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.

 

Vedanta Meets Lao Tzu

“Despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary, we remain prehistoric, Paleolithic paradigms ignorant of the Einsteinian universe around us.”

In Memory of Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1930-2015)

Millennia ago our ancestors truly believed that they lived on a solid, flat piece of land that stretched over vast distances. Yes, there were hills and mountains, but essentially the Earth appeared stretched straight out. And, if you ventured far enough, you would drop into oblivion.

They also believed that the Sun, stars and planets revolved around the Earth. They noticed that objects like leaves on trees always fell down, never up. It was simply natural, they surmised.

Today, we know so much more about our planet and its place in the Universe. We know that most of the notions held by our ancient ancestors have been scientifically disproven. Nevertheless, when we rise from bed in the morning, we experience this world and the Universe in the same exact way that ancient peoples did.

We look up at the Sun and see an orange ball rising overhead and never give a thought to the fact that it is the Earth which is moving and circling the Sun. We get into our cars and drive along flat stretches of freeway without ever considering the fact that the Earth is actually round, even though we often refer to it as “the Globe.” But as we walk or drive along, the Earth is as flat to us as it was to our ancestors ages ago.

We see leaves falling and streams and rivers flowing down hillsides and mountains and never give any thought to gravity. As we move about our planet on foot, in cars, trains or planes, we feel that the Earth is still, motionless. We never consider it spinning around that orange ball in the sky at a tremendous speed. In all our hectic, helter-skelter movement, we fail to realize that we are pinned inside an encapsulated, pressurized, electromagnetic rock that is spiraling through the cold darkness of space.

Our everyday awareness of the world around us has not changed since the beginning of human history. If we still sense this everyday apparent reality exactly the way our ancestor did, how then can we expect to sense the true reality of non-dual limitless, unchanging Awareness? Or, as James Swartz (Ramji) asked in Essence of Enlightenment under the heading of Self-inquiry: “How does the identity I have right now jibe with my identity as awareness?”1

Well, I suppose it doesn’t jibe. But then again why should it? Instead of decrying this confusion, let us praise it, for it attests to the absolutely brilliant mystique of Maya (ignorance), which has not only clouded over who we truly are with an apparent reality of suns and planets and entire galaxies in a stark, macrocosmic dance of immense proportions. But astoundingly, Maya has clouded over that apparent macrocosmic reality with yet another thick fog – a beautifully vivid microcosmic dream of a still and motionless world.

The effect then is this: Despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary, we remain prehistoric, Paleolithic paradigms ignorant of this Einsteinian universe in which we find ourselves.

Since the discoveries of science have done little to snap modern everyday man out of his dream world, let us then return to the ancients to see what kind of remedy they might suggest.

Let us go back 2600 years to Lao Tzu in China and the popular Tao de Ching and superimpose his contemplative findings over the teachings of Vedanta, a system of knowledge presented to the Rishis of Northern India, a thousand or more years prior to Lao Tzu. Thus we can equate Lao Tzu’s Tao, the Unmanifest, with Paramatman or Brahman (the Absolute; limitless, changeless Awareness). Teh, Tao manifested or embodied, equates with Brahma (without the final ‘n’), God the Creator, also called Isvara. Maya (Ignorance or Illusion) is a power in Awareness (Brahman) that gives Awareness the ability to create. When it is associated with Maya, which it controls, Brahman becomes Brahma or Isvara.

James Swartz explains: “When ignorance or Maya does manifest, Isvara in its capacity as a creator appears, followed by the apparent creation, the world of sentient beings and insentient elements…”2 As Lao Tzu puts it: “the ten thousand things” or simply Nature.

In essence Swartz and other Vedantists agree with Shri Adi Shankaracharya, an eighth century sage, who reinterpreted Hindu scriptures and revived the Upanishads and especially Advaita (Non-Dual) Vedanta. In his reinterpretation of scriptures, Shankara described God (Isvara) as an effect of Maya (illusion or ignorance) and therefore not the Supreme Brahman (The Absolute). In other words, Shankara established Brahman (The Paramatman) as that which is before and beyond God or Brahma (Isvara).

