Note: This guest post by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit is Part II in a series about the Treatise of Zhang San Feng. Click here to read Part I.
In part I of this series, I presented both a literal and figurative translation of the Tai Chi Chuan Treatise of Zhang San Feng. Now I will give an explanation and interpretation of according to the best of my understanding and experience. Since this explanation will be quite long, it will be presented in parts. The first part deals with what is frequently quoted but little understood, namely that Tai Chi originates from Wuji.
The Cosmos and the Limitless Void
Tai Chi literally means “Grand Ultimate”; figuratively it means the Cosmos, or the phenomenal world. Wuji literally means “No Ultimate”; figuratively it means the Limitless Void, which is called by different people of different cultures as: Ultimate Reality, God the Holy Spirit, the Spiritual Body of the Buddha, or the collapse of sub-atomic particles into an undifferentiated spread of energy.
The word “phenomena” means appearances. Hence the phenomenal world is the world of appearances. The phenomenal world, or the Cosmos, has form, and is separated and differentiated into countless appearances. What these appearances are depend on who is observing them.
Human, or Bacterium?
Suppose you are sitting in front of your computer reading this sentence. So this minute part of the phenomenal world appears to you as a computer resting on a table, and you sitting on a chair reading from it. The computer, the table, the chair and even you are appearances, or phenomena; these are not absolutely real (though we as a human race are so used to these phenomena that we usually regard them as real.)
Another being, like a bacterium happily sitting on your computer, will not see the same phenomena as you do. It will not see the computer as a computer; it may see it as a whole galaxy.
The Limitless Void is formless, unseparated and undifferentiated. If you or any being attain a very high level of spiritual awareness you may not see the computer, the table or the chair. You may not even see yourself. You see beyond the phenomenal world into Ultimate Reality.
Some of us have had this incredible, beautiful experience. We suddenly find that we do not have a body, and that we are nowhere and everywhere. We also feel tremendously free and happy.
With this background knowledge, or better still actual experience, we are in a better position to understand the first part of Zhang San Feng’s Tai Chi Chuan Treatise.
One Nebulous Spread
The Cosmos, called Tai Chi in Chinese, originates from the Limitless Void, called Wuji. The Limitless Void is the undifferentiated spread of infinity and eternality. There is no space, and there is no time. It is one nebulous spread of energy.
This transcendental spread of energy is not separated and not differentiated into different entities like tables and chairs, humans and bacteria. This undifferentiated spread of infinity and eternality is the mother of the Cosmos, as the Cosmos is born from it. It is the origin of the phenomenal world with countless things and events.
How does the Limitless Void give birth to the Cosmos? Or why do we see reality not as an undifferentiated spread of energy but as a phenomenal world with separate and different entities like tables and chairs, mountains and streams?
Yin and Yang
It is because this undifferentiated spread of energy has two aspects. For example, one aspect is comparatively quiescent, and the other aspect is dynamic. The aspect that is quiescent is symbolized as yin, and the aspect that is dynamic is symbolized as yang.
When quiescent energy has become quiescent to the extreme, movement begins. On the other hand, when dynamic energy has become dynamic to the extreme, quiescence begins. This is symbolized as extreme yin creates yang, and extreme yang creates yin.
As another example, one aspect of energy is pure, and another aspect is impure. Energy that is pure is symbolized as yang, and energy that is impure is symbolized as yin. Why is it that in the earlier example, yin energy refers to energy that is quiescent, and yang energy refers to energy that is dynamic, but now yin energy refers to energy that is impure, and yang energy refers to energy that is pure?
This is because yin and yang are symbolic, and not absolute. As symbols, yin and yang may refer to different things or aspects in different context.
Pure energy rises, whereas impure energy sinks. Rising energy constitutes heaven, and sinking energy constitutes earth. Please note that “heaven” and “earth” are also symbolic.
A modern, scientific example is that energy that is light rises to form atoms which combine to become air, whereas energy that is heavy sinks to form atoms which combine to become rock. The interaction of these various types of energy goes on constantly and continuously, resulting in the countless things and events we have in our phenomenal world.
It is significant to note that Zhang San Feng emphasized that this teaching of Tai Chi and Wuji was the most important in Tai Chi Chuan. He said:
“This is the transmission of the essence of my teaching on the art of Tai Chi Chuan. The most important lesson is to understand the marvelous operation and benefits of the Cosmos in you and in the Universe.”
Zhang San Fen explained that Tai Chi originates from Wuji, but he did not mention that Tai Chi also returns to Wuji. However, this great truth is implied in such statements like, “there is stillness in every movement, and there is movement in every stillness”, and “extreme yin creates yang, and extreme yang creates yin”.
The most obvious implication is “the Cosmos is not different from the Limitless Void, and the Limitless Void is not different from the Cosmos”. Nevertheless, Wang Zong Yue, in his Treatise of Tai Chi Chuan did explicitly mention that “Tai Chi originates from Wuji, and returns to Wuji”.
Tai Chi Originates from Wuji
This most important teaching, that Tai Chi originates from Wuji, and returns to Wuji, is emphasized in our practice. We start at the Wuji Stance, without thinking of anything and without tensing any muscles. This leads to spontaneous energy flow, which may be stylized into Tai Chi Chuan movements. At the completion of our practice we return to stillness at Wuji Stance.
The benefits of following this teaching may be generalized into three main categories:
- At the basic level, the energy flow gives us good health, vitality and longevity.
- At the intermediate level, using energy flow instead of muscular strength enables us to be powerful and fast in combat as well as in our daily work and play, without being tired or panting for breaths.
- At the highest level while in energy flow or remaining still, we may have a glimpse of Ultimate Reality.
In Part III of this series, I will continue by explaining how humans are a microcosmos that mirrors the macrocosmos of the universe.