February 2002 (Part 2)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I really admire you because you are so kind and make a lot of effort in exposing the secrets of the Shaolin arts to people from different races, cultures and countries. and many people get benefits from it. I hope that I could be fortunate enough to be your student in the future.
— Julie, Malaysia
Thank you for your kind words. I have been very lucky to have learnt genuine Shaolin arts from generous masters, and have derived good health, vitality and great joy from parctising the arts. For various reasons, the Shaolin arts have been much debased today, and there is a real danger that if nothing is done to reverse this degenerative trend, they may just disappear in the world within the next 50 years.
The original Shaolin arts are not taught in the restored Shaolin Temple in Henan Province in China today. Even wushu, which is modernized kungfu taught as sport, is not taught in this Temple, but in numerous wushu schools around the Temple.
Many people have heard about the burning of the Shaolin Temple by the Qing Army. Some accounts mention that the Qing Army was aided by Lama monks from Tibet who used a secret, flying weapon to decimate opponents. Some accounts mention that the Qing Army was aided by kungfu experts from Ermei and Wudang, led by grandmasters Bai Mei (Pak Mei) and Feng Dao Te (Foong Tou Tuck). Many wonder which of the two versions is correct.
Both versions are correct because the Qing Army burned the Shaolin Temple twice. What most people may not realize is that neither of the two temples burnt by the Qing Army was the restored northern Shaolin Temple at Henan. In fact throughout the Qing Dynasty this northern Shaolin Temple received imperial patronage. The Chinese characters “Shaolin Temple”, still hanging at the main entrance today, was written by the Qing Emperor Kang Xi.
This northern Shaolin Temple was also burnt, but much later by rival Chinese republican warlords in the 1920s. It was restored by the present Chinese government. I consider its restoration one of the best things the Chinese government has done.
The generation line of real Shaolin monks ended about 150 years ago when the southern Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou in Fujian Province, which was built in the Ming Dynasty by imperial degree, was razed by the Qing Army. The Venerable Zhi Zhan (Chee Seen) escaped and built a secret southern Shaolin Temple at the Nine Lotus Mountain, also in Fujian Province.
This second southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian was also razed by the Qing Army later. But the disciples of Venerable Zhi Zhan spread the Shaolin arts, especially Shaolin Kungfu, to Guangdong and then throughout the world. Most Southern Shaolin styles today, like Hoong Ka, Choy-Li-Fatt and some forms of Wing Choon, are issued from Zhi Zhan.
My line of kungfu learnt from Sifu Lai Chin Wah is also from Zhi Zhan. My transmission line is as follows. Except the first year mentioned below (1850) which was about the year the first southern Shaolin Temple was burnt, the years in brackets show the years the respective successors began to learn from their teachers. The years, rounded to the nearest five, are only estimation.
The Venerable Zhi Zhan (1850) —> The Venerable Herng Yein (1851) —> Chan Fook (1860) —> Ng Yew Loong (1890) —> Lai Chin Wah (1930) —> Wong Kiew Kit (1950).
Another Shaolin monk who escaped from the first burning of the southern Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou at the same time with Zhi Zhan was the Venerable Jiang Nan. Jiang Nan ran out of China and transmitted the Shaolin arts down the line to Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, the other of my two Shaolin masters, from whom I name my school, Shaolin Wahnam.
My transmission line from Jiang Nam is as follows. The Venerable Jiang Nan (1850) —> Yang Fatt Khun (1900) —> Ho Fatt Nam (1940) —> Wong Kiew Kit (1970).
Because of the different aspirations and conditions of the two initial patriarchs, the Shaolin arts I have learnt from the line of Zhi Zhan and from that of Jiang Nan have fine shades of difference. Zhi Zhan was a revolutionary; his objective was to overthrow the Qing Dynasty to restore the Ming. His teaching therefore had to be fast and secretive, with emphasis on kungfu which was hard and combative.
Jiang Nan was a missionary. His main aim was to preserve the original Shaolin arts, with little intention to fight the Qing Empire. While Zhi Zhan quickly rebuilt the second southern Shaolin Temple after the burning of the first one and taught many disciples the Shaolin fighting art, Jiang Nan took fifty years to search for a deserving successor to teach him holistically and slowly. Jiang Nan's teaching emphasized on spiritual cultivation, and the Shaolin Kungfu from his line is comparatively soft and internal.
I have been practising zhan zhuang qigong for a year. Previously, I was weak and could get sick easily. Now, I am healthy and full of energy. At the beginning, I enjoyed practising qigong. I just relaxed and stood still. I thought nothing and my mind was calm. Sometimes I looked at the people around me in the park and the beautiful pond in front of me. I heard lovely songs sung by birds.
