In the Tao de Ching, Laozi states that Nature (Tao) has two qualities – Yin and Yang. However, in the Vedas of Hinduism, which pre-date the Tao de Ching, and particularly in Advaita Vedanta, Nature (Prakriti) is given three qualities or gunas. Two of these gunas correspond to the Chinese Yin and Yang.

Tamas, often translated as inertia or passivity corresponds to Yin, and Rajas, often translated as activity or as passion, corresponds to Yang. Then there is a third quality, the most important one, Sattva. So, is it possible that Laozi missed this vital aspect of Nature?

First of all, what is Sattva? According to Vedanta, Sattva is that quality which is drawn towards Dharma, the order and harmony that makes life and the universe possible. In terms of the Tao, Sattva is the quality that manifests harmony with Nature.

A sattvic person is one who is in balance. Their life is holistic, constructive, creative, positive, luminous, peaceful and virtuous. It is one of equanimity, dispassion and discrimination.

A Rajas or Yang person is full of activity, bustling and often passionate of some desired goal, good or bad. Oftentimes, they are self-centered, egoistical or narcissistic and driven to a fault. A Tamas or Yin person is imbalanced, disordered, and chaotic. They are often anxious, impure, destructive, delusional, dull or inactive, apathetic, lethargic, violent, vicious, and ignorant.

In any one person, a mixture of these qualities has coalesced over the years so that the one quality predominates. To what extent is a matter of degrees. However, this mixture does not pervade through the body, itself, but rather is confined to the mind.

Gross matter, which comprises everything from minerals and rocks to plants and even our bodies, consists of varying amounts of the five elements – ether, air, fire, water, earth – in their grossest forms. If you look at a rock or a dead log, you will notice that it is not conscious because gross matter cannot reflect consciousness.

In that regard, there is little difference between our bodies and a rock. Without the reflection of consciousness, these bodies could not move. Hence, we have expressions like “falling asleep” and “sleeping like a log.” Without waking consciousness to support them, our bodies, which are basically inert (Tamas/Yin) will collapse and become heavy and difficult to move like a log.

Once consciousness leaves the body altogether, the body is no longer pliable but conforms to its original rock-like stiffness called “rigor mortis” in as little as four hours. At this point, just as in the deep-sleep state, the body is completely Tamas or Yin. In other words, the Rajas or Yang quality does not and cannot exist without consciousness.

That brings us to the human mind. Unlike our bodies, our minds are comprised solely of subtle matter, not gross, that is, the five elements in their subtlest form. This is the Sattvic quality. Some may call this quality energy, some may call it spirit. The important point here is that, when first born, our minds are comprised totally of this subtle matter or Sattva. But as we grow and our relationship with the world and all its objects increases, our desires and ambitions increase. We begin to dwell on seeking objects and pleasurable experiences. We resort to manipulating and controlling others. Gradually that Sattvic quality of mind becomes tarnished with Rajas and Tamas until one or the other predominates.

Switching back to the Tao and particularly Tai Chi and the internal martial arts, there is a third quality, a pure form that, although affected by Yin and Yang, is superior to either one. Laozi alludes to it in Chapter 42: “Out of Tao, One is born; Out of One, Two; Out of Two, Three; Out of Three, the created universe.”

The One of which Laozi speaks, often translated as ‘being,’ is Sattva – pure being – the original state of our Minds. In Mandarin, Sattva equates to Sung, often incorrectly translated as Relax. So, the three qualities – Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas – in terms of Tai Chi correspond to Sung, Yang and Yin respectively.

Our original Mind was a clean slate, pure being, before Maya (the illusory power of the Tao or Brahman) corrupted it with Yang and Yin, which correspond to Maya’s two abilities of projection and veiling respectively.

If we look at the Tai Chi symbol, we see Yang in one half and Yin in the other, but where is Sung – the equanimity, the serenity and beauty of pure being? It is the background veiled by Maya, which has superimposed Yang and Yin or Rajas and Tamas upon it.

