SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JANUARY 1999 PART 1
Dear Sifu, How are you? Some days ago, I got a phone call from Han. He was a member of the group course, the one with the autoimmunity disease. He asked me if it was possible to do the qigong sitting.
— Liong Hoo, Holland
It is best to do whatever chi kung or kungfu (including Taijiquan) exercises according to the way they are taught, including the way the practitioner stands, sits, lies down or moves about. This is because the established form is the one that will give the best benefits, after the form has been evolved by masters through many centuries of development.
This does not necessarily mean one must not make any modification to the established form. There should be at least two conditions for modification, namely the modification is necessary or will contribute to more benefits for a particular situation, and the one making the modification clearly knows what he is doing (which means he is already very familiar with the established form and is aware of some shortcomings in the form).
Because of his illnes, he can hardly stand more than a few minutes. During the course he said he forced himself to stand. The next few days he said the pain in his both legs were so severe that he could only do the qigong execises standing for a few minnutes.
This is an example where modification to the established form is necessary. His pain was the result of chi accumulated from his chi kung practice, but as there was severe blockage this chi could not flow, thus resulting in pain. There is a saying in Chinese medicine as follows: “shang qi tong, shang xue zhong”, i.e. “injury to chi results in pain, injury to blood results in swelling”.
Blockage of energy flow is an example of injury to chi. If this continued, it would lead to blockage of blood flow, resulting in swelling. This might lead to further complication, such as interrupting the flow of chi to and from the “heart” — which is the Chinese way of saying interrupting the flow of feedback-impulses and instruction-impulses to and from the brain or consciousness. This may lead to mal-function of glans and eventually organs.
Treating the swelling or treating the affected organ, as is normally the case in conventional medicine, is only treating the symptom, or at best treating a later developmental stage of the disease. In Chinese medicine, the physician treats the root cause, which is blockage of energy flow. This can be achieved through herbalism, acupunture, physiotherapy and massage. But practicing chi kung is the most holistic and natural.
Had Han told me his problem at the course, I would have recommended some dynamic exercises to loosen his leg muscles first. This is an example that one who starts teaching chi kung soon after he has learnt it, would be unable to make such a recommendation. Any instructor must have practiced his art long enough to have a direct experience of its effect, as well as know enough of its background philosophy before attempting to instruct others.
As I remembered a case you mentioned in one of your books, I told him he could, if it was necesery, do the qigong while sitting, but I said I would ask Sifu for sure.
You have done the right thing, both in telling him to do the chi kung exercise while sitting, and saying you would ask me. A better approach is to leave dynamic patterns for the time being, but do self-manifested chi movement. He may, if it is necessary, do the preliminary (physical) exercises of the self-manifested chi movement while sitting, but he should as far as possible enjoy his chi flow while standing so that the chi will better flow to his legs.
He said the days after the course, both legs were looking very bad. There were many red spots with liquid comming out. He showed to Paul (course member, the anesthetist) and Paul said the illnes was coming out as a reaction of the qigong. So he continued to do the qigong, and to maximize the results, he tried to do the qigong at midnight.
Paul is right. It is good to do qigong at midnight, but Han must not over practise. He has to give himself time for the qigong effect to take place.
Han told me that because the pain was more severe, and he had to take more pills to supress it, he felt so depressed and desperate. I could only answer by saying, “Have faith, continue to do the qigong, the disease will be cured finaly.” He already has this disease for about 10 years, so we don't expect it to be cured in an instant.
Instead of taking pills he can try doing self-manifested chi movement. Besides overcoming his physical problems, qigong will also overcome depression, desperation and other emotional problems. Your advice that he should have faith and patience in his qigong practice is excellent.
About myself, I am glad the intestines are not bothering me anymore. Now I am doing qigong twice a day, about 30 minutes. I've found out that I react badly after eating fish and seafood, also after eating banana. So I avoid eating those things for the time being. Later after progressing in my qigong excercises, I am sure I can eat those foods again.
I am glad of your progress.
You are perfectly right. The following information will be useful for your further progress.
There are different levels of cleansing. Most people perform far below their potential. I do not know the exact percentage; the following are just hypothetical figures but the basic philosophy is the same irrespective of the figures quoted.
Let us say most people perform at 55 percent of their potential. In other words, even if 45 percent of the chi flow in your intestines is blocked, your intestines can still perform their functions and you are not clinically sick. It is worthwhile to note that in qigong, we work at the most fundamental level, i.e. the energy (or qi) level; we do not have to worry about grosser levels.
