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What does 'hunyuan' mean?

"Heaven and Earth are continuously revolving, stars, the Sun, all of the heavenly bodies spin and rotate. This round, circular, coordinated movement is called 'hunyuan'" — Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang

Hunyuan, pronounced hun-you-enprimordial natural state 


The word 'hunyuan' has both deep metaphysical meaning in Taoist philosophy, and, with regard to Qigong and Tai Chi, practical application. Let's take the deep philosophical side first.  


One online Chinese dictionary defines "hunyuan" simply as "the beginning of the universe," but that hardly approaches the subtlety and insight the ancient Taoist sages brought to this dynamic principle of change and evolution. For instance, Kong Yida (574-648) writes in "The True Meaning of the Book of Changes":


"Tai Chi [as a metaphysical principle] is the time where heaven and earth did not separate yet. The Yuan Qi [original chi] was Hun [mixed] into one. It is the ultimate beginning, it is the ultimate oneness [what Grandmaster Feng called "the hunyuan integrity state"]. When Hunyuan separates, immediately there is heaven and earth, therefore it is said Tai Chi gives birth to two forces. From ultimate oneness come out two forces. From two forces come out Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang change and transform, one above, one below, [then] they join into one whole and [once again] become one entity in the pre-separation state. When separating it comes back together again, and when coming back together it separates again. This [cycle] is called heaven constant. This is Hun Yuan."


This cycle of joining and separation, manifestation and dissolution, stillness and movement, is the "way" of the Tao, the way of Nature. This unchanging principle is therefore called "heaven constant," the primordial source from which which all things continuously arise and to which they return. This is why hunyuan is often translated as "primordial."


The question then arises, how best to embody this natural way in our human lives, and especially in our Qigong and Tai Chi practices? In the Caigentan, the "Vegetable Root Discourses," Hong Zicheng gives a hint, writing: 

 

The stillness

in stillness

is not

the real stillness.

 

Only when

there is stillness

in movement 

can the spiritual rhythm appear

which pervades

heaven and earth.


The "spiritual rhythm which pervades heaven and earth" is in fact Kong Yida's "heaven constant." It is not found in stillness alone, or, for that matter, in movement alone, but only in the ever-changing cycle of "stillness in movement, movement in stillness." This has practical application in Qigong and Tai Chi, as this short excerpt from an interview with Grandmaster Feng demonstrates:  


JS: Is Qi related to Dantian? [the dantian is the third or navel chakra]

 

MR. FENG: Dantian is closely related to movements of the waist. In micro-scale it is the center of the body—the point between belly button and Mingmen, where Qi originates from [the mingmen, or "Gate of Life," is the acupuncture point on the back directly behind the dantian; it can be thought of as the back of the dantian itself]. In macro-scale it covers whole body. In order to develop Dantian one should start from standing exercises and collect and nourish Qi - first focus Intention on the center of the body. Once the Qi in the body becomes abundant, one feels warm and movement inside. Then Dantian breathing should be used to induce the outside movement of the body with internal movement. When Intention and Qi are coordinated, Dantian turns and Qi flows freely in the whole body. All parts of the body move in a round way. This is Hunyuan.


JS: "Hunyuan" seems to be very important idea as you decided to add it to the name of your system...


MR. FENG: Heaven and Earth are continuously revolving, stars, the Sun, all of the heavenly bodies spin and rotate. This round, circular, coordinated movement is called "Hunyuan". This movement should also be reflected in martial arts practice. I learnt many martial arts and walked a very crooked path before I understood the core of Neijia arts [internal martial arts]. I want to show other people a straight, direct path to achieve high skill. For this reason I emphasize "Hunyuan" and the function of Xinyi [Mind and Intention].


"
From ultimate oneness come out two forces."

In the earlier forms of the taijitu — the tai chi symbol – the "two forces," black and white, are depicted in dynamic fashion arising from wuji, "ultimate oneness," the empty inner circle. These "two forces," once they manifest, become the yin and yang of the familiar modern taijitu: