Taoism encompasses a wide range of practices from martial and healing arts, to yoga and meditation, to poetry, painting, calligraphy and geomancy, as well as methods for working with the Five Elements. All of them are ultimately contained within the teachings of the I Ching (Book of Changes). Although throughout the ages some Taoists have studied all aspects of Taoism, most certainly do not. Instead, each individual attunes to their path to what is relevant to their personal and spiritual development. That said there are core techniques which all Taoists train. They can be classified in three categories: the 16 nei gong, Five Element practices and I Ching arts.
Image by istockphoto/designalldone
The Three Streams of Taoist Practice
Each stream of practice is held central to Taoism because:
- The 16 nei gong awaken your being, giving and sustaining the force of life or qi energy inside you.
- The Five Elements allow you to connect to and draw upon vast stores of qi energy from the environment for health and harmony within your own being, as well as in relationship to others and the natural world in which we live.
- I Ching arts, being much more expansive, teach practical methods for grasping and flowing with more subtle universal principles having to do with the one constant in life—change.
The Path of Manifestation + Transcendence
Through an unbroken chain of adepts, who meticulously developed deep meditation practices, observing what worked and what did not over many, many generations, the methodology for directly perceiving the unchanging root of the universe was discovered.
The model or “Path of Manifestation and Transcendence” for replicating the experience, a roadmap, if you will, includes—
- The Descending Path of Manifestation: the filtering down of qi energy from emptiness to the physical realm; and
- The Ascending Path of Transcendence: the ascent from the physical realm back up to and merging with the universal essence of Tao.
The Descending Path of Manifestation
The descending path of ever-more complex energies from Heaven to Earth is like so:
- Wu ji-Emptiness.
- Tai ji-All “oneness”.
- Liang yi-Separation of yin and yang.
- Si xiang-The first level of yin and yang combinations, known as the “Four Phenomenon”.
- Bagua-The creation of the eight trigrams, or energetic “templates” of manifestation.
- Liu shi si gua-The 64 hexagrams, which are the result of combining trigrams and initiate more complex forms of energy.
- “The 10,000 Things”-The metaphorical numerical representation of the never-ending myriad of possibilities of physical manifestation, which is the result of the continuous combining of ever-more layers of complexity and arising through the Five Elements (wu xing).
So early Taoists conceive of the concept of the path, with the descent into manifestation and the ascent to transcendence, which can be used as a set of blueprints to find The Way back to the ultimate life source. This information not only enables resource-efficient practice, but also the potential to fulfil your life’s potential. Learning the stages of how manifestation comes into being (basically by rout memorisation) provides a base for furthering your understanding of universal laws (by direct perception, i.e. through dedicated practice)!
Adapting to Change + Evolving Energy
Taoist creation is based upon the science of how energies behave and interact to shape our reality. But, as discussed, true understanding is gained through embodiment of movement and stillness practices only by directly perceiving energy at play in your being, the environment and the cosmos. Each individual’s path will be unique unto themselves, referred to in Taoism as the “36 million passes of the Tao”.
Whether the latest discoveries in quantum physics or the traditional texts of the I Ching, published some 4,000 years ago, modern Western scientific thought and ancient Eastern philosophy agree that energy governs matter. Since energy is in constant flux anyway, if you can tune into and observe the changing energy already at play around you, then you can choose when it’s appropriate and beneficial for you to join the slipstream or best to avoid and sidestep change when it is not.
The crux of all internal arts training is about developing the ability to observe and flow with change, whether for applications in healing, martial arts, meditation or your daily reality. Ultimately, how well you can recognise and adapt to a changing environment, evolving energy, the Five Elements and the realm of the 10,000 things, determines how well you navigate this wild ride called life.