February 2004 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Zen Meditation

Sifu Wong in Zen meditation

Question 1

During my Kung Fu class last night we were talking about the 4 modes of preparation. Obviously we talked about Chi, Jing and Shen in this connection. One of the students is studying Chinese Medicine at a school here in Switzerland and told me that the “three treasures” (Chi, Jing and Shen) referred to the Vital Energy, the Pre-Natal Energy and the Mind, and these are the three components which make up the person and are the basis of all Chinese Medicine.

I explained that Jing may have many meanings and can also be used to mean “essence” and in that respect could refer to the pre-natal chi. However, in our training (and referring to the 4 modes of preparation) Jing refers to the physical body. The student had difficulty to accept this as his teachers in the school for Chinese Medicine had claimed something different. When I mentioned to him “if Jing is used to mean pre-natal energy, then the physical body is being neglected”, he had to stop and think.

Could you please shed some light on this for me?

— Andrew, Switzerland

Answer

Yours is a very interesting question, and what you have told the student is correct.

What his traditional Chinese medicine teacher said is also correct. The apparent contradiction is due to the innate setback of translation as well as the limitation of words. Nevertheless, your answer is more exact, whereas his teacher's answer is limited to specific situations. This will become clear after my explanation below.

Some brief background information about knowledge, scholarship and the Chinese language is useful here. Although much fantastic knowledge about man and the universe was discovered in China in the past, such knowledge was kept secret. Scholars who might have access to such knowledge formed a very rare minority of the Chinese population. The vast majority was illiterate. The Chinese language was (and still is, though to a much lesser extent in modern Chinese) very concise, and Chinese authors normally did not explain what intended readers already knew. Moreover, linguistic and cultural differences between Chinese and English often make translated texts lose their fine meanings.

At first I too had difficulty understanding what “jing” was, despite my knowledge of Chinese and my practical experience relating to “jing”, “qi” (“chi”) and “shen”. Take these two common tenets, for example, which we put into practice in our kungfu training. “Internally, train jing, qi and shen”, and “The Crane form trains jing”. There is also a pertinent Chinese proverbs which says, “if you wish to excel in your art, you need your master to indicate jing to you”.

My education in English has been a great help, and my training in Zen has enabled me to see the meanings of “jing” as well as the confusion many people have. Incidentally this shows my great respect for Western education and culture, in case some people may mistakenly think that I belittle anything Western since I have arduously explained and promoted Eastern philosophy and wisdom.

“Jing” refers to “tiny, minute bits of substance”, whereas “qi” refers to energy, and “shen” to spirit. “Tiny, minute bits of substance” is a literal translation from Chinese. Had I not studied English literature I would not have understood this as “the finest essence of matter”, and had I not studied Western science I would not have understood this as “sub-atomic particles”. Western science also enables me to make sense of the frequent statements in chi kung classics that “qi is transformed into jing, and jing is transformed into qi”— something that I suspect many Chinese chi kung masters themselves may not understand the meaning beyond the words.

Hence, when we use the terms “jing”, “qi” and “shen” with reference to human beings, “jing” refers to the sub-atomic particles that make up the physical body, “qi” refers to the vital energy that works the body, and “shen” the spirit, mind, soul or consciousness that controls the energy and the physical body. When we say, ”internally, we train jing, qi and shen”, we mean we enhance the sub-atomic particles that makes up the physical body, enhance the energy, and enhance the spirit.

Someone may argue that when he trains weights to develop muscular strength, he is also training sub-atomic particles or “jing”. Similarly one can also argue logically that a table is a chair, or a stone is God. But that is not the normal way the terms “jing”, “table” and “God” are used. Language is a communication tool; we use it for our practical benefits — be it in kungfu or describing a beautiful sunset — not for confusing ourselves.

Then, how do we train “jing”, in contrast to using external methods like lifting weights, striking sandbags and hard conditioning? An excellent example is zhang zhuang, like “Golden Bridge” where we “consolidate” qi to jing, and generate tremendous internal force.

Many people sometimes forget that as Chinese and English use different vocabulary and imagery, it is often not possible to have a direct translation from one language into the other. In limited context, “jing” is translated as sperms. The underlying principles are the same. It refers to the sub-atomic particles that, in this case, make up spermatozoa. In other cases, it may make up a person's arm or other parts of his physical body.

"Pre-natal energy” is not “jing”, although the term is sometimes loosely used as such. The pre-natal energy of a person is the energy he has before he is born into the world. It is mainly derived from the energy of his father's sperm, and the energy of his mother's ovum. It is also derived from the energy of the place and time of conception, as well as the energy he gets from his mother while still in her womb. After he is born, the pre-natal energy is stored in the kidneys.

