COURSE OF STUDIES & CHAIR IN COMPARATIVE SPIRITUALITY
A Chair and course of studies dedicated to Comparative Spirituality, presented in outline form here, draws its inspiration from the plan crafted by the first Jesuits to enter China, Frs. Ruggieri, Valignano, and Mateo Ricci, used in St Paul’s and St Joseph’s university in Macao, between 1580-1762. Updated in the 20th century by Fr Yves Raguin SJ, who founded the Ricci Institute, with branches in Taipei, Paris, Univ. of San Francisco, and Macao, the model was expanded to include Buddhist, Daoist, Islamic Sufi, Judaic Kabala, and Christian “mysticism,” defined as the experience of apophasis leading to the prayer of “union.” In the proposed curriculum of studies, the spiritual practices of these traditions are examined, and analyzed for analogous occurrence of apophasis, after contemplating sacred images, as a part of a process leading to “unity” or awareness of Transcendent Presence. The model is then used to analyze a widely chosen range of prayer models.
The Comparative Spirituality course is structured on St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, that is, the four steps or “weeks,” which Ignatius named the “Via Purgativa” (Purgative Way, or purification), “Via Illuminativa” (the illuminative way, i.e., the kataphatic contemplating of sacred images), “Via Apophatica” (emptying the mind of all images, even the most sacred, and the will of all desires, even for sanctity), and the final “Via Unitiva” or Unitive Way, leading to awareness of an Absolute, non-verbal, Transcendent presence.
There are many excellent sources for studying the comparative aspects of world religions, including the pioneering work of Huston Smith, and more recent studies of Karen Armstrong. Dr. Armstrong shows, for instance, that all religions share compassion as an essential element in spiritual practice. The University of Hawai’i Manoa Campus Religion Department has developed an undergraduate level program, leading to an M.A., that allows for equal and objective study of all major religions, with specialization in one or another preferred system, at the upper division (3rd-4th year), and M.A. levels. The Comparative Spirituality course proposed here requires the use of written source materials and extensive field participation in actual practice, to write a thesis, and receive the M.A. and Ph.D. a degrees.
A text book, entitled Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest (Saso: Los Angeles: 2014) has been prepared for guidance or classroom use during the Third Year upper division level. The course in Comparative Mysticism is offered after finishing first and second year level studies in the Sacred Scriptures, and spiritual practices of the major and less known world religions. The 3rd year course examines specifically whether apophasis or kenosis is experienced in the process leading to “union.” 4thyear, M.A. and Ph.D. studies include textual analysis with actual field experience.
A 5,000 book library of spirituality and sacred art, including Asian, Native American, and Middle East spirituality, is offered to the University or graduate studies program, which accepts and implements the Comparative Spirituality program. For library resources, and sites which can be used for field study and practice, see www.michaelsaso.org, Michael_saso@yahoo.com phone number (213) 595 5650 – office: 1433 James M Wood Blvd, LA, CA 90015
A practical outline for the program follows:
First Year course: “World Religions.”
Second Year courses: Sacred Scripture(s); Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Islam, Judaism, Shaman/Medium experience, other chosen religions/topics.
Third Year courses: the book Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest; and other Comparative Mysticism / Comparative Spirituality texts.
Fourth Year courses: a scholarly analysis of the texts (in original languages where possible) of the 2nd and 3rd year courses; e.g., Zen & Tantric Buddhism, Daoist ritual texts based on internal alchemy meditation; Islamic Sufi poet Farid ud din Attar’s Conference of the birds; Dan Matt’s works on The Zohar (Kabala texts); the works of Teresa de Avila, Juan de la Cruz, and the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola; and other related textual sources.
M.A level thesis: choice of a specific text to analyze and practice, with extensive fieldwork, in consultation with an expert in the field, to explain the chosen meditation method.
PhD thesis, and oral examination; the choice of a topic in Tantric Buddhist, Ritual and Meditative Daoism, Sufism, Kabalah practice, Christian monastic or Hermetic traditions, or other selected discipline, with three PhD advisors, (one from outside the PhD granting university), completed after extensive field research and practice, and defended as a published or able-to-be accepted for publication PhD thesis (i.e., using the London University/European model).
