SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
AUGUST 1999 PART 3

Sitting Meditation

Meditation, or mind training, is an important part of Shaolin training, though it may not necessary in a sitting position like above

Question 1

I read your homepage info about stopping rain with qigong. The description seems that you are using the powerful but dangerous art of sun kung, and not qigong. Am I wrong in my judgment?

— Benjamin, UK

Answer

Answer 1
What I used to stop rain was qigong. I do not know about "sun kung", but I wonder whether you were referring to shen-gong, which is another name some masters used for qigong.

Qigong, or shen-gong, or anything for that matter is dangerous only if it falls into wrong hands. This is one important reason why masters are very selective in passing on advanced qigong.

On another plane, qigong especially at advanced levels is dangerous if practised by beginners without proper supervision.

Question 2

How should I map out my kungfu training?

— Trystan, UK

Answer

Use the following principles to map out your training:

  1. Train in all the four dimensions of kungfu, namely form, force, application and philosophy. If you just practise form, you are likely to make kungfu into gymnastics or dance.

  2. Kungfu forms are means; they are not ends by themselves. You train kungfu forms so that they can be effectively used for combat and for promoting your health and vitality. In other words, if you have been practising kungfu forms for a year, but cannot apply them to defend yourself against even simple punches and kicks, or you still have health problems like asthma or allegies, or still feel fatique easily and often depressed, you have wasted your time.

  3. The focus of kungfu is training "kung" (spelt as "gong" in Romanized Chinese), and not on learning new techniques. A characteristic feature of "kung" training is repeatedly practise the same technique, such as hitting your palm on a bean-bag in Iron Palm training, or remaining in the same stance for 15 minutes in zhan zhuang training, every day for at least a few months. A common feature of kungfu gymnastics or dance is learning new forms regularly and ensuring the forms are beautiful to watch.

Question 3

I started doing your Chi-Kung exercises and I can say that since more than a year I haven't been sick at all. I have been able to confront some hard problems with calm and love that I have had like the death of my dear sister. I also lost weight, which made me feel more confident and comfortable. However I would like to develop and reach my goals. I would like to know how to meditate.

— Patricia, USA

Answer

The word "meditation", though widely used, is a poor translation of what in the Shaolin teaching would be referred to as Zen. To many people in the West, "to meditate" often suggests "to think" of something, whereas in Zen the fundamental objective is to do away with all thinking. Strictly speaking, the expression "to do away with all thinking" is also incorrect, although it is probably the closest one could get to explaning what Zen is in this context.

There are many methods to achieve "doing away with all thinking". One very effective method, frequently used by meditators as well as chi kung practitioners, is first of all just "think" of one thing. "Think" here is quite incorrect, but I use this term so that most westerners will know what I mean, even though they may not get the exact meaning. But no one will get the exact meaning if they merely attempt it through words, as it is being done here. This is because words, even when they describe concerte objects like tables and chairs, are subjective; they have different shades of meaning for different people. A more appropriate expression is "place your mind on one thing", or "abide your mind to one thing".

This "one thing" can be an object outside your body like a flower, or a spot inside your body like your abdominal dan tian; or a series of bodily movements like the external form of a chi kung exercise; or your breathing in and out; or a single thought or thought process like mentally repeating a mantra. If you, for example, continuously think of a flower and nothing else, or think of your breathing in and out, you are "meditating". In eastern terms, you have entered Zen, or "have entered silence".

Meditation is mind training. Here, when you think of just one thing, your purpose is not to intellectualize on that one thing, but to train your mind to be focussed. In meditation terms, you have arived at one.

After arriving at one, you expand your mind to zero. In simple terms, after you have foucssed your mind on your breathing, or on the movement of your chi kung exercise, you let go of your focus on your breathing, or your focus on your moement -- but of course you are still breathing or you may still be continuing your chi kung movement. In Zen terms, you first tame your mind, then you let your mind free.

Meditation -- that is mind training, not merely sitting crossed-legged -- is an adavnced art, and should be attempted under a master's supervision. The incrediable situation today, especially in western societies, is that the art of meditation, like the art of chi kung, has been so ridiculously diluted that any Tom, Dick and Harry may read it up from a book and start teaching it to others.

Question 4

Besides I have gained weight, just a few pounds, but I wonder why, because I try to eat healty food and I bike everyday for 40 minutes plus my Chi-Kung exercises.

