Laozi's Daodejing in Taijiquan - Book excerpt

The following article "The Daodejing of Laozi in Taijiquan" is an excerpt from the book "The Daodejing in Taijiquan - Laozi's Exercise Guide" published by Lotus Press in 2015. In this book, Jan Silberstorff attempts to make the teachings of Laozi accessible to (not only) Western readers for effective Taijiquan training.

The Daodejing in Taijiquan - Verse 38

In Taijiquan lessons, we encounter a wealth of suggestions that make our own training easier to understand and, I hope, enrich and deepen it immensely. However, in order for all these suggestions to not only lead to a technique-oriented, mechanical training, but also to be assigned to a holistic system that affects our entire life, a structure is required in which all the previously provided suggestions can find their place, or even settle down. A structure makes it much easier to link the various clues into a common thread. This common thread is the path that brings me closer to my goal. The path is the goal. This path can be followed through the common thread, the structure. But the path also leads at some point to a goal that lies behind the path, indeed finds the path lying behind it. The destination then perceives the structure as the raft that you no longer carry around with you on the other side of the river, but leave on the bank. But I can't get to the other side without it. In the Taijiquan system according to Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, we have been given a very clear training structure that is always in front of us. Because even after reaching the fifth level, the improvement never stops. This structure gradually guides us through it. Or rather, through the experience I gain through it in my in-depth training. In this way, we almost automatically arrive at the sequence that Laozi prescribes in verse 38:



If the DAO is lost, then the LIFE (DE).
If LIFE (DE) is lost, then love.
If love is lost, then justice.
If justice is lost, then morality.
Morality is the penury of faith and trust
and the beginning of confusion.

As we want to develop upwards on our path, we would like to outline it in the order of practice as ascending from bottom to top:

From confusion I rise to morality.
From morality I rise to justice.
From justice I rise to love.
From love I rise to LIFE (DE).
From LIFE (DE) I rise to DAO.


DE 德

Love 仁

Justice 義

Morality 禮

Confusion 亂

Thus, on the way to the summit of his creation within spiritual practice, man (ren 人) first climbs the heights of morality and the social obligation to order, leaving his own confusion behind him. From there, having arrived in the clearing of justice, he can leave this morality behind him insofar as he voluntarily complies with it, as he now also grants others what he himself would like. Through the deepened practice of selflessness, he then climbs onto the rock of love, which in turn makes justice appear unnecessary. Because if I would rather give to the other person than receive from them anyway, where is the need for intentional sharing? From there, the path to perfect virtue, to true LIFE, to the original power of the DAO itself, the DE, is not far away. Those who can dwell in this state are long above the clouds under a bright sunshine and blue sky. Everything, even love, is easy for him, because he is in eternal joy - how could he be anything other than loving and kind? Plunging from this mountain top into the deepest abyss of the world, letting go of everything and falling only into his own creation, i.e. into himself, is then the ascent to heaven, indeed beyond, to that without which nothing is and which itself is not, although it is eternal: the DAO.

The purpose of this article is to apply Laozi's statements consistently and directly to our Taijiquan. In this way, we want to transfer this ascent to perfection to our taiji practice:

Morality, li 禮,

primarily means rite. Rite means rules.
When a new student starts Taijiquan, if he wants to get rid of his unprincipled, uncentered and uncoordinated (luan 亂) movements, he first needs rules and rituals. The rules are the basic requirements of how a movement should be performed. We find this summarized in the headings of the Wai- and Neisanhe, the Outer and Inner Unions. The rite is the form itself. A ritual of movements, given in order to penetrate through them to the universal truth of Taiji. Once these two things have been mastered, i.e. the ritual of the form can be carried out with the requirements of the rules, the next step must be tackled:

Justice, yi 義.

But what is justice (righteousness) in our Taiji form? In the social and societal sense, justice means balancing the needs of all people so that no one is left out. Justice therefore means that one person is balanced with the other in such a way that everyone is in equilibrium with each other within a certain level of flexibility. If one has too much, he gives to the other. In relation to our form, this means that now that the basic requirements of the form have been mastered, I must begin to bring all parts of the body, whether external, internal, material or spiritual, into balance with one another. Attention should be balanced with the heart. The inner energy should be balanced with the strength. The tendons and bones should be balanced with each other, as should the shoulders and hips, elbows and knees, as well as the hands with the feet. Likewise, everything in between, down to the smallest detail, should be balanced with its counterpart.

Just as Chen Xin, 16th generation of the Chen family, writes about it in his Taijiquan Tushuo in relation to the Pushing Hands:

„One's hands must function like a balance, such as when you weigh something in your hands, you can feel its weight. Likewise, the basic aim of martial arts practice is to cultivate the ability to 'weigh' the balance between you and the opponent with your heart/mind, so that you can respond accordingly; moving forward or backward, slow or fast. A person who is able to weigh visible signs and discern the invisible balances with their hands, adjusting his movement and weighting accordingly; is known to possess Magical Hands.“

So we have to do this in the solo forms within our mind and body. Everything in the body must be balanced and in harmony with each other. Then what may happen on the outside within a just society naturally arises within the body: we become content. With further harmonization within our spirit-body, this contentment increases to a desireless feeling of happiness, caused by the literal inner peace that has come to us as a result. This feeling of happiness automatically leads us to a feeling of

Loving Kindness, ren 仁.

Because in my desireless joy there is nothing that I begrudge or do not wish for the other person. We can already see this in the fact that, once we have trained in this state, we develop a loving feeling towards the nature around us, the trees, the wind and also our 'little roommates', which we now treat with care and which we certainly no longer want to step on. As a result of this loving kindness we experience, our lifestyle habits also change, e.g. a possible change to a vegetarian lifestyle, respectful treatment of other people, animals, plants and ourselves - in short, the whole of creation. This feeling of unity with creation is in turn the entry into its

Acting Force, DE 德.

In these stages of our Taijiquan training, our perception therefore goes far beyond the physical. The sensation of self-defense also develops from an attitude of 'protecting against the other' to learning to accept and understand the other and the actual survival instinct and the search for protection is shifted to the non-spatial and non-temporal in whose freedom I can be eternally and unharmedly non-being. If physical self-defense is ultimately and finally only a postponement of the actual problem, of dying, the practitioner is offered ways of overcoming precisely that which we call dying - which can certainly be described as self-defense to the highest degree. Even if we have to surrender our self for this very purpose when we enter this state:

No danger without self! (Daodejing Verse 52)

Thus the entry into the flowing original power of the inexpressible, the DE, brings about the subsequent unification with the

DAO 道.

In this parallel between Laozi's path of development of a society towards unification with the DAO, we find the various stages with their requirements and events of our Taiji practice. While the first two stages of the rite and the rules, or justice, still involve active action, the practice transforms into a growth into Wuwei, non-action, through the experience of loving kindness with constant, uninterrupted movement and deepening inner peace:

Who can create stillness (peace), little by little, through duration? (Daodejing Verse 15)

So while we actively try to create a certain state in the first two stages, the deepened states of the last three stages come about automatically with continued practice.

In this way, the structure of the Chen Xiaowang system leads us to an overarching structure that is capable of penetrating the entire being, indeed the entire creation itself, and making it tangible.

Just as Laozi describes in verse 38.