On Enlightenment & Tai Chi

My commentary on a poem on enlightenment by Layman P’ang (740-808) and its relation to the practice of Tai Chi. I am not an expert on Zen Buddhism but what is written here resonates with my experience in practicing the Tai Chi methods of Grandmaster Wei Shuren.

The past is already past.
Don’t try to regain it.
The present does not stay.
Don’t try to touch it.

Commentary – It is my experience in teaching students push hands that they are typically very fixated on the pressure I offer to them. I can explain, I can exhort but they are unable to let go of the pressure even when their position is giving way and they are being controlled.

Without letting go of the pressure they become fixated on the position they had before I applied pressure. This is what I feel the stanza “The past is already past. Don’t try to regain it.” means.

In push hands, the present becomes the past in the next second. Hence, if the student is unable to move on past the present to the future he will be stuck and he will lose his position. This is what the stanza “The present does not stay. Don’t try to touch it.” says to me.

From moment to moment.
The future has not come;
Don’t think about it

Commentary – In playing push hands with students I find that most of the time they don’t listen to the pressure input. Mostly they just react blindly. So in resisting without taking into consideration the pressure that is being applied on them they are trying to react to a future that has not come.

To improve in push hands, one must let the mind go, let the mind be like a mirror or a still pond. Then you will be able to actualize what the second section of this poem calls for and you will become enlightened in your push hands practice.

Whatever comes to the eye,
Leave it be.
There are no commandments
To be kept;
There’s no filth to be cleansed.

Commentary – The fixated, the obsessed mind is the downfall of our position in push hands. We cannot leave things be. We have to resist. This is what the first two lines say to me.

The last three lines tells me to let go, stop resisting (not the same as collapsing) and let the pressure tells me what to do next. In letting go, we are not giving up. Students tend to think this is the case. It is not.

To let go is to be like water in flow. On encountering resistance flow anywhere except at the point of resistance. This is a major key in improving your ability to respond in push hands.

With empty mind really
Penetrated, the dharmas
Have no life.

Commentary – An empty mind is not a blank mind. It is merely a mind that has the ability to put aside the incessant chatter which is our nature, which obstructs our ability to see things as it is, to obstruct our ability to penetrate to the core of the problem.

The empty mind is an important requirement in achieving mastery in the practice of Tai Chi. The empty mind is not a mindless mind. Instead, the empty mind is a mind that flows like water, not stopping, not fixated. It is here, it is not here. It is there, it is not there. It is mindful, it is aware, not fixated, not stuck.

Only then can your intent call forth the force that penetrates through your opponent’s obstruction and resistance.The fourth section relates to the third and fourth of our four important core principles.

When you can be like this,
You’ve completed
The ultimate attainment.

Commentary – In our Tai Chi the fourth important key word is emptiness (). When you attained a state of emptiness you would have broken through and entered the gate of Tai Chi mastery.

This is not something to be contemplated. Instead, a lot of persistent, diligent and mindful correct practice is called for. Knowing more of what this means will not lead to mastery. Just keep faith with the practice and you will get there.


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