This is exactly what Lao Tzu was hinting at in Chapter 4: “I do not know whose son it is. It might appear to have been before God.”3

In Chapter 1, Lao Tzu states one of the main qualifications that Vedanta stresses in preparation for Self-inquiry, namely, Vairagya or Dispassion. “Ever desireless, one can see the mystery; ever desiring, one sees only the manifestations. And the mystery itself is the doorway to all understanding.”4

Both Vedanta and the Tao de Ching stress feminine qualities as the gateway to understanding the mystery of who we are. For example, in the Gita Dhyanam (hymn of praise) that opens the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Dayananda Saraswati translates it thusly:

“Om. Goddess Mother Bhagavadgita! I repeatedly invoke you who were taught by Bhagavan Narayana himself for the sake of Arjuna , the son of Prtha (Kunti), (you who were) faithfully collected and reported by the ancient sage, Vyasa, (and placed) in the middle of the Mahabharata, (you who are) in eighteen chapter, you who have the nature of showering the nectar of non-duality, and who is the destroyer of the life of becoming (samsara, rebirth).”5

In this opening hymn, the Bhagavad Gita is likened to a goddess, a Divine Mother who presents a manual of instruction for attaining self-realization and stopping the cycle of rebirths.

In Chapter 6 of the Tao de Ching Lao Tzu expresses the same solution:
“The spirit of the Valley never dies. It is called the Mystic Female. The Door of the Mystic Female is the root of Heaven and Earth.”6

In Chapter 10: “In opening and shutting the Gate of Heaven, Can you play the part of the Female?”7

In Chapter 28: “He who is aware of the Male But keeps to the Female Becomes the ravine of the world. Being the ravine of the world, He has the original character which is not cut up, and returns again to the innocence of the babe.”8

Here the Male refers to the physical body while the Female refers to the Mind or Subtle Body as it is called in Vedanta. Original character which is not cut up is Paramatman (The Absolute, the Primordial Self) and its reflection exists within the deepest part of our Subtle Body, referred to as the ravine of the world when the Mind is calm and not conflicted with distracting vasanas (tendencies).

The ability of feminine energy to realize the Self is further emphasized in the story of a royal couple, King Shikhidhvaja and Queen Cudala9 from the Yoga Vasishtha, an Advaita Vedanta text. The couple was so greatly devoted to each other that they seemed like one jiva (an individual person) in two bodies. They did everything together including studying spiritual texts from which they concluded that only self-knowledge could enable one to overcome sorrow.

However, the Queen alone constantly continued her contemplation on the means of self-knowledge:
“Now I see myself and enquire ‘Who am I?’
“How could ignorance of self, and delusion arise?
“The physical body is surely inert and it is certainly not the self. It is experienced only on account of the movement of thought in the mind. “10

She proceeded deeper into self-discovery, finally realizing her true nature. The King, noticing his wife’s radiance, asked her to explain how she attained self-realization. She told him that she remained rooted in Truth and not appearances. But the King, a typical paternalistic type, did not understand that her words signified a higher consciousness. So, he dismissed her teaching and called her “childish and ignorant.”11

Although this story illustrates how male chauvinism has discredited females throughout the ages, the important point here is why Queen Cudala became self-realized and the King did not.

The key rests in the conclusion of the story: ” After enjoying the pleasures of the world, because he was the foremost among kings, after having lived for a very long time, he attained the supreme state, because in him there was but a little residue of satva.”12

Maya is composed of three energies or gunas. Two of them, Rajas and Tamas, keep us identified with our physical bodies and attracted to seeking pleasure or happiness from worldly objects rather than from within. Sattva guna on the other hand is a more feminine energy that calms, purifies and reveals while Rajas energy often excites and accelerates and Tamas, a grounding energy, often decelerates into lethargy.

Thus, Queen Cudala’s subtle body or mind had a predominance of Sattva over Rajas and Tamas, and she was able to assimilate and actualize the knowledge of the true Self. Since the King had a predominance of Rajas guna, he flitted away a long lifetime, ten thousand years, trying to enjoy the pleasures of the world, which blinded him to his real nature. His long life symbolizes many rebirths on the wheel of samsara before attaining enlightenment.

Vedanta teaches that there are four qualities necessary to qualify us for the intense Self-inquiry that Queen Cudala symbolizes: Discrimination (Viveka), Dispassion (Vairagya), Discipline, and a Desire for moksha (freedom). All four of these qualities are also interspersed throughout the 81 chapters of the Tao de Ching.

