Wisdom and Power: A Philosophical Approach to T'ai Chi
Why I Wrote This Book
The title of this appendix is actually something of a misnomer. It should perhaps be called "Why I am writing this book," for, though it appears here at the end, as I write these words I am only somewhat more than half finished with the body of the manuscript. As in any art, the creation of a book is a gradual piecing together of parts and segments, forms and ideas, until the organic whole finally coalesces into a finished creation; and it is both an awareness of this process and a desire to make the completed work more integrated that prompts me to share with you - to whatever extent I can - my own motivations and feelings about the creation of the volume you are now holding in your hands.
It may seem in a way presumptuous or egocentric for me to assume that you have any interest in this area: the more usual viewpoint would be that you are concerned with the content of the work, or what I have to teach you about T'ai Chi, not in why I am writing it. I do not share this viewpoint. I think that the reader of any book finds it absolutely necessary to have some conception of what has motivated the author to write it, in order to get anything from it at all. Since few authors explicitly deal with this need, the reader is obliged to infer a motivation from the implicit context of the work itself.
For example, if an author is writing with the intent of communicating certain factual information to you, you will certainly relate to the writing differently han if his primary purpose is to entertain you or make you laugh; and you must have this conception of the author's purpose if you are to "get it" at all.
Now with many types of writing the purpose is perfectly clear at face value, and in such a case further explanation would only be redundant. This book does not fall into that category.
Rather than rambling on any more at this point, let me state my purpose as clearly as I can; then I will ramble some more. My purpose in writing this book is the purely personal desire to create a work of art of beauty and integrity.
This means that the book's purpose is not:
To teach you T'ai Chi.
To carry on an ancient tradition.
To communicate any facts about reality.
To change the world for the better.
To make money or become famous.
Or anything else.
It is certainly conceivable that the book may have effects in some of the above areas, but they are not my purpose in writing it.
In saying that my purpose is to create a work of art, I have obliged myself to define what I mean by art, and this is no small task.
If you have been staying with the ideas in this book, you will understand that I believe the Universe tobe an expression of absolute, total and eternal perfection. Even the narrow, confused and limited viewpoints of individual human beings who experience themselves as "trapped" in their own egos and forever separated from the perfection of the Univers; even our doubts, pains, fears and frustrations are perfect. The problem is that we do not ordinarily see them as perfect, for the perfectly obvious reason that the very nature of these viewpoints is the experience of imperfection, and that is perfect.
Buried deep within each of us, whatever our education, experience or philosophical inclinations, is an intuitive knowledge of the perfection of the Universe, and the desire to strive for conscious reunion with it. Since we are on the physical plane, our strivings take the form of physical actions; and the actions we take to express our personal connection with the perfection of the infinite, I term art.
When a painter blends texture, form, mood and concept into a painting, he is trying to transcend athe shallow and isolated "reality" of mundane life by tunig in to a far deeper reality - he is using his body and mind to bring forth into the physical place an expression of something at the very core of his being that goes far beyond the physical plane.
This quality of expressing our own unique experience of infinity through the physical plane is in a very real sense the whole point of manifested existence. Every single entity in the world is infinite and perfect, but each expresses this perfection through its own totally unique nature. A rock being a rock is expressing the infinite through its rock-nature, as is a bullfrog croaking in the creek, a weeping willow drooping its branches over a sleepy bayou, a wolf howling at the moon or a man building a skyscraper that peeks through the clouds.
The enormous difference in man as opposed to a rock or a bullfrog, is that man is self-conscious, and can exercise choice in his medium of expression. Man is, to a greater extent than any other being we know of, free to pick and choose among the different kinds of experience available, and to reflect on his own nature. He can seek out experience that reflects his unique personality, and avoid experience that is sterile or meaningless to him. As a result, man is able to choose the medium and content of his particular expression of infinity. This self- conscious choice is what makes man capable of the activity we call "art." Animals, having no choice, simply express their nature; while man reflects on himself, his environment and his experience and deliberately selects the mode of expression that touches him the most, that seems the most "right" to him, that allows him to glimpse his own divinity and special connection with the infinite. This selective expression is art.
In writing this book, I, like a painter or composer, am doing no more than expressing my own personal understanding of the beauty of the Universe. A composer combines rhythm, tone, timbre, voicing, tempo, etc., into an integrated work that has beauty and meaning to him. I am combining ideas, concepts, physical laws and attitudes into a view of life that is to me profoundly satisfying and integrated. I am expressing my own unique nature in my choice and combination of concepts, and this creative expression is its own purpose and justification.
Now, I do not mean to imply by any of this that what I have to say in the book has no practical value, or that you cannot gain from studying what I have written here. One of the really wonderful things about art is that people's lives may be enriched immeasurably by experiencing each other's artistic creations. But you must understand that the ideas I have tied together in this volume are not true in any absolute sense - as I have stated elsewhere - but are only one way of looking at things. It is a way I have found to be incredibly rich and satisfying; and, which is more, it works. But it is still only one picture out of an infinity of possibilities, and it would be very disappointing to me if you were to take it at face value alone.
