Although I’ve been taking Tai Chi classes for nearly four years now, I’ve never been particularly interested in actually reading anything about Tai Chi. All I know about Tai Chi has come from listening to comments by different teachers.
More than once, I’ve remarked to instructors that the principles of T’ai Chi seem remarkably similar to the principles of Taoism, but most of them seem unfamiliar with Taoism and the Tao Te Ching.
I’ll have to admit that I, too, tend to separate the two into entirely different categories: physical exercise and intellectual exercise. That said, I’ve been rather pleasantly surprised while reading T’ai Chi Classics Translated with Commentary by Waysun Liao for it’s nice to see these two aspects of my life joined together.
According to Waysun Liao
T'ai Chi means "the ultimate." It means improving, and progressing toward the unlimited; it means the immense existence and the great eternal. All of the various directions in which T'ai Chi influence was felt were guided by the theory of opposites: the Yin and the Yang, the negative and the positive. This is sometimes called the original principle. It was also believed that all of the various influences of T'ai Chi point in one direction: toward the ultimate.
According to T'ai Chi theory, the abilities of the human body are capable of being developed beyond their commonly conceived potential. Civilization can be improved to the highest levels of achievement. Creativity has no boundaries whatsoever, and the human mind should have no restrictions or barriers placed upon its capabilities.
While this sounds rather New Ageish, the actual practice of T’ai Chi seems anything but. Learning T’ai Chi demands old-fashioned persistence and attention to detail.
Waysun Liao also confirmed my suspicians that T’ai Chi and Taoism were closely related:
For thousands of years, the system of political rule in China was based on brutality and corruption. Those who were dedicated to the truth called themselves Taoists or "mountain men," and they lived a life similar to that of the monk. They carried on the spirit of T'ai Chi philosophy and in no way interfered with the ruling authorities. Since T'ai Chi formed its own independent system and had nothing to do with political structures, it was able to enjoy growth and freedom of development, even if only in small, isolated communities of dedicated men.
I suspect the very fact that Taoism wasn’t an “official” religion spared it much of the ceremony and ritual associated with most religions, making it seem more like a philosophy than a religion, certainly part of its appeal to me.
I’m also drawn to the Taoists’ idea of Yin and Yang, probably because I’ve always been drawn to Hegel’s dialectics, or, at least, my primitive understanding of those concepts.
THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO, Chinese Taoists, whether from scientific observation, by mere hypothesis, or by obtaining information from sources unknown to us today, formulated the theory that there is an eternal power that moves the universe. They called this ultimate power ch'i. According to the legendary theory of Yin and Yang, ch'i exercises its powers ceaselessly, moving in a balanced manner between the positive (constructive) and negative (destructive) powers.
Because the Yin and Yang powers originate from the ultimate power, ch'i, they are able to move freely without any external limitation, immune from the restrictions of space, time, and even the material manifestations of existence. Because the two powers are always conflicting yet balancing each other, our universe is constantly and indefinitely changing. Everything, even unfilled space, derives its existence from the balanced interaction of these two contrasting forces. Since the powers of Yin and Yang are the origin of everything, they are the ultimate nature of every object in this universe.
I’ve always been a great believer in the idea of living your life according to the “golden mean,” which Confucius probably derived from these same principles, though I haven’t always managed to live up to those beliefs.
Even though I’m happy being an INTP, my first reaction after taking the test was that ideally I’d be dead even in every category, and I was happy to discover that in some tests I actually turned out to be an S rather than a T.
In other words, I suspect I was a Taoist long before I even knew that there were Taoists.
Before I began T’ai Chi, I practiced a version of physical and meditative yoga that I learned from books written in the 70’s long before it became “in” to take yoga at the local gym. The two really seem quite similar in many ways, perhaps because the underlying beliefs are similar.