Buddhism and Tai Chi

English translation of a Chinese article from 世界太极拳网

太极修身为主,兼而修心。Tai Chi mainly cultivates the body, as a result the mind is cultivated.

佛法修心为主,兼辅修身。Buddhism mainly cultivates the mind and as a result the body is cultivated.

The two are complementary and they share the ultimate goal—return to nature. But if you practice Taijiquan for the purpose of becoming skilled and powerful or if you recite mantra in order to gain merit, then in itself the motives are self-centred and do not constitute a return to nature. How then can we achieve the state of supreme ultimate 太极?Here are three points to contemplate:

  1. Stillness

What Tai Chi and Buddhism have in common is that both methods of cultivation start with stillness. Before practicing Taijiquan, you should calm your body, respect your intentions, and relax your whole body; before practicing Buddhism, you should also calm your body and mind, gradually eliminate distractions and abandon any thoughts of desire.


Why does it start from stillness?

老子说:夫物芸芸,各复归其根,归根曰静,是谓复命。Lao Tzu said: “Every human being will return to his roots, to regain stillness as if being reborn.”

重为轻根,静为躁君。(厚重是轻率的根本,静定是躁动的主宰) “Heaviness is the root of lightness, stillness is the force behind restlessness.”

Lao Tzu claims stillness is the primordial state of life where one is able to know one’s true self, to return to nature and to resist the distractions of the world at large. As far as the mind is concerned, stillness is closer to its innate nature. Taijiquan allows you to 化掉本力dissolve your strength and return to your natural state of being; Buddhism dispels your illusions and awakens your Buddha nature.

Everyone is a grandmaster but due to the perpetual motion of the limbs in everyday life, we have become stiff and unable to relax when encountering external forces. Everyone is a Buddha, but we are caught up in this world. In order to accumulate knowledge, we never stop learning and developing our own brains, we have become tense because we can’t stop thinking. So we need to stop, we need to relax, and becoming still is the first thing to do.

  1. How to be still

Some say if you want to be still, you must first have a quiet mind, what they don’t know is that just this thought alone can wreak havoc in our mind. We are so accustomed to thinking from day to night, like a river that never stops flowing, it has become a habitual pattern like our second nature (just like breathing). Although we think constantly around the clock, we do not have awareness around it. When time comes for us to be quiet, we find that our mind is too ruffled and we are unable to calm down.

Nan Huai-chin once compared this to: “For example, in a house, you usually can’t see the dust, but when the sun shines through, you find dust dancing in the light. You should neither clean it nor find a way to get rid of the dust. As long as you don’t move, you don’t increase or decrease the dust, then the dust will become still and eventually stop flying.”

Therefore, stillness is not adding a thought; the mind and body is just like a container—not moving, it comes to a point of stillness.

3. Movement after stillness

Just being still is not enough to cultivate the Tao. The saying 一阴一阳谓之道”yin and yang is the Tao”, so there has to be movement after stillness. To move is to practice martial arts (Taijiquan and so forth), and to learn the dharma and listen to teachings. 静犹如足赤之金,但质量未必够分量。动犹如千钧之金,但成分未必纯正。Stillness might be pure gold, but it is not without flaw; movement might be like gold that weigh over tonnes, but its composition might not be completely pure.

The reason why you should be still first and then move is because 欲善其事,必先利其器”if you want to do something really well, you need to first sharpen your tools.” 磨刀不误砍柴工Stillness plays the role of sharpening the knife so the effort of chopping the wood is optimized. For example, in “Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons”, Yuan Liaofan asked Master Yun Gu why he did a thousand good deeds for ten years. Master Yun Gu replied that it was because the good deeds were done with rewards in mind, his intentions were impure, and thus, his merits and faults cancel out each other. Therefore, it is in accordance with the laws of nature that one be still before moving in order to achieve optimum results with only half the amount of effort. If you blindly practice Taijiquan or accumulate merits by doing good, without realizing the importance of the nature of mind, then the results will be compromised even with double the amount of effort.

In short, Tai Chi and Buddhism both necessitate a return to nature. Tai Chi is a return to the natural physiological state, that is, 即放松而气敛入骨to relax and allow the chi to permeate the bones; Buddhism is the return to our primordial state and experience the nature of the mind. Cultivating these two practices are equivalent to cultivating life and their power are beyond words.

stillness as return to nature

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