TAICHI THEOLOGY: THE GOSPEL SEED IN MY ASIAN HEART’S SOIL

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The Gospel is like a seed. God promised to grow the Gospel Seed in every cultural soil!  My walk with God brought me to a realization that my expressions of biblical faith and spirituality are so much influenced by a Christianity that has been contextualized in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. The Gospel was planted in my heart, but the roots of the Gospel’s seedling were preserved in Western soil, delivered by Evangelical missionaries to my family like a gift, wrapped in American flag.

 

I know it’s not possible to eliminate the Western soil in my culture. It’s good to be bi-cultural or multi-cultural. I like it the way I am!

 

At the same time, I want to rediscover and enjoy the growing seed of the Gospel in the Asian aspects of my heart.

 

T’ai Chi is an aspect of my fertile Asian soil where the Gospel is growing!

 

T’AI CHI AND CHINESE PHILOSOPHY

 

The term T’ai Chi  (太極  spelled Taiji in Mainland China) literally means “the Supreme Ultimate.” It is a moving meditation developed originally as forms of Chinese martial arts. These forms are gentle flowing movements that are combined with deep breathing exercises in order to develop an awareness of the inner energy of the body and of the energy pervading the universe. Many of these forms were copied from the natural movements of animals and birds.

 

T’ai Chi Chuan (太極拳  or Taijiquan) means Supreme Ultimate Force. Force (literally means “fist”) refers to the discipline or way of achieving the Supreme Ultimate. It also refers to the combat power of this discipline when used as a form of martial arts.

 

There are many Tai Chi styles and forms. I practice the Yang Style as taught by my teacher or si fu–Mr. Kam Pong of Richmond, British Columbia–who traces his Yang Style lineage to Master Cheng Man Ching.

 

Chi and Tai Chi.  The concept of Chi (another Chinese character 氣  which means “energy,” or “life force,”) governs the whole practice and discipline of T’ai Chi.  In Chinese philosophy and medicine there exists the concept of chi, a vital force that animates the body. One of the avowed aims of Tai Chi is to foster the circulation of this chi within the body, the belief being that by doing so the health and vitality of the person are enhanced. This chi circulates in patterns that are closely related to the nervous and vascular system and thus the notion is closely connected with that of the practice of acupuncture and other oriental healing arts.

 

Another aim of Tai Chi is to foster a calm and tranquil mind, focused on the precise execution of these exercises. Learning to do them correctly provides a practical avenue for learning about such things as balance, alignment, fine-scale motor control, rhythm of movement, the genesis of movement from the body’s vital center, and so on. Thus the practice of Tai Chi can in some measure contribute to being able to better stand, walk, move, run, etc. in other spheres of life as well. Many practitioners notice benefits in terms of correcting poor postural, alignment or movement patterns, which can contribute to tension, or injury. Furthermore the meditative nature of the exercises is calming and relaxing in and of itself.

 

Because the Tai Chi movements have their origins in the martial arts, practicing them does have some martial applications. In a two-person exercise called push-hands Tai Chi principles are developed in terms of being sensitive to and responsive of another person’s chi or vital energy. It is also an opportunity to employ some of the martial aspects of Tai Chi in a kind of slow-tempo combat. Long-time practitioners of Tai Chi who are so-inclined can become very adept at martial arts. The emphasis in Tai Chi is on being able to channel potentially destructive energy (in the form of a kick or a punch) away from one in a manner that will dissipate the energy or send it in a direction where it is no longer a danger.

 

The structure of T’ai Chi is based on the theory of Yin-Yang  (陰 陽), a pair of mutually complementary forces that act continuously, without cessation, in this universe. This Chinese view of reality and way of life can be applied to anything, but here we are interested in its relationship to the art of T’ai Chi. The dark part of the circle is called Yin. Yin represents negativeness, passiveness, gentleness, insubstantiality, femaleness, moon, darkness, night, etc. The other complementary part of the circle is Yang, which represents positiveness, activeness, firmness, substantiality, maleness, sun, brightness, day, etc.

