BRIEF HISTORY & MEANING OF TÀIJÍ(TAICHI), TAO AND TAOISmThe Tao Te Ching, and the Life & Teachings of Lao Tzu.
What is Tàijí and who were “Taoists”
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… actually no, in this galaxy, and not quite that long ago.
Thousands of years ago on this same earth we live on now, an ingenious alchemical system was developed by people in Ancient China who wished to fulfill the ultimate potential of body, mind, and spirit.
Those people were originally known simply as Mountain People (Shānrén, 山人) and Real People (Zhēnrén, 真人), but eventually came to be called Taoists (Tàojiā or Tàorén, 道人/道家).
The alchemical system/s discovered by these ancient people came to have many names, methods, and styles, such as Nèidān (“Inner Alchemy”, 內丹), Qìgōng (or Chì Gong, 氣功), Tàogōng (道功), and Tàijí (太極, also spelled “Taichi”).
Taoists, also called mountain men (Shan Ren), lived outside of these political structures. Usually in the mountains, living a temple life devoted to the Tao, in small communities of dedicated practitioners.
What does the word “Tàijí” mean?
Tàijí (太極), also spelled Taichi, means “[The] Supreme-Boundlessness”, or “[The] Great Ultimate”. It means improving and progressing towards the unlimited ultimate, the immense existence and the great eternal. Tàijí is also what is known as “the Original Principle” of Yin and Yang, that is, the harmonious interaction of that principle.
THE MEANING OF THE “YIN YANG”
One works toward this Supreme Boundlessness, this Great Ultimate, by working through this Original Principle:
The YIN, (the “feminine”, yielding, nurturing, embracing, sharing, compassionate…) – Negative power / function of phenomena.
And the YANG, (the “masculine”, action, support, expanding, radiant, structural…) – Positive power / function of phenomena.
Each of these contains its respective complementary component:
The giving, extending issuing aspects of the yin are its yang components;
While the receiving, upholding and rooting aspects of the yang show its yin capacities.
This harmonious interrelation is what the Ancient Taoists called, “Tàijí.”
The symbol used to represent the Tàijí system and “Taoism” is in fact the well-known Yin Yang, depicting what was just described:
The Tàijí system applies the original Yin and Yang principle in a complete, progressive, and organized manner.
These forces of Yin and Yang, and their interaction, were born of the Ineffable Originless Quality we can only crudely call Tao (道, Tào or Dào).
This birth gave forth the “Supreme Boundless One” – the Tàijí/Taichi,
which necessarily became the two complementary forces, providing dimension for exchange,
creating the “Ten thousand things” (an ancient poetic term to describe “all particular things”);
which expresses itself as the harmonious interaction of these fundamental forces.
Lao Tzu’s Teachings
and the Tao Te Ching
Most in the West would know of “Taoism” from Lao Tzu’s Teachings in the Tào Té Chīng (道德經, also transliterated: “Dào Dé Jīng”). Let’s begin by breaking down the meaning of the words “Tao Te Ching”:
What does “Tao” mean?
“Tao” (pronounced DAO) can be translated as “The Way,” though it really means much more than that.
This Tao, according to the Tao Te Ching, is the source of the Yin/Yang interrelation and also the Oneness this interrelation comes from.
This harmonious Oneness, also known as “Tàijí” (or Taichi) emerges from what is known in the Tao Te Ching and numerous other Taoist and Ancient Chinese texts as “Wújí” (無極), meaning roughly, “Supreme Emptiness”.
What is the difference between Taiji and Wuji?
Where Tàijí is the “Supreme Boundless,” Wújí is the “Supreme Emptiness” over which Tàijí is seated.
So Tàijí literally means, “[The] Ultimate Polarity [of Yin and Yang],” while it’s counterpart, Wújí, pertains literally to, “[The Ultimate] Non Polarity” — the vacuum and vector underneath the Tàijí interaction.
But let’s get back to the meaning of “Tao”
Tao is very much the source of this metaphysical Tàijí and Wújí interrelation, and therefore the term “Tao” is meant to include this meaning, beyond simply meaning “The Way” in the common English vernacular.
Therefore, Tao is both The Way the energy of all things (including consciousness) flows around in our universe, but also the source of how that flow arises:
the fundamental non-action beneath the fundamental action. It’s everything at once but also nothing at all, each at the same time.
