Tai Chi Chuan as a Spiritual Cultivation

How to practice Tai Chi Chuan as a spiritual cultivation? First, we must find out what we mean by spirit and why one has to cultivate it.

In ancient China, spirit referred to one's ability. An inborn ability was referred to as original spirit. An ability that came from practical experience was referred to as conscious spirit. From this understanding, the relationship of original spirit and conscious spirit is the relationship of how one interacts with the environment. Today, spirit is also refers to the brain's function. Therefore, when we practice the spirit, we are improving the brain's function or the intelligence of reasoning since the brain is the control center of all the body functions. Therefore, in order to advance in Tai Chi Chuan skills, one must practice this spirit.

Some philosophers said that all activities came from conscious spirit which depends on the original spirit. What this means is that unconscious or voluntary behavior is much more important than conscious or involuntary behavior. For example, all those physiological organs and systems that function automatically are much more important than those system and organs we have control over in our body. We called the inborn ability as the ability that we are born with because it functions unconsciously and we do not have control over it. However, it can review itself under special situation. Although we can not control its appearance, we can create the situation to have it appear. Therefore, it is said that the original spirit reviewed itself only when the conscious spirit is calm and peaceful. This situation is called the true intent.

When we practice Tai Chi Chuan for spiritual cultivation, we are working to get close to this original spirit and improving the brain's function. How to practice Tai Chi Chuan for spiritual cultivation? There are many techniques developed over the years. The most common technique is to have the practitioner focus on one thought and later to remove this one thought. In Tai Chi Chuan training, one is focus on the Solo Form with intent. When this happens, one is able to suppress the conscious spirit and let the original spirit or the true intent to express itself. To achieve this true intent in Tai Chi Chuan, one must practice the Solo Form with concentration and peacefully. This means the brain must be in a state of excitation and depression at the same time. When the brain is peaceful, it is in the depression stage. When the brain is concentrates, it is in the excitation stage. However, the majority of the brain is in the peaceful stage and concentration is in the minor stage so that the brain can rest or restore all body functions. This is like when someone turns the light on in one room and the lights in the other rooms in the factory remained off. This is the basic understanding of how concentration improves one's health and well being.

Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art that applies intent to practice the intent, chi and the physical body. The Tai Chi Chuan Classics say that one must apply the intent to all the movements, breathing and waist rotation. Yang Cheng Fu said that we should apply the intent for all movement, not physical power. The Six Harmony Theory explained that when the intent is there, the chi will get there and the power will be there as well. When one applies the intent to Tai Chi Chuan practice, one is peaceful and concentrated. The true intent will express itself. There are people who say one must practice Tai Chi Chuan movements in coordination with breathing. What they are saying is that they have observed skillful practitioners who are at this stage of true intent and are able to coordinate breathing with movements. A knowledgeable instructor knows that coordinating breathing with movement is something that happens by itself when the time is right. This is an act of unconscious behavior. It will not happen if one forces it to occur, which is an act of conscious behavior.

Although it is necessary for the true intent to appear, it is not something for the beginner to look for. However, an experienced practitioner who is familiar with the movements should try to coordinate the two together. This work can be divided into two steps:

1. Under the direction of the intent, one should try to practice Tai Chi Chuan movements in coordination with breathing. The Tai Chi Chuan Classics called this "The intent and chi are the primary and the bones and muscles are the secondary." This explains that the intent is the commander to give order. Chi is the messenger to carry the order. Bones and muscles are the soldiers to carry out the order. When one is practicing Tai Chi Chaun and applying these relationships, the chi gets the order and begins to circulate, the circulation will involved the body to move. Thereore, the physical movements are based on the circulation of chi which take order from the intent.

Generally, Tai Chi Chuan movements are coordinated with breathing in the following ways: When the movements are up, close and empty, the breathing is inhale and storage. When the movements are down, open and full, the breathing is exhale and release. This is the Tai Chi Chuan Classics refer to as closing is for storage and opening is for release. For example, when one is practicing the White Horse Parts Its Mane, one is holding the ball with two hands, inhale and store or sink the chi in the dantien. When one is stepping foreward and separating the hands, exhale and release or rise the chi from dantien. This chi release from the dantien follows the rotation of the waist up to the shoulders, wrists, hands and goes down to the knees and ankles. When the intent gets there, the power gets there and the movement is complete. When one is able to practice the movement accordingly, all three factors: intent, breathing, and movement, will be in unison. If the movement is coordinate, it should be relaxed, soft, light, circulating and natural. If the breathing is correct, it should be deep, small, even and long. When one is able to concentrate breathing and movement together, one is able to depress other thoughts fand focus on Tai Chi Chuan practice. After one has been practicing Tai Chi Chuan with this instruction for sometime, becomes familiar with the movement and is able to coordinate with breathing naturally, one begins to enter the true intent. This is the technique of what we called one thought substrate 1000 thoughts.

2. After one has this one thought substrate for 1000 thoughts, the next step is to removed this one thought. One thought here is referring to the thought of practicing. When this one thought is removed, all the conscious activities stop and the original spirit appears or the true intent expresses itself. Tai Chi Chuan is a mutli-functions martial art, in training, one begins by not focusing on the meaning of each movement. Therefore, we observe many practitioners who execute the same movement differently because each practitioner understands the meaning of the movement differently. When a practitioner achieves this stage of true intent, all the movements are properly executed. The coordination of movements with breathing matures and it is now controlled by this true intent or original spirit. When this is happens, there is no intent and all intent. This is what Professor Fang Nan refers to as the 10th level of Tai Chi Chuan Kung Fu. It is a stage when one executes a powerful strike unconsciously. In western compeition sports, this situation happens all the time when top athletes perform incredible physical movements and yet do not understand why. Spiritual practice, mediation, mental exercise, qigong, and visualization, the names may be different due to cultural differences, they are similiar disciplines to help carry out the inborn ability. This is the ability to maintain life functions such as the intelligence of reason, all physiological organs and systems functions in the body. This is why the spirit needs to be cultivated.

By Vincent Chu
Copyright © V. Chu. All rights reserved.