February 2002 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Souls

Where did souls come from?

Question 1

Could you please explain to me how human and non human souls come into being? I had always thought that every soul had evolved from a single celled organism and then worked its way through the genetic tree.

— Paul, United Kingdom

Answer

My explanation was given by the Buddha, the Enlightened One. Other great masters from other world religions also gave similar answers, but I find the Buddha's answer, recorded in Buddhist sutras and retold numerous times by Buddhist masters, to be the clearest.

Originally, there is (as it always has been, and will always be) the Universal Consciousness. Different peoples call this Universal Consciousness by different names, such as God, Tao, Brahman and the Ultimate Truth. Buddhists call it Tathagata, which means “Suchness”. “Tathagata” is in Sanskrit; in Chinese it is “Ju Lai” (written as “Ru Lai” in modern Romanized Chinese).

There is no differentiation in Tathagata; it is just a continuous oneness. From another perspective, it is void or emptiness. In Sanskrit, it is called “sunyata”; in Chinese it is “kong” (pronounced like “khung”). Tathagata or sunyata is infinite and eternal, and it is peace, freedom and bliss.

There was (or is — tenses fail to function meaningfully in cosmic context) also original ignorance. Because of original ignorance, countless puny portions of Tathagata imagined themselves to be separated from each others. There were (or are) the original souls. This was the first transformation from the transcendental to the phenomenal. In Taoist term, this was the transformation from Wuji to Taiji, or from the Great Void to the Cosmos.

Through countless millennia in a tiny spec of the cosmos we call our world, these countless souls have evolved into human and non-human souls. Because of various sets of conditions, human souls have been conditioned through countless millennia to view this tiny spec of Universal Consciousness as our phenomenal world.

In other words, instead of experiencing Tathagata as a continuous unity, it is now perceived by us, humans, as differentiated into myriad phenomena like mountains and clouds, elephants and distant stars. Actually there are no mountains and clouds, elephants and distant stars, but due to the conditions we are in we perceive them as these phenomena.

One important set of conditions are our senses, including our intellect. The word “phenomena” means appearances. Because of the way our intellect, eyes, ears, etc have been conditioned through millennia to interpret cosmic energy (or, in scientific terms, electromagnetic waves) the way they now do, we interpret some energy as mountains and some as distant stars, etc.

Because of their different conditions, other non-human souls, such as those of fairies and one-cell organisms will interpret the same energy very differently. A fairy, for example, may perceive what appear to us as an elephant, as thin air; and a one-cell organism may perceive what appear to us as a cloud, as a galaxy.

Why have some souls evolved to become human, while others have evolved to become non- human, like fairies, elephants and one-cell organisms? It is because of three variables, namely their karma, their state of mind, and their last thought at their previous physical death.

Humans are at a high state of soul development, having worked their way up from low states like those of spirits, animals and one-cell organisms. But their development is spiritual, not genetical. In principle, a one-cell organism can become a human in its next life, but in practice this is most unlikely.

To be a human is a very rare opportunity, having developed spiritually through countless lives. The Buddha has often advised that we must not waste such a rare opportunity. We should make use of this rare opportunity to cultivate to attain the highest spiritual fulfilment. If we are not ready for such a most noble task, we should at least lead our life meaningfully.

Question 2

Human beings are only using a fraction of their mental powers. We seem to have been given a potential for enlightenment. What is the purpose for a soul wandering through existence to become disentangled from the karmic cycle? In the cosmic sense is there some function for this?

Answer

In the Buddha's teaching, the term “mind” encompasses both the intellectual and the spiritual. Human beings not only have tremendously great intellectual powers, but also tremendously great spiritual potential. The mind is the real being, the body is only a vehicle for the mind in this phenomenal world.

Many peoples call the mind, the soul. You are your soul, and your soul has a body — not that your body has a soul. It is the soul that gives the body life. Without the soul the body is dead.

Souls, human as well as non-human, change their bodies countless times in their development. Most souls are ignorant, and they wander from existence to existence endlessly. Only after having accumulated a lot of blessings, a soul may be reincarnated as a human being.

Most people are not aware how lucky they are. First, in the cosmic cycle of rebirth, it is rare to be reborn as a human being. Next, they are wholesome, i.e. not physically or mentally handicapped. Thirdly, they are lucky to be reborn in a peaceful environment. And fourthly, they have access to spiritual teaching, the teaching that can free them from the biggest ignorance.

What is the biggest ignorance? It is the illusion that they, i.e. the human souls, are differentiated from Tathagata. In Christian term, it is alienation from God.

