My first three books formed a trilogy and a novelized biography of my Taoist martial arts teacher, Kwan Saihung (Guan Shihong). The books were The Wandering Taoist (1983), Seven Bamboo Tablets of the Cloudy Satchel (1987), and Gateway to a Vast World (1989). I later edited them and revised them into a single volume, Chronicles of Tao (1993).
The crux of Mr. Kwan’s system is that physical purification through diet, herbs, qigong, martial arts, philosophy, and meditation form a methodical approach to the spiritual. This system formed the basis of Scholar Warrior (1990). The book takes its name from a traditional phrase that means a well-rounded individual. Such a person combines the scholar’s intellect, insights, and creativity with the warrior’s sense of honor, dignity, purpose, and action.
My next book, 365 Tao (1992), was based on a single premise: If this system of philosophy was so vital, then I ought to be able to find something Taoist in each day. I noticed then, as I do now, that many people regard Taoism as something ancient and distant. Many can speak about Taoism as it existed two thousand years ago, but they don’t talk about it as something that exists here and now. So I challenged myself to find a Taoist lesson not in books, but in my experiences each day, and then to write it down before the day was done. Sometimes, I didn’t finish until just before midnight!
Serendipitously, many readers have found this book a guide to daily discipline or even recovery. It remains my most popular book to date.
Four years later, I followed with another book of meditations, Everyday Tao (1996). This time, I took my inspiration from the structure of Chinese words. Many Chinese words are pictures, and I felt that this would make esoteric concepts more immediate. While some words are almost purely phonetic and borrow their forms from other words, nearly all Chinese words are grouped into categories such as hand, mouth, water, fire, person, heart, wood, silk, and rock. Even understanding the category to which a word belongs helps make it more concrete. For example, the word tao belongs to the signifier for movement (represented by footsteps) combined with a face (meaning a person). Tao is a person moving on a path. That makes tao not esoteric but immediate, tangible, and personal.
Two years later, I was approached to write a Zen cookbook. Anyone who loves to eat, as I do, also has to know how to cook. Zen and Taoism are kindred spiritual systems, and both emphasize the importance of diet and therefore cooking. The result was a lavish color cookbook published by Pavilion Books Limited in Great Britain and Soma Books in the United States, Zen: The Art of Modern Eastern Cooking (1998). Read more