Novemeber 2004 (Part 1)
SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Before I came for the course, I was so curious as to what Zen heart-to-heart transmission could be. Having read all your Q & As, I had a general idea but words cannot do justice to the actual experience.
I think it was Fleur, one of your students, who said that your teaching has become more and more distilled over the years. I think people observing your class may be surprised at how little is said during the practice itself. The instructions you gave were so minimal that for a moment I was afraid that I had missed something.
— Chris, Singapore
The highest teaching was transmitted from heart to heart. That was the reason why initially the Buddha's teaching was not written in words, but transmitted by the Buddha himself directly to his disciples. It was a few hundred years later that the Buddha's teaching was recorded in sutras word for word as spoken by him.
The greatest of the Shaolin teaching was also transmitted from heart to heart. Some of this greatest teaching was recorded in kungfu classics. Like the sutras, these kungfu classics came after the actual teaching. In other words, students learned personally from their masters first, then the teaching was written down for record. Hence, persons in modern times who have not learnt from living teachers, would not be able to follow the instructions even when they know their dictionary meanings.
The greatest of the teaching may not necessary be at an advanced level, it can be at the beginning! The regional Shaolin Kungfu course just held in Sottillo, Spain (August 2004) offers some examples. The students were of vastly different levels. Some were fresh beginners, while a few were already masters themselves. (This is a special feature of my courses. Although students can be of vastly different levels, they each benefit according to their levels.)
On the first day of the three-day course, I taught the students the Horse-Riding Stance. Although some had never practiced the stance before, the whole class could remain at the stance properly for about five minutes, thus developing substantial internal force and feeling peaceful and happy. This was a remarkable attainment. Most people, including some advanced students, could not remain at the stance properly for a minute or two.
Indeed, at the end of the training session, Jeffrey, who is a Shaolin Wahnam Taijiquan instructor, aptly commented on this point. He attributed the students' remarkable attainment to my skill in getting them to be totally relaxed throughout the stance training. Being relaxed, developing internal force, and feeling peaceful and happy are some of the manifestations of the greatness of stance training, and this was effected through heart to heart transmission.
In fact, when you told us to direct qi to our hands and nothing happened. I was thinking, “Oh no....I can't feel anything there.” Then I realized that there was far more to your teaching than verbal instructions, and really, once I let go, the experience of qi became so tangible that there was no doubt at all.
This was an excellent example of heart to heart transmission. It was also an example of a good student, just following the master's instructions without asking questions (during the training session). Had you started to ask questions, like how you should direct qi to your hands or why should qi flow to your hands and not your feet, you would have missed the transmission.
I have a few technical questions about my training which I would like to ask Sifu. I wish to beg Sifu's indulgence for asking about things you had explained in the course. I enjoyed the exercises so much during the course that these questions did not occur to me until now when I am practicing.
You were, and are, a good student. You were told not to ask questions but simply to enjoy the exercise. You were also told that you could ask any questions after the exercise.
When I do the dynamic patterns, I find that sometimes the qi flow becomes so intense that I cannot complete the full movement. For example, I sway so much that I stagger as I lift up my hands. And even “worse”, this usually happens within 3 or 4 repetitions of “Lifting the Sky”, so I may not even complete 10 repetitions. I already experienced this during the course and I think your instruction was to stop and just let the qi flow. But I also recall vaguely that Sifu you said that we could also carry on if we wanted to.
You are right. Those were the instructions, and here is a more detailed explanation.
“Lifting the Sky” is an excellent qigong exercise. It can be used to accomplish vastly different objectives from the most basic to the most advanced levels.
It is excellent for generating an energy flow. Those who learn “Lifting the Sky” from my books would have to perform about 30 repetitions per session per day for a few months before they can generate an energy flow. For them, this would be a remarkable accomplishment, because most qigong practitioners today, including some masters, may not be able to generate an energy flow even after many years of practicing qigong.