Zhan Zhuang is a very power form of qigong, but it should be practised correctly, as faulty training can bring serious harmful effects. Judging from your description, you have practised not just correctly, but excellently. Being healthy, full of energy and joyful is an expected result of practising zhan zhuang or any other type of genuine qigong correctly.
Everything in this world changes from one appearance to another. But I could feel that this did not happen to my heart. My heart did not change, just remained still as a statue and it was very happy. It is very hard to describe my condition at that moment. It is not really that my heart is very happy but “myself”.
This is a manifestation of your progress to a more advanced level. Successful training of high level qigong generally progresses as follows. First the student overcomes his pain and illness, if any, and feels relaxed and peaceful.
This is the level of medical and health qigong, and is at the lowest level of attainment, but many people do not even attain this lowest level mainly because what they practise is gentle exercise and not qigong. On the other hand, those who practise low level martial arts become tensed and aggressive, although they might be healthy initially.
The next level of development is that the qigong practitioner is full of energy and mentally fresh. This is the level of warriors' and scholars' qigong, i.e. qigong for generals and state ministers.
The highest level is qigong for spiritual development, i.e. qigong for monks. Here the practitioner feels free and happy, and experiences a contact with Zen, or God.
You will notice that the development of qigong corresponds with progressive emphasis on jing, qi and shen, or the physical, the energetic and the spiritual. Please also take note that qigong is spiritual, but not religious — it develops the spirit, but does not hold any religious dogmas.
It is significant to note that when you mentioned your “heart”, what you referred to was not your physical organ that pumps blood, but your spirit, called differently by different peoples as soul, mind, or consciousness. It is the real you. Your physical body and your energetic body are changing all the time — everyone of your body cell is changing, and energy is constantly flowing in and out — but the real you, your spirit, remains the same.
It is also not the “same” — as usual we are often faced with the limitation of words. At first your spirit was under-nourished but through qigong training it has developed. In Shaolin terms, your spirit or mind was at first defiled, but through qigong training you have undergone a spiritual purification.
Hence you feel free and happy. Why? Because the Original Mind, called by some cultures as Tao or God, is freedom and happiness. The closer you are to the Original Mind, which is called “Yi Xin” or “One Heart” in Shaolin terms, the freer and happier you become. All spiritual cultivation leads to the same goal, i.e. return to “One Heart”, not just intellectually but experientially. In western terms, it is return to God.
Now, I have a problem. I do not feel happy any more. I feel very sad. Everything in this world is impermanent and is always changing. I feel very sad because every living thing cannot escape from death. Great people like scientists, authors, doctors, and even great kung fu masters would die one day.
This is not a problem, but a further development. But it is also a “problem”, a very big problem. All genuine spiritual cultivators have to go through this problem.
Associated with this great problem is the great doubt. Serious cultivators become doubtful whether their sacrifice in their cultivation is worth it, whether they can really attain the results taught by great masters They have to overcome their problem and disperse their great doubt before they can continue their training with unshaken faith.
This unshaken faith is based not on a master's reputation, no matter how great the master may be, but on the practitioner's own understanding and experience. The great experience or the series of great experiences that disperse the great doubt, constitute “satori”, or awakening.
Related to your feeling of sadness are the two pillars of the Shaolin teaching, which is based on Mahayana Buddhism. The two pillars are compassion and wisdom.
The Chinese term for compassion is “ci-bei”, which literally means “mercy-sadness”. Indeed it was due to his great compassion, initiated by his sadness at seeing the impermance of everything in this world that led the Buddha to renounce his princely life to seek enlightenment, and then to teach enlightenment so that others, irrespective of race, culture and religion, can also attain infinite and eternal bliss.
Wisdom is needed for this search for enlightenment. Wisdom here refers not to worldly knowledge but cosmic wisdom, i.e. an intuitive understanding confirmed by direct experience that all living and non-living things, including all scientists, authors, doctors, and great kung fu masters as well as one-cell organisms, mountains, galaxies, heaven and hell, are an illusion created by mind. The ultimate reality is undifferentiated, eternally blissful and infinitely permanent, called Universal Mind, One-Heart or God.
One day, I looked at the children who were playing happily in the park. I felt so sad because happy moments are temporary. Those children would grow up, become old and die.
A famous English religious poet (I can't remember his name, perhaps it was John Donne) exclaimed, “Gather ye roses while ye may, for tomorrow they may wither and die”. Another English poet lamented, “Fair dafodills I weep to see, thou waste away so soon”.
All things — from roses to daffodils, from children to stars — go through four stages of existence: birth, growth, decay and death. But death is not the end. They will be reborn again and continue the process “forever” — until they successfully break out from this karmic cycle of birth and rebirth.
Gathering the roses while you may, is good philosophy. It does not imply that we indulge in pleasures irresponsibly but that we make the full use of whatever we have. In Zen terms we are fully alive every moment of our existence.
Nevertheless, this philosophy of living in the moment, operates at the phenomenal realm. At the transcendental realm, where we are liberated from the karmic cycle, there are no roses, no daffodils, no children, no stars, no birth and death — only Universal Mind, or God. It is this feeling of sadness at the phenomenal realm that inspires cultivators to seek liberation, or enlightenment.
Life is struggle. Nothing remains calm, just the ripple of water. Everything can transform into a different thing. Life can die and reborn in any form of living thing. Life is full of happiness but also full of unhappiness. Happiness can change to unhappiness and unhappiness can change to happiness.
Everything takes turn to happen. Events happen repeatedly in different forms. Like happiness, one feel happy for many reasons and feel unhappy for many reasons too.
The ripples of flowing water, or the waves in a sea are typical Buddhist imagery to describe our interpretation of the phenomenal world from the transcendental Universal Mind. When we look at a sea, we see countless waves, one wave rolling into another continuously. We see each wave as an ndividual entity.
But actually there are no individual entities; there are no individual waves. Each wave is connected to another, and we cannot separate them. There is actually only one continuous spread of water, but we perceive the water as made up of countless individual waves.
In a similar way, there is only one Universal Mind, it is continuous and undifferentiated. But due to various conditions we perceive Universal Mind, which is transcendental, as made up of countless phenomena like roses and daffodils, children and stars, and myriad other things.
Everything seems to happen endlessly because of our mind. If our mind is calm, nothing happens! And we liberate ourselves from the illusion of individual minds to attain Universal Mind.
I feel very sad. Human life span is so short, only a few decades. I love the people around me very much, especially my family but they and I would die one day. I only have little time to serve my parents and society. I am very sorry to my parents, my sisters and my friends. I treat them badly. I lose my temper easily and I do not care for their feelings. I am regretful. I want their forgiveness.
Whether life is short or long is relative. If we compare ourselves with bacteria whose life span may be just a few minutes, our life is very long. If we compare ourselves with gods whose life span may be thousands of human years, ours is short.
Yet, bacteria and gods do not consider their lives short or long; they regard their lives normal, just as we regard ours.
A very important point to note is that to be born as a human is a very rare opportunity, after the mind or soul has wandered endlessly in different life forms, and after having accumulated a lot of blessings. Hence, the Buddha advises, we must not waste this golden opportunity to cultivate.
Death is nothing to be afraid of. When one is informed of spiritual development, death is an opportunity for the spiritually cultivated to be reborn at a higher level of existence.
How does one cultivate? The Buddha has summarized the methods neatly — avoid all evil, do good, and cultivate the mind.
If your parents are still with you, you are extremely lucky. Being good to your parents is one of the best ways of cultivation; you can accumulate a lot of blessings. It is much easier to be good to ones parents than many people think. Make a point each day to spend some time with them, talking to them, or taking them out for a walk. They love such little deeds from their children more than big houses and expensive gifts.
Life is suffering. I cannot be free from suffering. I almost cry. Previously, I practice qigong everyday but now I only practice twice a week. Practising qigong is no longer enjoyable for me. Sifu Wong, please give me some advise.
Those who do not understand Buddhism deeply may think that Buddhism is pessimistic, as the Buddha teaches that life is suffering. This is taking his teaching out of context. What the Buddha wants to emphasize is that life in samsara, i.e. the phenomenal world, is suffering when compared to eternal bliss in nirvana, i.e. transcendental cosmic reality.
In fact the goal in Buddhist or any other spiritual or religious cultivation is to free oneself from suffering. Different spiritual or religious disciplines may have different ways to achieve this goal. The triple approach taught by the Buddha — avoiding all evil, doing good, and cultivating the mind — is very effective.
Evil is anything that brings harm to you and others, whereas good is anything that brings benefit. Avoiding evil and doing good are self-explanatory. But how does one cultivate the mind?
One excellent way is practising qigong, like what you have been doing. When you practise qigong you cultivate your physical body, your energy and your mind holistically. Among other benefits, cultivating your body removes pain and illness, cultivating your energy gives you vitality to enjoy your work and play, and cultivating your mind opens you to glimpses of cosmic reality. All these help you to be free from suffering.
You should practise qigong everyday, not just twice a week. You temporary lack of interest in qigong is part of your developmental stage, a stage where you are faced with formidable questions and big doubt. Now having answered the questions and overcome the doubt, you will regain your confidence and enjoy qigong again. Should you have further questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.
