January 2002 (Part 2)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I always believe anything that you write, because everything you have written about chi kung and kung fu, which at first I did not believe in, has always turned out to be true.
At first I did not believe in chi, but after taking up chi kung lessons I eventually began to feel it flowing through my body. I had always thought that Shaolin Kungfu was too fanciful to be used for real fights, but your examples on your webpage have demonstrated effective uses of Shaolin Kungfu in combat.
Therefore, although I absolutely believe what you have written about ghosts, nature spirits and gods, I have a lot of difficulty understanding how they could exist, and the thought makes me somewhat uneasy.
— Sage, USA.
Everything I have written on my webpages is true. “Not to tell lies' is one of the five most important commandments of the Buddha. The other four are ”not to kill“, ”not to steal“, ”not to have licentious sex“, and ”not to be intoxicated". As a Buddhist, I practise the five commandments strictly.
It is reasonable that you and many other people have difficulty understanding the existence of ghosts, nature spirits and gods. What we understand actually constitutes a very minute portion of the known world, and the known world is a very minute portion of the whole universe.
According to the Buddha's teaching, our world system is called the Saha world. The Saha world is much more than the earth, and includes the solar system. Many living beings inhabit the Saha world, and they belong to six classes:
- hell beings
- human beings
- heaven beings
Good nature spirits belong to the class of heaven beings, whereas bad ones belong to the class of titans. Gods, of course, are heaven beings.
Whether a being will be reborn as a human, a god or other types of beings depends on three factors: his (or her) karma, the state of his mind, and his last thought. If a person has bad karma, is ignorant of cosmic knowledge, and feels lost at the point of death, he would be reborn as a ghost.
The promotion to or demotion from any of the classes is not necessarily in the order listed above. If a ghost has cultivated a lot of blessings, he may straight away be reborn in heaven.
It is actually easy for humans to go to heaven. For beings in the lower realms — titans, animals, ghosts and hell beings — it would be very difficult. This is because the conditions there make it almost impossible for spiritual cultivation — titians are constantly quarrelling, animals constantly in fear, ghosts are lost, and hell beings constantly in suffering.
For human beings, a sure way to go to heaven is to accumulate blessings, i.e. avoid evil and do good. Some people may think this statement is trite, but it is a great cosmic truth.
There is not just one but literally countless heavens. Even in our Saha world alone there are twenty two heavenly realms. In the heavenly realm immediately above our human realm, there are four heavens. Our Saha world is only one of the millions of worlds in one galaxy, and there are countless galaxies in the universe, each with its own world system teeming with life.
The six classes of beings mentioned above are not the only inhabitants of our Saha world. There are three realms in the Saha world — the realm of desire, the realm of form, and the realm of non-form. The six classes -- hell beings, ghosts, animals, titans (asuras), humans, and heaven beings (devas) -- belong to the realm of desire. Desire or craving is the main characteristic of all these beings.
The next realm is the realm of form. The beings here are known as brahma-gods. The beings in “the realm of desire” also have forms, but their main characteristic is desire, whereas the brahma-gods in “the realm of form” have overcome desire. Their forms, however, as well as the forms of many other beings like ghosts, asuras and devas, are not normally visible to human beings because of the limitation of human sense perception.
Above the realm of form is the realm of non-form. The “inhabitants” here are very highly spiritual beings like Bodhisattvas and Arahats, who are many levels above gods (devas and brahma-gods). They have no desire and no form; they exist as pure consciousness, but they may manifest in any form they like.
While most people aim to go to heaven, that is not the highest spiritual attainment. The highest is “to go beyond the three realms” to attain Buddhahood. Actually all the great religions of the world seek the same goal at their highest level, though they describe it in different words such as merging into Tao and union with God.
In medieval times in Europe, evil spirits were considered to be the cause of many things, including misfortune, disease, and mental illness. According to common church dogma, every time someone had the urge to commit a sin, it was because an invisible devil whispered the evil thought into their ear.
Because words can never say exactly what the speaker wants to say, they are constantly being mis-interpreted. In most cases the mis-interpretation is negligible. For example, when you tell your friend you want to go out for dinner, the image he has in his mind, derived from your words, may not be exactly the same as the image from which your own words issued. But although you might be thinking of a hamburger for dinner while he might be thinking of grilled lobsters, he would know that you wanted to go out for dinner, and not for dancing or playing football.
The difference between the intended meaning and the perceived meaning becomes wider and more significant over long periods of time and in areas like spiritual matters where words are often inadequate. The problem is aggravated when the concept has been translated from different languages.
