Even though Ruby’s class was about Tai Chi, it is impossible to talk about his classes without touching on the Tao te Ching, because he would use verses from the Tao to talk about the philosophy behind the form. The third lesson was the first such time that he did this, quoting the entire first poem of the Tao (John C.H. Wu translation):
Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao. Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.
As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless: As the Mother of all things, it is nameable.
So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence. As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.
These two flow from the same source, though differently named; And both are called mysteries.
The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.
Ruby only ever scratched the surface of this poem. It was up to us to go deeper into it, if we chose to do so. All he asked of his (college aged) students was that they see the yin and the yang statements within in. I was a bit older (in my late 20’s) when I took the class, and with a definite philosophical bent, so I always wanted to go deeper. There are so many layers to the Tao te Ching that a person could probably study it for a lifetime and continue to find new layers in it. I will, later, go into greater depths on my thoughts on this poem.
But for now, what drew my attention when I re-visited this lesson was the point where he said that in his class he would give us a key. That key unlocked the door mentioned in this poem, the door to all essence (according to this translation). I’ve been thinking about what he said, and I’m not sure I fully understand what he meant. Is the key in the form itself? Is it in the yin and yang of it all? Is it somewhere in the discussions that unfolded during the class?
Or is it perhaps more subtle than that? Perhaps the key lies hidden in what can happen to a person when they take on the practice of Tai Chi, when they really embrace it and the philosophy behind it. I have lost so much in the years that I have been off this path, but I’m beginning to remember. I’m beginning to see it again, if only dimly and in fleeting glimpses. This path can lead to a stillness, an openness, the ability to see and to hear what so often passes us by. In these moments, I can sense the harmony of yin and yang, that we are all parts of the whole and that separation is an illusion. To glimpse this, to see that all is truly one, that all things that we separate into being yin or yang are truly both parts of a whole and contain each other – this is to stand at the door of all essence.
There is more, infinitely more, that could be said. But no amount of words can truly paint a picture. This is something that has to be experienced for oneself. And then…silence will naturally follow.