Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching

Who is Lao Tzu and What is the Tao Te Ching?

Philosophical Taoism and The Way and its Power

Understanding Taoism is a way to know the nature of reality. Acting naturally, as in the Tao, one becomes ethical and effective.

To discuss Taoism is not a simple thing. Taoism branches into 3 sub-headings, Philosophical Taoism, Religious Taoism, and Taoist Yoga, which includes the martial art Tai Chi Chuan. The Taoism that will be discussed is Philosophical Taoism, which is the subject matter of the Tao Te Ching. The Tao Te Ching is a collection of poetic works, where the nature of the ultimate, the cosmic, and the individual in the world are explained.

The Legend of Lao Tzu

As legend would have it in the 6th century B.C. Lao Tzu lived in Zhou, and was the Imperial Librarian. He had grown weary of moral decay. Upon retirement he left Zhou heading toward what now is Tibet, and was stopped at Hankao Pass by a gatekeeper.

The gatekeeper asked Lao Tzu that before he passed; would he write down what he thought was important in life, in a contribution to humanity. So in a matter of a few days he wrote the Tao Te Ching and was allowed to pass.

The Way and Its Power

The writing came to be known as the Tao Te Ching or in English The Way and Its Power. Under this philosophical system, there are three conceptual elements which constitute everything. First is Non-Being, second Being, and third what Taoism calls the 10,000 things, meaning all of the differentiated things in the world.

In Taoism, with Non-Being or pure potentiality, necessarily comes pure actuality (e.g., Being), where when things come into existence (e.g., Being) they are bifurcated into the 10,000 things. Finally, out of the 10,000 things comes the singularity of the individual. Taoism is ultimately an attempt to explain how the individual finds their place in the world, and how one is to be ethical and therefore effective.

Taoism and Yin/Yang

Under Taoism, in the world all things interact in a sort of dualism calledYin/Yang, where the two principles are in a process of transformation, sometimes even becoming their opposites. Examples of these two principles include the following:

  • light/dark,
  • heaven/earth
  • male/female
  • mountains/valleys

Ultimately the two aspects are bound together. Because of this dualism qualities are intricately bound. Beauty cannot exist without ugliness, or strength without weakness, or heat without cold.

Taoism and Wu Wei

A central concept in Taoism is what is called Wu Wei which is also called non-action. This is adhering to what is natural. Examples in the world are abundantly used in the Tao Te Ching. For example a tree metaphor is used where it is said that “that which is firmly established is not easily uprooted”.

But also it prominently states “yield and overcome, bend and be straight, empty and be full,” as pointing to the demise of that which cannot yield to natural forces. But yielding does not mean weakness.

Water is compared to soft or receptive principles, which flows in the path of least resistance, but it’s power is not minimized because for instance in a flood nothing can resist it. Throughout the Tao Te Ching, the natural way works as a metaphor for ethical conduct; where one finds the natural way of non-action or natural action.

Out of this idea of Yin/Yang comes the ancient Chinese classic the I Chingor the Book of Changes, where the symbols of Yin/Yang were used in the Imperial courts for divination.

Understanding the Tao and Pantheism

While Taoism is understood through a conceptual basis; Non-Being, Being, and the 10,000 things; these states exist together and work in harmony. The Tao is not strictly pantheistic (e.g., God is nature) because ultimately the Tao transcends nature in Non-Being which acts as pure potentiality. Out of pure potentiality must come pure actuality (e.g., Being). Therefore, Non-Being cannot be separated from Being (e.g., the cosmos) and the 10,000 things must also be manifested out of Being. All act together and are inseparable. Yet the Tao Te Ching is often referred to correctly as being a work that is “naturalistic”, being that it talks specifically about nature as examples in its system.

It is amazing how such a small poetic book, that can be read in a half an hour, could have so much influence in Chinese culture, but if one looks at this book of teaching one will find great wisdom of the ancients.

Resources:

Smith, Huston., The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. HarperCollins Publishers: New York 1991.

Feng Gia-Fu, English, Jane., Trans. Lao Tsu: The Tao Te Ching., Random House Inc. New York. 1972.

Tai Chi Chuan

What is Tai Chi Chuan and What Are Its Benefits?