In other words we do not have to worry about the intermediate agents that cause the 45 percent blockage — we do not have to worry whether the below-par functioning is caused by a bacterial infection, an emotional attack, a structural disorder, or an excessive production of harmful chemicals from certain food. This does not mean that knowing the intermediate causes is not useful. For example, if you know that your intestinal problem is caused by some harmful bacteria, and you have the antidote against the bacteria, taking the antidote (assuming that it does not have serious side effects) is more effective than doing qigong.
For some reasons, such as eating seafood or banana which may produce harmful chemicals inside your body, the blockage in your intestines increases from 45 to 51 percent. Then you would have a clinical intestinal problem because your intestine functioning at 49 percent is below the 55 percent threshold level. By practising qigong, you cleanse away the blockage, reducing the blockage from 51 percent back to 45 percent. Hence your problem disappears, without having to take any medication. This is the first level of cleansing, and for convenience I call it the disease-elimination level.
Performing only at threshold level, i.e. 55 percent, is not comfortable. If you are not careful, such as eating some seafood or are exposed to other causes, your intestinal performance may go down below the threshold and a clinical intestinal disorder will appear again. This is not a relapse of your former disorder, but actually a surfacing of a new one.
So you continue practicing qigong and further cleanse away the blockage from, say, 45 to 35 percent. Now your intestines prefrom at 65 percent of their potential, 10 percent above threshold level. I call this the buffer level. You have a buffer of 10 percent. Even if you eat seafood or are exposed to other factors which would in the past cause you intestinal disorder, now you are still free from the problem.
But if you eat seafood excessively or if the accumulated bad effects from many factors go beyond the buffer of 10 percent (i.e. for any reason, the blockage rises back from 35 to 45 percent) the intestinal disorder will again appear as a clinical disease. If you do nothing about it and allow the blockage to increase further, say to 60 percent, you will obviously need more time and do more qigong to effect a recovery. This is the case with Han.
The explanation here is much simplified. In reality, the cause may not be direct. It can be indirect and can be multiple, such as a gland failing to produce a chemical needed by the intestines, or a lack of some trace elements needed for the prodcution of the chemical, or an interruption of a flow of signals far way from the intestines but eventually connected to intesinal functioning. Usually it is a mixture of a few factors.
In other words, a blockage of qi flow at the intestines is not necessarily and solely caused by a physical blockage at the intestines; it can be caused by many other factors. A Chinese physician would refer to intestinal problems as “xiao chang qi bu zu”, which is “insufficient energy at the intestines”. It is not, as many Chinese unfamiliar with Chinese medical concepts might translate to their non-Chinese friends, “insufficient air at the intestines”. Qi or energy in Chinese medicne is often manifested as “function”.
But, as mentioned earlier, we need not worry about the intermediate causes because we work at the root cause. So long as we restore the harmonious energy flow at the intestines, the intestines will restore their natural functions. It is significant to note the word “natural” here. We aim to restore the natural functions of the intestines, which will include digesting all types of food without trouble. We do not aim to make the intestines perform unnatural or supernatural functions, such as digesting iron nails or being able to hear sounds.
“Restroing harmonious qi flow”, which means restoring natural functions, is a perfectly natural thing to do, and has been done by centuries of Chinese physicians. There is nothing fantastic or incrediable about it; it appears increddiable only when people, including many Chinese, do not understand the underlying concepts and mistakenly take qi to mean air.
This also illustrates a great advantage Chinese medicine has over conventional Western medicine. Western medicine often treats the symptoms instead of the cause. For example, if you complain of intestinal pain, a Western doctor would give you a pain killer; if you complain of indigestion, he would give you some digestive chemicals. If you tell him that your problem occurs after taking seafood, he would ask you not to take seafood. You and the doctor know that this may remove the symptoms but not the disease. Indeed more and more doctors are now accepting the working definiton of medicine as the management of disease, and not necessarily its cure.
Chinese medicine, on the other hand, treats the patient, not just the disease. A Chinese physician is not so bothered about the symptoms of the disease or the agents that cause these symptoms. He is mainly concerned with restoring the natural functions of the patient, which in Chinese medical terminology is restoring harmonious energy flow. This is a great advantage because whereas the Western doctor works with unknown factors, attempting to find out what among the countless agents outside the patient have caused the symptoms, and if he cannot find the agent he often does not know what to do; the Chinese physician works with known factors, attempting to find out which energy systems in the patient have mal-functioned.