But how do we realize this greatest of mysteries when Maya’s Ignorance keeps us from even recognizing the apparent reality of the relative world around us?

By cultivating Sattva, the feminine, creative energy, as advised by both the Vedantists and Lao Tzu.
Sattva enables us to rise above the ignorance of Maya, which uses Rajas to project illusion and Tamas to conceal our real identity, but Maya will also reveal when Sattva predominates the Subtle Body.

Thus, if we look to Vedic cosmology for a particular deity that personifies creative intelligence along with an abundance of Sattva energy and the four qualities necessary for Self-inquiry, the Goddess Saraswati stands out.

Saraswati is the Goddess of Knowledge as well as Music, Arts, Wisdom and Learning. She is considered the creative intelligence and shakti (power) of Brahma and represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness. Her name means “essence of one’s Self.” Thus, she leads one to the essence of self knowledge. Known as the Mother of the Vedas, her name has evolved over time to mean “knowledge that purifies.”

saraswati small

Saraswati is often depicted dressed in pure white and seated on a white lotus, the symbol of Supreme Reality. This means she is rooted in Supreme Reality and engenders supreme knowledge and truth. Her iconography is typically in white themes from dress to flowers to swan – the color symbolizing Sattwa Guna or purity, discrimination for true knowledge, insight and wisdom.

Her four arms denote her omnipresence and omnipotence – the two front arms, the physical world and the two back arms, the spiritual world. The four hands represent the four elements of the Subtle Body – mind (manas), the intellect (buddhi), the conditioned consciousness (chitta) and the rear left hand, the ego (ahankara), which holds a rosary, signifying meditation and contemplation, leading to samadhi or union with God. This indicates that true knowledge acquired with love and devotion melts the ego and results in liberation (moksha) from bondage to the physical world.

She plays the music of love and life, on the Veena, an expression of knowledge that creates harmony. Her swan symbolizes spiritual perfection, transcendence and moksha (liberation). It has the ability to drink pure milk alone from a mixture of milk and water, which symbolizes Viveka, the ability to discriminate between right and wrong, good and evil and between essence, reality (Satya) and apparent reality (Mithya).

There is a peacock, which represents unpredictability, anxiously waiting to serve her. But Saraswati chooses the Swan rather than the peacock as her carrier, signifying that one must overcome fear, anxiety and indecision in order to acquire true knowledge.
By renouncing the fruits of one’s actions and devoting oneself to Saraswati, one can call upon her prior to meditation and Self-inquiry, to open “the door of the Mystic Female” and reveal the root of all creation, the gateway that leads to moksha.

Calling upon Saraswati, we are activating the Sattva Guna within our Mind, the Subtle Body, and prompting the Mind to turn inward to discover that door, that gateway.

And what exactly is that door?

Ramana Maharshi called it the “I-thought.” Queen Cudala called it the “I-idea.” Both used Self-inquiry – ‘Who Am I?’ – to uncover the “I-thought.”

And its exact location? Not the physical heart or any other physical location as Ramana Maharshi often pointed out.

The I-thought is our mental/emotional reset button deep within the Subtle Body. It brings about an entire factory reset, if you will, better known as self-realization. And where exactly is this reset button?

Look at your smart phone, a product of thousands of years of human ingenuity. Where did the evolved human consciousness decide to place that reset button? Mine is located in the Privacy setting. And where is the Privacy setting in our Subtle Body? It is where we store our most intimate, darkest secrets about ourselves – “the ravine of the world” – my particular world. That reset button is buried under all those Tamasic fears and memories that we are most ashamed of.

Let Saraswati’s Sattva energy remove those Tamasic elements and reveal the I-thought, the gateway to the knowledge that enlightens us.

maa-saraswati

Before meditating or beginning Self-inquiry, one can invoke Saraswati’s aid with the following prayer:

May Goddess Saraswati, who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops; who is adorned in radiant white attire, on whose beautiful arm rests the veena, and whose throne is a white lotus; who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect and fill me with your Sattva energy. May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and, above all, my ignorance in order to reveal my true nature – Om Saraswati.

Before beginning any creative activity such as music, dance, art, writing, public speaking or tai chi, you can invoke Saraswati’s creative energy with this prayer:

May the goddess of speech and skillful art enable us to attain all possible eloquence, she who wears on her locks a young moon, who shines with exquisite lustre, who sits reclined on a white lotus, and from the crimson cusp of whose hands pours, radiance on the implements of writing, art, music, dance and other skillful means produced by her favor.– Om Saraswati.