Proposed by Michael R Saso, PhD
(001) 213 595 5650
1433 James M. Wood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015
suggestions welcomed! On line courses, a physical location or locations, additions, corrections.
One of the most amazing parts of the Guadalupe festival here at Immaculate Conception parish, downtown LA. are the number of children who came to take part from as 4-5 am, 8:30 am (the entire school), and 7:00 PM! Click on this link Aztec Danza to see a video of the Aztec Dance performances by these amazing children.
Wisdom is like water. It resides in the lower meditation field, the belly. The head is for thinking; the heart for willing and desiring. The belly is the place for wisdom and contemplation. We “return” to Dao’s gestating presence, from the ‘inner womb’ of intuitive awareness. (Daoist Master Chuang, 3rd edition, 2012).
The history of Daoism in China is divided into four parts, or “four seasons,” spring (3000-221 BCE), summer (221 BCE – 906), autumn (906-1644) , and winter (1640-..until today).
During the “Spring” of Daoist history, what we call “Daoism” (Daojiao 道教)was seven separate streams of spiritual practice, called Daojia, 道家 (schools of Daoism) which became a powerful river (Daojiao)– combining inner cultivation + ritual, during the summer of Daoist history. The seven separate streams of Daoist “Spring” are:
Spring, 3000 BC to 221 BC, before the forming of Daojiao; see the” 道教源流“:
1. Apophatic or Wu-wei 无为meditation, based on the books of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu.
2. Yinyang Five Element cosmology, 阴阳五行的人生观, a Yu-wei “visible Dao” 有为 (kataphatic), image filled system describing cyclical change in nature.
3. Neidan, 内丹inner alchemy, or meditation, uniting seasonal changes, colors, and unseen forces as visualized spirits within the interior organs of the meditator’s body.
4. Li Yi, 礼仪Ritual meditation, used to celebrate “Rites of Passage” and annual change in nature. The founder of Celestial Master Daoism, Zhang Daoling, (ca. 145 CE), based early Daoist rituals on the Monthly Commands (Yueling月令) chapter of the Confucian Book of Rites (Li Ji 礼记), and the “Ancient Weft” writings (古纬书).
5. Fangshi方士, the ancient healers and ritual experts of fang rural villages and suburban villages, and cities. Fangshi became Daoshi 道士or Daoists in the Han Dynasty.
6. Wushu, 武术 Martial Arts; the Taiping 太平 Great Peace Martial forms of Daoism, evolved during the Han dynasty into multiple non Daoist physical formats, until today.
7. Yijing, 已经the Book of Changes, the earliest source of apophatic and kataphatic prayer images, it is used in all later Daoist rituals and meditations.
These many sources became a great river called “Daoism” (Daojiao道教) of inner cultivation and festive rites of passage, during the summer of Daoism, from the Later Han through the Tang dynasties (145-906 CE), proliferated during the “Autumn” — Song through Ming dynasties (960-1640 CE), and hibernate in the “Winter” of Daoism, 1640 on:
“Summer,” Han dynasty to the end of the Tang dynasty, 220 BCE-906 CE. The unification of 5 Daoist schools into a unified, hierarchical system: Zhengyi, Lingbao, and Shangqing (正一，靈寶，上清), then the later Pole Star and Thunder-vajra 北斗 － 雷法 ritual schools.
The first Celestial Master, Zhang Daoling, 张道陵天师received the Zhengyi Mengwei 正一盟威 经录 texts and registers (lists of spirits’ names, summons, and appearances) in the hills between Heming shan and Qingcheng Shan, Szechuan between 145-165; the school later moved to Longhu Shan in Jiangxi, where it remains until today.
