The Basic View Of Taoism

"Although there are many diverse arts flowing from the wellspring of Taoism, all of these different arts are grounded in the same set of principles, what Taoists see as the fundamental laws of Nature applying to all things, high and low. These principles form the core of Taoist "general systems theory." By developing a working knowledge of these natural principles, you will have the master key to open the mysterious portals of the Tao.

Wu Ji

In the beginning, nothing existed. In Chinese this is called Wu Ji (meaning absolute nothingness). Wu Ji is synonymous with the Buddhist word sunyata, meaning emptiness, the void, pure openness, no boundary. Wu Ji is also sometimes referred to as the mystery, the nameless, the great mother, the source. Thus Lao Tzu says, "That which can be named is not the eternal name." Words cannot describe Wu Ji; it is beyond any thought, idea or concept, yet it can be directly experienced. Conscious realization of Wu Ji is called "Returning to the Source."


The first principle to manifest out of Wu Ji is primordial energy. The Chinese call this energy Qi. Qi (pronounced "chee") means breath, air, wind, or energy, and is similar in meaning to the Sanskrit word prana, the Hebrew word Ruach (breath of God), and to the Tibetan word rLung.

Qi is the force of all movement, from the movements of waves and sub-atomic particles to the movement of stars and planets. Qi is the force moving world systems into creation, existence and destruction; everything manifests out of Qi, exists as a form of Qi, and returns to Qi. In living creatures it becomes the life force and source of all metabolism. Qi is even the root of the movement of consciousness, of thought, sensory awareness and emotions.

The activity of Qi is what holds things together: atoms, molecules, our bodies, the earth, the solar system. When the pattern of Qi becomes exhausted, death occurs, the life force leaves, buildings disintegrate, change occurs.

Yin And Yang

The nameless is the mother of heaven and earth. 

Lao Tzu

As soon as Qi appeared, it moved as Yin and Yang. The Chinese character for Yin depicts the shady side of a mountain, while the character for Yang depicts the sunny side. Thus some characteristics of Yin are earth, receptiveness, darkness, cold, moisture, heaviness, descenscion, contractiveness, stillness. Yang, by relative contrast, is heaven, creativity, brightness, warmth, dryness, lightness, ascension, expansion, activity.

Everything in the relative world of existence can be viewed in terms of Yin and Yang. However, Yin and Yang are not separate; they are like the two poles of the same magnet. Thus, nothing is entirely Yin nor entirely Yang; each contains the other. The interdependent existence of Yin and Yang is known as Tai Ji (the Most High). Tai Ji and Wu Ji are seen as inseparable.

Yin and Yang create each other; as soon as you have a front, you must also have a back. Yin and Yang check and balance each other; if something is too hot, you balance it by adding cold. Yin and Yang also transform into one another; activity naturally transforms into rest, night transforms into day.

Life is peaceful when Yin and Yang are in harmony and balance, when the transitions from Yin to Yang and Yang to Yin are gradual and even. When either Yin or Yang becomes too extreme or when the transitions from Yin to Yang are unusually sudden and abrupt, harmony and balance are lost. These imbalances may appear as health problems, relationship difficulties, trade deficits, or unseasonal weather; all the changes in the universe can be analysed by understanding Yin and Yang.

Wu Hsing - The Five Phases

Yin and Yang are further subdivided into Wu Hsing. Wu means five, while hsing means form. Thus Wu Hsing is translated as the Five Forms, Five Phases (of Qi transformation) or most commonly as the Five Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. The Five Phases describes in more detail the stages of Yin and Yang changes.

The first phase is Wood, the lesser Yang, the phase of generation. Wood is associated with new plant life and growth, with spring time, with the planting and sprouting of seeds, with the east and the dawning of the new day.

The second phase is Fire, the Greatest Yang, the phase of expansion and radiance. Fire is associated with the full bloom of plants, with summertime, with the south and with mid-day.

The third phase is Earth, the balance of the Yang and Yin forces, and the phase of stability. Earth is associated with the ripening and maturing of the seeds and fruits of plants, with late summer, with the center and with late afternoon.

The fourth phase is Metal, the lesser Yin, the phase of gathering. Metal is associated with reaping the harvest, with autumn, with the west and dusk.

The fifth phase is Water, the greatest Yin, and the phase of storing and contraction. Water is associated with storing the harvest, with winter, with the north and with mid-night.

