Final Notes on T’ai Chi Classics

Thought I’d end my discussion of Liao’s T’ai Chi classics with a quote and interpretation from the final two classics.

This quotation from The Treatise by Master Wong Chung-yua reminds me of one of my favorite aspects of Buddhism:

After coming to an understanding of the internal power of movement, you can approach the theory of natural awareness. Natural awareness is developed through practice over a long period of time; you cannot reach a sudden understanding of natural awareness without proper practice for an extended length of time.

The T’ai Chi system is based on the natural law of harmony and balance. Through the development of internal power you can obtain a full understanding of its character and properties, which will serve as a bridge to the stage of natural awareness.

According to Master Wong, the important point is that the natural awareness stage requires a long period of practice in T’ai Chi. After proper practice for an extended length of time, even though you may not be able to feel the gradual progression in your conscious mind, the accumulation of internal power will suddenly turn into a higher level of achievement, known as natural awareness. As an analogy, when heating water to its boiling point, it does not boil up gradually, but slowly accumulates heat and then suddenly begins to boil after reaching the proper temperature.

Proper practice means practicing under the supervision of a qualified master; practicing for an extended length of time means continuously practicing without interruption. As in the analogy of heating water to a boiling point, one’s development requires constant, uninterrupted “heat.”

Though I’m sure I’m still a long ways away from the kind of awareness described here, I have found that this kind of meditative movement, when I can’t be outside walking, makes me more aware of my inner feelings. Unexplainably, lately sometimes when I’m out birding, standing still, watching everything else move while I’m standing still, I unconsciously feel like breaking into a T’ai Chi movement.

I can’t remember when I first heard a comment like this one from the Treatise by Master Wu Yu-hsiang,

In T’ai Chi, being very soft and pliable leads to being extremely hard and strong. Command of proper breathing techniques leads to command of free and flexible movement.

In the Tao-te Ching, Lao Tzu (ca. 500 B.C.E.) asks, “Can you dedicate your internal energy, ch’i, and be as pliable and yielding as a baby?”

The only condition for allowing your internal energy to develop, grow, and become strong is that you must relax yourself and yield to the universe. When you become soft and pliable, your internal energy will gradually begin to develop and accumulate. Eventually you will have the ability to become extremely hard and strong, when it is necessary to do so. To make metal into the hardest steel, you must heat the metal, make it as soft and pliable as liquid, and then refine it into the hardest steel.

Freedom and flexibility of movement depend on the flow of internal energy. Internal energy development comes from the proper breathing techniques. A beginner in T’ai Chi should therefore examine and develop these techniques.

but I do remember being rather moved, like grass blowing in the wind, because before that I’d always thought of strength as being steadfast, always standing up for what you believed in, like a mighty Oak. It had never occurred to me that, under those conditions, grass was actually “stronger” than an oak tree.

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