And a word of warning: be careful driving north on Interstate 5.  If you go far enough, you could fall off the face of the Earth.

Footnotes:
1. Essence of Enlightenment, James Swartz, p. 175
2. Ibid. p. 185
3. Tao de Ching, Lao Tzu, Chapter 4
4. Ibid. Chapter 1
5. Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, p 1
6. Tao de Ching, Lao Tzu, Chapter 6
7. Ibid., Chapter 10
8. Ibid., Chapter 28
9. Yoga Visastha, Swami Venkatesananda,Section VI.1, Chapter 77
10. Ibid., Chapter 78
11. Ibid., Chapter 80
12. Ibid., Chapter 87 – 110

Benjamin Pang-Jeng Lo began his studies with Cheng Man Ching in 1949 in Taiwan.  Although many famous disciples like T.T, Liang, Robert W. Smith, and William C.C. Chen followed, Ben Lo was Professor Cheng’s first major disciple and one of his most prominent.

Master Lo was in school at the time and was very weak.  He said he could hardly walk up stairs or cross a street without gasping for breath.  So, he sought out Professor Cheng who was a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner.  While treating his condition, the professor suggested that Ben take up tai chi to make his system strong enough to absorb the herbal medicine he was taking.

After his condition improved, Ben continued his studies with Cheng Man Ching until the Professor moved to New York.  Then in 1974, Ben got a call to join his teacher and help him promote tai chi among American students.  Ben promptly gave up his position with the Taiwanese government and moved to the United States.

He eventually settled in San Francisco where he established his school and where he still resides today at the age of 87.

Hsien Yuan Chen, who leads a small Cheng Man Ching group at Smith Park in San Gabriel, and I drove up to San Francisco to have dinner with Master Lo.  A steep stairway ascends from the garage at street-level to his two-story row home above, which is just a few blocks from Point Lobos and the Cliff House in the northwest corner of the city.

As one might expect, there was a black and white photograph of the Professor with a 25 year-old Ben Lo on the mantle along with calligraphy and Chinese paintings on all the walls.  Stacks of notebooks and photo albums and video racks filled with DVDs were stuffed into the small living room.

Although at 87 his walk is a little wobbly, Master Lo’s spirit, nevertheless, is very much intact and quite infectious.  His internal peng (ward off) energy has not diminished either.  After looking at my form with some displeasure, he proceeded to let me feel his energy.  No matter which way I pushed, I could not uproot him.  Yet, when it was his turn to push, with hardly a touch, my toes were uprooted, and I found myself bounced away.

Ben reiterated Professor Cheng’s five principles or integrities which summarized the tai chi classics: relax, maintain your center, shift your balance (yin and yang), turn your waist (all movements are generated from the waist), and your hands should resemble “beautiful ladies’ hands.”  Ben also added a sixth principle, which is to perform all five integrities together when we do our form.

That fifth principle “beautiful ladies hands” is perhaps the main point of contention among Yang tai chi practitioners.  Most of the Yang stylists descended from Yang Chengfu hold their hands in the “tiger mouth” position with the thumb separated from the fingers.  If the hand is relaxed, then the “tiger mouth” is not an issue.  But Master Lo told a story of an ancient general to illustrate how the “tiger mouth” position can be detrimental if the hand is rigid.

The wayward thumb represents a loose nail on a horseshoe.  The nail gets caught on a rock and is pulled off, the shoe is displaced, the horse stumbles and falls and the general is killed.  The army is defeated, and the war is lost – all because of a loose nail.  Or, in the case of some Yang practitioners, a rigid hand with an extend thumb.

Actually, the idea of “ladies hands” exists in Zhaobao, an early tai chi form which predates Yang style.  Some have even named Zhaobao, the “Fair Lady” form.  Professor Cheng, a scholar as well as an expert in internal energy flow, was simply using what the ancients had known centuries before.   The forearm, wrist and hand held relaxed in a straight line like a lady reaching out actually increases the flow of energy to the fingertips.

Master Lo pointed out that the Professor insisted all beginners incorporate “beautiful ladies hands” into their form to increase the flow of qi and improve its circulation.  Once a student has reached a higher level and increased the qi circulation, the hand can be held in any position as long as it is relaxed.

