Sinew Metamorphosis

Lifting the Sky from Eighteen Lohan Hands

Question 9

If I am not mistaken, the Great Bodhidharma taught the Shaolin Monks the 18 Lohan Hands, Sinew Metamorphosis and Bone Marrow Cleansing. Why? Couldn't just the 18 Lohan Hands and the Bone Marrow Cleansing lead them to the same results? In which ways these 3 different arts differ? In other words, how do they contribute one another in terms of development?



There is clear evidence that Bodhidharma taught Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis at he Shaolin Temple, but there has been a long debate which is still going on whether he taught Bone Karr0we Cleansing. This is because while there are records, both in writing and in pictures, on how Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis were performed by the Shaolin monks, there was no record on Bone Marrow Cleansing.

In my younger days I did some research into these three Shaolin arts, and had a aha experience. In fact at first I wondered why generations of scholars who debated about the topic did not realize my discovery. It was mainly scholars who were involved in the debate; masters were interested in the benefits practicing Bone Marrow Cleansing gave them, and were not interested in whether Bodhidharma taught it.

My discovery was that Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis referred to the techniques of the exercises, whereas Bone Marrow Cleansing referred to the skills. In other words, terms like “Lifting the Sky” and “Carrying the Moon” from Eighteen Lohan Hands , and “Flicking Fingers” and “Jerking Elbows” from Sinew Metamorphosis showed the outward forms of how these exercises were performed, whereas “chi flowing at the skin level” or “chi flowing at the bone marrow level” from Bone Marrow Cleansing showed the effects of practicing the exercises.

Techniques could be readily shown but skills could not. How Eighteen Lohan Hnds and Sinew Metamorphosis were practiced could be shown in words and pictures, but not the skills of Bone Marrow Cleansing. Hence, the debate has been going on.

It is also worthy of note that Bodhidharma mentioned only four levels, namely skin, muscles, bone and bone-marrow, and these four levels referred to levels of attainment. Three students described their attainment to Bodhisharma, and the master said they had attained his skin, muscle and bone levels.

When it was the turn for the Venerable Hui Ke to describe his attainment, he just stepped forward, bowed and said nothing. Bodhidharma was very happy and commented that Hui Ke had attained his none-marrow level. The master gave Hui Ke his (the master’s) robe and bowl, and announced Hui Ke as his successor.

In our Bone Marrow Cleansing, there are five levels -- the levels of skin, muscles, meridians, internal organs and bone marrow. Moreover, Bodhidharma’s four levels referred to spiritual attainment, whereas our five levels refer to chi kung attainment.

Why do we have five levels and not four like Bodhidharma’s, and why are our meridian and internal organ levels different from Bodhidharma’s bone level? This is because, according to chi kung classics, chi flows at five levels, namely the levels of skin, muscles, meridians, internal organs and bone marrow.

Why do we call it Bone Marrow Cleansing? It is to honour Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of the Shaolin art which have given us wonderful benefits.

Why do our five levels refer to chi kung attainment and not to spiritual attainment. It is because ours is basically a chi kung school, not a spiritual school, though spiritual cultivation plays an important part of our training.

Whether Bodhidharma taught the Shaolin monks only the two arts of Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamophois, or all the three arts including Bone Marrow Cleansing, is a matter of semantics. Bodhidharma taught the monks Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis, and as a result of practicing these two arts the Shaolin monks had effects which were collectively described as Bone Marrow Cleansing.

Bodhidharma directly taught the monks Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis and indirectly Bone Marrow Cleansing to strengthen them physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually so that they could better practice Zen meditation to attain Enlightenment.

There have been two schools of thought regarding spiritual cultivation. One school believes that the mind, called the soul in some culture, is the most important in spiritual cultivation, and the body is not important. A cultivator cultivates his mind or spirit, and it does not matter if his body is smelly, dirty, weak or sick.