Martial Arts, Meditation, and Calisthenics

Tai Chi Chuan is a popular form of exercise. These exercises combines martial arts, meditation and calisthenics. There are many known health benefits.

Tai Chi Chuan is an excellent health exercise which has its origins in China. Tai Chi Chuan is considered the physical manifestation of the Tao or Way (i.e., the way of what is natural). Tai Chi Chuan can be performed by all ages and is not expensive to perform, all one needs is the knowledge of the form and a place to do it. The wealth of health benefits are well documented.

The Origins of Tai Chi Chuan

Tai Chi Chuan is a technique that is practiced in China and has spread throughout the world. Literally it means Grand Ultimate Boxing. This technique is martial arts, meditation, and calisthenics all wrapped into one. This technique was practiced by the Shaolin monks in ancient China. There are many schools of Tai Chi Chuan, which include the Yang Short Form, and Yang Long Form, as well as the Chen forms from which the Yang forms are derived.

Taoism is represented by Philosophical Taoism, Religious Taoism, and finally Taoist Yoga, which is where Tai Chi Chuan fits in. Tai Chi Chuan is considered to be a form of Kung Fu, which means excellence, like the excellence of all of the martial arts.

What is Tai Chi Chuan?

Those who have seen people in the park moving very slowly doing exercise have most likely witnessed the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. Tai Chi Chuan, which originated in China, is practiced commonly in the parks and squares around the world.

Tai Chi Chuan is thought to be the physical manifestation in the human form of the Tao. The use of animal postures fall in line with the idea of Taoism as being naturalistic. One begins with a beginning posture then transitions into the next, completes it and then on to the next.

For instance in the Yang Style Short Form, there are 54 postures. In the Yang Style Short Form there is a lot of animal imagery. The postures include White Crane Spreads Wings, Carry the Tiger, Ride the Tiger, Golden Rooster, as well as Snake Creeps Down. In these postures a movement is initiated in which the animal is somehow represented in a natural manner, which can be useful for martial arts. There are many other non-animal postures as well.

How is Tai Chi Chuan Performed?

All types of Tai Chi Chuan are considered martial arts, as well as being Chi Gung, a form of meditation, and calisthenics all of which improves one’s health, strength and vitality when done correctly. Before doing Tai Chi Chuan, one does warm-up exercises so that one doesn’t injure themselves doing the form. The exercises or postures of the form when done correctly are very anaerobic as well as aerobic. This may not be apparent by looking at Tai Chi Chuan in motion, which is very slow and deliberate.

Central to Tai Chi Chuan is the Chi or breath. This is not specifically respiration, but respiration is a component. Chi refers to the life force. When doing Tai Chi Chuan regularly one increases one’s life force. Some call Chi spirit. When doing the form, which refers to the series of postures one does transitioning from one to another, one controls the breath. Going into and out of a posture into the next one requires breathing in, then breathing out at key points in the postures.

What are the Health Benefits of Tai Chi Chuan?

Tai Chi Chuan has been useful in maintaining health and longevity in China. The health benefits include controlling diabetes, relaxation, deep breathing, strength training, managing arthritis pain, feelings of well-being, lowering blood pressure, helping to battle heroin addiction, increased oxygen in the tissues, increase in blood T-Cell‘s and H-Cells as well as many other benefits.

One of the masters of the Yang form of Tai Chi Chuan, Cheng Man-Ching, claimed to have cured himself of tuberculosis using Tai Chi Chuan. A YouTube video of master Cheng Man-Ching, who originated the Yang Short Form, doing the Yang Short Form can be found here.

Tai Chi Chuan is not expensive. Only a small space is needed to do the form. Once the form is learned it can be practiced in groups or by oneself. Tai Chi Chuan has been shown to be an effective health exercise. It requires no special equipment and can be done by people of all ages. The health benefits are considerable.

Sources:

Helm, Bill. Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Short Form., Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego: San Diego 1996

Klein, Bob. Movements of Magic: The Spirit of Tai Chi Chuan. Newcastle Publishing Company: California 1984

Wile, Douglas Compiled and Translated., Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Advanced Tai-Chi Form Instructions With Selected Writings on Meditation, The I Ching, Medicine and the Arts. Sweet Ch’i Press: New York 1985