by Gregory James
The topic disclosed here is a brief outline of the sacred Alchemical Teaching Formula of Taichi Tao. Practitioners of Taichi Tao — the Supreme-Boundless Way — Work earnestly for years, even decades, to develop a lucid Understanding of this esoteric Teaching. Indeed we continue to Work throughout life to bring ever-greater enrichment of this Boundless Clarity. I strongly encourage you to study this essay, and to take the necessary steps to cultivate its implications through practice. Do not make the tragic mistake of assuming that you understand because you read it once or twice. This Teaching must be carefully and thoroughly studied.
Now before I loose my Buddhist, Yogi, Christian readers, etc., simply because I am outlining a formula coming from a Taoist practice, I humbly ask first for your consideration that this is not meant to take you away from what you love about your tradition and practice. In fact, what is written here is applicable to your practice! True, ancient, mystical Taoism is not a religion or ideology; it is simply the Way of Truth. And as such, the Taoist recognizes Truth from Truth’s perspective, not the “Taoist perspective.” My Teacher frequently states, “Buddha was a Taoist; Jesus was a Taoist,” meaning simply that such figures were Followers and Teachers of Truth — Taoists in the finest sense of the word. In our system, we honor all who seek and truly Love Truth, and take their Way as our Way — and our Way as their Way. It is just One Way after all.
NOTE: For the sake of simplicity and accessibility, I have divulged this topic using mostly English-equivalent terminology — as always. I have made some exceptions where clarity of context and meaning is needed between the respective languages — Chinese and English. I also retain a few important and familiar Chinese words (like “Tao”) and a few Sanskrit words that our modern practice has adopted (such as “karma”) for the sake of elucidating concepts that the English Language does not have words for (because of the spreading of Yoga, Buddhism, and Hinduism in the West, these Sanskrit terms are much more familiar than their Chinese equivalents).
What we must understand and accept about Taoist terminology is that it arose very slowly over centuries, with no internet, no data networks, no printing press, and in many ways no concrete or ubiquitous systemization of any kind — especially where terminology is concerned. Therefore, these various writings were separated by various expansive provinces, cultural contexts depending on the dynasty and other factors, and differing linguistic dialects and syntaxes. As such, many different terms have come to describe the same or similar meanings, and some of the same or similar terms have been used in differing ways.
Furthermore, Taoism, by its very nature, is quite mysterious and its texts have been intentionally written that way by Masters in an effort to prevent misuse and perversions of the Teachings into superstitions and ideologies (which of course happened anyway, but at least it’s pretty clear that little of common “religious Taoism” is a reflection of ancient and authentic Taoist texts). In this way, those few Masters who wrote about Tao did so in a kind of poetic code — an artistic and mysterious literary style — often assigning very vague metaphors to the most potent teachings. The old Taoist Masters wrote by way of implication so that only those who were actually accepted and trained by a qualified Teacher would come to fully Understand these texts. Sure there are many beautiful philosophies within the texts that can be appreciated by most anyone willing to think a little, but in this we find something even more profound about the way those old Masters taught. You see, the old texts were written using principles rather than specifics; in other words, the texts were written to support a fundamental Truth which may be — and always is — appreciable from various perspectives, including the level of the reader, whether novice or Master — the novice seeing one layer of understanding and the Master a much richer, esoteric layer.
Yet today, we see two distinct categories that pervade our modern recognition of mystical Taoism (not to be confused with “religious Taoism” — which is something else altogether). One category being the “Oral Tradition,” wherein Teaching is given directly from a Master to his disciples. This oral tradition — in addition to textual study — includes a great deal of contextual expounding, practical examples and analogies, appropriate lessons for each individual pertinent to the student’s life, Energy transmission from the Masters of the system, and methodical training in Meditation and Energetics so to infuse the Teaching properly and experientially. The second category is the textual study of “Taoism,” exclusively, wherein there is no Master or method in place, only a text and the readers intellect. Now one would think that the shortfall here would be obvious, and yet few “experts” seem to be bothered about asserting their opinions and interpretations — or rather, misinterpretations as they all-too-often are. As such, as with many modern misunderstandings, True Tao Practice and the real meaning of those beautiful Taoist texts is unfortunately very obscure. I’ll write more about this in future essays.
As I have said above, Taoism, by nature, is very mysterious. Yet the Taichi Tao system remains a very practical system of Alchemy if one is blessed to have a proper Teacher and the resolute will to see it through. And although what you are about to read is hardly mainstream, it is likely the most complete articulation of the Taoist system and its Formula of Spiritual Alchemy available today. This outline took me years to compile from my own study in the Taichi Tao Temple tradition, and while I am breaking with the esoteric nature of our tradition and taking some liberties to present it to you in this way, I have the permission and encouragement of my Teacher to share as much as possible, as by his reckoning, this generation maybe our last chance to save our sacred Teaching from complete obscurity and obsolescence — which, for the sake of all things Good and Right, would be a terrible shame.
NOTE: This is a slightly abridged version of this essay. A more complete version can be found in five chapters beginning here.
The Four Pillars and Sixteen Fortitudes
We assert, by way of long-tried experience and success, that certain qualities are necessary to establish, or be established, within the Path in order to reach the True Way of Being. These qualities are called the Four Corners, or, the Four Pillars of Practice. Like the four legs of a table, each Pillar is vital to support the “table top” on which we receive the nourishment of Tao and the practice. Furthermore, each Pillar has Four Fortitudes (combining together as the Sixteen Fortitudes) that contribute to the quality of each respective Pillar. These are like four strong nails or screws fastening each leg to the “table top,” or four bolts firmly attaching the Pillar to the foundation of the practice. Without all Four Pillars, each with their respective Four Fortitudes, our “table” collapses, leaving us to “eat” off the “floor” of the world and its mistaken promise of wealth and success. And while perhaps not immediately apparent, ultimately, only ignorance, attachment and subsequent suffering can arise from this mistake.
The True Promise life provides is found within the blessed opportunity to Work to refine the Consciousness and to Realize the Gift of Life, for it is this Gift, fully Realized, that makes us Whole with the Divinity and with one another. To Understand this powerful, transformational Realization is more than a simple matter of thinking or of surrendering to a guru. Yes, clear, objective thinking and surrender to the Way are a must, but without Work and a great deal of perseverance, truly Understanding these virtues is utterly hopeless.
1. The Pillar of Right Lifestyle
The first of the Four Pillars of Practice is the Pillar of Right Lifestyle. Without a Right Lifestyle in place, the practitioner cannot begin to address the practice in a manner that meets its demands. To examine why this is True, we must discuss what we are referring to here as the Four Fortitudes of Right Lifestyle:
First and foremost, the practitioner must have the Fortitude of Practice Time. If your lifestyle is so busy that you can never find a moment to Meditate, to come to classes, and to Contemplate the virtues of the Path, then how can you practice? If you are reading this, then you likely have this Fortitude. If you find yourself without enough time to practice, an introspective examination of priorities may be in order. It is true that some people actually don’t have and can’t make Practice Time, but these are people with karma so tangled that a good deal of suffering may need to take place before they begin to make the inner appeal to the Ultimate Truth and its Power. When such a person is able to Recognize that the only Reliable Way is to turn to the Healing Authority, he will surrender himself to the Source and begin to reach for that Power with all his Heart — his True Heart. She will begin to become reconciled to that karma, and, sooner or later, her outer circumstances will begin to improve. If you don’t believe me, then you have not yet truly begun your Work, for once you do, the Truth of this becomes obvious.
The second Fortitude of Right Lifestyle is the Fortitude of Right Livelihood. What this means is that, once you have the general Practice Time, you must also have your other affairs in order so as to become increasingly free of worldly lures and burdens, and to have enough income to support yourself and those who depend on you, as well as enough surplus income to support your practice by means of donations to your school / temple (so that it may remain available to you), travel costs and time off for retreats, etc. Moreover, if it is your job to lie to people, mistreat them, or to cheat them somehow, for example, you won’t get very far with your practice, as you only perpetuate afflictions of guilt, heartache and negative karma.
The third and fourth Fortitudes are the Fortitude of Right Effort and the Fortitude of Right Attitude. I do not mean “right” by some manufactured religious code or social standard, no. I mean that your Effort and Attitude must be situated in the Path of Truth and to that aim exclusively. This requires gradual development for sure, and will change as you grow, but it is relevant to note the importance of steering your focus toward the Center and its Light as much as possible, for you have a great mountain to climb; there is no point loitering about in fruitless ventures that may well bury you under an avalanche if you’re not careful. For example, blindly (or knowingly) contributing to the corrupt systems of the world that ultimately bring ill health and disservice to yourself, your fellow humans and to the Earth, is not a product of Right Effort. The willful participation in such systems under the flimsy justification that you need to do so in order to live or that you have “no choice” is not a product of Right Attitude. Such issues are a matter for deeper consideration. Your karma and your success hang in the balance!
