanced practitioners. It's richly illustrated, with very clear, step-by-step explanations of the practices.

The Taoist Body, by Kristofer Schipper

Kristopher Schipper's The Taoist Body is a fascinating unveiling of the history of Taoist practice -- with its roots in the Shamanic cultures of ancient China -- in relation to the social, geological and physical "bodies" cultivated in Taoist practice. Schipper himself was ordained as a Taoist priest, which gives him an insider's perspective -- though the book is mostly scholarly in its tone. An excellent and truly unique introduction to Taoist history and practice.

Awakening To The Tao, by Liu I-Ming (translated by Thomas Cleary)

Awakening To The Tao is divided into short (1-2 page) sections, each of which shows us how Taoist adept Liu I-Ming uses the circumstances of daily life to cultivate the Mind of Tao. For instance:

When a pot is broken, repair it and you can use it to cook as before. When a jar leaks, fix it and you can use it to hold water as before. What I realize as I observe this is the Tao of recreating what has been ruined ...

The language is simple; the vignettes delightful; and the opportunity to view the world through the eyes of a Taoist master a precious gift, indeed. Highly recommended.

The Secret Of The Golden Flower, translated by Thomas Cleary

The Secret Of The Golden Flower is a classic Taoist meditation manual, attributed to the Taoist adept Lu Dongbin. The English translation that I recommend is the one by Thomas Cleary, who writes, in his introduction:

Gold stands for light, the light of the mind itself; the flower represents the blossoming, or opening up, of the light of the mind. Thus the expression is emblematic of the basic awakening of the real self and its hidden potential.

The text is presented in a series of short, poetic verses. In his "translation notes" section, Mr. Cleary provides illuminating commentary on the individual verses. For anyone interested in Taoist meditation practice, this little text is a treasure-trove!

The Taoist Experience, by Livia Kohn

Livia Kohn is one of the most well-known of Taoist scholars, and The Taoist Experience is her excellent anthology of Taoist texts. The sixty-odd translations gathered in this collection provide an overview of Taoism's main concepts, practices and rituals; as well as its various schools and lineages. Introductions to each chapter provide historical context. I imagine this text is used in numerous college-level "survey of religions" courses. Includes extensive coverage of Inner Alchemical and mystical aspects of Taoist practice.

T'ai Chi Ch'uan & Meditation, by Da Liu

Da Liu's T'ai Chi Ch'uan & Meditation is a wonderful exploration of the relationship between Taiji practice and sitting meditation -- and, by extension, the relationship between any kind of moving and non-moving (standing/sitting) forms of Taoist practice. Also included are discussions of Taoist practice in all aspects of daily life -- while sitting, standing, walking and sleeping -- and a chapter on the gathering, transformation and circulation of sexual energy.

Da Liu does a great job combining history, theory and practice. His instructions are very clear, and detailed -- yet easy to access. Seems that not too many people know about this book -- though I consider it a little masterpiece!

Cultivating Stillness: A Taoist Manual For Transforming Body & Mind, by Eva Wong

Cultivating Stillness is an Inner Alchemy manual -- attributed to the legendary sage Laozi -- that is, for many Taoist initiates (including Eva Wong), the first to be assigned for study. The text itself, along with Ms. Wong's extensive introduction, provide a foundation of Taoist cosmology (including I Ching), Inner Alchemy and meditation practices. It is richly illustrated, with commentary explaining the alchemical symbolism.

For those interested in the dual cultivation of body and mind -- in an alchemical transformation of our physical as well as psychological make-up -- this book is a great starting-point. Highly recommended.

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