◦ thirteens

Here, is the article written to accompany the teaching of the Thirteen Element Short Form which took place over the five days of a residential retreat, hidden away in the hills near Lucca, Italy in the April of 2024, arranged and facilitated in co-ordination with Tuscany Arts & Healing.


◦ THIRTEEN ELEMENT
SHI SAN SHI 十三式 SHORT FORM

To make a Short Form in the Yang family’s Tai Chi tradition is principally a means of returning to the classical – one might say returning to the Mountain – an exercise in concision with the aim of experiencing and examining more nearly, more thoroughly and in the moment, a set of Tai Chi postural archetypes, seceding these from the historically more recent one hundred and eight element Long Form, from the silken maze of its many repetitions, howsoever beautiful they are.

So a Short Form is never a mere précis, or edit, but something complete, whole, having its own origin tradition, disclosing through brevity a self-sustaining continuity, drawn from a reel whose thread does not easily break by being over-extended. That the flow and thread of a Long Form does at times break is almost always because fatigue comes in – which might be physical, emotional, of memory, of the spirit – and with fatigue comes approximation: the Form loses form.
It must be a truth that having not the plenitude of time to immerse in the Tao 道 of continuous practice needed to produce the skills of Long Form mastery, we might find joy in a shorter setting – to “give up that and choose this”, as says Lao Tzu – to be content, to be at rest there.

◦ THIRTEEN SHI SAN 十三

The classical Chinese world has a particular regard and fondness for certain kinds of pattern, characteristically finding a playfulness in their complexity. Favoured patterns are those that repeat and/or replicate not only by being placed side by side, but, and more typically, by being placed on top of and below each other, and with an understood dimensional transparency too. One might describe them as Layer Patterns.

As the ways of Tai Chi spring very much from this long-ago world it stands to reason that they also are informed with this kind of layer pattern making. And it would therefore follow that upon a pattern, say, of down-to-earth practical skills – being primarily of the physical world and human actions – a pattern of what might be called natural mysticism could be layered – being primarily of the subtle world, that which is hidden and out of reach. That these layers are not separate but interpenetrating would also hold true.

From the scant early writings known collectively as the Tai Chi Chuan Ching 太极拳谱, a number-pattern of THIRTEEN emerges in various arrangements, offering instruction. That it is almost certainly the case, according to this guidance, that the first Tai Chi Forms, the Wudang Forms, were of just thirteen postures also, further underlines it as a number of significance common to the times.

Note: Tai Chi Chuan Ching 太极拳谱 where Chuan means Fist, referencing the martial arts, and Ching, meaning Treatise or Record.

Other than our Short Form’s thirteen postures and their sequence, three more thirteen patterns will directly concern us in the making of the SHI SAN SHI 十三式

The first is in Abiding Principles, being a teaching pattern or grammar that underpins all that we practise. The second is of Practical Skills, and the third of Natural Mysticism, these two in each case being divided into eight and five to arrive at thirteen.

Note: Shi San 十三 is thirteen, the third character Shi 式 means component-type or form; for us it means a posture, here given the word Element. Additionally, and in this context, it bears the sense of implying that Element’s within-dwelling power, or Virtue Té 德.


ABIDING PRINCIPLES


Here the thirteen takes the form of instructions that would traditionally have been given orally; exhortations to be learned and declaimed by rote in in the form of a unison chant, no doubt accompanied by the bok-bok beat of a wood-fish drum.
Our contemporary approach, being more sympathetic, makes a list of them, commencing:

  • First in the Mind then in the Body
  • Awareness in the belly centre / fu dantien 腹丹田
  • Golden Thread released and vital
  • Head at the crown / baihui 百会 touches Heaven
  • Shoulders and elbows low, relax / song
  • Chest settled, back broad: as lying-down standing-up
  • Waist and hips entirely loose
  • Know where is fullness / yang , where emptiness / yin
  • From the ground to the head, stability through balance, all as one
  • Force nothing, work from in and with softness
  • Breath is even, knowing movement, knowing stillness, both
  • Continuity in practice
  • When in the Body then in the Mind again

In being steadfast, we should endeavour that these principles be always present in our practice. In other words, there being nothing of Tai Chi that falls outside them, these thirteen must, given constancy and time, become fully embodied.


PRACTICAL SKILLS
: comprises the Eight Directions and Five Steps.

The Eight Directions are those of our universal compass:

The cardinals North N / East E / South S / West W
The ordinals Northeast NE / Southeast SE / Southwest SW / Northwest NW

Note: In the historical Chinese world – that is to say the imperial world – South is almost always placed at the top of the compass, a fact that may confound us. Explanation is to be found in diligently sifting the overlay of both Practical and Mystical patterns.

The Five Steps are:
Step Forward (f) / Step Back (b) / Step Right (r)
Step Left (l) / Step Centre (c)

Note: The Five Steps can also mean the movement, turn or shift of body weight between the f b r l + c without an actual footstep being made. And stepping Centre may mean stepping/moving into central equilibrium as well as stepping to a single-weighted posture, centrally balanced on one foot, further designated as + rc or + lc.

