Conscience is at the center of Tai Ji Men’s educational project. It is a the core of hundred of international events the group has organized.
by Chen Yi-Shuan*
*A paper presented at the international conference “Religion in Modern Education: Conflict, Policy, and Practice,” Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, April 15, 2023.
My name is Yi-Shuan Chen, I am not an academic, although I have passionately studied issues of education and spirituality for several years. I am actually a dentist in Taiwan. I am also a dizi (disciple) of Tai Ji Men, and as such I will present an emic view of Tai Ji Men, a view from inside.
During my medical school years, my clinical advisor frequently reminded me that dentistry is a subspecialty of surgery, and that the surgical system has always been sustained by apprenticeship. While a senior doctor has extensive diagnostic experience and skilled surgical skills, intern medical students must always follow the doctors attending them, beginning with the assistant, through the mentorship system, including consultation, treatment, tracking, and so on.
The system of Tai Ji Men is similar. There is a Grand Master (Shifu) and there are disciples (dizi). Through the interaction of Shifu and dizi, an ancient culture is passed on, just as it happens not only in the medical system but also in many other professions. Tai Ji Men is an ancient qigong and martial arts institution, where wisdom and teachings are handed down from the Shifu to the dizi.
I have been a Tai Ji Men dizi for about thirty years. Over twenty of my family members are also dizi, and we all have significantly improved our physical, mental, and spiritual health and strengthened our family ties by practicing Tai Ji Men qigong. The relationship between Shifu and dizi is like those of father and son. For me, Tai Ji Men is my second home, and Shifu is just like my father. Today, I will talk about what I saw and learned during my time at Tai Ji Men, the significance and uniqueness of the roles of Shifu and dizi in the transmission of culture, as well as the contribution of Tai Ji Men to the sustainable development of our world.
Tai Ji Men is an ancient school of qigong, martial arts, and self-cultivation. Although it is rooted in esoteric Taoism, it welcomes dizi belonging to all religions. Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the current Shifu of Tai Ji Men, established the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy in 1966 in response to the needs of the time, with the goal of promoting Tai Ji Men culture as well as the physical, mental, and spiritual health for both his dizi and the world at large. Over the past 57 years, Dr. Hong has taught tens of thousands of disciples from all over the world, from all walks of life, from all religions, and from all age categories. The Shifu of Tai Ji Men imparts yin and yang philosophy to his dizi at random. He has passed on to us not only the skills of qigong and martial arts but also a practical wisdom of life, for example, how to guide ourselves, change ourselves, find the meaning of life, use the wisdom of yin and yang to help ourselves at work progressively, be a good listener, understand and be thankful to our families, and so on.
“Teaching knowledge and skills is easy,” the Shifu once said, “but teaching people, especially the heart, is the most difficult. The highest level of education is teaching from the spirit and allowing people to educate themselves. In Tai Ji Men, this is how I guide and instruct my dizi.” Shifu teaches us by example and words, and we highly value his wisdom and sense of humor. To him, any life situation, including its ups and downs, can be a chance to teach and learn.
You might be wondering what the distinction is between the Shifu-dizi connection in an ancient school rooted in Taoism and the teacher-student relationship in a modern educational system. The Tai Ji Men case shows the major difference between the Shifu-dizi and teacher-student relationships.
In 1996, in response to the earnest request of many disciples, Dr. Hong decided to accept more of dizi’s family members as disciples in order to improve their physical, mental, and spiritual health, but he was considered a political threat by the Taiwan government of the time, and was arrestees and prosecuted. However, after the prosecutors found no proof of illegal activity, Dr. Hong’s first remarks after his release from detention were that he was concerned about us and whether we had been harmed.
Through he had to endure a horrible ordeal, his main concern was for his dizi, not for himself. This was typical of the ethos of a menpai, where dizi are not so much students but children of the Shifu and have with him a family relationship. In ancient China some described the Shifu-dizi connection in a menpai as “once a Shifu, always a father.” Teachers and disciples exchange their thoughts and visions about culture through the practice of qigong, martial arts, and yin and yang philosophy, and entrust each other with their hearts, property, time, and even their lives, just as the hero of the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Li Mu Bai, said to his dizi, “As Shifu and dizi, we must entrust each other with our lives.”
Tai Ji Men was highly praised by the current President Tsai and three former Presidents of Taiwan. In 2019, when attending one of our events, President Tsai expressed her gratitude to us, saying, “Under the Zhang-men-ren’s [Shifu’s] leadership, Tai Ji Men has actively participated in international events, conducted citizen diplomacy, and raised Taiwan’s global visibility. In the future, I also hope that Tai Ji Men, under Dr. Hong’s leadership, will continue to work with the government. Let us use our positive influence to move Taiwan forward with continued progress. Let the world see Taiwan.” Despite this praise, Tai Ji Men was discriminated for decades.