Answer

There are many possible reasons why you have gained weight. Presuming that you have done chi kung correctly, you have gainned weight because with your body systems now working at their optimum, you have added the necessary mass that you need. In other words, previously although you thought your weight was correct, you were, in terms of best performance, actually under weight.

Another possibility is that you have not done chi kung orrectly, or that your chi kung is of a low level. Hence, even though you control your food intake, your body systems are unable to change what little you eat into energy. That is the reason why fat people remain fat though they take little food. On the other hand, if you practise high level chi kung correctly, you can eat whatever you like and need not go biking 40 minutes a day to control your weight.

Question 5

Could you help me or tell me how to meditate?

Answer

Yes, learn meditation from a master, and meditate according to the way your master tells you to.

Question 6

I want to make my metobolism work better in order to lose weight again, what exercises do I have to practice for that porpose?

Answer

Any good chi kung exercise will serve that purpose.

Standing Meditation

There are many approaches to meditation. Standing Meditation is a very important aspect in Shaolin Kungfu and Chi Kung.

Question 7

My routine is the following: In the morning around 9 a.m. I bike for 40 minutes; next I take a walk for 10; and lastly I do my Chi Kung exercises. I rub my navel 10 times with my right middle finger, then with my left middle finger I rub 10 times the top of my head. I do 10 times the following exercises: To lift the Sky, To Push Mountains, and To Hold the Moon. After that I stand with my eyes close and I try to meditate for 10 minutes. When I have finished I feel just great, full of energy and ready to start a wonderful day. I will apreciate your advice. You can be sure that you have changed the lives of all the people who, like me, have read and learn from your wisdom and great knowledge.

Answer

Your routine, while productive, is not cost-effective. Try the following alternative routine. Forget about the biking, walking, rubbing of your naval or your head. Just do the following. Stand upright and be relaxed. Perform "Lifting the Sky" or "Carrying the Moon" (not both) about 20 times, gently focussing on your breathing. In other words, you are performing the chi kung exercise in a meditative state of mind. Then just relax and enjoy the internal energy flow that you have generated. The whole routine takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Practise this every day for at least six months.

Question 8

I have read that martial arts were taught for peace of mind and mastery over the human condition, but that proficiency in any of these was not of high merit without other accomplishments in the Shaolin Monastery. What would these other merits be? Is mastery over the mind, or samadhi, a characteristic point of Shaolin teaching?

— Zachary, Australia

Answer

Shaolin Kungfu, strictly speaking, is a means to spiritual cultivation. The two cardinal merits of the Shaolin teaching, which is based on Mahayana Buddhism, are compassion and wisdom.

Yes, mind training is a characteristic point in genuine Shaolin training. The supreme aim of the Shaolin teaching, which is the same as all Buddhist teaching, is to attain no-mind, which is actually all mind. By no-mind it is meant that the cultivator has freed himself (or herself) from thoughts, which in a series of stages transform ultimate reality into the phenomenal world.

When no thoughts arise, the phenomenal world (which actually means the world of appearances) vanishes, and the mind returns to its original state, which is ultimate reality. In Zen terms, this is seeing your original face. In other cultures, the same attainment is described variously as return to God's Kingdom, ataining the Tao or unity with the Great Void.

Question 9

Shaolin was the name of the monastery visited by Bodhidamma who first taught movements to the monks. This name, Shaolin, means 'young forest'.

Answer

"Shao" literally means "young", and "lin" literally means "forest". But that was not how the famous monastery got its name.

According to the Shaolin tradition, when the great Indian monk, Batuo (not Bodhidharma) who built the monastery with imperial help requested Emperor Xiao Wen to name the monastery, the emperor said, "This monastery is on the Shao Shi mountain range (of Song Mountain), and these two cypress tress (still standing in front of the temple gate) form the Chinese character 'lin'; hence the monastery shall be called Shaolin."

Question 10

Was this first monastery Buddhist or Taoist or Confucian? Are these three interconnected?

Answer

The monastery has been Buddhist since its first establishment till now. But people of different religions, including Taoists, Confucians, Christians and Muslims, have studied in the Shaolin Monastery.

No, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are not inter-connected; they are separate religions. Nevertheless, one can be a good Buddhist, good Taoist, and good Confucian all at the same time. In fact this is what most Chinese are!