Karma is not something that was chained and locked to you when you were born; it is not something that fixes you into a set path for life, no! There is a strong element of destiny to karma, but that is not to say you have no choice. Your karma is in your hands! You are writing it everyday. The problem is, you don’t know you’re doing it, or how to do it well. We’ll address this more in other essays, but for now, know that you are always participating in your karma — you have a say in it — and if what you say spells trouble, your effort and attitude need adjustments. This is seldom simple to understand! Hence the need for your second Pillar,the Pillar of Guidance, which we’ll get to in a moment.
For the time being, what you must know about the relevance of Right Effort and Right Attitude toward your life and practice, is that, at all times, unceasingly, you are moving either toward the Center and its Light or away from it. The choice is yours; the power to exercise that choice is another matter.
The Fortitude of Right Effort, in simple terms, applies largely to taking good care of yourself and doing what is right in your daily life. If you are unclean in your habits, physically and mentally, or if you are doing things that bring disharmony and undue suffering to yourself and others, you stand little chance of making progress without serious repentance and reconciliation — a process that involves acknowledgment, introspection and forgiveness of transgressions against Harmony. If your life is full of stressful activities that agitate your mind, causing resistance to your health and practice, you are not applying Right Effort. We all have hiccups in life that demand a lot from us; we get less sleep and are under pressure from time to time. Sometimes we get frustrated and lose our temper or have a rough day and say something we could have said differently. It happens; it’s OK. What is important is that these things do not become a pattern unchecked. And if you are in such a pattern, it must be acknowledged and Right Effort should be engaged to Work toward sorting it.
The Fortitude of Right Attitude means you are applying your Inner Self in an intense manner toward your life and practice. It means that discernment, acceptance, equanimity and contentment are the virtues you take to Heart in your daily life. When this is a valued part of your practice, you become healthier physically and mentally, which in turn assists in purifying and strengthening your Chi (氣, the Life Energy) and Yi (意, the Mind Power). Needless to say, these are vital to the practice.
2. The Pillar of Right Guidance
The second of the Four Pillars of Practice is called the Pillar of Right Guidance (Master & Method). You would not attempt to climb Mount Everest without a guide and significant knowledge and practice of a sophisticated climbing methodology. Even if you’re the best climber in the whole world, you’d need a guide to show you the way if you haven’t been already yourself. You wouldn’t wonder around in a jungle without a guide, you’d be lost for sure, left to starve or die of exposure to the intense elements, or perhaps you’d be eaten by a beast or suffer the venom of a snake. It is this way too with a Spiritual practice!
It never ceases to amaze me the naivety of people attempting to engage a Spiritual practice; they erroneously assume that because they are a human being that they are by necessity connected to their Divine Source and need not Work too hard or tread carefully. It is True that we are all a part of the Great Eternal One; however, until you Realize how to see and navigate this Way, you are in grave danger of being mislead far away from your True Goal. Don’t assume everything is going fine with your Spiritual Life; learn to truly see and feel what is going on in the unseen dimensions and their energies. And likewise, don’t assume that this is something you can just make up as you go along.
If you are inexperienced at automobile engineering, for example, you wouldn’t try to design and build a car without significant study and experience — if you are smart that is. You may have a general idea what a car does, that it has four wheels, an engine, some electronics and a steering wheel. Yet if you were to set about designing and building a car from scratch, you’d have to try many, many times to get it right. And each car you attempt to build could be compared to a whole lifetime attempting a Spiritual practice. You may have seen or ridden in fantastic cars in your life, just like you may have had very legitimate and powerful, life-affirming epiphanies about Spirituality and the nature of Truth. But make no mistake; these wonderful blessings make you no more a Tried-and-True Spiritual Master than does riding in a car make you an automotive engineer!
This is why the Guide, that is, the Master and the Method, are One, and inseparable from one another. Of course there is no Master without a Method to produce him or her, nor can the Method be of service without a Master to produce. As such, it is the Master and Method as a Unified Light that Guides the student. Without the Master and Method the student will most likely be easily twisted far off course. Our sacred Taichi Tao texts say:
“A mistake of inches, if allowed to develop, amounts to the folly of a thousand miles.” (Master Wong Chung-Yua, 2nd Taichi Sutra, ca.1600)
What this means is that when you begin your course improperly, or if once on the Path, your course is changed even slightly, without your knowing it, by the time you make the realization that you are in error, you may be very far off course. This is like making a minor miscalculation in navigating your boat while far out to sea. By the time you realize your mistake, you may be hundreds of miles off course. Or think of launching a spacecraft to the moon. When NASA does its countdown, it is because the launch time must be extremely precise, otherwise their craft will overshoot the moon by many thousands of miles. To be sure, NASA is very good at what they do. They have spent billions of dollars and decades of research with the most brilliant minds in science so as to understand how to navigate spacecraft into outerspace, through outerspace, and many times, back down to earth. This is all very complex stuff! So if you want to go to the moon or to outerspace, it makes a lot of sense to let NASA be your guide and method, since they know very well what they’re doing.
Likewise trying to launch a successful Spiritual practice by simply reading books about it, dabbling in this or that teaching, or even worse, buying into the vast variety of hocus-pocus that pervades the modern “spiritual marketplace,” is like trying to get into outerspace and land on the moon simply by reading a few books about rocket science (most of which you probably won’t understand), building a rocket out of spare parts in your garage, aiming your rickety rocket at the moon, and lighting the fuse, all the while hoping that if you are lucky enough to escape the gravity of the Earth, you’ll somehow be lucky enough to land on that relatively tiny little moon. Laughable, isn’t it?
This is not to say that a part of the Path does not involve making mistakes! Of course there are many mistakes to make, and many that must be made. The Spiritual practice is — all things considered — an investment in loss. Whether you may be so blessed as to actually Understand this principle is a Grace auspiciously shone only upon the weary and grateful [by "Grace" I do not mean "unmerited," but rather a bestowal of the "Good Fortune" of Natural Law]. This is a process valuable only when the losses are weighed and measured for their true worth — that is, when you have a Guide-rule to set you straight once more. When one engages the practice properly, the Method itself is both the stone over which the student will trip and the Guide-rule by which he will find the Way once more. In fact, part of the Master’s Methodology is tripping the student up under calculated circumstances — repeatedly — so that the student may come to Understand and make applicable use of various facets of the nature of Truth and Harmony, by contrast to that which does not actually function as a viable truth.
It is only through a fundamental breakdown of one’s supposed, self-identified individual being and a unification and re-alginment of one’s Energies that one may come to Realize the True Nature of Being and the Harmony Herein. It is a mistake to think of a Master and Method as that which is present to assure the student’s comfort and personal security in any manner by which the illusory, identified-self may Recognize it! I tell you, the Master is the last place one ought to look for ego-sought security, for that is one thing he will seldom give you — and if he does, he has good reason for it. In fact, the Master does well to throw his dearest students upon the utter insecurity of life — because those who have Nothing on which to depend find the Way! It is only the student’s Spiritual security that the Master guards and protects; and to this end his Work is truly valuable.
Yes, I cannot urge you strongly enough on the importance of the Pillar of Guidance (Master and Method)! Within this Pillar, we find four very important Fortitudes: the Fortitude of Devotion,the Fortitude of Meditation, the Fortitude of Contemplation, and the Fortitude of Renunciation — otherwise known as the Fortitude of Non-Action Power. While these virtues are certainly prevalent within a great number of Spiritual systems, they are all too often misunderstood or oversimplified — especially today.
First of all, these Fortitudes are not randomly ordered — none of them are, nor are the Pillars. It is wise to give priority to the Pillars and the Fortitudes in the proper succession. For instance, if the practitioner’s Heart and Mind is not Centered in Devotion, he cannot Meditate correctly; if he is not well accomplished in Meditation, he cannot Contemplate correctly; and if his Contemplation has not brought him to abide in a very high degree of Understanding and Connection, his Renunciation efforts will result only in mere destitution — as Siddhartha Gautama himself discovered before he became the Buddha.
So what does Devotion mean? It does not mean quixotic admiration or groveling supplication to some idol or guru, no. In fact, this is counterproductive, and only leads to confusion and delusion. Devotion, in its simplest form, means sincerity, discipline and dedication toward the Method, and auspicious appreciation and reverence for the Masters who have painstaking preserved that Method, and who offer Guidance in its Way. Within the Heart and Mind, Devotion is the Conscious Energy of the virtues of gratitude and adoration to the Divine Nature of which All Beings are Ultimately a part, and it is the inextinguishable fire cultivated in the Heart to meet this Way. The Heart’s Devotion is that which supplies a quality change in the Energy of the Mind (Yi) so that it may become an adequate vessel to receive Knowledge and Awareness of the Spirit (Shen, 神). Not to be confused with Right Attitude (which is the general sense of appropriate character that promotes success in the Spiritual practice), the Fortitude of Devotion is more specific to the ardor and dedication toward the Way and it’s components. It is, most importantly, the essential quality one takes to Heart during Meditation (at least until the Realization is reached, so to assure purity of transition).
