December 28, 2011 By Reg Little
aoist Shaman: Practices from the Wheel of Life is another book from the great Chinese-Thai master of both popular and esoteric physical and spiritual wisdom, Mantak Chia.
As with some of his other recent works, he displays the universality of much Chinese tradition that initially seems unique. In the process, wittingly or unwittingly, he throws light on the deceptions of those who claim some special authority in revealing hidden truths.
To these ends, he has co-authored this work with Kris Deva North, a Taoist practitioner since 1987 and founder of the Zen School of Shiatsu and London Tao Centre.
I must admit to finding what I assume to be Chia’s contribution in illuminating aspects of an abundant Chinese tradition to be the high points in this book. These include, in separate chapters, verbal and pictorial accounts of The Taoist Medicine Wheel, The Five Elements, The Eight Forces, The Twelve Animals and The I Ching Hexagrams and Daily Life.
Although not unfamiliar with these central features of the Chinese cosmos, I always find Mantak Chia’s latest explanation offers me new insights and stirs dormant interests.
In particular, I relished The Eight Forces chapter, a simple series of stories of eight Chinese immortals. I found it difficult not to reflect on whether these did not appeal, with considerable variety and freedom of imagination, to many of the same human needs and interests as does the singular story of Jesus Christ in Christian doctrine.
The pathway to immortality, much fabled in Taoist teaching, takes on an enchanting inventiveness that distracts not at all from the profound human aspiration to transcend physical death. The more than thirty characteristics associated with each of these eight immortals deepens one’s sense of the encyclopaedic Chinese curiosity about the nature of the life that informed these grand symbolic figures. The symbolic animals that accompany the immortals – buffalo, chimera, horse, elephant, tiger, deer – stir and enliven the imagination.
The I Ching Hexagrams and Daily Life chapter is sub-headed “With grateful thanks to Guillaume Bouteloup.” It offers a simple introduction to the use of China’s great seminal classic. This is, of course, a book of profound and inexhaustible wisdom that insists its users continually review their ever-changing physical, emotional, social and spiritual environments.
The chapters Shamanic Practice, Spirit Guides, Comparisons with Other Traditions, Creating Power Fields and The Wheel of Healing appeal to me as representing a departure from areas specifically shaped by Chinese tradition and teaching and an exploration of what might be called more universal approaches to the challenges posed by the human condition.
Whether it is the shamanic teacher, the spirit guide, the commonalities of tradition, the exploration of fields of interaction or healing rituals, the Chinese influence rarely disappears but there is also a reaching out to less conspicuously unique or exotic forms of practice and conceptualisation.
The Wheel of Healing chapter opens with a piece of profound wisdom and piercing insight about one of the shibboleths of contemporary medical correctness:
“Modern medicine might describe shamanic healing as a placebo effect, healing by suggestion. Suggestion can come from within, say by positive thinking, belief or expectation, or from outside, by hypnosis, advertising, or ritual and ceremony. The shaman counts placebo as a healing resource.”
The chapter goes on to outline rituals, ceremonies and meditations that are affirmations for the unification of mind, body and spirit with the world in which we must all live. All of Mantak Chia’s writing shares this inspiration of putting ancient wisdom to work correcting the follies of life ruled by mistaken faith in mechanistic and arrogant notions of progress.
Interestingly, the final chapter Turning the Wheel of Love is an exquisite representation of clearly Taoist practices of gentle partnership and mutual discovery. While never explicitly sexual, it is a guided invitation to take a physical relationship to a level of measured discovery alien to the pace and style of most contemporary life.
Overall, the book shows Mantak Chia, and his co-author, Kris Deva North, further extending one of the most promising aspects of the contemporary world. When financial adventurism, technological aggression, corporate greed and political ineptness threatens the well-being of vast populations in all cultural traditions, the growing popularity and influence of authors like these, who seek to outline a common way forward that draws on the wisdom of diverse experiences, is an area of promise and hope.
It is apparent that many talented young people in so-called advanced economies are discovering physical and spiritual renewal in ancient traditions from Asia. As the economies of Asia continue to out-produce and out-perform the erstwhile leading economies of the West, however, it will be important to recognise this success has not been won by some form of cheating that demands a military put-down.
Rather, it is the product of the same source of wisdom that is enhancing the lives of some of the best and brightest amongst the West’s next generation. In other words, Eastern wisdom is beginning to offer not only personal but also social and political renewal to a tired and often misguided West.”
– Reviewed by Reg Little in New Dawn