The Lingbao 灵宝school, based at Gezao Shan in Jiangxi drew its registers and texts from the ancient Gu Wei Shu 古纬书writings, especially the Hotu and Luoshu chapters 灵宝派的科仪经录本与古纬书的先天河图，后天落书.The basic texts of the Lingbao tradition use the Hotu (ie the Xiantian prior heavens arrangement of the 8 trigrams, to renew Yinyang & the 5 element, in the macro-micro cosmos, by ritual and meditative “implanting” the Lingbao 5 Talismans and the Lingbao 5 True writs 灵宝五符，灵宝五真文.(1)
The Shangqing school, founded by a woman mystic Wei Hua Cun in revealed texts, was established at Mao Shan in Jiangsu province, commented on and expanded between 236 to 510 by male scholars and mystics 茅山 上请派本与女道师魏化存，黄庭内径，黄庭外经，上请经，等. The Shangqing tradition was summarized by the N-S period scholar Tao Hongjing in the early 6th century, preserved in the Zhengtong (Ming dyn.) Daoist Canon.
The Beidou Pole Star School, and the Qingwei Thunder-Vajra school 北斗经录，清微雷法经录 of esoteric nature, became a part of the Daoist Inner Alchemy Meditation, and liturgical tradition, during this time. The Thunder-Vajra system, revealed to the woman Daoist Zu Shu, was included in the Daoist Canon during the “Autumn” period.
-“Autumn,” Song thru Ming dynasties, 906-1644 CE; the “religious reformation” of China; emphasis on laity, local adaptation, and multiple “new” schools, such as Shenxiao, Lü Shan, 神霄，閭山，and monastic, as well as laity “Quanzhen” 全真七派 (7 schools) Daoism. The great Daoist master of south China, Bai Yuchan 白玉羼 helped to “rectify” and formally distinguish the later Shenxiao and earlier Qingwei schools in his canonical writings.
-“Winter,” Qing dynasty, and modern times, 1644 until today. Daoists were less involved in State affairs during the Qing dynasty and early 1911-1945 Republic, and then were made to withdraw from public life, after 1949. Daoist texts were burned, or hidden, due to official state disapproval. However, the 3rd millennium is witnessing a rebirth of Daoism throughout China and the overseas Diaspora. The ancient texts are being restored to their places of origin, and the use of “inner alchemy” contemplative prayer, with its outer expression in Daoist ritual, is once again being authentically practiced and taught by Daoist Masters.
The use of the inner, contemplative tradition with its outer expression in orthodox ritual, is more fully explained in The Teachings of Daoist Master Zhuang (Saso, Oracle Bones Press: 2012), and Mystic Shaman Oracle Priest (Saso: 2013), for which see this blogsite, www.michaelsaso.org (WordPress website).
(Footnote: orthodox Daoist rituals, which follow the meditative “return to the Wuwei Dao of Gestation” (回源反根) are listed and described in Ch 3 of Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest, i.e., as a progression from the Luoshu Jintan nine stage mandala (8 trigrams with Dao in the Center), through the Hotu 5 Stage Suqi rite in which the 5 talismans are planted in the macro and microcosm, the 3 “morning, noon, and night Audiences” in which Qi, shen, and jing are refined respectively in the 3 cinnabar fields (shang, zhong, xia dantian), and finally Union with the Dao is achieved in the Daochang Zhengjiao, on the last morning of the Jiao ritual).禁坛 － 后天八卦，宿启－先天八卦（按灵宝五真文), 早朝炼气，午朝炼神，晚朝炼精（直觉），道场正醮炼无为之道－与道合真。This process must be learned from a Daoist Master (women equally with men), of Grade 5 ordination or above 授五品经录以上。The ordination manual of the 3 Mountain schools state specifically that Grade 5 and above can only be given to those who are pure in mind, heart, and body, i.e., do not practice “fangzhong” (芳中)，celibate of a monk or nun, and loyal to one spouse, if married and living as “fireside” (home dwelling) with children. “Dao for dollars”, ie making profit from teaching Daoist registers and internal liturgical practices, is also strictly forbidden.
