May 2009 (Part 1)

SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Buddha

“The Bodhisatta (Buddha-to-be) was invited by Brahma and Four Celestial Kings to be born in the world from Tusita Heaven.” Reproduced from http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/uni/u-32anhphat/anhphat0102.htm

Question 1

Sigung, could you for my benefit and the benefit of all explain the role in which “gods” and higher beings influence our lives here on earth? There is a famous quote by Sitaigung: “don't do anything evil as there are beings three feet above your head.” What did he mean by this and who are these beings?

— Chris, Ireland

Answer

Due to linguistic and cultural differences between English and Chinese, it is worthwhile to note that the term “gods” here may mean quite differently from the Chinese term “shen ming”, from which it is translated. Word for word, “Shen ming” may be translated as “spirit-bright”, but actually it means divine spirits or heavenly beings. What my sifu referred to in the quotation was these divine spirits or heavenly beings.

These heavenly beings are actually more numerous than human beings. In our phenomenal world of desire where we live, there is only one realm of humans, as well as one realm each of hell, ghosts, animals and demons, but six realms of heavens. As there are six heavenly realms compared to only one human realm in the phenomenal world of desire where we live, naturally there are a lot more heavenly beings.

As a side-note, this is good news for those who aspire to go to heaven in the after-life. Based on the law of averages alone, one has six times more opportunities to be reborn in heaven than in the realms of hell, ghosts, animals or demons, or in the human realm again. But if he does evil, he will not be born in heaven even though the huge opportunities are there. If he avoids evil and do good, his chances of being born in heaven are overwhelming.

All these beings are all around us though we may not see them because of the limited ability of our eyes to translate the energies they emit as sight. My sifu's advice is that an evil doer may think that no one knows of his evil doings, but actually his evil doings may be known by many beings all around him. Hence, we should all be noble in our dealings as well as in our thoughts.

Question 2

We often hear about natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanoes. Are these phenomena simply physical changes or is there something deeper happening?

Answer

From the perspectives of both modern science and ancient wisdom, all happenings are forms of energy. The same forms of energy appear differently to different beings because of their different sense perceptions and interpretations.

Because of the ways our sense organs perceive energy, and our collective human consciousness interprets them, we may perceive and interpret some forms of energy as earthquakes and volcanoes, whereas other beings may perceive and interpret them differently or may not even be aware of these forms of energy.

Our mind has a great effect on these forms of energy. Modern scientists have found out that whether energy will exist as particles or waves depends on how the scientists choose to measure it. If they choose to measure the energy as particles, it will manifest as particles; it they choose to measure it as waves, it will manifest as waves.

Similarly, the Buddha has taught that the most important cause of karma, i.e. what and how events occur, is mind. The other two causes are speech and action. Great Taoist masters have taught that our thoughts can move mountains and oceans.

Hence, the occurrences of natural disasters to humans are to a great extent the result of human thoughts. The other causes, according to the teachings of the Buddha, are speech and action. It is of course not just your thoughts and my thoughts, but the collective thoughts of humans over a long period. Similarly, human thoughts have a great influence over man-made disasters, like wars and famine. Hence, how humans collectively think, as well as speak and act, determine our well-being.

Heavenly Beings

An image of Buddhist heavenly beings by a modern Chinese artist reproduced from http://hua.umf.maine.edu/China/Chinese_kites/pages/063_Chinese_Kites.html

Question 3

I have read in the Sutras about the god of gods in the Brahman levels. Who is this being and does he control all gods?

Answer

According to the teachings of the Buddha, the phenomenal world where we live, called the Saha world, can be divided into three spheres of existence as follows:

As mentioned above, in the Sphere of Desire there are 11 realms as follows:

  1. Hell
  2. World of Ghosts and Spirits
  3. Animal World
  4. World of Demons
  5. Human World
  6. Heaven of Four Great Kings
  7. Heaven of Thirty Six Deva Kings
  8. Heaven of Yama
  9. Heaven of Enjoying Bliss
  10. Heaven of Enjoying Own Creation
  11. Heaven of Enjoying Others' Creation

In the Sphere of Form there are 16 realms:

