Three Ways of self Improvement
There are many diverse Daoist schools. Essentially, Three Ways of improvement can be differentiated in general: Lower, Middle, and Great. This classification is very ancient, and was used even by Great Immortal Grandmaster Lu Dongbin, his disciple Wang Chongyang and by other famous Masters. Separation of the Three Ways of Improvement has nothing unusual. Similar system of classification is present in other Eastern traditions, as well as in our everyday lives (in educational system it has a form of school, technical college, and university).
Great Way is the most difficult for understanding as well as for practicing. Meanwhile, it allows to achieve a maximum possible result in spiritual development within the length of one life. Methods of this Way had been kept in secret for a very long time, and were shared only with privileged and the most talented disciples. And only currently, as “time of widening the Way” has come, some Masters of the Schools of the Great Way have started to teach basic levels openly.
Advanced levels of these Schools, however, are given not to everyone wishing to, but only to those who have proved their true aspiration to conceive the Truth, obtain a high level of De (moral virtues, which they not only have but also express), and have developed basic methods use, by virtue of which a solid foundation for further alchemical transformations is laid.
Great Way includes the Lower Way totally, but, meanwhile, may totally exclude use of religious methods that are typical for the Middle Way. Specifics of the Great Way practices is in trying to come to an original level of world comprehension and apprehension of different aspects of Dao, without encompassing them by any forms. In such a way, the risk of attachment to intermediate forms and methods is reduced.
The Higher Truth (Dao) is not limited by a form. In its nature, it is an internal experience, transformation and appreciation on the deepest, original level, where everything expressed arises and is born from. By using this principle, a practitioner can maximally fast (in comparison to other two Ways) move beyond the sphere of a limited mind and consciousness (i.e. beyond what transforms Original Limitless into ordinary, even though endued with supernatural expressions), and come closer to comprehend Dao.
However, this advantage is what complexity of the practice consists in as well. A human gets accustomed with existence of specific forms or rules that guide him, but herein one needs to perceive the Higher in its original state, i.e. to link together what can be on strife on a usual level of consciousness. To lean on something that you cannot conceive with an ordinary mind and cannot see with own eyes, which you sometimes cannot even comprehend, is very difficult.
That is why the Middle Way employs godhoods – as means of comparative simplification and for a more certain understanding. That is also why not many practitioners are able to practice the Great Way, as not everyone can get over their minds’ aptitude to specificity and unambiguousness. Even in the sphere of higher spiritual substances, mind will still try to trace the Truth to a set of familiar categorical concepts and definitions. However, it is impossible in its nature, as the Higher cannot be enclosed into the sphere of a limited mind in total, and comprehended by it thoroughly. And, as the Great Way may not use practices with expressed forms of Dao (Godhoods), but preaches a principle of direct and original comprehension of everything as it is, which cannot be called religious in a traditional meaning of this term.
Instead of external practices and actions (rituals etc.) typical for the Middle Way and aiming to induce inner transformations, methods of the Great Way employ direct work with internal states and energy during a process of dipping into a state of a deep Quietness. This allows achieving deeper inner transformations of body, energy and Consciousness/Spirit/ Mind much faster. As a result, a maximal result can be achieved during a minimum period.
Maximal result is understood herein as transformation of body, life energy and Consciousness/Spirit/Mind, and their merging, which is called as attainment of the Body of Light. Such a level is regarded as ultimate not only in Daoist tradition, but also in some of Buddhist schools. It means that on this level, a person exists in expressed as well as in unexpressed way, is one whole with Dao and, meantime, is individual, went beyond all possible limitations (e.g., of time and space). When such a Master leaves this world, he dissolves in a Clear Light with an iridescent shine. In such a transformation, even a physical body is converted into a clear energy, which means that after the Master passes nothing is left after him. This Great Way is also called as “Neidan”, or the “Great Way of Inner Alchemy”. It is the most complicated, and its studying and, consequently, realization is possible for people with great aptitude only.
However, as the number of such practitioners is not so large, the Middle Way can suit the majority, and be coherent when compared with the Great Way of Inner Alchemy. People with ordinary abilities usually combine religious practices with basic methods of Inner Alchemy. If personal abilities are lower than average, only methods that can prepare ones body, life power and mind for higher transformations’ methods should be learnt, without studying the methods of Inner Alchemy.
When a person starts practicing self-development, it is very important to choose the Way that matches ones abilities, as in this way the most optimal result can be achieved during ones life. Sometimes during regular and accurate training abilities can expand, and practicing program of one level could be changed for other level. However, only a real Master that has a proper qualification should do it, as a beginner has not enough Wisdom and knowledge to estimate sufficiently own abilities and to choose the most appropriate methodology.
Middle Way includes practicing of the Lower Way and different methods that serve to speed up a process of spiritual development of a person. Practicing this Way already means itself that someone sets more value and, consequently, finds more time for a process of self-improvement, than a person who practices the Lower Way. Middle Way can also be called as Religious, in the best meaning of this word, applying different visualisations connected with godhoods and various methods of cults is used in methods of the Middle Way. These methods of cults and gifts (where practitioners may offer to godhood or godhoods different gifts, such as food or other things that have a symbolical meaning, with deep gratitude) may pursue different objectives.
