SPIRITUAL CULTIVATION OF TAIJIQUAN
I really enjoyed reading your chapter in the book "Your True Nature: The Wisdom of Living Masters". I also enjoyed the chapter by Mooji. In it he suggested a good question to ask a living master if one was lucky enough to meet one. So, for my and everyone's benefit -- those who are already coming to the Legacy of Zhang San Feng course, those who have yet to decide to come to the course, and those who have decided not to come on the course.
Can an individual in the modern age find and become what the Buddha, Christ or any of the great spiritual masters discovered -- now, today and, if not, what stops them. How much is it a question of luck? Do they need to leave their present role in life, family, career, in order to discover and live this. What part can the Legacy that Zhang San Feng handed down to us play in this process?
Also, I have been interested in stories of some Tai Chi Chuan masters being irritable. Is this true? If so, what mistakes might they have made to allow this to happen and what are the key ways of ensuring it doesn't happen in our own practice?
Sifu Barry Smale
Yours are very interesting questions and will benefit many people, especially those interested in spiritual cultivation. I shall first answer each of the questions directly, then give my comments.
Can an individual in the modern age find and become what the Buddha, Christ or any of the great spiritual masters discovered -- now, today and, if not, what stops them?
Yes, an individual today can become what the Buddha, Chris or any of the great spiritual masters discovered.
How much is it a question of luck?
Luck, if any, constitutes only very, very small part. The main part is right practice..
Do they need to leave their present role in life, family, career, in order to discover and live this?
No, it is not necessary.
What part can the Legacy that Zhang San Feng handed down to us play in this process?
It plays a tremendously useful part. It provides both the philosophy and practice for the discovery.
Also, I have been interested in stories of some Tai Chi Chuan masters being irritable. Is this true?
Yes, it is true.
If so, what mistakes might they have made to allow this to happen and what are the key ways of ensuring it doesn't happen in our own practice?
These irritable masters practiced Tai Chi Chuan not for spiritual cultivation but for combat. Key ways to ensure that this does not happen in our own practice is to practice Tai Chi Chuan as triple cultivation for spiritual cultivation, combat and health, to practice the Ten Shaolin Laws, and to emulate our two principles of cosmic wisdom and compassion.
“Your True Nature: Wisdom of Living Masters” is a recommendable book. Personally the best chapter I find is “Heart Thinks Events Materialize”, which you can access at https://www.shaolin.org/general-2/wisdom-of-living-masters/overview.html. Embarrassing to mention, this chapter was written by me as a contribution to the book compiled by Natalie Deane and Damian Lafont on the wisdom of living masters.
In my writing I always make a point to achieve two requirements. I want my writing to be pleasant to read and I want readers to gain benefits from the time spent reading my writing. From the many letters readers kindly sent to me, I believe I have achieved these two requirements.
An individual in the modern age can find and become what the Buddha, Christ or any of the great spiritual masters discovered. Their great and noble discovery was that ultimately everything is an infinite and eternal spread of energy, or consciousness, without any differentiation. Due to differences in culture, language and other factors, different people call this undifferentiated spread of energy by various names, such as God, Original Face, the Great Void or Suchness.
The world we live in and see everyday is phenomenal. By “phenomenal” we do not mean that we imagine the world to be there when it is actually not there. “Phenomenal” comes from a Greek word meaning appearance. It means that the world we see and experience is an appearance, and this appearance, or phenomenon, occurs to us according to various conditions, especially our sense organs.
According to how our eyes, nose, ears, mouth, skin and consciousness perceive the infinitesimal part of the undifferentiated spread of universal energy we are in contact with, we experience it as differentiated entities, like different persons, a computer, a table and myriad other things. If we slightly change any one of these conditions, like changing the lens of a person’s eyes, he will see these phenomena differently.
If the change is drastic, like a being with a different set of sense organs and consciousness, or existing in totally different conditions, the phenomena will be very different. A fairy or a bacterium for example, may not experience the computer you are working with.