Many people try to precede Devotion with Meditation, especially in our modern world, where it is becoming more and more fashionable to “meditate.” While outwardly this seems like a very good thing, it does not necessarily fill me with delight, for quite often I see quantities of poor creatures rushing into something they don’t understand. I have seen people who have “meditated” regularly for years, and who had not achieved the aim of Meditation, or had in some cases become unbalanced and even more agitated than before, because they had not Recognized — or were not prepared to Recognize — that certain conditions have to be met before one can Meditate correctly and with proper efficacy. It is impossible to truly Meditate if one has no sincerity, discipline or dedication toward their “practice.” While sitting quietly and doing your best not to let your mind wander unchecked may have some basic benefits of stress management and inner-personal piety, True Meditation — and the Energetic dynamics thereof — is not for the hobbyist. How can you Meditate dynamically if you do not have a high ideal toward Ultimate Realization; how can you truly Meditate if you do not seek to free yourself from your disingenuous and incessant thinking, unprincipled habits, and destructive patterns. Do you think that I’m being too harsh? If so, I tell you truly, it is the product of unclear thinking.
Most people, in fact, will begin with a practice in some kind of meditation before they Recognize the true meaning of Devotion. And ever so slowly, little by little, they will take baby steps toward a purer Mind, and if they are not too far from the Center and its Light, they may by Grace begin to feel Devotion. Many, unfortunately, don’t make it and just give up. Some, even go mad or become depressed. No, you cannot truly Meditate until you have overcome certain weaknesses and Recognized certain Truths. Paradoxically, this often requires the inspirations and insights that arise in Meditation. This is precisely why, in the Taichi Tao Method, we begin teaching the Moving-Meditation Method prior to insisting on Devotion. Of course we encourage sincerity and discipline within the Moving-Meditation practice, but we know that — for many practitioners — it is only when the Moving-Meditation breaks down the blockages, re-alignes, re-integrates and synchronizes the indwelling Flow Patterns, beginning to uncover the inherent quality of traits of Natural Being, that the practitioner will finally begin to Realize the utterly profound and imperative nature of Devotion. This Realization will completely revise the practitioner’s Understanding and Efforts toward Meditation. It is only at this time when we can say that the practitioner is truly Meditating — truly engaging Movement, Breath, Mind, Heart, Energy, and Spirit, all in one coordinated and uninterrupted manner.
At this stage, the practitioner, having achieved the synchronization of Heartfelt Devotion and Meditation, begins to purify by leaps and bounds, soaring like a rocket toward the Center and its Light. This type of Meditation versus the “oversimplified” and largely misunderstood type I previously described is like comparing the sun’s light, power, and influence on life to that of a wispy candlelight near an open window, in danger of being extinguished. Sure a candle is useful, but it is no sun! So when the practitioner of Meditation, via Devotion, becomes radiant, like the power of the sun, and after significant practice and purification, the practitioner begins to experience what is known as “Natural Awareness.” Natural Awareness is a kind of Connection that, while not yet necessarily complete, brings the practitioner into a ultra-aware, or even psychic state — to a degree depending on the practitioner’s level of progress — wherein she is able to Connect, “send a signal,” and “retrieve a reply” from the Ultra-Intelligent Network of Tao. She Communicates using the fusion of Mind and Energy and interacts with her environment by way of “non-ordinary” means.
It is from this paradigm and achievement that the practitioner may have the Clarity to Contemplate correctly. Otherwise, Contemplation, the place where many philosophers and religious thinkers begin, will ultimately go the way of superstition, ideology, wishful thinking and mislead reasoning — even where their personal conviction supports an illusion of objectivity. It is not possible to even begin to comprehend the Unlimited Intelligence of the Divine without having a deeply experiential Connection to its Cosmic Matrix. To imagine otherwise would be as preposterous as imagining a housefly capable of thinking like a human being.
Imagine all of the information, knowledge, and human experience amassed in the history of the human race compressed into a single molecule. It still would not compare to the potency of Ultimate Consciousness and its Supreme Intelligence. Not even close. It makes no sense at all to try to comprehend the True Way of the Infinite Divine Power from the perspective of human thinking. Sure human philosophical and theological thinking are more often well-meaning and very compelling, but it is the equivalent of attempting to split an atom with a butter knife; the idea is right, but the instrument is completely insufficient and incapable of achieving the task. To truly Understand requires a kind of super-intensive Contemplative introspection that is beyond words and concepts. And although this requires Guidance to achieve, it is an Understanding that naturally arises through pure Transcendental Connected Consciousness.
Contemplation, in the manner we discuss here, is not a linear, analytical interpretation of thoughts organizing to form an idea. And it is not a dialogue within. Correct Contemplation functions more like a data retrieval application or an internet search engine. Now that doesn’t mean you just sit back, relax and wait for all your questions to be answered — be careful! You must evolve into the ability to Connect to the Network, “send a signal” using the appropriate frequency, wave length and direction, with intensive concentration (but without tension and without getting stuck), and remain open to “receive the reply” from the Network. Needless to say, this requires significant training in order to Understand and to perform properly. If you do not have Guidance, you may get a “wrong number” when you try to make the “call,” or you will not be able to discern between various “reply” sources. This has proven time and again — in those ill-equipt to touch the Network — to be a disaster. For example, many people simply imaginethey connect to something and let their imagination get “carried away”. Others achieve a measure of actual ability, but don’t make it all they way to the Network. That is, they connect to a “higher consciousness” or entity from the Spiritual Dimension — or other hyper-dimensional planes — that is impersonating a deity or providing wrong information. This is yet another reason for Guidance — as there are forces at work that the student or novice is inadequately prepared to understand.
Only after you have come this far with your training will you begin to be qualified for Renunciation. This is a very challenging Fortitude to Understand and achieve, much less explain. It takes many years of training to Understand correctly. I will offer my very best attempt to express its meaning here; be forewarned however, that this is not something that can be understood intellectually — even partially. Even the term “Renunciation” is insufficient. It is quite an achievement, actually. Perhaps we should call it “Achieved Renunciation,” yet even this term is considerably lacking; it loosely describes the vehicle for what is possible from this achievement, but the effect of the achievement we call, “Non-Action Power” — which I’ll explain soon. This Fortitude may be best expressed with a phrase: “the Free Flow and Expression of Tao through the Connected, True Being State.”
NOTE: There is not really any single term — from the Chinese — that may be applied to this meaning of “Renunciation.” Rather, to express it’s meaning clearly — from a conceptual perspective — we need to understand several Taoist terms and how they relate to one another. Perhaps the most conventionally relevant term is, “Bù yǒu” (不有), translated literally,“do not have,” or, “no possession,” but meaning contextually, “have without possessing.” However, Bù yǒu has other connotations and does not stand alone as an adequate qualifier for our purposes here. The most well-known Taoist term implying Renunciation is, perhaps, “Wú-Wèi” (無爲), translated literally, ”Non-Action,” or contextually, “Non-Action Power” — but this term alone needs much explanation, as its full meaning is widely misunderstood by contemporary philosophers and translators. Another term included in our Understanding of Renunciation is “Shǒu Jìng” (守靜), translated literally, “Keeping Stillness,” or contextually, “Keeping the Still Essence.” ["Jìng" (靜) means "Essence," as in Chinese Medicine, Taichi, Chi Gong, etc. — not to be confused with "Jìn" (勁), the"Internal Power"; "Jìng" (靜) and "Jìn" (勁) are two words that are almost indistinguishable to the Western ear, but their respective meaning is very different]. Finally, the term “Wúsī” (無私), translated most succinctly, “No-self,” is our most relevant qualifier descriptive of Renunciation, as it marks the indispensable Achieved Renunciation of the grasping identified-self — the only manner of Being sufficiently empty to allow the Flow of Tao to permeate. A moniker used in Taoism to summarize these qualities is, “Zhēnrén” (真人, True Being).
The Renunciation to which I refer here is not exclusively the Practitioner’s dismissal of material possessions and worldly affairs so as to free oneself of responsibilities, stress and obligations for the purpose of progressing in the Path. This type of “renunciation,” we refer to as Simplification and is meant to occur naturally and gradually. While this Simplification — also an applicable meaning of Bù yǒu, but to a lessor extent — is an important aspect to the practice, it is an attribute primarily of the Pillar of Right Lifestyle. Moreover, Simplification will be pertinent to different people in various ways, due to each practitioner’s specific karma and life circumstance. Again, Simplification is a natural reduction of worldly attachments and possessions that occurs like a kind of molting process within the practitioner via the practice, and ought not be rushed. This Effort is of course a component to the eventual Realization of the fuller expression of Achieved Renunciation as I mean it here.
In the old days of monastic Taoism, those seeking the Tao would leave behind their worldly life and reside within the temple and mountain communities where the Taichi Tao Teaching was offered. These monks (and nuns) would live very simply with few worldly possessions in an Effort to commit themselves completely to Tao and the practice. This type of “renunciation” was therefore an attribute of Right Lifestyle and of Devotion — of complete dedication and commitment to the practice. In other words, this was among the first stages of their practice — the first Fortitude of Method — not the fourth Fortitude, Achieved Renunciation, as outlined here.