 

Yin-Yang.  My Chinese Philosophy professor, Zao Yu Lan, taught me that the common mistake most people make is to identify this Yin-Yang symbol, T’ai-Chi, as dualistic–that is Yang being the opposite of Yin, and vice versa. As long as we separate this “oneness” into two, we won’t achieve realization. Actually, all things have their complementary part; it is only in the human mind and his perception that they are being separated into opposites. The sun is not the opposite of the moon, as they complement and are interdependent on each other, and we cannot survive without either of them. In a similar way, a male is but the complement of the female; for without the male, how on earth do we know there is female, or vice versa.

 

The ‘oneness’ of Yin-Yang is necessary in life. If a person riding a bicycle wishes to go somewhere, he cannot pump on both the pedals at the same time or not pumping on them at all. In order to move forward, he has to pump one pedal and release the other. So the movement of going forward requires this “oneness” of pumping and releasing. Pumping then is the result of releasing, and vice versa; each being the cause of the other.

 

In the Yin-Yang symbol there is a bright spot on the dark part, and dark spot on the bright one. This is to illustrate the balance in life, for nothing can survive long by going to either extreme, be it negativeness or positiveness. Therefore, firmness must be concealed in gentleness, and gentleness firmness, and that is why Chinese arts practitioners must be pliable as spring. Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo will bend with the wind. So in martial arts, or any other Chinese arts, one must be gentle yet not giving away completely; be firm yet not hard, and even if he is strong, he should guard it with softness and tenderness. For if there is no softness in firmness, he is not strong; in a similar way, if one has firmness concealed in softness, no one can break through his defense. This principle of moderation provides a best means of preserving oneself, for since we accept this existence of the oneness (Yin-Yang) in everything, and do not treat it dualistically, we thus secure a state of tranquility by remaining detached and not inclining to either extreme. Even if we do incline on one extreme, be it negative or positive, we will flow with it in order to control it. This flowing with it without clinging is the true way to get rid of it.

 

When the movements in Yin-Yang flow into extremes, reaction sets in. For when Yang goes to the extreme, it changes to Yin; and when Yin (activated by Yang) goes to the extreme, it returns back to Yang (that is why each one is the result and cause of the other.) For example, when one works to the extreme, he becomes tired and has to rest (from Yang to Yin). This incessant changing of Yin/Yang is always continuous.

 

The application of the theory of Yin-Yang in T’ai Chi is known as the Law of Harmony, in which one should be in harmony with, and not against the force of the opponent and other factors of, the natural environment.

 

T’ai Chi. Chi. Yin-Yang. All these concepts are part of Taoism. In a very real sense one can consider Tai Chi Chuan to be a physical expression and manifestation of the principles and philosophy of Taoism. The Tao ( literally means “Way”) is the creative principle of Chinese religion manifest in the eternal continuity of Yin-Yang. The Tao is the equilibrium or balance pervading the Yin-Yang cosmos. But the Tao is beyond all descriptions. “The Tao that can be named is not The Tao.”

 

MY IDEA OF THEOLOGICAL CONTEXTUALIZATION

 

I see the wisdom of the world’s religions and cultures from the lenses of what I consider to be God’s revealed Word. While respecting all religions and cultures, my knowledge and experience of God and Reality happened with my encounter with the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I believe that a healthy dialogue with other religions starts with honesty with, and authenticity of, one’s understanding of life and reality. There are truth-claims between religions that cannot be syncretized. That’s why I can’t be a syncretist even though I find it to be an easier way to avoid the challenges of a pluralistic world. Syncretists presume to be objective, outsider assessors of truth-claims based on a modernistic, meta-standard of truth. I do not buy into syncretism because it is another form of religious and cultural imperialism.