In Tai Chi training, it is important to note that the body for its part will always remain Tamas or inert. Attempting to make the body Sung – balanced, calm, unaffected – is useless. It is the Mind that must be Sung. The Sattva or Sung quality, which is superior to either Yang or Yin, must transcend both. However, in Vedanta, the verb ‘transcend’ does not mean to separate from or go beyond. Instead, ‘transcend’ means to remain unaffected by any phenomena, whether pleasurable or painful. In Tai Chi, one must stick with an opponent as one and not two and remain unaffected by winning or losing.

Of course, this perception is not easy as Yang Banhou writes in Explaining Tai Chi Principals: “If there is activation and perception, there will be action and realization. If there is no activation or perception, there will be no action or realization. When activation is at its height, action is initiated. When perception is fully lucid, there is realization. Action and realization are the easy part. Activation and perception are tricky.”

For those who still believe that the body, itself, is active, alive, I offer this from Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha, expanding on Yang Banhou’s premise: “Many do not know that the body itself is designed and shaped by the mind, meaning Consciousness, which animates and activates the body right from the beginning. It animates every cell, which is otherwise inert, insentient. In fact the mind is ‘the maker and ruler’ of the body. That is how we have a complex variety of involuntary functions in the body, all of which ceaselessly go on, without our knowledge or interference from us.”

How exactly does this happen?

According to Kundalini and Hatha Yoga, human life actually begins in the Astral Body, the same subtle matter that comprises the Mind. The energy that descends along the Sushumna, the hollow column of the Astral spine, creates the gross physical body from the conception of the original primal cell in the womb and sustains the physical body through all the stages of life but remains in the Astral Body. It brings Prana (Qi), life energy, through the two nadis (channels) on either side of the Sushumna. The Ida on the left has a cooling or inhibiting (Yin) effect while the channel on the right, the Pingala, has a heating or stimulating (Yang) effect. The Sushumna, itself, is empty or Sung.

All three run from the root chakra (energy center) in the perineum and end at the Agnya chakra or third-eye in the mid-brain area of the Astral body. Therefore, an erect spine is necessary for this energy to move properly in yoga, tai chi and meditation.

So, how does it happen that the intellect and ego-sense feel that we are the body?

In the ancient text, Yoga Vasistha, Sage Vasistha explains to his Avatar disciple Sri Rama exactly how this takes effect using common spices as an example:

“O Rama, the infinite consciousness becomes aware of the pungency of the chilli: and this gives rise to the ego-sense, with all its differentiation in time and space.

“The infinite consciousness becomes aware of the savor in salt; and that gives rise to the ego-sense with all the differentiation which seems to exist in time and space.

“The infinite consciousness becomes aware of the sweetness in sugarcane; and thereby arises the awareness of its particular characteristic.

“Similarly, the infinite consciousness, being the indwelling omnipresence, becomes aware of the nature of a rock, a mountain, a tree, of water, of space and thus self-consciousness or individuality arises.

“Thus the natural combination of atomic particles and molecules (which is indwelt by consciousness) apparently acts as a dividing wall, thus giving rise to the divisions of ‘I’, ‘you’ etc., and these then appear to be outside of consciousness as its object.

In fact, all these are but reflections in the consciousness which, becoming aware of them within itself, bestows upon them their apparent individuality.

“Consciousness tastes itself, the awareness being non-different from consciousness: and that appears to give rise to the ego-sense, etc., naught else.

“The crystal of this infinite consciousness reflects its own light of consciousness which is present in all these combinations of atomic particles: and they then gain an apparent self-consciousness and think ‘I am’ etc.

“In reality, because the inner awareness in all these combinations is non-different from the infinite consciousness, there is no subject-object relationship between them: hence one does not experience the other, gain the other, or change or modify the other.”

In short, Sage Vasistha is explaining that what you think you are experiencing as your body is actually your mind. Just as your mind creates your body and the bodies of others as well as an entire world of objects in nightly dreams, so to the Mind creates your body and the entire world of apparent people and objects in your waking dream.

The Taoist sage Zhuangzi simplifies this even more: “The effect of life in society is to complicate and confuse our existence, making us forget who we really are by causing us to become obsessed with what we are not.”

