Wisdom and Power: A Philosophical Approach to T'ai Chi

Chapter 10:
The Laws of Power

"To rule truly is to serve."
- The I Ching

The underlying theme of this book is balance, in all its aspects; and I have expressed this theme in two broad, complementary - balanced - areas of focus: love (acceptance) and power (expression).

You may be curious why I emphasize love and power, when the book's title points to the attainment of wisdom and power.

There is a reason for this. Wisdom is a human abstraction that refers to understanding and harmonizing with basic Universal forces; both love and power are basic Universal forces. We do not wish to talk too much about wisdom, because then we are trying to "understand understanding," rather than trying to understand the things that will make us wise.

T'ai Chi is a Way of Life: love and power are the two broad channels through which all of life asserts itself. All human beings want love; every living person seeks power. This is true of all people in all strata of society, in all times of history, in all places on Earth; regardless of race, creed, sex, philosophy, religion, politics or personality.

Both love and power can express in ways sacred or profane, idealistic or corrupt, transcendental or narrowly selfish; but express they will.

Love is the desire for union, and power is the force of separation.

Love is the attraction of Yin for Yang and Yang for Yin.

Power is the force of separation which distinguishes Yin from Yang.

No attraction between Yin and Yang could exist if there were no distinction between them.

Therefore, love is a reflection of power.

Power creates Yin and Yang, giving rise to the "ten thousand things."

Love unites Yin and Yang, dissolving the distinctions between them and returning them into undifferentiated potential.

Out of Unity, power creates Yin and Yang - the world.

Out of the world, love destroys (assimilates) Yin and Yang - unity.

The oscillation between these two poles is life. But oscillation is merely a lower-dimensional viewpoint of a turning circle.

A turning circle is merely a lower-dimensional viewpoint of a moving spiral: there are no endpoints to the motion. Life is an eternally regenerative process of creation by power, preservation as Yin and Yang, and destruction by love. The triune Godhead of the Hindus is another metaphor of this process: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. These three are One, arising simultaneously and unfolding endlessly. Another way of saying this is that power is love in motion.

In the world, those who do not follow a definite Way have little direction in their lives. What happens to them is merely the result of the forces which act upon them.

Those who follow the Way of Love must also seek power, or they will succumb to the danger of being pulled into non- manifestation.

Those who follow the Way of Power must also seek love, or they will succumb to the danger of being flung into exile.

The Way of Love is the flip side of the Way of Power. Together these two ways converge in the Way of Life - T'ai Chi.

In the bulk of this book I have been concerned with the entrance into this Way through the martial art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. In the previous chapter I considered love in a somewhat more general context, and in this chapter I will do the same with power.

Most people construe the word power to mean something coercive and corrupt, to be wielded as a whip or brandished as a weapon over others. But corruption is a disease of power and does not reflect the nature of true power; as, for example, possessiveness is a disease of love and does not reflect the nature of true love.

Real power is a vital force which radiates outward from its possessor, leveling obstacles and enabling him to reach his ends - whatever they may be - without force or violence.

The man (or woman) of true power has an inner strength which leaves him calm and possessed in all circumstances, able to see exactly what is needed in each situation and quitely provide it. Because he alignes his movement with the Law of Change, his resources are unlimited but do not intimidate anyone. When he leads others he does not dominate or downtrod them, but rather lifts them up with him. His power is durable because it is not against anyone.

The "Laws of Power" which follow are an attempt to convey in a terse and intuitive way the nature of true power. The format is brief and suggestive for the reason that power, like the other significant ideas of T'ai Chi is best grasped as a whole. With such subjects, often "more words count less." Perhaps this manner of presentation will facilitate a holistic grasp of the nature of power.

I believe that understanding of this sort is especially vital in today's world situation. Social consciousness on our little spaceship, both shaping and being shaped by the exponential acceleration of changing technological, economic and political conditions, is in a state of flux greater than ever before experienced in mankind's history. Planetary consciousness is evolving, and with it our priorities are being changed, out institutions altered, our power-alignments transformed. As old social forms break down and are replaced by new, the viability of the new will depend on the level of agreement that can be reached among the members of society, which will in turn depend on the quality of leadership available.