Unlike its sister arts of PaKua Chang, which moves upon and around a rim of circles, or Hsing-I which, in eschewing circles, takes a direct straight line from here to another here, Tai Chi places itself exactly at the centre of its own compass, being inherently aware of the eight universal directions. As a consequence, where making a turn or directional step, our centre and compass, while maintaining its bearings, is not fixed but moves with us as the Form moves. This is just one of several ways of knowing stillness within movement.
Add in time and spatial dimension, and the patterns of Practical Skills and Natural Mysticism must begin to elide.


NATURAL MYSTICISM
: comprises the Eight Trigrams and Five Elements.

Where past is passed, future comes presently.

Here the Eight Trigrams of the I Ching 易經 – the symbols of China’s truly ancient record of divination – are layered upon its equally ancient
Pa-kua 八卦, its geomantic compass. As there is more than one arrangement and a multiplicity of possibilities to be considered in this ancestral wisdom tradition, coordinate directions have been omitted here.

The Eight Trigrams Pa-kua 八卦 are:
Heaven / Earth / Lake / Fire
Thunder / Wind / Water / Mountain

 

The Five Elements Wu-hsing 五行 are:
Earth E / Metal M / Water W / Wood W / Fire F

Being of the subtle realm the Five Elements are composed not only of their existent physical matter but of their Virtuous properties and actions also, mutually arising and being, mutually falling away and departing. They further correlate with the five principal organs in the body, being understood in terms of vitality Chi , also of healing and medical intervention, making an additional layer, where:

Spleen is E / Lung is M / Kidney is W / Liver is W / Heart is F

Note: At the threshold of natural mysticism, through movement and/or in meditation, it may be that we experience currents, or awareness, or influences gathering round us to which we are unused. In short, we may feel bewildered. This is of the natural part of mysticism – in the sense that we have it in common to feel this way – and intellect alone will not nor cannot source or resolve these currents.
Another way must be found, which is to be guided at the heart wu hsin 無心 and with absolute sincerity. To enter upon unknowing, to be gentle of ourselves, to make still, to let in time: to accept love.
The Oxherd Meditations, at its opening, famously delineates this situation, then proceeds, offering a progress that may, in allowing ourselves compassion, flow directly from it.
A contemporary account begins:

In the pasture of this world, I endlessly push aside tall grasses in search of the OX.
Following rivers of no name, lost in a daze of crossing paths on far-off mountains,
My strength giving out and my vitality exhausted,
I cannot find the OX.
At rest, un-resting,
I hear only locusts chittering and chirring through the forest at night.

◦ ONE HUNDRED & EIGHT YI BAI LING BA 108 一百零八
& LONG FORM TAI CHI

108: a number of Eminence.
As so much else that reaches us from the East, we cannot fully know its origins in being revered, in being implicated with wisdom. That 108 is a number of record in the ancient ways, becoming ways of ritual, particularly in Hinduism then Buddhism, and especially in terms of repetition – of chants, of mantra, of striking bells, of pilgrim footsteps, of fingering mala beads – is plain, and clearly so; even today it is a number to sit down beside in faith.
You might say that 108 is a temple number, a sacred number, a monastery number too, and as we know that the physical practices of Tao, its martial and oracular arts, Tai Chi Chuan and I Ching, were most likely systemised and codified within monastic precincts, or under their influence – most notably of Wudang Mountain – it is perhaps reasonable to see why 108 might be designated and appropriated to its Forms.
That it also points to stages in overcoming hindrances on a journey toward spiritual completion, must make it a number of profound significance for some.

Note: The mountains of Wudang, rising in the province of Hubei of modern-day China, became, during the Tang and Ming dynasties, a geographical centre of Tao and Buddha activity, drawing many disciples. Temples and monasteries multiplied; palaces of devotion and ritual to be sure, but also akin to universities in their breadth of teaching and learning.
It is here that Taoist Immortals sported in the clouds, visiting deities such as Shou Lao, to sip celestial teas and play poetry games under the watchful eye of the divinity, Zhen Wu: the Perfected Warrior, Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven, guardian patron of martial artists. It is in Wudang too that the practice of Tai Chi Chuan began to be set down and disseminated, arriving with us these many centuries later, bringing stability, solace, and a Way.

If you would like to obtain a comprehensive copy of these Notes, to include a Table outlining the Thirteen Element Short Form together with its attributes – and/or – If you would like to have a complete illustrated edition of my contemporary account of The Oxherd Meditations in Ten Pictures, including a Foreword and Guide To Use, they are each, or the two together available where a consideration is made, in the form of a donation, in reflection of their value, as Treasure, and for the commitment of time given over in their preparation.

