If you walk through a busy park in the morning, you’ll likely find countless joggers and dog walkers, but if you’re lucky, you may stumble upon a tranquil person or group practicing the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi. This unique form of martial arts is graceful and harmonious, emphasizing that spiritual tranquility within the individual complements Confucianism’s focus on social duty. Slow movements flow into one another in a sort of trancelike dance, as graceful as a tutu-clad Ballet Russe dancer. Mind, body and spirit seem to coalesce, and even just watching someone else perform this ritual can be a soothing experience in itself.
Taoist Master Mantak Chia, who has been to Santa Cruz to teach a handful of times and will be speaking at an event in town this weekend, has been practicing Tai Chi since he was a young child. At a delicate age, his parents discovered that he had great aptitude for the spiritual realm, and they encouraged him to pursue this potential. “Since I was very small I liked this kind of meditation,” Chia explains. “When I was very young people thought that I’m more into this kind of thing, different from a normal child. I was fortunate to learn the Taoism from my master. I was fortunate that I learned from him because he gave me the formula of how to practice from the beginning to immortality.”
Master Chia explains that Taoism is quite different from a religious practice because it focuses on bringing the spiritual world into the physical. “Whether you believe in God or you don’t believe in God, you still have a soul and a spirit,” he says wisely. “Tao practice is how to give your soul and spirit connection. I grew up in Christian family and with Buddhism. There are so many religious practices in Asia and I see that everything is fighting. I said it should all be one.”
It seems Chia’s spiritual journey as a child has turned him into an ultra-spiritual adult, and the Tao Master has dedicated his life to the practice and teaching of Taoism. He is the creator of the Healing Tao, Tao Yoga, Universal Healing Tao System and the director of the Universal Healing Tao Center and Tao Garden Health Spa & Resort which he founded in Chiang Mai, Thailand more than 18 years ago. Chia spends seven months of the year teaching at conferences and workshops throughout Europe and the U.S. He is also the author of 31 books on the Taoist practice. Chia has made his main goal in life to educate people about Taoism and Tai Chi. The master has found that some people are frightened of the “soul” and “spirit” because, in this case, it has to deal with the afterlife-many people are afraid of death. Poetically, he explains that if a person loses their power, they become a hungry, wandering ghost, a lost soul. “We are meant to come to this world in order to develop and grow and advance in a higher plane. We don’t come to this world and have no goal and purpose,” Chia says. “I am always wondering how I can teach more people.”
Although changing the world one person at a time through Taoism may seem a lofty goal, Chia is unwavering in his ardent zeal. “I want to carry out the work of a born-again prophet,” the Master says. “I want to initiate things of fire.”
Chia explains that the world is 70 percent water and our bodies have about 80 percent water, and that our bodies exist because of water and fire. “Water and fire combine into steam, or Chi,” he relates. “My dream is that everyone in the world initiates the fire and goes through the born-again process. People increasingly have less and less fire and if we cannot have any steam, the world is finished. Same thing in our bodies, if we have no chi we have nothing.”
“The most valuable thing we have is the soul and spirit,” says Chia in response to his dedication to Taoism. “The soul and spirit have no form and they need to take a form. Every soul comes in as an infant or a child. We come to this world with no vision and no mission and we leave the world with a soul and spirit like a child if you do not develop it.”
The center of the Tao faith is Chi, which is the link between the physical soul and spirit. In Taoism, the first step is to raise up your soul and spirit. “We need Chi to develop,” Chia says.
Despite Master Chia’s unwavering conviction, some people may be reticent to adopt the practice of Tai Chi and the Taoist beliefs of soul and spirit energy. Chia would encourage these people to consider what Chi really is: the body’s energy. And even the most stalwart opponent of Taoism cannot argue that the body has energy. “When we introduce people to Taoism, we always start with Chi,” he says. “When we have lesser life force, the first thing we must do is create more Chi. Everybody wants more energy. We eat healthy and exercise to get more energy. But the problem is we don’t know how to conserve our energy and we are always looking for more. We need to learn to keep the one that we have; to conserve it and recycle it.
“People have much, much more energy than they think and you don’t have to go looking for more,” he adds. “When people learn to conserve their energy, they use less energy.
Even though Taoism is based on a tract called “Tao Te Ching,” which was written in the 6th century BC, it still pertains to the 21st century’s adherence to conservationism. Who knew?
In between his teaching, which finds him jetting off to foreign locales almost weekly, Master Chia is working on a new project at his meditation center called a dark room-and not of the photography kind.
“I’m trying to create a dark room so people can do their practice inside and get the out of body experience,” he says. “People think that out-of-body is something they only experience once in their lives when they die. And some people started to discover that you can take drugs or magic mushrooms and try to have that experience, but it’s very dangerous. That is what the practice in the dark is for.