January 2001 (Part 2)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Sifu Wong in Zen meditation

Sifu Wong in Zen meditation

Question 1

I was practicing Zen meditation with a group of people. For about 25 minutes we did sitting meditation, then for about 10 or 15 minutes we did walking meditation, and we finished up with about 20 minutes of sitting meditation.

During the last 20 minutes, I was meditating normally, focusing on my breathing, when all of a sudden, I felt my thoughts (which had been with me on and off ) disappear, as though they were water in a sink whose drain had just been unplugged. Very soon afterwards, I felt a powerful, warm sensation growing out of my lower abdomen, and my vision (we were meditating with half- closed eyes) swam slightly. I felt completely aware of the room around me and the sounds around me, and for that moment all thought I had of the past or present were completely gone.

The warm sensation growing from my abdomen felt so strong and so good. I don't think that I've ever felt such a powerful physical pleasant feeling before. Although it was a very warm feeling, I did not sweat, and my body did not move or sag; in fact, all of the aches and pains I had from sitting still seemed to melt away like sugar in water.

It probably lasted around a minute, and then it slowly subsided. I was so shocked by what had just happened that I couldn't concentrate for the rest of the session, but just stared at the floor and wondered what had just happened.

Please tell me, Sifu Wong, is this a normal occurrence during Zen meditation? Or is this a very strange aberration?

— Sage, USA

Answer

Congratulations. Yours was a splendid development in meditation, and if you carry on your training you would soon attain a “satori” or awakening.

A good piece of advice is that you should continue your training as you have normally done. Do not make any special effort to train more intensely or for longer time. Do not long for a similar experience to occur. If it occurs again, just enjoy it; if it doesn't, it does not matter. When the time is ripe you will have a “satori”. Do not chase after the “satori”, let it develop naturally.

Yours is an example of meditating on Zhao Zhou's “wu”, or “mu” in Japanese, which means “nothing”. Zhao Zhou (Joshu in Japanese), who lived to 119 years in 18th and 19th century China, was one of the greatest Zen masters in history. A monk asked Zhao Zhou whether a dog had Buddha nature. Zhao Zhou answered with an emphatic “no”.

This was in direct contradiction to a basic Buddhist teaching that every sentient being, including a dog, has Buddha nature. (In Christian terms, every being is a part of God.) This seemingly irrational answer has become a famous “kung-an” (“koan” in Japanese). Zen students of the Rinzai tradition use this famous Joshu's Mu koan for cultivation. Zen students of the Soto school meditate on this Joshu's Mu. (Rinzai and Soto are the two main Zen traditions today.) Working on Joshu's Mu — asking why a dog has no Buddha nature, or meditating on nothing — has help many Zen cultivators attain “satori”.

One famous example was the great Japanese master Hakuin, the father of Japanese Rinzai Zen. Interestingly, Hakuin's favourite method of cultivation was not asking koans, which is the main method in Rinzai Zen, but meditating on Joshu's Mu. He would go into sitting meditation and visualize that from his abdomen to his soles he was Joshu's Mu. Then one day, in a flash of illumination, he experienced “satori”.

“Satori” or “awakening” is inexplicable. This does not mean we cannot describe it in words, but it means that no matter how accurately a master may describe it, those who do not have an experience of “satori” would not really understand the meaning although they may know the dictionary meaning of all the words in the description. A classic analogy is a mango. Suppose you had never eaten a mango. No matter how accurately one may describe its taste, you would still not know what it tastes like.

Nevertheless, despite its imperfection, a description is often useful; at least it gives some idea of what “satori” is. When you attain a “satori”, you are awakened to transcendental cosmic reality.

Reality is of two dimensions — phenomenal and transcendental. What we normally experience is phenomenal reality. Right now I am sitting on a chair and typing on the keyboard of my computer. As I look out of a window, I can see some leaves swaying in a gentle breeze, hear some birds singing, and smell the gentle fragrance of vegetation and of life. All these are phenomena, which means “appearances”.

Phenomena are not absolutely real. They are real only in relation to a set of conditions, such as the ways my eyes, ears, nose, and other organs interpret data. Another sentient being, such as a bacterium or a fairy, would interpret the same data very differently. A bacterium or a fairy would not experience any chair, keyboard, breeze, singing or fragrance the way we humans experience these phenomena. In other words, in the same space and at the same time, different beings experience phenomenal reality differently.

When we can “see” through, or break down, these conditions which limit or imprison ourselves, we experience transcendental reality. Transcendental reality is of different levels. When you said “The moon shines brightly over the floating world”, you were experiencing and describing phemonenal reality. When you have attained “satori”, depending on your level of transcendentality, you may experience “the floating world shines brightly over the moon”, or “there is no moon and there is no world, just the floating and the shine”.

