I am very excited about the release of my new book, Taijiquan Meditations for the Solo Form. In the course of my fifty years of teaching, there is a question that I have been asked many times: “what should I meditate on while doing the form?” This usually indicates a concept of the form as a background for some sort of profound mental state and is, I fear, a rather pervasive temptation for the average student. Unfortunately, it belies a fairly common misunderstanding of meditation in general, in that it seems to presuppose the imposition of a consciousness that represents an elevation above the mundane and ordinary reality of our day-to-day existence. Actually, true meditation is instead the elevation of this mundane and ordinary reality to its proper position in our awareness. The ultimate goal of this practice, in virtually all sophisticated schools of meditation, is emptiness, known as samadhi, shikantaza, or by various other names. And in fact, despite the almost infinite variety of rituals, chants, and even gods themselves that seem to separate these schools from one another, they all actually share the same basic method, known as seeding.
In the Japanese practice of Zen meditation, which I was privileged to pursue for several years under the guidance of the famous Yasutani Hakunn Roshi (immortalized by Phillip Kapleau in The Three Pillars of Zen), one is presented with two models, the Zen master and the head monk (and, ideally, all the other monks as well). Simply stated, the monk demonstrates how one acts in order to get enlightened, and the roshi demonstrates how one acts when he’s gotten it. Whatever profound mental state the roshi may or may not be enjoying, it is made clear that one does not attain it by imitation, regardless of how well-informed or skillful that imitation might be, but rather through the mechanism of seeds, which, in terms of content, can have a pretty low bar, profundity-wise. The necessary association of proper meditation with any particular seed or situation is a mistaken notion, beautifully expressed by the words of Vimalakirti, the author of the only sutra in the Buddhist Cannon that is written, not just by a lay person, but by someone who is not even a Buddhist. Shortly following the death of the Buddha, this simple woodcutter on the island of Ceylon, when walking past a meditating monk from the nearby enclave of Ananda, the late Buddha’s cousin and now head of the newly formed church, stopped and shouted at him: “You think meditation is sitting under a tree with your legs crossed, but I say to you: meditation is not sitting under a tree with your legs crossed.” The monk immediately experienced kensho (enlightenment).
Meditation is, put most succinctly, total mental absorption, pretty much the polar opposite of multi-tasking. For mental absorption, one needs a focus, something to be absorbed in. Beyond that, it is doing what you are doing, nothing more, and nothing less. There is no sophistication that supersedes that simple formulation. There are lotus postures, vegetarian diets, compelling religions that may aid meditation, but none of them are what meditation is. A great Zen master of the last century said once: “I used to meditate; now, I just sit.”
One’s ultimate involvement and mastery of Taijiquan is the result of a gestalt combination of technical details that combine to produce a result that, as I am quite fond of saying, looks like natural talent. Virtually every one of these details cannot be considered learned until they become completely unconscious and internalized habits, so thoroughly internalized, in fact, that they continue to function adequately even under the stress of life-threatening conflict. Anything capable of such a dissolution has met the minimum qualification for a legitimate seed, be it an object or an activity. Many of the technical details mentioned above, the smaller ingredients of the greater whole, are complex reactions to externally generated input, and may be practiced and developed when playing with a partner, but they themselves represent a gestalt of even smaller, totally personal habits that are so internal that both their cultivation and the result of that cultivation is, to all but the most sophisticated eye, simply invisible. These smaller ingredients require a protocol that is slower and more deliberate, undistracted by a partner’s whims, and expanded in size for easier examination. They require the solo form.
From the point of view of meditation, the form may be regarded as a ritual, insomuch as it is deliberately productive of a state that is entirely uncreative and, once sufficiently memorized, without the need for any external direction for a period of twenty minutes or so. I should stipulate without resistance that the form, even learned from totally uninformed observation, executed so as to merely imitate some model’s rendition to a reasonable degree, may be used to dissolve one’s day-to-day stress and personal identity for twenty minutes or so, with corresponding salutary effects on future health and happiness. If this is the extent of your desired involvement with Taijiquan, then this book is definitely not for you.
Taijiquan Meditations examines the form from the opposite end, the smallest pieces of the gestalt that forms the gestalt that forms the gestalt, the seeds of the seeds. It attempts to inform the student as to the proper use of the solo form, not as a performance or a demonstration, but as a reliable platform for the most effective concentration, the moving version of an old and trusted meditation cushion. Taijiquan Meditations represents only a small sample of the possible targets of our concentration, ones that I have observed, in my years as a teacher, to be perhaps especially useful, or especially difficult. I will be so bold as to say that it should be of equal use and interest for the beginner and the most advanced practitioner alike.
Hope you like it,