Taiji and Religion

Most people, whether they are Christians, Jewish, Moslems, or members of any other religious faith, have no problem with learning Taiji or allowing their children to learn Taiji. They consider Taiji to be either a healthy exercise or a martial art or both, and independent of religion. However, some Christians find it objectionable to learn or practice Taiji, and do not want their church to be associated in any way with Taiji. They believe that Taiji is related to qigong and is tied to religious Taoism or Buddhism, and therefore is inconsistent with their Christian beliefs.

I think this type of thinking is simplistic and wrong. It is true that almost every style of Chinese martial arts has qigong as part of its advanced training to achieve the following martial arts/health objectives:

  • Regulate one’s breathing to relax body and mind and improve one’s health
  • Increase the power of one’s strikes
  • Focus one’s qi (energy) when attacking certain vital points (usually associated with acupuncture points)
  • Increase one’s ability to absorb hits
  • Apply it to heal various illnesses or injuries

Besides the above martial arts/health objectives, many qigong practitioners also consider qigong to have an underlying philosophical component. This is especially obvious for Taiji because Taiji is intimately tied with the yin-yang philosophy in two fundamental ways. One is the concept of not resisting an opponent’s force head-on, but deflecting it slightly and then utilizing the momentum of your opponent’s force to get him off-balance. The second is that depending on your opponent’s movement, one is constantly changing one’s movement as in the yin-yang transformation. Therefore, it may be correct to say that Taiji is related to philosophical Taoism, in which the concept of yin and yang is an integral part.

It is also true that some qigong practitioners go even further and claim that qigong is related to religious Taoism or Buddhism, in the sense that there is a spiritual or supernatural component. It is important to point out that there are great distinctions between philosophical Taoism and religious Taoism. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica more than half a century ago already recognized this difference when it wrote: “The term Taoism has two meanings (1) The philosophical system attributed to Lao Tzu (b. 604 BC) and Chuang Tzu (b. 330 BC); (2) The popular religion of the Chinese.” Philosophical Taoism is widely respected as a philosophy by many great Chinese and non-Chinese philosophers, as well as non-philosophers. However, many people consider religious Taoism as an accumulation of folklore and superstition. Unfortunately, many people do not understand this distinction.

Considering the long existence of qigong and its practice by so many people over so many centuries and considering the social and religious milieu of the Chinese society during this period, it is not surprising at all that qigong could mean many things and could mean different things to different people. Therefore, one should not consider qigong to be synonymous with various forms of Chinese religions.

Besides, most teachers of Taiji today (as well as other Chinese martial arts) teach Taiji (and other Chinese martial arts) without any religious overtones. I know that has been the case with every one of my 10+ Taiji and martial arts teachers.

My conclusion is that as long as Christians believe that there are health or self-defense benefits to learning Taiji and that one does not associate Taiji or qigong with religious Taoism or Buddhism, then by all means go ahead to learn and practice Taiji. It doesn’t matter that there might be people who think that you are doing something that is related to religious Taoism or Buddhism. If one is always overly concerned about what other people think, then one will not be able to do a lot of interesting and worthwhile things in life.

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