Question 11

A Chinese Malaysian classmate has suggested that Taoist and Buddhist philosophies are irreconcilable. I have read that the Chinese are renouned for the adaptation of new thought into old culture, and that Buddhism was readily absorbed within the existing belief systems of the time. Could you clear up this dilemma?

Answer

There is no dilemma if we view the situation from the Chinese perspective. The apparant confusion arises when one views a Chinese situation from a western perspective. The Chinese concept of religion is different from that of the West.

Actually there is no such a thing as a religion in Chinese culture! That is why when you ask Chinese what religion do they profess -- apart from those who have been converted to Christianity and Islam, who would then normally conceptualize religion in the western sense -- many of them will have difficulty answering you. In the Chinese language, the word for religion is "jiao" which means "teaching".

In Chinese, Buddhism is "fo jiao", which is the teachings of Buddhas or Enlightened Ones; and Taoism is "dao jiao", which is the teachings of Tao or the Way. There is nothing against any Chinese, or anybody for that matter, who follows the teachings of the Enlightened Ones to follow at the same time the teachings of the Way, or vice versa. It is perfectly legitimate, for example, for a person to practise compassion and wisdom, which are the twin pillars of Mahayana Buddhism, and at the same time believe in yin-yang harmony and five elemental processes, which are principal teachings in Taoism. Hence, in gratitude for the benefits he derives from these teachings, he may pay respect to both Bodhsattvas and Taoist gods.

In Chinese societies in and outside China, Taoist gods are often worshipped in Chinese Buddhist temples (which are usually Mahayana Buddhist), and Buddhas and Bodhsattvas worshipped in Taoist temples.

Your classmate who suggested that Taoist and Buddhist philosophies were irreconcilable, was viewing the topic from a restricted perspective. If we compare the rituals, customs and practice of Taoism with those of Buddhism, especially Theravada Buddhism, we can find a lot of differences and may conclude that the two religions are irreconcilable as the rituals, customs and practice in Taoism are generally not found in Buddhism, and vice versa. A Taoist priest, for example, would never wear a Theravadin saffron robe, and a Theravadin monk would never write magical talismans. But if we go beyond the external appearances, we shall find that attaining the Tao and attaining nirvana are actually two different ways of describing the same highest spiritual achievement.

Question 12

What are your key aims of building a new Shaolin Monastery and what philosophies are to be embraced?

Answer

The fundamental aims of building a new Shaolin Monastery is to preserve the traditional Shaolin arts and philosophy that were taught in the original Shaolin Monastery in the past, and to enable deserving students to practise and benefit from them. The three principal Shaolin arts or the three treasures of Shaolin are kungfu, chi kung and Zen.

The basic philosophy of Shaolin is manifested in the Ten Shaolin Laws . A Shaolin disciple is trained to live a rewarding life for himself and for others. He aims for the best physical, emotional, mental and spiritual attainment. Thus, he has radiant health and vitality, is combat efficient, mentally fresh and spiritually joyful.

An unmistakeable feature of the Shaolin teaching, which is an echo of the Buddha's teaching, is direct experience. In other words, Shaolin disciples do not merely talk about ideals, they experience them. A crucial tenet in the Shaolin philosophy is that if one wishes to experience these ideals, he has to work hard and consistently for them. Translated into everyday situations, a person who merely reads about chi kung but does not spend time to practise it, or who says he wants to help others but does not even bother first to learn personally from a master, has no place in the long and vigorous Shaolin training.

The Venerable Hai Deng

The Venerable hai Deng. Picture reproduced from http://usuarios.multimania.es/jmmsa/images/haideng5.jpg . The Chinese words at the bottom of the picture reads "Wu Lin", which means "Martial Circles" and is the name of an old kungfu magazine from where this picture originally appeared

Question 13

I have learned various sets of movements all in the Yang style Tai Chi Chuan. Is there any simple test to see if what I am learning is Tai Chi Chuan or Tai Chi dance? What is the difference?

Answer

Yes, here is a simple two-fold test. One, ask yourself whether you have developed any internal force from your Tai Chi training. If you are not sure, then you have not developed any internal force. If you have -- just as if you have taken your dinner, or taken a walk -- you will know.