  1. Heaven of Brahma Retinue
  2. Heaven of Brahma Ministers
  3. Heaven of Great Brahmas
  4. Heaven of Brahmas with Minor Lustre
  5. Heaven of Brahmas with Infinite Lustre
  6. Heaven of Radiant Brahmas
  7. Heaven of Brahma with Monor Aura
  8. Heaven of Brahma with Infiinite Aura
  9. Heaven of Brahma with Steady Aura
  10. Heaven of Greatly Rewarded Brahmas
  11. Heaven of Sensationless Brahmas
  12. Heaven of Immobile Brahmas
  13. Heaven of Serene Brahmas
  14. Heaven of Beautiful Brahmas
  15. Heaven of Clear-Sighted Brahmas
  16. Heaven of Supreme Brahmas

There are 4 realms in the Sphere of Non-Form:

  1. Realm of Infinite Space
  2. Realm of Infinite Consciousness
  3. Realm of Nothingness
  4. Realm of Neither Perception Nor Non-Perception

There are two main types of heavens, the lower deva heavens where the beings are called devas, and the higher heavens where the beings are called brahmas. "Devas” and “brahmas” are Sanskrit terms and are generally translated as “deva gods” and “brahma gods” or just “heavenly beings".

Both devas and brahmas have form, but their form is too fine for our human eyes to perceive. Devas, like humans, hell beings, ghosts, animals and demons, have desire, whereas brahmas have overcome desire. But unlike the other beings in the Sphere of Desire, devas only experience joy, they have no suffering. Humans and demons have both joy and suffering, whereas hell beings, ghosts and animals only experience suffering with little or no joy.

In each of the deva and brahma heavenly realms, there is a King or Lord presiding over other devas or brahmas, or as you have said, a god presiding over other gods. The heavenly realm just “above” our human realm is called Heaven of Four Great Kings, where there are four heavens with four heavenly kings, who are Virudhaka, Dhritirsatra, Vaisravana and Virupaksa. In the heavenly realm known as the Heaven of Great Brahmas, Lord Brahma presides over other brahma gods.

If we feel that our human world is just a small part of the Saha World, which is of course true, we are further humbled to know that the Saha world itself is only a tiny speck in the Universe where there are worlds like our Saha World as countless as the sands of River Ganges with each of the countless worlds teeming with sentient beings. This view is certainly a great contrast with the orthodox scientific view that life exists only in this puny speck we call our earth.

Question 4

I am interested in qigong for health. I have a book by a French master on basic qigong, and another one by a Chinese master on Iron Shirt. I have done some research for hard qigong, qi projections, push-ups on two fingers, and protecting the body from blows of Iron Fist. Could you help me? What exercises should I do - micro-cosmic meditation, abdominal breathing, or hugging a tree?

— Fredric, France

Answer

You have made two common mistakes many people make. One, you have confused chi kung, which is a practical art, with theoretical knowledge, which you can read from books. Two, you attempt to practice advanced chi kung exercises when you have not been trained in the basics.

The exercises you have mentioned are not suitable for you. You are more likely to harm yourself than obtain benefits if you practice any of them without the supervision of a competent teacher.

You should start with the basics. You should seek a genuine chi kung teacher and learn personally from him (or her). Genuine chi kung teachers are hard to find nowadays; bogus ones are plentiful. A good way to differentiate the genuine from the bogus is to find out whether they give you the effect that practicing genuine chi kung would give.

The essential effect of genuine chi kung is chi flow. The term “chi kung” literally means “energy work”. In other words, when you practice chi kung, you work on energy, and the result is getting your energy to flow. In other words, a genuine chi kung teacher will enable you to generate an energy flow.

When your energy is flowing smoothly, you will have good health. When the smooth energy flow becomes more vigorous, you have vitality. When your energy flow lasts for a very long time, you have longevity. Enjoying good health, vitality and longevity is the most basic reason why we practice chi kung. The main reason to practice chi kung is not to be able to stand upside down on two fingers or let someone with Iron Fist punch you.

Three-Circle Stance

The Three-Circle Stance, sometimes called "Hugging a Tree" by some people, is a powerful zhan zhuang exercise that should be learnt from a competent teacher.

Question 5

My practice is going very well and it is helping me a lot. At the beginning of January I stopped my medicine, so I could become pregnant. I didn't expect it to be so soon! So now I am 4 weeks pregnant!

I wanted to ask you if it is OK to practice. Is there anything that I have to be careful about? I don't know where to focus: at my head (what I used to do until now), at my baby or in my entire body to give me strength in general? I think chi is very powerful to focus on my fragile baby.