Please request your copies using the email treasure@timstudio.co.uk
And you can find the Donate facility here>>>
Thank you very much.

 

©April 2024

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and if good things come in threes…


Make the body stable: use Posture –
Make the mind stable: use Time –
Sit with This.

◦ ◦
All that you are is contained herein, and
All that you are is contained herein, and
All that you are is contained herein,
Herein surrender.

◦ ◦ ◦
To the question: Why is our practice, which is training, which is also art, seemingly so endlessly rewarding?
The answer: Because it is True. If it were not true both we and it would tire.

◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦

Along the way we may encounter obstacles or even dead ends, but if we can return to the path it will never play us false. And because of these principles it will also never end, though we may find an ending.

These three good things are responses and reflections of an on-going enquiry into the
Taoof time, repetition, ancestral stream, karma; of guidance we might seek to impart in encouraging our younger self, which is that if we can let an ease of time into our study, leave off hurrying, we will find that the Way of Repetition changes things, changes us, subtly alters us. Instead of same again same again, same again becomes new again, and then new again.
Something happens!
You could say that being-time happens.

And how it bears within the spirit of a human life such treasure as to enlighten our ordinary darkness.
And how it shines in our practice then.

 

©March 2023
Year of the Rabbit

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at Lordly Ease

The quiet sage depicted in this undoubtedly Taoist image seems to have slipped sideways from his more proper and upright meditation to reflect on the flow of the world as it passes by the rocky promontory that makes his seat. In fact this is a named posture in the lexicon of meditation, a settled point between the dignities of sitting and lying, known as… ‘at lordly ease’.

Originally an ink drawing it is reproduced here (somewhat sketchily) from the famous and charmingly named Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, a book first known in the late 1600s in China, added to over the next one hundred and fifty years well into the Qing dynasty, found also in Edo period Japan and late Joseon Korea. Its fascicles comprise text together with many pages of examples in the ways of painting, particularly of nature: of rock formation, of clouds, of hooping boughs, of rain and waves, of bamboo, of vivid studies played in a few deft brush-marks of folk labouring or at rest. It is, as was intended, a ‘how to’ and teacher of painting, yet also a key in readability to viewers of finished works, where individual elements sourced in the manual could be brought together in making a scene, an entire view, so as to be understood that, ‘Here is a farmstead under storm, here an orchard of blossoming plum… Here a misted moonrise, here oxen ploughing’.

Furthermore, examining the image of this monk at lordly ease they might interpret not only the figure in meditation, but also the figure as mountain – in the overall shape, line of the shoulders, or even as mountain landscape – the raised knee and folds in the cloth, where mountain itself is a living representation of meditation, a place of elevation, of refuge, of stillness, of unknowing.

Lastly: it should be noted that the phrase ‘at lordly ease’ is in no wise gendered as to its sense; it is never only masculine. For example many embodiments of compassion, of Kuan Yin in feminine guise, are given this affirming characterisation. You will find three of these pictured at the end of my short article, written 2013 – Retreat, return, backwards-flowing – found elsewhere in these pages.

 

FOLLOWING IN THE WAY BY EXAMPLE

 

© March 2023

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the six ◦ Healing Sounds ◦ of CHI KUNG

SOUNDS can be integral to CHI KUNG/TAO YIN, especially as part of a healing regimen. They act by bringing an absolute focus to the moment at hand, bearing an intimate association to the organ they each are paired with in both a physiological and sympathetic sense. Where physical, emotional, or spiritual dullness may be occurring, their agency is of release, of restorative balance, of light. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, they may effect a continuity between the healing we are cultivating in ourselves and the healing we seek to promote in our immediate and wider society.

Sound, as a natural phenomenon of our world, is and has been in all places and times pre-existing of our current state of Human∙Being; it is our task through practice, repetition, with joy in creating it ourselves, to bond intrinsically with the elemental forces that surround us, of season, sun and moon, time and tide, and with the mysteries that therein lie.

ORGAN ELEMENT SOUND PITCH SEASON
TRIPLE BURNER San Jiao
AboveBelowBetween
SSiii Mid Five Seasons
LUNGS Metal ZZzzz High Autumn
HEART Fire HO (short)
HHrrr (sustained)
Low Summer
KIDNEYS Water CHWiii Mid Winter
LIVER Wood SHrrr Mid Spring
SPLEEN Earth WHooo Mid to Low Late Summer

In the main, and for our purposes, the sounds are made on a sustained pitch paired with a posture of our CHI KUNG. They may also be chanted rhythmically – although in that practice the order would be different than given here.

They may also be fired, canon-like, as a loud and abrupt exhortation, acting then as a talisman of self-protection in situations of challenge or perceived danger: HO!

©January 2023

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one more step

Here, three thoughts arising, noted separately yet flecked with the same gold.

In practising together:

The teaching is not and comes not from above but works beside us.
Likewise, the teacher… not above but beside.

Which prompts the kung-an/koan 公案 of practising solo:

Whence comes the teaching then,
And where the teacher?

