The ultimate aim of Tai Chi Chuan practice is to return to the Limitless Void (Tai Chi). It is also the ultimate aim of all great spiritual training and all known world religions. Because this great truth is expressed in different terms by different peoples (like attaining Tao, realizing Buddhahood, or returning to God), it may have different connotations for different people.
But we are not ready for this ultimate aim of returning to the Limitless Void yet. So we practice Tai Chi Chuan for lower aims of having good health, vitality, longevity and mental clarity, attaining peak performance in our work and play, and self defense. This does not mean that we leave out the spiritual aspect of Tai Chi Chuan.
As emphasized by Zhang San Feng himself, the spiritual aspect and the energy aspect are most important. We experience spiritual joys in our Tai Chi Chuan practice, irrespective of our religion, and once in a while we catch glimpses of Cosmic Reality.
Tai Chi Chuan practice is an excellent way to cultivate our spirit and train our energy. When we attain a unity of spirit and energy, we attain a microcosmos, which mirrors the macrocosmos.
Micro and Macro
In reality there is no micro or macro. The Cosmos and the Limitless Void are the same; it is a matter of perception. In other words, the Cosmos, whether in its micro or macro form, is the Limitless Void. It may be expressed in other terms like everyone is a Buddha, or everyone has the divine spark of God in him.
Every human being is already an integrated part of the Limitless Void. We are unseparated and undifferentiated from It. This is the pre-natal situation, called in Western terms as God the Holy Spirit. In modern scientific terms, it is the universal spread of energy before an observer perceives it as sub-atomic particles. In Chinese it is called Wuji or the Limitless Void.
The creation of humanity and all the myriad things, living and non-living, is post-natal, i.e. after the Creation. All these things, including ourselves and all other things we may see or not see in this world (like mountains and streams, microorganisms and fairies), and all things beyond that we may or may not perceive (like distant galaxies, dark matter in science, gods and immortals, Amitabha Buddha, and God the Father), all of these are in the phenomenal realm, separated and differentiated. In Chinese it is called Tai Chi, or the Cosmos.
Go With the Flow
Since all human functions and processes follow the same laws as the Cosmos, it is to our benefit that we flow with the Cosmos, instead of going against it. In everyday life, this means that when you are tired, you rest; when you are hungry, you eat. When you wake up, you work. At night you sleep. This is going with the flow. If you exert yourself when you are tired, go on a diet when you are hungry, sleep in the day and work late into the night, then you are going against the flow.
The action and interaction of yin-yang apply to humans in the same way as to the Cosmos. Extreme quiescence generates movement. In other words, when you have rested enough in the night, you wake up fresh and energetic. Extreme movement generates quiescence. In other words, when viruses attack you, usually without you conscious awareness, your natural processes overcome the viruses and restore peace.
Movement and stillness inter-react, and the operation is symbolized as Yin-Yang harmony. When you eat food, your natural processes will digest the food even if you don’t know the Western paradigm of classifying food into proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. When you are exposed to negative emotions, your natural processes will clear them away, even if you don’t know Easter paradigm of relating certain emotions to certain organs of the body.
And when cells mutate in your body, and this happens thousands of times in every person, without you or anyone having to do anything, natural bodily processes will overcome the harmful effect of the mutation and maintain your good health. The whole complex matrix of this yin-yang operation constitutes your well-being, which is natural. Practicing Tai Chi Chuan enhances this yin-yang harmony.
All activities of human life are dependent on spirit and energy. Obviously, if a person’s spirit or energy is low, his quality of life will be much affected. If he frequently stresses his spirit with countless thoughts, or is frequently being reminded that he has to remain sick and miserable, his spirit become depressed. On the other hand, if we nourish our spirit, as in meditation, and set our spirit free, as in smiling from the heart, we experience spiritual joys and freedom.
If a person drains his energy (like performing excessive physical exercise), or if a person blocks his energy flow (like tensing his muscles), he becomes weak and may not have sufficient energy to maintain his normal life processes, thus resulting in sickness. On the other hand, if we increase our energy level and enhance our energy flow, like performing Tai Chi Chuan or other qigong exercises, we attain good health, vitality and longevity.
Pure and Impure
The pure energy of humans rises to become heaven, and the impure energy sinks to become earth. When we practice Tai Chi Chuan we become mentally fresh and clear, and open ourselves to the spiritual joys of the Cosmos. Impure energy, manifested as negative thoughts, negative emotions, pain and illness, is cleansed out of our body (and mind) into the ground.
Zhang San Feng emphasized that this teaching of the Cosmos and the Limitless Void, and of spirit and energy, is the essence of his transmission in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. The most important is to understand the marvelous operation and benefits of the Cosmos in you and in the Universe.
This marvelous operation can be concisely summed up as Yin-Yang harmony. The marvelous benefits can be concisely summed up as good health, combat efficiency and spiritual fulfillment. Those who do not understand this most important lesson have missed the essence of Zhang San Feng’s teaching.