SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
FEBRUARY 1999 PART 2
In the last year I've spent a lot of time just thinking, seeking understanding, making questions and questioning the foundations of those questions. I've spent time in an unschooled form of meditation, simply seeking to understand the basis of what is and what is not.
— Ryan, USA
You would be interested to know that meditating and philosophizing are different. One may meditate on various questions, or one may philosophize on them. The crucial difference is that in mediation, one uses his intuitive mind; in philosophsizing he uses his intellectual mind.
It is best to learn meditation from a master. If you do it on your own, even if you do not make mistakes, your progress will be slow and shallow.
Meditation is not just thinking about some questions, as the word may sometimes suggest in Western culture, in which case it becomes philosophizing. Meditation is the training of mind, and also the use of this trained mind to obtain wisdom. Philosophizing is the training of intellect which usually involves reasoning, and also the use of this intellect to obtain knowledge.
When Plato said that the ideal form was a circle, this knowledge was obtained from philosophizing. He arrived at this conclusion based on intellectual reasoning. When the Buddha said that the world we normally see is not ultimately real but is a creation of mind, this wisdom is obtained from meditation. The Buddha's observation was based on his direct experience. He did not reason that the world is not ultimately real; he actually perceived this truth in his meditation.
It is my nature to question, that is no doubt the reason I follow no religion, but the answers that I found left me somewhat lost. Not because I didn't have a Way, but because my Way is so different from what young persons like myself are guided towards in this paradoxical, and seemingly self destructive, North American Society.
In the Buddhist teaching, if a person questions, it does not necessarily follow that he could not be religious. In fact, the Buddha encouraged his followers to question — intellectually as well as intuitively. The Buddha categorically asked his followers not to accept his teaching based on faith alone, but access the teaching to the best of their understanding and experience. He did not say, “This is the way, follow it and no other”, but he said, “This is the way I have travelled and I have found it beneficial; if you wish to have these benefits, follow this way but do not follow it blindly.”
Every person has a right to choose his own way so long as it does not harm other people. While the North American Society may not be ideal, there is no doubt that its way has brought much affluence — or decadence, in the view of some people — to its population. For example, generally North Americans do not have to worry where their next meal will come from, whereas many South Americans, Africans and Asians do. But this, of course, does not mean you have to follow the orthodox North American way. If you have discovered another way that is more beneficial, go ahead with it, but do not follow it blindly.
Basically I found Balance. Interestingly enough what I use the term Balance to describe is very similar to the Tao, considering I described my Way in writing before I even knew Taoism existed. This surprised me when I did read a couple translations of the Tao Te Ching. Finding Balance guided me to seek balance of mind, body, and spirit.
Congratulations for finding balance. Not only Taoism, but all religions, including Christianity, the most prominent religion in North America, seek balance. Although I myself am not a Christian, I sincerely believe that following the Christian way is not only an effective way to attain balance of mind, body and spirit, but will also certainly enable you to be reborn in heaven in your after-life.
At the most advanced level, if you are ready, you can return to the Kingdom of God, which is not in heaven but, as Jesus himself has clearly stated, is within you. My conclusion here is not based on faith, but in line with my Buddhist teaching, is derived from understanding and experience.
This aim drove me to seek out the martial arts as a way of tempering my body and mind so to speak, but unfortunately in North America everything I found is commercialized, westernized, and lacks tradition. The Karate and Tae Kwon Do schools, which are numerous, all lack the mind aspect that I know must be present in a martial art to truly maintain Balance. The focus of these schools is not synchronous with my Way either, all the schools/instructors that I have seen in this area are focused on destroying opponents, winning trophies, and martial arts for sport.
What you have said about martial arts in North America is also applicable in other places, including in Asia. Modern wushu in China, for example, is highly commercialized, much modernized (which can be a synonym for “westernized”) and has only a short tradition as it was invented less than 50 years ago. But this is not necessarily bad.
In fact, modern wushu as it is being taught and practised today has brought tremendous benefits to many people. Had it been taught as in traditional kungfu, only very, very few people could benefit. This is understandable. An elite art, whether it is kungfu, Taoist meditation or any other arcane practice, is by its nature exclusive — not many people, for example, are ready to wake up at 5 o'clock every morning to practise.
Once again, I was left on a path taking me in the opposite direction of the society I live in. That was when I began thinking about a Shaolin Kung Fu demonstration I saw on television. I decided to search on the www for information regarding Kung Fu, and more specifically the Shaolin. I also found something unique, honesty and knowledge regarding numerous topics.
