Taoist Sexual Alchemy
In its original development, the majority of Taoist teachers viewed ‘dual practice’ (where two people actually get together physically, having sex) as either something to be avoided or, alternatively, as something that was quite acceptable, but only at the start of serious practice.
The idea was initially to use ‘usual’ (physical) sexuality to build up lost or depleted energy. Depletions would occur naturally from the first menstruation for girls and first ejaculation for boys. Both women and men would continue to ‘leak’ life-force energy after that. So the purpose of the sexual activity, after being trained by a Taoist master, and involving much more than sex lessons, was to reverse the ‘leakage’ and restore optimal life-force vitality, and then to discontinue sexual practice once this desirable balance had been achieved. Only one break-away school, which itself developed out of a split from more traditional teachings, favoured continuing with ‘dual practice’ after the balance and renewal of energies had been accomplished.
This was a minority and reactionary teaching to mainstream and more conservative Taoism. Nevertheless, it was an authentic tradition, perhaps comparable to the development of Tantra in reaction to the more restrictive Hindu teachings at the time.
The contemporary Western idea, supported by very many popular books, which suggests that ‘Taoism favours and teaches evolved sexual practice’ is misleading. It would be something like saying ‘Christianity supports homosexuality’, which misrepresents the bigger picture. While the modern Anglican Church openly has gay bishops in Europe, many more conservative Christian communities and traditional teachings are opposed to supporting gay lifestyles.
But more important than the differences between major and minor schools of Taoist thought, is the function and purpose of these sexual practices within Taoism. Even where overt sexual practices were part of the Taoist teachings, it was always part of a much larger Taoist world-view of health and longevity, especially the Taoist concept of immortality. It was never simply gratuitous or ‘sex for pleasure’ but rather something to be carefully considered, with a view to enhancing the ‘three treasures’ of life force: jing, qi and shen. This would lead eventually to the ‘inner conception’ of one’s own immortal self and realisation of the Tao. That was the eventual goal of the Taoists. It was the Taoist journey to enlightenment and eternal life, the equivalent, by different names and via differing methods, of the Yogic search for immortality.
By far the best known of the modern-day neo-taoist teachers is Mantak Chia, who has over a dozen best selling books claiming to teach ‘traditional Taoist sexual practices’ to Westerners. The early books are useful, although tending to be unbalanced in the more comprehensive lifestyle practices that are part of Taoism. Some of the later books, like Sexual Reflexology are just plain loopy and open to stupid, and therefore harmful, misunderstandings. Like 17th century Western ‘magick’ texts, this book is full of odd and unnecessary drawings and describes ways to determine penis and vagina qualities, and the character of their owners, from the shape of ears and noses and so on. That this was ancient Taoist folklore is no excuse, since Chia and Wei do not indicate any differences between this curiosity mumbo jumbo, to be ignored, and the other stuff, such as the methods of ejaculation retention, repeated from earlier books, and to be applied. According to Chinese scholar Douglas Wile, Chia does not appear to have even studied the actual original Taoist texts, and he developed his practices from ‘four (unidentified) masters in Thailand and Hong Kong’.
What is offered by Chia and several others as modern ‘Taoist sexual teaching’ has been uprooted from its more noble ground and been denatured, refined and processed to meet the appetites of modern Western egos. Once again, as with Hindu Tantra, Western repression, sexual confusion and the lack of initiation into sexual maturity has led to ‘the right tool to the wrong man’ and the result is spiritual materialism and misogyny. There is no real transmission and so the practice reinforces the ego. Like fast foods, it is a lifestyle choice and you’re welcome to it, but don’t call it Taoism. Or healthy.
There are others offering their modern perspective on Taoist sexuality. Some are quite decent and correctly place Taoist sexuality in its proper context. Daniel Reid for example.
For more details see further: Eva Wong ‘Holding Yin, Embracing Yang’, p1-5 Douglas Wile, ‘The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics’, esp p63 ff