 

I had the privilege of interacting with various religious leaders around the world. I learned that there are many elements in other cultures and religions that are in harmony with God’s revealed Word. Many of them can be transformed for the glory of God.  As my friend from Regent College said: “Paul found this also when he communicated the Gospel to the Hellenistic world, taking the religious and cultural terms of the Greco-Roman world and filling them with Christian content.”

 

I see cultures and religions as soils where the Gospel Seed can be planted. The values of the Gospel–such as life, love, justice, peace, mercy, compassion, etc.–are also the aspirations of most religions and cultures. The beauty and truth of Jesus Christ must then be planted in the spirit of authenticity, community and humility. The person and character of Jesus Christ will bring out the best in their spiritual and cultural aspirations until each nation reaches the glory and purity of their culture (Rev. 21:22-27).

 

UNDERSTANDING THE TAO IN THE LIGHT OF CHRIST

 

The Tao (the Way) has been a mystery to the Chinese people for millennia. However, in Christ, the secret of the Tao has been revealed. Jesus Christ is the Tao, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). He is the Tao made flesh. “In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God” (John 1:1, Chinese Bible).

 

In Christ, the Tao can be described and can be named as a human being who lived within space and time. Human beings like me can relate with the Great Tao! But as the Tao that is beyond the Tao, the pre-incarnate Christ, the Second Person of the Eternal Holy Trinity, is beyond human comprehension, description and imagination. I can relate with the Incarnate Tao but at the same time, I must remain humble to bow down before the Infinite Tao who is beyond my finite comprehension and imagination.

 

This is why I remain faithful to Christ as True God and True Human Being.

 

My love for Christ, while being faithful to God’s revealed Word, can be expressed beyond the Western constructs of Christianity.

 

UNDERSTANDING THE YIN-YANG IN LIGHT OF GOD’S CREATION

 

The Yin-Yang is the picture of the universe. God, the Creator, is separate from the Yin-Yang Creation. The literal meaning of holy is “separate.” God, the Creator, is holy or separate from the Divine Yin-Yang Creation.

 

Every time I read the first three chapters of Genesis with my Asian perspective, I see the harmony of the Yin and the Yang in God’s creation. Even before the Fall, there was order and there was chaos. There was light and there was darkness. There was the sun and there was the moon. Human beings were designed as male and female. God’s assessment to this Yin-Yang creation was “good.” After the male and female human beings were created, God assessed everything as “very good.” And even before sin entered the world, there was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Then sin, literally “missing the mark,” entered God’s creation. Human beings chose to miss the mark, or disobey, the standard of the Creator. The universe and humanity experienced the Fall. The Yin-Yang creation was corrupted by sin. This corruption resulted to death, which literally means “separation.” Sin caused separation and alienation between God, human beings, and nature. Sin brought disharmony in the Yin-Yang universe.  Christ, the Great Tao, entered the world and began the process of re-harmonizing the relationship between God, human beings, and nature.

 

This re-harmonization process in the universe opened the way towards peace, welfare, and wellness in the whole creation. This is called shalom in Hebrew or salam in Arabic. Jesus Christ, the Great Tao, is the Prince of Shalom (Isaiah 9:6).

 

The Great Tao brings harmony in the whole Yin-Yang universe! (Colossians 1:15-20)

 

UNDERSTANDING THE CHI IN LIGHT OF GOD’S BREATH OF LIFE

 

I understand chi as the biblical Breath of Life as indicated in the Hebrew Bible. Animals have the Breath of Life or nefesh chaya (Genesis 1:30). Nefesh means “soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, appetite, emotion, and passion.” Chaya is an adjective meaning “alive or living.”

 

Human beings were created by God from the dust of the ground (in a sense we’re one with the Earth) and were breathed the Breath of Life or nishmat chayyim (Genesis 2:7).N’shama means “breath of God as hot wind kindling a flame; as destroying wind; as cold wind producing ice; as creative, giving breath to human beings.” It also means “God’s breath in human beings; it is a characteristic of our humanity.” Chayyim is the plural of chaya.