The availabity of information today is unprecedented and simply amszing. Today you can get from books or the internet information which in the past seekers would be willing to exchange for gold.
Nevertheless, many people fail to realize that information, while extremely useful, is different from direct experience. For example, you may have information on how to have good health and inner peace; but this is crucially differently from actually having good health and inner peace.
Reading about the foundation of the Shaolin Temple also lead me to seek information regarding Taosim and Buddhism, which are amazingly similar in many ways to my Philosophy of the Way of Balance, which I came to know on my own. After reading a large amount of information regarding the Shaolin, I felt as though I had finally come home.
While I would congratulate you for your discovering the Way of Balance, I must let you know that there is much, much more in Taoism and Buddhism than you can even imagine can ever exist. Even for me — without false modesty, I can reasonably say I know and have directly experienced Taoism and Buddhism more than many people do — there is so much, much more in Taoism and Budhism that I do not know nor have experienced.
Do you know or believe, for example, that a Taoist master can stop somebody's severe bleeding by placing a magical writing on the wound, or that a Buddhist master can look into the structure of an atom? Do you know that the onus of Shaolin teaching, which is an echo of the Buddha's teaching, is on direct experience and not merely intellectual knowledge?
As there is only one Kung Fu school (unless you include the Kenpo Karate school that "says" it teaches kung fu) within 120 km of here, I decided to study kung fu the same way I've learned everything else I know, by myself through books.
One of the best pieces of advice my master gave me is as follows: “ You do not learn kungfu, you practise it.” In the same way, a Buddhist does not merely read about Buddhism, he practises Buddhism. If you appreciate what I have said, you would realize how much you have missed the essence of kungfu.
That was when I picked up copies of “The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu” and “The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan”. As I'm a bit of a puritan, I believe if I am to learn properly I am going to have to take the traditional route, so for the next two months I'll be doing nothing but horse riding stance, leg stretching, and from your tajiquan book the infinite ultimate stance, and the tai chi stance with my mother (I'm hoping this will help her health to improve).
Yours is not the traditional route. The traditional route is to learn personally from a master, and practise, practise, practise just one or two techniques for a long time before proceeding to another technique. If your mother is not fit to start with, persistant training on the Taiji Stance may be deterimental to her health instead of improving it.
Ideally I'd like to be accepted as a student by a master until I could prove to be worthy of being a disciple, as was done in the days of the Shaolin Temple. I would uproot this instant if I could find one. Unfortunetaly that is not likely to happen.
In the olden days of the Shaolin Temple, one had to do odd jobs like sweeping the floor and chopping firewood for a period of time, which might range from a few months to a few years, before he was taught his first formal kungfu lesson.
Masters do not simply appear from nowhere; you have to search for them. Even though you have found one, he may not accept you as a student simply because you express great interest to learn his art.
Could you be so gracious as to give me a detailed explanation of the stretching techniques from your Kung Fu book? On a side note, would you know of any texts regarding the Eighteen Lohan Hands?
The stretching techniques are better explained and illustrated in my kungfu book than what an e-mail answer could do. If you cannot follow them, it does not matter much. You can do almost any other leg stretching exercises, such as those from karate and taekwondo.
The Eighteen Lohan Hands are explained and illustrated in my webpage Shaolin Eighteen Lohan Hands. But if you have no real chi kung background, you could only learn their outward forms, i.e. the Eighteen Lohan Gymnastics, from the webpage.
What is this one finger Zen?
— Bob, USA
One-Finger Zen may refer to a particular way of holding the hand in Shaolin Kungfu or to a special ability in using this particular hand-form.
The One-Finger Zen hand-form is formed by bending the thumb and all the other fingers at the first and the second finger joints except the index finger which is kept straight. The One-Finger Zen ability is an advanced Shaolin art whereby the exponent uses the One-Finger Zen hand-form to strike an opponent's vital points.
At the highest level, a master can use the One-Finger Zen to maim an opponent from a distance. It is regarded as the top of “the three ultimate arts in the martial art world”. The other two ultimate arts are Strike-Across-Space Palm and Miraculous Fist.
More than anything I desire to live among the mountains in peace and relative solitude, studying and becoming more whole. I feel that I'm trapped in a conundrum. To worsen matters, living in such a small town there are no teachers for the arts I wish to learn, and no masters to induct me. I also find myself feeling very lonely.