What is the meaning of “Te”?
This term too means a number of things, including the “inner potency,” “inner integrity,” or, “inner goodness,” especially toward nature and others.
What is the meaning of “Ching”?
So, what is the meaning of “Tao Te Ching”?
The Tao Te Ching, is a sacred book, that talks about Tao — the Way the universal energy flows, and Te — the way energy flows inside us as life energy, spirit, and consciousness.
The text refers primarily to what these things are and how to recognize and reconnect our Te back to Tao.
About Lao Tzu
The time of birth and lifespan of the Sage Lao Tzu is still debated; though based on the earliest surviving manuscripts of the Tao Te Ching, we know its authorship was at least as early as the 4th century BC, during the Warring States period of Ancient China.
However, he is traditionally thought to have been a predecessor to Confucius, living in the 6th century BC during the Spring and Autumn period.
Parts of the Tao Te Ching were likely compiled significantly later than the 4th century BC.
When did Lao Tzu live?
This puts Lao Tzu living around the same time as the literary construction of the story of Abraham (the patriarch of the three Abrahamic religions), around the late 6th century BC.
Lao Tzu is truly one of the world’s oldest recorded holy sages spreading the idea of Tao.
His Teachings in the Tao Te Ching greatly influenced numerous other schools of Chinese philosophy and religion, beyond just Taoism but also Buddhism, Confucianism, and Legalism, as well as many disciplines of study, such as Tàijí, Qìgōng, Tàogōng, various martial arts (“Gōngfū”), poetry, painting, calligraphy, cooking, gardening, and more.
Virtually every area of Chinese culture, and many other Asian cultures too, have been deeply influenced by Lao Tzu’s Teachings.
When did Taoism begin?
As Grandmaster Waysun Liao says: “You don’t just invent or create some idea like Tao. The idea of the energy, or the Tao – this kind of wisdom – must have been floating around long before the time of Lao Tzu.”
“You know, those ancient people travelled and walked all throughout the lands on what eventually became the Silk Roads.
In Europe, in China, all throughout Egypt, Persia, India, and Indonesia; I bet they walked back and forth quite a lot.
Therefore, this idea must have been there already and gone through many wise sages and masters who spread this message to the people, all throughout those areas.
That’s why so many similar ideas emerged gradually from the ancient world, just using slightly different terms.”
“Sometimes the wisdom can come out too early and too few can understand.” he adds.
“The wisdom would have likely been passed down for many generations before that.
But we see it in history: from time to time a very spiritual person comes out to give one more push to spread the wisdom again: to give it new life, a new interpretation, to elaborate on it, perhaps in a more comprehensive way, or in a way that people can understand with different contexts,” continues Grandmaster Liao.
“For example, in the old days, concepts like energy were very difficult to discuss because people didn’t have any context for that, such as electricity, wireless communication, internet, or modern physics.
Nowadays we have lots more concepts and contexts available to use to understand those old Teachings.”
“The Tao Te Ching was written in what we call a secret code, like a parable, you see?” Grandmaster asks.
“Unfortunately, people have been interpreting it in an academic way, as a piece of literature, leaving us with shelves of different translations and intellectual commentaries, all trying to explain the meaning of these Teachings.”
“When we are born, our energy is pure and full. But when we grow up we start becoming smart and intellectual. We become engineers. We can do math. We send people to the moon. We do all kinds of things, but then our energy is suffering. Our pure energy suffers from suppression. We substitute our true energy with artificial energy.”
“Our mind is the extension of our life energy.
It elaborates and evolves from that simple energy. But we create a lot of illusions.
We don’t realise our suffering.
For our joy, our happiness, our sense of value, we take artificial concepts as the true way. That’s why our true energy starts to suffer.
That’s what all those old traditions and texts like the Tao Te Ching are really talking about,” he adds.
For that, we need a Teacher, a guide to help us discover the Tao and that energy, how to really understand that precious Tao Te Ching and other great Teachings.”
Frequently Asked Questions about Tàijí
How did these Taiji forms begin?
Who created Taiji first?
How many Taiji forms/postures are there?
What does “Shoong” mean?
and more will be added on a regular basis, so keep checking in!