You see, these monks beginning their serious study of the Teachings would give up the distractions of worldly pursuits so to engage completely in the Path, but they still — at this point — had themselves, and the comfort of the temple. They had not yet been achieved in Renunciation so to go out into the world and remain an Achieved Renunciate — a Master Living his Work. The Taichi Tao Practice was never intended to be a hobby or merely a Method of achieving Enlightenment for oneself so to live a nice, easy life unburdened by the world. To be sure, such an achievement is key, but it is the beginning of one’s True Work, not the end! Once a Master is prepared and qualified to brave the Way for the benefit of All Beings, this Worker of Tao, this True Being (Zhēnrén) — this “Stream Enterer” (as they say in Buddhism), this “Servant of Everyone” (as Jesus called it) — is sent out from the temple and does not take anything with him but the Power of Tao within. He is not the keeper of possessions, and has forgotten even the identified-self he once was. Therefore, he is the Achieved Renunciate, and goes out to Work for the sake of All Beings [never mind for now those classical "Taoist" philosophical misunderstandings of the value in uselessness, which I'll address in a later essay].
So, what I mean by “Achieved Renunciation” is not merely the rejection of worldly possessions, ideas, or the refusal to wear anything but a monk’s robe. The true meaning of the word from a Taichi Tao perspective is to Hold the Center (Shǒu Jìng) — the Still Essence — and allow the No-self Being (Wúsī) to Flow with the Way in Connection to its Harmony so that you may have without possessing (Bù yǒu) and achieve the Good Work through Non-Action Power (Wú-Wèi) with far fewer tangles and shortcomings of conventionality. In this Way, the Master Simply Is what he is meant to be: True Being (Zhēnrén). The highest achievement of this occurs in deep Meditation. Herein, as in daily life, the upholder of Achieved Renunciation neither rejects nor claims anything coming to him or moving away. He Simply Holds the Center — aware only via this — and lets this Connection continue to Transduce and Broadcast (Converge, Amplify and Radiate) the Power of Tao.
Lao Tzu (老子) in the Tao Te Ching (道德經) calls this “Wú-Wèi” — the Non-Action Power. Myriad philosophers and translators most usually surmise Wú-Wèi to mean passive detachment toward trivial matters, or a natural and effortless arising of action stemming from a propensity to be genuine. While these are certainly attributes to the bearer of Wú-Wèi, there is a far deeper meaning that is always overlooked by those who have not been trained so to achieve it.
[Wú-Wèi] is the most important concept and teaching of Lao Tzu, but is the most misunderstood… Most emperors [of China], scholars, advisors, and intellectuals refer to Lao Tzu’s reference to “Non-Action” with the conventional understanding of doing nothing [making no effort]. Therefore the rulers disfavored Lao Tzu’s teaching and favored Confucius’ teaching which emphasizes the enforcement of social order, ruling by rank, and busy governance. Lao Tzu’s teaching asked rulers to empty their polluted thoughts, throw away artificial knowledge, and Meditate to Connect back to their Life Energy [氣, Chi] and the Power of Te [德, Innermost Being — fundamentally Tao]. From here they would be able to “Broadcast” the intended message to the world: to repel, to attract, to teach, to bless, to bring peace, to achieve harmony, to rule simply by sending the proper message through the Te Power. ~Taichi Tao Grandmaster Waysun Liao, from: “Nine Night’s with the Taoist Master” – Deluxe Study Edition; Glossary of Terms, p.380, Taichi Tao Productions
So indeed Wú-Wèi involves breaking with conventionality and restoring one’s genuine Being so to Connect to, and BE in Harmony with, the All-Pervasive and Omnipotent Power of Tao. It is from Here that the Master is able to Broadcast the signal of Tao’s Virtue to others through the All-Pervasive Network of Tao — something conventionally and widely regarded as not possible. And yet, this is actually quite scientifically viable, as we are coming to discover with our more advanced understandings of quantum physics. And the empirical evidence for Non-Action Power is most often immediately apparent to anyone who has ever trained in the Presence of a Taichi Tao Master. Indeed, Non-Action Power is central to Lao Tzu’s message, and paramount to the Taichi Tao Teachings. Without Wú-Wèi, in fact, the Teachings and the practice make very little sense; which is to say, without Non-Action Power, the practice is one of mere ideology and quixotic idealism. This Non-Action Power is the Way of Tao, the Way of Creation, and the Way of the Taichi Tao Master.
I know that this explanation of Wú-Wèi is difficult for many to swallow. But this is due to lack of training and the fetter of doubt, nothing more. And while there may be many contributing factors to this doubt, the practice — engaged properly — will remove it by virtue of its Way. Where we may recover some solace for now is in a much later, parallel term from the Taichi Practice. As mentioned in the preface to this essay, Taoist Teachings — where texts and terminology are concerned — arose from centuries of commentary, far-spread provinces, cultural contexts, and linguistic dialects. As such, many terms have come to describe the same or similar meanings. One example of this is from a term coined most likely sometime after the 12th Century, many centuries after Lao Tzu’s use of the term, “Wú-Wèi.” This term, ”Dìng Jìn,” (定勁), means literally the “Still Power,” or, “Stable Power,” but in context to its application in the practice means, “Radiant Power of Stillness,” or, in line with Wú-Wèi, “Broadcasting Power” [see TaiChi Classics, by Waysun Liao, Shambhala] In other words, it is from the Stability of Stillness (Dìng) that the Internal Power (Jìn) may be Broadcast outward or Transferred (know as “Fā Jìn,” 發勁) to a location beyond the body. While the two terms, “Wú-Wèi” and “Dìng Jìn,” have slightly different implications in meanings (for example, “Din Jìn” is very specific while “Wú-Wèi” has a broader contextual meaning) they are nonetheless strikingly similar in light of the explanation provided here.
So you may wonder, “Why call it this Fortitude ’Renunciation’ if it needs so much explanation to define; why not just call it Non-Action Poweror True Being?” Well, would that be any easier to define? No, of course not. To be sure, in the closed circle of Masters and disciples, we do refer to the terms “Wú-Wèi” and “Zhēnrén” with regard to this Fortitude. To be sure, seldom would a Master of Taichi Tao even bother to significantly engage these topics in conversation before a student is well-equipted to Understand the gravity of the subject. Without sufficient training, these are only very vague ideas, and in any case a more difficult reference to appreciate than the term, “Renunciation.” Yet since this Fortitude is such a major part of the Master’s Work and Alchemical Process — that extends throughout life and the success of this Work — I will say a little bit more about it before moving on.
Imagine attempting to drive your car through town; not so hard, right? Now imagine driving your car blind! It’s a different story now! The philosophical explanation of Wú-Wèi might have you convinced that Non-Action means not doing anything — just letting the world get on with itself — or that if you are sufficiently genuine, your car won’t crash when you try to drive it blind! In a sense, this is not necessarily a wrong interpretation. Indeed, non-interference and genuineness are a great virtues, and it’s all very well and manageable if nothing is going on. A blind man can sit on the side of the road and talk all day about genuineness and not doing and how well it works for him, but as soon as the Movement sets him on his Way, he might find otherwise. Indeed the blind man can sit on the side of the road, but can he sit behind the wheel of a car and drive it? Of course not. You must possess the Prowess to, analogously speaking, sit in the car and drive it. This is analogous to True Non-Action Power!
Indeed, the vehicle and the road are doing all the Work, the Master is simply engaging it – guiding without trying to control. Similarly to driving your car, indeed you sit in relative Stillness to what is occurring around you, yet you retain the Ability and Power to accelerate, slow down, stop, go, turn, etc. In other words, you don’t just sit there, you don’t do as little as possible, you certainly don’t fumble around blind hoping not to crash. No, you Follow the “Road,” Minding it Carefully, so as to arrive at your destination, and achieve all your Work along the Way. Yes, the Master in Non-Action is far more productive than a whole crew of very hard workers. He is aligned to the Great Creative Flow of Tao. He drives his vehicle along the Way and achieves many Good Works, while others crash into each other and flounder at the roadside.
The Master is qualified to drive her vehicle; she has earned herself the Capable Vehicle; she can Follow the Path, and she can see to avoid the obstacles. Just like the state won’t give you a license to drive if you are blind or if you can’t handle the job, so the Tao won’t give you the glorious Power of Wú-Wèi until you prove yourself qualified. When Jesus said, “Seek the Kingdom of Heaven above all else and God will Give you Everything you need,” he was speaking of the Non-Action Power from the seat of True Being. The question is not whether “God” will do “His” part, but whether you will do your’s to put the “Kingdom” above all else! Can you reallydo that?
3. The Pillar of Right Place
The third of the Four Pillars of Practice is the Pillar of Right Place. Its Fortitudes are: the Fortitude of Physical Place, the Fortitude of Place in Time, the Fortitude of Mental Place, and the Fortitude of Spiritual Place. These correspond to their respective karma and can thus be called the Four Fortitudes of Karmic Placement. To truly Understand their value and importance, like all the Pillars and Fortitudes, these require significant training and practice. We will touch briefly on them here.
The first of the Four Fortitudes of Karmic Placement, the Fortitude of Physical Place, of course means that you have a space in which to do your practice that is reasonably quiet and pleasant, so that you can have a high quality practice. But this is only the surface meaning. The deeper meaning of Physical Place, as it pertains to you karmically, means that you are blessed just to have a physical body in the physical world! The relevance of this, at first, escapes most people. “What’s so great about having a physical body in the physical world?” They ask. “Do billions of people not also have this?” The answer of course is, yes, but this fact does not make the phenomenon of human birth any less magnificent and inspiring. The fact that your Consciousness is situated within the living human body is a remarkable thing philosophically, scientifically, poetically, and Spiritually! What it means is that you have a human body, Life Energy, and the time and circumstances that these provide to Work to refine your Consciousness and ultimately to eventually become what you are truly meant to BE.