However, our students who have attended the Intensive Qigong Course need to perform only about 15 to 20 repetitions in just one session to generate an energy flow. This is because of the skills that I have transmitted to them during the course. You may recall that on the first day of the Intensive Qigong Course in Sabah in July, students first did “Lifting the Sky” as a physical exercise so as to contrast it as a qigong exercise later on, as well as to learn its external forms. Then when they performed “Lifting the Sky” the first time as a qigong exercise, everyone had a qi flow after about 15 to 20 repetitions.
As you become more skilful, you need less repetitions. Although you have planned to perform 10 repetitions to generate an energy flow, if your flow is already powerful after 3 or 4 repetitions, you need not continue with the remaining repetitions. Just let go and enjoy the qi flow. However, if the flow is not strong yet, you may continue for a few more repetitions to ensure a vigorous qi flow before you let go to enjoy yourself.
On the other hand, if your objective of practicing “Lifting the Sky” for that session is not to generate a vigorous qi flow, but to loosen your muscles and joints, to develop internal force, or to enter into a cosmic dimension, for example, then when you start to have an intense flow after just 3 or 4 repetitions, you should “tame” the flow and continue with the planned number of repetitions. You can “tame” the flow by gently thinking of your dan tian or directing your qi to slow down while you are in a qigong state of mind. If necessary you may pause in between the repetitions to let your body come to a graceful standstill, or be flowingly still, then continue the repetitions to realize your set objective.
To deal with the above situation, I usually pause for a moment then continue again. But when I do “Swaying in the Breeze”, it seems that I always end up going into fairly vigorous Self-Manifested Qi Movement, instead of gently swaying. It is like every dynamic pattern inevitably ends up in self-manifested movement unless I consciously tell myself to slow down. In this case, should I just let the qi flow vigorously, or use my mind to slow the qi down into a “swaying” mode?
Yours is a normal progression of qigong development, except that your progress is fast and steep. What you did was correct. Depending on your objectives of that particular session and aims of your overall training as well as your developmental stage, you may let the qi flow vigorously, tell it to slow down, or perform other relevant tasks. You understand the philosophy and have the methods, but it still needs time to develop your skills.
Generally, beginners do not move much because they are tensed. Gradually as they relax, they move a little, then more and more. This progression from not moving to moving a little may take many months or even years for those who cannot relax. It also takes many months to progress from moving a little to moving a lot as the students relax more and their qi flow becomes vigorous.
Then, as much blockage has been cleared by the vigorous qi flow, their movements start to slow down. This progression may take many months. This gentle “Swaying in the Breeze” of advanced students is different from the earlier “Swaying in the Breeze” of beginning students. The beginning students sway gently because their qi flow is not powerful yet and they may not be totally relaxed. The advanced students sway gently because as there is not much blockage to cause vigorous movements, their qi, though powerful, flows smoothly.
After a few months, the advanced students may not move much. They remain flowingly still. This is what past masters referred to as “external stillness internal movement”. The main focus now is not cleansing but building. Qi accumulates at their dan tian into a ball, then into a pearl of energy, and at the same time permeates their whole body revitalizing every cell.
In the past when qigong standards were incomparably high, this was the stage when actual qi cultivation began — for mind expansion, martial art mastery and spiritual fulfillment. Earlier stages were preliminary, preparing the students to be healthy and fit for the long cultivation ahead.
At the highest levels of modern qigong practice, but actually the starting levels of past cultivators, practitioners remain still, usually in a lotus position. Different traditions may have different approaches, methodologies and goals.
In Taoist qigong, practitioners gradually let their pearl of energy rise from their abdominal dan tian at their qi-hai energy point to their crown dan tian at their bai-hui energy point, infuse their consciousness into this peral of energy, and emerge out of their physical body as immortals to roam heavenly realms. In other Taoist traditions, practitioners focus on the pearl of energy at their abdominal dan tian, let it expand and permeate their whole body in what is called the “Big Universe”, then merge into the cosmos to attain the Tao.
In Buddhist qigong, practitioners also focus on the pearl of qi at their abdominal dan tian. Their purpose, however, is to attain no-thought. When no-thought is attained, in a flash of momentless moment, they suddenly realize that their personal mind is an illusion, and they merge into the Universal Mind attaining Enlightenment. Such cultivation takes many, many years, or lifetimes.