Power expressed socially is leadership. Whoever affects others is a leader, whether it manifests on the level of being a positive example to friends and co-workers or on the level of management or public office. Leadership in the old power structure has been largely diseased, based on a combination of cunning and aggressiveness; an ability to stimulate in followers the fear of others (other nations, other races, other religions, other cultures), and confidence in the ability of the leaders to defeat or hold at bay these others.

Whether this approach to leadership has ever been valid or useful is open to question; that it is not now, is not. The extent to which our seriously ill and chaotically erupting global power structure can be transmuted to a loving and durable social order will be dependent largely on the pool of wisdom and service oriented leaders available to mankind.

Most people do not follow a Way - they follow leaders. The person of power exerts such a leadership influence over all those who are within his sphere of activity, however great or small that may be. If his power is clear and healthy, he will thereby send life, light and love into the world. If it is corrupt and diseased, he will merely spread the cancer.



Power is contained within life. The unity of life is served by love, the expression of life by power. Power is the ability to effectively direct Ch'i, whether one directs it through the meridian channels of his own body or through the lifelines of society. What promotes life strengthens Ch'i, and power grows. What diminishes life dissipates Ch'i, and power wanes.

The person of true power knows that it comes only from life; therefore, she aligns himself fully with life and allows power to flow through him into the world. His power is a blessing to all. The ignorant person of power believes that it comes from himself; he grabs power which has come into existence through the life- expression of others and redirects it to serve his own narrow ends. His power is a curse on all.


There is a single portal through which power flows into the world, a single unfolding point for all of life. That point is here and now. This is where the person of power resides.


Life is a dynamic stream flowing between all pairs of opposites. Anyone who seeks to reach one pole - strength as opposed to weakness, joy as opposed to sorrow, freedom as opposed to discipline - will find as she approaches her goal that she no longer possesses either power or life. The person of power does have clear goals, which she pursues unremittingly; but all viable goals are located within the stream of life, not on the banks through which it flows.


The person of true power recognizes that all things move according to the Law of Change, and strives constantly to harmonize his actions with the great cycles of unfoldment. A small effort in harmony with the flow of change can have an extraordinarily powerful effect. Even a monumental effort in the wrong direction will fail. Patience and timing are virtues of power; watch and wait, sensing the energy flows around you. There is a time and a place for everything - when the moment for action has arrived, it must be grasped unhesitatingly.


All conscious entities are co-creators of the Universe. The person of power knows this. She does not abdicate her responsibility to shape the world; neither does she foolishly try to change that which is beyond her present ability to improve. She leads with courageous strength and follows with sincere devotion.


Attention is the finger on the trigger of power - it is the mechanism of control. When you direct your attention to the flow of Ch'i through your body, you control the Ch'i flow. When the media directs people's attention to the television screen, it controls their attitudes and buying habits. Power attracts attention; attention builds power. The ignorant person of power attracts attention to himself, thinking he will benefit by the wealth, prestige and control that this attention gives him. But power must flow, and whoever tries to stop it at himself will be destroyed by it. The person of true power attracts attention through himself to life. He is like a lens, focusing and directing Ch'i to the harmonious expression of life through his ability to capture and direct attention.


"To rule truly is to serve." This rule is the central thesis of the I Ching, the world's most enduring power manual. All politicians know this law, as do managers, executives and public officials of power; but most understand it only partially. They think it means to loudly proclaim their public service so that people will issue them power, which they may then use as they will. But true power is not created in this way - true power comes into being through actual service, whether people know about it or not.

A person can attain a feeling of exhilaration and high energy by taking "speed" (amphetamines). But this is not power over your body; it is merely stealing existing power (Ch'i) from the rest of the body's healthy functioning to feed a hyped-up metabolism. It is illusory, mortgaged power. Anyone who has experienced the "crash" following a run on speed knows what I am talking about. Such "power" does not serve life, but hastens death. True power over your body comes from serving it: nourishing and protecting it, harmonizing its Ch'i flow, building up its vital reserves. If you serve your body in this way, you can express true power through it.