In other contexts the same Chinese character “jing” carrying the same concept may be better understood when translated differently into English. For example, when we practice the Crane forms in Shaolin Kungfu, we emphasize developing “jing”, or “the finest essence of matter”. Here, this “finest essence of matter” refers not to “spermatozoa” or “internal force” (such as developed by the Tiger forms), but to desirable qualities like elegance, tranquility and good balance.

In the proverb “If you wish to excel in your art, you need your master to indicate jing to you”, “jing” or “the finest essence of matter” here refers not to sub-atomic particles, spermatozoa, internal force, or elegance, but to the fine points of his teaching that the master transmits to you demonstratively or from heart to heart. Some examples include the angle you should place your feet, the subtle way you should regulate your breaths, the manner you can exert or conserve force, and the subtle method you can sense your opponent's movements and intentions.

I do not know how your student questioned your explanation. If he asked questions politely to clear doubt or learn more, it should be encouraged. But if he questioned the validity of your explanation or the authority of your teaching, tell him firmly that in our school students learn without questioning (in this sense). If he cannot accept our policy, he can leave.

You were very kind to explain the four modes of preparation, and probably related how this principle could be beneficially applied in daily life — invaluable lessons not taught in most other schools. If a student does not appreciate this and tries to be smarter than his teacher, he does not deserve to be in our school.

Question 2

I am presently learning Theravadin meditation, Samatta and eventually Vipassana, from aBuddhist lodge. I asked the teacher whether it was compatible to learn both Zen meditation, and Samatta and Vipassana meditation, as my original goal was to learn Zen meditation. He replied that one must base his teaching on the Theravadin cannon of the Buddha, as it is recognized by both Theravadin and Mahayanist schools. When I pressed further, he said that it was up to the individual to investigate the teachings and make his own decision.

— Lee, Singapore

Answer

Samatta or tranquil meditation and Vipassana or insight meditation are found in all the three traditions of Buddhism, namely Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.

The purpose of Samatta meditation is to calm the mind and make it one-pointed. This can be attained by focusing the mind at one point, such as the breathing, an external object, an external or an internal part of the body, a mantra, or an image of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva.

The purpose of Vipassana meditation is to investigate into ultimate reality, which leads to Enlightenment. This can be attained by investigating deeper and deeper into phenomena until the phenomena break down and ultimate reality is reached. For example, the meditator may investigate what his body is made up of, then what constitutes the various parts of his body, then what constitutes the minute particles that form these body parts, and so on. Or he may ask questions like what is life, and what is karma.

Samatta and Vipassana are two stages of the same meditation. The meditator first attains Samatta, then uses Samatta for Vipassana. In other words, first he attains a one-pointed mind, then with the one-pointed mind he investigates into reality.

Zen meditation is quite different. It aims at non-thought. Since the phenomenal world is the result of thoughts, if a cultivator attains non-thought he breaks down the phenomenal world and attains transcendental reality, which is Enlightenment.

Ultimate Reality is undifferentiated. There are no different entities like tables and humans, clouds and mountains in Ultimate Reality. But we see Ultimate Reality differentiated into separate entities because of the layers and layers of defilement due to countless thoughts. In other words, our mind creates the phenomenal world.

In Ultimate Reality there are no tables and humans, clouds and mountains. Ultimate Reality is just One undivided spread of energy, infinite and eternal. But our mind, which is a collective term for all our senses, interprets some small portions of this undifferentiated energy as tables and humans, and other small portions as clouds and mountains.

In Samatta and Vipassana meditation, the cultivator tears away these countless layers of defilement that transform Ultimate Reality into the phenomenal world. This may take many lifetimes. In Zen meditation, the cultivator aims directly at Ultimate Reality. If he is ready, he may reach Ultimate Reality in an instant.

It is true that both Mahayanist and Vajrayanist Buddhists regard the Theravadin cannon as the basic teaching. After this basic teaching on morality, the Mahayanist and Vajrayanist cannons go on to more advanced teachings on cosmic wisdom. Theravadins, however, think that these advanced teachings were not taught by the Buddha but were later additions, whereas Mahayanists and Vajrayanists think that they were originally taught by the Buddha but were lost in the Theravadin tradition.

Nevertheless, it is pertinent to note that many basic Mahayanist and Vajrayanist teachings, like the transmigration of souls, energy and mind, gods and heavens, and the Bodhisattva ideal, are also found in the Theravadin cannon, although ordinary Theravadin followers may not know them, as these teachings are seldom mentioned by Theravadin masters.

Lifting the Sky

Sifu Wong performing “Lifting the Sky”

Question 3

It is said that there are 84,000 dharma doors to reach the goal, but one needs onlymaster one door to master all others, as is often stated by masters.Therefore I believe that I should concentrate on one path, Zen meditation,as my heart is in the Mahayana path. Of course, it is also good to gainexposure to other kinds of meditation to gauge its suitability first beforefinally settling on one path.

