DOES THE APPLICATION OF THE 36 STRATEGIES CONTRADICT THE HIGH MORAL VALUES OF THE SHAOLIN ARTS?
The 10 Shaolin Laws teach us to be compassionate, helpful and fair to others.
The 36 strategies aim at personal advantage and could be interpreted as “dirty tricks” and betrayal in a paradigm of high moral standards.
How can the tricking of the 36 strategies be harmonized with the moral values of the 10 Shaolin Laws and does a morally aim (like helping oppressed people) legitimate dirty means?
Like money and power, strategies or tricks are by themselves neutral. It is the intention and result of their application that are moral or immoral. Whether the 36 strategies aim only at personal advantage or at others’ advantage, whether they are dirty or clean, and whether they lead to betrayal or loyalty depends on the intention of the strategist and the result of his action.
But it is true that for many people, money and power as well as the great advantage that comes with skillful use of strategies can easily corrupt. It is important that first we know this fact, and then guard against their corruption.
Our Ten Shaolin Laws provide an excellent basis against such corruption. Everyone must follow the Ten Shaolin Laws before he (or she) can start learning our arts.
One of the compliments paid to me for which I am proud of is a student (who is also an instructor) telling me, “Sifu, you are rich, but you haven’t changed.” Of course, what he meant when he said that I hadn’t changed was that I hadn’t become corrupted by money.
I have changed for the better. Previously I could only encourage poor students to study hard. Now I can give them scholarships. Previously I can only give sympathy to poor people, now I can give them money on a routine basis.
It is also worthy of note that it is good to aim at personal advantage. It is doing good. When one is sick and practices chi kung to get well, he is aiming at personal advantage, and it is doing good. When you develop internal force, you are aiming at personal advantage, and it is doing good.
The 36 strategies not only give us personal advantage but also enable us to bring advantage to other people.
Let us take an example of the strategy “Borrow Knife to Kill Another”. At surface meaning, it is evil, mainly because of the connotation of killing. And it is mean. Not only the strategist does not do the killing himself, but he gets someone else to do the killing.
But the onus of the Thirty Six Strategies is not the actions themselves, but the principles underlying the actions. When a person employs an agent to sell a house or any product, and earns a profit, he employs this strategy. In this case, everyone benefits. A lot of companies use this strategy.
There is another strategy that is similar, but has favorable connotation. It is Borrow a Body to Reincarnate, and it originated from the story of Immortal Li, our patron immortal.
Immortal Li was a handsome scholar named Li Xuan. He practiced Taoist spiritual cultivation. One day he had to travel to heaven to meet Tai Shang Lao Jun, or the Supreme High Old Lord, a very high-level Taoist deity. He asked a disciple to look after his physical body while his spirit travelled to heaven. He told his disciple that if he did not return in seven days, the disciple could cremate the body.
On the sixth day a messenger came to inform the disciple that his mother was critically sick and desired to see him before she died. At first the disciple hesitated, but persuaded by the messenger, he cremated his master’s body and left to see his mother.
When Li Xuan came back on the seventh day, he had no body to enter. A lame beggar just died on a street. In his desperation, Li Xuan entered the beggar’s body and eventually became Immortal Li.
While I was training with Sifu Ho Fatt Nam and Immortal Li often came down to help people, I was tempted to ask the immortal whether the story was true. My siheng, Ah Heng, who practiced Taoist cultivation, warned me seriously, “Don’t ever mention this story in front of Immortal Li!”
“It will make him very sad.”
But this strategy of Borrow Body to Reincarnate has made many people very happy. In terms of national reserve, China is reputed to be the richest country in the world today (although many Chinese are still very poor). China has become rich because of this strategy. China does not have the capital or technology to industrialize, but she has a lot of land and people. So she opens to multinational corporations, which has a lot of capital and technology but lack cheap land and cheap labour.
It is a win-win situation. Not only China and the multinational corporations benefit, you and me too. Now you can buy a shirt made in China for one-fifth the price it cost in Europe.
The above discussion is reproduced from the thread 10 Questions on the 36 Strategies in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.