Ben Lo considers himself on a very low level when compared to Cheng Man Ching.  This is not unusual considering Chinese culture.  It is a matter of deep respect for one’s teachers.  The Professor considered himself on a very low level when compared to his teacher, Yang Chengfu, even though he later reduced the Yang form from 108 postures to 37.

Some say the difference between the Yang and Cheng forms is much more than a reduction of postures but a change in basic fundamentals.  In any case, that is a topic best left for another time.

All in all, the trip was well worth the drive up north to visit with Master Lo and hear him relate the details of his relationship with Cheng Man Ching.  It reinforced my realization that taijiquan is not just an exercise but a way of life to be lived every day to the ultimate.

 

The inspiration for this article came from a discussion I had with one of my Zhaobao brothers.  After practice the other day, we had a conversation about the terms substantial and insubstantial.   We both knew what the terms meant basically.  But did we truly understand the concept at their root?

This very same question can be asked of many terms in Tai Chi such as sung (often translated as relax), yin and yang, heavy and soft, yielding and following, and many more

As it turned out, we both agreed that we did not truly understand substantial and insubstantial, and that was actually a positive not a negative.  So, the title of this article is probably somewhat misleading as I am really writing about NOT understanding Tai Chi as a positive step toward making further progress.

That may seem contradictory as are many of the terms in both Tai Chi and Taoist philosophy, but bear with me and I will explain.

As fate would have it, the next day after our discussion, I sat down to do some meditative reading and came across a passage by Foyan Qingyuan (1067-1120), a notable Chan master during the Sung dynasty when Buddhism flourished in China.

The minute you fixate on recognition that ‘This is it,’ you are immediately bound hand and foot and cannot move around anymore.

So as soon as it is given this recognition, nothing is right, whatever it may be…

It’s like making a boat and outfitting it for a thousand mile journey to a treasure trove; if you drive a stake and tie the boat to it before you jump in and start rowing, you can row till kingdom come and still be on the beach.  You see the boat waving this way and that, and you think you are on the move, but you have never gone a single step.

Tai Chi like Zen Buddhism or Taoism is a lifelong journey that changes daily.  The moment you say to yourself or a teacher tells you that ‘This is it; this is the point,’ all is lost if you buy into that.

Like the I Ching, in the foundation of Tai Chi, there are no points of recognition or understanding, only changes.  The moment you truly believe that you understand, you have driven a stake into the ground and bound yourself hand and foot, tying up all progress.  Your journey has unfortunately come to an end.

Not only students but instructors especially should remember this fact.  It is a great responsibility to have the honor of teaching Tai Chi, an honor and a privilege that many instructors take lightly.

For a few it is a matter of greed.  Once they have received permission to teach from their sifus, they are off to the bank, like college graduates, to make up for all the time and money they spent learning their skills.

For some, their road to mastery is blocked by ignorance.  They ask their students to join them on their journey not realizing their boat is still tied to the dock.

Both types make the mistake of resting their laurels on the teachings they have previously received, believing their knowledge of the fundamentals is complete.

The Bottom Line: No matter how many years you have been practicing, no matter how wonderful your master and grandmaster, no matter how many workshops you have attended or given, don’t think you know it all.  There is always more to learn – much more than you can ever imagine.

“If you seek, how is that different from pursuing sound and form.  If you don’t seek how are you different than soil, wood or stone.  You must seek without seeking.”

Chan (Zen) Master Foyan

Seek without seeking sounds terribly incongruous in terms of Western logic.  But then isn’t that precisely its purpose – to diminish our dependence on rational thought when we inquire into the nature of being?

Haven’t we been warned time and time again by Laozi, Chaungzi and many Taoist and Buddhist masters that words can never access the nature of reality nor can we grasp it with conventional thought?

On the other hand, take the words attributed to Jesus Christ in the New Testament: “Seek and you shall find, Knock and it will be opened unto you.” 

How comforting, how inviting those words seem in contrast with Master Foyan’s admonition.

Of course, we have no way of knowing if Christ actually said those exact words.  Nevertheless, the saying conforms perfectly to the linear process of Western logic based on cause and effect.  First, there is the Seeking which in turn leads us to the Finding.  First, there is the Knocking which causes the Opening.