If, for example, he finds that the cause of the intestinal disorder is due to excessive “heat” from the colon system, he can restore the harmonious chi flow at the intestines by reducing the excessive “heat”. If the cause is due to insufficient chi from the spleen system, the intestinal disorder can be overcome by increasing the spleen system chi.
Qigong is even better. Chinese physicians working with acupunture, herbalism, massage therapy or other Chinese medical practices have to find out the specific cause of disharmonious energy flow. Hence, diagnosis is of utmost importance. But in qigong, diagnosis is not even needed! This is because the qi acquired in qigong practice flows holistically. Like water, energy flows from high energy areas to low energy areas, and low energy areas are health problem areas.
The area with the lowest energy level, which is the area with the most severe health problem, will receive the extra qi first, followed by the next lowest area and so on. In other words, when you practice qigong, your health problems will be overcome in the order of their seriousness. The interesting thing is that you may not consciously know about some of these health problems, but you need not have to know, qi will work on them all the same.
Let us now return to the various levels of cleansing, which will further show the advantage of qigong over other healing systems. Attaining the disease-elimination level of cleansing, which is the main concern of conventional Western medicine and other healing systems, will overcome the disease clinically. Attaining the buffer level, which can be achieved by some healing systems like acupunture and massage therapy, provides a reasonable level of good health.
Qigong goes beyond this buffer level, but other healing systems do not. Let say you reduce the blockage further so that your intestines now can perform at 80 percent of their full potential. By this time the energy would have flowed to other systems too, because the whole energy system of the body (and mind) is closely connected. This means all your systems can function at a high level near to the full potential. I call this the vitality level.
At the vitality level you are not only free from illness, and can eat whatever food you like to eat, you are full of vitality for daily living. If you eat seafood or are exposed to other harmful agents, your performance may drop a few percent, but if you are normally performing at 80 percent, a drop to, say, 75 percent is marginal and you will still be considered as full of vitality by ordinary people who habitually perform at 55 percent. Qigong practitioners who have attained the level of vitality are not sick, not because disease-causing agents do not attack them, but because these agents are eliminated long before the body function has dropped beyond the threshold level.
Beyond the vitality level is what I call the longevity level. Continued qigong practice will purify the body so that there is little blockage, and you can perform at or near full potential level, say 90 percent and above. As soon as new blockage arises, it is cleansed away by the harmonious energy flow. Hence all your organs are not only fit and healthy now, they will also last a long time. By nature the potential life span of a human being is around 120 years. If you have attained the longevity level of qigong, you should easily live to 80 and beyond.
It is also helpful to know the following. When you have attained the disease-elimination level, you would have overcome your disease. But as you continue your qigong training, further cleansing in deeper levels may bring out other disease-causing factors that result in symptoms of the disease. In other words you may think that you have a relapse of the disease as the disease-causing toxins rise to the surface from deeper levels as the result of deep cleansing.
When you have gone beyond the buffer level, all or at least most of the toxins would have been rooted out. Some toxins may still remain, but they are insufficient to cause any disease symptoms at the vitality level.
A few days ago in the evening, I don't know why, I lost my temper. This did not happen before. My brain is still feeling confused about it. But don't worry, I am working on it with qigong. I am very gratefull to you Sifu, for giving me a weapon to overcome these problems. Thanks. The kids and Chuen are also doing well.
The outbreak of temper may be due to some blockage at the liver system. This can happen at the disease-elimination level or the buffer level. But I am sure you will soon overcome it, or may be have overcome it already.
My sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, as well as my other sifu, Sifu Lai Chin Wah, encouraged me to learn from other teachers. That was quite logical, for Sifu Ho Fatt Nam himself had learnt from seven masters, and Sifu Lai Chin Wah had learnt from three. But they also advised me not to spend too much time learning; instead, I should spend my time practicing.
Superficially, these two points of learning from more teachers, and of not spending too much time learning may appear contradictory. Actually they are not; the apparent contradiction is due to the limitation of words, and also to the provisional use of language. Words (because of their innate limitation) cannot convey fully what a speaker wants to say; and what is said (in words) is provided for that particular occasion (and may not apply to another occasion).
When I was in Spain recently I had an interesting experience which I wish to share with you. Similar thoughts had occurred to me previously, but it was then that these thoughts came to me in a focused crystallized form. I was then sitting on a sofa watching Douglas practicing his kungfu. It suddenly dawned on me that on a few occasions I really did not know what to teach some of my close students.
It would appear odd, because I have so much to teach; I have, for example over a hundred kungfu sets and over a hundred chi kung exercises. But I knew it was not odd, and I knew the reason.
