Monday, November 29, 2010

The love of paradox in Taoist thought and Tai Chi

Taoist thought  loves paradox but seems to eschew logical explanations for things. Yet, the use of logic in the explanation of Tai Chi principles is unquestionable, it is absolutely essential.  Compare the use of logic to explain something vs. Taoist thought. From a famous story of  Chuang Tzu: 

Long ago, Chuang Chou dreamed that he was a butterfly. He was elated as a butterfly--well pleased with himself, his aims satisfied, he knew nothing of Chou. But shortly he awoke and found himself to be Chou. He did not know whether as Chou he dreamed he was a butterfly, or whether he actually was a butterfly who now dreamed he was Chou.If a sleeper can dream so vividly that he is unable to ascertain that his experiences are actually unreal, how can he ever be certain that anything he experiences is real? 

So...Sifu Jim Roach is dreaming that he is teaching a class. In the dream he sees a former Tai Chi student teaching in the same building.  Jim is holding forth to his class how absurd the student's ideas are.  However, while still in the dream he believes the student to be teaching in Studio A.  To emphasize his point, he writes on a giant piece of paper the single sentence:  Everything written on the paper in Studio A  is false. But Jim  has made a mistake. He, himself  is in Studio A. So is what he has written on the paper true or false? If it’s true, then since it itself is written on the paper, it’s false. If it’s false, then since it is the only thing written on the paper, it’s true. Either way, it’s both true and false, is it not?  

However, when Jim wakes up he thinks  that although he was asleep he can still dream so vividly that he is unable to ascertain that his experiences are actually unreal, how can he ever be certain that anything he experiences is real? How can he be certain in light of that if anything is either true for false...or both true and false?

Descartes stated "i think, therefore I am".  He attempts to use logic to verify what he perceives he is sensing. Chuang-Tzu responds with a Taoist acceptance of the conundrum, and prefers not to value the dream as any less "real" than the waking state, and vice-versa. It suggests that all natural life and all experiences are in essence interchangeable. A butterfly's existence is just as valuable and meaningful as a human one, and a dream is just as valuable and meaningful as an experience one has while awake.

It is hard not to think that  we now see a little more into why a glass can never be empty nor can it be full, since we know (even though we cannot see the air)  that the existence of the air on top of what we perceive as a "half full or empty glass of water" is still as  valuable and meaningful as the experience of seeing the glass as either half full or empty.  

This is an intuitive and instinctual understanding of reality, it is not dependent on logic.  In one sense however, we have used logic to state our case and then we have no more use for the words...they are just words.

From page 201 of Uncovering the Treasure by Stephen Hwa: We see how to play the Tai Chi and that is to do it subconsciously and conduct martial applications instinctively.  For that activity, we essentially discard our intelligence.  As Chuang Tzu relates: Yen Hui told Confucius "I cast aside my limbs, discard my intelligence, detach from both body and mind and become one with Tao.  This is called sitting down and forgetting everything".

1 comment:

Tai Chi Tiger said...

The use of a faulty principle (logic) to allow the listener to experience that the principle (logic) is faulty does not constitute endorsement of the faulty principle. Just as the dao named is not the ultimate dao the human mind is not able to encompass reality. ;.)