All souls, human as well as non-human, and everything else are an integral part of Tathagata, or God. But because of our ignorance, effected by our sets of conditions, we perceive ourselves as separate entities, differentiated from other humans and all other “external” objects and beings. We perceive our skin as our boundary.

But actually there is no skin, and no boundary. If we look at our skin through a gigantic electron microscope, or through the eyes of a highly developed being, what we see will be sub-atomic particles. If we go further, the sub-atomic particles are not really particles, though we perceive them to be so; they have no boundaries, they are just spread of energy.

In the cosmic sense, our most noble function is to free ourselves from this illusion — not just intellectually but experientially. In Buddhist term, we liberate ourselves from the cycle of rebirth and attain Enlightenment. In Christian term, we return to God.

Question 3

Also is there a reason for life to come into existence? As you say, life is a constant struggle and it seems to me that there must be some pretty heavy importance there?

Answer

At the highest level, the level of transcendental cosmic reality, there is no reason, no existence, no nothing — just the great void. That was why when the Chinese emperor Liang Wu Di asked Bodhidharma what the first principle of holiness was, the great Zen patriarch replied that there is no holiness, just emptiness.

Could this be the meaning when the Bible starts with the following words: “In the beginning when God created the universe the world was formless and desolate”? Words change their meaning through time. Now “desolate” may mean “lonely”, but in the past it could mean “without anything”.

Hence, in the cosmic sense, there is no reason for life to come into existence. But in the phenomenal sense, life did (or does) come into existence. The reason we give to this phenomenon depends on our world view.

In Buddhist world view, individual life came into existence because of ignorance! Because of cosmic ignorance, some tiny portions of Tathagata, or the Universal Consciousness, imagined themselves as separate souls, when actually they are an integral part of the Universal Soul. The most important task is to be liberated from this biggest ignorance, and be enlightened.

The same teaching is expressed in different words in Taoism. Originally there was the Great Void. Due to the innate opposing yet complementary nature of the Great Void, the yin and the yang, the undifferentiated Great Void was gradually transformed into myriad phenomena, both living and non-living. The most important function is to return to the Great Void.

I believe the same teaching is expressed figuratively in Christianity. Originally we were in God's Garden, but due to the original sin, we left God's Garden. The most important function in life is to return to God's Garden.

Chi Kung

Chi kung is a great art that should be learnt from a competent teacher

Question 4

These are questions to which I have never heard a real answer. I believe them to be very important questions which haunt many people and cause them to engage in a life of ignorance, waking up in the middle of the night screaming for something to hold on to.

Answer

These are very important questions. In many ways they are more important than life, as they deal with eternal life. Their answers are given in all great religious and spiritual teachings, but many people are unaware of them because they are often expressed in arcane language.

Moreover, over many centuries the original meaning could be mis-interpreted or mis-translated due to shallow understanding. Take for example the most important concept, the pinnacle of one's spiritual cultivation, expressed in western language as returning to God.

Most people would conceptualize a pious soul travelling the cosmic distance from our world to heaven to meet God in person. This is true in the phenomenal dimension. And heaven is as real to the pious soul as this physical world is real to humans.

But in the transcendental dimension, there is no travelling, no individual soul and no heaven! There is only God. In their cosmic ignorance, the individual souls thought they were separate identities, separated from each other and separated from God.

Then comes their highest spiritual attainment. They suddenly realize there is no boundary between them and the other souls, and no boundary between them and God. That was why when great Christian masters like Saint Augustine and Saint Teresa attained their highest spiritual fulfillment, they exclaimed they are in God, and that they and God are one — a concept which could be heretical to ordinary people.

Some people wake up in the middle of the night screaming for something to hold on to, because they are spiritually lost. Their souls are crying to go home. But when they are spiritually awakened, i.e. when they know how to go home, they will find joy in merely being alive.

This is not an empty statement; it is based on cosmic wisdom recorded in great teachings, and confirmed by my personal experience as well as personal experiences of many of my students. If you examine the comments of my students in my “Comments” pages, you will find that the greatest number of students who thank me is not because I helped them to overcome a so-called incurable disease, but because I helped them to find joy in living.

I have seen many people become angry when engaged in conversation about these matters defending a stance that life has no purpose and that it is just a meaningless ramble through space.

These people are angry due to their ignorance and arrogance. We should pity them. We can help them greatly by sharing some cosmic wisdom with them. But if they do not want to listen, if they insist that life has no purpose, that is their prerogative. We need not argue with them. They do not have the good karma to benefit from the greatest teaching.