 

 

Passed a colour-field
On her way to samadhi –
Leap oblivion.

 

 

To have Faith in Self is not to be socially selfish or self-centred but to be released from the need
for, and from the desire of, the next, the next, the last and the next stimulation.
By oneself, one more step; a life in a day.

On the images:
A visit from Sun Lu-Tang,
Wu colourfield,
One more step.

See also On Paradox and
Mind-Push elsewhere
in these pages.

©September 2021

 

 

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Ox-herding

Many accounts of the Ox-herding Pictures have been made through the centuries, each individual to their maker, yet becoming widely known by generations of ‘passing-on’.

As a sequence they have very often been set – and by some eminent teachers, too – during a period of retreat, over a week say, as a means of focus or adherence for those present, gathered to deepen their awareness and meditation.

It should also be said that context of the picture’s history and dissemination is nowadays easily available for any who wish further to pursue their own OX, should that wilful creature be errant or at large!

Here they are presented simply enough in a contemporary account, following the almost-folk tradition, and to mark the Lunar Year 2021.

To order full-text copies of The Ox-herding Meditations in Ten Pictures, click on the OX calligraphy and follow the details given there. For jaunty promo film, click on the image below.

© February 2021

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indicators


DAWN

If when shadow comes, unquiet, restive in early morning,
Breaks-in from darkness into darker-ness,
Turns sorrow’s stone, whets doubt’s edge, sparks fear’s flint,
Then set your hands with Mind upon your Heart, wholeheartedly 無心 to say and say, and say aloud:
This is, and we are, and you are, and I am the solid ground.
Waking, say this.
LIGHT will hold you then.

 

AFTER MORNING PRACTICE

In teaching as much as in learning, even in the transmission of Mind, there is always a natural limitation of Human·Being.
It is only of Heaven, of Tao in Continuing, that teaching is naturally unlimited, created limitless by UNKNOWING.
Ever thus, and in being down-to-earth, we are transformed.

 

MIDDAY YINYANG

If Tiger is Earth with Moon and Personal Spirit, then Dragon is Heaven with Sun and Universal Spirit.
This being so, it follows that we can only know or realise the Universal through the Personal, through a personal journey. So…

 

DUSK

Coming to a threshold, in company of another, resting there: such is comfort.
Then stepping through, solus: such is dying before living, before LIVING.

 

REST

New Year’s Moon: enters the Metal OX.
This is, and we are, and I am, and you are as strong as.

 

These indicators represent
a possible Day of Hours –
passages of meditative attention.
WU HSIN calligraphy, ink on card,
is by Anzu Sato and
reproduced here with gratitude.

©January 2021

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raising compassion.

Where the sun burns brightest the shadow lies deepest.*

Even a spiritually advanced person, having realised so much, remains Human·Being, inseparable from their shadow, and may come unstuck, may lose balance, toppling from a height of great and general estimation.
Crash! Down!
Disappointment, dismay, disdain falls then… from us to them, as to themselves upon themselves. There are many examples.

Yet even in this, in the awful moment and ensuing days, it may be that their dis-grace works as an agent of exegesis, of understanding, in revealing to us as if from some ancestral text, a gem-like truth of hard and human wisdom – hard to teach, harder still to learn – which is:
That if we are to come to compassion, as we are bid, to compassionate thought and response, we must first let fail and relinquish our fiery speed to judgement, to our being forever judgemental.

Somewhere, and it is far deep-down in us, we know it must be a relief to let this go, to snuff it out, and finally so.

Compassion, which brings to the surface the action of our heart in just-acceptance, cannot discriminate, that is not its function; its function is to tender, toward kindness, toward beneficence, toward awakening; with comfort to restore, to sustain, to gather to its embrace, to beat as mercy, ever-even ever-even, limitless and gentle under moonlight.

EXTRAORDINARY COMPASSION SHOWS IN THE FACE OF THIS DEVOTIONAL OBJECT

Be careful in too closely following, in reaching to touch, in raising-up one, therefore. For as much as we are made glad in the words, the presence and company of an enlightened spirit, it is perhaps best to let them lead us – but to a point; to open the path – but to a view. Let that be enough. With such advantage we must continue on, to be with ourselves, singly, quietly, sincerely, yet bearing the gift-matter of their better-guidance with us, as and where we go. Then, and again just maybe, we may find that by our – howsoever modest – practise in awareness, by the resolve and readiness of our heart, that we in turn have opened a way, a direction, a path, not only to our truer selves but for others also, for and to themselves.
Indeed, how else should the nature of compassion make succession and endure?