Remaining aware that we are not what we think we are and not what society has told us we are, the Sung Mind does not try to balance yin or yang. Trying to do anything causes the Mind to be overly yang/rajas, and therefore yang/rajas will predominate in the Pranic (Qi) energy field causing the body to be predominantly yang/rajas. Trying not to do anything will result in an overly yin/tamas Mind, and yin/tamas will predominate in the Pranic energy field and thus in the body.

However, there is no need to adjust or harmonize yin and yang energies. If the Mind is predominantly Sung, yin and yang or rajas and tamas will be in harmony naturally.

Just look at an infant’s body and its movements. The body is soft, supple. The limbs are perfectly connected in movement. Why? Because the Mind is Sung. There is no thought of trying to adjust its yin or yang. All is simply natural. The harmonic movement of yin and yang is altogether natural, as it is in a newborn, when the Mind is Sung,.

A baby is completely at ease and gets the best of what Nature endows. She does not have any inhibitions or fears like an adult. She moves naturally and learns naturally. When she learns a language, she is totally attentive, immersing herself in the sounds, tones, and sights around her. When she learns to swim, she lets go and floats; allowing the skills to come to her as if second nature. She learns quickly, because she does not know she is learning and has no intention to learn. She is merely enjoying life and attending to its many wonders around her, curious, having fun, enjoying the process. She has not yet learned from her elders that learning is supposed to be tedious.

In Chapter 10, Laozi implores: “Can you gather your vital breath and yet be tender like a newborn baby?”

See how a baby breathes! The air goes right to the tummy, and she inhales in a full capacity for every breath. See how a baby laughs! It comes all the way from her heart. So does the way she cries. Nothing stops her from expressing her true feeling. This was your original Sung nature before life in society, as Zhuangzi observed, “complicated and confused our existence.”

In Chapter 55, Laozi describes how this idea of Sung, which Plato refers to as Virtue, is our original nature or true essence – the essence of a new-born child:

“Whoever is filled with Virtue
is like a new-born child.
Wasps and scorpions will not sting it;
snakes and serpents will not bite it;
wild animals will not attack it;
birds of prey will not swoop down on it.
Its bones are soft, its sinews tender,
and yet its grip is firm.
It does not know of male and female union
and yet its organ stirs;
its vital energy is at its height.
It cries throughout the day
and yet is never hoarse;
its harmony is at its height.
To know harmony is to know the eternal.
To know the eternal is to know enlightenment…”

Then Laozi warns us against aggressive behavior and disharmony between our emotions, our desires and our inherent Nature…

“(But) To speed the growth of life is an omen of disaster; 
to control the breath by will-power is to overstrain it;
to grow too much is to decay.
All this is against the Dao
and whatever is against the Dao soon dies.”

Thus to bring about a Sung Mind one must connect the Spiritual Heart or the Heart-Mind in Tai Chi like that of a child. That means the intellect and the emotions are completely at one with their purpose or intent. No matter what you are doing, the intellect and the emotions must be totally together. You cannot be washing dishes and daydreaming about that new smart phone you want to purchase. You cannot be doing your tai chi form and thinking about a problem at the office. Like the young child, you must be totally focused and intent on what you are doing, completely immersed.

In other words, make your life a meditation, and your Spiritual Heart will remain connected. And, when it comes to meditation, whether seated or standing (Zhan Zhuang), you should have but one purpose, one intent – Abidance in your true Nature. If you can abide in your true Nature while meditating and then carry that over into your tai chi or martial arts practice and eventually into your everyday life, then your mind will become Sung, and Sattva energy will prevail at all three levels – the physical, the mental and the spiritual.

Simply follow As Laozi instructs in Chapter 19:

 “Reveal thy simple self,
Embrace thy original nature,
Check thy selfishness,
Curtail thy desires.”

Thus, there will be motion in stillness and stillness in motion. Yin and Yang will be in perfect balance while you abide in that peace, that beauty, that essence which is your original Nature.


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