On that occasion, I recalled my time with you in Toronto, and also my time with you in Malaysia. When I was in Toronto I wanted to teach you something new, but even though I searched hard from my very extensive repertoire I could not find anything to teach you which I knew would add to your progress. When you were in Malaysia, I wanted to teach you something new, even as a souvenir, but I knew very well that had I done so, I would hinder your progress instead of promoting it.
In other words, there may be so many things I can teach, but I know without doubt that you will benefit more by continuing with your present practice instead of learning anything new. I told Douglas about my realization. He told me, which I quite expected, that he was actually happy I did not teach him anything new. He said he had learnt enough techniques; what he wished to do was to practice and practice.
Although they may hold different views on many other things, almost all masters will agree that the key to becoming a master is practice. The crucial point between learning and practicing is that learning involves new things, whereas practicing involves what you already know.
My two masters did advise me on practicing in place of learning, but as I did not have the maturity of thought and depth of experience then as you and Douglas now have, I did not fully appreciate the significance of my masters' advice although I did understand its verbal meaning. Had I followed their advice then, I would have certainly attained my present level in less than half the time.
I study Shaolin Kung Fu in Canada and I must say it is a huge part of my life and well being. The system I am learning is Bak Sil Lum, Tam's Style. It is very interesting and has a wonderful flavour.
For augmentation I also study Fukien Black Tiger system. To date I have only learned Lien Bo, Tan Tui, Dun Da and am currently learning the 7th set, Moi Fa from North Shaolin. In the Black Tiger system I have learned Hak Foo Gung Lek Kune, Hak Foo Jeet Kune, Broadsword, Staff and Kwan Do and will be studying the 3-section staff soon.
— David, USA
You have learnt a lot of kungfu sets. This is a good foundation. You should now
- select two or three of the above sets to specialize.
- spend some time daily for force training.
- learn and practice selected patterns in your sets for combat application.
So, needless to say, I do not know very much and still have much learning ahead of me. I also have been taught Nei Kung and various Chi Kung and Ching Lung Ba Duan Jin.
Although it may be due to modesty that you said you did not know very much, it is actually true because you have spent much of your time on kungfu form and very little time on force training and combat application. You will get more real benefits if you now spend more time on any one, but not all, of the arts you have learnt, namely Nei Kung, Chi Kung or Ba Duan Jin.
What I would like to know is whether the book “Shaolin Long Fist” by Master Jwang contemporary wushu? Would it be a good book for me to look at knowing the system I have undertaken to learn?
I haven't read Master Jwang's book, so I would not be able to say anything fair on it. But the following advice will be useful.
Whether what you practice is comtemporary wushu or traditional kungfu depends not on the content but on your purpose and manner of practicing it.
If your main manner of practising Shaolin Long Fist or any style is emphasizing its outward forms, and your main purpose is demonstration, often to please spectators, then it is comtemporary wushu. If your manner of practising is emphasizing its force training, and your purpose is combat application, then it is traditional kungfu.
Here the terms “wushu” and “kungfu” are used in the way they are understood in the West. In the Chinese language, morphologically “wushu” is the same as “kungfu”, which means martial art, although today wushu is generally practiced as a sport with little atention paid to its martial aspect.
I have been studying Buddhism for a couple of years, mostly through books.
— Jaber, USA
While books may provide useful information, Buddhism should be practiced, not just studied. The best way to practise Buddhism is to follow the gist of Buddhism personally said by the Buddha, namely
- Avoid all evil,
- Do good,
- Purify the mind.
I find that Southern Ch'an is the school I most feel fits me. I have found one group in Atlanta that practices Southern Ch'an, but I don't know Chinese and so do not know what is going on.
Practicing Southern Chan is a very good way to purify your mind.
Virtually all Zen masters have adovacated doing away with language and pointing directly at mind. Hence, not understanding the language of your Chan group is actually a blessing, not a hindrance, in your practice (not just study) of Chan.
“Doing away with language” implies that you should not verbalize or intellectualize what Zen masters have written or orally taught about Zen. That is why when one goes into a seven-day retreat in Zen, he is not allowed to speak to anyone. That was why when students asked great Zen masters like Lin Ji (Rinzai) and Te Shan (Tokusan), the master shouted at them or struck them to keep them quiet.
“Pointing directly at mind” can be accomplished through sitting meditation where you do not think of anything. If you imagine that you can achieve this in two days, or even two years, you are not ready for serious Zen cultivation. Just sit and meditate, and don't worry how long it will take you.