At the last – and this must remain for now unknowable – surely it is only a truly enlightened Mind, as scarce as the rarest diamond, that casts no flaw of shadow at all.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW FOR FILM ACCOMPANYING
THIS NOTEBOOK MEDITATION OR: GO HERE

DOWN-TO-EARTH MONK HOTEI POINTS TO THE MOON

 

*Only a little amended, from the pen of mighty Johann Goethe.
On the images. Limestone relief carving of a monk –
Northern Wei dynasty C6thCE/Longmen caves/Henan province.
(Original gallery photography ©Eskenazi)
Monk Hotei by Fukai Ekun (Japan) 1650 –
scroll/ink on paper.
In the inscription verse Hotei calls himself ‘an
old traveller idling along the way’. Yet he is much beloved,
especially by village children who follow him with
waving flags and to whom he dispenses gifts from the
ever-abundant sack thrown across his shoulder.
He is that rare thing: an enlightened holy rogue.

©November 2020

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gravel garden

Afternoon, in hot sun – raking,
Tine snags at border,
Pebbles speckle on paving,
Breaking reverie – not of beach, but of Ryōanji –
To bring him home.

Past is passed, future comes presently. Written in
A letter from the world of emptiness:
Pay heed to this.

 

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a term within

These few thoughts, taken directly from my notebooks, thread to a close a year in which the gold of continuous practice has proven itself pre-eminent, where it moves softly from within.

How often it is the case: that the teaching happens after the teaching happens.
It is only very occasionally that the teaching happens at the moment of being given – which is transmission, working in the body as action, sometimes very powerfully, too.

It must naturally frustrate us, that in everyday thinking we cannot leap beyond the capacity of our own intellect and its (our) personal characteristics, of rational analysis, say, or spontaneous subjective imagining. We all have felt this on occasion.
Yet, in meditation-awareness this does not hold true, as everything at once inter-penetrating, is released, and there is no blindness or darkness but diamond clarity.

Some courage is needed and is developed through the practice. In the words of Nyogen Senzaki* whom I re-read this year: “Where a seed meets sunshine and water it strives of itself to grow.”
And in my phrase: In entering the tiger’s cave we have to be prepared to meet the tiger.

I braved a tiger of my own this summer, howsoever briefly; a visitor from the east. These two comments come from the several that I made at the time:
Bewilderment, confusion, resistance naturally… But only at the moment of truly giving-up does anything like learning happen.
Encountering this beguiling, shimmering tiger, whom I perceive to be an enlightened creature, is like to trying to sweep up leaves in a wind-storm; there is no place to gather.

And to other enquirers on the Way:

Remember this: and as you are beginning now to find –
Right-Posture opens Right-Mind
Which is WU HSIN  無 心
Which is the change you are experiencing
(and will continue to experience)
In your Heart.
Pay heed to this.

*From Eloquent Silence,
teachings and letters of
Nyogen Senzaki 1876-1958
Tiger (on door panels – Muryoji Temple, Kushimonto)
by Nagasawa Rosetsu 1754-1799

©December 2019

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guide-lines

CLICK ON THE ABOVE TO OPEN A BRIEF PDF WITH FURTHER GUIDANCE

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continuity

In a time of on-going uncertainty, guidance may, with seeming serendipity, appear and open of itself before us.  This, at least, has been my experience. In just such a manner, a short (at barely three pages) and informal teisho* of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi opened in the prop of my hand one evening recently at bedtime, and with such potency in its mirroring of my thoughts (reflecting my own path in teaching), that I determined upon waking in the morning to set down its kernel-matter as best I could, using my own words*.

All the teaching comes from practising, through which a way (Tao) is transmitted to us. To practise is to open up our (Tao) Mind and experience all the treasures coming from it. In other words: in order to realise our (Tao or) transmitted Mind, I/we practise.

We should practise right where we are, going step by step, appreciating our everyday lives. There really is no need to travel – what Suzuki humorously calls ‘going sight-seeing’ (from school to school, discipline to discipline). And if you do travel, even though everyone will be friendly and happy to see you, you will surely stretch distance and money, and if you do find a teacher it will be difficult to understand her or study with him. Better to stay at home, watching yourself going slowly, step by step.
If you can go slowly, without any thought of gain, you are already a good student.

There is no trick, no secret on the way – no sudden enlightenment, just continuous practice.

Slowly you will realise that your practice is your true nature; even your thinking, as you practise, is your true nature. What you had previously thought to be your true nature, that part of you that you had educated into representing and being ‘you’, is not you.

I will ask you, as I ask myself: Who is that continuously practises? And that is not easy to answer, because I/you cannot determine or see the beginning of the practice, neither its end. Continuous means that it is without end or beginning, beyond even the span of our present life… So, it is difficult to say, who is practising right now.

One thing we should be clear about, is that we are not practising alone, or on our own, even where set apart in solitude. We are, instead, practising with all the ancestors – this is Suzuki’s phrase – I like to say that we are practising within the ancestral stream; that our practice is without gain or slip, neither good nor bad. That in continuous practice there is no waste in or of time, and that we do not practise for others or for ourselves.

Whatever we call it: Tao, Buddha, Wu… practise (verb) and practice (noun) is and brings forth its own sake, and our fundamental nature.

