I’ve become a big fan of wu chi, a Taoist term for the emptiness from which fullness flows. It is the source of all that exists. Not being anything particular, wu chi is able to become everything. We could call it the One, but it is better not to name it at all.
Dualities—white, black; yin, yang; heaven, hell, true, false—can be given names for they are things. Wu chi isn’t a thing. It isn’t part of being. Wu chi can be considered the state of the Tao prior to creation. As Ellen Chen’s translation of the Tao Te Ching says (ch. 28), it is the unlimited aspect of the cosmos:
“To know (chih) the white (pe),
But to abide (shou) by the black (heh),
Is to be the model (shih) of the world.
Being the model of the world,
And deviating (t’eh) not from the everlasting power,
One again returns to the unlimited (wu-chi).
Chen comments: “Chi in the last line means the extreme boundary, limit, or perfection. Wu-chi as the negation of all boundaries or limits means the unbounded, unlimited or infinite. If t’ai-chi (Supreme Ultimate) in the I-Ching is the ultimate reality of the via affirmativa, wu-chi as ultimate non-being is the ultimate reality of the via negativa…When we transcend the extreme boundary of being, we arrive at nothingness (wu) or emptiness (hsü).”
I first heard the term, wu chi, used by my martial arts instructor. Warren said that he had told his own Tai Chi teacher that, after several decades of training, he had finally realized that there is only one move in Tai Chi. “Oh, very interesting,” the teacher said. “What is it?” “Whatever flows from wu chi [the empty state of rest in Tai Chi].” “Ah, I think you’re on to something,” said Warren’s teacher.
There’s nothing quite like wu chi in Western philosophy or religion. By and large we in the West adore positivity. We want to be filled, not emptied. We want to acquire, not divest. We want to become more, not less. We want to be raised up, not driven down.
Even when we claim to aspire to a state of lowly humility and egolessness, the envisioned end result is to be elevated: saved, enlightened, God-realized. I’m not saying that people of the East are less prone to ego, but at least philosophies such as Taoism and Zen—when unencumbered by religious trappings—present to spiritual aspirants a goal of inner emptiness.
Looking within my self during my period of morning meditation, I can imagine that wu chi is close at hand. That’s what I experience, inner darkness, which looks very much like the black circle that symbolizes wu chi on this website.
The problem, though, is that I look upon the darkness as separate from myself. That “emptiness” inside my head isn’t really empty if it is inhabited by a self that gazes upon an inner inkiness and thinks, “Here I am, looking upon nothing.” When there is still a here, an I, a looking, and a nothing, that’s pretty conclusive proof that wu chi is some distance away.
How far? I don’t know. Whether it is a hair’s breadth or a billion light years of consciousness transformation, it’s all the same to me. I’m here and wu chi is somewhere else, though wu is ever-present at the extreme boundary of being. So if I could subtract my being from me, the result of this existential equation would be, paradoxically, infinity.
When confronted with something “far-out” people often say in a derogatory way, “That sounds like something really woo-woo to me. I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” Well, they may be right. However, Taoism suggests that embracing wu-wu is exactly what a spiritual seeker should do.
Wu grammatically is a negative in Chinese, yet experientially it is a positive. It is said, Wu and Tao are equally the mother of all things.” Wu wei in Taoism literally means “not doing.” But wu wei is how nature does everything: effortlessly and harmoniously. Nature isn’t filled with a sense itself; it is itself. One, not two.
I need more wu-wu. A lot more. Until I’m empty of it.