Preface to 101 Reflections On Tai Chi Chuan
These few paragraphs come from the preface of my second Tai Chi book, 101 Reflections on Tai Chi Chuan, published in 2000. I hope they strike a chord with you. It seems as topical now as it did 18 years ago.
One needs to keep in mind the difference between religion and philosophy. Religion supports the idea of a superhuman power that created the universe. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline. When I refer to Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, I mean the philosophical structure of these Asian studies.
“This is a very strange time in American history. We are experiencing incredible growth and prosperity, yet our society is devoid of most of the fundamental conditions that contribute to health and happiness – family, security, trust, hope, and brotherly love. We seem to have lost the sense of future and the desire to plan on how to improve life for all. We have many billionaires, yet thousands, if not millions, of homeless. We have more people in jails then other country. Obesity is at epidemic proportions. For all this I feel sad. Yet there is hope if we look in the right place.
Asia, and especially the Far East, also has been experiencing amazing growth. Some of the wealthiest countries on earth are in this part of the world. These countries – Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Singapore – are among some of the most crowded places, yet they are not suffering most of the same ills we are in the West. Violent crime is almost non-existent, education (as measured by standardized tests) is more effective, there is less difference between the wealthiest and the poorest, the cities are clean and relatively comfortable, and there is a sense of belonging and working to make a future a better place for all. What could possibly be the answer for this?
I believe that people in these countries have Confucius mostly to thank for his gift of practical philosophy. His Analects are filled with advice that has been incorporated into everyday life, and it works. Confucius stressed that the individual is less important then the society; that harmony, truthfulness, education, and morality were of paramount importance. We in the West have our equivalent in the Golden Rule, yet for some reason, the Far East has maintained and strengthened these values, while we, for the most part, put them aside.
The Internal Arts are based on the philosophy of Confucius, as well as on Daoism and Buddhism. That makes them special in terms of exercise and fitness, as they also offer lessons on living peacefully with other people in our society. Every time I practice Tai Chi, I am thinking about balance, beauty, tranquility, and many other principles that translate into a more peaceful and harmonious society. Many of our Western fitness programs separate us into individuals where competition is the motivating force.
I think we all know how to take care of ourselves. What we lack is willpower, intent, and commitment. As I grow older, I notice that even though I take good care of myself, I’m aging. I’m not as fast, flexible, or quick to mend as I once was. Yet I’m happier and healthier then I have ever been. I think a lot of that has to do with acceptance of what is, and having a life’s work that brings me satisfaction and a sense of purpose.”