Question 2

I have recently discovered a teacher of Zhineng qigong and think it is wonderful, but there is one thing that troubles me about it and that is that the lower tan tien is higher than in other qigong i.e. it is at the navel level rather than approximately 1.5 inches below it.

— Rowena, Australia

Answer

Dan tian means energy field, i.e. the spot where you focus and accumulate your energy. If you are properly trained, the dan tian can be placed anywhere. Most chi kung styles place the dan tian at the qi-hai vital point, which is about 2 inches below the navel, or the guan-yuan vital point, which is about 3 inches below the navel. A few chi kung styles place the dan tian at shen-qie, which is at the navel level. Another important lower dan tian is at the hui-yin vital point, which is between the anus and the external sex organ.

Besides these lower dan tian, there are upper dan tian such as at bai-hui which is at the crown of the head, and tien-mu which is at the forehead between the two normal eyes; middle dan tian such as at tian-choong at the solar plexus, and huang-ting at the stomach; and back dan tian such as at ling-tai at the back opposite the tian-choong, and ming-men at the waist opposite the navel.

In Chinese, the names of these vital points (xue-dao), which become energy fields (dan tian) when energy (qi) is accumulated there, are both meaningful and poetic. For example, qi-hai means “energy-sea”, shen-qie means “consciousness-entrance”, and ming-men means “life-gate”.

Question 3

It seems to me that this means I cannot go back to practising other chi gung or tai chi in the future. Am I right in thinking this is a problem or can the lower tan tien be moved easily?

Answer

If you learn genuine chi kung from a master, not only you can enhance other styles of chi kung and Taijiquan you have learnt or will learn elsewhere, you will also enhance all aspects of your life. This is logical because genuine chi kung is a training of energy and mind.

If you learn genuine chi kung but from a mediocre instructor who teaches it as gentle exercise, you will only get physical benefits like loosening your muscles and joints. Failing to realize this is the reason why so many people think they can learn chi kung effectively from a video or a book.

Hence, whether it is a problem and whether the dan tian can be move easily depend on whether you are trained by a master or by sub-standard means such as a mediocre instructor, a book or a video, as well as on how well or badly you have practised.

Tiger- tail kick

An old photograph taken about 30 years ago showing Sifu Wong demonstrating the famous Tiger-Tail Kick of Hung Gar Kungfu

Question 4

Also do you know if this is an adaption Zhineng chigung has made to traditional chigung or do some traditional chigung have the lower tan tien this high?

Answer

I am not sure whether it is an adaption by Zhineng Chi Kung, but I don't think it is. Although Zhineng Chi Kung is a modern style of chi kung developed by Grandmaster Peng He Ming, who was also instrumental in the development of Soaring Crane Chi Kung, it is based on a very ancient style of chi kung called Cosmos Chi Kung, similar to Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung practised by me.

While most traditional chi kung styles place the lower dan tian at qi-hai or guan-yuan, a few traditional styles do so at the navel level. For example, Yan Xin Chi Kung, also based on the ancient Cosmos Chi Kung and developed by the great Grandmaster Yan Xin, often focuses at the navel. But Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung as practised by my Shaolin Wahnam School focuses on qi- hai or guan-yuan as the lower dan tian.

Question 5

I began Hung Gar Kung Fu about a year ago. It was my first experience in martial arts and it has been one of the most exciting and enlightening experiences of my life so far. The lineage of our kwoon is directly through Wong Fei Hung. Then I moved to another place and learned in another Hung Gar school. To my surprise, my second sifu told me that he did not consider what I earlier learned as real Hung Gar.

When I talked about this with my first sifu he told me he did not believe that the Hung Gar taught in the second school was real Hung Gar but some other southern style very close to Hung Gar. At first I was surprised that two sifus of Hung Gar would not agree on their style. Then I searched on the Internet for information and learned that Wong Fei Hung's Hung Gar is considered orthodox and other lineages of Hung Gar may differ. I assumed that my second kwoon was from a different lineage and that was the source of the misunderstanding.

What should I look for that will tell me if I am practicing Hung Gar? For example, in my first kwoon we used to condition our fists on sandbags and our forearms on wooden posts or with training partners. Advanced students conditioned their snake fist in bowls full of gravel. When I talked about this with students from my second kwoon they looked at me as if I was talking gibberish. They told me that these were not necessary and they were only for showing off. Can this possibly be true?

— Dube, Canada

Answer

Your situation concerns many people interested in the authenticity of their style or lineage. There are three useful guidelines to help us determine authenticity

  1. lineage
  2. philosophy
  3. instructional material.

If you can trace your lineage directly to Wong Fei Hung, and as Wong Fei Hung is publicly acknowledged as a great Hung Gar master, then you can reasonably say yours is genuine Hung Gar.