The word Jiao, 醮 in pre Imperial China (before 221 BCE), meant the ritual offering of wine and incense to the invisible spiritual forces that govern nature. When China was united under a single visible emperor, during the Qin-Han dynasties (221 BCE onward), concepts of the spirit world, philosophy, “inner cultivation” and “rites of passage”, were unified as well, by accepting the Yin Yang 5 Element 陰陽五行 theory of nature. The term “Three teachings, One Culture” San jiao gui yi 三教歸一 was used to describe this unifying of China into a single socio-cultural system. Confucian Teachings (Ru jiao 儒教) codified ethics for human relationships. Buddhism (Fuo jiao 佛教), imported from India and altered substantially in China, provided ritual for pacifying the souls of ancestors and other “daemon” spirits in the afterlife. Daoism (Taoism, Dao Jiao 道教) provided a ritual system to unify humans with changes in nature, and the spirit world, through spiritual cultivation. During the Han dynasty (220 BCE – 220) Jiao 醮 became a word used for a very specific kind of Daoist ritual.
Three kinds of Jiao rituals are found in today’s Daoist Canon (Dao zang 道臧): “Gold Register Jiao” (Jin lu Jiao 金籙醮) for village and temple renewal; “Yellow Register Zhai” (Huang lu Zhai 黃籙齋) for burial; and “Jade Register Jiao” (Yü lu Jiao 玉籙醮) for imperial court and State rituals. Through its colorful liturgies, Daoism was called the weft (wei 緯) and Confucianism the warp (jing 經), of the very fabric of Chinese society.
Confucianism, as the “warp” 經 or vertical threads of Chinese society, provided texts in classical literary Chinese, to define the rules for socio-political relationships. These texts became the basis for entrance by imperial examination into the upper strata of Chinese political bureaucracy. Daoism as the “weft” 緯 or horizontal threads of Chinese society, provided an explanations of the cosmos in terms of human relations to the world of nature, its seasonal changes, life cycles, and the invisible spiritual powers that effect us. Buddhism, imported from South Asia, provided subtle colors, painted on the surface of the Chinese social fabric, offering philosophical debates for the intellectual, and afterlife salvation for the masses. Thus “three teachings one culture” (三教歸一) define China’s perennial culture.
The Daoist Jiao 醮 ritual draws from all three of these Han dynasty unified systems to bless and renew Chinese family and village life, within the boundaries of social status, wealth, and political power. An analysis of the Jiao festival shows in fact a 3-fold structure and very specific content, that draws from all 3 systems.
“A” or Confucian based rituals purify the sacred ritual area, announce the coming of the Heavenly Emperor and his court, invite spirits to be present, present a memorial, receive back a “Shuwen” imperial rescript order, then thank the heavenly rulers, and send them off.
“B” Buddhist style chant, called “canons of merit and litanies of repentance,” are used to free all souls from the sufferings of an afterlife hell/-purgatory. Souls confined to the underworld are offered, raw, uncooked food, to be taken away, prepared in another place, after which they are “see off” or freed to enter a Buddhist Pure Land paradise.
“C” style Ritual acts out the Laozi Ch. 42, “Dao births One, Two, Three, Myriad creatures,” then reverse this process, proceeding from the “myriad creatures” of nature back to an audience with the Wu Wei Transcendent Dao, (by moving from 9, to 5, 3,2,1, to the Transcendent, eternally gestating Wuwei Dao). To do this, the Daoist High priest first performs the 9 stage Loshu 落书 (square) mandala, in a ritual called “jintan” 禁坛, to close the Gate of Demons in the NE, and open the Gate of Heaven in the NW; then a 5 stage circular Hotu mandala, 河图，aka 宿启，明堂 is offered, to renew the five elements, and the five inner organs of the human body; these rites are performed on the first day of the Jiao. On the second day, the Daoist high priest refine “3-2-1”, ie, Qi, shen, jing 炁神精) into hundun 混沌 or Taijji 太極，the visible female Dao that gives birth to nature. Then on the 3rd day the Daoist master has “audience” (Daochang 道場) with the Transcendent Dao, within the Tan 坛 sacred Daoist altar area, as well as in one’s own wisdom center, the human belly (i.e., the xiadantian,下丹田 lower cinnabar field, the body’s physical center of gravity). After audience with the Dao, a Shuwen 疏文 rescript from the Dao of Heaven is carried into the sacred Tan area, and presented to the Daoist High priest by the Dujiang Deacon, after which the High Priest dances the sacred nine stage “Steps of Yu the Great” Yü Bu 禹步 rejoicing that the people’s petitions have been granted, and the cosmos renewed.