But in the Taoist and Buddhist traditions the process is circular not linear.   The Seeking and the Finding are one and the same as are the Knocking and the Opening.  Only when we divide the processes into linear increments of time do we create separation – beginnings and endings.

But a circle has no beginning and no end, the same for the nature of being and reality.  So, Master Foyan is urging us to realize that the Seeking and the Finding are one and the same.

How is this possible?  It becomes a circular process when there is no Seeker.  Christ’s phrase from the New Testament implies a Seeker and a separate Thing Found.  In other words, a subject that does the Seeking and an object that is Found.

However, when the Seeker is no longer the subject but the object, then the Seeking is the Finding.  This occurs the moment we seek within ourselves and not externally.

This is the meaning of Master Foyan’s “Seek without Seeking.  When we seek for things outside of ourselves, we are pursuing sound and form – material objects or situations.  But when we look within to come to terms with the meaning of our very own existence, we are seeking without seeking.

Master Foyan emphasizes this kind of seeking when he states: “Those who will not stop and look into themselves go on looking for intellectual understanding.  That pursuit of intellectual understanding, seeking rationalizations and making comparisons, is all wrong.

“If people would turn their attention back to the self, they would understand everything.”

And if we understand everything, then there is nothing that we could ask for that we would not receive, nothing that we could seek that we would not find, and no door that we could knock on that would not be opened to us.

Unlike Christianity and Judaism, Taoism does not have any commandments.  However, Chuang-Tse, the foremost disciple of Lao-Tse and a leading exponent of Taoist philosophy, some 2400 years ago enumerated the ten attributes of the gentleman sage.  These remain rather pertinent today for martial artists, Buddhists and Taoists alike who are trying to maintain peace and calm in our daily lives amidst the hectic frenzy and ambitiousness of this modern technological age.

Chuang-Tse begins by attributing these ten traits to his master, Lao-Tse:

“The Master says, “Great is Tao.  It canopies and sustains all creation.  The gentleman cannot but purge his mind (of personal gain and desires).  To act by not acting is called heaven.  To express without expression is called character.  To love one’s fellowmen and benefit all is called humanity.  To regard different things as belonging in common is called great.  Not to distinguish oneself by conspicuous behavior is called width of character.  To possess diversity is called wealth.  Therefore to preserve one’s character is called self-discipline.  To have one’s character developed is to have power. To follow the Tao is called being complete.  Not to allow external events to injure one’s mind is called whole.  When a gentleman understands these ten (attributes) then he achieves greatness of mind and all things converge toward him like a flowing stream…”

Chuang-Tse then poses collaries to these ten traits of the sage.  “In this case, he leaves the gold in the mountains and leaves the pearls in the sea.  He does not place value upon material goods, and he keeps away from honor and wealth.  He does not rejoice over long life, nor is he sorry to die young.  He does not regard a high position as honor, nor is he ashamed of poverty and failure.  He does not set his mind on the wealth of the world and appropriate it for his own benefit.  He does not consider ruling the world as his personal glory. And when he is in a p;osition of eminence, he regards the world as one common family.  To him life and death are different aspects of the same thing.”

Ikko Matsuura’s quiet demeanor makes him appear unassuming and more like an accomplished musician or artist than an energy master.  Yet, as he works on patients’ energy fields, he appears like a sculptor shaping the Ki or Qi with the delicate touch of his hands.

Master Matsuura’s clinic, Body Balance, is located in Tajima City, Japan, where he lives with his wife and three children.  He came to Los Angeles to visit one of my martial arts brothers, Eiji Inoue, the tai chi and yoga instructor at the South Pasadena and Alhambra YMCAs.  The timing was perfect for me.  I had just finished ten weeks of physical therapy on a severe shoulder injury, which had been extremely slow to heal.  In fact, my orthopedist said that surgery was the only possibility.

Fortunately, Eiji introduced me to Master Matsuura, and after only one brief Ki Energy session, my shoulder improved tremendously. I even returned to get a treatment on an old knee injury suffered way back in high school.  I was so impressed with Master Matsuura’s ability that I wanted to share some of his knowledge with fellow martial artists, athletes and anyone suffering from a debilitating injury or chronic illness.

At his clinic in Japan, he has both professional and high school athletes among his many clients that span the age spectrum from childhood to seniors.  He treats problems from simple muscular disorders to severe injuries like whiplash and all types of disease and illnesses from asthma to cancer.