I refer to your answer in your website which fascinates me: “Magical abilities like telling where lost property is or making someone fall madly in love with you, considered by some people in the West as fantastic, are actually elementary Maoshan magic”.
Do you know of any instructional manuals or books on Maoshan magic? If not, can you refer me to any masters who can give out the instructions via email? I will be very happy to pay for any information.
— Alex, Australia
You appear to me like one of the many people in the West who think that learning an arcane art is as easy as drinking tea.
I don't think there are any instructional manuals but there are some rare books on Maoshan magic. Even if you could get hold of one, you would not understand it; even if you could understand it, you would not practise it safely on your own.
No true Maoshan masters would give you instructions on Maoshan magic via e-mails. You would not afford to pay for Maoshan instruction. One form of payment in “low Maoshan” is that a student has to choose one of the following: to be forever poor, to be permanently deformed, or to have no offsprings.
I too have learned a set called Lin Wan Kuen. The form is very Southern looking and I found out that a famous Southern master taught it in the 1920's. His style was called Fut Gar, but I don't know if that particular set was Fut Gar or if he added Lin Wan Kuen to his system. It features only one kick and many palms and reversed punches.
— David, USA
“Lin Wan Kuen”, meaning “Continuous Fists”, is a generic name. There is not one, but many different forms of “Lin Wan Kuen”. Any kungfu set where the fist is used in continuous patterns, instead of one pattern at a time, can be called “Lin Wan Kuen”. Hence, we can have Fut Gar Lin Wan Kuen, Praying Mantis Lin Wan Kuen, Eagle Claw Lin Wan Kuen, etc.
The Lin Wan Kuen you described has strong features of Fut Gar Kungfu. I think it originated from Fut Gar.
I have heard of a Northern Lin Wan Kuen that features a cartwheel landing in the splits. It was brought to Canton by Ku Yu Cheong of the Bak Siu Lum System from the North in the 1930's. I am wondering if this was the Northern set you were referring to in your July 1998 question-answer series?
Sifu Ku Yu Cheong was a great Northern Shaolin master famous for his Iron Palm. His Lin Wan Kuen was an authentic Shaolin kungfu set. Nevertheless, the Lin Wan Kuen I referred to was an older version.
I am trying to research the history of my system. Since we have a mixture of forms, it is hard to trace them. In my system we have many forms which I cannot identify. I feel I must trace the histiory of the forms.
Most of the forms are from Northern Shaolin, while some are from the South. A short description is added to each of the forms you mentioned.
Lin Wan Kuen — It is generally from Northern Shaolin, but yours is probably from Fut Gar, which is Southern Shaolin.
Mang Fu Ha San — from Black Tiger Style, which is Southern Shaolin.
Wu Song Breaks Chains Kuen — This is a well known set from Yincheng Kungfu, which is Northern Shaolin.
Luk Hap Fah Kuen (Six Harmony Flower Fist) — a well known set from Northern Shaolin.
Fung Mo Kuen (Wind Demon Fist) — from Southern Shaolin. This was a famous set of Pak Mou Chiu, a master of Hung-Fut Style.
Dai Fut Jeung — This set in various versions is found in many Southern Shaolin styles. It is more commonly known as Fut Jeung Kuen.
Pat Moon Kwan (Eight-Door Staff) — from Northern Shaolin, especially the Lohan Style.
Chun Wong Dao (Emperor Chun's Saber) — from Northern Shaolin.
72-Movement Shaolin Staff — All Shaolin styles, both Northern and Southern, have at least a staff set each. When there are 72 patterns in the set, it is commonly called the 72-Point Shaolin Staff.
Fire Dragon Spear — from Northern Shaolin. Ermei Kungfu, which is Southern Shaolin, also has this spear set.
Seven-Star Sword — from Wudang Kungfu. This is the forerunner of the Taiji Sword.
It was possible my Dai Sigung Ma Kin Fung might have learned many of these in the Canton Chin Woo Association before 1950. But this I am not sure.
You are right. Most of these sets are in the repertoire of Chin Woo Association. (“Dai Sigung” refers to the teacher of one's teacher's teacher.)
While these are authentic kungfu sets, they by themselves do not constitute kungfu. Indeed, if you pay too much attention on them, you are likely to practise only demonstrative kungfu forms, which may be beautiful to watch but you may not be able to use them for combat. This is the situation most kungfu students today are in.
My advice is that you should pick just two or three of these sets, practise them well, and use them for combat. You would probably focus on the unarmed sets. “Lin Wan Kuen” and “Mang Fu Ha Sahn” are good choices. You should also spend time on force training.