Just practise.

Thank you very much.




*Strictly speaking the Japanese word teisho
would indicate a formal Dharma talk, or even exegesis
of a koan. Suzuki, however,
knowing his California audience, was fond of the informal.
My short essay has been drawn from his Walk Like an Elephant in the
collection Not Always So: talks tape-recorded in situ and later transcribed.

*I undertake this is in a spirit of modesty rather
than comparison, finding it a useful way truthfully
to uncover the meaning heart of a great teacher’s words. 

©June 2019

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tai chi enso

FIGHT SKILL PARTNERING TAI CHI
SOLO FORMS
CHI KUNG MEDITATION
Trained-in response:
un-hesitating action,
thought into space,
nowhere everywhere.

Repeated testing:
action and response,
internal/external,
reflexive thought.


Whole mind,
whole body:

action in balance,
with time in space.


Body becoming
aware of/with/by
itself. Vital posture,
inner pattern.


Just sitting –
standing/lying/walking.
Thought into space,
nowhere everywhere.


 

It can sometimes be useful to offer guidance in a written or diagrammatic way as a means of supporting our physical, practical experience. Here (above, and best viewed on a pc/laptop rather than a phone) I am detailing Tai Chi Form practice within a possible spectrum of neighbouring disciplines. It should be noticed that both directions of travel (or acquiring skill) are possible, and that these are not fixed, but fluid positions.
Read the rest of this entry →

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TAO leaves falling, let fall

During the two-week meditation programme of August 2017 (see previous entry), quotations of others together with journal-notes and verse-exhortations of my own played a prominent part. In the days and weeks that have followed some of these persist so as to be often in my mind, blown there by autumn winds.

‘Just sitting’ is to get to our True Mind, the mind not accessible to thinking.
This mind cannot be consciously known by ordinary effort. An unusual effort is necessary.
This effort is ‘just sitting’.
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.

Sit with Heart,
Sit with Marrow,
Sit with Tea.

The taste of Chan (meditation) is the taste of Cha (tea).
Chinese temple saying.

Truth not far, nearer than near.

Raise the posture in Faith.

Mind behind mind.

Empty like this! Empty like this!

 

NA-MO TA-PEI KUAN SHIH YIN PU-SA
Dedication: Sanskrit with Chinese.

Earth buries as
Ore despoils as
Water drowns as
Wood founders as
Fire blasts as
Fire comforts as
Wood contrives as
Water saves as
Ore conserves as
Earth unearths us

I aspire to One Mind, Dream Awakening, Without Boundaries,
and sometimes sitting on my black cushion I approach these states.
In the far more difficult ‘just sitting’ of daily life,
there remains a dismaying separation between what I know and what I am.
Peter Matthiessen.

Sit with WU 
Sit with MU  
Sit with This 
Sit with Living  
Sit with Dying 
Sit with End 
Sit with Beginning 

There you are! There you are! There you are!
Who is this? Who is this? Who is this?

If you were not born in this world, there would be no need to die.
To be born in this world is to die, to disappear.
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.

The quotations of Suzuki are taken from
The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki
(biography) by David Chadwick.
Peter Matthiessen quote is from his
Nine Headed Dragon River.
I have not sought permissions but hope that in the
spirit of companionship they would happily give them.
The temple saying and invocation
of Kuan Yin are traditional.
Other material: the author.
©September 2017

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two weeks in August

The seed of this two-week meditation programme was planted around five years ago, sometime in 2012; I found that I wanted to see if I could convey to a group, or allow to happen within a group, something of what I was experiencing in my own simply-structured sitting practice. The occasional MEDITATIONs Study Days were the result, although these included standing, lying and walking, alongside just sitting. Later, finding that the one-off days were very much worthwhile, both to myself and those who came to them, I started to wonder if I could offer the same kind of experience over a sustained period, say two weeks; this August 2017, it became possible. I decided to keep a journal.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO DOWNLOAD THE JOURNAL AS A PDF BOOKLET

©September 2017

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privileges

After the early practice a question comes:

How is it?

Wu Tao Hsin 無道信 raises his eyes.

You ask me this morning, how it is?

He adjusts the twist of scarf at his neck, takes a sup of the soft-amber tea.

The Buddhists would say:
There is Form and there is Emptiness, Emptiness and Form.

A Taoist, if she utters at all, might say:
Wu!.. Just this.

Today I say to you, and I think perhaps most practically:
There is love and there is mortality, these two inseparable privileges of HumanBeing.
Love and Mortality.
This is how it is.

He takes a further sup, adding,

And these three answers are each the same.

©December 2016

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sky flowers

In response Wu Tao-hsin道信 pointed;
Holding nothing back
He gives everything away,
Even his name.
Yet the seeker, ever looking,
Does not see the flowers –
And time grows short.

