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Tao and Taijiquan


The Tao that is called the Tao is not the Tao - Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching

This great teaching by the First Patriarch of Taoism, Lao Tzu, in the very first line of his great work, Tao Te Ching, is frequently quoted but little understood.

What the First Patriarch of Taoism means is as follows.

Cosmic Reality is undifferentiated. It is a continuous spread of universal energy or consciousness. There is no subject and no object, no knower and the known. In Western terms it is God and only God, eternal and infinite, omniscience and omnipresence.

Once there is a subject who points to the Cosmos and says, This is Cosmic Reality, then it is no longer Cosmic Reality because there is already differentiation into the knower and the known. It is no longer undifferentiated.

One of the most beautiful lessons I have from my qigong training is my discovery that all the great religions known in the world teach the same Truth. The methods to arrive at the Truth, and the results of arriving are also the same. Due to differences in history, geography, language, culture and other factors, the words used to describe the methods, the attainment and the results may be different, but the meaning is all the same.

Let us have some fun, as well as a glimpse into the deep wisdom of the world’s greatest teachings. Below are five quotations taken from five great religions, but with tell-tale terms like Buddha and God replaced by neutral terms like Cosmic Reality. Can you tell which quotation relates to which religion?

Quotation 1

After this prayer I once found myself inundated with a vivid light; it seemed to me that a veil was lifted up from before my eyes of the spirit, and all the truths of human science, even those that I had not studied, became manifest to me by an infused knowledge.

Quotation 2

Suddenly it dissolved and your consciousness rushingly expands to the stature of a hundred feet, a thousand feet, a million - nay, a billion billion billion. You are now identical with Cosmic Reality, container and sole substance of the universe! Stars and suns innumerable are the atoms of your being, their whirling is the pulsing of your blood, their fiery brilliance the radiance of your person, the music of the spheres your voice!

Quotation 3

No one can attain Cosmic Reality without developing his mind through the practice of meditation. Any amount of meritorious deeds alone would not lead a person to attain the final goal without training the mind.

Quotation 4

The goal of this meditation, as in all meditation systems, is to overcome the mind's natural state of carelessness and inattention. His mind mastered, the aspirant can become one-pointed on Cosmic Reality.

Quotation 5

The secret of immortality is to be found in purification of the heart, in meditation, in realization of the identity of the self within and Cosmic Reality without. For immortality is union with Cosmic Reality.

It is not easy to define the religions of the quotations, as they all are about the same. They are from Christianity, Taoism, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism respectively.

The supreme aim of Tai Chi Chuan or Taijiquan is to attain Cosmic Reality, described in Tai Chi Chuan terms as attaining the Tao. In Buddhist term it is attaining Enlightenment, in Christian term returning to God the Holy Spirit, in Islam unity with God, and in Yoga union with Brahman.

The term Tai Chi, which is the usual spelling in English, or Taiji in Romanized Chinese, literally means Grand Ultimate, figuratively it refers to the Cosmos or the Universe, of which our world is a tiny part. Transcendental Cosmic Reality, or the Great Void, is referred to as “Wu Ji” which literally means No Limit.

Tai Chi Chuan is in English spelling, in Romanized Chinese it is Taijiquan. It is worthwhile to note that although the English spelling is the same in both cases, the Chi in Tai Chi Chuan is different in meaning as well as pronunciation from the Chi in Chi Kung.

The Chi in Tai Chi Chuan means Ultimate, pronounced like Ji in English, and is also spelt as Ji in Romanized Chinese.

The Chi in Chi Kung means Energy, pronounced like Ch’i in English, and is spelt as Qi in Romanized Chinese.

In Romanized Chinese, Chi Kung is spelt as Qigong, and is pronounced as Ch’i Kung, not as Ki Gong. Similarly, in Spanish José is pronounced as hosé, and not as José.

Tai Chi Chuan, like Shaolin Kungfu, had its origin in spiritual cultivation. In other words, the first practitioners practiced Tai Chi Chuan to attain the Tao. Later practitioners also aimed at good health, including vitality and longevity, and combat efficiency, irrespective of size, strength and gender. But nowadays, most people practice Tai Chi Chuan, which they usually call Tai Chi instead, as a gentle physical dance.

Having looked at the meaning of “Tai Chi”, let us now come to Chuan.

Chuan, or Quan in Romanized Chinese, literally means Fist, but figuratively it means Martial Art, or Kungfu as it is colloquially called in Chinese. Hence, Tai Chi Chuan means Cosmos Kungfu. In Romanized Chinese, Shaolin Kungfu is Shaolinquan.

If you practice Tai Chi as a gentle physical dance, you will get benefits too, like loosening joints and muscles, and being balanced and graceful.

But you will not get benefits of Tai Chi Chaun as an internal martial art, like good health which includes overcoming pain and illness, vitality, longevity, combat efficiency, irrespective of your size, strength and gender, and spiritual development, ranging from being relaxed and peaceful to seeing God in all His Glory.

This is only logical. If you practice a gentle physical dance, you get the benefits of a gentle physical dance. If you practice an internal martial art, you get the benefits of an internal martial art. In the same manner, if you ride a bicycle, you enjoy the benefits of a bicycle. If you drive a car, you enjoy the benefits of a car.

Yet, millions of Tai Chi practitioners all over the world don’t seem to understand this. They don’t seem to understand that they don’t get the benefits of good health, combat efficiency and spiritual joys because they are not practicing genuine Tai Chi Chuan.

What should they do if they wish to have these benefits? Simple. Learn from a teacher who has these benefits and is willing to teach them.

The ultimate goal of Tai Chi Chuan is to attain the Tao. But there are also basic and intermediate goals, which are usually more meaningful to most practitioners.

The many wonderful benefits of practicing Tai Chi Chuan can be classified into three levels as follows:

  1. Overcoming pain and illness, and attaining good health, vitality and longevity.

  2. Combat efficiency irrespective of size, strength and gender.

  3. Spiritual Cultivation, ranging from being relaxed and peaceful to ultimately attaining the Tao.

Although Chi in Tai Chi Chuan means Ultimate and not Energy, it is energy that is the ultimate factor in Tai Chi Chuan training that brings benefits in all its three levels of attainment.

It is energy flow that overcomes pain and illness, and gives Tai Chi Chuan practitioners good health, vitality and longevity.

It is energy flow that generates internal force for Tai Chi Chuan practitioners enabling them to be combat efficient regardless of their size, physical strength and gender.

It is energy flow that provides spiritual development, ranging from being relaxed and peaceful at beginning stages to ultimately merging individual spirits to the universal, to Tao or God.

This universal connection is found in other practices too, besides Tai Chi Chuan, like in Yoga, Qigong, Shaolin Kungfu, Zen and other types of meditation. The common factor in all these arts is that the training is not just physical; it involves mind-body awareness, it is spiritual cultivation.

The above extract is reproduced from Your True Nature: Wisdom of Living Masters by Natalie Deane and Damian Lafont.

You can order this book from here.

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