Louis Komjathy, Ph.D.: Daoist Meditation: Theory, Method, Application – transcript

Louis Komjathy 康思奇, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Diego. The current study is the transcription of a lecture given to the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) in 2011. The transcript was prepared and edited by Aranyelixír Kiadó (Budapest, Hungary), revised, supplemented and approved by Louis Komjathy in September 2014. The original lecture can be viewed here and the Hungarian translation is available here.

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Louis Komjathy 康思奇, Ph.D.: Daoist Meditation: Theory, Method, Application

Table of Contents



Approaches to the Study of Contemplative Practice

A Religious Studies Approach

Dimensions of Contemplative Practice

Understanding Daoism (Taoism)

Major Types of Daoist Meditation

Historical Periods and Sources of Daoist Meditation.

Apophatic Meditation



Inner Observation

Internal Alchemy


Questions and Answers


It gives me great pleasure tonight to introduce our speaker. Some of you are familiar with some of the great products which came out of the Seattle area during the 90’s like Soundgarden and Nirvana, you know, Kurt Cobain and so on. Well, one of the products that you’re not aware of is Dr Louis Komjathy. Dr Komjathy and I met when he arrived at Boston University in the late 90’s to become a graduate student of the famous Daoism scholar Livia Kohn. Louis ended up doing a wonderful doctoral dissertation, which became his first book on Complete Perfection School of Daoism, which began in the 12th century and it’s kind of a combination of classical Daoism and some Buddhist influences and it’s really the major lineage of Daoism that survived into the present.

Very unusual in the field of religious studies, but something that we’re hoping that there will be more of is contemplative religious studies professors and scholars and researchers, who have deep contemplative training in the contemplative tradition, as well as the ability to do first grade scholarship.

Dr. Komjathy is ordained as a Daoist priest at Huashan Temple that’s part of the Quanzhen lineage. And he’s now a professor at the University of San Diego. He also started the Daoist Studies Group within the American Academy of Religion and he is also the founder and organizer of the Contemplative Studies Group in the American Academy of Religion. He’s got one book published, and a whole bunch of other books, either completed or on the join boards. So it’s with great pleasure that I would like to ask you to welcome Dr Louis Komjathy.


Thank you for coming. I would like to thank Professor Harold Roth and the faculty members of the Departments of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies as well as the Contemplative Studies Initiative for the opportunity to speak to you here today. If you have not done so already, please silence your cell phones.

So the title of my talk is “Daoist Meditation”.

A young Daoist aspirant heard that there was a Daoist meditation master living in a secluded mountain hermitage. One day he resolved to visit the master and request to become his disciple. After the young Daoist arrived at the rough-hewn door of the master’s hut, he knocked, but there was no answer. Thinking that the master was out, perhaps collecting firewood or pine nuts, the aspirant waited outside the door, sitting on the porch.

An hour passed, then two. Dusk arrived, and the young Daoist began to worry about the incoming darkness. He decided to go into the hermitage. When he entered, he saw the old master and one of his Companions of the Dao sitting in deep meditation. They were unmoving, resembling withered wood and dead ashes. The adept waited for them to finish, believing that they would quickly suspend their meditation practice when they became aware of his presence. However, another hour passed without the masters completing their meditation session. The aspirant then took his seat next to them and continued his apprenticeship in meditation.

This well-known story from the Daoist oral tradition draws our attention to the importance of intensive and prolonged meditative practice, of guidance under a teacher and community in the Daoist tradition. Meditation is an essential Daoist religious practice, but Daoist meditation refers to many different techniques with distinct and forming worldviews and projected goals. In addition, it most often occurs within a larger training regimen.

During our time together, I will first provide some theoretical reflections on the academic study of contemplative practice. This will be followed by the topic proper, namely the types and styles of Daoist meditation, with particular attention to the historical and practical dimensions. I will conclude my talk with some thoughts on a larger application of the study of Daoist meditation for the emerging field of Contemplative Studies.


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