On the afternoon of the 3rd day, the Daoist high priest and his assistants perform the “Pudu” 普度 rite for freeing all souls from the hell-purgatory underworld. An effigy of 马头观音 Matou Guanyin is used to protect humans from unrequited souls freed from hell, which is afterwards burned, with folded gold and silver paper money, as a way of sending off the prayers and merits of the living, to bless all humans and all of nature. All images must be eliminated, and all merit given away, nothing kept for the self, for the Jiao ritual to succeed.
The three ritual ends with a rite to thank and see off the spirits of heaven, earth, and the underworld. It is interesting to note that the head of the Confucian Board of Rites, from the Tang through the end of the Ming dynasty, was always appointed by the Emperor to a Daoist who had both passed the Jinshi doctorate of Confucian classical studies, as well as having a high rank Daoist Lu register ordination; this is because the Mingtang court ritual which had to be performed 5 times a year, and the Daoist Suqi ritual used in the Jiao, were analogous, if not identical. The manner of performing the 5 basic Jiao rites of renewal, ie the Suqi, Morning, Noon, and Night audiences, and the Daochang 宿启，早朝，午朝，晚朝，道场正醮，may not be explained to scholars or non-Daoists, foreign or Chinese, by strict Daoist jie 戒 vow or rule. The Daoist passes on the inner meditation or neigong aspects of these rituals to only one son, and one disciple, the week before his passing (death).
(Daoist Master Zhuang, M Saso, Oracle Bones Press, 2012) (Mystic, Shaman, Oracle Priest, 2013)
The new, corrected 3rd edition of Daoist Master Zhuang, in Chapters 4, 5, and 6, shows in condensed format, what one must learn before receiving a “license,” in order to be a Daoist “Rites of Passage” master. It must be noted, here, that there is no such thing as a Daoist “ordination” in the western sense of the word; instead it is called “shou lu” 收錄 ie receiving a register/list of spirits’ names, summons, and appearances, and learning where to store the spirits in the body, to be summoned out and used during ritual, exorcism, and healing. The Tantric Buddhist equivalent is the “kancho(jpn)- guanding(chn)”灌頂, which is equivalently the same process as that used by the Daoist; often with the same mudra, manta, and sacred image. One must practice many years with a master who uses Chinese language in daily life, in order to learn the mudra 手印, mantra 咒文 and mandala 道場 images, AND actually see them, store them in the body, and know how to summon them forth and use them in ritual, to heal, and sanctify others. Once these processes are learned, one can go to a licensing place, such as Hieizan in Kyoto, Longhu Shan in Jiangxi, etc, and pay for a document which certifies that you paid for a license to perform public ritual, whether or not the spirits really come when you summon them. One must first go to a licensed Daoist master who knows the music, hymns, dance steps, and rituals, to learn how to do ritual meditation correctly. The reason for doing this is to learn how to perform the Rites of Passage, in a Chinese cultural and linguistic context only (there is no equivalent in the west).
When you go to a master and he or she says “I don’t know how to do it,” “I just do it to make a living”, then you have probably found a real master, and must by lengthy presence and unassuming humility learn by attending his/her rituals as a disciple, and praying with him/her, etc. If, on the other hand, the master says “I am the best, here is the fee,” or “I will give you an ordination,” such is done at modern day Longhu Shan, and even Hieizan (sixty days of physical deprivation and rote performance of rituals), and paying the $5000 to $9000 fee, one is given a license to “legally” accept money for performing rites of passage within a Japanese or Chinese cultural context. There are no equivalent rites in English, or at least no one has created them yet. Martial Arts masters, healers, TCM doctors, do not need to learn the complicated Daoist or Buddhist rites of renewal or burial, unless the goal is to perform them in a Chinese or Japanese cultural context. Perhaps we can work out a way to do this, in western languages and cultures, on the web!