Taoism: Vitalizing Power
The purpose of Vitalizing Taoism is to release the ch’i in oneself and allow it to flow continually. Literally, “ch’i" means “breath,” but “it actually means vital energy” (Smith, 201).
“The Taoists used [ch’i] to refer to the power of the Tao that they experience coursing through them – or not coursing through them because it was blocked – and their main object was to further its flow. Ch’i fascinated these Taoists. Blake registered their feelings precisely when he exclaimed, ‘Energy is delight,’ for energy is the life force and the Taoists loved life. To be alive is good; to be more alive is better; to be always alive is best, hence the Taoist immortality cults.” (201)
Such is the goal of Vitalizing Taoism. They use three methods for increasing their ch’i to is fullest, these being matter, movement, and the mind.
In matter, they searched for ch’i in things such as food and air. Trying to increase their te, they experimented widely with herbs and such, finding a great many salubrious and medical species in the process. Breathing exercises were also used, and Smith writes “Working with air, the subtlest form of matter, they sought to draw ch’i from out of the atmosphere” (201).
These Taoists used movement, formed into arts such as t’ai chi chuan, “which gather calisthenics, dance, meditation, yin/yang philosophy, and martial arts into a synthesis that in this case was designed to draw ch’i from the cosmos and dislodge blocks to its internal flow” (201).
They used their mind in ways similar to a raja yogi of Hinduism by using a "practice [that] involved shutting out distractions and emptying the mind to the point where the power of the Tao might bypass bodily filters and enter the self directly.” (202)
By maximizing the ch’i, the Vitalizing Taoists sought to reform the self, and then, society. The tended “to press the possibility that the ch’i that yogis accumulated could be transmitted psychically to the community to enhance its vitality and harmonize its affairs” (202). This led them to work at reforming the inner self, for the outer one is “mere shell and accretion”. They had to reform themselves, remove all the debris from their souls, “until ‘the self as it was meant to be’ could surface. Pure consciousness would then appear, and the individual would not see merely ‘things perceived’ but ‘that by which we perceive’” (202).
Only after such an achievement could the Taoist yogi start helping others.
“Taoist yogis sought to harness the Tao directly, drawing it first into their own heart-minds and then beaming it to others. Yogis who managed this feat would for the most part be unnoticed, but their life-giving enterprise did more for the community than the works of other benefactors.” (202)
Inward fulfillment, then, is necessary before letting your ch’i flow outwardly to others. But how is it possible to really rid the inner self of all “successive deposits of worry and distraction [that] so silted the soil” (202)? Humility and selflessness are required.
“To arrive at this inwardness it was necessary to reverse all self-seeking and cultivate perfect cleanliness of thought and body. Pure spirit can be known only in a life that is ‘garnished and swept.’ Only where all is clean will it reveal itself; therefore, ‘put self aside.’ Perturbing emotions must likewise be quelled. Ruffling the surface of the mind, they prevent introspection from seeing past them to the springs of consciousness beneath . . . Desire and revulsion, grief and joy, delight and annoyance – each must subside if the mind is to return to its original purity, for in the end only peace and stillness are good for it. Let anxiety be dispelled and harmony between the mind and its cosmic source will come unsought.” (202-203)
Here there is a point of conflict between Christianity and Taoism that I would like to point out. The Christian does not believe any human mind, save that of Jesus, has “original purity.” It could be said of Adam and Eve, of course, but they could never, in and of themselves, “return” to it. While Vitalizing Taoism teaches discipline for the self can renew the mind, the Christian believes only the Holy Spirit can perform such a miracle.
It is also interesting that Taoists believe that all dichotomies must be conquered to bring the mind to a state of peace. What about the dichotomy between peace and anxiety? Stillness and restlessness? Good and evil? Are not these but other dichotomies? Why, then, is one preferred above the other - after all, dichotomies like desire and revulsion must subside. Why must the mind return to its original purity, when it must subside this ‘fact’ with present impurity? Peace and stillness are nice qualities, but you don’t get to them by forcing the mind to dispel all dichotomies.
Regardless the Taoist, after following these guidelines, will soon reach self-knowledge.
“Selflessness, cleanliness, and emotional calm are the preliminaries to self-knowledge, but they must be climaxed by deep meditation.” (203)
So this final quality is the result of previous efforts. It leads to the ultimate goal of Vitalizing Taoism - a mind at peace, and with it, power.
“For this to happen all outward impressions must be stilled and the senses withdrawn to a completely interior point of focus . . . The result will be a condition of alert waiting known as ‘sitting with a blank mind.’” (203)
Blankness is not a lack of emotion or te, however, It is a “realization.” It brings “truth, joy, and power,” a “power in fact which ‘could shift heaven and earth’” (203). This realization, born of peace, the result a rejection of all troublesome dichotomies, and leading to a state of blankness fulfills, itself in “a mind that is still, [to whom] the whole universe surrenders” (203-204).
Such is the te awaiting the faithful Vitalizing Taoist.