The Way of the Master

A special chapter on "Heart to Heart Tranmssion" is found in this book


You have stated in your Answer 10 of Q&A October 2003 Part 2 that “there is a vast difference between learning from me personally and learning from my books. One important reason is that great arts are transmitted from heart to heart, not merely taught by written or oral instructions.”

Could you please describe the philosophy, definition or act of transmitting the great arts from “heart to heart”? This must mean there is more to the teaching than just being face to face with your teacher. Is there more to it than just being able to correct a student's physical form to prevent harm?

-- David, USA


A famous example of heart to heart transmission was given in Q-A October 2003 Part 3 regarding Bodhidharma transmitting Zen teaching to Hui Ke, the First and Second Patriarch of Zen respectively. I also gave two examples of my transmission of heart to heart teaching to my students in stimulating their energy flow and in helping them to attain a sense of peace and freedom.

Many people, including myself in my young days, would think that if a teacher gave complete and clear instructions to his students and they follow the instructions correctly, they would succeed in their learning. Later I discovered from personal experiences, both in learning as well as in teaching, that this was not so, especially in advanced arts.

There are many other aspects to learning and teaching besides the instructions. One important category of these aspects may be generalized as heart to heart transmission. This heart to heart transmission often happens when the teacher and the student are face to face, but it is not just face to face instruction, and may sometimes occur even when they are separated by a considerable distance. It is certainly not just correcting a student's physical form to prevent harm. In fact, often in such a heart to heart transmission, the teacher may ignore physical mistakes.

Heart to heart transmissions have some common factors. All heart to heart transmissions operate at a heightened state of consciousness, also called meditative state of mind or chi kung state of mind, where there is no intellectualization or reasoning, but only being. Hence, masters ask their students to follow instructions without questions, because once they start to question, they would come out of this meditative state of mind into their ordinary, everyday reasoning mind. Those who think that following a master's instructions without questions is subservient or silly simply have no inkling of what heart to heart transmission is.

Another common factor is that the students have complete trust in their masters. This trust is not blind or subservient but intelligent and due to deep respect, and is normally not demanded by the masters but volunteered by the students themselves. Without this trust and the deep respect for their masters, the students would be unable to receive the profound teaching transmitted by the masters, not because the masters did not want to transmit but because the students' doubt and arrogance block the transmission itself.

A third factor is that although words are often used in the transmission, the heart to heart transmission itself is beyond verbalization. A mediocre instructor using exactly the same words even spoken at the same time would be unable to transmit the intended techniques, skills or wisdom. Besides the tone, the authority and sincerity of the master's teaching, which are crucial, there is also an inexplicable transference of experience and ability in the form of energy and mind from the master to the students. Therefore, a teacher who does not have direct experience of what he teaches, will be unable to transmit that teaching to his students.

Heart to heart transmissions can be of different types and of vastly different levels. At the lowest and prosaic level, they may occur in an instructor teaching a student how to drive a car elegantly or how to kick a football skillfully into a goal. Hence, one may read all the instructions from a manual about driving or football kicking, yet unable to attain the desired skills. Similarly, in kungfu training one may learn the required techniques from a book or a video, but without the heart to heart transmission of skills from a caring instructor, he may still be unable to marshal internal force to break a brick or execute a seemingly effortless defence against a strong, massive opponent.

But it is in advanced arts and spiritual cultivation that heart to heart transmissions are most heard of but little understood. A brief description of how I taught students to direct chi to massage their stomach, lungs or kidneys, may give some idea of heart to heart transmission. The instructions are simple and straight-forward. Basically they consist of the following. “Relax. Generate your chi flow. Direct the chi to your lungs (or other internal organs) and massage them.”

You may learn for years the techniques of relaxation, of generating chi flow, and of directing chi to massage internal organs from books, from videos or instructors who themselves do not have such skills, yet to no avail. But students who attended my chi kung course on “Massaging Internal Organs” successfully acquired these skills in just one day! Some grateful students remarked that this could not be anything else but heart to heart transmission.

How did I do it? By transmitting the required skills beyond the verbal instructions I used, but sometimes by a transference of energy and mind, I got the students to relax, then helped them to start their energy flow, then led them to direct their chi to massage their organs. Would the students be able to massage their organs on their own without my hellp? Yes, after they have been led by my heart to heart transmission to acquire the skills, they can do so on their own by following appropriate techniques. This was what my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, meant when he said, “Yiat lei thong, pak lei meng” (Cantonese), which means “Once you can walk a mile, you can walk a hundred miles.”

The highest level and best known of heart to heart transmissions is found in Zen. A proverbial example was the heart to heart transmission from the Buddha to Kasyapa, the First Patriarch of Indian Zen Buddhism. At Vulture Peak, the Buddha showed a kambara flower to thousands of followers. Nobody else except Kasyapa grasped the non-verbal teaching, and attained Enlightenment instantly. Later, Kasyapa transmitted heart to heart to Anada, the Second Indian Patriarch. “Take down the banner!” Kasyapa ordered Anada. Anada grasped the teaching beyond words, and was enlightened instantly.

The above is taken from Question 1 Nov 2003 Part 2 of the Selection of Questions and Answers.


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