If a spiritual cultivator breaks through all these conditions, he would experience ultimate reality, which is an undifferentiated spread of energy. This was what the Buddha, Christ and other great masters found and experienced. This is also what modern spiritual cultivators can find and experience now and here, even without leaving their family and career.
Indeed, some of the advanced practitioners in our school found and experienced this ultimate reality, except that, as they were not ready to do so, they did not merge into this ultimate reality as what the Buddha, Christ and other great masters did, and returned to the phenomenal world where they worked and lived. We call this glimpse of ultimate reality a satori, or a spiritual awakening, and it is a beautiful, unforgettable life-changing experience.
Although many advanced practitioners in our school have such a noble, beautiful experience, we are still a minute minority amongst the great many people who practice chi kung, kungfu and spiritual cultivation. Understandably, most of these people would not believe our experience, as it is just ridiculous in the normal sense of conception.
Hence, although it is a possibility that a modern individual can find and become what the Buddha, Christ and other great masters did in the past, it is far harder now than before. One main reason is that our modern world, especially in advanced Western countries, has become very comfortable – too comfortable for most people to engage in long periods of spiritual cultivation to attain what the Buddha, Christ and other great masters did.
However, modern people have a great advantage over people in the past. Modern people have access to knowledge which was considered a rare privilege by past people. By reading this answer and other good spiritual writing modern people have at least a theoretical knowledge of not only what ultimate reality is but also how to reach it. Such knowledge, though theoretical, may not be available to past people.
There is, however, a huge difference between theoretical knowledge and practical experience. The coming UK Summer Camp will provide practical experience of spiritual cultivation as well as other more mundane benefits.
Luck plays a very small part in spiritual cultivation and in all other endeavor. What is commonly regarded as luck is an interplay of karmic forces. Due to certain manner of thought, speech and action in the past, in this life as well as previous lives, an individual may come upon a rare opportunity of spiritual cultivation which may eventually lead him to experience ultimate reality, as a glimpse or even totally merging into it.
Whether he will succeed in this cultivation will also depend on his karma, especially on how he thinks, speaks and acts. As revealed in some of the betrayals that happened in our school, even when a person had developed to an advanced level, if his thought deviated, he would miss the rare opportunity of what the Buddha, Christ and other great master achieved, or at a mundane level, miss many benefits he would get had he continue with his cultivation.
It is not necessary for an individual today if he wises to attain what the Buddha, Christ and other great masters did, to leave his present role in life, family and career, though, if all other things were equal, it would be easier if he does so, like becoming a monk in a monastery.
Continuing in his present role in life, family and career will be present may huge hindrances in his spiritual cultivation. To attain ultimate reality, one has not only to eliminate all desires but also to eliminate all thoughts. Any though will cause differentiation, and starts the process of transformation from ultimate reality to the phenomenal realm.
Our school is ridiculously generous. We offer opportunities not only to have a glimpse of ultimate reality but also other mundane benefits like good health, vitality and longevity. But even learning in our school proves to be difficult for many other people, what more it is to give up all desires and thoughts, like the desire of earning more money in his job or the thought of spending time with his friends, to cultivate to attain what the Buddha, Christ and other great masters did.
The Legacy of Zhang San Feng course plays a very important role in this process, and more. The course will provide both the philosophical background as well as practical training on spiritual cultivation ranging from the basic to very advanced levels.
Students can read the philosophical background at https://www.shaolin.org/video-clips-7/wudang-taijiquan/treatise/overview.html. This Treatise of Taijiquan from the great Zhang San Feng himself not only explains the philosophy of spiritual cultivation but also of combat efficiency and good health. To save time, we shall mention the philosophy in passing and students are encouraged to raise any questions, so that we can spend more time on practical training to attain spiritual cultivation, combat efficiency and good health.
It is worthwhile to repeat what I have mentioned somewhere in my writing. To have access to a classic is not easy, but even when we have access we may still have difficulty understanding it. There are three levels of difficulty – literary, technical and skills. Classics are not only written in a very concise manner but also in classical Chinese that even those who know modern Chinese may not understand. Secondly, classics only give the core techniques, necessary techniques that students are supposed to know are not given. Thirdly, even when a person knows all the techniques, he may not have the skills to perform them.
