I experienced that many westerns think different about Daoism or have a different idea of what Daoism should be. Here I want to address some of the common misunderstandings westerners mostly have about Daoism.
It was common during the old times that a future apprentice has to prove himself first. The personality of the potential student was checked during this time and if he accomplished this lifestyle over three to twelve years – depending on the master – he was generally accepted as a student. The general idea was: What are twelve years compared to the treasure you can use during your whole life? The Chinese understanding was that experience had to earned and carefully chosen.
Let’s talk about the hurdles:
For testing the tolerance of the student it was common practice that the master would tell the student to clean this clothing and every time the student returned with the clean clothes he was deliberately dragging it through the mud again. Depending on how quickly the student would return with new clean clothing, knowingly that he would have to clean them again, was carefully perceived by the master and judged his ability to be diligent and tolerant – the foundation for students of the internal arts.
When a potential student could not find quietness, he was usually locked in a dark cellar with no light. An older Gong Fu brother would bring food and water frequently. The potential student was only released when he became totally quiet, which usually happened after 3 to 5 days, sometimes maybe longer. When people have no perception of the day and night cycle and find themselves in a closed environment which never changes, it is possible for the student to find total peace after going through his own problems. If a student could not accept his situation, he usually became crazy and then he would be thrown out of the school, never being able to join the school again.
The master would often beat his students till they could accept his teachings, the punishment was very strict and immediately executed. It was common that the master would attack his student psychologically to see how much they could endure.
The students were carefully chosen because they were the assurance of the Master, who took care of his daily tasks. It was customary to follow Master for many years until the Master gave the disciple permission to build his own life. Normally, the Master took care of the disciple in every possible way, facilitating his path in the direction he could see that his life would develop.
Today the master is often perceived to be some kind of entertainer who should try to give comfort to his student. It is the complete opposite – potential students should appeal to the master – not the other way around. A good master never appeals to his students, he is very strict and takes care of their future without the student realizing.