You are a Being in transition; All Beings are. But humankind is vastly different. Some of us even have the opportunity to Transcend to a totally different dimension of Being; we are the highest frequency of Conscious Beings still having Life Energy and the physical body. I could go on about the tremendous details and significance of this, but it would take us off topic. For now, simply Recognize the plain and simple Truth, that being a human being is a fantastically marvelous opportunity through which to experience your realizations! In fact, unless you are a human being, you won’t realize much of anything at all. The Taoist perspective here is essentially identical to that of Buddhism and Hinduism: only the Human Realm provides enough suffering to furnish the impetus and motivation to Work for Enlightenment and to Understand the Power of Compassion through Knowledge of suffering, and enough intelligence to Recognize why it is necessary and how to achieve it — that is should you be capable of this Recognition. If so, there is an extraordinary potential hidden inside the human Life Opportunity. If it is Awakened it Transforms into a much higher plane of Consciousness — beyond the limitations of the human body and the identified-self. The experience of this Higher Consciousness is our Ultimate Potential and our True Nature. This is the Ultimate Aim of the human Life Opportunity — to abide in the Ultimate Grace of Enlightenment, and to assist others to attain the same.
The second of the Four Fortitudes of Karmic Placement is the Fortitude of Place in Time. In simple terms, it must be the Right Time in your life to begin the practice. If you’re just a little baby for example, it’s not your Place in Time to begin practice. Likewise, if you’re at the very end of your life, it may be too late. To be sure, if this is the case, you still ought to practice, for every little bit helps, and even a very small shift in your Understanding may mean a more favorable karmic condition in the next life — not to mention, your practice will benefit others as well, and this is obviously of far greater importance. Yes, it’s never too late to begin, but it is very important that your life conditions permit the practice. This has to do with the Karma of Time. Ideally, of course, you establish your practice firmly as soon as possible.
The Fortitude of Place in Time, on a deeper layer, pertains to the much bigger picture of time; are you born into a time in history, in our highly variable human story, where the Teaching and the Practice is available to you? For instance, if you are born into modern totalitarian China, Spiritual practice may be illegal, depending on how seriously you want to take it. Sure you can practice Buddhism if you agree to perform for tourists and let them snap pictures of you all day long like a monkey in a zoo. Or if you are born into war-torn Afghanistan, the Taliban may kill you in the public square for even talking about any Spiritual practice or anything else beyond their corrupt and corrosive ideology. Even if you tried to practice in secret, the constant threat of injury or death, the strenuous economic conditions, and the abominable healthcare situation would likely make quality practice impossible.
Now you may think that these examples are relevant more to Physical Place than Place in Time, but in fact, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the physical location. The Taichi Tao Practice, for instance, was born in China, and Afghanistan once thrived with Sufi mysticism, and inshallah, will again when the political winds calm. So, you see, it’s all about the Place in Time in which the culture of a given nation is right for practice, and whether your karma has Placed you within the appropriate Time.
The third Fortitude of Karmic Placement is the Fortitude of Mental Place, also called the Fortitude of Right Recognition. This is our most delicate and controversial aspect to the spiritual practice, so we’ll dedicate a good deal of delicate explanation to it.
To possess this Fortitude means that you have the certain quality of mental faculty in which to Recognize and comprehend the Spiritual Path and your fundamental need for it. Believe it or not, some of the most educated and clever people in our world do not Recognize this. Others Recognize that practice is important but then “rationalize” — or get trapped by corrupt influences — that since they are beings of the One Source that they don’t need to do anything precise to Be Spiritual, or that since they are a part of the One Perfection, they are implicitly perfect without practice. While this is Ultimately True, it does us little service in a relative realm where the dichotomy of “perfect” and imperfect reign. Without practice, we are ignorant! Recognition of this is our “Saving Grace”.
Taoism and Buddhism both correctly identify the source of all suffering as attachment born of ignorance. Krishna also came down hard on ignorance as the source of doubt that holds human beings apart from the Essential Truth. And Jesus encouraged his Followers to Believe — that is, to Recognize and Live by the firm conviction of this Recognition (how this teaching was grossly misinterpreted is another story). Why then do many very clever and educated people miss it? Surely they are not ignorant; they’ve spent lots of time and money learning lots of really impressive stuff! Well, it’s not their effort that is in error, it’s only their aim and the fact that they have had no proper Inspiration or Guidance.
A lawyer may not know how to fix a car. Despite all his long and very expensive education, he simply didn’t study auto mechanics. And a doctor may be able to perform a complicated and very helpful surgery, but that same doctor will most likely be clueless when it comes to engineering a bridge. It’s not that these people couldn’t learn this stuff if they wanted to, it’s simply that their karma (that is, their destiny and the choices they’ve made) has taken them in another direction. And this certainly doesn’t mean that if you’re a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer that you can’t be a Spiritual practitioner. You can of course do both your Spiritual practice and your worldly work (so long as it is not counterproductive to the Fortitude of Right Livelihood).
So why have so many ambitious and educated people opted not to Work in the Spiritual Way? This is another matter altogether. Jesus said, “I have come to call not those who think themselves righteous, but those who know they have fallen and Recognize their need for the Teacher.” You see, it is this specific quality of Mind that brings the Right Recognition that there is suffering and incompleteness in oneself and in the world, and that steps can be (and ought to be) taken to reconcile this. This Fortitude of Right Recognition allows us the Grace to see the need for practice and the Power it promises — the Power to reconcile ourselves and to Work in the Subtle Realm to help countless others who, as if missing some Vital Spark of True Consciousness, are unable to Connect to and Understand the Truth of the Universal Way. This is precisely why, in fact, in the Jesus Teachings, the most repeated phrase is, “May those with ears to hear, Listen and Understand.” He was referring to those with the karmic Grace of Right Recognition; to those who actually seek the Kingdom of Heaven; to those who Rightly Recognize the unnecessarily harsh and dysfunctional paradigm that predominates the man-made, man-governed, man-dominated world wherein, “The rulers of the world lord it over you.”
It is completely True what the Buddha said, “Life is suffering.” This is not meant to bring you down; indeed it is meant to empower you! It simply means that suffering is implicit to life in the body, and that it is our primary motivator for the pursuit of happiness — something virtually all living beings seek. If the Truth of suffering is properly Recognized, it elevates and motivates us to seek Liberation, and advocates the Realization of Compassion toward All Beings; if it is not Recognized, we are instead motivated only toward selfish attachment to temporary and deficient pleasures — which ultimately supplies more suffering for ourselves and for others (however unapparent this may be via ignorance of it). Consequently, the Way to reconcile suffering is to first Recognize the Truth of it and our essential need for the Spiritual Path (True esoteric Work) as the only viable means to Understand its value. The Truth of suffering remains True whether it is Recognized or not, so we may as well Recognize it! Furthermore, it is only through this Right Recognition that suffering is useful; hiding from it, ignoring it, disguising it, or justifying it is only contributing to it — in ourselves and in others. If suffering is Recognized, we can take the next steps to reconcile it; otherwise it is only compounded.
In our modern world, we have many wonderful luxuries that distract us and advocate the erroneous belief that we can find very high levels of satisfaction, joy and peace in material and temporary things. The Buddha was not suggesting that it is merely our deficient desires toward nonessential things like money surplus, social status, material possessions, and romance, that are the cause of suffering; but also, our need for basic things that all of us want and value such as food, health, comfort, vitality, and even life itself. The fact is, in this life, if you don’t have what you want, or can’t get what you want, especially if you feel you really need or deserve it, then you will suffer. If you get what you want but it is taken from you, you will suffer. If you get what you want and you can hold onto it, you may perhaps be temporarily satisfied, but soon you’ll want more or something different, and so you will suffer. And even if you get more and more of what you want, you’ll be a prisoner to it, and so you will suffer.
Let’s say you want a billion dollars. You make up your mind that this is your goal. You work and toil to get it. You scrape and scrounge so hard your spouse and your real friends leave you, only to be replaced by superficial, gold-diggers who pretend to like you so long as you are serving their interests. Your hair falls out, you forget what it means to really Love, and you get an ulcer. You spend more time and money in therapy just to justify your insatiable greed, and you take pills for the ulcer that give you a host of problematic side-affects. Eventually you get cancer. You die well before your time a miserable, unfit shadow of a human being who never really got to enjoy life apart from the expensive parties and licentious activities that ultimately left you only with hangovers, poor health, and heartache or worse. Maybe you got the billion dollars, maybe you didn’t. Does it really matter anymore?