If someone lectures you on Zen in regular study groups, he is unlikely to be a Zen master; he may not even be a Zen practitioner. At best he is a Zen scholar. But if you wish to study Zen so as to have some guidance in your Zen practice, read my book, “The Complete Book of Zen”.
I have tried many methods on my own but I now realize I need a teacher to guide me. What should I do until I find a teacher? Could you suggest a practice that may facillitate me until I find a teacher?
Don't just find a teacher, especially one who talks a lot about Zen. But find a competent teacher who shows you how to practice Zen.
Until you find one, just be keenly aware of your very present moment, no matter where you are and what you are doing. Being keenly aware of the present moment is one of the best ways to practice Zen. That was why when students asked great masters how to practice Zen, the masters said something like “Go and wash the dishes” and “When you serve me tea, I drink it.”
Do you teach meditation besides chi kung?
— Ray, Malaysia
Meditation is an intergral part of genuine chi kung. Without entering into what is called “a chi kung state of mind”, it is virtually impossible to attain the wonderful benefits that one reads about in chi kung classics. A “chi kung state of mind” is what people in the West would call the intuitive mind, where one does not intellectualize but simply knows or performs.
The main problem of the great majority of people who say they practice chi kung, but cannot attain those wonderful benefits they have read about, and therefore may doubt that these benefits exist, is that they do not know how to enter into a qigong state of mind.
Strictly speaking, there is no secret about how to enter this chi kung state of mind, which is a modern term and which is known as “entering quietude” in clasical chi kung vocabulary. It is what the West would call entering meditation. The crucial point is whether you know how to enter a chi kung state of mind or you don't; just as whether you know how to drive a car or you don't.
If you ask chi kung masters — real chi kung masters, not chi kung dance instructors — how they enter into a qigong state of mind, they would honestly tell you “I just enter into a chi kung state of mind”, just as if you ask a driver how he drives a car, he would say “I just drive a car.” If you press them to elaborate, they may say, “I keep out all irrelevant thoughts or I attain a one-pointed mind, and then I tap energy from the cosmos or channel vital energy to wherever I want.”
If you try to keep out irrelevant thoughts or attain a one-pointed mind and then tap energy and channel energy to wherever you want, you would be unable to do so, just as even if you follow the driver's instruction (unless you are already a driver yourself) you would be unable to drive a car. If you want to learn driving a car you have to learn from a living driving instructor. If you learn driving from a book or video, it is not only incompetent, it is also dangerous. It is the same with real chi kung.
You may find my answer here longer than you expected. It is because you have raised a point that can be of much benefit for many other people, and I wish to elaborate on it and post it in my question-answer series. I am apalled by the number of people who think they can learn chi kung from books and videos, and then teach chi kung themselves. This is one reason why chi kung dance is so popular today. Returning to your question, I teach meditation as an interpral part of chi kung and not by itelf.
Our master prepared two instructors to help us keep on practicing. We organized an association and I was elected the President. We eagerly want to progress in this art, and if it is possible, to reach spiritual realization, but it seems that by ourselves we will not be able to go too far.
— Dr Penaherrera, Ecuador
Congratulations for being the President. I wish you and your association every success. While a master is certainly a very important factor, the most important is the student himself. It may be difficult for many people to believe, but if a student has some basic qigong skills, even if his techniques may not be superior, he will be able to attain a reasonably high level of qigong if he practices consistently and diligently.
The main problem with most people all over the world today is that what they practice is actually not qigong (although it may be called by this name) but some form of gymnastics or dance. Hence, at their best they can only get what gymnastics and dance provide, such as agility, gracefulness and some sense of well being.
The crucial difference between gymnastics and dance on one hand, and qigong on the other is that gymnastics and dance work on muscles whereas qigong works on energy. If someone asks, “How do I know I work on energy?”, then it is most likely that he is not practising qigong, for if he is, he will know it from his direct personal experience. It is unnecessary as well as irrelevant for someone else to describe to him what working on energy is — in the same way a person swimming or playing football knows from direct experience what swimming or playing football is.
In my second qigong book, “Chi Kung for Health and Vitality”, I describe the three essential factors for attainment, namely the method, the master and the student. Very briefly, the concept is as follows. One needs a method to attain qigong or any goals. The gross aspects of the method may be obtained from books or elsewhere, but the finer points need to be explained and demonstrated by a master. Most importantly, the student must be willing and ready to follow the method diligently to attain the goals.