— Matthew, USA
Peace and happinese are free, and can be found anywhere — on mountain tops as well as in busy towns.
Even when you have a teacher, the main part of the cultivation has to be done by you yourself. Masters do not simply materialize from thin air; you have to seek them, and when you are ready you will find them.
Many people can be lonely in a crowd, while the contented find happinese in their solitude. Seek beauty and joy in your daily life and in simple kind deeds no matter where you are.
Is there a way to satisfy this yearning which rests inside me? Is there a way that I might live in peace and harmony, as I learn to sublimate this longing?
The yearning is often the necesary first step to serious cultivation. To live in peace and harmony is natural; war and disorder are unnatural.
There are many ways to peace and harmony, and different people because of different conditions will cultivate in different ways. For me, and for many people, practising the Shaolin arts is a wonderful way.
If you have discovered chi flow you must transport it through your whole body and the organs (I have read this) but is there an easy chi kung exercises for this, and what is that exercises? May be you know a book or tape where this is given.
— Ervin. USA
You don't have to transport the chi if you do not want to. Don't try this without a master's supervision; you may developed harmful effects if you perform incorrectly.
Practising chi kung dance is easy, and sometimes you may even fool around with the dance instructor; but you have to put in a lot of hard work to practise real chi kung.
Read some of my other question-answer series. I have given my views on learning from books and video tapes many times.
What is a good exercise to let chi flow out of your PC8 point on your hand?
If you have the skill, any exercise can do. If you don't have the skill, you cannot do so with any exercise at all.
An analogy is using your computer. If you have the skill, you can use computers of different brands, in different places and at different times. If you have no computer skill you cannot use any computer.
How long do you have to practise before you could flow chi out of your hands?
It often depends on the teacher. If you learn from a chi kung dance instructor, you may not be able to do so after 20 years. If you learn from a real chi kung teacher, you may do so after an hour.
My question deals with great grandmasters Cheng Man Ching and Yang Lu Chan. Several books described that their Chi Kung was very high and profound. Could you please explain in details what kind of Chi Kung they practiced?
— Bodhi, Thailand
The Taijiquan grandmasters Yang Lu Chan and Cheng Man Ching, naturally, practised Taiji Chi Kung. They did not have to practise special chi kung exercises outside their Taijiquan sets; because Taijiquan itself, when properly practised, is a complete system of chi kung. Every Taijiquan movement is actually a training of energy and mind. Understanding this, you will appreciate why I have frequently said that most Taiji players today perform Taiji dance and not Taijiquan.
Yang Lu Chan's favorite Taijiquan pattern is “Grasping Sparrow's Tail”. Often he would practise only this pattern, and nothing else. And he would practise it continuously for hours, going over and over the same pattern thousands of times. During his travels all over China after graduating from his master Chen Chang Xin, Yang Lu Chan used only this pattern to defeat many kungfu masters of various styles, earning the enviable nickname of Yang the Ever Victorious.
Understandably, many people, especially those who pay attention to external forms, may doubt whether it was true that Yang Lu Chan could use only one technique to defeat many masters using a great variety of techniques. I valididated this point in two separate occasions, once in Germany and another time in Spain. Although my skill and force without doubt is much, much inferior to that of Yang Lu Chan, I was able to successfully defend myself using only “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” against numerous modes of attack from an international jujitsu sparring champion. I repeated the feat against a karate instructor in Spain.
In Portugal while commenting on the profundity in simplicity of chi kung, I cited the Chen Style Taijiquan pattern “Lazily Rolling up Sleeves” as an example. This was the pattern from which “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” of Yang Style Taijiquan developed. I mentioned that if one had developed sufficient internal force from practising this pattern, he could use only this pattern to counter virtually any attacks. This of course was hard to be believed, and accordingly many people asked if I could demonstrate. When I consented, they unnaminously chose a tough-looking but very pleasant man, whom I later learned was a 4th dan karate master, to be my attacking partner. The master attacked me in many ways, but I could effectively defend myself using only “Lazily Rolling up Sleeves”.
Actually it was not the technique in the “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” or the “Lazily Rolling up Sleeves” pattern that was responsible for my effective defence, but the internal force developed from continuously practising this pattern that was crucial. In other words, if I or anyone for that matter, merely practise “Grasping Sparrow's Tail” or “Lazily Rolling up Sleeves” as a physical exercise, and without its chi kung aspect, I would be unable to use it to defend myself from a simple kick or hold even if I have practised it for years.