“But that’s not me,” you’ll say. “I’m not like that at all.” No, perhaps not, but if you look closely, it won’t be hard to Recognize that there is an underlying dissatisfaction or sorrow somewhere in your life; some tragic feeling of loss; some undesirable fault or ill-health; some nagging uncertainty; some wish to be more or better than you are; some yearning that may never be; some horrible thing you did or part of you that you wonder if you’ll ever be able to forgive; or, if you are really so out of touch with yourself, perhaps you won’t notice until you are tried, but then surely your shortcomings will emerge and revealed your deficiencies will be. This is suffering, or at the very least, the root cause of it. And Recognize it or not, ignorance of such matters through lack of introspection or by way of denial is still suffering; ignorance of discontentment and its causes is not contentment. It is not True that old axiom: “Ignorance is bliss.” Ignorance is actually just suffering without the good sense to see why.
Believe it or not, the Truth that because you have life, so there will be suffering is actually a very good thing! What it really means is that you have an Opportunity to be Free — that you have the Opportunity to Realize your True, Compassionate, Liberated Being! You see, the Buddha didn’t just say, “Life is suffering.” No, there’s more. He also said, (I paraphrase): there is an identifiable cause to all suffering; it is very much possible to end suffering; and the Way to do this is through Right Practice. Together these were coinedthe Four Nobel Truths. And together only do they have any Power. Yet it is most relevant to Recognize the first Truth first! Life is not perfect, you are not perfect, material and temporary things will never make you perfect, in fact, you’re far from perfect, and so, you suffer, and because you suffer you contribute to the suffering of others, and therefore, the whole world suffers. You suffer because you were born; you suffer because you become ill, you suffer because you age, and you suffer because you are going to die.
Acceptance of the Truth of suffering is very much key to the Fortitude of Mental Place — the Grace of Right Recognition. This Grace is the Right Recognition of the Truth that you are not righteous, that you have fallen far from the ideal you and from your True Nature, and that you are in need of the Teacher, the Practice, and the Promise of its Power.
Most people cannot Recognize this Truth, believe it or not. They are totally blind to it and will argue against it with fervor, despite the fact that, under discerning scrutiny, their argument will unravel and expose the Truth. Or they will insist that all this Spirituality stuff is nonsense; or they will insist that they already know because they read some books or did a bit of some practice here and there; or because they are already assured unfettered access to Heaven because of their religious birthright; or because they were taught in school or by their friends and family that this material and temporary life is all there is and we can only make the best of it. Ironically, even if any of these points were actually the case, the Truth would still be the same Truth — that is why the Followers of Buddha deemed it Noble. The fact that there is any argument at all is proof that there is ignorance to the Truth, attachment to its adversary, and mental agitation blocking you from seeing Clearly. This is not the Right Recognition ofthe Fortitude of Mental Place.
Paradoxically, it is only when a Heart and Soul has suffered enough, that he or she will turn to the Truth to be Healed. Yes, so long as you can bounce from one distraction to another, which is very easy these days, you may imagine you’re doing just fine. But eventually, perhaps when you’re about to die, you’ll see that none of this “stuff” of life is really very important. Or perhaps, you’ll never Recognize the Truth, and you’ll still die, under the pretense of an illusion — maybe even a reasonable illusion, but an illusion all the same — and when you Cross Over, your fractured Heart and Mind will finally Recognize that you are unprepared to make the Transition, and you will be stripped of everything that you thought was “you,” only to suffer death, rebirth, illness and aging all over again, with very little, if any improvement — and that’s if you lived a very upright life.
If, on the other hand, you are in the Grace of Right Recognition, it is not by random chance! Some part of the Consciousness within you has earned this Grace, and set your karma in order to Recognize the Truth. If you are still reading this essay — and not just to find what’s “wrong” about it — you most likely have such Grace within you (at least a degree of it that may be cultivated, should you have the resolve to do so). You are truly blessed, for you have now three of the Four Fortitudes of Karmic Placement! Sure, there are billions of people with the blessing of a human life, and so their Fortitude of Physical Place needs only an actual place to practice — which shouldn’t be too difficult to find. There are far fewer people with the blessing of Place in Time, but still a good number. How many are blessed with the third Fortitude;how many are blessed with theGrace of Right Recognition? Far less than one may hope, unfortunately. And those who would like to have this Grace, or who believe that they do, are all too often fooled and carried off by the adversary of Truth. So, you see, you are very blessed indeed! Let this be a source of Healing Gratitude within you.
But even many who have the Grace of Right Recognition still don’t have the fourth and very necessary Fortitude: a Gateway — that is, a Teacher — specifically one who is available to train the aspiring practitioner. We call this the Fortitude of Spiritual Place,or the Grace of the Way. It means that your karma is very well structured indeed; it means that you are very blessed because you have the Opportunity to walk the Path of the ancient Sages, the Path of the Refinement of Consciousness; it means that you have entered the One Stream that Gives Life and leads you to the Source.
You may initially think that this Fortitude was already covered in the Pillar of Guidance. But take a closer look. Having the Pillar of Guidance and its Fortitudesindeed explains the necessity of the Master and Method, so to Guide you through the thistles and thorns and into the True Way. But the Fortitude of Spiritual Place means that this Teaching is available to you; that the Master is available to you, and that he or she is willing and in a position to Guide you. In other words, the Fortitude of Spiritual Place — the Grace of the Way — means that the Natural Cosmic Authority has elected to provide you an Opportunity to elevate in its ranks, and that it has infused you karmically with the Teacher.
These days, finding a Master Teacher, a True Teacher, who is actually available, capable, and willing to teach you is like finding a needle in a haystack. Indeed this is why so many people these days think that they don’t need a Teacher, or that everything is their “teacher,” or that the teacher is within, or whatever idea they can cling to to feel better about not having an actual Teacher. You can only go so far on your own. While the Pillar of Guidance is like the driver and vehicle that take you to the Right Destination; the Fortitude of Spiritual Place is like the Clear Pathway that allows you to arrive. If I may offer another analogy so to be clear: the Master and Method are like the carpenter and the principles of architecture, while the Grace of the Way is like the use of available building materials; together these build a Good Home with “Space” for you to Live.
If you have all Four Fortitudes of Karmic Placement you are already amongst the most Spiritually Privileged Beings in the Tao, for you are what Jesus referred to as, “the Elect.” How far you take this blessing is up to you. It will depend entirely upon the virtue you cultivate for the Realization of your True Nature. It is Herein where you will be most capable of your Work toward the Ultimate Transformation into the Liberated Creative Consciousness and the assisting of others to achieve the same. This is the Highest Purpose for which you are Ultimately Designed.
The fourth Pillar of Practice is called the Pillar of Right Relationship. It is understood most especially in the context of the two-person or group Meditation practice as the Practice Partner,and on a broader level as the Community [of esoteric participants], often called a “Sangha” in certain traditions. But Right Relationship, and how we approach this concept, also applies — to a different extent and dynamic — to Relationships between family, friends, co-workers, the community at large, strangers on the street who are mysteriously drawn to you, etc. In any case, the Pillar of Right Relationship is the final vital Pillar of Practice. Without Right Relationship we can not have the three most important components of Spirituality and the principles of the Way known to Taoism as the Three Treasures or Three Jewels (三寶, San-Pao): Sharing, Support and Exchange.
NOTE: Many scholars translate the Three Treasures as: Compassion, Humility, and Moderation, respectively. While this is not necessarily incorrect, it should be noted that it is an incomplete over-simplification of the much richer Ancient Chinese Language — as is usually the case with modern translations of ancient wisdom. This common English translation (Compassion, Humility, and Moderation) points only to the character of one who is achieved in what I refer to here as Sharing, Support and Exchange.
Compassion is the quality of Generous Sharing, empathy, nurturing, tenderness, love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, service, pity and benevolence — which are all possible translations of this Treasure, from the Chinese word, “Tz’i” (慈). Tz’i is also the Ancient Chinese word for mother — as in the feminine nurturer from which life itself springs forth. As such, it ought to be noted that True Compassion also involves correcting others and asserting Truth, even when it is painful, so to help them grow.
Humility is the quality that best acts to Support. Take care not to think of Humility as weakness; its investment in the Yielding Nature supplies a return of great Strength! In the Chinese Language, this Treasure actually comes from a phrase meaning “Be not first in the world.” (bù gǎn wéi tiānxià xiān; 不敢為天下先). It is analogous to Jesus’ teaching: “The least is the greatest,” and means, be humble, austere, and unimportant as the artificial world is concerned; this is the Stable Foundation Supporting the practice and by extension, the greater Understanding of Right Relationship.
Finally, Moderation is that which permits the Free Flow of Exchange. It’s Chinese analog, “Jiǎn” (儉), more completely means to refrain [from either excess or deficiency], or to be in between two extremes. Jiǎn is the principle referred to in the Taichi sutra written by Master Wang Tsung-yeuh as, “Too much equals too little,” or otherwise translated: “Be not excessive or deficient.” This principle of Jiǎn is the very principle of complete and equal Exchange.