Two, spar with some martial artists of any styles. Can you put up some defence, even if you loose in the sparring? If you do not even know what to do when someone throws you a punch or a kick, then yours is Tai Chi dance. If you can answer "yes" to these two questions (not just one), you are practising Tai Chi Chuan.

Tai Chi Chuan is an internal martial art. Practising Tai Chi Chuan gives you good health and combat efficiency. There is nothing internal or martial about Tai Chi dance. Practising Tai Chi dance gives you gracefulness and balance. The two-fold test above tells you whether your training has been internal and martial.

Question 14

It's very good to see that you are concerned about combat training, chi development, and meditation in addition to just the form training. I have spent about 4 and a half years practicing. Chinese martial arts, and I think it is one of the best experiences of my life.

— Paul, UK

Answer

I am particularly concerned about the rapid deterioration of genuine Chinese martial arts into gymnastics and dance. It is great that you have found martial art training enjoyable and rewarding. It is a comprehensive programme for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual development.

Question 15

The main reason I am writing to you is for my own quest for knowledge. I have done as much research as possible. I am fascinated by the history of Chinese martial arts, particularily when it comes to famous masters, such as Yue Fei (Ngok Fei), Huo Yuan Jia (Fok Yuen Jia), Gu Ru Zhang (Ku Yu Cheung), Hung Hei Goon, and Shao Lin Hai Deng Fa Shi (Siu Lum Hoi Tung Fut Si). Is there any information you could give me on these legendary masters?

Answer

Yue Fei or Ngok Fei in Cantonese pronounciation was a famous Song Dynasty marshal, deitified by later generations as a god of martial art. His martial art training was Shaolin. He was the founder or first patriarch of Hsing Yi Kungfu, Eagle Claw Kungfu and Yiejiaquan (Yue Family Kungfu).

When he was a child, his mother tattooed on his back the following Chinese words, "jing zhong bao guo", which means "extreme loyalty to repay the kingdom". Being filal to his mother (even long after her death), Yue Fei followed his mother's tattooed words to a fault. (Anyone who thinks that being filail to one's parents is cizzy should draw some inspiration from this god of martial art.) When Yue Fei successfully prevented the Tartars at the border from invading China, the emperor instigated by a treacherous prime minister who had been bribed by the Tartars, sent out imperial decrees to recall him to the capital.

Imperial decrees were engraved in gold plates. Decrees after decrees were sent out but the gold plates were intercepted on the way by kungfu masters because they knew of an imperial plot to kill Yue Fei as soon as he arrived at the palace. But, alas, the twelfth gold plate reached Yue Fei. He also knew he would die if he returned to the capital, and despite the army begging him not to go, he returned, for being true to his mother's words, not obeying the emperor's order would be disloyal. True enough, when Yue Fei returned to the capital, the emperor framing a crime on him, ordered his head chopped off. Soon, without Yue Fei defending the border, the Tartars overran north China.

Huo Yuan Jia (Fok Yun Kap) was a Northern Shaolin master known for Mizongyi, or the Art of Deceptive Footwork. He lived in the times of the early Chinese republic when China was like a piece of cake eyed by many foreign powers, and when foreigners called the Chinese the sick men of East Asia. But Huo Yuan Jia was nicknamed the Yellow-Face Tiger because of his martial art prowess.

To help his countrymen become strong and healthy, Huo Yuan Jia founded Chin Wu Athletic Association in Shanghai, which was dedicated to the spread of genuine kungfu. Chin Wu, which literally means "Essence of Martial Art", has branches in many countries, especially in South East Asia. Huo Yuan Jia also formulated a beautiful code of philosophy to help Chin Wu members attain all-round development.

But today, and this is strictly my opinion, not many Chin Wu members could measure up to the aspirations of their great founder; much of the kungfu taught in numerous Chin Wu branches today is meant for demonstration rather than for combat, and the expression "we practise kungfu for health, not for fighting" is common among many members. This is perhaps quite inevitable as many members of the executive committees that manage Chin Wu branches today are successful businessmen rather than kungfu masters, who while generous in their financial donation for the upkeep of the various Chin Wu branches may not differentiate between demonstrative and combat kungfu.

Many Japanese martial art masters travelled to China to challenge the Chinese masters. Huo Huan Jia defeated them quite easily. According to a popular belief, Huo Huan Jia was poisoned by his cook who had been bribed by some foreigners. He was taken to a foreign hospital in Shanghai where he soon died.

