Meditation amidst activity is a thousand million times superior to meditation in stillness. Hakuin (Zen master, 1685-1768)

There is an amazing exhibit at the Japan Society ( in Manhattan featuring the brush paintings and calligraphy of Hakuin Ekaku. He’s the guy that posed the immortal koan, “What is the sound of one hand?” Many of the images will be instantly recognizable to even the dabblers among us. The moment I entered the gallery I was transported to exquisite state of insubstantiality that only got more rarified as I went on. The exhibit of 78 scrolls is only there until January 9th, and is not to be missed.

The one thing that burned into my memory from my walkthrough was the above quote. Taijiquan is sometimes called a “moving meditation” and I have spilled some ink over the years addressing that aspect. So it was striking to me to see such a major figure as Hakuin say that “meditation amidst activity” is not just another way of doing it, but it was a “thousand million times superior to meditation in stillness”. Pretty unequivocal.

I don’t think Hakuin was belittling the importance of stillness meditation at all. I’m pretty sure he logged his hours of zazen. Sitting is certainly an important part of my practice. I think he was emphasizing how important it is to be able to access an openhearted transrational state regardless of circumstances.

This is one of the core principles of taijiquan. “Seek stillness in motion. Seek motion in stillness.” Taijiquan practice begins in stillness—central equilibrium—and extends from there. Central equilibrium is not just balancing the body’s mass. There is also a shift of consciousness where the nervous system is calmed as the body/mind becomes more coherent. We move into a transrational state of consciousness, which is also characteristic of meditation.

Simply doing a taijiquan form begins the process. To reap the rewards Hakuin talks about though, we must take our gongfu deeper. That requires not just diligent practice but constantly challenging and refining our process. The form does not self-correct. We can make the same mistakes for decades unless we are willing to question our beliefs and submit them to testing.