A Daoist Journey Into China: journal of a voyage into the interior
by Joel Schwartz
A study of the Chinese concept of the dao (‘the Way’), this unusual book is set against a 10,000-mile unescorted trip through the China of 1987, when tinkling bicycles in the streets—no cars, no high rises and nearly everyone earning $20 a month—were the norms. Searching for the dao of China, the author also explores the concepts of te (‘innate power’) and wu wei (‘effortlessness’) as they apply to the ancient and modern culture, as well as to one’s daily life. On a meditational journey that took him to temples and monasteries, Joel seeks to describe the experience of meditation from the ‘inside,’ ultimately relating his lifelong involvement in zazen to the Confucian structure of Chinese society.
The book is a frank account of what motivated Joel to seek out zazen, his years at Harvard studying Chinese and taking LSD, and his graduation to the New York Zen Society as he studied with Eido Tai Shimano and took sesshīn with Yasutani-roshi the year before the Japanese master died. Using anecdotes, telling stories and deconstructing Chinese characters, Joel creates a fascinating tapestry that weaves ancient concepts with the sights and sounds of the China that he found.
As a gay traveler, Joel met Chinese gay men and gave impromptu HIV 101 classes to young Chinese students as he sailed down the Yangze River. While he was searching for signs of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 C.E.) when Buddhist art reached its highest peak, what he discovered was a vibrant country just beginning to experiment with private enterprise, a culture about to burst into modernization.