A Daoist Perspective on Choice, Values, and the Virus


A Daoist Perspective on Choice, Values, and the Virus

Craig Mallett


I’ve had a good amount of people ask me what the Daoist view of the current situation with viruses and vaccines and lockdowns and so on is, so I thought I’d reiterate the main points I keep making with people by writing a juicy article.

The Da Xuan tradition differs from many of the other popular spiritual traditions in that we don’t have a concept of universal values. There is no encouragement to act in a particular way (except to train heaps, that’s definitely encouraged), or to take a particular position on anything. We see through our practice that for a given person, there is pressure from the time they were born in, their culture, their family, their environment, and a number of other factors that all push them to react to the world in a particular way. We look at the concept of choices and see that even though at the time of the choice it seemed like a real decision was being made, when taken into account with all the pressures, that person was always going to make the same choice.

What we are interested in with our practice is starting to get to know these pressures, these tensions that push us to always respond in a certain way, to always make a particular choice. These pressures are not visible to us by default, there is work to be done to reveal them. The big idea is to get out of this reactivity by becoming aware of the hidden strings that make us always respond in a particular way to a given choice. The more we are aware of them, the more we are capable of making a real choice.

Let’s take a simple example. We are living in 2021 and coffee is a big deal. Everyone drinks it basically all the time. Cafes are going gangbusters. At some point, someone pressured you into trying it and at some point later you find yourself waking up every morning having a coffee as the very first thing you do. It becomes a habit, a kind of reaction to the act of waking up or meeting with someone. We tell ourselves that we like coffee and so we are choosing to have one each morning, but are we really? So we take a little fast from coffee, go through all the withdrawals, and things become clear. Then at some point we decide that avoiding coffee is also a habit and we go to have one again. Sooner or later we back in the habit, going through the same motions we were before the fast.

So obviously in this situation there is a huge pressure coming from the time and our culture, social pressures of having coffee with others and so on. Then there is the pressure from our biology, the addiction to the chemical component, and the pressure from the mind which loves our habits and murmurs all kinds of things in our head about how we aren’t really addicted and so on. Even by pulling ourselves out of it momentarily, we haven’t overcome the lack of choice in the matter – it’s still a reaction.

To be in a real choice in this situation means that each morning we wake up and the impulse to slam the dark syrup down our throat arises but we pause. Do we really want the coffee today, this time, do I really feel like it? Maybe today I go with the pressures and say yes, maybe I say no. There’s no particular ‘correct’ answer, but I am no longer at the mercy of the impulse because I notice it each and every time it happens. Every morning I make a *new* choice about it, not based on the previous mornings or the various pressures acting on me (although the pressures are still there and I may still choose to follow them).

We take the same approach with our values. Linked to the metal element and the Po aspect in our map of the human mind, and more precisely to the Open diagonal, our values and morals are something that are inherently personal, something we must be clear about but also with an open enough mind to change values that aren’t good for us any more. Maybe we learned some values from our parents, but they are not appropriate in 2021, or maybe we started acting in some way because of peer pressure, or because our culture says “that’s the right and good and wholesome way to act”. If these values are no longer serving us then we let go of them and find new values.

Most importantly, we must be clear on our values. We say that nature hates vacuums, where ever you leave a gap in your values, it will simply be filled with whatever was on the news last or what your friends think or some random guy on the internet with a website on Daoist training thinks. We don’t want to be a walking accumulation of other people’s values and opinions.

We also see that balancing the values on the other side of the map is the Hun, particularly related to empathy and our capacity to see ourselves is part of a bigger picture. In this global vision where the other is a part of ourselves, we can extend our capacity to understand them clearly, and are able to act in a relaxed way, from a clear knowledge that we are in the right place and the right time for our particular incarnation.

All of this is supported by our qualities: by being relaxed, united in our body (and mind), and deeply rooted, our own tensions will be revealed and the pressure from the outside world will be more easily handled. Those who have been training with me or in the Da Xuan school should already know what this feels like to some degree in training, you just have to extend it to the other parts of your life.

So next time you’re in a heated discussion with someone about vaccines or the ‘rona, or you feel a need to educate someone else by forwarding on the article you just read, just stop for a moment. Find your qualities, that feeling of the body from deep relaxation, the union of the structure, the sinking of the weight into the ground and the lifting of the head towards the sky. Once you find your qualities, then take a moment to see if what you’re about to do is a reaction to pressure (probably) and then make a real decision about whether you want to follow the pressure today or not. And if you find yourself always deciding to follow the pressure, then maybe there’s a bit more training to be done and a few more shadows of tension to be revealed…


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