When the Five Phases are in balance, they work in two ways: they generate and nurture each other and they control and restrain one another. The Generation Cycle (Sheng Cycle) occurs when the phases interact in their natural order: Wood nourishes Fire, Fire creates Earth (ashes), Earth generates Metal (the distillation of minerals), Metal creates Water (condensation), and Water nourishes Wood. This is also called the mother - son cycle.

The Controlling Cycle (K'o Cycle) occurs when every other phase relates: Wood restrains Earth (plants prevent soil erosion), Fire controls Metal (a blacksmith's forge), Earth restrains Water (a dam), Metal controls Wood (screws and nails, a woodworker's tools), and Water controls Fire.

The following illustrates other correspondences of the Five Phases. Of particular importance to the Taoist yogi are the relationships to the internal organs of the body, and the emotions.

The Pa Kua

The Pa Kua or Eight Trigrams are a further differentiation of Yin and Yang. The Pa Kua are represented in octagonal configurations corresponding to the eight points of the compass. The I Ching (Classic Book of Change) is based upon the 64 possible combinations of the Pa Kua, and represents a more minute analysis of the stages of change in the universe.

The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Ever desireless, one can see the mystery. 

Ever desiring, one can see its manifestations.

Lao Tzu

Thus all existence unfolds from the emptiness of Wu Ji into Tai Ji, the dance of Yin and Yang. From Yin and Yang things are further differentiated into the Five Phases and the Eight Trigrams. From these all of the myriad forms of existence come into being. Dazzled by the various appearances, we forget who we are and where we come from.

Taoist spiritual practices seek to reverse this process. All phenomenal forms can be summed up in the eight trigrams, the eight trigrams can be simplified to the Five Phases; the Five Phases can be reduced to Yin and Yang, and when Yin and Yang come into equipoise, one can perceive Wu Ji.

San Bao - The Three Treasures

Another way of describing the coming into existence and the Return to the Source is in terms of the San Bao or Three Treasures within each of us: jing, Qi and shen. Jing corresponds to our physical body in general and our sexual energy in particular. Jing, too, circulates throughout the body via the eight extraordinary channels, and is stored in the kidneys.

Qi also circulates throughout the body via the twelve ordinary acupuncture channels, and is stored in the lower abdomen and the internal organs. There are two catergories of Qi in our bodies. The first is hereditary Qi, which is our constitutional strength inherited from our mother and father through the union of egg and sperm. The second type is acquired Qi, which is the energy that we draw from the air we breathe and the food we eat.

Shen corresponds to spirit, consciousness, and mind. Although it pervades the entire body through the blood, shen is housed in the heart in particular and in the internal organs in general. In fact, shen is totally insubstantial, and pervades not only the entire body, but the entire universe!

Emptiness gives birth to shen, spirit. Shen gives birth to Qi, energy. Qi gives birth to jing, essence or form. Form gives birth to discrimination, to desire and aversion, and to confusion about who and what we truly are. Thus the Taoist yogi seeks to transform jing back into Qi, to transform Qi back into shen, to transform shen back into emptiness.

The Three Dan Tians

The Three Dan Tians (Cinnabar Fields, Elixir Fields) are the inner alchemical cauldrons where transformation of the Three Treasures takes place. Jing is transformed into Qi in the Lower Dan Tian (also called the Yellow Court), located in the space between the navel, kidneys and sexual organs. Qi is transformed into shen in the Middle Dan Tian (also called the Crimson Palace in reference to the heart), located in the center of the chest. Shen is transformed into emptiness in the Upper Dan Tian (also called the Crystal Room) in the center of the brain.

The Three Bodies

Our physical body corresponds to jing, essence. Our energy body is our subtle body whose structure is composed of the Three Dan Tians, the internal organs' energy fields, the energy channels and the Qi flowing through them. The spirit body is the subtlest of the three, and is composed of the energy of purified mind, shen.

The Three Forces

On the macrocosmic level, shen or spirit corresponds to the Yang energy of heaven, jing corresponds to the Yin material form of earth, and Qi corresponds to the atmospheric energies as the product of the intercourse between heaven and earth. You can also see the Three Forces as different forms of Qi: Tian Qi (Heavenly Energy) of the stars, sun, moon and planets; Di Qi (Earth Energy), and Da Chi (Atmospheric Qi). Through learning to connect our Three Treasures with the Three Forces, we can enhance and strengthen our bodily energies, restore our health and vitality, and prepare ourselves to return to the Source."

from "Foundations of Taoist Practice"​​ by Jampa Mackenzie Stewart truth, OdiliaCarmen