The Buddha provided an excellent model. He was compassionate and shared his greatest wisdom with others, irrespective of race, class and religion. But he never shoved his teaching onto others, he never insisted that his way was the only right way. Instead, he told his followers that they should not accept his teaching based on faith alone, but assess it to the best of their understanding and experience.

Question 5

My friend's mother has degenerative arthritis and it is very advanced. I already explained to her how to breath but I also want to teach her to do the induced chi flow but she cannot raise her arms or bend down for it is to painful. So what exercise should she do to stop or maybe even reverse the illness?

— Nico, Colombia

Answer

You did not mention whether you had learnt chi kung properly, but even if you had, you have not been trained to be a chi kung instructor or healer.

Genuine chi kung is a great art. To be proficient in any great art, you have to learn it from a master, and then practise it diligently for many years. Only when you are a good practitioner in the art, should you think of becoming an instructor teaching it to others.

If you think you can heal others through chi kung simply by reading some chi kung techniques from a book or an e-mail, then you have no idea what chi kung is. You are also being unreasonable and irresponsible.

You are unreasonable to think you can achieve in a few days from an e-mail what masters or healer have taken years to learn and practise. You are irresponsible because you teach others what you yourself do not know, and you do not care about adverse effects your bogus teaching may bring.

I am amazed why so many people think they can heal others suffering from serious diseases by teaching the patients chi kung exercises they just read about. If that could be done, there would not be so many sick people today. They insult the masters and debase a great art.

Question 6

I practice Yang style Taijiquan. It seems that of the internal practitioners, Xingyi people have a lot of internal force, are very solid, and are good at applying their art to combat. This is just an example. I've seen Taiji and Bagua people do this too just as well.

— Tom, USA

Answer

Xingyiquan, Taijiquan and Baguazhang are internal martial arts which have been established for a few hundred years. Please note the words “internal”, “martial” and “established”.

By “internal” it means that these arts focus on internal force. When one has internal force he is sold. By “martial”, it means that these arts are meant for combat. By “established” it means that their validity has been confirmed by many people.

Hence, if anyone practises any one of these arts but he has no internal force and cannot apply it for combat, it can be due to one or more of the following possibilities:

  1. The statement that Xingyiquan, Taijiquan and Baguazhang are internal martial arts, is not true.
  2. What he practises is not genuine Xingyiquan, Taijiquan or Baguazhang.
  3. He has not practised properly.

But since Xingyiquan, Taijiquan and Baguazhang have been established as internal martial arts for a few hundred years, he is left with the latter two possibilities.

Pushing Hands

“Pushing Hands” and “Striking Hands” are the established approach to combat efficiency in Taijiquan training. Here Javier from Spain n the left and Ricarrdo from Italy are practising “Pushing Hands”

Question 7

If one wanted to achieve the same internal force in Taijiquan, would it be wise to practise applications that use “peng”, “lu”, “ji”, “an”, etc. hundreds of times? Not many Taijiquan people do this.

Answer

Practising properly “peng”, “lu”, “ji”, and “an” by themselves or their applications hundreds of times every day is a very good way to develop internal force. “Peng”, “lu”, “ji”, “an” are incorporated in the typical Yang Style Taijiquan pattern, “Grasping Sparrow's Tail”.

In other words, if you just practise “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” daily hundreds of times, you will develop internal force. This is an established fact. By this, I mean that of the thousands of Taijiquan exponents who had practised “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” hundreds of times properly throughout a few centuries, all of them developed internal force.

An excellent example was the Yang Style patriarch Yang Lu Chan. Records reveal that he practised “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” daily not hundreds of times, but thousands of times.

Your statement “Not many Taijiquan people do this” should read “Not many people who think they practise Taijiquan, do this.” What they practise is not Taijiquan; at best it is graceful external Taijiquan forms. Taijiquan is an internal martial art. There in nothing internal nor marital in what these people practise.

Therefore, even if they practise “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” hundreds of times daily, they may at best become relaxed and elegant, which are good benefits themselves, but they will not develop internal force. To develop internal force, Taijiquan exponents use the form to work on mind and energy, but Taiji dancers use it to work only on their physical body.

Question 8

My teacher said practising this single movement was a good idea. He said it would improve my “san shou” (free hands, sparring) and internal strength. I was just wondering what your opinion or advice is, as a master.

Answer

Your teacher is right. It will develop internal force and improve your sparring, as well as give you many other wonderful benefits, like good health and mental freshness.