Even in the face of human rights violations by rogue bureaucrats, we never stopped the practice of what we call the promotion of love and peace. At Tai Ji Men, in addition to physical, mental and spiritual health, Dr. Hong told us that “helping others is the essence of happiness.” Therefore, under the leadership of our Shifu, Tai Ji Men disciples have followed him to more than 100 countries and 300 cities around the world, spreading the seeds of love and peace around the world through concrete actions. Like our Shifu said, in his speech titled “A World of One Heart: A Well-spring of Happiness,” delivered in San Francisco on August 1, 1999, “The future journey requires that all work hand in hand, and are courageously responsible to themselves so that they can create a meaningful life. We are looking forward to returning to a harmonious world in which there is no suffering, no fear, no war, and no pain.” Through thousands of cultural events and martial arts performances, we promote the traditional Tai Ji Men culture internationally.
In 2014, the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy and the Federation of World Peace and Love (FOWPAL), also founded by Dr. Hong, jointly launched the international public service campaign “An Era of Conscience” (ANEOC), hoping that the world’s citizens will cross the barriers of race, culture, and national boundaries and gather together to balance the global environment. Dr. Hong’s efforts were so successful that they led to the designation of an International Day of Conscience by the United Nations. On July 25, 2019, during the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, through a resolution submitted by the Kingdom of Bahrain, entitled “Promoting a Culture of Peace Through Love and Conscience,” the United Nations officially declared April 5 as International Day of Conscience, making it the 166th UN day of observance. The designation of April 5 as International Day of Conscience serves as a reminder for people to engage in self-reflection in order to improve themselves and their communities, and then to move forward as world citizens, thereby inspiring a critical turning point for change in the world.
We traveled to Sweden in May and June 2022 to attend the United Nations Stockholm+50 environmental conference, where we invited heads of state, ministers, and key leaders to ring our Bell of World Peace and Love and express a wish for world peace. We spoke with Mr. Abdullah Shahid, the UN General Assembly President, at the meeting, and shared with him our efforts to promote the United Nations’ International Day of Conscience. The former Costa Rican Minister of Environment was moved after ringing the Bell of World Peace and Love, thanking us for our contribution and saying, “Our mothers in Costa Rica are the happiest mothers in the world because we do not have an army, we do not have wars, our mothers do not have to worry about their children going to war, so we are the happiest mothers in the world, and we are very proud of that.”
I broke into tears and was very moved when I heard that. Peace is the best response and solution for the entire world; nobody wants to go to war or see their family sacrificed on the front lines. The goal of achieving world peace is possible. The Bell of World Peace and Love has been rung by 502 influential leaders from 133 nations, including 59 heads of state and government, and many of these presidents have already achieved their peace wishes. One of them was the President of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández. By taking the initiative to negotiate between three Central American nations (Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela) in March 2008, President Fernández later fulfilled his promise of peace, thereby preventing a war situation and perhaps thousands of casualties.
I followed my Shifu and worked together with Tai Ji Men brothers and sisters to promote love, peace, and conscience through cultural exchanges in Taiwan and around the world. I have traveled with my Shifu to the United States, the Czech Republic, Austria, Sweden, and Turkey. We have never accepted any public donations, and we have self-funded trips to 101 nations and presented over 3,000 cultural performances at home and abroad. We also hosted ceremonies of ringing the Bell of World Peace and Love to awaken people’s conscience and heal people’s emotional wounds.
Shifu and brothers and sisters traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, in March 2023, where we participated in a number of bell ringing ceremonies at the 26th Eurasian Economic Summit. Our traveling bells were rung with reverence by 19 important leaders, including six current and former Presidents. Our Shifu urged the key leaders in attendance to “return to the foundation of peace with love in their hearts and act with conscience.”
Tai Ji Men’s Shifu also organized an event in New York on March 31 this year, and during the event, FOWPAL, led by Dr. Hong, was honored with the U.S. President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for contributing 1.2 million hours of volunteer service to the United States. When accepting the award, Dr. Hong said the honor belongs to every hero of conscience.
The core of Tai Ji Men’s educational proposal is that the choice and action taken in the present is critical for future generations. Each of us here today possesses the key to a sustainable future in our hands, and that key is our conscience. Conscience has the ability to unleash the power of truth and beauty within us, opening the door to a more peaceful world.
There is an old saying: “First-class doctors treat the nation. Second-class doctors treat people, and third-class doctors treat diseases.” As a dentist, it is my social responsibility to help make our country a better place, in addition to saving lives and healing people. This is also something my Shifu has taught us to do—to help others, help our own country, and help other countries.
For the past 57 years, we and our Shifu have traveled to over 100 nations at our own expense to share love, peace, and conscience education in order to preserve and spread the precious Tai Ji culture around the world. We remain committed to promoting religious freedom and human rights, despite 27 years of human rights violations and discrimination through ill-founded tax bills we have suffered at home, and we continue to actively fight for victims of tax violence. Every religious or spiritual group, like the Tai Ji Men in Taiwan, has its own set of values, truths, and meanings. We believe these values should be respected.
We also believe in the power of prayer. Every day we pray ourselves and ask those who want to support our campaign to pray for 60 seconds, sincerely praying for ourselves, our families, the world, and all things, and gathering every good intention and good thought, so that the power of goodness will spread around the world like a butterfly effect, and everyone will be safe and happy.