 

Go through this practice –
You can taste the one thing
And not be two, and not be three.
When you have tasted one, rinse your mouth
To be thirsty again.

 

©June 2016

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go deeper

Understand this: that I make these observations in order to let them go.

In the wrestling act of writing ‘on paradox’, companion piece to this (see previous entry), I experienced a series of felt, entirely natural, ‘openings’ – as though all the windows in the house, the road, the town, were suddenly thrown wide…
Light dazzles: tears come, unbidden.
To make clear at once: there is not necessarily a sense of personal advance here, certainly no sense of claiming such, but there is without doubt a sense of intuitive response, of going deeper. I draw attention to it as a means of encouragement therefore, offering a direction of travel.
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on paradox

Following a period of practice – and it may be counted in years – it will happen that the body begins to find a balance, naturally. It is at this liminal place, as between dawn and day that the mind, gradually or suddenly, is set free.

In treading the heavily wooded path toward the numinous, distant as a crystal mountain, I have recently found myself returning to the use of paradox as a means of cutting through: to truth not far – nearer than near… This for myself but also in the spurring-on of others. Or, put the other way around and therefore paradoxically: Paradox seems to be using me.
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alexandrine

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tea-friends

Imagine the delight, after the steep uphill trudge away from the town, to emerge upon the eminence of the moon-viewing platform, sap and scent of mountain pine all about you and the prospect of a few hours spent observing the haze and colour of a summer downing sun over the stepped paddies and distant temple eaves.

Such were the quiet indulgences of tea-friends in a long-ago China; perhaps – and we must be hopeful –  in some places they still are. Gathered together they might fall to playfulness, and while setting the brazier coals to brighten and the kettle upon it again, improvise a verse whose meter, passed quickly voice to voice, produced a final line of satisfying completeness.
And then there would be wonder at the cloud-silent coming of the moon…
And no doubt, round about now, Sweet Dew would draw her flute from her sleeve and float silver phrases upon the upward drifting breeze.

Our annual tim’studio picnic is not quite such an event, yet these kinds of gatherings were its inspiration: To meet, to undertake our Tai Chi Forms, to prepare food, take tea, and at the moment that wu wei ease comes between us to undertake a playful yet clear-minded task.
This year I asked for a sentence or image – ON NATURE COMING INTO STILLNESS; my part being to offer a small prize and then to elucidate from the charcoal-y papers a free-form verse.


Leaf into leaf-shade,

Water-falls on water,
Dusk-blushing peony nods, retires (hoping that none observe her, perhaps).
Tree lets drop: seed cap to seed Earth.

Slip-away shingle waves… That sound!

Cat meditates. Vesper-stars snow.
Flame snuffs to smoke thread…
And whose curious stone is this?
And whose desire still for yellow wine and cake?

 

with contributions from: Olivia, Susanna, Colin, Cadi, Anzu, Maymay, Risa, Alec, Sara

©September 2015

 

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Fable

How often we need to repeat things, repeat a teaching, even to ourselves… Is this is why fables are read to the young? They are not necessarily easy to comprehend but they are easy to hear and follow, with their many repeated words and phrases, where often the child may join in, half-chanting their favourite parts aloud.
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on practice

Only meditate and awareness appears; then we must know that a human life – our own – is necessarily acted upon by that which is naturally occurring in the world – its obvious forms; yet also, from that which is naturally hidden – its mysterious forms. Then must we further recognise that our inclinations, in terms of mood, activity, health, are in their turn affected by the habit of the seasons, together with our maturing, beside the procession of Earth the Moon and Sun through the vault of Heaven’s Time.  Read the rest of this entry →

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on marking a passing

It is written in the Tradition* that Humankind follows Earth, that Earth follows Heaven, that Heaven follows Tao – the meta-matter of Nature entire.

Seen from here, in Earth and in our lives: This is the procession of Season by which we measure our span.

Seen from Heaven: This is the pattern of Form, that is elementary; our meagre comprehension of time and dimension falling away.

Tao has not regard of itself, as mind does not see Mind; is ineluctable, as dark as light, aware unknowing… and the wonder by which we, unaccountably, stir: taken in grief, taken in joy… taken in grief, taken in grief, taken in grief… and at the last, taken in love.

 

*from the brush of Lao Tzu, entry 25
©October 2014

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a banner

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bone matters

From elsewhere in these pages:

Imagination is valid awareness and may be as substantial as action…

It is relatively easy, given time, to develop awareness in the External ways of Tai Chi, by our senses and especially through partner work: the softest touch, an advance turned away, a cracking blow… Each of these leaving behind their resonance of energy – of their having been: as warm as breath, as cool as air, as bruise to the bone
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follow the Horse

The beginning of the year: waking in a cold room, and a dream so close that there is a moment to know it before the inevitable dissolve… the elusive meaning of Embrace Tiger, Return to the Mountain comes to me with a felt-in-the-body clarity… just as the Year of the Horse canters in…
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retreat, return, backwards-flowing

Much can be learned from Distance – in particular the distance allowed us by Time.

