soul or spirit

Meditation, the training of spirit


Sifu, when did you first know about "jing", "qi" and "shen"?

— Sifu Mark Appleford, Chief Instructor, UK


I first knew about "jing", "qi", "shen" in my teens when I read kungfu classics during the time I was learning Shaolin Kungfu from Uncle Righteousness. But at that time I did not fully understand the meaning of "jing", "qi" and "shen". I only knew that good kungfu was not just about fighting. It was triple cultivation of "jing", "qi" and "shen", or the physical body, energy and spirit. But I did not understand how to cultivate "jing", "qi" and "shen".

Like most people, including most Chinese, the term "jing" was most problematic. I knew "jing" referred to the physical body, and that in good kungfu it was not just practicing physical kungfu forms but also train energy and spirit.

I heard of the expression, "internally train jing, shen, qi; externally train ken, gu, bi", which means "internally train physical body, energy and spirit; externally train tendons, bones and skin". But I did not understand how by training the physical body one can train internally. I thought training the physical body was external training.

It was much later, after I had established Shaolin Wahnam Association, the forerunner of our school, Shaolin Wahnam Institute, that I had a better understanding of "jing" as the finest physical substance, so fine that we could not see with our naked eyes, which I translated into English as sub-atomic particulars. I also understood that a macro collection of "jing", or sub-atomic particles, resulted the physical body. I believe I was the first person to describe "jing" in this way, to translate it as sub-atomic particles.

With this understanding of "jing" as the finest physical substance, or sub-atomic particles, I realised that when we trained Horse-riding Stance or Golden Bridge, we strengthened "jing", thus developing internal force. This gave me a clear idea why cultivating "jing" was internal training, as opposed to stretching muscles like in leg stretching exercise, hitting one's arms against a wooden dummy, or hitting sand-bags, which were cultivating "ken", "gu" and "be", or tendons, bones and skin.

Like many people, including many Chinese, I first thought of qi as air. I thought, wrongly, that chi kung was a form of breathing exercise to regulate breathing of air. It is interesting that now even students in our school know that one can practice high-level chi kung without regulating his breathing. I asked my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, whether air flowed into our abdomen in Abdominal Breathing as I clearly felt "qi" flowing into my "dan tian". My sifu answered that it was not air, and that "qi" was some form of electricity. People in the past, he explained, did not know of electricity, so they called it "qi".

But I had no difficulty understanding why cultivating "qi" was internal training. My early chi kung training, however, was associated with breathing, though I knew that "qi" was not just air. When I trained Lifting the Sky and One-Finger Shooting Zen, for example, I had to regulate my breaths. It was much later, when I had started teaching chi kung in public and when I had understood the importance of entering into a chi kung state of mind, that I realised one could perform high-level chi kung without having to regulate the breath.

One of my earliest understanding of "qi" was through reading books on Chinese medicine written in Chinese. Stomach diseases were described as "wai hei pat chok" in Cantonese, or "wei qi bu zhu" in Mandarin, which word-for-word means "stomach functions not enough". I knew that here "qi" did not mean air, but functions. It was not that a person's stomach lacked air that made him sick, but that his stomach was not functioning properly.

In the first book I wrote (but the second to be published), Introduction to Shaolin Kungfu, I translated "qi" as intrinsic energy. I believe I was also the first person to use the term "intrinsic energy" to mean "qi". I was quite happy that this term caught on, and a few people used intrinsic energy to describe "qi". Later, like in The Art of Chi Kung and The Complete Book of Chinese Medicine, I translated "qi" as vital energy when found in persons, and as cosmic energy when found outside persons. Now I just use energy to mean "qi".

Although of the three terms -- "jing", "qi", "shem" -- "shen" was the most abstract, it did not present any problems. All the while I have understood and translated "shen" as spirit, soul, mind or consciousness, depending on the culture of the people using the terms. All these translations refer to the same concept -- the non-physical, real being -- though the connotations for some people may be different. A religious person referring to "shen" as soul will have quite different connotations to a scientist referring to "shen" as consciousness.

I was also aware that many spiritualists of the Indian tradition differentiated between mind and soul, and that Buddhists of the Theravada tradition did not believe in the soul. Many Westerners also shared the concepts of these two traditions. But in the Shaolin tradition, which follows the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the soul and the mind are the same, and are referred to in classical Chinese as "xin", which is translated as "heart".

In my writing on Buddhist philosophy, I have suggested that Buddhists believe in the soul, though some Buddhists, like Theravadins, call it the mind. The Buddha, for example, clearly stated that since the time he vowed to save the world when he and his mother were drown, had gone through 500 reincarnations to be finally reborn as Siddhatha Guatama and attained Enlightenment, and it was his same soul that had been reincarnated in different bodies.

I was also aware that cultivating "shen" was non-religious, and all religions dealt with "shen", or spirit. "Shen" was also very important to people who did not believe in religion. Cultivating "shen", which constituted internal training, would make those who were timid to be confident, afraid to be calm, agitated to be peaceful, and depressed to be contented.

It is also because of our success in the cultivation of "shen" that we have become very cost-effective.

Our understanding of "jing", "qi" and "shen" has brought our training to an unprecedented high level. First integrated by the great Zhang San Feng many centuries ago but still not understood by many people, our training is not triple-cultivation separately but all at the same time. In other words, we do not merely cultivate "jing", "qi" and "shen" at different times in our training, which by itself is great, but we cultivate "jing", "qi" and "shen" simultaneously, which is even greater.

While most others abuse their body when they practice kungfu, have no experience of energy when they practice chi kung, do not train their spirit when they practice meditation, whenever we practice any kungfu, chi kung or meditation exercise, we cultivate our body, energy and spirit simultaneously.

The above is taken from Question 1 April 2016 Part 3 of the Selection of Questions and Answers.


Courses and Classes