I would like to believe that the readers of this book will be touched by it, see something of value in it, try its techniques and assimilate its ideas, and then let it go.
The whole danger to free and harmonious living I have been talking about is being locked into fixed and inflexible systems of thought, and the ideas in this book can be as tyrannical as any if they are latched onto and used as a dogma.
The Supreme Ultimate is all-inclusive, and no man or system can have a monopoly on its understanding. T'ai Chi is really not a limited body of knowledge and techniques (although it includes them), but is rather an attitude - an open-ended and flexible quest for truth balance and harmony. It can never be "taught" by one person to another, because it is unique for every single individual. The actions, understandings and concepts which I require to attain harmony will necessarily be somewhat different from those you require, for we are points of differentiated consciousness, and it is precisely such differences which are the whole meaning of individual experience. A good teacher can be a finger pointed at the moon; but learning consists of grasping the moon, not the finger. Each person must piece together the Universe for himself, for it is his Universe.
And that is perhaps where the utility of this book may lie - even though it was written for beauty rather than utility - in the bringing to conceptual awareness this profound fact about all our lives: that we are in a real sense all artists engaged in the construction of our own Universe. In this work, the environment is our canvas, our experiences the tools, and our own lives the medium of expression.
As artists of life we are absolutely free - there are no constraints of any kind imposed on us, and we may piece together our lifestyles, experiences, ideas and attitudes in any way we wish. If we choose to be men of violence, we may take up arms to kill or be killed; if we choose to be poets, we can take up the pen. We can live out our lives in one square mile of countryside or circle the globe by steamship or thumb. We may be hermits or gregarious socializers, scholars or laborers, kindly or cruel, fearless or paranoid. We may seek truth in words and philosophy, in works and deeds, in music and poetry, in love and war, in business and in vagrancy; for truth lies in all of these and in everything. The truth is what is real, and we are continuous co- creators of reality by everything we think, do, say or feel.
Breaking free of what we should, must or ought to do is an absolutely essential first step to being able to do what we want to do. Our social conditioning teaches us that we must not do what we want to do, on the specious grounds that people's desires are in irreconcilable conflict, and that if I do what I want to it will prevent you from doing what you want to. Now, aside from the obvious logical fallacy of this viewpoint (if I give up my desires to protect yours, and you give up your desires to protect mine, neither of us is succeeding), it negates the fundamental attribute of life, which is goal-directed action. If I am not supposed to pursue what I want, then what possible purpose can there be to living?
I do not mean anything egocentric or "anti-social" by this, nor do I mean to advocate the irresponsible pursuit of any momentary whim, regardless of its consequences. I am merely stating the obvious fact that the Universe is put together in such a way that we have desires and have the ability to pursue them. This is reality, and to say that it shouldn't be that way or that we shouln't act in accord with that reality is to try to second guess God! The trampling of people's indiviuality that we so fear accurs not because we do what we want to do, but because we don't - because we are constantly constrained and frustrated by doubts, fears and restrictions, and in turn constrain and confuse others. The desire and ability to formulate our own dreams, walk our own paths, is the essential mechanism of all evolutionary growth and expansion - this quality must be developed, not suppressed.
Of course, to recognize that we are free to do what we want to do is not to say that we are free to escape the consequences of our actions. The Universe is perfectly just, and if we try to harm others we will ourselves ultimately be harmed, as certainly as sunset follows sunrise. But the responsibility for determining what consequences our actions will have rests squarely on the shoulders of each individual wo acts. Everyone wants to be happy, and the infinitely varied ways of attaining this goal will all be discovered to be in perfect harmony, since it is one of the facts of reality that no one can become truly happy at the expense of someone else. The love and unforced cooperation that will dawn on Earth when we all realize that we are free to do as we wish cannot be painted in words, but if you will allow yourself to drink a little of its nectar in your imagination, you will begin to see a beauty in the world to rival that of heaven.
I wrote this book because I wanted to write it - because it is in my nature to enjoy writing and talking about these concepts, as I enjoy living them; because it gives me a sense of fitness and harmony to do so. But this is not a rule-book in any sense of the word, and I would no more have you live by this "system" than I would live by anyone else's system. If some bits and pieces of what I have said have struck a respondent chord within you, by all means pursue them; test them, find out if they have any validity for you. But remember that you and you alone can discover what is true.
And here we come to the end of our journey together. Should we meet again - on the printed page or elsewhere - it will be another time, another place; and we will both, having lived and learned, be different people. But, if you will pardon my being melodramatic, we have touched each other in these pages by looking at some things that lie close to the heart of our common unity as human beings; and it is the knowledge of that touch, not the desire to hold on to it, that makes writing this book worthwhile.
I love you.