In ancient times, when spiritual masters said that evil spirits were responsible for misfortune, disease, and mental illness, they might be referring to the evil thoughts of the persons involved. It is a cosmic truth, now confirmed by the latest science, that evil thoughts beget evil effects.
Over time, together with the changing meanings of words, the concept that evil thoughts beget evil effects might have been mis-translated and mis-interpreted as evil spirits cause misfortune. When someone had the urge to commit a sin, it was the result of his evil thought. But over time, this concept could be mis-expressed as an invisible devil whispering to him.
Once the sayings have become established, people use them without realizing the change from their original meanings. In other words, those who say that evil spirits cause a person to do evil, they honestly believe the cause is from an external spirit and not from their internal thought.
The existence of spirits is real, but they have little influence over humans. Spirits are of a lower spiritual level than us. They cannot come near us because our chi, or vital energy, repulses them in a similar way electricity repulses human beings.
Nevertheless, at a higher metaphysical level, spirits like any things else, including heavens and hells, are creation of mind. That does not mean they exist only in imagination. Spirits, heavens and hells are as real to the relevant beings as tables and chairs are real to us.
But the reality is relative to certain sets of conditions. Even if we slightly change some of our conditions, such as looking at the tables and chairs through funny lenses, the tables and chairs would appear differently. Other beings whose eyes are made to perceive light vibrating at different frequencies, would not see the table and chair, but see other things that may be invisible to our eyes.
Very recently, however, it has become common accepted knowledge that disease is caused by germs and viruses, and that mental illness is caused by brain chemical imbalances or very stressful experiences, and not by evil spirits. Is this wrong?
Like the visual perception of tables and chairs or spirits and heavens described above, the intellectual perception of the cause of disease also depends on various sets of conditions. Because of the conditions you are in, your perspective is that of modern western medicine. From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, the cause of disease is not germs and viruses, brain chemical imbalances or very stressful experiences, but yin-yang disharmony. From the perspective of many third world cultures, the cause is evil spirit.
The question of which perception is right, is relative to which perspective is used. If you tell a conventional doctor that yin-yang disharmony or evil spirit causes illness, he would laugh at you. This is because of his narrow thinking, and sometimes because of his arrogance believing that his view is the only right view.
This does not mean all these different perceptions have no reality. Their reality depends on various sets of conditions. If a western doctor sets out to find germs in a patient suffering from an infected disease, he will find germs. If a Chinese physician examines the same person, he will find yin-yang disharmony. If a faith-healer examines the same disturbed patient, he will find an evil spirit. But none of the three professionals will find anything outside their perspective.
Then, which perspective should we adopt? This depends on many variables. A useful guideline is to choose the one that best serves our purpose. For me, using the perspective of yin-yang harmony, has enabled me to help hundreds of people overcome so-called incurable diseases.
Do spirits indeed play a role in human misfortunes? But, if these things are not caused by spirits, then what do spirits do? How do they affect my life?
Spirits normally do not play any roles in human misfortunes like diseases, bankruptcies, earthquakes and economic depressions.
In exceptional cases, when a person's own vital energy is low, and if he walks into a spirit, the negative energy of the spirit may distort his own energy field, causing him to be sick due to yin-yang disharmony. A tell-tale sign for walking into a spirit is suddenly feeling chilled. He can recover by practising chi kung, which restores his yin-yang harmony by adjusting his energy field.
Actually spirits are all around us, but they vibrate at different frequencies from us. Thus we do not normally perceive them, neither do they perceive us. Our human sphere and the spirit sphere are at the same place but at different dimensions. Hence, spirits do not normally affect your life.
Spirits carry on their life in their own ways, just as human do theirs. If you leave them alone, they will not bother you. But of course if someone were to be so foolhardy as to antagonize spirits or challenge them, he is only asking for trouble. On the other hand, if you are spiritually cultivated, you can help spirits very much by chanting sutras or mantras, and getting a lot of blessings yourself.
A sutra is a word-by-word recording of the Buddha's teaching. A mantra is a short phrase paying homage to a highly spiritual being like a Bodhisattva or a Buddha. When you chant a sutra, or a part of it, you are sharing the Buddha's wisdom, with which spirits may use to overcome their suffering. When you chant a mantra, you are introducing a highly spiritual being, from whom spirits may seek help.
When a shaman dances, or enters a trance, and calls on nature spirits, do they respond? When he attempts to cure illness by entering a trance and battling the spirits causing the illness, is he really helping the illness by defeating the spirit responsible?
The answer is yes to both questions above.
A shaman is a highly trained perfessional with spiritual powers. He can call on nature spirits to do his bidding.