Gu Ru Zhang (Ku Yu Cheung) was another famous Northern Shaolin master who defeated many foreign martial art masters, especially from Russia and Japan. He is best known for his Iron Palm.

Anyone familiar with the western concept of muscles and strength, seeing his deceptively fragile physique could never believe how powerful Gu Ru Zhang was. He would place more than ten bricks one on top of another on the ground, without any support below. With an apparently gentle tap on the top brick, this fragile looking Shaolin master could send his internal force down the remaing bricks and break them all! It is understandable that many modern martial artists may not believe this was possible.

Once, after seeing Gu Ru Zhang's demonstration, a skeptical spectator suspected that the bricks had been tempered with beforehand. He changed all the bricks which were to be used in another demonstration the next day. The following day, without knowing that the bricks had been changed. Gu Ru Zhang piled the bricks up. The spectator expected Gu Ru Zhang to be put to shame. As usual the master slapped on the top brick with his palm; all the other bricks broke.

One day a stuntman from Russia brought in a trained horse and challenged the sick men of East Asia to tame it. When many Chinese were hurt by the horse, the stuntman insulted the Chinese people saying that with all their Chinese kungfu they were no better than a horse. This angered Gu Ru Zhang. He walked towards the horse, and gave one slap of his Iron Palm on its body. The horse collapsed and died immediately. The people, Chinese as well as foreigners, were surprised. There was no mark of injury on the horse's body, but when they cut it open they found that many of its internal organs were smashed.

Hoong Hei Goon , which is a more popular pronounciation in Cantonese than the Mandarin pronounciation of Hung Xi Guan , was a great Southern Shaolin master with far-reaching influence on martial arts of the world today. He is often described as the founder of Hoong Ka (Hung Gar) Kungfu. Actually he did not invent Hoong Ka Kungfu, he passed on to posterity what he had learned from his master. For a few generations after him the style of kungfu he passed down was still called Shaolin, although the term "Hoong Ka" which means "Hoong Family" was also used. It is only in modern times that the term "Hoong Ka Kungfu" has become popular.

Hoong Hei Goon was a distinguished disciple of the Venerable Chee Seen, the abbot of the southern Shaolin Monastery in Fujian Province, and the First Patriarch of Southern Shaolin Kungfu. "Che Seen", or Zhi Zhan in Mandarin, means "Extreme Kindness".

After the burning of the monastery, Hoong Hei Goon escaped to Guangdong Province, and established a school teaching Southern Shaolin Kungfu. He married a lady kungfu master called Fong Chet Leong who specialized in the Crane style. Hoong Hei Goon incorporated the Crane style of his wife into his Tiger style, resulting in the famous Tiger-Crane Set of Hoong Ka Kungfu.

Probably the most well known Hoong Ka, or Hung Gar, Kungfu today, the style one frequently sees in Hong Kong movies depicting Shaolin heros, comes from the lineage of the legendary southern Shaolin hero named Wong Fei Hoong. It is illuminating that Wong Fei Hoong was not descended directly from Hoong Hei Goon, but from his junior classmate Lok Ah Choy.

Hai Deng Fa Shi (Hoi Theng Fatt Si) was a Northern Shaolin master of the most recent times. Because of frequent illness when he was a child, he took up Shaolin Kungfu to improve his health. Later he became a monk. His specialties include the Shaolin arts of Two-Finger Zen and Plum-Flower Formation. For his martial art training, the Venerable Hai Deng literally stood vertically upside-down on two fingers for hours. His two fingers were so powerful that he could pierce through buffalo's hide with just one jab.

When a Japanese master mentioned that Shaolin Kungfu could no longer be found in China, the Venerable Hai Deng cme out from his self imposed retreat to demonstrate genuine Shaolin arts. He was invited to become the kungfu grandmaster at the Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province. Perhaps due to policy differences, the Venerable Hai Deng later resigned from the monastery, where today modern wushu rather than traditional Shaolin Kungfu is taught, though not inside the monastery itself but in the numerous wushu schools around the monastery and often conducted by monastery monks. One of Hai Deng Fa Shi's distinguished disciples is the great chi kung master, Yan Xin, considered by the present Chinese government as a national treasure.

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