Assisted by Eiji Inoue’s translations where needed, my interview with Ikko Matsuura follows:

 

PAUL: As martial artists, most of us understand what Ki or Qi is even though we cannot see it.  So, how is it possible for you to work with this energy.

IKKO: One method is with applied kinesiology testing to check the flow of Qi.

PAUL: What exactly do you check for?

IKKO: About eighty percent of illnesses are caused by spinal distortions.  So, I check first for distortions in the spine or backbone, and then I analyze the state of nerve energy.

PAUL: How do you go about analyzing the nerve energy?

IKKO: Through a person’s astral field.  Whatever blockage or damage they have in their physical body will appear in their astral field.

PAUL: And you read their Biofield directly?

IKKO: Yes, that’s correct.

PAUL: So, you don’t need any special equipment.

IKKO: No, no equipment, no needles, no drugs.  We don’t need anything.  Qi is everywhere.  It is infinite.  It is economical and completely safe.  There are no side effects.  It will not worsen a condition.  Therefore, it’s safe for anyone from a small child to an older person and even pregnant women.

PAUL: How come Qi or Ki Energy is so effective?

IKKO: Because it is simple, basic.  It’s undistorted primal energy – completely natural.  It is intelligent and very close to omnipotent.  Using it heightens the natural healing power, so a whole body adjustment can be performed.  That makes Qi treatment an exact and easy method of healing.

PAUL: We know that surgery is invasive and drugs can be very toxic and have severe side effects.  But how does Ki treatment compare to other non-invasive, alternative treatments?

IKKO: Neither the backbone nor the head is corrected hard as with chiropractic.  So, it is not painful.  Nothing is inserted as in acupuncture, which can be painful, especially if you have to move during the treatment.

PAUL: What about its effectiveness compared to other alternative treatments?

IKKO: The small stimulus of Qi Energy may not be enough for those who have a need for stronger stimuli such as acupressure, shiatsu massage, or Anma massage.  However, in actual fact, a smaller stimulus is more readily accepted by the body.

PAUL: Why is that?

IKKO: Because I first work with a client’s astral field in the fourth dimension.  From the astral field, the stimulus I send penetrates into the meridians, which are very subtle energy paths through the body.  Therefore, the more subtle the energy coming in the more readily it can be absorbed into the meridians.

PAUL: So acupuncture and acupressure work directly on the three-dimensional physical structure and do not interact with the four-dimensional Biofield?

IKKO: That’s right.

PAUL: Are there ever any side effects?

IKKO: No, no long term side effects.  Soon after a treatment, those who are weak and have less resistance may feel a little fatigued and/or a little dizzy for one to two days.  However, the benefits of Qi will soon take effect and any side effects will disappear.

PAUL: How many treatments does it take to get well?

IKKO: Everyone is different. Some people improve after one or two treatments, but others with more acute or chronic problems need prolonged treatment.

PAUL: I know you treat athletes at your clinic in Japan.  What are the benefits for them?

IKKO: Muscular power improves because the flow of Qi becomes smooth, and muscles become more flexible — This itself can also help prevent injury in the future.  Moreover, concentration also increases because the body becomes more pliable and posture improves.

PAUL: What about recovery time?

IKKO: With Qigong medical treatments, the flow of Qi, the flow of nerve energy, and any distortion in the bones are improved simultaneously. Therefore, recovery is quick!

PAUL:  A huge concern for athletes right now is head injuries.  The only treatments are rest and in some cases EEG Biofeedback and Neurofeedback.  Can Ki treatments help?

IKKO: They cannot hurt.  The brain is another organ just like the kidneys or the liver.  Whatever trauma it has suffered will appear in the Astral Biofield and can be analyzed and treated with Qi. That can only support and even enhance any other treatment.

PAUL: Can medical Qigong treatments also be preventative?

IKKO: Yes, there is a concept of “non-illness” in Eastern medicine. In the “Qi world,” there is an innate intelligence.  The Qi can perceive minor abnormalities and correct them, effectively preventing them from growing much larger. In Japan we say “illness comes from Qi (mind, feeling),” and, therefore, the secret of health is to improve the flow of the Qi (mind, feeling).

PAUL: And nutrition also plays an important role in improving or even damaging Qi.