Answer

“84,000 dharma doors” is a Buddhist term meaning that there are countless different methods to suit different people in their spiritual cultivations to reach different or the same intermediate goals, and the same supreme spiritual fulfillment.

While it is true that one needs only master one door to master all, it is also wise to gain exposure to some.

Zen is reputed to be the best of the best dharma doors. However it is not for everybody. It is for those who are ready, i.e. those who have good spiritual roots.

Question 4

Hopefully Sifu Wong can help clarify for me whether it is suitableto learn two methods initially, and then settle on one path to master it; orthat I can tread both paths at the same time.

Answer

In my opinion, it is recommendable to start with Samatta or tranquil meditation to attain a one-pointed mind. Then focus on Zen meditaion to attain satori or a spiritual awakening. In mathematical terms, first bring your mind to one, then expand your mind to zero.

After you have dispersed your greatest doubts, i.e. when you are sure of what to do and what you will get, you may dedicate yourself to the long but most noble task of Zen meditation to attain Enlightenment. Even if you are not ready, Zen meditation will give you wonderful benefits.

My book, The Complete Book of Zen, will provide you with useful background understanding.

Question 5

Also, while I was doing meditation, I experienced unbearable pain at my backthroughout the whole meditation session. Should I continue? I am afraid I mightaggravate my back. One of the reasons I want to join your chi kungclass is to cure some of my ailments, especially my back. However,ultimately my goal is to use chi kung as spiritual cultivation on the pathof Enlightenment, and to aid all sentient beings.

Answer

Meditation is the essential path of spiritual cultivation. But first of all, one must be healthy and fit.

If you experienced unbearable pain throughout your meditation session, it was likely your posture was wrong or you were tensed. Being upright and relaxed are very important in any meditation posture.

It is advisable to stop your meditation for the time being and practice chi kung to overcome the pain. “Carrying the Moon” is an excellent choice for this purpose. Perform “Carrying the Moon” about 20 to 30 times, then stand upright, be relaxed and enjoy your chi flow for about 5 to 10 minutes. The chi flow will clear away your pain. You can resume your meditation practice when you are painfree.

Low Stance Single Whip

When applied skillfully the pattern “Low Stance Single Whip” can be used against any kicking attacks. Here Sifu Wong applies this technique against a middle side kick from Goh Kok Hin

Question 6

Does your chi kung intensive course cover the entire chi kung system?. Do you know and teach every chi kung exercise there is worldwide?

— Chris, Australia

Answer

Of course, no. No one n the whole history of chi kung, no matter how great he was, could know all the chi kung exercises there were in the world. It was also not necessary to do so. I don't even know how many chi kung exercises there have been. There could be tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or thousands of thousands.

As a rough analogy, it is unnecessary for any scholar to know all the titles (not even the content) of all the books published in the English language. Also no one ever knows the number of English books ever published.

In my Intensive Chi Kung Course I teach only three chi kung exercises, namely “Lifting the Sky”, “Pushing Mountains” and “Carrying the Moon”. One will learn more exercises by reading my books than by attending my courses. But the benefits he gets from attending a course is many, many times more than reading all my books.

The onus of my Intensive Chi Kung Course is developing skills, and not learning techniques. During the course, students learn what many others may consider fantastic skills, like attaining a one-pointed mind, tapping energy from the cosmos, generating an internal energy flow, directing energy to flow to wherever parts of the body they wish, opening the heart, and freeing the spirit.

To many others these are only hollow words; they do not really know the meaning behind these words. Hence, some people accuse us of making outlandish claims. They call us liars, and say that I cheat people of money by charging exorbitant fees, despite the fact that I have made it very clear that those who are not satisfied with my course need not pay any fees. On the other hand, many of those who have attended my courses have said that the courses are worth more than ten times the fees they paid.

Question 7

I'm an Italian student of Jujitsu. I'm also learning Chen Style Taiji and Henan Style Xin-Yi. I'm a bit confused about the use of kicks: Which kicks are effective in a fight?

— Mauro, Italy

Answer

It is a misconception, even amongst kungfu students, that there are few kicks in kungfu and that these kicks are ineffective. Actually there are more kicks in kungfu than in all the other martial arts put together. In Shaolin Kungfu, for example, there are 36 kicking techniques.

All these kicks are effective, otherwise they would have been eliminated in kungfu history. Nevertheless, there are less kicks in Chen Style Taijiquan and Henan Style Xing Yi Kungfu than in Shaolin Kungfu, but still kicking techniques in these two kungfu styles are important and effective.