While there may be some initial resistance to this translation and interpretation of the Three Treasures, please note that what I am defining here is the Principle or Essence of these qualities, so that they may be applicable to diverse facets of their Underlying Nature, rather than assigning them each a particular — and thereby limited — term that then gets twisted at “face-value” depending on certain contexts or the reader’s presuppositions. What I mean by “diverse facets of their Underlying Nature” is like a single light-source shining through a crystal and being refracted heterogeneously through its various facets — yet remaining ultimately universal in nature. Therefore, the term, “Sharing,” for example, can be applicable to much more than just Compassion — and yet it implies Compassion by it’s very nature. Sharing is what we do with Compassion, but it is also what we do with empathy, nurturing, tenderness, love, mercy, kindness, etc. And it is, as well, what we do with teaching, correcting, serving others without profit mindedness, contributing to something greater than ourselves, and Recognizing others as an implicit part of ourselves. Therefore, to say, “Sharing,” rather than, “Compassion,” opens the door to a very broadly applicable perspective, but no less a potent one. This is implied in “Compassion,” if you were to ask me, but not everyone would make that connection so easily; the term, “Sharing,” makes them think more deeply before dismissing the point as “understood.”
The same criterion of diverse facets may work toward the negative, of course, if one is not careful with one’s thinking — which is why we ought not be too over-simplifying with our translations. Depending on the mindset of an observer, a particular noun — such as “Compassion” — may mean something vastly different where its potency of meaning is concerned. Whereas the translations used here (Sharing, Support, Exchange) may be used as nouns, they are also verbs — which denote a flow or action, rather than a specific object to grasp and get stuck on. From the Chinese, these terms are used as adjectives or verbs, but not nouns, so I find it quite restrictive to translate them as things. It’s more comfortable for the reader, perhaps, because when he reads, “Compassion,” his mind grasps and insists, “Oh! I know what that is!” When in fact, he may have only a very vague idea, at best. Whereas when he reads, “Sharing,” he has to think about it: “Sharing? Sharing what? Sharing with whom?” And if he is sufficiently Inspired, he may begin to Work toward Understanding the implications of the action, rather than simply imagining himself to already “get it.” It sends the mind reeling, of course — this absence of a neat little box into which the identified-self may assert it’s “understanding.” So I can see why most translators opt for a tidy noun, instead. However, I’m afraid it looses its true flavor, and “what good is salt when it has lost it’s flavor?”
All Spiritual Teachings have, in essence, derived their values and precepts from the Three Treasures as a manner of how to go about Realizing the virtue of them. The precepts of non-violence, honesty, clarity, compassion, faith, hope, humbleness, trust, love for one’s neighbor, service to others, simplicity, and so on, are all aimed at the Realization of the virtues of Sharing, Support, and Exchange. The entire Universe and All Phenomena rely on the function of the Three Treasures. Sharing is typically the Yin (陰, Nurturing, Compassionate, Embracing, Feminine) function of All Phenomena, while Support may be seen as the Yang (陽, Expanding, Radiant, Structural, Masculine) function of All Phenomena. However, each of these has its respective complimentary quality as well: the Giving, Extending, Issuing aspect of Sharing is its Yang component, while Receiving, Upholding, and Rooting aspects of Support connote its Yin capacity. Exchange is the interaction between these Two Fundamental Forces that Ultimately Create the “Home” of All Phenomena. Without these Three Treasures, nothing exists. It is why the Great Sage Lao Tzu said:
“The Tao begot One. One begot Two. Two begot Three. And Three begot the Ten Thousand Things. The Ten Thousand Things carry Yin and embrace Yang. They achieve Harmony by combining these Forces. “ (Tao Te Ching, ch. 42)
The Wise Master was speaking of the Right Relationship of Harmony through the Ultimate Virtue of the Three Treasures that pervades All Phenomena. It was born of the Ineffable Originless Quality we can only crudely call Tao; this birth gave forth the Supreme-Boundless One; which necessarily became the Two Complimentary Forces of Sharing and Support; which provide dimension for Exchange; which Creates the “Ten Thousand Things” (a poetic ancient term meaning “Everything”); which expresses itself as the Harmonious Interaction of these Fundamental Forces. Without this, nothing exists.
NOTE: Those who study academic commentary of Taoist texts probably understand what I just described as the “Three Pure Ones,” rather than the “Three Treasures.” This is not incorrect. However, these are not separate concepts at all. The Tao Te Ching reads like a well-ordered manual. The Sage Lao Tzu first does his best to describe the Tao and why we ought to regard it as sacred and our Root Origin, and as such, how the Master perceives: [Ch 1: "The 'tao' that can be told is not the eternal Tao..." Ch 4: "The Tao is like a well: put to use but retaining itself..." Ch 6: "The Tao is called the Great Mother..." Ch 7: "The Tao is Infinite, Eternal..." Ch 12: "...The Master observes the world but trusts his Inward Understanding..." Ch 15: "The ancient Masters were profound and subtle..." Ch 17: "When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware of how he does it..."]
He then begins to describe the nature of its Becoming: [Ch 25: "There was something formless and perfect before the universe was born..." Ch 28: "...The world is formed from the void..." Ch 32: "It is smaller than anything else yet contains the whole Universe..." Ch 34: "The Great Tao Flows Everywhere; all things are Born from It..." Ch 37: "The Tao does not act, yet through it All Things are done..." Ch 40: "Return is the movement of the Tao; Yielding is the manner of the Tao..."]
And then we come to the chapter in question, chapter 42: “The Tao begot One. One begot Two. Two begot Three… [etc.]“ which would later in history (apparently much later) be attributed to the Three Pure Ones — or rather the Three Primordial Energies. True to the course of humanity, these Three Pure Ones became the superstitious personification of the three god-like beings, a kind of “Taoist Trinity” — but this has nothing to do with what I am referring to here.
What I would like to point out is that within Lao Tzu’s “manual” on Tao Wisdom, after “defining” Tao and how everything came to be, right on up to chapter 42, he then begins to describe the attributes and qualities of the Way to Understand correctly so to restore one’s Connection with this Supreme-Boundless Way. This includes the greater majority of chapters discussing Non-Action Power from chapter 43 onward (Ch 43, 47, 48, 57, 63, & 64) and many other chapters cataloging the principles of ”how to” make use of what has been defined thus far — reiterating his points along the way. [Ch 48: "...True Mastery can be Achieved by letting things go their own way." Ch 51: "...The Tao gives birth to All Beings, nourishes them, maintains them, cares for them, comforts them, protects them, takes them back to itself... That is why Love of the Tao is in the very Nature of things." Ch 52: "...Use your own Clarity and return to the source of Clarity. This is called Practicing Eternity." Ch 54: "Whoever is planted in the Tao will not be uprooted... How do I Know this? By Looking Inside." Ch 57: "To be effective as a great leader, you must learn to Follow the Tao..."] Lao Tzu even asserts how such an achievement of True Understanding of this Natural Law can be applied to governing a nation as a greater Community of Harmony — a “Kingdom of Heaven,” synonymously speaking: [Ch 58: "If a nation is governed with tolerance, the people are comfortable and honest...." Ch 60: "...Center your nation in Tao, and evil will have no power..." Ch 61: "When a nation obtains the Power of Tao, it becomes like the sea: all streams run downward into it..."] And finally he comes to what many have noted as Lao Tzu’s most beautiful teaching, the Three Treasures, in chapter 67 — a kind of summary of everything put forth thus far:
Many say this Teaching is useless.
Others call it lovely but unattainable.
But those who have reached
……..the utmost Inward Subtlety
Know there is nothing that can compare to It.
And those who put it into Practice,
Realize the True Power of It’s Work.
There are Three Treasures to the Universal Truth:
……..and the natural fairness of their Exchange.
Let these be your greatest Treasures too,
……..and Realize their Virtue.
In Sharing with others as a mother to her children,
All Beings may be Nurtured and Reconciled.
In Supporting the duty of responsibility to others,
everything returns to the Source of its Being.
Exchanging these completely and equally
the All arises in accord with the Harmony.
~Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Ch 67
Therefore, all relationship is based in this, and everything is Ultimately Relationship. This is Universal Truth, Natural Law, Primordial Virtue; it is inescapable! The more we try to ignore it or avoid it, the sooner this Primordial Virtue cripples us in its Natural Law of keeping Harmony and Balance. There is no such thing as a God who punishes the wicked; we punish ourselves by attempting to go against Natural Law, which by definition is Ultimately Inviolable! That is, when we try to violate Natural Law by being unharmonious, we pay the price when Nature does its Work to restore the Harmony. Therefore, it does not make any sense at all to move toward disharmony. Rather, we do well to honor the Natural Law and abide in its Truth. To do this, we must Recognize the value of Sharing, Support, and the complete and equal Exchange of these. This is how All Things Work —when they are healthy — from the atom to the cell, from the organism to the environment, from the social order of humanity to the turning of the cosmos. It’s what Relationship Ultimately Is.
In the Taichi Tao Practice, this Understanding of Relationship is very important because, once you achieve a level of Understanding of the Energy and Internal Power within yourself, you must practice Sharing that Power with a qualified Practice Partner. That Partner, being also in Right Relationship, must be able to Support that Power Flow so that he may also Share his Power with you, and you may also Support his Power. Within this, the all-important Exchange occurs that brings each Partner into exponentially greater purity and Understanding.
