Wednesday, December 12, 2007


As I’ve indicated, I’ve been looking into chi. That Chinese concept which I’ve come to think of as the substance of vitality. I’m surrounded by books on the subject, all stacked up on my bed the way I insist on having it. It’s far too soon for me to say anything of substance on the matter. Not my style. I’m closing in on three years at BJJ, and I still don’t say much on that subject. I’m just now coming into some intellectual comfort about it, BJJ. It astounds me how some people come in as new white belts, and in a few days or weeks they’re wanting to instruct. Seems imprudent.

But I do have a broad background on ideas related to chi. I am steeped in the Western traditions. I never actually was a Kabbalist, but I used to know the subject well enough to be one. Same with alchemy and ceremonial magic. I knew the theories, and even though, in those days, I wasn’t Christian, I was far too cautious to warm myself by such strange fire. Because I do think there’s something to it, and not all of it has to do with demons. Even if it's only psychology and the power of suggestion, there's something to it.

The way I came to think of it, especially after my immersion in the Bible, is that there are three worlds. Three that we have any business in. The purely physical -- the scientistic and tangible -- purely phenomenological and measurable. The material universe. Where most of us live most of the time. Then there is, for lack of a better term, the vital world. The biosphere in its broadest sense -- including not just organisms, but the reason organisms are alive, up to and past emotion and mind: that is, soul. Everything that has life has soul. Everywhere that life is possible is imbued with the substance of soul, whatever we call it. Ectoplasm. Prana. Aether. Animal magnetism. The astral plain. Chi. The life force. The stuff that dreams are made of. The terms are vague and not perfectly interchangeable. No matter. Every tradition has its accumulated superstition.

The only way to get it absolutely right would be through revelation, and who’s going to do that? The demons? Indeed they do. But they lie as well. A polluted well. Angels? They seem to have long and interesting conversations with various visionaries, but those visionaries tend to be close-mouthed on the subject. Daniel sealed up his book. There are interesting hints, as of the school for prophets mentioned in Kings or where ever. I see them not just as seminaries, but as the places where Elijah and his lot learned to work wonders. I see them as possessing a technology, closely guarded, entirely holy, but very dangerous. Witness the troublesome prophet Balaam, whose curses worked. Even the magicians of Pharaoh who opposed Moses need not have been utter frauds, or completely the tools of demons. My point is, there are natural, as it were, forces -- not miraculous at all -- that can work seeming wonders.

Such wonders do not turn water into wine. That seems a higher order, dealing with the actual nature of a thing, and not just how it is perceived. The soulish level -- translated in the New Testament from the Greek psuche, sometimes as “natural” (as in “the natural man is dead”) -- this soulish level can be trained, I think, as the body can be trained. Just as we might acquire or develop physical strengths and skills that seem impossible to the untrained, I think that the soulish body can act on the soulish world in an almost physical way. Levitation. I’m making it up. I don’t know. But I think it could be so. And if so, this is what chi is, and what its development reaches toward.

The third “world” is that of spirit. The natural man is dead in his spirit, per the Bible. Bad news. The good news is that one can be born again. But I’m not preaching right now. I take this as fact, this fall, this alienation from God, this spiritual death and need for rebirth. But if this is the case, then almost everything we hear about “spirituality” is a misapplication of the term. Well, those books that I’m reading on chi are all plugged into the Taoist tradition, which purports to speak of the absolute power behind everything. This would be spirit, as we both agree to call it, the Taoists and myself.

But the natural man is dead, and there’s only one means to rebirth, and it isn’t Taoism. So what they call spirit, that absolute thing, isn’t God, or anything on God’s level. It would be, by my reasoning, only the highest, the most sublime refinement of chi, of soul, of that organizing, organic life principle shared by yeast and trees and frogs and us. They would have it in clouds and waterfalls as well. So be it. It would be a force, an organizing principle, but it is not intelligent. What of the joy and the peace and the love that the saints of other religions attain? What of the calm and the blessings derived from the various meditation technologies of various cultures? They can bring joy because health is conducive to joy. We mustn't confuse emotion for intellect, or ecstasy for creativity.

Why have the Chinese remembered this force, this chi, and the means to manipulate it, while we of the West, and specifically the Christians, have forgotten it? Well, there was the Church and its repression of heresies. As for that I have no opinion. Maybe it was a shame, maybe it was good. And there was an enlightened movement toward objectivity and science. In any case, these other cultures have remembered, and we have forgotten, those things that the prophets of Israel learned in their schools.