It is the same in society. Only by serving the needs of the social organism, nourishing and protecting it, harmonizing its activity and building up its reserve of energy and security, can a leader gain a healthy following. Without a healthy following, she must either bow down or resort to force and fraud to maintain her position of leadership. But this is "social speed" - it merely steals the existing life force of the followers to feed the exhilaration of the leader. Woe betide this leader when the crash comes.

This idea is extraordinarily profound, and has endless applications. Power flows as life is served. This is not a moralistic prescription, but a law of the Universe as certain as gravitation. If you wish to express power in any sphere, become sensitive to that sphere and determine its weak points, its energy blockages, the problems which inhibit the unrestricted flow of life through that sphere; then contribute your utmost energy and ability to removing the blockages, harmonizing and improving the flow of life force: to serving. In so doing, genuine power will flow through you into that sphere, uplifting both yourself and the system you serve. The Way of the Supreme Ultimate is to seek constantly the greatest expression of both love and power - to walk this path is to contribute your utmost to the preservation and upliftment of all life.

As I mentioned earlier, this list of "power rules" is merely suggestive, not exhaustive. It should be clear that virtually everything I have said about power in this broad sense has been merely a paraphrase of understandings considered earlier in the narrower sense of Ch'i flow through the body in fighting and helath-building techniques. This once again brings us back to the aspect of T'ai Chi that makes it unique among spiritual paths: that it is possible to grasp the most profound truths and learn to integrate harmoniously with all of life on all planes of experience simply by practicing what appears to be a "physical" art. The Law of Change operates everywhere, at every time, on everything. The physical movement approach to learning the Way of the Supreme Ultimate has many advantages over the purely speculative approach of the "philosopher." It is clear and direct, it taps the body's natural store of wisdom, and it provides an unambiguous measure of your understanding: it is possible to argue or wonderendlessly about the "meaning" of this or that passage in some book, but it is not possible to argue about whether or not you are knocked down in pushing hands when you move in a certain way. Once you understand something about the Law of Change in physical movement, that knowledge is your permanent possession and is fully as useful applied to psychological interactions, social relations, economic and political transactions, spiritual growth, evolution and any other aspects of life; because the truth is one and the same in all spheres of experience, in all areas of activity. With the tool of learning by direct experience which T'ai Chi provides, you can take the laws of power expressed here and more fully in the I Ching, and expand them on your own into a comprehensive understanding of the nature of power - the expression of life - which you can put to use according to your own inclinations, interests and abilities.

Individuals are unique: one person will use power to penetrate to the essence of scientific or technological problems, another will become a respected community leader. Still others will become influential teachers, successful artists, dynamic entrepreneurs, benevolent world leaders or social reformers. The particular avenue of expression is unimportant; there is a need for everything in the world. What is important is that the power you express - and this will become more and more considerable as your development in T'ai Chi progresses - be genuine power; that it flows through you, not to you, and that it brings forth life into the world, rather than draining life to satisfy your own ego.

In this book we have been mainly concerned with the Oriental wisdom tradition, but there is a parallel tradition in the West, also reaching back thousands of years. In this tradition the expression of power is called magic, and a distiction is drawn between "white magic" and "black magic" (no racial inference).

The white magician, like the person of true power discussed here, uses his unusual insight into natural laws for the benefit and advancement of all life, while the black magician turns his knowledge to the manipulation of others to secure his own personal ends. It is the folly of the black magician that he overlooks the fact that he himself is life, and by failing to support it he assures his own ultimate demise. Thus the myth of "selling one's soul to the Devil," and there is no escape from the terrible price of this transaction.

On this subject the I Ching says,

"Evil must itself fall at the very moment it has wholly consumed the good, to which it owed its existence."

And the Western (hermetic) tradition says simply,

"An undevout occultist is truly mad."

I will leave the discussion of the nature of power with this sobering thought, and with the brighter one that true power, wisely expressed, is the movement of love itself through life, harmonizing, evolving and uplifting everyone and everything in creation. With firm intent and loving concern for all of life, there is no limit to your ability to grow in the expression of such power.

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