What is the nature of immortality in Taoism?
Wudang Tai Chi is closely linked to the Taoist way of life and philosophy. The Yin Yang symbol that we often use in the context of Tai Chi Chuan is actually the symbol of Taoism. At some point in Tai Chi training, it will be necessary to take a closer look at these backgrounds. In the individual parts of the forms, one hears, again and again, abstract words such as “The Immortal”. The deeper meaning behind it you probably can not grasp first.
There is the Dao (the way) of the heavens, the Dao of the earth and the Dao of man – that is how it is taught. The Dao of man, that is the path determined by nature, which is always unwise and dangerous to leave. A convinced Daoist is someone who strives to live as closely as possible in harmony with nature.
The Three Treasures
Jing (Essence), Qi (Life Force), Shen (Spiritual Energy) – these are the three substances or energies that are of the utmost importance in the Daoist practice and are therefore generally called the “Three Treasures”. Although they are mainly of interest in explaining the Taoist exercises, it is also important to understand them in the context of Taoist cosmology. The Daoists believe that these three treasures are effective on all levels of being – from the tiniest organism to the vast macrocosm itself. In their pure form they are too subtle to be immediately noticed, we only recognize them in the transformations that they do cause. In a coarser and easier to identify form, they are also present in the human body. Nourish (that is maintain and strengthen), multiply and ennoble, so the three treasures support the acquisition of that tremendous physical and spiritual wealth for which the Daoists strive for a lifetime. The refinement and refinement of Jing, Qi, and Shen form the very content of spiritual endeavors and practices: to expand the vitality and lifespan of the Taoist adept, and multiply and purify the natural stores of his mind. Uninitiated or unread, this process is often completely misunderstood because of its poetic and pictorial description.
Here’s an example:
“Riding the dragon, he floated over the world, settled in the cloud palaces of the immortals, made his way beyond the blazing sun, and entered the courtyards of heaven.”
Meditation and the powers of the mind
These words are meant to portray bliss in meditation and the powers of the mind. Too often, however, such descriptions are understood too literally and without sufficient background knowledge. These misunderstandings have led to the widespread belief that Daoist masters are nothing more than alchemists. Indeed, for centuries it has been believed that Daoists could turn base metals into gold and make a drug that promised eternal youth and immortality. But the terms “golden elixir” and “refinement” actually refer to psycho-physical processes of Taoist meditation practices.
In the book of the Golden Elixir, it says: With the refinement of Jing in Qi the first barrier is overcome – perfect silence enters the body. With the refinement of Qi in Shen, the middle barrier is overcome – perfect silence enters the heart. With the refinement of Shen in Xu (emptiness) the last barrier is overcome: ego and cosmos are united. This is the true meaning of sacred practice, its oral and written transmission, cultivating and nurturing (by Jing, Qi, and Shen). It has nothing to do with making a “pill” or a “trunks”.
If one had to reduce to a single word, which occupies an outstanding meaning with the Daoists, then it would be the “silence”. Because the silence is fundamental and necessary for all insights, connections and for coming to oneself. In meditation, the silence is practiced.
“Stirred by the storm winds of circumstances, the hermit’s heart is a still lake.”
To understand the true nature of Taoist aspiration, it is essential to consider the meaning of “immortality” in the sense it has for the mystics and adepts who are fully initiated into the mystery of cultivating the Dao. An immortal is a person who has fully committed all his physical and mental gifts, who has cast off the passion and has discarded all desires (except the simplest and most harmless ones), thus attaining a free, immediate existence a being so close to perfection that its body is merely a shell or container for its mind.
“No effort is needed to gather a mind that has turned away from all causes of unrest.”
The True Self
An immortal has undergone a spiritual rebirth, freeing himself from the shackles of egocentricity, and being face to face with his “true self.” He is aware that this “self” is not his property, but nothing but the sublime, indistinguishable Dao. With the disappearance of his apparent ego, he no longer sees himself as an individual, but as the unchangeable Dao, embodied in a transient form. Death, when it comes, means to him no more than the stripping off of a worn robe. So he has reached eternal life and is ready to return to the boundlessness of being.
Goal of immortality
The fantasy of the immortality of the body, of flesh and blood, is, therefore, a very simplified and ignorant view of the sublime idea of transcendental immortality.
“Immortality” is the term that Daoists of all levels of consciousness use to denote their goal, so the poetic title “Immortal” is equally given to Taoist sages, meditators, and even older recluses, of whom, given their attitudes and knowledge politely assumes that they have reached their destination.
Take things as they come – calm emotions
The exercises of the Daoists promote longer life and also support physical health. In silence and in meditation, calmness is practiced, with the qigong and tai chi exercises, all necessary channels are opened and released, so that the energy can flow and the body remains vital. If the shell of our mind – the body – is strong and healthy, the mind can spread more easily. Then the body can better tolerate the silence.
“In no hurry, nothing is really worth the effort. As the cultivation of the Dao progresses steadily, passion and desire naturally decrease; there is no need to suppress them. “