— Effie, Greece

Answer

I am so happy to know that you are pregnant. Congratulations. Bringing life to the world and becoming a mother is one of the greatest blessings any woman can have.

From now to about three months of your pregnancy, you can carry on practicing your chi kung as usual, except that you should be more gentle and take care not to over-practice. Indeed, you should under-practice, i.e. practice in less time and in less intensity than what you do in ordinary times.

Many people mistakenly think that as they become pregnant, they should practice more for the baby. This is incorrect regarding high-level chi kung. They forget that a baby's needs are different from an adult's needs. As you have correctly mentioned, focusing chi on a baby may be too powerful.

This means you should not send chi directly to your baby, such as using visualization or directing chi there with your palm. But you and your husband can, and should, caress the baby lovingly with your hands. As you caress, gently think of the baby lovingly. The baby will appreciate it and it is excellent for his or her pre-natal development.

You need not focus on any part of your body during your practice or chi flow. Just enjoy wu-wei, i.e. let the chi flow where it flows. Your chi flow should not be vigorous.

From the third month of pregnancy onward, you need not practice chi kung forms. Just go into gentle chi flow from your standing meditative position. The chi flow must be gentle. There is no need to focus the chi flow at any part of your body. You may, once a while, gently think of your baby with love and care while enjoying your chi flow, but do not consciously direct your chi to your baby. If chi naturally flows to your baby, without you actively directing it, it is fine.

The following is an excellent exercise you can perform any time during pregnancy. Go into a chi kung state of mind. Gently think of your baby developing healthily and beautifully, and when the time is right, the delivery of your baby will be safe, normal and pleasant.

It is important that you must not use any force, physical or mental, while performing this excellent exercise. This is actually a serious exercise, but treat it like fun, i.e. if it brings the desired result, wonderful; if it does not bring any result, it doesn't matter.

This is also a very safe exercise that can be performed safely by any pregnant woman as long as she performs it gently. Tell your friends about this excellent exercise, including men so that they may tell their wives and daughters. It is a great blessing to help expecting mothers safely and pleasantly bring life to our world.

Question 6

How will practicing Yijinjing make you a better fighter?

— Sam, USA

Answer

“Yi Jin Jing” or the “Classic of Sinew Metamorphosis” when practiced correctly is a very powerful art. It generates tremendous internal force and mental clarity, the very two aspects that are most crucial to combat efficiency.

Many martial artists may think that fighting techniques are most important, but if you have tremendous internal force, your opponents' otherwise efficient techniques would be render ineffective. Fighting against a master with tremendous internal force is like a small child with a black-belt fighting against a hefty adult. The child may win by points in a non-contact match, but if it is a real fight the child could be easily hurt or even killed by just a blow from the hefty adult. Parents whose sons or daughters have black-belt ranking may not realize this.

More important is temperament. You may have good techniques and even much strength, but if you become tensed and nervous in a fight, your techniques and strength would be thrown to the winds. An exponent with much internal force remains calm and relaxed in combat.

Yi Jin Jing develops much mental clarity, which in turn is enhanced by internal force. At high level fighting, mental clarity, which enables an exponent not only to see his opponents' moves clearly but also to devise appropriate tactics and strategies and even to know beforehand what they are going to do, contributes a decisive factor in winning combat.

But for us in Shaolin Wahnam, the most invaluable and highest benefit of practicing Yi Jin Jing is spiritual development. In my teaching experience, the Yi Jin Jing course, also called “Merging with the Cosmos”, is the one amongst those I offer to the public that produces the most number of participants experiencing their spirit expanding into or merging with the Cosmos, called variously as seeing the Original Face, merging into Tao or meeting God.

However, nowadays Yi Jin Jing is usually practiced at a physical level. Hence, most Yi Jin Jing practitioners today would not have the benefits described above. They can develop strong muscles, which will also make them better fighters, but they are not the class of fighters practicing Yi Jin Jing as a high-level energy art would produce.

Question 7

Will learning Yijinjing be dangerous without an instructor?

Answer

Yes. Any high level chi kung can be dangerous without a competent teacher.

In our school we translate Yi Jin Jing as “Classic of Sinew Metamorphosis”, which is a literal translation from the Chinese. Some schools call it “Muscle Changing”. Both the terms “Sinew Metamorphosis” and “Muscle Changing” may mislead many people to believe that the art is meant for building big muscles, which is not true. Indeed many people erroneously practice Sinew Metamorphosis as a physical exercise to build big muscles.