Needing a little distance just recently, a little wilderness, and following an inner prompt, I took myself to the north of England, to the skies and changeable autumn weather of the high Yorkshire moors; the journey there, the finding of an isolated cottage falling into place with wu wei ease.

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breathes in’s heels

From Chuang Tzu the sentence, ‘the True Man breathes in his heels’, has for a long time – and I mean many years – lain in my mind, occasionally rising to the surface, fish-like, to take a moment of air; and again just recently…

Chuang Tzu is full of these unexplained insights: twinkles in the overall master-work. Meanings are partially felt, only.

Those quick to claim certainty might exclaim: “Here! Here is proof of the well-spring of Taoist alchemy – the esoterica of heel-breathing, the mystic path to longevity. Let the teaching be freely expounded (or charged for!), its secret methods explained…”
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… it’s about faith. No, really!

Most years, at some point when I am teaching, I will hear myself repeating to the group words of my first teacher: ‘… the thing is’, he would say, ‘ you kind of just have to believe me…’. He was demonstrating the standing posture for Chi Kung, then correcting ours/mine.

I knew a little about Sitting in meditation at this time, but the Standing Jan Chung was new to me, perhaps even relatively new in Europe… (it being the early 1980s it had probably only been around in the West for twenty to thirty years). Yet something went into me, rooted me; at some level I did, indeed, believe. And belief, at a later stage, turned into trust: I found that I trusted my teacher fairly easily, then I began to trust our Form… Read the rest of this entry →

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Spring breaking

Perhaps we most often think of the power/virtue of chi as being mysterious, soft, soundless, appearing from nature’s hidden side.

This isn’t always so: sometimes it is mundane, noisy, prosaic, very much in the here and now… and mischievous.
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out of our skins

The year of the Snake has crept in, close to the ground, yin in aspect, water and Earth. The snake has much to teach: about patience and then directness and of how these two abide together.

In our culture to say of someone that they are self-centred is to be pejorative, meaning that they are self-ish and see all that happens around them as actions and achievement reflective of themselves. They are sun and fire without the balance of moon and water.

Yet in our practice of Tai Chi we are most often encouraged to move from our Centre – to develop self-awareness. A Koan-like puzzle is thereby prompted:

Where is the Self centred?

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knots in the thread

With the shortest day gone beyond*, and as a year in practice knots the thread of its ending to that now beginning, now continuing…

These informal notebook thoughts have taken a direction, a bearing, unexpected by their writer… How these traditional Forms – our training – begun largely as means of expressing a facility(?), an aesthetic, a moving; then becoming a way of skill – the martial virtue; now sublimating their maker/teacher/doer… as in a mighty wave that never drowns.
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on Letting Go

On letting go –in the Body

In practising Tai Chi, whether in learning patterns, Forms, or martial applications it is important to step with the whole body, whole foot: thence to walk on, without leaving a trace. (This is a skill developed by Hsing I training in particular)
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finding, following

Finding and then following ideas in Tai Chi, working on them by one-self, within a group or with a single other, may take many directions; we should be open to them. Sometimes it pays to explore and be discursive; at other times to be quick and straightforward. To be in good humour helps and is a characteristically Taoist approach. Here is a pattern of study that has emerged in my own practice.
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towards Solstice, Centre, Stillness

Three practical tips to guide any meditation, moving or still

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Mind-push

A Koan (Japanese) was set at the conclusion of a recent class, non-compulsorily and as gift.

This is an ancient method of puzzle-question (or statement) designed to penetrate to the heart/mind of a particular teaching.
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on White Tiger, Green Dragon

  • Taoism has a fondness for symbols and patterns largely taken from the natural world and seasons. Presumably these arose as a means of passing on teaching and traditions; of simply having a conversation without misunderstanding. As in the ancient world, so now.
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Hares boxing: martial arts

Being Practical

  • Vertical Golden Thread swings: in the rise of the swing keep Earth under your feet, and in the fall of the swing keep Heaven at the top of you head. And the use of the word ‘thread’ here is not a misnomer: the energy that moves in the long bone (spine) is spiral, or, more accurately, helical: centrifugal, centripetal, and bi-directional.  Imagine a thread cross-section and you will see it.
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February leaps

There are many forms and variables of balance; even chaos has balance, this is what Tai Chi means.

It follows that there is a balance to be found within each of our senses, and then between or through them.
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on Dragons

 

  •  Chief among the attributes of the Dragon, in Chinese thought and mysticism, is the ability to move with ease between Heaven and Earth. In human terms this means to be at ease in all or most situations, and to deal with people evenly; to be socially skilful and to communicate well.
  • The Dragon also signifies Tao. Study and practice of Tai Chi/Meditation – a personal/spiritual training – seeds within us a clear-mindedness that allows movement between things and people, thoughts and disciplines, without disconnection.
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