The other school also believes that the mind or spirit is he most important, but the body is also important, particularly when the spirit is housed in it. Cleanliness, not only physically but also in speech and thought, is a pre-requisite. If a cultivator’s body is weak or sick, spiritual cultivation becomes difficult, if not impossible. Bodhidharma believed in this school of thought..

Bodhidharma’s philosophy is in line with chi kung philosophy. In chi kung, when a person’s body is weak or sick, his energy will be low, and his mind dull. In chi kung cultivation, which is triple-cultivation, the chi developed will first take care of his body, next his energy level, then the mind or spirit.

For example, if a patient has a faulty heart valve, is lacking in stamina, and low in spirit, as a result of chi kung training, the energy developed will first overcome his value problem, next increase his stamina, and then uplift his spirit. The same process of jing, qi and shen, or essence, energy and spirit, also applies to healthy people. When a healthy person practices chi kung, the energy developed will first ensure that all his body systems function properly, next it increases his vitality, and then it enhances his mental clarity.

Eighteen Lohan Hands and Bone Marrow Cleansing lead to different results. Eighteen Lohan Hands is a set of basic chi kung exercises, giving basic benefits like overcoming pain and illness, and maintaining good health. Bone Marrow Cleansing is a set of intermediate chi kung exercises, giving intermediate benefits like building internal force amd enhancing perceptivity, giving intermediate benefits like peak performance.

When practitioners practice Eighteen Lohan Hands long enough, like over many years, they may have the benefits of Bone Marrow Cleansing,. It is ridiculous, in a goo d way, that students in our school can attain Bone Marrow Cleansing benefits in a few hours!

Sinew Metamorphosis is a set of advanced chi kung exercises. We can use it to develop a lot of internal force and mental clarity for high-level spiritual cultivation, like expanding into the Cosmos. At an intermediate level, we can use it for peak performance in our daily life.

Eighteen Lohan Hands, Bone Marrow Cleansing and Sinew Metamorphosis are different.. They progress from a basic to an advanced level respectively. The techniques or outward forms of Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis are different. As Bone Marrow Cleansing refers to skills or effects, in theory we can use any techniques to practice it. But in practice we use techniques from Eighteen Lohan Hands. We can also use techniques from Sinew Metamorphosis but generally it is too powerful to do so.

Although the techniques of Eighteen Lohan Hands and Bone Marrow Cleansing are the same, the skills employed are different. Most other practitioners perform the form of the Eighteen Lohan Hands, and if they enter into a chi kung state of mind, usually without their knowing, they generate a chi flow. In our school, we generate a chi flow by regulating our breathing.

While we operate Eighteen Lohan Hands at the level of breathing, we operate Bone Marrow Cleansing at the level of mind. We also operate Sinew Metamorphosis at the level of mind, but it is quite different from that in Bone Marrow Cleansing. In Bone Marrow Cleansing we use visualization, but in Sinew Metamorphosis our mind is in unity with the Cosmos.

The results of the three arts are different. Eighteen Lohan Hands are mainly for overcoming pain and illness, and maintaining good health. In Bone Marrow Cleansing our chi flows at five different levels with various benefits. We develop a lot of internal force and mental clarity in Sinew Metamorphosis for peak performance and spiritual cultivation.

The three arts compliment one another, fulfilling our needs and aspirations at five progressive levels of chi kung training. At the lowest level of medical chi kung, Eighteen Lohan Hands overcomes pain and illness. At the next level of chi kung for health, Eighteen Lohan Hands contribute to good health, vitality and longevity.

At the next two levels of chi kung for scholars and chi kung for warriors, the five levels of chi flow of Bone Marrow Cleansing enhance our abilities for daily peak performance. By generating a lot of internal force and mental clarity, Sinew Metamorphosis also contributes to peak performance. At the highest level of spiritual chi kung, Sinew Metamorphosis produces a lot of internal force to enable us to break through our illusory body to expand into the Cosmos.

The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread 10 Questions on Sinew-Metamorphosis in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.