IKKO: Food serves as a basis which builds the body and enhances QI. Therefore try to eat natural things as much as you can.  Also, be careful of preservatives, chemical seasonings, artificial coloring, chemical substances, etc. Do not use white sugar.  Also take in other sugars and fruits moderately.

Take alcohol moderately. Be careful of excessive drinking.  Stop bread (yeast) and dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, etc.). Also be careful of eggs. It stands to reason that smoking is bad for your health. Health cannot be bought from a vending machine. Please do not forget that you are the creator of yourself.  Once you realize that, your natural healing power is already activated.

PAUL: Good advice.  Thank you, Ikko.  I hope you will return to Los Angeles soon and possibly open a clinic here.

IKKO: Yes, I would like that very much.

 

If you wish to learn more about Ikko Matsuura’s work, you can visit his Body Balance website.  If you would like more information or to arrange a treatment session, contact Eiji Inoue at 323-791-9163

We have often heard people say: “I feel like I have a void in my life.”  Perhaps you yourself have said it at one time or another.

Generally, many of us say it after a rather heartfelt loss or disappointment.  Something that has filled our lives – a loved one, a job, or a dream – is suddenly gone, and we feel the empty space inside that is left behind.

This emptiness brings us sadness, loneliness and in some cases depression.  We start to look for ways to fill the void.

Feeling sad, depressed?  Find a therapist or go on a cruise.

Feeling stressed from the pressure at work?  Head to market and pick up some munchies, grab a cigarette or a café latte.

Put all that weight back on?  Join a different gym or buy the next fad exercise DVD advertised on late night TV.

Lost a job?  Fill out an unemployment claim then load up on lottery tickets.

Lost a relationship?  Try eHarmony or head to the local watering hole to drown your sorrows or maybe luck out and meet Mr. or Ms. Right.

We will attach to almost anything that can either stimulate us or numb us so that we can ignore the void, the emptiness inside.  Some of us try to fill the void with food or drink, with drugs, with sex.

But what we wind up ignoring is the fact that the void, itself, is a blessing in disguise – not for what new and creative measures we take to fill it. That will only put us back on the merry-go-round of illusion, never to come face to face with reality.

What most of us have come to “think of” as reality is nothing more than a projection of our thoughts, which are, in fact, unreal.

But that void inside is our only reality.  It is our original nature as any seasoned Buddhist or Taoist meditator will tell you.

Instead of trying to fill it with all sorts of compulsive actions or move away from it altogether, we need to go with it.  Follow it wherever it leads us.  Make it a very close friend, so to speak.

The hurts and traumas of life do not have to be debilitating or depressing.  They only bring us to that point when we try to overcome them.  But having the courage to move into the void like an intrepid explorer descending into a fathomless cavern can not only free us from the illusions of life but bring us face-to-face with our true selves.

In meditation, in qigong, in our tai chi and other nei jia practices, following the void and always keeping it before us will not only make us whole but will free us from the enslavements that we once desired.

Yes, song is the most important aspect of the internal martial arts (nei jia).  But one size does not fit all.  Having performed taijijuan thousands of times and push hands for the last twelve years or so I have come to realize that song has little to do with relaxation as we Westerners know it.  Instead, song is a combination of yin and yang.  But the ideal song, the ideal mixture of yin and yang is different for everyone.

It depends on many things: your size and physical stature (bone size, thickness of skin, etc.), your conditioning, your flexibility, the condition of your internal organs, the quality of your internal energy and circulation.

For example, a person might be very flexible and have good conditioning and stature, but there circulation might be weak or blocked, so their dantien is unable to store and issue much energy.  Or maybe they have a poor diet, and their body cannot build up enough internal energy.

Some people’s song needs more yang and less yin, and others more yin and less yang.

But I think the greatest factor is our mental song.  If we have too much stress, we will have too much mental yang and not enough mental yin (calm).  People with a lot of depression and sadness have too much mental yin and need more mental yang (joy).

That’s what I realized this morning as I was doing my forms and a memory from way back in childhood suddenly popped into my consciousness.  In order to make real progress one needs to be aware of not only their physical song but their mental song (yin and yang) throughout the day not just while practicing the forms.

One cannot separate their daily life from taiji or taiji and daily life from the Dao.  As Laotse tells us throughout the Dao de Ching, one must try to follow the Way (Dao, Nature) all of the time.