Where do we start a discussion about nothingness? It kind of sounds like an oxymoron don’t you think? Perhaps our physical lives, are so suffused with ‘things’ that no-thing is difficult to get our heads around? or maybe its just me? … it certainly took me a long time to begin to grasp Wu Ji ! Despite the awkwardness, Wu Ji – the void or nothingness is of primary importance in many traditions.

Wu Ji and corresponding ideas in other cultures have shown up the world over, for millennia, it’s central to many Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian teachings, meditative practices and even martial arts.

Analogous concepts exist in Western philosophical and spiritual traditions and, more recently, the idea of a void has emerged in scientific streams such as astrophysics and quantum theory.

I must admit I am delighted when modern science make discoveries and advance theories that ancient cultures knew of thousands of years ago!

In a sense its an example of creation theory – the ancients knew experientially and intuitively (heaven) then, years later, modern science verifies deductively (bringing it down to ‘earth’), it’s like a process of downloading information!

Many of our greatest minds such as Albert Einstein followed the same process, envisioning or dreaming then proving in the laboratory.

Let’s start by looking at the Chinese character for Wu Ji, but before we do, be aware that characters were originally ‘pictures’ or pictograms and, you know the adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’! so translations into English may not be as singular in meaning and definitive as we’re used to.

The literal translation of Wu Ji is ‘ without ridgepole’. A ridgepole is the highest part of a building. Its the long horizontal beam where the slanted parts of the roof meet, not having a ridge pole is equivalent to an absence or nothing above.

Common translations of Wu Ji are – limitless; infinite; nothingness; emptiness; boundless; undifferentiated; no consciousness, time or dimensions. Other renderings are – ‘unconditional beginning of the universe’, ultimate void.

As a beginning or departure point, Wu Ji is evoked as a starting position in martial arts practices such as Tai Qi or Qi Gong. A practitioner adopts a starting stance, stills themselves relaxing mind and body creating an ‘empty state’, much like preparation for meditative practice.

I remember my first Tai Qi teacher speaking about the value of emptiness, he asked us to imagine a house so completely full of furniture that it can’t be lived in, the usefulness is in its emptiness.

You may have heard the tale of the young initiate seeking counsel from his master. Repeatedly the youth fails to divine meaning from his masters words so the adept orders tea. Once the tea arrives the master pours it into a cup and continues pouring despite the cup being full. The student protests at the old mans apparent ineptitude, the master replies “yes and so it is that your mind is so full there’s no space to perceive the meaning of my words”.

A central tenet of Mahayana Buddhism is shunyata, the idea of emptiness obtained through meditation, producing many beneficial outcomes including; compassion, altruism and wisdom.

Although it may not be possible to cease thought totally in meditation, slowing down or temporarily emptying the mind, creates space for altered perception and physically measurable changes of our brain waves. 

An interesting quote of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart …

“The music is not in the notes but in the silence between”

The role of the Heart in Chinese medical philosophy is to have dominion over and, supervise the functions of the other organs, acting as an emperor, divining wisdom from heaven to rule wisely. The Heart can not perform this function when it is ‘full’ of longings or occupied with ‘worldly’ concerns.

In this view, Wu Ji is a place or space available to us where we can seek knowledge & wisdom providing, we create the right state of mind to do so.

Indeed in contemporary spiritual/ metaphysical teachings, the void is an access point to the spiritual world. It’s considered a place where our more dense material world borders with the lighter world of spirit. It is seen as a stopping place where adjustments to the energetic differences between worlds are made by beings passing from one world to the next. It’s believed to be a place where it’s possible to encounter spiritual beings to benefit from their knowledge and experience.

Is this what the ancient Chinese meant when they spoke of Wu Ji? I don’t know but, Chinese history abounds with awareness of and interaction with the world of spirit.

Next post we’ll move on to Tai Yi – the great unity, or oneness.

In the meantime please consider posting comments on your thoughts and experiences about this post and Wu Ji.

Thank you & warm wishes

David.