Understanding this will give members of our Shaolin Wahnam family a better perspective in their training. Our attainments are often regarded as fantastic when compared to what most other qigong practitioners of the world today attain. But compared to past cultivators or to our potential, most of us are only at the beginning.
Nevertheless, most of our Shaolin Wahnam members are not ready for, or even interested in, the highest spiritual attainment. For most of us, our main concerns are to be free from pain and illness, and to have good health and vitality to enjoy our daily work and play for a long, long time. Hence, the earlier stages of “Self-Manifested Qi Movement” and “Swaying in the Breeze” are sufficient, and once a while we may go into “Flowing Stillness” to experience cosmic joys or to be with God.
Sometimes I hesitate to slow down as I do not want to restrict the spontaneity of the qi movement. What is the difference between “Swaying” and "Self-Manifested Qi Movement". Sifu, I apologize if I am asking an obvious and silly question.
This and all your other questions are interesting, perceptive and educational. I clearly remember that when I learned from my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, he told me to ask him any question and that he would always give an answer. He said that if he did not know the answer, his answer would be “I don't know”. I have always followed his example.
Whether one should slow down his qi flow depends on a few variables. For example, if he is still new to qi flow, and especially when he practices on his own, he should slow down when it starts to become fast so that he can gradually learn to control its speed. If he is quite experienced and especially if he wants to flush out some deep-rooted negative emotions, he should let his qi flow become more and more vigorous. However if his objective is to build rather than to cleanse, he should slow down to a gentle flow.
Both “Swaying in the Breeze” and “Self-Manifested Qi Movement” describe the speed and nature of qi flow movements. “Swaying in the Breeze” is slow and gentle, with the practitioner usually remaining on the same spot, whereas “Self-Manifested Qi Movement” is fast and vigorous, sometimes resulting in jumping about, rolling on the ground, laughing and crying.
In our school we use some poetic descriptions for different types of qi flow. Anthony in our Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum helpfully listed five types ranging from stillness to vigorous movement as follows.
- Standing Meditation.
- Flowingly Still.
- Flowing Breeze Swaying Willows.
- Flowing Stream Floating Clouds.
- Self-Manifested Qi Movement.
As you have acquired the skills of generating energy flow and controlling its speed and nature in the Sabah Intensive Qigong Course, you can use any qigong pattern to effect any one or more of the above types of qi flow. For example, you may perform “Pushing Mountains”, then experience any one or more of the folowing types of qi flow.
If you wish to speak to God, you would remain at Standing Meditation. If you wish to develop tremendous internal force, you would be flowingly still. If you wish to enjoy mental freshness and clarity, you may go into flowing breeze and swaying willows. If you want qi to revitalize every cell of your body, you may go onto flowing stream and floating clouds. If you wish to clear blockage to overcome pain and illness, you would go into self-manifested qi movement.
(Editorial Note: More questions from Chris will appear in the November 2004 Part 2 issue ).
Please advise me on the following.
- limb becoming cold after ejaculation
- short of breathe after eaten “cold” food.
- very weak and cold after ejaculation.
— Joe, Malaysia
Such a health condition is known in traditional Chinese medicine as “zhong qi bu zhu” (“choong hei pat jook” in Cantonese pronunciation). Literally, word by word, the translation is “middle-air-not-enough”, which is ludicrous. Often it is the failure to understand the figurative, and not the literal, use of language in Chinese that causes much confussion, even among Chinese people.
“Zhong” here does not mean “middle”, but refers to the middle triple-warmer, known in traditional Chinese medical term as “zhong jiao” (“choong chiew”). “Qi” is not air, but energy.
Most Chinese themselves do not know what the triple-warmer is. It refers to that part of our body between the chest and the lower abdomen. In traditional Chinese medicine, the triple-warmer is a very important organ responsible for metabolism processes, that is transforming the air and food we have taken in, into energy and nutrients for our life functions and maintenance.