The following passage taken form the Treatise can illustrate these difficulties. This passage is on the more mundane aspects of practicing Taijiquan.
“Also empty spirit, ignore pull, loosen waist, settle false-real, sink and press, use intention and not use strength. Top and bottom co-ordinated, internal and external united. Continuously linked without break. Quiescence found in movement. The ten essentials in Art of Grand Ultimate. No-two-gate for those who learn the art. Fundamental for entering the way.”
For many students more immediate than spiritual cultivation is practicing Taijiquan or any art for combat efficiency and good health as well as to enrich their daily life. The Legacy of Zhang San Feng course will provide both the philosophy and practice training for these attainments.
Not only some Tai Chi Chuan masters but also some masters of other kungfu styles were notorious for their irritable character. Two well known examples were Yang Deng Fu of Yang Style Taijiquan and Guo Yun Shen of Xingyiquan.
Once Yang Deng Fu was walking down an alley and sensed someone eyeing him from behind which make him irritable. He turned round, jumped up a wall and kill the person with just one strike of his palm.
Yang Deng Fu, uncle and teacher, Yang Ban Hou, was also irritable, though he was a great martial artists who always won all combats. Once while teaching his nephew, Yang Ban Hou struck Yang Deng Fu with a palm strike, from which Yang Deng Fu never recovered.
Guo Yun Shen of Xingyiquan was also very irritable, though he was also known to be righteous. Gun Yun Shen was famous for his “peng quan” or “crushing fist”, with which he killed some challengers. There was a kungfu saying about him that said, “half step peng quan defeats heaven and earth”.
Gua Yun Shen was a junior contempory of Yang Lu Chan, the patriarch of Yang Style Taijiquan, and lived at the same time as Dong Hai Chuan, the patriarch of Baguazhang. He wanted to test his skills with the other two masters, but he never met Yang Lu Chan. He sparred with Dong Hai Chuan for three days and both came to a draw.
Interestingly, both Northern Shaolin and Southern Shaolin masters were composed. Huo Yuan Jia, a Northerrn Shaolin master, defeated many foreign masters who came to China to challenge kungfu, but he never injure them seriously though he could. Wong Fei Hoong, a famous Southern Shaolin master, was well known for his tolerance and compassion, strictly forbidding his students to be involved in fighting.
The irritable masters practiced kungfu for combat, not for spiritual cultivation. Our students in Shaolin Wahnam probably know more of spiritual cultivation, in both theory and practice, than these masters!
Our students also have a better application of internal force. Yang Deng Fu sustained injury of a palm strike from his teacher for life. Our students would have cleared the injury with chi flow.
You would recall the injury I sustained from an apparently gentle tap of his fist from my siheng, Poh Kai, during free sparring. It took me six months of medication from my sifu, famous for overcoming injuries, to recover. I believe that had I immediately used chi flow, which our students now use if they are accidentally hit but which I did not know then, I would have cleared the injury in 15 minutes!
Yang Ban Hou’s strike on Yang Deng Fu would be more powerful for he did not pull back his strike but my siheng did, but if Yang Deng Fu knew chi flow he could have cleared the injury in three weeks, or even three months.
Besides knowing how to use chi flow to overcome injury and illness, and to promote good health, vitality and longevity, our students also know how to transfer what they have learned in their kungfu and chi kung lessons to enrich their daily life. Past masters might not know this!
Northern and Southern Shaoln masters also did not practice their kungfu as spiritual cultivation, but why were they not irritable like some of the other masters were? I believe this is because they followed the Shaolin moral code, which these other masters did not have.
Indeed we are very lucky. Not only we have a philosophical understanding of spiritual cultivation as well as its practical experience, we have many mundane benefits from our arts that even past masters might not have!
The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread Legacy of Zhang San Feng: 10 Questions to the Grandmaster in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.
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