Secondly we can examine the philosophy of the school. Hung Gar, as the direct successor of southern Shaolin, believes in both internal and external force training, but the approach is from hard to soft. If a particular school teaches only hard, external training, like punching sandbags and striking poles, but no soft, internal training even at its advanced level, like breath control and channelling energy, one may suspect whether it is genuine Hung Gar.

The third guideline is to examine its instructional material. Hung Gar's three traditional kungfu sets are “Taming the Tiger”, “Tiger and Crane” and “Iron Wire”, and its famous arts are “tiger claws” and “no-shadow kicks”. If students of the school use kickboxing techniques in sparring and bounces about like Western boxers, but know little about tiger claws and no-shadow kicks, we can suspect whether the school is genuine Hung Gar.

There may, however, be complications regarding these three guideline. For example, someone might have learnt from a genuine Hung Gar master, but his training under the master was short and much of his kungfu was derived from other sources. It then becomes questionable whether he can be accepted in the Hung Gar lineage.

Or, he might have trained from a genuine Hung Gar lineage, but for some reasons this lineage transmits only elementary Hung Gar skills and techniques. Practitioners from this lineage, for example, only punch sandbags and strike poles, but know little about internal force. It would be difficult to say whether theirs is genuine Hung Gar. Normally one would say theirs is from the Hung Gar lineage but has lost Hung Gar's essence.

The three fundamental sets mentioned above are from the Wong Fei Hung's lineage. But practitioners from other genuine Hung Gar lineages may not practise these sets. In my young days I knew of a genuine Hung Gar school that did not have any one of these sets in their repertoire. They had sets like “Cross-Roads”, “Four Gates” and “Tiger Claws”. But their skills and techniques are typically Hung Gar. On the other hand, merely knowing the three fundamental sets is no guarantee that the practitioner practises genuine Hung Gar.

There are also some interesting questions regarding what is genuine Hung Gar. If we take the definition commonly adopted by many people, but often without knowing deeply, that Hung Gar Kungfu is the style derived from Hung Hei Khoon, then Wong Fei Hung's kungfu is not Hung Gar!

Wong Fei Hung's lineage leads to Lok Ah Choy, and not to Hung Hei Khoon. There was actually no direct connection from Hung Hei Khoon to Wong Fei Hung. The indirect connection was that Lok Ah Choy was Hung Hei Khoon's junior classmate under the Venerable Chee Seen at the southern Shaolin Temple.

In fact, Wong Fei Hung never called his kungfu Hung Gar; he called it Shaolin. His successor, Lam Sai Weng who passed on the three fundamental sets in three classics, also called his kungfu Shaolin. The term “Hung Gar” never occurred in any one of these classics. It was much later that their succeeding practitioners call their art Hung Gar.

Question 6

What is chi or vital energy, and what it means to you? The reason for asking is that I am confused on what it really is.

— Dykan, Holland

Answer

Asking the questions above is similar to asking what is life, or the time you were born to the time of your death, and what life means to you. You may know the dictionary meaning of what chi or life is, but you may still not know the answer.

Besides “vital energy”, other definitions of chi include “intrinsic energy”, “life force”, “physiological functions”, “mental impulses”, and “the stuff that digests your food and make you walk”. These definitions describe chi correctly, but you will still be confused because you do not have a direct experience of what chi is.

What chi, or life, means to a person, depends on various factors. To me chi, or life, is a joy; to others it may be a burden. The best way to find out what chi is and what it means to you, is to learn chi kung from a real master.

Lifting the Sky

When practiced correctly and consistently, chi kung enriches every aspect of our daily life. The higher the level the chi kung is, the higher the enrichment.

Question 7

What does chi do in your body and in the outside world?

Answer

The following are just some of the countless things chi does in your body. It changes the dinner you ate into flesh and bones, disposes off deadly toxins as the result of your metabolic process, regulates countless mechanisms in your body so that a change of temperature by one degree does not kill your body cells, destroys countless germs which may otherwise destroy your body, sends countless messages to your senses so that you can differentiate a cat from a dog.

The following are just some of the countless things chi does in the outside world. It changes clouds into rain and buds into flowers, it makes birds fly and tigers roar, it sends the fragrance of food into a gourmet's nose, it lets stars twinkle and the moon shine, it keeps electrons and galaxies in their rightful place.

Question 8

Is it possible to “bring it up” or “control it”, having never been taught or even knowing about it at a very young age. I believe I am able to do so.

Answer

You can but you may not. In other words, theoretically everyone, including you, has the innate ability to bring up chi or control it, but those, including you, who have no knowledge of energy management are unable to do so in practice.

Believing or merely wanting to do something is very different from actually being able to do it. You remind me of many naïve persons who believe they can master and teach a great art like chi kung by reading a book, or become enlightened by spending their summer vacation learning meditation in an exotic land. They have forgotten that real chi kung practitioners and spiritual cultivators spend years practising their arts.

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