Just say “no!” to self cultivation

Before the Internet, back in the early 90s, there were only a few books on the subject of Tai Chi in the West, so the authors of these books achieved a kind of fame and notoriety that wasn’t really proportional to their actual importance, or impact on the Tai Chi world. Or maybe their fame became proportional because of the books themselves, in a kind of self fulfilling prophecy. It’s hard to say.

Either way, one book title that always stuck in my mind was “Master Cheng’s New Method of Taichi Ch’uan Self-cultivation”.

This idea of “self cultivation” is kind of the main reason that people practice Tai Chi in the modern world. It’s kind of like exercise, but a little deeper, involving something a little more like meditation. This idea of using eastern spirituality to go on a personal odyssey, or journey into your self is sold to us all the time in the world of Tai Chi, Yoga and health or spiritual practices.

The fact is, it’s nonsense. I hate to break to to you, but individually, we are really not that deep. Scratch our surface and there’s really not that much to us. The idea of cultivating yourself is really a huge waste of time. Our depth lies in our relationships to other people, places and non-human animals. And to find our connection to the world, to the land, the first thing you need to do is get rid of this little self that you’ve been busy cultivating with your various yoga, tai chi and martial arts practices.

Just look at what the Zen or Tao masters of old wrote. They were telling us this constantly in their writings.

When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.

– Shunryu Suzuki

One must be deeply aware of the impermanence of the world.

– Dogen

The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something.

– Koun Yamada

Those were literally the first three quite in an article I just searched up called “25 Zen Quotes“.

I feel like I could quote any chapter of the Tao Te Ching too, but let’s go with chapter 3:

The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.

Practice not-doing,
and everything will fall into place.

2 thoughts on “Just say “no!” to self cultivation

  1. Self-cultivation is a phrase found throughout Chinese thought and is not peculiar to Taijiquan. When you hear the term “Self Cultivation” think of “following the Tao”. Included in that “cultivation” is qi, jin, dantian, etc.; hence when you hear “Tao”, “Dao”, of “Do” associated with an Asian martial art, they’re in a sense telling you that they use qi, jin, dantian, subconscious mind (“no mind”), and so on.

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