But the principles and applications of kicks in kungfu, irrespective of whether they are in Shaolin, Taijiquan, Xing Yi Kungfu or any other kungfu styles, are different from those in other non-Chinese martial arts like Taikwondo, Muai Thai and Kickboxing. There are some innate weaknesses in kicks, such as the exponent's balance and mobility are affected while he executes a kick. Hence, amongst other considerations, the advantages of the kick must outweigh the innate disadvantages in a combat situation before the exponent would kick.

Throwing kicks freely as in many other martial arts is contradictory to basic kungfu principles. It blatantly goes against the first principle of “safety first” in kungfu. If all other things were equal, a person executing a kick exposes himself to serious counter-attacks against which it may not be easy to defend. For example, if your opponent strikes your leg as you kick, it would be difficult to defend yourself.

Then, why do many kungfu students have problems against kicks? It is because not only they do not have the skills and techniques to counter the kicks — or in many cases, to counter against any attacks — they do not even know the principles of kicking attacks and defences.

On the other hand, why are kicks so popular in Taekwondo, Muai Thai and Kickboxing if the exponents expose themselves dangerously? The answer is that they are protected by safety rules. In these martial arts, or sports, you cannot, for example, strike the kicking leg to fracture it, or drive a leopard punch into his groin to smash his testicles!

Low Stance Single Whip

Here is an example of a special kicking technique called “iron-nail kick” applied by Sifu Wong during sparring. As Goh Kok Hin attacks, Sifu Wong shifts to a side and with his toes kicks at Goh's vital point at the ribs.

Question 8

Very often I've read it is better to use low kicks instead of high kicks. But, there is a great variety of techniques (front, side, roundhouse, back spinning, back turning, etc).. Which kicks should I train?

Answer

In kungfu, kicks are seldom high. One main reason (amongst many other reasons) is that high kicks expose the exponent's genitals to be struck. There are also high kicks in kungfu, but these kicks are usually executed while the exponent is in the air, so that his own genitals are not dangerously exposed.

You should be trained in all the fundamental kicking techniques as well as the defences against them. Interestingly, many students only train kicking attacks, but they themselves do not know the defences against these attacks. Please also note that there may be a few kicks in one kicking techniques.

Kicks may come in different forms and from different directions, but can be generalized into four categories:

  1. High kicks
  2. Middle kicks
  3. Low kicks
  4. Circular kicks

In Shaolin Wahnam, we practice typical kicks and their defences for the four categories, as follows. In Shaolin Kungfu, we practice “Kicking the Sky” and “Taming Tiger with Beads” for high kicks, “Happy Bird Hops up a Branch”, “White Horse Presents Hoofs”, “Lohan Strikes Drum” and “Save Emperor with Single Whip” for middle kicks, “Yellow Bird Drinks Water” and “Trim Bamboo with Branches” for low kicks, and “Naughty Monkey Kicks at Tree” and “Bar the Big Boss” for circular kicks.

If you can effectively use “Taming Tiger with Beads” against “Kicking at Sky”, you can use the same defence against all other high kicks! The same principle applies to the other categories of kicks. In other words, when you are well trained in these fundamental kicks and defences, by understanding their underlying principles you can counter any kicks! This is systematic training, and it saves a lot of time.

In Wahnam Taijiquan, we use “Kicking at Sky”, “Cross Hands Thrust Kick”, “Golden Cockerel” and “Wind Sways Lotus Leaves” as typical high, middle, low and circular kicks. It may be unbelievable to many people, but we can effectively use “Low Stance Single Whip” to counter all kicks!

When you are at an advanced level, i.e. when you can at the least apply and counter various kicks well, you may choose one or more kicks to specialize in. What kicks you would choose, will depend on various considerations like your built and ability, your teacher's philosophy and resources, as well as your whims and fancies.

Question 9

Can you suggest to me a list of techniques that I can use?

Answer

Irrespective of whether you were referring to techniques in general or just kicking techniques and their defences, we would recommend the techniques that we ourselves use in Shaolin Wahnam. The techniques we have chosen for our own training, in our own opinion, are the best available, otherwise we would not have chosen them.

These techniques were not chosen at random, but selected after careful study and consideration, based on records our past masters generously passed on to us as well as on our practical experience. More significantly, these techniques have produced excellent results not just for combat efficiency but also for enhancing our daily living.

We are quite generous in sharing our knowledge, much of which was kept as secrets in the past, or even now by some masters. You can find a lot of information on techniques as well as other aspects like tactics and principles in my webpages.

But we would like to remind you and other interested readers that learning from my webpages or books is vastly different from learning from me or our Shaolin Wahnam instructors. For example, you would have little difficulty learning the exercise called “Hundred Kicks”, but unless you learn from us personally, it is likely you will perform the hundred kicks as physical exercise rather than as chi kung or energy exercise.

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