But by itself, even if you have much internal force, you cannot spar effectively. To be combat efficient, you must practise sparring methodically. The established Taijiquan approach to effective sparring, i.e. the approach that had worked well for Taijiquan exponents for centuries, is through “Pushing Hands” and “Striking Hands”. Putting on boxing gloves to spar freely is a clear indication that the practitioner has no idea of Taijiquan philosophy and methodology.

“Grasping Sparrow's Tail” training gives you the force, “Pushing Hands” and “Striking Hands” training gives you the application. Force and application, or “gong-yong” (pronounced like “kung-yeung”) are the twin pillars to combat efficiency.

Question 9

I am curious to know who was your Taijiquan teacher. You are a master, and I've wondered for a long time, but couldn't find it on your webpage. I was wondering who taught you and helped you achieve your skills.

Answer

In Shaolin Kungfu everyone of my four teachers were patriarchs of their styles. This was no co- incidence because, except my first teacher, Uncle Righteousness, whom I met through luck, I spent time to search for my teachers.

But I had no proper Taijiquan teacher. Although I had been interested in Taijiquan since I was young, I was unable to find a Taijiquan teacher whom I felt could transmit to me the essence of Taijiquan.

About 30 years ago at a public park in Alor Star, Malaysia, where I went daily for my kungfu training on my own, I saw an elderly man, whom I did not know his name, practising the 108-Pattern Yang Style Taijiquan Set daily without fail. His performance was impressive.

Although we were at the same park every day, we had not talked to each other. But one day I approached him politely and asked if he could teach me Taijiquan, and in return I would teach him combat application if he liked. He rejected my suggestion, saying that my kungfu was “hard”, and Taijiquan was only “soft”, and any hardness would spoil his Taijiquan.

His reply actually put me off. It indicated that he did not realize all great martial arts, including Taijiquan, are both “hard” and “soft”. Any martial art that is only “hard” or only “soft” is either not great, or the exponents have not learnt it completely.

So I reasoned to myself that if I could not have a living Taijiquan teacher, I could learn from the best Taijiquan masters from their books. This was not difficult for me. I had a good collection of Taijiquan classics. More significantly, as all fundamental Taijiquan skills and techniques can be found in Shaolin Kungfu, for me learning Taijiquan was like selecting relevant skills and techniques from my Shaolin Kungfu and practising them in manners normally done in Taijiquan.

The first thing I did was to learn an established Taijiquan set to serve as basis. This I readily accomplished from a little book showing the 108-Pattern Yang Style Taijiquan Set demonstrated by the great master Yang Deng Fu himself.

Two occasions were particularly helpful to me. Earlier my Shaolin master Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, and my Wing Choon master Sifu Choe Hoong Choy had taught me how to perform the Shaolin Bagua Set and the Wing Choon Siew Lin Tao slowly and gracefully so as to generate energy flow and to develop internal force respectively. When performed slowly these sets appear like Taijiquan sets. So it was quite easy for me to generate energy flow and develop internal force with the Taijiquan set.

Then I spent much time on various methods of force training recorded in Taijiquan classics, like the Three-Circle Stance, “Lifting Water” and “Grasping Sparrow's Tail”. Some Taijiquan classics recorded profound explanations on combat application, including the use of tactics and strategies. These explanations were in concise jargons, so most people could not understand them, but because of my Shaolin training, they were very clear to me.

It was also clear to me that what masters recorded in their classics were true, but most people today cannot understand it and therefore do not believe it. Take a simple example, even at the physical level. Taijiquan masters have advised that movements start from the feet, are controlled by the waist, and complete at the hands. But although most people, including some so-called masters, understand all the words, they do not know the meaning. If you throw a punch as in Western Boxing, like what some so-called masters taught their Taiji students to do, you reverse the process — you start your movement at the hands, with no control at the waist, and complete at the feet.

When I taught chi kung in Australia in the 1980s, many of my chi kung students were instructors teaching external Taijiquan forms. When I showed them how they could generate energy flow and develop internal force with their forms, they were simply amazed. But I refused many requests to teach Taijiquan.

This gradually changed. The turning point came when I saw a video of a Taijiquan grandmaster from China demonstrating Taijiquan combat application. He jumped about like in Taekwondo, and pushed away his assailants using body mechanics. It was glaring to me that he knew neither Taijiquan philosophy nor combat application! Yet he was a very well known Taijiquan grandmaster, internationally acknowledged, with millions of Taijiquan students all over the world using him as a model. That video prompted me to write “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”.

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