For example, it may be minimization of own significance (“ego” identity) and understanding that not everything in this world depends on a human only. Moreover, while executing a ritual, a practitioner may also get customized with the qualities that are inhering to the subject of adoration, and may also aim to awaken the same qualities in himself (e.g., supreme compassion)or to get rid of own negative qualities. Some rituals can also appear as symbolical reflection of inner transformations, which should take place during the process of personal development. In such a way, one of the most significant features of the Middle Way is that its practicing involves influence of external actions onto inner state, which, within an accurate practice, should lead to a certain result.
Surely, a fine practitioner of this Way would understand that godhoods constitute appearances of different aspects of Dao, its emanations. Each godhood has a certain form and obtains certain qualities, features and abilities. That is why a practitioner in fact can apply chosen interim forms of Dao manifestations that appear in a certain godhood, with a limited or prevailing set of qualities and/or features-abilities. In addition, anthropomorphize of all Supreme is used for better understanding and simpler comprehension, and that is why many godhoods look like humans, just more perfect. On the one hand, it makes the practice more clear. However, on the other hand, a difficulty can also appear. Thus, as far as the Higher Truth is put in a certain form, this constrains it unavoidably, or distorts one way or another. As it was said in the treatise “Dao De Jing”, “Dao that can be defined, is not the eternal Dao”.
Furthermore, as these emanations and appearances of Dao, videlicet Godhoods, have own personalized form of existence, it often happens that a practitioner may forget that original meaning of this appearance is to guide him to the Source (Dao), and may take a method as a result. As it was said before, the finger that points to the Moon is not the Moon. As a consequence, a person would not be able to move further in own practice, as would stop on a certain level. That is why, in order to learn how to differ true from false, it is necessary to receive verbal instructions from a Master.
Next note is that one should understand that, as in some practices of the Middle Way certain inner transformations are caused by external actions, videlicet a person applies to certain forms of Dao appearances (Godhoods), the sense of actions exercised can be later forgotten. Empty repetitions not leading to a necessary result will stay. This mistake is, unfortunately, not uncommon at all.
Meantime, if a practitioner of the Middle Way manages to avoid all the mistakes mentioned and not mentioned above, he can achieve a very good result. This means that he will be able at least to leave the cycle of reincarnation (Samsara), and to progress further in ones spiritual development. However, he will not achieve the Highest Result. It is related with that the methods employed launch processes of internal transformation on a “middle/moderate” speed, and that is why final transformation and achievement of Body of Light will simply have not enough time to take place. Due to this above mentioned Way has received its name – the Middle.
Way of Purity
Lower Way, or Way of Purity, can be followed by practically everybody, without any exclusion. Substantially, practice of this Way consists from the following:
- To live a just and sincere life according to moral principles (not to kill, not to deceive, not to steal, not to use foul language etc.).
- To develop in oneself such virtuous features as compassion, love, forgiveness, courage, peace, generosity and others.
- Not to do, not to say, and not to think about anything that could harm a human or the Nature in general.
- To help with ideas, words and actions to those who need it, whether they are humans, animals or plants.
- To hold in esteem and respect not only those whom you love and care about, but all living creatures.
Of course, this Way is not limited by abovementioned practices. Only the simplest methods were named herein, in order just to help to understand what it is about.
Further, while following this Way, it is very advisable to visit Wise people and Enlightened Masters. They could give different spiritual guidance and recommendations, which would help a person in own spiritual development. It would also be an advantage to visit periodically and/or even perform rituals, as the essence of them is in appeal to the Higher World, aiming to distract oneself from earthy concerns and problems, to clear a Soul from everything sinister, and to become spiritually closer to Dao.
In spite of being addressed as the Lower, in the event this Way may occur as requiring not so little efforts as one may have thought. Consciousness of a normal person is possessed all the time by individual conceptions and points of view, determined by ones upbringing, surrounding, time and other possible factors. In substance, it all appears as limitation, which is formed of subjective unsound opinions and views considering either a human being or the world as a whole. Herewith, a person does not have ones point of view with regard to all the aspects of our life.
There are many questions that can give rise to bewilderment or even fear. For example, what is death, and what will happen after this body dies? Will I die together with it, or I will continue my existence in some other form? If the latter is right, what that other form of existence is? The questions are endless. Someone may probably have own answers for them, but they are not a result of a personal experience, and are based on belief in a certain notion about the world structure. Such an attitude has no value, as only experienced, deeply felt and conceived by own experience things can be truly understood and accepted. That is why we can say that a human being, notwithstanding a developed mind and body, success in social life and wealth, is still in Darkness and Obscuration.
Consequently, to live a sincere life would be a difficult challenge for him. However, any person is able to realize the sense and methods of this Way, no matter how busy or not gifted a person could consider oneself. In this case, the question whether one can turn them later to reality or not is what depends on efforts and efficiency. This Way is called Lower only by contrast to others (Middle and Great), which give opportunities for more effective self-fulfillment progress.
Thus, a person who has realized the Lower Way, whereas being a Saint, still will not be able to leave a cycle of reincarnation. Therefore, in order to conceive Dao, one needs to be reborn, and to find out how to practice in the way that would be the most effective for spiritual development. Thus wise, a person practicing this Way should in total manage to accumulate a favourable karma, which means he would have all necessary conditions and opportunities for a deeper practice and successful self-fulfillment in a further incarnation.