In other words, due to various prior factors, your triple-warmer does not produce sufficient energy to enable you to carry on life's activities healthily. When this condition of “insufficient energy in the triple-warmer” is prolonged, you degrade into a sickly condition called “yin shu” (“yam huoi”), which may be roughly translated as “weakening of internal organs”.
Hence, after ejaculation you feel cold and weak because energy has been drained from a source that was already inadequate. Your limbs become cold because energy from your limbs flows into your internal organs to compensate for the energy lost through ejaculation.
Based on superficial knowledge, you may want to take food supplement or energy-giving herbs like ginseng to boost up your energy level. This would worsen your condition, and could be dangerous. It is because your internal organs are already weak. Adding energy indiscriminatingly would further weaken your internal organs.
Alternatively, you may want to do vigorous exercises like body building or working in a gym to strengthen yourself. This will also aggravate your problem. It is adding more burden to your already weakened body, and can be very harmful.
You should consult a good Chinese physician. He will probably prescribe herbs that will “nourish yin and supplement yang”, which is “nurture your internal organs and supply some supportive energy to enable you to function”.
The best option is to practice genuine chi kung. The energy flow from your chi kung training will clear blockage that hinders the functioning of your internal organs, and nurtures them to health again.
What has Buddism to do with martial arts?
— Francis, Netherland
Martial arts were first taught as personal arts. This means that martial art teachers taught their students what they personally knew.
The first time in the world martial arts were institutionalized was at the Shaolin Temple in China in the 6th century. Since this time the martial art taught in this temple, known as Shaolin Kungfu, was taught as an institution, and not as a personal art. In other words, when Shaolin masters taught their students, they did not merely teach what they themselves knew, but what had been passed down by generations of masters before them.
The Shaolin Temple was a Buddhist temple, though people of other religions could also practice Shaolin Kungfu in this temple. Hence, Buddhism with its emphasis on compassion and cosmic wisdom has a great influence on the philosophy and practice of Shaolin Kungfu. For example, Shaolin Kungfu is not just for fighting, but is a means of spiritual cultivation to see the Original Face, or God.
Shaolin practitioners are compassionate, even to their opponents. A notable example of compassionate fighting in Shaolin Kungfu is “qin-na”, which is a specialized art of disabling an opponent from effective fighting by immobilizing his joints, tendons and vital points, but without hurting him seriously or irreversibly.
Meditation, which is an essential practice in Buddhism, has become an integral part of Shaolin Kungfu training. Practicing meditation not only enables Shaolin kungfu practitioners to be mentally fresh and more combat efficient, it also brings them spiritual joy.
Most martial arts today were influenced by Shaolin Kungfu in one way or another. Hence, one may think that since Buddhism constitutes the philosophical foundation of Shaolin Kungfu, it will also have influence over most martial arts. This, however, is not true. It is because the influence of Shaolin over other martial arts may be in other aspects besides the philosophical.
For example, Taijiquan developed from Shaolin Kungfu. However, although many Taijiquan forms and force training methods can be traced to its Shaolin origin, its philosophy is influenced by Taoism rather than Buddhism. This was because its early masters were Taoist priests rather than Buddhist monks.
Karate and Taekwondo were also much influenced by Shaolin Kungfu. Indeed, many founders of Karate styles went to China to learn Southern Shaolin Kungfu, and Taekwando originated from Huaruangdo, which in turn developed from Northern Shaolin Kungfu. However, due to their different needs, early Karate and Huaruangdo masters adopted Shaolin techniques, and not Shaolin philosophy, into their arts. Hence, although Karate and Taekwondo techniques can be traced to their Shaolin origin, their philosophies are different, with the result that the influence of Buddhism which forms the basis of Shaolin philosophy, is minimized.
- The Shaolin Wahnam Logo
- Themes in Shaolin Combat Sequences and Taijiquan Pushing Hands and Striking Hands Series
- The Unexpectedness of it All — Dr Neil Kelson
- I Don't Know How to Thank you Enough — Markus Kahila
- Experiencing Satori at the Blue Mountain — Laura Fernández Garrido