Some knowledge of Chinese language and philosophy may be needed to understand the deeper meaning of Yi Jin Jing or “Sinew Metamorphosis”. Word by word, “yi” means “change”, “jin” means “sinews” or “muscles”, and “jing” means “classic” or established teaching. So literally “Yi Jin Jing” means the established teaching of how to change muscles.

Chinese is a figurative language, and its meaning is often more than literal. Here, “jin” is a shortened term for “jin gu”, which literally means “muscles-bones”. But in “Yi Jin Jing” it does not merely mean muscles and bones. The term refers to a whole system of concepts related to muscles and bones in classical Chinese medical philosophy.

The muscle-system in Chinese medical philosophy is related to the gall-bladder. When the gall-bladder is strong, the person becomes courageous. Indeed, to say that a person is brave in Chinese, we say he has “da tan”, which means “big (i.e. strong) gall-bladder”,

When a person's bones are strong, he becomes upright not just physically but also morally. In Chinese, when you refer to a person as having “gu qi”, which literally means “bone-energy”, you mean that he is righteous.

In kungfu terms, the training of “gu” or bones, like in the training of the Tiger characteristics in Shaolin Kungfu, does not mean you make your bones strong; it means you train internal force. A lot of internal force is need in spiritual cultivation to break through mental and spiritual blockage to set the spirit free.

The essence of “gu” (”bones”) is “sui”, which is literally translated as “bone marrow”. But in Chinese medical wisdom, “sui” is not just bone-marrow. It refers to what in the West would call the nervous system.

In chi kung jargon, energy training may be divided into five levels, which are in ascending order the skin, the flesh, the meridians, the internal organs and the bone-marrow. Hence, Yi Jin Jing which trains the bone-marrow, constitutes the highest form of chi kung training.

With this philosophical background, we can have a better understand that Yi Jin Jing is not just a set of exercises to change tendons or muscles. If it were, learning it wrongly, while harmful, is not so dangerous as it were only physical. As it is, Yi Jin Jing is a very powerful chi kung exercise of the highest level that trains energy and mind, cleansing his nervous systems, making him courageous and righteous, and providing him with a lot of internal force to attain the highest spiritual achievement. Wrong learning or practice, naturally, will have far-reaching and dangerous side-effects.

Question 8

Can you apply One-Finger Shooting Zen to fights? I have read that after one session some students experienced their finger bursting with energy. If they poked something with that finger, would it have any hard impact?

— Bob, USA

Answer

One-Finger Shooting Zen

Sifu Andrew Barnett demonstrating “One-Finger Shooting Zen”.

Of the three arts regarded as the ultimate by kungfu masters, One-Finger Zen is the first, followed by Strike-Across-Space Palm and Marvellous Fist. The main method to develop One-Finger Zen is One-Finger Shooting Zen. Asking whether one can use One-Finger Zen to fight is a gross understatement. It is like asking whether you can kill a person by blasting a cannon on him.

The index finger bursting with energy after practicing One-Finger Shoot Zen is a minor attainment. Further practice will make the finger very hard and powerful, like a steel finger, in which case it is called “Yi Zi Jing”, or literally One-Finger-Gold. A master with One-Finger-Gold can easily pierce through an opponent's body to damage his internal organs.

Some masters use two fingers instead of one. The great Shaolin master, the Venerable Hai Deng, was reputed to penetrate buffalo's hide with his two fingers. As a compassionate monk, he did not test his fingers on a live buffalo, but he pierced through sandbags made of buffaloes' hide with a single thrust of his two fingers, causing sand to gush out.

The internal force in One-Finger-Gold is considered “hard”, where that in One-Finger Zen is “soft”. “Soft” here is not less powerful than “hard”, in fact it is more powerful. One-Finger Zen is considered a higher level art than One-Finger Gold. The nature of their application in damaging opponents is different. In One-Finger God you forcefully thrust your your finger like an iron rod into an opponent. In One-Finger Zen you gently tap on your opponent's vital point with your finger, which acts like an electrical circuit, and let your internal force flow into him.

One-Finger-Gold is mainly used for fighting, but One-Finger Zen can kill or heal. Indeed, I have used the internal force I have developed from practicing One-Finger Shooting Zen, to save many lives.

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