Should we remember them? Is it witchcraft? Is it forbidden? Divining is forbidden -- seeking after the future. Necromancy is forbidden -- dealing with the dead. Whoring is forbidden -- intercourse with demons. But may we not develop our own souls, complete with chakras and the like? One problem is that there is power inherent in becoming strong in this manner, and most people shouldn’t have power. I have no answer to that except that we have become democratic, and what was secret may easily be discovered by anyone who looks. Another problem is that these teachings are embedded in alien faiths. I believe it is possible to refine the gold from the dross. Related to this is that one may mistake soul for spirit, and thus neglect that which is important. This would be a matter of sound teaching. Elijah got the emphasis right. He worked wonders, but worshipped God. Might we do the same?

Even when we are born again, our spirit touches God only moment to moment, sustained as by artificial respiration by the Holy Spirit. Pardon my religiosity. It’s a fact. Everyone has a dead spirit. The saints of all these other faiths have dead spirits. It may be possible that they actually do interact on a spiritual level with all the levels of the universe. It may be that the death within these spirits isn’t operative on a horizontal level, but only in the heavenly direction -- cut off from God. That’s the only level that would matter. Everyone lives forever -- it’s just a matter of where. Indeed, dead spirits are alive, just not alive to God. They survive, ultimately, as spiritual zombies in hell, whereas the saved have abundant life. Fallen angels are spirit, and alive in their way. Demons seem to be the “ghosts” of an abominable hybrid between angel and man, unsuited for the waiting room of Sheol and so free for this dispensation to roam as they will. The point is, dead spirits still function.

Well. These are the kinds of things that interest me. There’s very much more that could be said. I won’t bother. I just have one last thing. There was a true, a pure teaching on these matters, I think, handed down in families and schools in a linear way into historical times. Adam walked with God, after all. Where do we get the first, cosmological chapters of the book of Genesis? They were told by God to Adam, who wrote them out pictographically, which records were used as mnemonics by his children, the patriarchs of Genesis, who used them almost as cartoons to pass the stories on. Moses, brother of Aaron, translated them finally into set prose. You can still see the shadows of the pictographs though, in the laconic style. The middle “books” of Genesis were written in cuneiform, as can easily be discerned by the preservation of the convention of the colophon, the end title of each section. When we get to Joseph, it changes style again, because Egypt had a different literary tradition. I won’t elaborate.

Just so, the “mystical” technologies of the soul -- mediation and visualization and self-hypnosis, and physical exercises and breathing, and chantings no doubt, and other tactics -- these would have been known and used. Why be random when you can be organized? Sometimes, in some places, in the various cities and cultures and emerging races of the antediluvian world, things got corrupt. We will not speak of it. But Noah kept it pure. Babel corrupted it again, but Job knew the truth. Balaam knew it yet got it wrong. Moses got it right, and his line, down to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Daniel remembered. After that it goes underground.

Are we to suppose that the Chinese made it all up, and the Hindus, and the shamans of the heathens? They took it from Babel, and remembered, imperfectly. Effective, but distorted. Like many heresies. We should thank them for tending the fires, for all that they’ve caused a lot of smoke. A fresh wind may clear the air.

So that’s my take on chi. I could be wrong. It may just be a manipulation of aspects of psychology. I’m fine with that too. I don’t care about theory, for all that I like to play with ideas. I like results. If there is no vital substance of the universe, but something else, that’s okay. If it’s just a way of finding peace, that’s a good thing. We should have peace. It doesn’t matter how we hush and are still, so long as we know who God is.



W said...

Speaking of martial arts and chi, I've always been interested in the intersection of the two areas. I suppose some my early interest in martial arts was kindled by it. I was fascinated by the stories of a small (in stature at least) master of tai chi hurling an opponent twice his size across the room - or the practitioners who could send grown men into convulsions without ever touching them. However, through the years I've yet to actually see these legends materialize into something other than leverage or psychology. If a guy knows how to execute a solid throw, or if a student is absolutely convinced his teacher can hurt him with zero contact, well, there you go. Maybe it can all be explained with physics and psychology - I'm not sure that makes it so, but it does make it awfully hard to prove otherwise. Maybe proof isn't important though; it seems a shame to take the wonder out of everything in any event.

Jack H said...

My take exactly. Cool stories, but results are what count. What is possible and what occurs are two different things. I'll let you know if I find any one who lives up to the hype. For my part, I'm just hoping to find a way that I can release some tension and stop holding my breath.