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  • Karl Thunemann

Selected readings on Taoism (Blofeld Edition)

At first I supposed this would be easy. If I sat still long enough, I would be able to recall the books on Taoism that have influenced me, but I met some impediments. Some books I recall without remembering exactly how they inspired me. I have had to resort to online accounts to coax my memories back to life.

As you peruse this list, you may notice a certain bias. When I first stepped beyond the I Ching to get a broader perspective of Taoism, I naturally turned toward John Blofeld (1913-1987), a Brit who spent nearly his entire adult life in Asia, immersed in the theory and practice of Buddhism and Taoism. When I looked up a list of Blofeld’s publications, of course I found my favorites, with enough information to remind me of why I found them so moving.  Blofeld also published a translation of the I Ching.  I will consider it in my posts about the I Ching, still to come.

I have read four or five Blofeld books, but on his list of publications I found a few more that I now wish I had read. Thanks to Amazon, I have enough information to recommend these books to you and add them to my own list as well. So let’s start out with the books I have read.

The Secret and Sublime: Taoist Mysteries and Magic

I felt transported by this book. It opens so many doors into the China of the past. As Blofeld explains: “Originally the objective of all Taoist forms of contemplation and yoga had probably been identical—the union of opposites within oneself in order that the mysterious light of the indwelling Tao might be made manifest.” And the book is full of magic and mystery. It encouraged me to let go of my faith in rationality.

Taoism: The Road to Immortality

 I recommend the chapter on the “uncarved block,” the image of the sage following in the tradition of Lao-tse and Chang-tse—always in touch with his origins, prepared for all comers. And yet this book is comprehensive, paying attention to all the many elements of Taoism. Blofeld is a colorful writer who brings his topics to life

Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin

 I love this book, too much to waste time arguing whether Kwan Yin is truly honored by Taoists or strictly belongs to the Buddhists. Blofeld’s descriptions of encounters with this entity are moving, and his elucidation of this issue—do gods exist in themselves or as a manifestation of their believers’ minds? –is priceless. The short answer? They’re both!

The Wheel of Life: The Autobiography of a Western Buddhist

This book is worth reading if only to absorb the author’s account of his boyhood., and of his encountering a strange object in a curiosity shop. His aunt bought it for him.. Later he would learn that the object was a likeness of the Buddha. Such a monument to karma and mystery. This moment affected the course of Blofeld’s entire life—and it is a story well told. This book is packed with wondrous accounts of Blofeld’s adventurous life.

John Blofeld (1913-1987)

And, venturing still further!

Beyond the Gods: Buddhist and Taoist Mysticism

Take it from the book jacket: "During forty years spent in Asia, John Blofeld has stayed for considerable periods in Chinese and Tibetan monasteries and has made personal contact with many Buddhist and Taoist masters of yoga and meditation. His study of Eastern religions awakened in him the desire to interpret the ancient traditions of the Far East for the West."

Mantras: Sacred Words of Power

With the dramatic growth of interest in the religions and mysticism of the East, more and more people have become fascinated by "mantras," the sacred formulae memorized for meditation in India, China, and Tibet. Their precise meaning and exactly how they work have, understandably, long been surrounded by an aura of secrecy in order to guard against distortion and abuse.  (From a review on

And this Warning!

Some of these books offered online are priced as if they were collector’s items. Be sure to look at online used-book sellers before you place your order! Also, consider whether your local library has copies. If they don’t, try the exotic experience of asking for an inter-library loan. It may nudge you to enlightenment.


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