Some psychological disorders are caused by spirits. A shaman can help the patient recover by exorcizing the spirit responsible. A good shaman would not harm the spirit, he would guide the spirit and help it to overcome its problems. Spirits, like humans, are sentient beings who may face difficulties in their lives. They too need sympathy and kindness.
I admire and respect your ideas about kung fu, Taijiquan and the Chinese culture, and I agree with you completely that kung fu is practiced in a wrong way recently, even in China itself.
However, a terrible thing happened to me. Unfortunately my master died before I could completely master the art of the Five Animals. He died at the age of 93 years, and that was one of the most depressed events that ever happened to me. However I remember his last words, “practice every day with no stop. The ”Shaolin Five Animals“ is a style with no equal. If you practise correctly and forever, you won't be defeated. Always respect your art, trust your faith, never fear evil, and always fight for justice.”
There are a few postures that I don't know their exact application. Those postures are
Leopard Rolls the Ball
Leopard Twists its Neck
Black Dragon Swings its Tail.
— Yasser, Egypt
I am glad that you had a good master, and that you have benefited much from your Shaolin training.
Yes, always treasure your master even when he is no longer in this world now, and practise diligently what he taught you. One day you will be a master yourself.
Regarding the application of the patterns you ask me, please take note that different schools may use the same names for different patterns, and that the same patterns may have different names. I shall explain the patterns the way I know them.
“Leopard Rolls the Ball” can be used to dislocate an opponent's head from his neck. It is a deadly pattern, so Shaolin disciples, being compassionate, usually just hold the opponents' heads under control, without actually breaking them from their necks.
In a less deadly situation, this pattern can be used to dislocate an opponent's ankle. When he kicks, grasp his foot following his kicking momentum, and turn the foot to dislocate it.
This pattern is also called by another name, “Lion Plays with Ball”.
I do not know the pattern “Leopard Twists its Neck”, but I wonder if it is the same as “Leopard Turns its Head”
If an opponent uses “Leopard Rolls the Ball” on you, you can respond with “Leopard Turns its Head”. Following his twisting momentum, you turn your head accordingly to neutralize his attack, simultaneously jabbing a leopard punch into his ribs or any exposed area.
It can also be applied against a punch or a kick. As the opponent punches or kicks at you, turn your body (including your head) using the Unicorn Step and jab a leopard punch into him. The turning of your body will avoid his punch or kick.
“Black Dragon Swings its Tail”, also called “Dark Dragon Wags Tail”, is effective against a low punch or a low kick. As the opponent attacks you, you move away to a Unicorn Step and simultaneously swing your reversed fists at his attacking arm or leg.
It can also be applied to an opponent who attempts to grasps your waist or leg, as is common in wrestling. Turn into a Unicorn Step — this turning will neutralize his attack — and simultaneously swing your reversed fists at his head, collar bone or back.
If you have other questions, please feel free to ask me.
I have read many of your Shaolin books and they have helped me immensely. I was lucky to study the Northern Style with a good master. But I had to move to another area where there are no Northern Style masters but mostly Tae Kwon Do and Aikido “masters” who were very disdainful of my training. Of course, it was oblivious to me that their students did not possess the power of my classmates of the same experience level.
— Steven. USA
In my young days I read of a kungfu master who said that comparing non-Chinese martial arts such as Taekwondo, Aikido and Karate with the Chinese martial arts was like comparing a drop of water with an ocean. At that time I thought he was chauvinistic and exaggerating.
But over the years, having personally enjoyed the wonderful benefits of Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan, I have begun to feel that there is much truth in his statement. Of course, non-Chinese martial art masters would believe differently, though a substantial number of them, especially the higher-ranking ones, do admit the superiority of Chinese martial arts or kungfu.
The techniques of the non-Chinese martial arts are mainly straight-forward punches, kicks and blocks. Some of these other arts, like Judo and Aikido, use more elaborated techniques like throws and locks, but if not for their safety rules, their exponents would be easily injured by opponents using straight-forward punches and kicks.
By comparison, kungfu techniques are profound. For example, instead of a straight-forward punch for sundry occasions, depending on different needs and situations, a kungfu exponent could use a phoenix-eye fist, a leopard punch, a crane-beak, a tiger-claw, a dragon-form, a snake-thrust, a sword-finger, or a Zen-finger.
In the same situation, a straight-forward punch of a woman would be technically inferior to that of a man, but if she uses a phoenix-eye fist instead, she could overcome this disadvantage. To go one step further, if she strikes her phoenix-eye fist at a chosen vital point, she would have a technical advantage over a man who throws a straight-forward punch at random.