Eventually, after sufficient practice, the Master practitioner achieves the ability to Share, Support and Exchange with his surrounding environment and those within it, hereby nurturing and facilitating the Work of Tao within others, whether they know it’s happening or not. This Master practitioner attains the Power of Broadcasting and Receiving from the Network of Tao in a very lucid, tangible and useful manner. With this Power, the Master continues in her Work to Guide All Beings toward Enlightenment and Peace — however their Conscious Participation is key to their respective success. At the very least, the Master Understands Clarity by virtue of the Natural Awareness that lets him Recognize what is Right. As such — although others may not understand his Way — he no longer contributes to the collective sickness nor enables the sickness in others by ignoring it or carrying on like nothing is wrong. This is Right Relationship as well.
Like all Four Pillars of Practice, this Pillar of Right Relationship has four Fortitudes. The fellow practitioner — otherwise known as a Practice Partner — must first have: Proximity and Contact with the other Practice Partners. Thus the first Fortitude of Right Relationship is the Fortitude of Connectivity. Ideally, of course, this Connectivity — this Proximity and Contact — is actual, not figurative. We must have a network in place of other esoteric practitioners to act as a kind of mirror against, each person reflecting one another and keeping one another honest and inspired — Sharing, Supporting, and Exchanging. In Buddhism, this is called a Sangha — the Community. And Jesus too said, “Those who do the Will of God [Natural Law] are my family.” In China, before the genocidal “Cultural Revolution” in the 60′s and 70′s, China was rich with such Buddhist and Taoist Communities. They lived together in harmony, keeping things simple, and living for the whole Community.
It is unavoidable that we have contact with others; we live in the world with nearly seven-billion people, after all. We are all One, but we are not all the same; and let’s face it, some of us are downright objectionable (to be kind). And while this too is unavoidable, and while we must make due with Compassion for All Beings, we are nonetheless far more Potent and Powerful as Souls standing together, in Harmony. This Being Together is Connectivity — Connectivity of thought, Connectivity of intention, Connectivity of resources, Connectivity of values, Connectivity of Energy and Spirit, Connectivity of Being. Light Works by Proximity, and Conduction via Contact; where the Light and Conduction of Truth shine and flow in the world, there will be Connectivity of Spirit — this Is Universal Law.
And although, through technology, we are more globally connected now that any time in history, Connectivity with other esoteric practitioners somehow seems daunting and bizarrely thwarted. Instead we are all too often surrounded by conflict and spectacular drama distracting us thoroughly from the faintest remnants of our True Nature. This is because our society is profoundly sick and dying! Our collective being is a contaminated swamp of greed, corrupt politics, and psychopathological behavior on all fronts. Evil does exist in the relative world, and this evil has its own connectivity, too. It has been reaching into the masses for many centuries and now more than ever it is seething with ponerization. It’s in our politics, schools, religions, new-age philosophies, and even our families — believe it or not. But this is no excuse! In fact, if anything, it only strengthens our resolve. Today people are beginning to wake up and see the mess we’re in. While it’s amazing it took so long for us to begin to collectively smell the stench, we’re not out of the dark yet. And we ought not be too hasty to believe we understand the problem or the solution just because we read some books or attended a few seminars. Regardless of how “life-changing” or “eye-opening” they seem, information is not Knowledge.
Connectivity to esoteric practitioners and teachers is paramount to the proper function of the global Healing we so desperately need. Provided you keep your practice well, so long as you have a Master to Guide you, Connectivity takes on a much deeper meaning, but that is for another discussion. In the meantime, so long as you maintain Connectivity and communication with others Followers of Truth, you can effectively participate in the remaining three Fortitudes,which are the practice of the Three Treasures: the Fortitude of Sharing, the Fortitude of Support, and the Fortitude of Exchange, or in simpler terms: the cultivation of Effective Compassion, Effective Humility, and Effective Exchange.
These Four Fortitudes of Right Relationship (Connectivity, Sharing, Support, and Exchange) are vital within the esoteric Community because as we Work Together through Right Relationship in the process of the Refinement of Consciousness we naturally have questions and experience strong shifts as a result of the developments that naturally arise. By Sharing these questions and experiences with our Community brothers and sisters, we streamline the process of the Refinement of Consciousness for ourselves and for others. And within this indispensable faculty, we Support one another. Through this Sharing and Support we develop a highly valuable Exchange of Consciousness, Love, and Gratitude that ultimately propagates and perpetuates the function of the Right Relationship of the greater global Community.
In fact, this is the reason it Works — like all systems in our Universe, the esoteric Community is a cohesive, Interdependently Originated Universal Dynamic comprised of smaller “individual” parts, and is itself, like all Universal Dynamics, a natural occurring and necessary function of the Crystalline Fractal Unity of the Universe. Like atoms Work Together to generate cells and cells Work Together to support the organism; like Cosmic Forces and bodies Work Together to manifest the Universe, the galaxy and, indeed, our precious Earth, the Participant Community Works Together to propagate and perpetuate the Refinement of Consciousness via Connectivity, Sharing, Support and Exchange for the Ultimate Benefit of All Beings.
Actually, all of these Four Pillars of Practice with their Sixteen Fortitudes Work Together for this very Purpose — to propagate and perpetuate the Refinement of Consciousness for the Ultimate Benefit of All Beings. This Is the Work of Tao — the Work of the Universal Dynamic of the Divine Matrix. It is an infinitely complex and magnificent Network of Connectivity, Sharing, Support and Exchange. Whatever part of it that does not Work, or works against it, is eventually cut off, stripped of its Connectivity and recycled. This Work, what Buddhism and Hinduism call “Dharma,”is the Fundamental Facilitator of which the Universe and our world is Essentially Composed. In classical Taoism, the Ancient Chinese word for this Work is “Pú” (樸), which means “Fundamental Basis,” “Harmonious Simplicity,” or, “Without Resistance [to Natural Law]” and is often translated more literally as “Uncarved Block” — meaning, just like Tao. Pú is the characterization of the Way the Tao Works and the Way the Master in Tao Works. Pú is the Being of Harmony, an honoring of its Truth, and the Spirit of its Ultimate Foundation. In our “modernized” system, we in the Taichi Tao usually use the word “Work,” or “Dharma,” however, simply because the word “Pú” is so obscure amongst Westerners. Regardless of what word we use, be assured, we need this Conscious Work now more than ever — which is why I am expounding upon it here.
Here are the Four Pillars of Practice and their Sixteen Fortitudes in summary:
1: Pillar of RightLifestyle
1.1: Fortitude of Practice Time
1.2: Fortitude of Right Livelihood
1.3: Fortitude of Right Effort
1.4: Fortitude of Right Attitude
2: Pillar of Right Guidance (Master & Method)
2.1: Fortitude of Devotion
2.2: Fortitude of Meditation
2.3: Fortitude of Contemplation
2.4: Fortitude of Renunciation
3: Pillar of Right Place (Karmic Placement)
3.1: Fortitude of Physical Place
3.2: Fortitude of Place in Time
3.3: Fortitude of Mental Place
……..(the Grace of Right Recognition)
3.4: Fortitude of Spiritual Place
……..(the Grace of the Way)
4.: Pillar of Right Relationship
(esoteric Community/Practice Partner)
4.1: Fortitude of Connectivity
4.2: Fortitude of Sharing
4.3: Fortitude of Support
4.4: Fortitude of Exchange
The Four Pillars and Sixteen Fortitudes are paramount to Spiritual Alchemy and to the Realization of the practitioner through the esoteric practice. These Pillars and Fortitudes have been an integral Teaching of the Taichi Tao system for many, many centuries. While these are written and expounded upon sporadically in a few obscure Chinese scrolls on Taoism, they do not appear in a complete format in any English translation that I have ever seen or heard of. This sacred Teaching has been handed down in the Oral Tradition, Master to Disciple, through various means of expression, translation, application and interpretation. Typically, the students and disciples of the Master would be Guided through these Pillars and Fortitudes incrementally over time — so that critical mistakes in interpretation are not made. This is largely why the esoteric and transformational Taichi Tao Practice is still very powerful, potent and uncorrupted. Unfortunately, it is also why the Taichi Tao system remains so obscure — especially to the modern world.
This Teaching is offered here in a very brief outline so that you may begin to Recognize some of the fundamental virtues of the practice and the Dharma that must be undertaken in order to fulfill your True Responsibility. As I alway remind my students, it is your choice how far you want to take the Practice. I offer the Taichi Tao Teaching to everyone, whether hobbyist or resolute Spiritual seeker. It is however, the measure that you put in that will determine the measure you shall receive.
It is very important to note as well that the Teaching of the Four Pillars and Sixteen Fortitudes, while organized as a Teaching Formula in the Taichi Tao Path, are not at all an isolated, ideological teaching. If you Understand the Truth of these words, then you Recognize it matters not from what mouth or pen these words come. It does not matter if you are a Buddhist, a Yogi, Jewish, Sufi, Sikh, Jain, or Christian, if you seek to Understand the Way of those who inspired the founding of these various Paths, you will ultimately Follow the Truth expounded here in this esoteric Formula. You mayexplain it differently, use different terms, or even understand it in a different context or arrangement, but the Underlying Truth — the Principle of Truth — will still be Here.
Waste no time! Practice and Be True.