while taoism originated in China (during the 4th century) and the dzogchen tradition emerged from ancient Tibetan teachings, both share very similar methods and goals. These paths of practice are designed to awaken the practitioners to a direct experience of being present in the moment, to allow them a direct experience of a state of awareness.
Dzogchen teachings emphasise a primordial open awareness as the base for practice, this awareness is centred around the state of rigpa which can be described as ‘nondual awareness’. Rigpa practices contain many different meditative forms, including both stationary and moving practices.
The equivalent of energy or chi in the dzogchen tradition is called ‘tsa lung’ and a number of movement and energy development systems have been developed and are often referred to as trul-khor or kum nye.
The foundational principles of tai chi were written in a collection of writings called the tai chi classics. Some of these pages were found in a corner of a salt store near the Chen village in China in the nineteenth century. The tai chi classics are the historical wisdom of the old masters that in a very cryptic way tell us what we should include within our practice.
Nowhere in the classics, beyond the 13 postures, are the names of the various tai chi techniques, movements and methods mentioned. We are only given generalised taoist chi gung principles, philosophical concepts, and fighting strategies. Even the original 13 postures mentioned in the classics are not presented as specific how-to instructions; rather they refer to general internal energy principles.
Some examples of writings contained within the classics include;
in motion the whole body should be light and agile, with all parts of the body linked as if threaded together.
~ t’ai chi ch’uan ching (attributed to chang san-feng c.1279-1386)
tai chi comes from wu chi and is the mother of yin and yang. In motion tai chi separates; in stillness yin and yang fuse and return to wu chi.
~ treatise on tai chi chuan (attributed to wang tsung-yueh)
when moving, there is no place that does not move. when still, there is no place that is not still. first seek extension, then contraction;
then it can be fine and subtle.
~ insights into the practice of the thirteen postures (wu yu-hsiang)
pay attention to the waist at all times; completely relax the abdomen and the chi rises up. When the tailbone is centered and straight, the spirit goes through to the headtop. To make the whole body light and agile suspend the headtop. Carefully study. Extension and contraction, opening and closing, should all be natural.
~ song of the thirteen postures (unknown)
For the uncontrolled there is no wisdom, nor for the uncontrolled is there the power of concentration; and for those without concentration there is no peace. And for the unpeaceful, how can there be happiness?
Peacefulness takes practice….a little bit every day, over and over, until it becomes part of your everyday experience.
Along with the Tao Te Ching, the I-Ching, or Book of Changes is one of the core texts in the context of taoism and tai chi. While in the West its true meaning has been obscured as a result of the focus on its use as a system of divination and numerology.
In China, it is recognised as a system of cosmology and philosophy that is based on the dynamic balance of opposing forces, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change. The I-Ching provides a taxonomy that results from the observation of natural forces, and provides a series of transformative principles as a pathway to understanding a persons relationship to the world around them.
Contained within its many sections, the I-Ching includes a wide range of technical details about tai chi; these include different aspects of the yin and yang principles, to techniques for all kinds of energetic flow patterns. In addition, tai chi provides a vehicle to embody and actualize the I-Ching within the human body, mind, and spirit.
One common aspect that permeates all the different types of tai chi practice is to develop the mental capability to settle the mind, to be able to stay in the present moment and to cultivate awareness
– this is a fundamental prerequisite that enables the energetic, mental and spiritual development of tai chi to occur.
In tai chi this is simply referred to as stilling the mind, or finding stillness in motion – there are deeper implications and terminologies used for this process in taoist meditation, where this is the starting point for a deeper set of mental and spiritual practices.
There are also a number of similarities to the concept of ‘rigpa’ in many Tibetan dzogchen traditions – where rigpa is described as the awareness that allows you to see the true nature of the mind.
Tai chi emerged from the taoist tradition in ancient China, and as well as the basic tai chi form (often referred to as moving meditation) there are a range of different meditative practices contained in tai chi.
These include meditation for relaxation, and mental stillness – to specific energy cultivation meditative practices (chi gung), and further spiritual development. Typically tai chi introduces meditation through breathing techniques and a deepening awareness of the body and its energies.
The taoist water meditation is designed to lead people gently and gradually to the core of their being. This meditation uses the energies of body, emotions and mind to resolve difficulties and attain a clear and relaxed spirituality. Progressing from the physical, through the emotional to the spiritual the meditations lead practitioners to balance and harmony with themselves and the world around them.
While tai chi training does eventually lead to mental relaxation and the development of energy, the first stages of learning tai chi focus on the physical structures of the body, coordination and subtle slow movements.
These initial physical forms also start the process of stilling the mind, relaxing the central nervous system and improving the basic energy flows around the body.
A core part of this initial tai chi training is learning the tai chi form – a slow series of connected movements that teach a number of key tai chi concepts and which form the basis of all subsequent training.