The Tao means "The way". It infers a way of being or living, which leads us back from the entangled state of duality we live in with the purpose of re-connecting us to the unmanifest, infinite and primal source of the universe called Wuji.
The Tao as a philosophy was formalized by Laozi (Lao Tzu) sometime in the 3rd or 4th B.C.E. in a text called Daode jing (Tao Te Ching). Laozi's writtings discuss the Tao from the perspective of a poetic guide teaching the reader how to live in order to fall into alignment with the Tao. To align ourselves with the path back to Wuji. However, the roots of this philosophy date back earlier to a method of divination used by the ancient magicians called the Yi Jing (I Ching - Book of Changes) first recorded in around 3500 BC, but likely dating back even further.
One of the most well known philosophical concepts from the Yi Jing to penetrate modern culture is yin and yang. In the Ye Jing, yin and yang are one part of a process for explaining the creation of everything in the known universe. Since yin and yang form a significant contextual basis for the philosophy and theories of Chinese medicine and the internal arts, and whether we wish to walk the path of the Tao toward Wuji or not, it is helpful to gain some insight into the foundational concepts from which yin and yang arise, and their intended purpose before we begin applying them.
The Ye Jing was a system of divination consisting of the Wuji, Taiji, yin and yang and the 8 Trigrams which explained the transformations of all phenomenon of all that exists between Heaven and Earth. In this system, the Wuji represents oneness, unification or the undifferentiated timelessness of the universe. The Kanji characters of Wuji translates to mean "without polarity" and is the Tao-in-stillness. Or more accurately, simply Wuji, since Wuji infers stillness on all levels. In the Ye Jing and by most Taoist sects, Wuji is represented pictorially as an empty circle. And even though the concept of Wuji is drawn as an empty circle, there is no circle. No boundaries. Nothing — primal, infinite, pre-universe emptiness.
Often the term Wuji and Tao are used interchangeably, but in fact, the Tao is more accurately the path leading us back to an embodied state of Wuji. Finding this state is the purpose of the Tao and the internal arts.
The symbol of the yin and yang together, as it is commonly represented, is called Taiji. Taiji describes the Wuji split into duality and expresses the spark of movement within the universe or the emergence of polarity. The modulation of this polarity gave birth to the vibration or oscillation of the defined "something's" of the universe to be born from the undefined "nothingness" of Wuji. Taiji represents Tao-in-movement, or more precisely, Wuji-in-movement. However, at this stage of division, the movement of Taiji, or yin and yang are balanced and harmonious. Because of this balanced and harmonious state, the movement suggested by Taiji remains as stillness in movement.
This state in the internal arts is called 'sung'. Moving in the state of Taiji is what qigong, and the appropriately named internal martial art of Taijiquan, is attempting to teach you and over time transform your mind/body into Taiji so that you can transcend duality and enter the state of Wuji. And through this process, discovering that the Tao as it is, Wuji. Empty. Timeless. Unified. Complete. Infinite.
After this stage, the balanced Taiji splits into original yin and original yang. Original yin and original yang work together as relative complementary opposites to go on to makeup all the "something's" of the universe, and from here the lattice of experiential reality rapidly unfolds, and as the traditional Chinese texts would suggest, transforming into the "10,000 things". The original yin and yang then combine into four proportional divisions of yin and yang creating greater yin, greater yang, lessor yin and lessor yang. The lessor and greater yin and yang divisions then pair again with the primary yin and yang to create into the 8 Trigrams of the Ye Jing. The 8 Trigrams represent basic, or principal energies (vibrations) of energy/matter in the universe.
For the Ye Jing divination process, each of the 8 Trigrams is combined with another trigram to create a set of 64 changes. These 64 changes explain all the possible transformations of energy/matter in the universe.
The purpose of the internal meditation arts of Qigong and Taijiquan is to help you backtrack to a state of Taiji so that you then continue the path, or Tao, to Wuji and wll discussed in relation to internal movement principles in The Tao and The Internal Martial Arts - Part 2.