The techniques of these other arts are such that women are at a gross disadvantage when compared to men. For example, it is harder for a woman to block a powerful kick, or to throw a heavy opponent. But she would not have this innate disadvantage in kungfu because the techniques are profound.
For example a woman practising Northern Shaolin could hook a powerful kick, or one practising Taijiquan could fell a heavy opponent as easily as her male counterpart. And unlike in the other martial arts where executing throws and locks would be impracticable if not for their safety rules, in kungfu the exponent ensures that his opponent could not punch or kick him before he executes a throw or lock.
Further, the other martial arts operate mainly on the level of techniques, but kungfu goes beyond techniques and operates on the levels of tactics and strategies. For example, if you merely rush in to punch or kick your opponent, you operate on the level of techniques. If you punch or kick your opponent, not really aiming to hit him yet but to tempt him to respond in a particular way so that you can exploit an innate weakness in his expected response, you operate on the level of tactics. If you manoeuvre him in such a way that you can use your tactics easily, you operate on the level of strategies.
If kungfu is superior, then why are masters of the other martial arts disdainful of kungfu?. One main reason is that as real kungfu is so rare today, these masters, like most other people, mistake kungfu gymnastics for real kungfu. The fact that kungfu gymnasts could not fight although they say kungfu is a martial art, make these other masters more disdainful.
On the other hand, true kungfu masters never feel disdainful of the other martial arts. If anything, they feel pitiful. Personally I feel pitiful that instead of bringing them good health and inner peace, their many years of dedicated training brought to many masters of the non-Chinese styles internal injuries and bottled up aggressive feelings. On a personal note, I am glad and proud that I have helped many such masters and a few grandmasters overcome pain and internal injuries which they had sustained as a result of their long training, and also have helped them find inner peace.
Isn't there an aspect of Shaolin that is very close to Aikido?
Aikido, I believe, obtained its holds and throws from Jujitsu, leaving out deadly techniques as Aikido is meant to be a sport. Jujitsu, in turn, was derived from Shaolin Kungfu.
Despite this historical link, Aikido is very different from Shaolin Kungfu. This difference can be viewed from two extreme perspectives.
From the shallow perspective, most people view Shaolin Kungfu as a martial art consisting mainly of strikes with some kicks, without realizing that it is also very rich in holds and throws, which form the typical techniques of Aikido.
From the profound perspective, the holds and throws in Aikido involve complex movements, and depend on body mechanics and leverage for their successful application. In other words, in order to hold or throw an opponent, an Aikido exponent makes five or six preliminary moves to place the opponent in a difficult position, then executes the hold or throw.
On the other hand, the holds and throws in Shaolin Kungfu involve simple movements, and depend on internal force and solid stance for their successful application. In other words, a Shaolin exponent uses his internal force and solid stance to hold or fell an opponent in just one or two moves.
Have you any knowledge you wish to share regarding Bajiquan? I am interested in learning the history of this interesting art.
— Dave, USA
Bajiquan is a style of kungfu popularly practised in northern China. While most northern styles are noted for their long-range movements with a lot of kicking techniques, Bajiquan is mainly short-range and all its kicks are low.
Bajiquan derives its name from the concept that its force is so powerful that it radiates to eight directions. It is well known for its powerful short strikes.
Word by word the term “ba-ji-quan” means “eight-ultimate-fist”. One should not confuse Bajiquan with Taijiquan, or with Baguaquan (Baguazhang). Bajiquan is also not a combination of Taijiquan and Baguaquan. They are three different styles of kungfu.
Bajiquan was developed during the Qing Dynasty about 250 years ago. It has been passed down to the present days through about nine generations of masters. The first patriarch was Wu Chong who lived in Hebei Province of north China. He was famous for his spear. Other notable masters were Huang Si Hai (4th generation), Wu Chuan Qing (5th generation) and Wu Xiu Feng (6th generation)
However, another source mentioned that the first patriarch was Zhang Yue San who lived in Henan Province.
Is it a style with many forms? I have a feeling that the little bit I was taught (xiao baji) just scratches the surface.
Bajiquan forms include “Six Great Techniques of Opening”, “Eight Great Techniques of Defending”, “Small Baji” (xiao baji), “Big Baji”, “Baji Sparring Practice”, “Baji hard force”, “Eight-Formation Set”, and “Twelve Elbow Strikes”.
Its basic principles are recorded in the following verse:
Fists flow like water, co-ordinated from the waist
Waist moves like a snake, while the feet are firm
Hard and soft, agile and smooth from top to bottom
The spine is straight, and the spirit rises to the top
The whole body is agile, with head upright
Energy fills the whole body, and spirit is full
Yin and yang, real and false, extreme in changes
Will and intention originate from the waist