Qi as Holy Spirit

A pleasant surprise in reading “The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi” was seeing this quote from a book written by my former taiji teacher Martin Mellish, who’s now living in China:

“In his book on Tai Chi imagery, Martin Mellish writes that if there were one translation of ‘Holy Spirit’ into Chinese, it would simply be Qi.”

I was delighted to see Martin’s name in print. I also liked the quote, which I’d quite forgotten since reading the book several years ago.

When I e-mailed Martin to tell him he’d been quoted, he sent me the full passage, which I like even more:

“The Chinese term for the breath, chi (qi in the modern Pinyin transcription system) also means life, power, vitality, and energy. This use of the same term to mean both ‘breath’ and ‘life’ is one of the aspects of the Tai Chi tradition that has been most enthusiastically adopted in the West.

“Strangely, few seem to have noticed that this same overlap of meaning is also common in Western languages. The words for ‘breath’ in Latin (spiritus) and in Greek (anemos or pneuma), also mean ‘the spirit of life within us: that which animates and inspires us’. The words ‘spirit’, ‘animate’, and ‘inspire’ used in the previous sentence all have Latin or Greek roots meaning ‘breath’. The word in the New Testament usually translated ‘Holy Spirit’, pneuma, in the original Greek simply means ‘the breath’. If we were to translate ‘Holy Spirit’ into Chinese, the best translation would simply be ‘Chi’.”

Oddly, perhaps, I like this passage not because it gives me a better understanding of the word “qi,” or “chi,” but because it gives me a way to relate to the term “Holy Spirit,” which is one of many religious expressions whose meaning I’ve never been able to grasp.

I know what breath feels like, and I know what qi feels like, and through my qigong practice, I have come to understand why one might attach the term “holy” to these feelings.

So, thank you, Martin.

NOTE: To go to amazon.com to read reviews of Martin Mellish’s book “A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook: Spirit, Intent and Motion,” or to purchase a copy through my website, click here.

OR: To go to amazon.com to read reviews of “The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart & Sharp Mind,” click here.

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