 

God described all creatures under heaven as having the Breath of Life or ruach chayyim(Genesis 6:17). The word ruach means “breath, wind, spirit.” This term is also used in Genesis 1:2 in reference to the Ruach or Spirit of God who was “hovering over the waters.”

 

The Greek New Testament is consistent with the Hebrew Bible in its understanding of the Breath of Life. The first Adam, according to the Apostle Paul, became a Living Being or eis psuchein zousan. Included among the many meanings of psuchei are the concepts of “breath of life, soul life, and life-principle.” Zaou means “living,” the root word for the terms “zoo” or “zoology.” The second Adam, Christ, became a life-giving spirit or pneuma zouopoioun. Pneuma means “breath, life, spirit, soul.” Zouopoieou means “to make alive, to give life to.” (1 Corinthians 15:45)

 

The term Breath of Life or pneuma zoueis was also used in the story of God’s Two Witnesses in Revelation 11. These two men prophesied for God in the midst of opposition from the majority of the world’s population. When they were finished testifying for God, they were attacked, overpowered, and were killed. “But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet…” (Revelation 11:11) Zoueimeans “of life.”

 

When the Bible uses the term Breath of Life, I understand it to mean:

  • God’s Spirit or Wind that hovers over the whole creation
  • God’s breath as hot wind kindling a flame, energizing all living creatures
  • God’s life that has been breathed into all living things
  • God’s life-spirit that was breathed into the nostrils of the dust-formed humanity, and as a consequence, we became living, self-conscious, physical-spiritual beings
  • God’s life-giving-Spirit in Christ to bring new life to human beings
  • God’s life-spirit that resurrects the dead

 

The chi is an Asian perception of God’s breath of life into human beings and over all creation. Because of sin, there exists alienation between God, human beings, and nature. Although God’s breath of life has been observed by Chinese wisdom, it remained mysterious and vague.

 

God’s revealed Word provides a clearer picture of God’s breath of life in the universe. This breath of life can be experienced anew through the life-giving Spirit of Christ.

 

UNDERSTANDING T’AI CHI IN LIGHT OF GOD’S SELF DISCLOSURE

 

T’ai Chi Chuan is a life-time discipline to reach or to become one with the Supreme Ultimate. In Taoism, the Supreme Ultimate is beyond description, cannot be named, neither personal nor creator.

 

In Christian Theology, we also refer to God as ineffable–that is, indescribable, beyond words, inexpressible, unutterable, unspeakable. But God chose to disclose the Divine Self in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

In Christ, the Supreme Ultimate can be known, not exhaustively but relationally, through the power of God’s Spirit. We now know that the Supreme Ultimate is God–the Creator of the Yin-Yang universe.

 

The practice of T’ai Chi is a sincere Taoist effort to seek harmony with the Supreme Ultimate. In Christ, the Supreme Ultimate mercifully and graciously chose to respond to the serious T’ai Chi practitioners’ search for harmony. Through the Great Tao, the Supreme Ultimate intervened in human history and became peace, wellness, welfare, harmony to us.

 

My T’ai Chi exercise and discipline bring holistic healing in my relationship with God, with others, with myself, and with nature.

  • When I allow the Holy Spirit to fill me with the Divine Presence and Power, I experience harmony with God.
  • When my heart and mind go beyond my selfish desires, God fills my being with the desire to help meet the needs of other people, locally and globally; that harmonizes me with others!
  • When I let go of my attachments to people and things, I let go of my own idolatries; then I experience how to be an empty vessel to be refilled with God’s desire for my being!
  • When I allow God to fill me with the Divine Breath of Life, I experience the reality that I share life with other living creatures; that harmonizes me with nature! 

 

I practice T’ai Chi every day to be in harmony with the Supreme Ultimate, to express my love and obedience to the Great Tao, and to allow God’s Holy Chi to energize me.

 

 

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